Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tree House Bed and Breakfast

If you are looking for a really unusual road trip in the Oregon woods, you've got to factor Out-n-About, the Treesort, into your list of potential destinations. Located practically next door to the Oregon Caves, a wonder themselves, the Treesort is an eclectic collection of amazing treehouses, tree-pees, platform campsites and cabins. There's a natural swimming hole in a meadow surrounded by Oak and Madrone, just below the Doug Fir and Pine forests on the hillsides around the valley.

But it's the tree houses that are mind boggling. One, for example, consists of three rooms; including a full-bath with claw-foot tub, a separate bedroom, and a sitting room with French doors onto a substantial balcony. Another, the subject of a Japanese TV spot, is 36 feet above the ground, again with French doors and a balcony. There's a "family compound" of treehouses, connected by rope bridges and equipped with bunks for the kids. And this is not Disneyland. There are dirt paths, horseback rides and hiking; river rafting and just plain hanging out. It's a low-key, laid-back place that often hosts overseas guests seeking that "out-of-the-ordinary" experience. And take it from me, it is totally out of the ordinary.

Like every truly unique location there's a fascinating story and a singularly unique individual behind the treehouses in Takilma. Proprietor Michael Garnier has lived in the area for over 30 years. He's a former Green Beret who does things his own way, without a lot or regard for the opinions of others. In other words, he's a real Oregonian. You need to have him tell you the stories about how his dream became a reality. I wouldn't even go there, it's his story to tell. Suffice it to say there was an epic struggle with some clueless bureaucrats over decades covering a variety of issues. Bottom line: Michael won. The guy's made a significant contribution to the area's economy, created jobs and maintained a pretty light footprint on the land in the process. He's got serious cred as an early environmental activist, and roots in the oldest and best known commune in the state.

So here's the trip. Fly or drive to Medford. Stay a night or two, visit Crater Lake and Ashland. Then, head out through Grants Pass to the Illinois Valley and Cave Junction. Stay at the treesort and visit the Oregon Caves. If you've got the time, cap off the trip with a visit to the Coast and a night or two at the Best Western on the beach in Brookings. Come on by, you know you want to. Just to check out the treehouses. The rest is cake.

In Memorium

Molly Ivins 1944 - 2007

It was with a very heavy heart and an acute sense of loss that I learned today about the death of noted progressive columnist and moral bellweather Molly Ivins - who passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. Ivens died at her home in Austin, Texas.

The Austin American-Statesman characterized their hometown hero as "treasured." That about sums it up for me.

QBs in Shopping Carts

I could have just as easily titled this rant: What have they done to my game? Or, Why I won't be watching the Superbowl this weekend. I used to love the NFL. Then "stuff" started to happen. It started with TV Time Outs. Those inexplicable time-outs that inevitably interfere with the natural rhythm of the game. Just go watch a good high school game on a Fall Friday night and see what "natural rhythm" is all about.

Then, in what I take to be an effort to cut back on human resource costs, cable-mounted robotic cameras appear to much fanfare and self congratulation. Well, news flash: they suck. Networks have been trading leagues and playoffs as well recently, and a fan never knows just who to expect in the booth. Sure, the A-team announcers are spot-on. But the B- and C-teams are really, really bad - often consisting of tired old farts paired with young, brash and clueless know-it-alls. That frequently leads to some discernible disconnect at best, and tension at worst. Just what I want to be dealing with at game time.

Recently, network game coverage has been highlighting the "human drama" and "personal sacrifice" associated with the game. First of all, that's turning a perfectly good sport into soap opera; and second, it's kind of a hard sell with the numbers of NFL players busted of late for possession of firearms and assault. Get real. Can anyone say: "Too much drama?"

So drama's not enough. Advertising agencies, in their great wisdom, turned all of my heroes into laughing stocks. Here's where I give the title of the post a nod. The TV commercial that really drove me from the room holding my head was the one featuring a host of HOF-bound QBs being pushed around supermarkets in shopping carts. First time I saw that I had to reach for the air sickness bag. Who's idea was it anyway to turn our sports heroes into powerless fools in the fetal position? That's so intuitive, don't you think? But it didn't stop there, and still hasn't. How about Peyton in that black wig and fake stach? What a giggle, no?

As my frustration mounted, the real jock in the household introduced me to European League Soccer and world-class Rugby. That would be my eldest, adult daughter - a roommate at El Ranchito. This is a girl who used to greet me on Sunday mornings with a recitation of all the times and channels for televised games; the key match-ups, and her personal picks for the day's schedule. She had a poster of Steve Young in her room. An all-conference athlete herself, she takes sports very seriously. And she's way big on soccer and rugby now. Frankly, I can see why. A total breath of fresh air. Soccer fans sing with joy, and scream in agony.

Soccer is not the only "other" football. There's "Irish" football, Aussie Rules and my new favorite, Rugby. American males, who are suffering and in decline, should take a look at Rugby. It's a very masculine and triumphal struggle. The New Zealand All Blacks rugby squad is simply the best football team of any sort on the planet. That "Haka" they do before each game would chill any opponent. Interesting that the team's biggest threat is its smallest player.

So I'm not going to be watching the Superbowl this weekend, for the first time in a couple of decades. I'm not convinced the rivals are of interest to anyone outside the corn belt in any case. And I'm also sure there will be way to much drama. I'm just not interested in sports soap operas. I'll catch the commercials online. Hold the barbecue, stow the chips. You can leave the beer.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cuban Surf Rock Band

Just when I thought I'd heard it all, my friend Jeff Angus sends me this link to the MySpace page of a Cuban Surf Rock Band. Yea, uh huh. Dick Dale & Los Habaneros? Turns out, I was impressed. The Cuban Cowboys are smart, and you've gotta love the fluid, Costa Mesa Beach-style guitar. I'm talking the Rendezvous Ballroom here. In my personal version of music history, that's where surf guitar was invented. Now set that all to a background Mambo, and you've got something going on. Check out their official website. And as Jeff would say, Vaya con Carne.

Management by Baseball - Read it Now

Check out my friend Jeff's "Management by Baseball" primer. This is a good book, I should know. I feel like I participated in the labor and birth. Management tips with stories from the likes of Earl Weaver, what's not to love? Jeff uses game-winning and game-losing strategies from some of the greatest MLB rivalries of all time to illustrate his considerable grasp of the principals and practices of good management.
He's also one veteran blogger, consistently online and posting since 2003 - which isn't surprising as he is also an uber-geek. What else could you call the guy who started the original Infoworld Test Center? Still a regular columnist for that weekly computing publication, Jeff also has regular columns with CIO and the Seattle Times - where he mines platinum from mountains of baseball statistics. He'll pimp your corporate retreat with a great personal appearance and presentation for a few Large. Seriously, ping this guy. He's the real deal in a bullsh*t world.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Rocanrol en Espanol has been around for a while now. Long enough, it seems, to have spawned a healthy "alternative" scene that features edgy groups exploring all kinds of musical spaces.

Of course, the alt.mex movement has been influenced by some cross-border pollenation. Tex-Mex Conjuntos have inspired young talent like Tish Hinojosa, and a broader palate of acoustic and electric rhythms have inspired groups like the Texas Tornados. Respect to the late Freddie Fender for his many contributions, but it was, perhaps, the Jimenez family that has had the most profound influence on the emergence of eclectic, alternative Mexican groups. Family patriarch, Santiago Jimenez, made the sound of his spirited accordion a regular part of southwestern music. But Flaco is da man. In addition to the Tornados, Flaco played with everybody, including Tish. His role in Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and the emergence of alt.mex is legendary.

Recent groups like Los Lonely Boys, Cafe Tacuba, the Nortec Collective, Kinky and LA Band Psychotic Aztecs (download "Puro") are tapping an obvious and growing market.

When I lived in the LA area, the "barrio canciones" radio show we listened to was broadcast from Pasadena City College's KPCC public station on Sunday nights. It was hosted by a velvet-voiced vixen named "Snuggles." Her tag was: "snuggle up with Snuggles." She did dedications, of course. Early 60s low-rider fare with lots of sappy, romatic lyrics. We loved it. That was back in the day. These days, the sounds of alternative Mex (Latin) are sharing the airwaves with more traditional tunes. A good thing.

Afro-American Dance Festival

Today's SFGate reports that a couple of major dance events are coming to the San Francisco/Oakland Bay region.

THE BLACK CHOREOGRAPHERS FESTIVAL: HERE AND NOW Runs Feb. 9-11 at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice St., Oakland, and Feb. 15-18 at ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., San Francisco.

This event will feature the trend-setting Savage Jazz Dancers.

THE NEXT WAVE CHOREOGRAPHERS SHOWCASE Runs Feb. 23-24 at Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., San Francisco. Tickets: $10-$20; call (415) 273-4633. The festival also includes master classes and a symposium. For more information, go to

Saturday, January 27, 2007

World Fusion Bookshelf

Receding borders, political realignments, conflict-driven migration and economic necessity have driven large populations and diverse cultures across the globe. As a result, voices from the diaspora are finding their way into mainstream literature.

Non-resident Indians writing in English comprise a growing source of cultural-fusion fiction. Harvard physician, Sanjay Nigam's novel, The Snake Charmer, is a good example. Pulitzer Prize winning Jhumpa Lahiri's offerings: Interpreter of Maladies and Namesake are much celebrated in book club circles. Foothill College professor, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has contributed the Mistress of Spices to the mix.

Vietnamese Americans are also adding to the bookshelf. The Tapestries by New York dentist, Kien Nguyen, is a lush and vivid a tale of mystery and inter-generational betrayal in imperial Viet Nam. A wonderful read.

The conflict in Afghanistan is responsible for driving the family of Khaled Hosseini to California. His first novel about life in his homeland, The Kite Runner, provides readers a rare and intimate perspective on life in that war-torn hotspot.

The children of immigrants are contributing cross-cultural stories of assimilation and conflict. Amy Tan is well known. Kim Wong Keltner's Dim Sum of all Things is another novel with the Chinese-American Zeitgeist that can only be found in San Francisco. And of course, there are many more. Too many to list in a single post.

Just like some of the freshest, most creative cinema is coming from third-world indie producers; and some of the most original and melodic music can be found in the worldbeat category; the world fusion bookshelf is producing some remarkable works by unexpected talents. A good thing for those with discriminating tastes.

The Quest for Authenticity

By now, we've all heard Jessica Simpson utter what arguably is becoming her most famous line: "I totally don't understand it, but I want it." That's the way most consumers feel about authenticity. Don't know exactly how to define it, but will expend large amounts of energy and juice to own it.

So what is really authentic, anyway? That's a big, burning question. In William Gibson's riveting novel, Pattern Recognition, the protagonist Cayce Pollard's vocation is "coolhunter," an authenticity seeker with a keen eye for trends. In a global marketplace, early identification of the authentic is a profound competitive edge.

I backed into my personal analysis of the issue by looking at what authenticity isn't. It is most assuredly not a constant, at least mass perceptions of what is authentic are fluid - changing direction in unexpected and unpredictable ways. But the notion of authenticity is a constant. That which is genuine.

Authenticity is also not spin or affectation, it is not designed by committee, manufactured from focus group data or influenced by polls. Authenticity is not bestowed from external sources, it radiates from a perfect set of internal markers. Over the years, we've charted some of those markers, including: the obvious pride of craftsmanship; quality components; measured, thoughtful construction; and, meaningful impact, to name a few.

Authenticity is also reflected in proper naming and categorization. A tree farm is not an authentic forest. Knock-offs are knock-offs, no matter how you cut it. Categorizing a primitive, but mass-produced piece as "folk art" doesn't make it so.

The perception of authenticity would seem to require some Limbic System activity. That's the region of the human brain that ascribes meaning to situations, symbols, interactions and is the source of emotions. I could be overstating the issue, but for me, authenticity has a "feel," a sense of rightness, value and meaning that makes the moment and all of its attendant associations genuine. After all, one of the dictionary definitions of authenticity is: correctness. I believe that correctness can be perceived and measured, in all its shades of gray. I use those benchmarks in my choices of music, fashion, art and even politics.
I have a former friend who has spent his adult life building an authentic gentleman's estate. A complete eccentric with the taste of a Scottish Earl, he spent several years and some 40,000 paintbrush strokes re-creating a hand-painted highlands clan motif on the ceiling of his small kitchen.

I have other friends and acquaintances that take the quest for authenticity into serious role-playing and re-enactment spaces. Two serious techie friends of mine are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group of medieval history fanatics that get together in the country with their horses, drink a lot of highly alcoholic Meade and tilt with wooden lances in full body armour. Don't laugh, they're a very serious and dedicated bunch. A physician friend is a prominent member of a national "mountain man" organization that stages an annual backwoods rendezvous attended by unshaven individuals in buckskin with muzzle-loaders in tow. They are all looking to re-create an authentic experience.

Authenticity is inexorably intertwined with history and nostalgia. If it's old, it must be authentic. But, of course, every generation has had its knock-offs. Still, it is accurate to assert that basic traditional products, well-made for everyday people with regular jobs, are quite likely to viewed as the real deal, genuine goods - authentic. Like Filson luggage; Carhart, Pendleton and Daspu fashion; Ebbets Field Flannels sports apparel, African Trader Beads and Irish woolens.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, specialty items made in small numbers for select purchasers have an aura of authenticity. Like handmade bamboo fly-fishing rods; fine Ghanian Kinte cloth; late 60s psychedelic posters, hand-blown glass and single-estate Assam tea.

Cost is not necessarily an issue, value and creativity are. An utterly authentic "look" can consist entirely of thrift-store purchases. The goal is to avoid sameness, formulaic uniformity, mind-numbing mediocrity -- all the sense-stifling emanations of uninspired, mass produced goods.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bandon by the Sea

The fog lifts off of Bandon Dunes, exposing Oregon's rugged Pacific coastline. Gray gives way to shades of green, glistening with dew.

Sandstone hillocks emerge from the fog, covered with thorny gorse and punctuated by fine, silky sand eruptions sporting grassy cowlicks. Native Salal groundcover and a variety of evergreen shrubs frame the dunes.
Coastal river deltas, estuaries and marshes - with well defined trails and facilities - make the Oregon coast an ecologically diverse, user-friendly destination. I come back several times a year, for the mushrooms; the flowers; the fresh, sea air; and, for Bandon. Over the years, we've been almost 50 times.

Founded by Irish Americans and named after a village in the old country, Bandon once was considered southern Oregon's most beautiful town, until a massive fire wiped it out in the 1930's.  Construction on the new town began in 1938. Bandon-by-the-Sea, the new village, is edgy - defined by a weathered wood sheik; cabins sporting seagull wind vanes; and the occasional whiff of patchouli oil.         Bandon is not a multi-colored, European fishing village, it has a special presence and charm of its own.

The marina is a small but fully-functional commercial fishing center, which also caters to sports fishing off the coast and in the nearby Coquille River. Fresh seafood, especially salmon and shellfish, is available at marina fish markets and in local restaurants.

Bandon's old-town section has the requisite seacoast souvenir and fudge shops, punctuated by new-age emporiums run by aging hippies; and, the finest art gallery within several hundred miles: The Second Street Gallery. The village also has its own glass-blowing factory, producing some fine Pacific Northwest art glass.

An African Art shop and an artisan cheese factory on the Coast Highway also attract a lot of visitor interest. The proprietor of the African Art shop visits the biennial African Art Auction in Burkino Faso, so he's got some great pieces including large, ceremonial dance masks and batiks.

The Bandon area also boasts a world-class, rainforest garden - next to rocky coves populated by seals, sea lions, and the occasional pair of playful sea otters. This unique and beautiful setting, on a winding, cliff side scenic highway in rainforest, is reason enough to visit.

Shore Park Acres, a premier coastal garden just a short drive away, is getting close to 100 years old. Specimen Rhododendrons are over ten feet high, and equally wide. The Camellias and Azaleas are just as impressive.

Wandering through the mature garden with its specimen trees towering over formal boxwood-bordered flower beds is inspirational. At the end of the formal space, there is a Japanese-inspired garden surrounding a perfect, serene pond. Walking even further into the state park, one encounters the All American Rose Selection Display and herb garden.

Everybody that visits loves Shore Park Acres. As the web site boasts: Something is blooming almost every day of the year. Garden lovers rank this site along with West Coast favorites like the Rose Garden and downtown Chinese garden in Portland, The Huntington Gardens in San Marino and the gardens at Golden Gate Park.

But there's more to the park than the gardens, the surrounding sandstone cliffs descend suddenly into tiny, protected coves with small white-sand beaches; trails dot the hillsides; and the drive itself, featuring multiple vista points, fern grottos, and old-growth canopies is magical.

The Oregon coast is a national treasure. So it has a lot of mountain and seaside state and national parks, most with restroom facilities, many with extensive campgrounds, and some with Yurts that can be rented for overnight camping.

Yurts are peculiarly suited to southern Oregon's ethereal coastal grottos. They provide time-tested shelter in a small footprint with low-impact on the land. And they're, well, so charming.

Yurts, cabins and campsites are available at several Oregon coastal State Parks, including: Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, between Bandon and Coos Bay; Cape Blanco, south of Bandon; and, Loeb State Park, further south in Brookings.

Dotted with pastures, cranberry bogs, lily farms, primeval and second-growth forests, Bandon and the surrounding southern Oregon Coast resemble in many ways old English and Scottish seaside landscapes. That may be why Bandon's newest golf destination resort, Bandon Dunes, is already being compared to St. Andrews and Turnberry.

True to the tradition of real "links golf," the three, distinct new Bandon courses span rolling grassy dunes, forest, lake - and ocean-front vistas - in the most beautiful setting on the coast.

There are, according to golfing experts, no weak holes at the new courses. There are also no carts, and will never be "homes on the course." This is golf the way it was meant to be played; the courses shaped by the seasons and the weather; every round, every hole different and challenging. Three, acclaimed, world-class links courses - all in one place.

A journey to the Oregon Coast is a challenging trip. That, however, is part of the mystery. A major reason for the unspoiled spaces and attainable solitude. Golfers are certainly finding ways to make the pilgrimage. And that is validating the decisions of policymakers in Bandon to emphasize the environment and recreation, while moving away from logging and resource extraction.

The Tribes of the Lower Umpqua believe that spirit powers in nature can take pity on a person, give that person songs and dreams, and guide and protect the individual through his or her lifetime. From my perspective, it is easy to understand the roots of such a philosophy. After all, the Umpqua lived along the river by the Oregon Coast.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ribbon of Dreams

Orson Wells said: "A film is like a ribbon of dreams..." Personally, I've always liked dreamy flicks. Dreams, after all, can have hard edges, convoluted twists of plot and unexpected drama. That's unless you're talking about standard Hollywood fare, which is ever so predictable and formulaic. Prequels, sequels, endless variations on tired plots, recreations of tired characters. It's all so pedestrian. So edgy independent films, foreign titles and cult-classics have become my standard fare. Along with a dose of good science fiction or fantasy to punctuate the action.

If you haven't perused the titles at Zeitgeist Films recently, you're missing some great cinema. Nowhere in Africa; James' Journey to Jerusalem; Prom Night in Kansas City and movies about Chomsky, Buckminster Fuller and Ram Dass - Zeitgeist's catalogue is full of unusual treasures.

Since the Bush Administration appears to be considering an attack on Iran, I thought I'd pass along some recommended Iranian (Persian) films. Yes, the "evil doers" make movies just like we do. Well almost. As one might imagine in a conservative theocracy, film makers in Iran are very constrained about the subject matter they are permitted to showcase and the attire, language and behavior of actors involved in their productions. That has led to some pretty creative filmmaking, with titles often featuring lush color and texture - or stark grey half-tones. Persian films tell traditional stories, focus on the hardships of third-world life, or showcase the traditional themes of familial love, hard work and creative problem solving. I found these films to be interesting in my recent exploration of Farsi-language Cinema: Gabbeh, Baran, The color of Paradise and Children of Heaven. All are available in the "Foreign Films" section of NetFlix or from Blockbuster.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hamburg Debuts in 3D

According to an article in the Jan. 18th issue of Der Spiegel, downtown Hamburg, Germany will "take a bow" over the next few weeks as Google Earth's "first viable three dimensional city." Okay, I'm impressed. Equally impressive as the planned debut, is the way in which it came to pass. A group within the City of Hamburg, hamburg@work, approached the Internet giant and proposed the project with an offer to fund the entire process. Sweet. So look for this historic digital imaging work as it unfolds. As the article notes, this is not the first city to be rendered in 3D. It is, however, the first time that such imagery has been widely available without cost to all comers.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Ladino Music

Ethnic music interests me. The more obscure and unique, the better. I've been listening to a variety of "roots" music recently, including David Grisman & Andy Statman's "Songs of our Fathers." Eastern European, Yiddish-roots music that has the haunting melody and energetic Clarinet so idiomatic to the Orthodox Jewish music of pre-pogrom Russian villages and Polish Ghettos. The Grisman/Statman collaboration is a classic. Klezmer bands also are a hoot, the Klezmatics being among the most theatrical and well-known. Reminding new generations of their musical roots is a good thing. Linda Ronstadt's mariachi tribute, Canciones de me Padre also comes to mind in that regard.

The Sephardic Jewish community of Spain and North Africa also provides some very interesting contributions to the ethnic music concordance. Eastern European Jews spoke Yiddish, a dialect that merged German and Hebrew. Spanish Jews spoke Ladino, a similar merging of Spanish and Hebrew. They produced, during their stay in Spain, a rich brew of tunes with roots in the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. During the almost 800 year Moorish/Islamic empire in Spain, the Jews were welcome - some were government ministers and functionaries. Likewise Christians, welcome and integrated. Charlemagne re-took Spain for Christendom and the Holy Roman Church in 1492, the same year that Columbus discovered "The New World." Within a year of what is commonly called the re-Christianization of Spain, 99 percent of all Jews and Muslims had been driven from the country. Can you say "ethnic cleansing?" But we won't go there.

Through some unusual irony of fate and geography, Ladino speakers and musicians ended up in many cases in Macedonia - where there is still a small community and the Ladino language can still be heard. Check out this Shira U'tfila tune. For all kinds of Jewish, roots music, including Ladino tunes, check out's comprehensive site.

In a future post, I will take a look at the world of Turkish, Arabic and Kurdish ethnic music. For the record, there will never be peace in the Middle East until Palestinians have their own, sovereign state with contiguous borders and East Jerusalem as its capital, with the right of all Palestinians in the diaspora to return to their own homeland. All things can be negotiated.

Traditional Music Enclaves in Canada

I'm sitting here in the frigid, unusually snowy Northwest thinking about Canada in the Summer and Fall. Fans of various types of European traditional music and worldbeat flock to Canada's eastern provinces in the Summer and Fall. With good reason.

I've referenced Quebec City's fabulous Festival d'ete, held each July, in a previous post. That fine festival, set in North America's oldest town, has a serious musical vibe going all the time. Concerts are scheduled from morning until late at night, all over old-town and in the outdoor expo facility. There are three "tracks" of music, generally: Francophone Pop; Classical, and Worldbeat. I have attended performances by Kurdish groups, Balkan Gypsy bands, African Griots, Indian slide guitar players and Amadou & Miriam while at the Festival. Last summer, Twisted Sister provided a heavy metal exclamation point to the event. You could hear that concert all over town. I highly recommend this party, it's awesome. In addition to the scheduled concerts, every amateur performer and street musician within miles shows up for the duration. Flamenco dancers, magicians, sword swallowers, unicyclists, mimes, sax players blowing sad tunes; all there, all showcasing their best stuff.

Stay at the Chateau Frontenac, if you've got the juice. At the Manoir Victoria, if you're looking for good, but more modestly priced digs. At the Frontenac, a "turret" room low enough to enjoy the activity along the boardwalk is the ticket. At the Manoir, there's a fifth floor room with a balcony overlooking the street that is right on top of the action.

Further East, there's the Festival mondial de folklore de Drummondville. An annual festival held in Drummondville, Que, during 10 days each July, it includes music, dance, and art exhibitions. The event has well over half a million visitors a year.

Quebec is home to Canada's "Acadian" community, much like Louisiana hosts their Francophone cousins in the U.S. Acadian tunes often feature an energetic accordion, with traditional instruments. There is an annual Acadian World Conference held in Moncton, New Brunswick that features some concerts.

The Canadian Maritime provinces are a treasure-trove of traditional musicians, events, and festivals. There's no shortage of good pubs with lively Celtic music as well. Known for their seafaring tunes; the Maritimes are rich in Scottish; Irish and old English communities that hold fast to their musical heritage. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia is the site of the only Gaelic-speaking college in the Western Hemisphere. There is music happening in Nova Scotia 24/7/365. One, continuous Celtic musicgasm. Scottish traditional fiddle Diva, Natalie McMaster, calls this area home. Flautist Chris Norman is often around as well, playing his wooden Celtic flute, or an old English Baroque instrument. The best-known of all Canada's Celtic music Festivals is held in October every year on Cape Breton: Celtic Colours. The island is also the site of famous national parks and two of Canada's most beautiful drives. What's not to love?

In New Brunswick, the Miramichi Folksong Festival runs for six days in late Summer. The event was founded in 1958 in Newcastle, NB, and held every August at the Lord Beaverbrook Town Hall.

Traveling in Canada is easy and economical, though you'll now need your passport to get BACK into the U.S. Figures. The rate of exchange is favorable, unlike Europe, and the locals are friendly. I've been back four times.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Help End FGM - Download These Songs

Calabash Music, in association with, has created a new, music-driven campaign to stop Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Mali. The campaign, called Stop Excision, is supported by online downloads of AfroPop tunes from the Calabash online music store. 100 percent of the proceeds are donated to Stop Excision, a Non-Governmental Organiztion (NGO) - what we call a non-profit - that is dedicated to erradicating this brutal custom. Let's be clear: FGM, though often performed by female family members on their own kin, is a brutal and primitive form of male domination. After all, the principal is simple: reduce female pleasure potential so your woman won't roam if she's not satisfied. Uh huh. And if you're not clear on the procedure, it is focused on the clitoris.

Twelve artists, twelve songs. Simple and direct with titles like: "Leave the Girls Alone." And lyrics like: "Let's not do it." This effort has taken commitment and courage on the part of the artists and the producers. FGM is a long-practiced custom. Breaking with the past is always hard, even when it doesn't involve female empowerment. Add that dimension, and a challenge becomes an epic struggle. Just ask Saudi women about that.

No Parades Without a Marching Band

The way we process sound is fundamental to the attraction and appreciation of music. Human society has long understood the power of sound. From early drumming rhythms, beaten out on fallen logs with bones by our earliest ancestors, to complex orchestral soundscapes, sound is an integral part of the human experience.

The study of psychoacoustics takes a look at what's involved in this complicated, physiological and emotional process. As Dr. Alfred Tomatis, a (controversial) pioneer in the field, observed: Sound " a nutrient for the nervous system." Specifically, it would seem, for the Limbic System - the origin and conduit of emotions in the brain that also (quite logically) is charged with attaching meaning and weight to symbols.

Academics tell us that qualities of sound, and music by default, like vibration, resonance and rhythm make the experience "sticky". That is to say, sound is easily attached to emotions, memories, people, and through clever advertising to brands -strengthening the connections, anchoring the attendant symbols and finally, ascribing sentiment to the experience. That's why there's never a parade without a marching band, never a commercial without carefully selected musical accompaniment.

Music has been long thought to have therapeutic value. Recent research reveals that people who regularly listen to music for several hours a day live longer, healthier lives than those who do not make music a regular part of their daily routine. Researchers have also long pursued the notion that music enhances learning by "ordering" the mind and fine-tuning focus. A study I discovered on the Net suggested that college students who were presented with a ten-minute Mozart piece before testing did a consistently better job on the tests than those who were not exposed to the music. Though research like this is still controversial, it makes sense to me.

It is also clear that music has had a central role in religion and spirituality from the dawn of human life. Hindu texts suggest that all life emerges from harmonic vibration, and chanting mantras is an important part of the religion's practice. Music-enhanced trance is a well-known spiritual technique. Especially when paired with dance, as in the case of Sufi Dervishes. Music can elicit bliss and enhance happiness; but it can also serve as a call-to-arms, a patriotic anthem - warning enemies and mobilizing partisans. Powerful roles for powerful tunes.

Perhaps that's why so many, myself included, have a life-long fascination with sound and music. When I look back at my own musical development, I recognize two germinal experiences. The first, as a choir-boy, was singing Latin hymns and anthems at Christmas, like "The Gloria," and the second was the release by Led Zeppelin of Stairway to Heaven - and the effect that had on my understanding of just what music was capable of doing. I'm pleased to say that, since that time, I've continued my own musical explorations - as I think is pretty clear from previous posts. There is so much good music out there that I still need to check out. And when I do, you'll be the first to know.

Friday, January 12, 2007

White Men Playing Didgeridoos

Musical fusion experiments rather beg the question: What works? And, what doesn't? As you might expect, I've got some opinions on that issue. You see, I have a problem with white men playing Didgeridoos (didjeridu). I know, I'm risking the ire of all the new age music gods, but I'm just not convinced the pairing is anything other than uncomfortable at best, and a really, really bad idea at worst. Speaking only for myself, that's not how I define fusion. Affectation, maybe. Cultural dysphony, for sure. But not fusion.

As presumptuous an assertion as that may be, I am mindful of the definition of fusion: the merging of two colliding nuclei into a third, more robust nucleus accompanied by a burst of high-energy. You know, enough to make you dance or exclaim out loud: "Now that's what I'm talking about." Jazz fusion qualifies, Celtic fusion often works; and Afro-Caribbean sounds are da bomb. Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra is a personal favorite, with their fusion of Indo-European sound into Hindustani modern jazz.

White men playing Didgeridoos? Those nuclei just don't merge. No way. And the energy released by the impact? Well, let's just say it surely won't cause the sun to come up every morning or the moon to move across the evening sky.

So where does one draw the line? All instruments had their origins somewhere else, right? In most cases, that is an accurate statement. And, an instrument is an instrument. Can't argue with that either. For me, the question is best framed: What works? There are as many answers to that question as there are individual points of view. I believe, however, that I can say with some certainty that the personal determination of what works and what doesn't often goes beyond facts and logic, defying simple explanation. It's a limbic system thing. Visceral, if you like.

I must admit that Didgeridoos have an obvious role in lush, musical soundscapes. Likewise in ambient drones and experimental new age anthems. And of course, I don't consider any of those pseudo-genres to be real music. I'll occasionally go to sleep on Sunday nights listening to Hearts of Space, but I view the show as more of a sedative than a musical experience. Kind of like a Chloral Hydrate or Benadryl. Sure, I'm looking for some comments here. And if this post doesn't provoke some discussion, I'll know I need to do some serious SEO and get a few bulletins out.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bluegrass Fusion

There's more to Bluegrass today than banjos, mandolins, fiddles and guitars. More than whiny, nasal voiced-mountain boys hollering; and more than the traditional breakdowns, camp tunes and spirituals that characterized the genre for so many years.

I started listening to Bluegrass in the late 60s, when Richard Greene, Peter Rowan, Vassar Clements and the late Clarence White were simply called: The Bluegrass Band. There was a number of popular folk clubs where I grew up in L.A. about that time: the Troubadour, The Ash Grove and the Ice House; the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach; and the Mecca in Buena Park. All booked bluegrass as well as folk and blues acts. In retrospect, Orange County's Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played a significant role in pushing traditional bluegrass into new directions. For a few months, early on, Jackson Brown played with the Dirt Band. And Clarence White played with the Byrds during one of their many iterations. The stew was starting to simmer with new flavors, even back then.

Toward the end of the folk-music revival of the 60s and early 70s, many alternative and acoustic musicians moved toward country-rock. That was the place to be at the time. Interest in bluegrass moved back from the mainstream to a small niche of aficionados, bands and festivals. The annual Strawberry Festival at the Hetch Hetchy just outside of Yosemite Park has certainly been a West Coast institution for decades. Musical purists like Del McCoury and Ricky Scaggs did their level best to keep the genre afloat and refreshed while the rest of popular culture was rocking-and-rolling.

Then came Alison Krauss, the Joan of Arc of Bluegrass music, just in the nick of time. And just like the super-heroine that she is, she saved the day, refreshed the page, and reinvigorated all things Bluegrass. The whole industry owes her and Union Station a vote of thanks. From that engine of rekindled interest has come a lot of great, new talent. And a lot of new directions.

First, the talent. Individuals like Bella Fleck, Johnny Staats (Wires & Wood) and Allison Brown are having tremendous influence within the genre. Groups like the New Grange, Seldom Scene, and of course, Nickel Creek, are creating new standards, while taking the genre in daring new directions. Adding Celtic flourishes, medieval ornamentation and even classical-sounding riffs to traditional sounding Bluegrass melodies. That's fusion.

Fusion can be defined as combining two nuclei into a third, heavier element with a simultaneous release of high energy. Like adding jazz licks to traditional Bluegrass to create a merged sound that knocks your socks off.

Nobody does that better than Bella Fleck and the Flecktones. How a musical genius like Bella Fleck ended up playing the banjo is still inscrutable to me. But after hearing him live on five occasions and having an opportunity to chat with him backstage at Southern Oregon's Britt Festival, I am convinced that he may be one of the most creative musicians alive. Who else has written a complex, multi-part band tune that is a palindrome? Who else plays Bach on the Banjo?

Bella started out playing Bluegrass. He and Sam Bush were hanging out playing tunes when the Flecktones were just a vague concept taking form in the ether. Now the group, and Bella's vision and love affair with the edge of the envelope, are a principal engine driving alternative Bluegrass.

Sam Bush is fond of straying in to Southern Rock from his Bluegrass roots. His "Memphis in the Mean Time" is a real hoot and puts his own musical point of view into clear focus. This guy likes to rock.

My personal favorite at the moment, as these things are fluid and change, is Tony Furtado. Furtado, an all-American boy, is part Italian and part Portuguese. He must have a little Gypsy in him as well. His tunes and personal performances are beyond what anybody else, except Bella and Nickel Creek, are doing. Known for his banjo, which is certainly daring - and also displays technical virtuosity, it is Furtado's slide guitar that most appeals to me. His tunes are engaging and his instrumental performance is minimalist, never an unnecessary note. Still, his licks are just about perfect. The kind of music that invites deeper involvement and appreciation. But hey, that's just my opinion. Check him out and see for yourself.

I'm going to write more about "fusion" later, as it is an interest of mine and a central theme of Pop Impulse. Some times fusing different elements works, and sometimes it doesn't (look for a future post titled: White Men Playing Didgeridoos). I like what I'm hearing in the Bluegrass world a lot, and am encouraged that this particular American institution has a long and productive life left to live in our popular culture.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Slide Guitar Sightings

I have always had an interest in virtuoso guitarists. A wonderful instrument, the guitar. An evolutionary extension of the lute family. Easy to learn the basics, easy to play at a perfectly functional level, and perhaps most important: a lot easier to carry than a piano. Like many other guys, I learned guitar to impress girls and enhance my opportunities to, ah, communicate.

Guitar players, like the music they perform, come in all flavors. French Gypsies like Django Reinhard; Flamenco virtuosos like Pepe Romero; acoustic masters like Leo Kottke; Classical legends like John Williams; country pickers like Sean Watkins; good old rock and rollers like Johnny Winter or Eric Clapton; and, Calcutta slide guitar pandits like V.M Bhatt.

I've been listening to a lot of great slide guitar lately, and that got me on a mad research rage through the net and my ever-growing collection of digital music. From my own collection, I dialed up a playlist of all of Tony Furtado's slide tunes. Being a resident of my own neighborhood, the Pacific Northwest, Furtado is a personal favorite. He's really known for his banjo, which people are forever comparing to Bella. Sure, they're both out-of-the-box but IMHO the similarity ends there.

I love Furtado for his slide, and his engaging, emotional tunes that are beautifully minimalist. Not an unnecessary note. Tight, without being sparse. As a bonus, Kelly Jo Phelps - himself an accomplished and celebrated slide player - adds his bluesy growl to several of Furtado's songs. What a great pairing. If you haven't heard Kelly Jo's version of "Goodnight Irene" on his own disc, Shine Eyed Mister Zen, check it out for a real treat.

Arlen Roth is an unsung institution. I should know. After years of serious guitar worship, I just found out about the guy. I'm humbled. He's awesome, and always has been. Raucous, Southern slide slamming - often at full speed - that's Arlen Roth. The guy can shift gears, however. His acoustic version of Layla is something special. We send him our love and celebrate his passage from considerable recent grief to a better place and his resultant new work. Dial-up Arlen Roth: When A Man Loves a Woman. Check it out.

Slide guitar players ply their trade across a variety of musical styles. Rock and Blues genres have always had a lion's share of the greatest slide players. Eric Clapton, Duane Alman, Eric Johnson, Johnny Winter, Robert Cray, and a personal favorite: Robben Ford. Alternative country bands also spotlight the slide.

Now here's the brain warp. My wife and I were at Quebec City's really wonderful Summer party, the Festival d'ete, a few years back listening to music all day at sites all over historic old-town. On the steps of the main, downtown station we stumbled on this Indian guy playing slide. Yea, uh huh. Still, stranger things have happened so we sat on a 400 year-old wall and listened. This guy, V.M. Bhatt, played a modified Gibson archtop acoustic that he had modified with 17 additional strings. That's right, 17. Bottom line, the instrument became more Sitar-like and better able to handle the complicated scales of classical Hidustani music. He played a lot of that, then launched into a lighting fast version of Orange Blossom Special. We were floored.

Right there and then I decided that Mr. Bhatt was the best slide played I had ever heard. Who'd thought? I've come to find out that there is an entire school of Calcutta Slide Guitar, and another master that deserves attention. Debashish Battacharaya. These players are technically gifted, as musicians of Indian Carnatic music must be to perform. True masters who studied under Pandits as novices for years of disciplined instruction. Their music pushes the limits.

Debashish Battacharaya Plays Slide

Latino Baseball Swag

New Colors from Classic Leagues

Baseball may by the US "national pastime," but in Cuba, the game is a passionate, national obsession. Always has been.

Both US & Cuban pro leagues were formed in the mid-1800's. The American leagues were formed in 1869, with the emergence of the Cincinnati Red Stockings team. Cuban professional leagues followed in the 1880's.

Cuba learned of the game from Cuban students sent to the US and American sailors who brought the game to Cuba, where it quickly became wildly popular. So popular, in fact, that early Cuban teams pioneered branding and merchandising techniques that would take their US counterparts decades to discover and employ.

For example, each of the four major Cuban teams - the Alamendares; Habana; Cienfuegos; and the Mantanzas clubs - had an established team color, slogan, and mascot. As a result, fans became even more attached to their teams and strident in their support. Families were sometimes separated and estranged due to conflicting club loyalties.

According to Jerry Cohen, owner of vintage baseball apparel manufacturer Ebbets Field Flannels, "Cuban professional teams always paid special attention to the appearance of their uniforms and gear including the use of vibrant colors, fancy-script fonts, beautiful women and animal mascots so cute they would make teenage girls squeal with delight."

Ebbets Field Flannels, for example, features a line of T-shirts emblazoned with Cuba's version of "the girls of baseball." Cuban artist Andre Garcia, often compared to Playboy Magazine's Vargas, produced a series of highly stylized images of team pinup girls, barely clad in revealing team jerseys and an early version of hot pants. "Each team had its own look, and Garcia successfully melded graphics and sex appeal to create some truly memorable images," says Cohen.

Baseball history makes it clear that in addition to memorable images, Cuban teams played a lot of memorable ball games - even holding their own against some US major league clubs.

According to a Wikipedia article on the subject: "Beginning in 1908, Cuban teams scored a number of successes in competition against major league baseball teams, behind outstanding players such as pitcher José Méndez and outfielder Cristóbal Torriente. By the 1920s, the level of play in the Cuban League was superb, as Negro League stars like Oscar Charleston and John Henry Lloyd spent their winters playing in Cuba."

There are many connections between the early American Negro Leagues and Cuban Pro teams. Since the Minor Leagues including the Negro League played in the Summer like the Majors, and Cuban pros played Winter ball, players were sometimes shared between teams. Negro League greats like Josh Gibson and Sam Bankhead joined Charleston and Lloyd along with a host of their contemporaries to play ball in Cuba. Just imagine some of those games, featuring teams comprised of the best Cuban pros along side the very best of the Negro Leagues. It was probably some of the greatest baseball ever played.

Cuba, of course, has a large Afro-Caribbean population and prejudice there is muted at worst and non-existent at best. That fact served to facilitate the exchange of players between leagues.

A little-known story including the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey and barrier-breaking player Jackie Robinson involves the first season after Rickey had stunned baseball by signing Robinson to play for the Dodgers. Like today, the team conducted Spring Training in Florida - which was still practicing segregation in 1947 when Robinson joined the Dodgers. To avoid the prejudice sure to dog practice and the segregated society that would not even permit Black players to set foot legally on a field occupied by Whites, the Dodgers moved their Spring Training to Havana. After his brief but illustrious career in the Negro Leagues, Robinson must have felt right at home in the Cuban capital.

Today, there are 30 Negro League players and five league executives in Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. The recent deaths of two of the league's oldest surviving players, Buck O'Neill (94) and Silas Simmons (101), has refocused attention on the important role that the Negro League teams played in the communities they represented and in the evolution of the Major Leagues.

As interest has grown, so has the line of vintage baseball apparel. Ebbets Field carries a full-line of historically-inspired Jerseys, T-shirts and hats from great Negro League teams like the Monarchs; the Homestead Grays, Birmingham Barons, Cleveland Buckeyes, Detroit Stars, and of course, the New York Cubans. This swag is unique, classy and way cool. Take it from me.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Web 2.0 in a Box

My friend at SUN forwarded me this news, and I thought I'd share. Think Web 2.0 in a box. Yup, and a mighty big box at that. You plug in a really big pipe with mega-bandwidth, another with power; and, a third with water for the cooling system. Then flip the switch and turn the puppy on. Instant data center, in a shipping container. If you don't have a GooglePlex at your immediate command, which isn't out of the question at some point, then this is an awesome, portable solution. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the gear is uber-industrial strength SUN hardware running, well, whatever you want: Solaris, Linux, la ti dah. Sweet. Good work, Scott.

Ugly Betty and Love & Rockets

What do Ugly Betty and Love & Rockets Have in Common?

Salma Hayek doesn't mess around. When she brought the wildly popular international telenovela format to U.S. network television, she created a "state-of-the-art" showpiece that is attracting a substantial, cross-over audience.

Ugly Betty, Hayek's very successful weekly show on ABC, is breaking barriers and setting new standards. The show features a layered and complex cast of characters that we can all somehow recognize and relate to, superimposed over comic-book caricatures, in highly stylized, every-day settings. The images are real, rich and textured in a distinctively campy sort of way. The composite content seems to move seamlessly between real and surreal, while always maintaining the all-important street cred and authenticity that only really well designed and executed productions can create.

It as though Hayek has taken Hollywood by the neck and, looking the industry directly in their collective stupid, white male eyes, said: "Okay, you guys just don't get it. So here's what we're talking about." And she did it right, in spades. Touchstone Television was wise to give the accomplished Mexican diva her chance to produce and direct a prime-time show. There is just no doubt that Ugly Betty will change the way we make and appreciate prime-time television. In a word, that's "influence." Much like the ground-breaking comic series Love & Rockets had on alternative comics in the 80s.

Love & Rockets came out of the East L.A. Barrio in the early 80s, grabbed the comic industry by the neck and proceeded to change the face of comic art and content. The Hernandez brothers; Jaime, Gilbert and occasionally Mario, brought complex characters with engaging stories set in real life circumstances to the comic world - through spectacular art and hard-hitting street stories. Jaime's "Maggie the mechanic" and her side-kick Hopey are two of the most engaging characters in the comic world. And they're often worrying about such mundane conundrums as when the next beer will materialize. Gilbert's Luba, from his famous Palomar series set in a village in Latin America, is an equally tangible and engaging character. The point-of-view is decidedly Latin, as is the Zeitgeist of Ugly Betty.

Like Love & Rockets, Ugly Betty stars "real women," and comfortably accommodates characters that are gay and illegal immigrants. Plots acknowledge that sometimes even good people run afoul of the law. Sometimes even friends and neighbors fight and pull each other's hair. And, in a way, the content in both Ugly Betty and Love and Rockets affirm very basic family values - as they are understood in real life on barrio streets and in the villages of Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the case of Novelas, be they telenovelas or comic novelas, the characters become our friends and companions. The subject of our conversations and finally, part of the family. They succeed, in part, because their creators make it easy for us to give-it-up and get involved. We relate. We laugh, we get angry, we want revenge. And thus, we are engaged. Each episode of Ugly Betty is a jewel , like each issue of the Love & Rockets series. But the real pleasure comes in getting to know the characters, their homes, families and personal pecadillos over time. Now that's entertainment.

Gypsy Music - Historic Improvisation

In 1859, noted Hungarian composer and musicologist Ferenc Liszt published a book in which he stated unequivocally that all Hungarian music had Gypsy roots. Though most of Hungarian traditional folk music features recognizable Gypsy violin melodies and ornamentation, the controversy he sparked continues today.

In reality, the influence of Gypsy music extends much further than Hungary, where the connection is clear and well documented.

The Gypsies, or Roma as they prefer to be called, are an ancient race that originated in Rajastan, India. Until the link between the Romani language and language of India was published in 1776 by Istvan Valyi, Europeans were unaware of these origins. In fact, the word Gypsy is derived from Egypt - where Europeans assumed the Gypsies originated.

Gypsy music is some of the oldest and most influential on the planet. Music and dance have always played a very special role in Roma society and culture. Every occasion has its musical accompaniment, every ceremony its special song or dance. The making of music is a thread that is woven throughout the Gypsy migration.

Today, there are Roma communities in most central Asian and European countries. Some Rom families have emigrated to the U.S. and Canada. In many cases, it is music and dance that unites these diverse and far-flung communities.

As the Roma migrated from India across central Asia, through the Middle East and Turkic countries up into the Balkans, Europe, and finally the British Isles, their music touched every ethnic group that they encountered. It left lasting impressions and influenced a broad spectrum of musical styles across multiple cultural traditions and continents.

At the same time, the Roma co-opted and incorporated musical instruments and melodic elements that they encountered in their westward migration into their own traditions. Thus, they carried memorable bits-and-pieces that they heard around them throughout their travels. Both of these practices combine to produce a powerful Gypsy influence on the development of contemporary musical styles.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Russian and Hungarian nobles maintained Gypsy Orchestras and choruses to provide musical entertainment for royalty and major national events. That influence forever changed the music of both nations.

The Gypsies arrived in Wales in the 1700's. They introduced the violin to Celtic music and added the Welsh harp to their own repertoire.

Full of passion and exotic melodies, Gypsy music slides easily in and out of major and minor scales. It is their pension for using the minor scale, called the "Gypsy scale" by Europeans, that characterizes Roma musicians. And Romany music always contains fluid, imaginative improvisations - whether on violin, guitar, or tuba in a Balkan Gypsy brass band.

We can hear the influences of this compelling and engaging music in bands and tunes from Turkey; Armenia; the Balkans; Russia; Eastern Europe; Spain and Portugal. Gypsy music has influenced multiple folk music traditions as well as a whole generation of classical composers including Liszt, Moeller, Rodrigo and Albinez.

One of the strongest influences Gypsy music has had is in Spain, where most Flamenco artists are Roma. Flamenco, perhaps the most passionate music in the world, owes its unique sound and exotic dance to strong Gypsy roots. Bands like the Gypsy Kings - masters of Spanish Flamenco (though they are from southern France) - are well known in "world music" circles.

The Portuguese "Fado," a traditional style of song with many forms, owes part of its haunting melodies and stunning guitar work to Gypsy influences. Street Fado performers, often the engine of musical creativity in Portugal, are frequently Roma.

The Manouche clan of French Gypsies has had a heavy influence on Jazz. Django Reinhardt, the best-known Manouche, was one of the most influential jazz guitarists and musical innovators of the thirties and forties. Playing with violinist Stephan Grapelli in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, he helped shape the entire universe of jazz guitar . Django's unique jazz leads, fluid improvisations and exotic ornamentation are still influencing popular new bands like 8 1/2 Souvenirs.

It can be argued that, in addition to bringing the guitar and violin into a number of Gadje (non-Gypsy) musical vocabularies, the Roma were the first musicians to practice improvisation. In fact, there are references in the literature to Gypsy musical improvisations as early as 1500. It is likely, however, that the Roma have been improvising as long as they have been making music.

That makes sense, as the Gypsies have always disdained written composition, musical tablature and all of the accoutrements of formal musicology. There is no evidence that any attempt has ever been made by the Roma to formalize or standardize their music. That's not their style.

Every time a Gypsy song, or any other for that matter, is performed by Roma musicians it is entirely unique. This is consistent with the lack of a written Gypsy literary record. And with a linguistic tradition that emphasizes social interaction over the exchange of facts. Life, love, music and performance are very much "of the moment" for the Roma.

The Gypsies carry their disdain for external structure and standardization in their daily lives into their music and literary traditions. At the same time, the Roma prize individuality, cleverness, assertiveness and personal creativity. That leads to uniquely personal musical interpretations and promotes technical experimentation.

So in that sense, it is my personal conviction that we owe at least part of the credit for modern jazz and improvisational lead rock guitar to the Roma culture and early Gypsy musical innovation.

Triste Cantado - The New Fadistas

A new generation of angelic-voiced divas has hit the world music scene. And they're all young, beautiful and Portuguese.

Following in the footsteps of Portugal's most famous female entertainer, Amalia Rodrigues, this new generation of highly stylized and emotional vocalists is a musical phenomenon of major proportions - not to be overlooked by serious musical explorers.

Most fans of world music, jazz and the popular music of the 70's and 80's are familiar with Portuguese-language songs from Brazil. More recently, the island of Cape Verde off of Angola has produced a host of well-received Afro-Portuguese vocalists, including: Cesaria Evora; Waldamar Bastos and the Mendes Brothers.

The new divas of Portuguese song are the young "fadistas."

I'm not sure how the Portuguese fado originated. One of the world's most haunting and melancholy styles, the fado has become the modern voice of Portuguese musical traditions - just as the Samba is the soul of Brazilian music. The word "fado" comes from the Latin fatum, meaning fate, destiny or doom.

The Fado is yearning and melancholy, before all else. The Portuguese have always been widely traveled explorers and seamen. One can only suppose that these long journeys - characterized by homesick sailors and home-bound lonely wives - played a role in the Fado's development.

Structurally, the fado features the Portuguese Guitarra, the classical guitar - called a viola in Portugal - and a strong, often contralto voice. Though a number of male vocalists perform fados, the song is best and most recognizably performed by female artists - who often drape themselves in black shawls while on stage and devote themselves to the tradition. Fadistas perform in a still posture which is solemn and dignified, using hand and facial gestures to add style and emphasis to their songs.

Amalia Rodrigues, Portugal's most internationally acclaimed celebrity of the last century, was a renowned "fadista" who brought her style and presence to stages and audiences worldwide in her heyday. A symbol of the Portuguese culture, there was an official state mourning period of three days when she died in 1999.

Argentina Santos, who, it is written, still lives and cooks in Lisbon, was also a celebrated practitioner of the art of the Fado. Today, young and vital singers like Misia, Mariza, Christina Branco and Malfalda Arnauth continue the tradition. Even Cesaria Evora, Cape Verde's Diva of song, relies on the Fado to really move her audiences. And moving an audience, often to sympathetic tears, is the whole point of a Fado performance.

Songs combine traditional Iberian folk influences with North African, Gypsy and some Middle-Eastern vocal ornamentation. That's my ear and opinion. Like authentic Flamenco in Spain, finding real Fado in Lisbon can be challenging. From what I've read, the smaller bars with no stages, just a couple of chairs for the musicians and a created space for the vocalist, are the best bets. And there is a tradition of absolute silence while listening to Fado being performed. I'm sure that speaks to the emotional content of the songs, whether you understand the language or not. The passion and yearning are palpable.

Sample playlist

Song Artist

Fado Da Saudade Amália Rodrigues
Guitare Triste Amália Rodrigues
Dura Memoria Amália Rodrigues
O Fado Chora-Se Bem Maria Da Fe
Medo Mariza
Toada Do Desengano Mariza
Que Deus me Perdoe Mariza
Primavera Mariza
Fado Arnauth Mafalda Arnauth
Canção Mafalda Arnauth
Cavalo à Solta Mafalda Arnauth
O sabor de saber Cristina Branco
Um Fado Palavras minhas Cristina Branco
Soneto de separação Cristina Branco

Wii Has *So* Won

The fat lady of gaming has sung, and Wii won. Kicked butt, in fact. Up against the much-touted Sony Play Station and Microsoft's Xbox, Wii has captured a nice share of recent game-box retail sales. The Nintendo device won gamer's hearts for a bunch of reasons. First, Wii is fun . Sleek and uber-modern, Wii is minimalist in appearance and footprint. The Wii wand is another unique marketing hook. It adds a tactile dimension to gaming, and more importantly, encourages an upright, on-your-feet playing style. Clever, that. But even more clever, or serendipitous as the case may be, the out-the-door story about gamers getting so excited that they actually broke things with wands flying out of their hands. The company, of course, had an instant fix. So no harm done there, but on the other side of the coin, the story drove every gamer in the universe crazy to see what the commotion was all about. Bingo, instant attraction.

Another big win is the way the device is playing with the girl-gamers, who evidently disdain the couch-potato approach to gaming. And of course, the similarity of Sony's device to the Ford Expedition can't be discounted. Overkill for current gamers, and the rest of us are not yet sure we want to cede control of our entire multimedia universe to Sony. More likely to Apple, Inc.

Xbox continues to impress, in an indelibly Microsoft sort of way. And its sales are robust. It's got some great games, but it *is* a Microsoft product and has that designed by committee of Redmond geeks feel to this writer. Bottom line, Microsoft has a lot of irons in the fire and its projects have been known to slip, or to slide down the internal priority rankings. Nintendo is focused. That fact ensures their total commitment to the gaming world.

All of this begs the question, wil gaming consoles morph into home multimedia content control and distribution hubs? Or, will some other device - probably with an Apple on it somewhere - fill that space, leaving gaming to dedicated consoles? I tend to go with the latter scenario, which fits with the Wii's ascendancy as well as with Apple's recent introductions. I know a little bit about this stuff, in case you're wondering. I introduced AEGIS: Guardian of the Fleet for Time Warner Interactive, before the group had its own, in-house communications people. And I gave Rob and Graham at Trilobyte their first corporate ID through a comprehensive press kit I wrote for The 7th Guest. Landeros designed the porfolio cover, and it was as killer as the game graphics. But that's another post for another day.