Monday, December 27, 2010

Teena Marie Featuring Faith Evans: Can't Last A Day

Teena Marie aka Lady T has passed away much too soon at age 54.

A gifted vocalist as well as songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist for thirty years, she stayed active until the end. She would occasionally do shows with her daughter Alia Rose who turned 19 only one day before finding her mother unresponsive in Teena Marie's home in Pasadena on Sunday December 26.

Teena Marie had returned to recording and performing full-time in 2009 after taking a long sabbatical to raise Alia Rose, now a budding talented singer in her own right who uses the name Rose Le Beau.

A frequent collaborator as well as an off/on romantic partner and friend of Rick James (1948-2004), she grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in West L.A. and once stated that she felt like "a black singer with white skin".

Below is the fab duet with Faith Evans "Can't Last A Day" from Teena Marie's 2009 album "Congo Square", a track that clearly demonstrates just how influential she was and continues to be on younger generations of R&B/funk/soul artists regardless of their race.

Mary C. Brockert: March 5, 1956 - December 26, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gene Kelly: Singing In The Rain

We're having the rainstorm-of-the-decade here in the L.A. it seems fitting to post this classic segment from one of the very best Hollywood musicals of all time, MGM's "Singing In The Rain" from 1952.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wham: Last Christmas

Super cheesy Christmas music video. Yum - more cheese, please!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Collapse Under The Empire: Captured Moments

Chris Burda and Matthew Jason got together in 2007 to create and record their instrumental music under the name of Collapse Under The Empire. The band released an EP entitled "Paintball" in 2008, followed by their debut digital album, "System-Breakdown" in the spring of 2009. For their second album "Find A Place To Be Safe" the band was signed to indie label Sister Jack in Germany (the duo is based in Hamburg).

[bio from UK music magazine Shakenstir @]

Collapse Under The Empire "Captured Moments"

Collapse Under The Empire Myspace Music Videos

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Interview with Silas Bjerregaard of Turboweekend

Left to right: Silas Bjerregaard (vocals), Martin Petersen (drums), Morten Køie (bass).

Copenhagen trio Turboweekend's second album "Ghost Of A Chance" from 2009 lifted the band from underground prospects to major venue headliners in their native Denmark; the hit single "Trouble Is" especially garnered a lot of international attention with the aid of remixes by Tiësto and Joker.

In June, 2010 they signed with London based Supervision Management and thereby joined a roster that includes acts such as Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, and Crystal Castles.

October saw the band nominated as Best Danish Act for the MTV Europe Awards 2010.

On November 10, 2010 they released the free downloadable 5-track EP "Bound" featuring Casper Clausen of Efterklang, Ty Bulmer of New Young Pony Club and Coco Malaika of Quadron and are encouraging fans to remix songs, redesign artwork and record their own music videos as an attempt to ”shake the bag” before the next album.

Silas, Martin and Morten grew up together in the small town of Fredensborg [25 miles north of Copenhagen] and formed their first band together in 1996. Some wild years later in 2006 they formed Turboweekend as a playground project, and only four years later the playground has become full-time work in the most rewarding sense of the word.

The band is currently writing material for their third album and preparing a European spring tour beginning March 2011.

[bio courtesy of Turboweekend website]
(where you can download the stellar new 5-track EP "Bound" for free)

Q & A with Silas Bjerregaard, lead vocalist of Turboweekend

The Nightfly: How did you come up with the very cool and memorable band name and does your friendship date back to before you formed Turboweekend?
Silas: We have known each other just about forever. Morten and Martin met in Kindergarten in 1988 and I joined the class in 4th grade in 1992. We formed our first band in 1996 playing mostly grunge inspired rock. I played guitar, and we had a couple of other guys from class in the band also. As we grew up the band evolved, slowly taking in wider inspirations from jazz, funk and electronic music. The personnel shifted over the years as well, and at one point we were eight people on stage with horns, Rhodes piano and backing singers. The name had also changed by now and we were a bit of a high school sensation, booking our own gigs around the country. About two years after high school the band broke up and we worked on various other projects. I had a solo project, Morten and Martin did some stuff together, and Morten and I also had a little project. One night in 2005 we talked about how we missed making music just for fun and how well the three of us worked together. We decided to go down to the rehearsal space and fool around and Turboweekend was born, more or less. Back when we formed the band in 2006 we had a much more narrow musical agenda. It was about two things: having fun, and challenging ourselves and the club scene by mixing the ever-present house/tech vibes with some more rough rock sounds, much inspired at the time by bands like Does It Offend You Yeah and The Rapture. We wanted a name that very clearly represented this narrow party agenda, and which furthermore would not have to be explained in either Danish or English. Martin came up with Turboweekend (spelled in one word as it would be in Danish), and we went for that. Now four years later the name might not be fully representative of the full flavor of the band and might even scare off some people who might actually like the music for itself, but we’re stuck with it in a love/hate relationship. It may not be very subtle, but it has a kind no-bullshit charm.

The Nightfly: Mew, The Raveonettes, Anders Trentemøller, Carpark North, Kashmir, Quadron, Efterklang, Turboweekend and more: things are not so rotten in the State of Denmark after all as evidenced by the high quality and variety of music coming from this corner of the world at the start of the 21st century. In your opinion, is there a specific reason why such an abundance of stellar music is being created at this time in Danish music history?
Silas: The acts you mentioned are spread out over a good deal of years, Kashmir being the oldest from 1996 I believe, and Quadron the youngest with only one album out. But I do see a growing Danish presence on the international scene, and would like to add names like Choir Of Young Believers, Volbeat, Oh No Ono, and the young Tree Fight For Sunlight. Denmark has always compared itself to Sweden musically and Sweden always seems to have had better game than Denmark, at least when it comes to hyping their music outside their own country. It’s very evident when you compare the large amount of Swedish music on Danish radio with the almost non-existing amount of Danish music on Swedish radio. It’s been like that for many, many years, since ABBA and maybe even before that, and we’ve been very jealous, but I think Danish musicians are finally getting bored with this comparison to the brother land and starting to make something for themselves. We are not Sweden. We have an identity of our own. And one succes story encourages another. I think there is a new confidence among Danish musicians, and more international focus, knowledge and contacts being accumulated. It all adds up.

The Nightfly: In your Facebook bio you take a refreshing tongue-in-cheek approach and call yourself “a synth pop/disco rock-whatever trio”. Do you find music categories to be limiting and even frustrating or should such labels simply be viewed as a necessary part of any ambitious band’s/artist’s marketing tool box when trying to reach an audience?
Silas: In all the years we’ve played music we’ve always had a hard time defining our style in terms of genre, perhaps because the music has always contained elements from so many different types of music that we don’t know which parts to emphasize and which to neglect, or perhaps because we always feel we are headed someplace new and feel claustrophobic when we have to describe ourselves in certain terms. So genre labels can definitely feel limiting which is why we mostly avoid it or joke about it. But genre is so integrated in the way most people talk about music and in the way music is distributed, promoted and sold (both in the form of recordings and in the form of live music), so you have to work with it in one way or the other. Lately we’ve started calling ourselves interpreters of pop music which probably reflects our desire to be popular, but completely on our own terms.

The Nightfly: The band formed in 2006 and your debut album “Night Shift” was released in 2007. Your second album “Ghost of a Chance” came out in 2009 and has resulted in stellar reviews, awards as well as new legions of new fans. Do you feel any pressure now that you are in the process of writing and recording your third album?
Silas: We only feel pressure from ourselves to evolve as a band and make an even better album than the last. We’ve learned a lot from the first two albums and want to apply those lessons to the songwriting and to the production of the third album. On the creative side it always feels like you have to invent the wheel all over again, but that’s just the stone you have to lift if you want to find something new underneath. We’ve just released an EP called “Bound” with a couple of featured guest singers and a cover song of Talking Heads. The EP has functioned as a kind of free space for us to experiment with some new ideas without thinking about the expectations for a "new album." A self illusion maybe, but it has worked for us. We’ve fooled around and we’re now 100% focused on writing the best third album that we can.

The Nightfly: The band has been touring Denmark all summer and Turboweekend was one of the main attractions at Northern Europe’s largest music festival at Roskilde west of Copenhagen in July. Is the festival setting your favorite type of venue and do you think the tragic events at the Love Parade techno festival in Duisburg, Germany this past July might change how performers view such large events?
Silas: Calling us one of the main attractions at Roskilde is at your own risk. We played at the same time as Muse and had a more than full tent, so we’re not complaining. Festival shows can be great, especially a festival like Roskilde where people are open to new music and are just set on having a great time even though they may never have heard the band before. The uninhibited atmosphere is a very big part of a festival like Roskilde, and when the chaos takes over and people get seriously hurt like in Duisburg or at the Pearl Jam show at the 2000 Roskilde Festival, it’s extra tragic because the contrast with the whole concept of love and celebration is so great. It must necessarily have consequences for the security and has had so at the Roskilde Festival. Of course it’s a shame that you’re not allowed to stage dive anymore, but I understand festival organizers' concern completely, and we’re not going to let a reasonable precautionary measure like that affect our love for the stage and for the music.

The Nightfly: The band is on the Danish label Mermaid which is now partly owned by Sony Music. Is there still a significant advantage to being on a major label in this day and age or can a band/artist make the same kind of headway on a small indie label and/or by using social media like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc.?
Silas: This is not an easily answered question. I think the perfect label is characterized by things like skill, experience, dedication, trust and financial resources. The problem is that these elements often do not follow each other, and the cliché is that the major label will have the financial resources and the experience, but will lack the long term dedication and/or will not trust the artist creatively. Contrast that with the indie label which will be very dedicated, but will lack the finances to push the product properly and perhaps also lack the experience and network. While this is true in many instances there are of course also exceptions to the rule with A-list artists on major labels or exceptionally skilled indie labels managing to promote a product on a very limited budget.

The Nightfly: Music videos are enjoying a much welcomed renaissance and your videos are some of the most exciting and original on the web today. Are the videos as important an element of Turboweekend as the records or do you consider them more along the lines of fun side projects?
Silas: We definitely consider our music videos as secondary to the songs and the albums. The concepts for videos are always thought up after the albums are completed. But having said that, we know the power of images in opening the imagination which is why we make videos in the first place. A good video can open the music to new listeners in a very fast and strong way.

The Nightfly: Not only does Turboweekend have a stellar rhythm section, but the group also boasts a superb lead vocalist; an essential part of creating a sound that will make a band stand out in today’s competitive market. Who are your biggest influences in terms of singers and how many years have you been singing?
Silas: I usually say that I’ve been singing since I was born, but my first solo was probably at the school Christmas show in first grade where we played a group of homeless orphans trying to organize a Christmas party. When I was younger I tended to get fascinated by the technical perfectionists like Whitney Houston, George Michael or D’Angelo, but I’ve come to treasure storytelling and personality over technical skill. Not that Whitney and George aren’t great storytellers, but the focus on storytelling has allowed me to also appreciate great performers like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Iggy Pop and Nick Cave. Sometimes of course a certain emotional phrase will in fact require very healthy technique, but I don’t want to hear the technique; I want to hear the emotion, the story and the personality.

The Nightfly: You have worked with other Danish bands: this year you remixed Efterklang’s track “Full Moon” and Efterklang in turn remixed your track “Sweet Jezebel”. Does Copenhagen have a close knit collaborative music scene in general?
Silas: There are a bunch of highly collaborative scenes like the Yoyooyoy collective and the scene around Choir Of Young Believers and Chimes and Bells, but we’ve never really been a part of any of these. We’ve had a lot of people do remixes over the years, but we’ve only done a few actual collaborations. The remix swap with Efterklang came pretty naturally as Rasmus of Efterklang is good friends with Morten (and the rest of us like him too). We did a track with Steffen Brandt because our booking agency worked with him. When thinking of collaborations for the EP, Casper Clausen’s [Efterklang] name came up pretty fast, and Coco Malaika from Quadron is also a friend. Apart from that I've done a couple of co-writes with acts in Danish. I think that collaborations are a good creative break.

The Nightfly: Some of your tracks have been remixed by DJs/producers Tiesto and Joker and the band has played techno festivals. Do you find that techno fans are generally more willing to embrace rock than the other way around?
Silas: Not really.

The Nightfly: Your lyrics are fairly dark, but are set against drum beats and bass lines so bouncy that the listener ends up dancing instead of hiding under the covers. Where does the inspiration for your lyrics come from?
Silas: It’s funny - I have a lot of music that I love, but which somehow never manages to affect my lyrics directly. The Pixies and Bob Dylan are good examples of acts which have meant a lot to me during different periods, but which haven’t colored my own production directly. I could never write lyrics or songs like either of those. On the other hand I find that Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young have had a much more direct influence on my writing style. Not necessarily the themes, but the kind of structure of the songs. I also like picking up the odd sentence from movies and books and placing them in a new context.

The Nightfly: From writers Hans Christian Andersen, Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinsesen) and Peter Høeg to film makers Carl Dreyer, Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Danes have a talent for combining tragedy and comedy to great effect. Do you feel any kinship to any of these fellow Danish artists and would Turboweekend be the same band if the three of you had grown up in another country?
Silas: Who knows...

The Nightfly: Who do you bring along for your live shows and have you considered adding more permanent band members?
Silas: We usually always bring our own sound engineer Peter Lehman to ensure that our efforts on stage are conveyed to the audience in the best possible way on the PA system available. Bad sound has ruined or deflated many otherwise good shows, so this is not a place you want to cut back. Since January 2009 we’ve had Anders Stig Møller playing synth and singing backing vocals. This has taken the live show to a whole different level, partly because I am now free to jump around on stage and act crazy, partly because Anders has a natural flair for solving technical problems which means that the setup is now much more advanced than before. For the past year or so, we’ve also had our own light engineer on the big domestic shows. It all adds to the tightness and overall impression of the show. On big shows we also bring a roadie to help set up and take down the gear and drive the van. Not when we’re flying to a gig of course, only when we’re driving.

The Nightfly: You have a growing and loyal fan base in Europe. You have played a few shows in America, but are there definite plans to make a big splash on US market or are the band and the label focused on Europe?
Silas: Definitely focused on Europe at the moment. But we’re coming to SXSW [South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas] in March, and who knows what can happen.

The Nightfly: Does everybody in the band contribute to the music and lyrics?
Silas: I write the lyrics and everybody contributes to the music.

The Nightfly: Last November I interviewed Yukimi Nagano from one of my favorite bands, Little Dragon of Gothenburg, Sweden. You have mentioned Little Dragon’s 2009 album “Machine Dreams” as a favorite – what was it specifically about this album that caught your ear?
Silas: Yukimi’s voice is of course wonderful and magical, but also, the album has some good melodies and atmosphere around it. “Feather” was the first song that caught our ear.

The Nightfly: Do you have a tentative release date and title for the third Turboweekend album and are you exploring a different musical territory with these new recordings?
Silas: No set release date yet. We are in the middle of writing songs and generally don’t know where we are going till we get there.

The Nightfly: Danes and Swedes are both friendly neighbors and arch rivals. Does Turboweekend secretly long to kick some serious Swedish butt by becoming a bigger act than ABBA?
Silas: We are quite realistic when comparing ourselves to ABBA. They were a mainstream act with easily understandable disco pop songs about love and dance and music, hailing from a nation with a very strong musical tradition and network. Turboweekend is in comparison a niche act with ambitions not only to please, but also to provoke or confuse a little bit. On top of this we come from a city with very few internationally recognized musical acts, and as a result a fairly sporadic and weak international network. As I mentioned earlier however, this last bit is changing. We dream of taking Turboweekend as far as we can go careerwise, without compromising our musical vision.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Rasmus Seebach: Den Jeg Er (Who I Am)

A loving tribute by Danish singer/songwriter Rasmus Seebach (b. 1980) to his late father Tommy Seebach (1949-2003) a popular recording artist and performer for decades in Denmark, this powerful song touches upon themes such as family, forgiveness and finding your own path in life. Like Julian Lennon and Jeff Buckley, Rasmus Seebach bears an uncanny physical and vocal resemblance to his father and must be commended for finding the courage to step into the limelight rather than run from it.

Although the very moving lyrics are in Danish, a language understood by relatively few people, the music and soulful vocals will hopefully speak to anyone who appreciates a great song when they hear it.

Rasmus Seebach's voice reminds me of Caleb Followill of Kings Of Leon who in turn reminds me of Peter Gabriel. And speaking of Gabriel: there are echoes of West African music in this particular arrangement of Seebach's song, primarily in the Manu Katche style drums, but also in the Yassou N'Dour flavored backing vocals that pop up now and then.

VIDEO: Rasmus Seebach performed this arrangement of his song with DR Underholdings Orkestret (the Danish National Chamber Orchestra) in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 27 of last year for the Year in Review show.

Legal Disclaimer: the English song title (Who I Am) is my "unauthorized" translation and only intended as a suggestion.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010

Quadron: Baby Be Mine

Beautiful, slowed down, stripped down cover of Rod Temperton's song from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album with lovey dovey yet sweet lyrics that, when sung by great vocalists like M.J. and Coco of Danish duo Quadron, sound like pure poetry.

I Don't Need No Dreams When I'm By Your Side
Every Moment Takes Me To Paradise
Darlin', Let Me Hold You
Warm You In My Arms And Melt Your Fears Away
Show You All The Magic That A Perfect Love Can Make
I Need You Night And Day

So Baby, Be Mine (Baby You Gotta Be Mine)
And Girl I'll Give You All I Got To Give
So Baby, Be My Girl (All The Time)
And We Can Share This Ecstasy
As Long As We Believe In Love

I Won't Give You Reason To Change Your Mind
(I Guess It's Still You Thrill Me, Baby, Be Mine)
You Are All The Future That I Desire
Girl, I Need To Hold You
Share My Feelings In The Heat Of Love's Embrace
Show You All The Passion Burning In My Heart Today
It's Never Gonna Fade

So Baby, Be Mine (Baby You Gotta Be Mine)
And Girl I'll Give You All I Got To Give
So Baby, Be My Girl (All The Time)
You're Everything This World Could Be
The Reason That I Live

Won't You Stay With Me Until The Mornin' Sun
I Promise You Now That The Dawn Will Be Different
Lady Can't You See That Heaven's Just Begun
It's Livin' Here Inside Our Hearts

There'll Be No More Mountains For Us To Climb
(I Can't Be Still You Thrill Me, Baby, Be Mine)
This Will Be A Love Lasting For All Time
Girl You Got To Hold Me
We Can Touch The Sky And Light The Darkest Day
Hold Me, Only You And I Can Make Sweet Love This Way
There's No More I Can Say

So Baby, Be Mine (Baby You Gotta Be Mine)
And Girl I'll Give You All I Got To Give
So Baby, Be My Girl (All The Time)
You're Everything This World Could Be
The Reason That I Live

Baby Be My Girl
And Girl I'll Give You All I Got To Give
So Baby, Be Mine, Baby, Be Mine
You're Everything This World Could Be To Me

C'mon, Girl, C'mon Girl
So Baby, Be Mine
You're Everything This World Could Be To Me

Coco appears 17 seconds into the video, hanging out with friends on a summer day in (my original hometown of)  Copenhagen, Denmark.

At the end of the video: Michael Jackson rehearsing his "Thriller" video in 1983 plus an ABC 20/20 interview snippet from early 1980.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Trentemøller: Miss You

I'm posting Anders Trentemøller's beautiful piece "Miss You" in memory of the young people who died in a stampede as they were trying to enter/exit the Love Parade techno festival in Duisburg, Germany yesterday July 24. [NOTE: the tally as of Wednesday July 28 has been updated to 21 fatalities].

Ten years ago nine young men died at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark during a Pearl Jam concert as crowds surged towards the stage. The band later referenced the tragedy in their song "Love Boat Captain".

In August of 1969 in upstate New York, the original Woodstock festival took place over the course of three days. From Wikipedia:
"Although the festival was remarkably peaceful given the number of people and the conditions involved, there were two recorded fatalities: one from what was believed to be a heroin overdose and another caused in an accident when a tractor ran over an attendee sleeping in a nearby hayfield."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Presets: If I Know You

In 2009 Australian duo The Presets chose French director Eva Husson to direct a video for their sublime track "If I Know You" from their album 'Apocalypso'. Husson studied at the Sorbonne in Paris before graduating from the American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles. In addition to some excellent short films, she has directed several music videos incl. "Kim & Jessie" for M83 as well as her own first feature entitled "Tiny Dancer" (2006). (Eva Husson)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bruce Springsteen: American Skin (41 Shots)

Tom Jones: What Good Am I

The album is not dead after all - Tom Jones proves it with his collection of timeless songs, "Praise & Blame" which will be released on July 26. (the single "Burning Hell" was released on June 7)

A great vocalist + great musicians + a great producer oddly do not always result in a great work of art, but in this case everything fell into place and a spine chiller and soul shaker of a record has seen the light of day, one that recalls American icons Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley as well as Irish U2 and Canadian Neil Young at their very best. It's black blues, it's white country, it's gospel and it's roots music - not separate, but equal, each musical thread part of a fabric so strong it will never tear.

Tom Jones, the Welsh son of a coal miner was born to sing this material. The recordings that made him famous and his version of Prince "Kiss" are not too shabby either, but he is now 70 and he sounds like a man who has wrestled with demons for decades and is still fighting them. Married for fifty years to Linda but as famous for his womanizing as his music, he is no angel, but then I doubt an angel could sing a song like John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell" the way Tom Jones sings it on "Praise & Shame".

The following is taken from his MySpace page:

Tom Jones returns with a remarkable new album ‘Praise and Blame’, a collection of songs that examines choice and responsibility via a musical journey through the traditional spiritual repertoire.

This landmark album comes in the legendary singer’s 70th year, a glowing achievement in what has been a ground-breaking, unpredictable roller-coaster of a 45-year career. The songs are taken from repertoire that includes American traditional, gospel and country, seeing Tom going back to his roots and creating a truly evocative musical work, aided and abetted by producer/musician Ethan Johns [Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne, Kings of Leon, etc.].

Tom says of ‘Praise & Blame’: “It’s food for thought, it’s real, it’s natural, and in that sense it’s truly me.”

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Interview with Yaw

In April I posted the following blog when first discovering Yaw:

I'm not in the habit of posting music videos that are not music videos, that is to say that they have no moving images but merely consist of one image or a slide show uploaded to YouTube by fans of the artist/band. However, where there are rules, there are exceptions and an exception must be made in this case.

Last night I was listening online to the archived edition of Coco and Robin of Danish duo Quadron's April 20 guest DJ set on KCRW, Santa Monica with host Anthony Valadez who has a weekly midnight to 3 am show. Coco and Robin picked some favorite tracks and just after Michael Jackson's "Got To Be There", another song came on.

My ears perked up just from hearing the instrumental intro which - thanks to the sound of a lone trumpet - reminded me of Jerry Goldsmith's gorgeous soundtrack for the film "L.A. Confidential". And there were trembling strings, an angelic chorus of soulful Sam Cooke style backing vocals and sweet Isley Brothers guitar sounds before the sublime vocals kicked in - a man's voice, but with a Nina Simone timbre to it. I thought: when was this recorded - decades ago or this year? I was puzzled, intrigued, eyes wide open, ears and heart taking in every perfect note and word in this gut wrenching love song.

Today, after learning from KCRW's track list that the vocalist is Chicago based singer Yaw, I Googled the name and found his MySpace Music profile. Turns out British DJ and champion of great new music Gilles Peterson released the CD "Brownswood Bubblers 3" on his label Brownswood Recordings in 2008 - it featured various artists, including Yaw and his track "Where Will You Be".


Listen for yourself.

Bio by Yaw taken from his MySpace page:

I know there is a piece of me that is connected in some way to the past. Oftentimes, after I've created what I create - and I've had an chance to listen - I see myself as being intrinsically connected on a subliminal level to my ancestors.

I can't get away from the fact that I am from Africa and Blackness. It's in me, like my bones and my heart are in me. It's a part of me that I don't have to create necessarily, it just is.

Everything that created me is still with me and every time I sing or speak or communicate, those words are the manifestation of it.

Sankofa! Connectivity. Synergy.

My music comes from this place - a truly unforced thing.

My tongue is African.

We don't get the luxury of choice of this heart-versus-that-heart, or whathaveyou; the musical part of me is so connected to nature, the world and Africa that when it comes out, it's a huge organic occurrence.

And that's the only way I can really function. I can't live in a world where cookies are cut and products are created; I will die. I must live in a natural, non-artificial environment.

100% juice to do what I do - no high fructose corn syrup because I am 100% juice.

That's my word. Here are a few words that have been said about me:

Yaw has performed on both the theatrical stage and musical stage. He has had the privilege to work with Ntozake Shange and Paul Carter Harrison and various roles including Walter Lee "A Raisin in the Sun" to Uncle Morty in "Awake and Sing." On the musical stage, he has shared the stage with the likes of Floetry, Jaguar Wright, Kindred, and Amel Larrieux. Additionally, he has backed up Eric Roberson and Liz Fields in concert. The world appears to be opening up for the young singer, who has been likened to Al Green and Bilal. His prayer is that God continues to supply him with the words and sounds to affect on a larger scale.

Q & A with Yaw

The Nightfly: What is the story behind the name Yaw?
Yaw: Both of my parents were born in Ghana. It is a traditional practice in the Akan culture to name your child after the day on which they were born. I was born on a Thursday; hence the name "Yaw". It isn't just my stage name, it is my given name, typed on my discolored and slightly tattered, birth certificate.

The Nightfly: You are based in Chicago – is this also where you grew up?
Yaw: Yes, Chicago is my place of birth and where I was raised; in the land of the Daleys [Chicago political dynasty], with fufu [a staple food of West and Central Africa] in my mouth.

The Nightfly: How old were you when you first started doing music?
Yaw: Music it seemed was like my fingernails or my hair - part and parcel of me, it was always present. I believe I began to take it more seriously, more professionally about eight years ago.

The Nightfly: You seem to have an equal love for soul and hip hop - did you discover both at the same time?
Yaw: My discovery of soul came first. There were a lot of different musicians represented in the many records that my dad had when I was growing up. Soul to me was heard when I listened to Freddie Mercury, A. B. Crentsil, Chicago, Hall & Oates and Osibisa. I was turned on to R. Kelly when he first came out; he was immediately replaced by Donny Hathaway when I was a freshman in high school -his record, "Giving Up" changed my life. Hip hop hopped into my world when Nas first hit the scene. Still, then, I hadn't fully accepted her, but when Wu Tang appeared, I was all ears, and then mind and then heart. They both are necessary parts of my life.

The Nightfly: You write on your MySpace page: “I see myself as being intrinsically connected on a subliminal level to my [African] ancestors”. Has this consciousness given you the desire to visit the continent of Africa and maybe even do shows there?
Yaw: The last time I was in Africa was in the year 2000. I went with my dad back home to Ghana. Such a beautiful experience! No shows there yet, but that is definitely a great desire of mine.

The Nightfly: How did Gilles Peterson come to hear your music?
Yaw: Ron Trent, super-producer and DJ shared it with Gilles and Gilles shared it with the world. I have a relationship with Ron Trent through a hip hop project that he is the producer of called jMb or justMybRother. Myself and an amazing MC by the name of Phenom will come out with an EP titled "Open Rehearsal" this month.

The Nightfly: Is there a “master plan” in terms of your career or do you believe in things happening more organically, for example by word-of-mouth and through the web?
Yaw: Things have been happening organically for the most part. The people who I have come acquainted with over the years, the venues, the resources, have all availed themselves as I've availed my soul. They have all helped to push me to where I am now. That, and my own natural ability and efforts. I would say moreover, there is a direction, a "master plan" if you will. I definitely hope to have more exposure and more performances in the overseas market. I want to work with more artists that have a greater level of exposure than I. And of course, I want to be invited to the Grammys and maybe an Oscar celebration or two before everything is said and done. In general the plan is to always be moving in a progressive fashion, always onward and upward. The team is becoming stronger every day.

The Nightfly: Do you prefer songwriting, recording, or performing live?
Yaw: I prefer performing - if there's only one to pick. The exchange of energy with the audience is my addiction. I do enjoy the other two immensely as well.

The Nightfly: You have a young daughter named Marli. How old is she and is she showing any particular interest in music at this point?
Yaw: Marli is six, with seven around the corner in August. She is definitely an artist. She has a sponge for a mind - it doesn't take long for her to know the choruses to songs; the verses are like candy for her. I think she will be a Renaissance woman, with her focus however on painting or sketching; she's quite a phenomenal kid. She makes love easy.

The Nightfly: Which song has had a big influence on you?
Yaw: "Giving Up" by Donny Hathaway definitely reverberates with me on many levels of my being.

The Nightfly: Do you primarily write your own material or do you seek out co-writers in Chicago and elsewhere?
Yaw: I primarily write my own material, but the musicians that I work with are awesome creators. They have made material that is undeniably beautiful. Material that I couldn't help but add my two cents to.

The Nightfly: In your opinion, is it true that American soul music – classic and new – is more appreciated and even revered outside the US, notably in England?
Yaw: Very generically, yes. I think many artists will contend that there is a very different energy present overseas. And it is an energy of appreciation and adoration and respect and love; oft times on a level greater than experienced at home. It seems natural though. There are things in my home that I pass by without a second thought. Those same things may be fascinating for a guest to my home. In England and other countries that maintain this wonderful love and respect for soul music, we are new and strange and beautiful and fascinating. In our homeland, we are breathing and manufacturing the same music of our forefathers - it doesn't have the same exoticism and excitement as it does in foreign lands.

The Nightfly: Talk about the flawless soul track “Where Will You Be”.
Yaw: Thank you for saying that it is "flawless", but I actually know it to be flawed. It is funny to say, but the recording took place in Khari Lemuel's (the mastermind behind the music) bedroom. All the horns and strings were recorded one by one on a creaky wooden floor - you can hear this in the recording. At one point, as we recorded the vocals, we opened the windows 'cause it was too hot and I don't believe we closed it. But that didn't matter at all to us. The music reminded me of a smoky jazz cafe which I believe influenced my vocals. I closed my eyes and talked about this woman...and the rest is history.

The Nightfly: Do you plan to record a full album of so-called “old school” soul in the vein of “Where Will You Be”?
Yaw: I don't know. What comes out, comes out. The term "old school" sounds like a gimmick. The music that is created is a by product of the times and my experiences; so in it is an essential organic appeal that is immune to certain categories it may be placed in. I definitely have an affinity for "old soul" and I believe it informs my tones, my melodies, etc., but in this moment, how I express myself and my music will only conform to this very moment - ideally!

The Nightfly: You have performed on the theatrical stage as well as the musical stage – have there been times when you have felt torn between the two?
Yaw: I respect both spaces equally and I try not to mix them. For example, I am not fond of musicals. It is an aesthetic that I respect but don't quite have the mind or heart for. Often when I am acting, I have found it hard to also perform as a musician and vice versa. I don't believe that I am torn between the two forms of expression. I accept their invitations into my life as they come. No love triangle here; but perhaps Big Love.

The Nightfly: On “Where Will You Be” your voice has a distinct Nina Simone like quality. [Wikipedia: “Simone had an “unusually low range which varied between the alto and tenor ranges and occasionally even reached baritone lows”.] Are you a fan?
Yaw: Nina Simone, I believe, single-handedly influenced my style, my approach and my movements where music is concerned. There is a funny story that goes with this: the first time I heard Nina's voice I was physically unnerved, weird; I didn't like her voice at all. I think that was a psychological repression of self though - I can't even believe that this was one of my truths once upon a time. Now, Nina is the monarch of my universe. It appears that she has effectively thrown her spirit and mind into the atmosphere and I stand, mouth agape, beneath an azure sky, waiting for her to drop into my mouth, like a child playing in a summer rain.

The Nightfly: Which recording artist - past or present - would you like to work with if you could pick anyone?
Yaw: I think me and Shuggie Otis could make magic!

The Nightfly: You have been compared to Bilal and Al Green. Do you find it frustrating to be compared with other artists or do you simply take such statements as great compliments?
Yaw: I am aware of the human inclination to categorize for the purpose of comprehension. We place things in boxes, firmly bounded, so that we can understand its parameters and thus - supposedly - create a summation of the thing. Artists are in no way removed from this process. I accept it. Bilal and Al Green are fine artists. I love them. It makes sense and I am honored to be compared to them. I have shuddered when I've heard other comparisons, but alas, I have also played the game. Such is life.

The Nightfly: You appear in the Chicago segment of the 2008 VH1 Soul series “Soul Cities” hosted by music critic/author Nelson George – how did this come about?
Yaw: Ron Trent was also featured on the show. During that moment in time, we were working together very heavily and he turned the producers on to my music.

The Nightfly: On the Titanic, the eight-member band kept playing on deck until the bitter end in an effort to keep passengers calm as the ship was sinking. Is the primary role of musicians/performers/songwriters to entertain and comfort audiences and listeners or do artists have a responsibility to push for change in the world through music? (many artists have managed to do both).
Yaw: The primary role, I believe for us all, let alone artists, is to be honest with ourselves and the world. We can only do this if we, as Russell Simmons says, "Do you" or "Do us". I had a conversation with my drummer and he said that, "music is the most important resource on the planet next to water." I believe this. On my "Doing me" journey, because this revelation reverberates with me, it is my duty to use the music to uplift and effect change and push positive vibrations with the gift that I have been given. Some of us don't have this calling or are not affected by what is happening in our streets and in our schools. For them, their view is different; their heart is patterned from another mold. And that is fine. There is always a villain when there is a hero. And there will always be passerbys, unaware of the struggle between the two. Roles need to be filled. My role here is to share my gift with the hope that it will inspire the masses to also share and give and care.

Big thanks to Yaw!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kele: Tenderoni

Kele aka Kele Okereke from Bloc Party released his debut solo album "The Boxer" this month.

Theodor Lent: Mer' End Ilt

Kim Dejbjerg aka Theodor Lent, 24 year-old Dane from Copenhagen takes minimalism to a whole new level with this track and video. Beautiful.

The title translates to "More Than Oxygen".

Friday, June 4, 2010

Phantom Limb: Out of Character

Bristol, UK band Phantom Limb has a very versatile lead vocalist in Yolanda Quartey - compare with the previous PL video posted today.

Phantom Limb Out of Character

Phantom Limb MySpace Music Videos

Phantom Limb: Don't Say A Word

Bristol, UK band Phantom Limb are currently in Long Beach recording their new album and have been added to the Future Legends show line up at the SAM 2010 concert series on June 12 in downtown LB. (free, all-ages, outdoors at 1st Street & Elm in the East Village Arts District.)

Dont Say A Word

Phantom Limb MySpace Music Videos

Boris Smile: Apollo

My fellow Long Beachers Boris Smile will be playing in the East Village in downtown LB on June 12 at the open air Summer & Music aka SAM 2010 free concert series.

Boris Smile - Apollo from A. Wesley Chung on Vimeo.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Dire Straits: Brothers In Arms

Monday, May 31 is Memorial Day here in the US.

I'm posting Dire Straits' haunting song and video from 1985 in honor of the dead and the injured (physically as well as mentally) men and women.

Note: just yesterday, the 1000th US soldier was listed as having been killed in Afghanistan.

I wrote this poem in 2004:


In a desert far from America
A bullet tears into young flesh
Skin caressed by his lover back home
He longs for her touch to take away the pain
He tastes his own blood and closes his eyes

In a desert far from America
Strong arms lifts a young body
The smell of her hair reminds him of home
She holds him gently in the saddle
As they ride past the dead and the wounded

Friday, May 14, 2010

Susanne Sundfør: The Brothel

Stunning, dreamlike song from 24-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter Susanne Sundfør who on her MySpace page lists some of her influences as 16th century Renaissance composer Palestrina, Georg Friedrich Händel, Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, Philip Glass, and Taylor Swift. Her Wikipedia entry mentions Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Fleetwood Mac as well as fellow Norwegians Ane Brun and Thomas Dybdahl.

The cover artwork for her 2010 album (also named "The Brothel") with its crystal ceiling lamp and shadowy birds is some of the most haunting I've seen to date.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Miranda Lambert: White Liar/ Blake Shelton: Home

Congrats to Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton on their engagement. Looks like Miranda picked the right guy in the end - just like in the "White Liar" video.