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Book Review: Tina Fey, Bossypants (Little, Brown and Company, 2011)

By Lydia Holt
If I weren’t the sleep-deprived mother of a sick child, I probably would have stayed up late into the night to finish 
Bossypants by Tina Fey all in one go. As it was, I had to swallow my guffaws so as not to wake the aforementioned sick child.

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I Am Not Descended From Egyptian Pharaohs, and That's OK

By Lydia Holt

I love what the girls of Watoto From The Nile did in their video/letter to Lil’ Wayne. It was a superb critique of misogyny cleverly disguised as hip-hop, and their video brought up an aspect of black American culture that has long been a bur in my saddle. 

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« Music that is “…for all the world to see.” | Main | What’s Up With the Giving Tree? »
Wednesday
Jun052013

People All Over the World

By Lydia Holt

June is Black Music Month or alternately The World’s Most Popular Popular Music Month and the Pickaninnies are music lovers. We love gospel, funk, Afrobeat, house, R&B, rock, jazz, blues, merengue, jungle, pop, Afro Cuban, hip-hop, salsa and on and on and on and on. What all of these genres have in common are their roots in West African music. A musicologist I ain’t so I can’t break it down with precision but basically, the parts of these musics, the “here comes the good part” parts, the parts that can send you into the ugly cry and then have you making faces on the dance floor and shaking it extra hard, come courtesy of West African music. In those moments, in the music, you are Jerry Maguire and you are loving, not just black people but, the souls of black folk (shout out to W. E. B. DuBois!).

As evidenced by the proliferation of American popular music that is, black music, around the world, I would go so far as to say that the world loves black people, even if they don’t know it. And yes, there are mountains of evidence to the contrary but I want to focus on the love for a minute or two because it is the love that I hear so clearly in the music. I have to look no further than the songs that have been on heavy rotation on my phone for the love.

I hear the love in Chinese-American baritone saxophonist and artist Fred Ho’s music, fusing traditional Asian and African musics. Growing up in the minority in Amherst, MA in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he identified strongly with and gained inspiration from the Black Power and Black Arts movements.

“...I was struggling with my identity because everything American society wants you to assimilate and give up being Chinese. And in fact I faced a lot of racism growing up...It gave me pride, being an oppressed person, not in a negative sense but in the sense that we had to rise up.”

Fred Ho is feeling and spreading the love.

I hear the love in the music of Vijay Iyer, an Indian-American jazz pianist, and his bandmates in Vijay Iyer Trio. And I could stop right there, only citing the fact that they are a jazz trio as evidence that they are feeling the love. But wait, there’s more. The album Acclerando by the Vijay Iyer Trio is not a cover album but features superb covers of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and “The Star of a Story” by Heatwave. I usually don’t see the point of covers unless they have been thoroughly digested and then reborn through another musician, not merely copied, and that is the case with these songs.

At first, “Human Nature” doesn’t sound like “Human Nature” at all but draws you slowly into the realization and unlike other covers of the song, doesn’t weigh so heavily on imitating Michael’s vocal stylings but instead allows a jazz trio to do what it do, playing both sides of the melodic and rhythmic fence with a nice helping of improvisation and playfulness in the latter half that makes “Human Nature” groove like never before.

“The Star of the Story” is played a little closer to home but picks up the pace and comes a little harder. Where Roy Ayers and Heatwave were bringing the mellow smooth 70s orchestration, the Vijay Iyer Trio play the song through a heavily jazz influenced hip-hop of the 90s filter giving this new version a pair of Timberlands and a down bubble jacket, OK, maybe just the Timberlands.

Vijay Iyer Trio is feeling and spreading the love.

I hear the love in much of Jamie Lidell’s music. The funk of the 70s and the R&B of the 80s are clear influences. The synth beats of the track “Big Love” off his self titled album immediately brings  “Pleasure Principle”, produced for Janet Jackson by Minneapolite and member of The Time, Monte Moir, to mind. The mention of Lidell could easily take me down a rabbit hole of British blue-eyed-soul singers but I will just mention Alex Clare. He is British, he is an Orthodox Jew, and he is giving love to black musical styles from both sides of the Atlantic.

“Big Love” 

“Treading Water”

Alex Clare- Treading Water from Pulse Films on Vimeo.

I could go on and on in this vein of people of all races and ethnicities loving black people through their musicthe examples are myriad. It makes me happy, plain and simple. It makes me happy to know that black music is bridging human-made gaps. It makes me happy to know that my cultural heritage is an integral part of spreading the love and light of music in a sometimes overwhelmingly benighted world.

People make music to say the things words alone are inadequately equipped to express. The music that makes you cry, scream, dance and jump for joy was created by another human being and in that moment of exaltation you are in emotional and spiritual synchronization with the creators of that music, people who may be long gone. You are feeling the love across expanses of time and space. Such is the beauty and wonder of music. (Cue Ohio Players’ “Love Train”, no Luther Vandross’ “Power of Love/Love Power”, or maybe “Real Real” by Nina Simone—aw hell, whatever it is, just turn it up!)

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