The Pixies, Manu Chao, Jonathan Richman, and Moroccan cha’abi rockers Hoba Hoba Spirit. Musically promiscuous and lyrically inventive, head Cuban Cowboy, Jorge Navarro, has found the musical voice on their nThe Cuban Cowboys bring together rock ‘n’ roll and Latin beats with a punk sensibility that brings to mind such post-punk genre busters as ew album Diablo Mambo that was only hinted at in the Cowboys’ debut album, Cuban Candles – but he didn’t find it on his own. A couple weeks ago I interviewed Jorge for a piece in SF Weekly and found out the fascinating backstory behind the band and the new album. Check it out!
By Jeffrey Callen
The Cuban Cowboys‘ new album, Diablo Mambo, doesn’t hesitate to let you know what it is all about. Drop the digital needle on the first track and you learn all you need to know within the first 50 seconds: A Jimi Hendrix lick establishes the rock bona fides before the track morphs into a mambo section overlaid with a post-punk, art rock guitar pattern. The Hendrix lick then returns and signals the transition to driving punk guitars, but with a difference — the usual straight up-and-down thrash is blended with the sway of a Cuban son rhythm pattern. Two musical streams — rock and Latin music — are introduced, then blended, before the story of the song begins.
Bandleader/songwriter Jorge Navarro has interesting, engaging stories to tell. The opening track, “Cojones,” relates an early lesson in navigating the contradictions of the code of machismo taught by his knife-wielding grandfather. Navarro’s songs portray his family’s memories of a mythical Cuba born out of the nostalgia of exile and his experiences as a first-generation Cuban American, immersed in American pop culture and drawn to cowboy boots and rock ‘n’ roll. These two themes establish the narrative poles for the songs on Diablo Mambo, and Navarro skillfully navigates this bi-cultural territory, spinning tales of romance, sex, politics, and family. The music plays an essential role in the effectiveness of the stories, weaving together various tributaries from the two main musical streams — classic rock, punk rock, doo-wop, post–punk, rockabilly, and son, mambo, calypso, and salsa. (to read the rest, go to SF Weekly).
After being exposed to Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin — a piteous collection of pop dreck — I reluctantly turned my attention to the Turtle Island String Quartet’s Have you ever been…? While the latter’s set of Hendrix covers has not received the level of acclaim that Wilson’s butchering of the songs of the Gershwin brothers, it stands head and shoulder’s above it in terms of inventiveness and musicality. [I came to both these cds via NPR's music website, which features an interesting mix of artists but has never raised a critical eyebrow.]
“Reimagining” the works of classic artists is nothing new to Turtle Island String Quartet. Their previous interpretations of John Coltrane also hit the mark (on A Love Supreme). Here’s a sample, their rendition of “My Favorite Things” informed by Coltrane’s inspired 1961 recording of the Rodgers & Hammerstein composition.
Here’s my review of the best live show I’ve seen this year — published on Afropop.org today.
Fat Freddy’s Drop: Live in San Francisco
Fat Freddy’s Drop tore up the Independent in San Francisco on Friday, June 25. Soul drenched vocals and reggae riddims mixed with electronic effects, club beats and a killer horn section to create a fresh sound that is contemporary but deeply rooted in a diverse collection of black music styles that came of age in the 1970s. Funk, soul, reggae, ska, dub—sometimes straightforward, sometimes deconstructed—were not unexpected from an outfit that started out as a jam band. What was unexpected was that it all worked!
I was drawn to Fat Freddy’s Drop’s show by the song “Boondigga” (from their last album Dr. Boondigga and the Big BW), which had been firmly entrenched on my personal playlist for a month before the show. The song came early in the eighty-minute set so if things had bogged down or fell flat, I wouldn’t have second thoughts about cutting out and looking for a plan B but I didn’t leave until the show ended. Now back to the song that drew me to the show because I think there’s something in there that explains the appeal and brilliance of Fat Freddy’s Drop. “Boondigga” opens on a smooth soul groove, anchored by the sweet Philadelphia sounds laid down by the horn section and driven by a very ‘70s electronic drum track. Joe Dukie’s smooth vocals ride on top of the slowly building arrangement that does not gain its full power until after the break, three minutes in. A subtle shift in the horn chart brings in the more harmonically extended controlled dissonance that Tower of Power brought out of Oakland signaling the beginning of a major deconstruction of Boondigga’s smooth soul sound. The horns exit and a soulfully deviant aural soundscape is created from distorted guitar, swelling keys and electronics. Live the horn section left the stage at the start of the deconstruction, which was given twice as long to develop as on the album – a full four minutes. And that was true of the entire show: (for the rest…)
Another installment in the excellent series on Taqwacore from my sadiqi at Tales from Bradistan.
MONDAY, 26 JULY 2010
I am the revolution and you are the revolution
In your spirit you have the power
In your heart lies the secret
From your lips spills the truth
That the wine of power is in our blood
Together we can make a revolution
Tell your comrades
I am the revolution
We are the revolution
Recently I drove over to Preston to meet two of the bands that are at the forefront of thetaqwacore scene in the USA. I already wrote about The Kominas with some thoughts about the documentary film Taqwacore: The Birth Of Punk Islam. The other band on the tour were Al Thawra (“The Revolution” in arabic) from Chicago, a group that were not given much airtime in that film but certainly deserve greater recognition.
Al Thawra are a trio but on this trip they had expanded to four members. Syrian-Polish-American Marwan Kamel sings and plays guitar; Matt Scott stood in for the absent bassist Mario Salazar; Micah Bezold was on drums; and Adam Jennings from Winters In Osakaguested by playing the sampler. (to read on…)
I’ll have some original material up next week but until then here’s another installment in the excellent series on Taqwacore from my sadiqi at Tales from Bradistan.
15 July 2010
The Kominas In Preston
After being brought over to the UK to perform at a special night at London’s prestigiousMeltdown Festival
bands from the USA The Kominas
and Al Thawra
undertook a short tour that took in half a dozen dates in England and Scotland. I travelled over toPreston
to meet them, take pictures and hear them play live.
The Kominas are one of the main bands featured in the documentary film Taqwacore: The Birth Of Punk Islam. Hailing from Boston, three of the members are of Pakistani origin and the fourth from India. On this tour they were joined by Elester Richard, a black American trumpet player who adds a different dimension to their sound.
The bands that make up this taqwacore scene are regularly described as Islamic punk. On their latest CD “Escape To Blackout Beach”, The Kominas sound more power pop than punk (although their first effort “Wild Nights In Guantanamo Bay” is quite a bit heavier). Live, they play much faster and with more energy and watching them reminds me of my misspent youth where I was seeing punk bands every week. (click here to read the rest)
Here is the trailer from the film “Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam”. Below is more from the excellent series on Taqwacore in the excellent Tales from Bradistan blog– check it out!
Taqwa - (Arabic: التقوى at-taqwá) is the Islamic concept of “God-consciousness”
Core - (from Hardcore) is a subgenre of punk rock that’s generally faster, thicker, and heavier than earlier punk rock.
As humans, we need labels in order to describe things and have some kind of order in the world we live in. However, when it comes to music, labelling can become patently absurd. It seems like every genre of music has multiple off-shoots and for the outsider it can often be totally confusing to try and work your way through a maze of descriptive names. The metal and punk scenes in particular have a bewildering number of labels – how abouthardcore, hardline, street punk, grunge, metalcore, D-Beat, post-hardcore, emo, screamo,thrashcore, grindcore, sludge metal, crust punk or even anarcho-punk?
If that’s not enough then how about desi-punk, bollywood punk, raicore or punk islam? All of these terms are real and the ones in the last sentence all fall under the taqwacore genre that is attracting a lot of attention, in particular in the USA. If I wasn’t short of time and trying to get this blog entry together then I would probably think up a few terms of my own although I’m certain that someone like the satirists Chris Morris or Armando Iannuccicould do a lot better than my efforts.
While it starts to get quite laughable with all of these often quite ridiculous labels, the taqwacore genre is definitely worthy of attention as there are some quite interesting things happening in this scene. (to read the rest, click here).
I’ve been meaning to educate myself and write something on Taqwacore but instead I’m going to repost a series starting today (July 2, 2010) on Tales from Bradistan (below). If you’re unfamiliar with Taqwacore, it is a sub-genre of punk music based on Michael Muhammad Knight‘s 2003 novel, The Taqwacores. Knight depicted a fictional Islamic punk scene in western New York State. By 2005, an actual Taqwacore scene had emerged in the U.S. with the label adopted by bands, such as The Kominas, Sagg Taqwacore Syndicate and Fedayeen.
There is not a definitive “taqwacore sound,” as artists incorporate various styles, ranging from punk to hip-hop, and musical traditions from the Muslim world; the Kominas describe their sound as “Bollywood punk”, Sagg Taqwacore Syndicate are rap and techno inspired music while Al-Thawra uses the term “raicore“, based on Arabic Raï music. (Wikipedia).
As a taster for my forthcoming piece on the American taqwacore
bands The Kominas
and Al Thawra
, here is one of the most important tunes from this emerging punk scene. This is The Kominas with the song “Sharia Law In The USA” and is particularly notable for its lyrical links to the Sex Pistols’
incendiary “Anarchy In The UK”
which shook the nation way back in 1976. Just as punks and bored youth back then were looked down upon, it is too often Muslims these days who are the easy target for the ignorant. I love the opening lines “I am an islamist, I am the anti-christ” which perfectly sum up this situation.