I’ll be playing a new song from the Yiddish Glory Project on the radio program airing this weekend. Thanks to Dan Rosenberg, producer of the project, for sharing the song with me. The song is called “I Am A Typhus Louse” and was found by Anna Shternshis, Professor of Yiddish Studies at the University of Toronto, when she was researching songs about past epidemics. Here’s what they say about the song:
During World War II, typhus became rampant as Jews and other prisoners were victims of forced starvation and horrific living conditions. Typhus, which is spread by lice, killed hundreds of thousands, especially the malnourished with weak immune systems.
Some used music and humour to document these types of experiences. In 1942, L. Vinakur composed this comedic song, “I Am a Typhus Louse,” in a ghetto in Transnistria (a region that is now part of Moldova and Ukraine).
The piece is written from the perspective of a louse that had already ravaged the Jewish population, forced thousands into quarantine and wants to target Nazi soldiers.
The music was composed by violinist, composer and conductor David Beigelman (1887-1945). In 1912, he became the director of the Łódź Yiddish Theatre. In 1940, he was sent to the Łódź ghetto (where he conducted the ghetto’s symphony). In 1944, he was deported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where he died the following year just before the end of the Holocaust.
(From the information on the YouTube page for the video of the song, linked below.)
Here’s the video for the song, which includes English subtitles.
Around the same time that this song was shared with me, I had also heard an enlightening story on NPR about the typhus epidemic that swept through the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland during World War II. It is especially poignant given the current global coronavirus pandemic. You can read that story here: “The Warsaw Ghetto Can Teach The World How To Beat Back An Outbreak.”
I’m glad to hear that there’s more music from the Yiddish Glory Project coming our way in the future!
On the program airing this weekend, I’ll play music in tribute to two reggae greats who passed away recently: Toots Hibbert – founder of Toots & the Maytals – and pioneering dub producer Bunny “Striker” Lee. You’ll also hear from several recent releases: The Zonke Family from Zimbabwe; London-based singer-composer Esbe; A.G.A. Trio with inspiration from Armenia/Georgia/Anatolia (Turkey;) modernized traditional music of Poland by Karolina Cicha; and Sian, a trio of young women vocalists from Scotland.
I also play a piece by my friends in the Tulsa-based Irish traditional band Cairde na Gael, going out to my son Ryan who turns 15 this weekend. It’s a medley of polka tunes that Ryan has played with his violin teacher Jocelyn Rowland Khalaf: “Britches Full of Stitches/Mickey’s Chewing Bubble Gum/John Ryan’s.” Happy birthday, Ryan!
Here’s a video of Karolina Cicha performing the Tatar song “Tipir” live with her bandmates. She’s a singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist who often works with the traditional music of the ethnic minorities of north-eastern Poland. I hadn’t heard her until this new album came out recently. I’m sure I’ll be playing more of her music on the show in the future!
I hope you can tune in to this week’s show. Go to the Listen menu above for details on when and where you can hear it.
On the special program airing the weekend of October 10-11, I’ll feature a wide spectrum of music by Native American and First Nations artists from across North America in honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day (October 12) here in the United States. You’ll hear: the brilliant poem-songs of Muscogee-Creek artist Joy Harjo; Cree musician Cris Derksen’s modern fusion of classical cello with powwow music; the beautiful voices of Diné singer Louie Gonnie and all-woman northern drum group The Mankillers; traditional powwow drums recorded in Oklahoma; a Cherokee language version of a Christian hymn by the Kingfisher Trio; an atmospheric composition by Mohican multi-instrumentalist Bill Miller; a folk-rock original by Inuk/Inuit musician William Tagoona; singer-songwriter Sharon Burch with a Navajo-language song; and more. I hope you can join me for this special show.
Go to the Listen page from the main menu to find out when and where you can hear the program on your radio dial in Tulsa and Spokane or streaming live from anywhere on the web.
On the program airing this week, we’ll celebrate 50 years of Orchestra Baobab – the beloved band from Senegal that began its career in 1970 as the house band for the newly opened Club Baobab in Dakar. We’ll hear music spanning their entire career as we pay tribute to their enduring legacy as one of Africa’s greatest musical collectives.
If you didn’t already know this, I’ve used Orchestra Baobab’s song “Colette” as the intro theme music for the show since it began in 2017. After a while, I also started using their song “Bikowa” as the outro theme music. (Both of these songs are found on their truly wonderful album, ‘Made in Dakar,’ released in 2007.) I think the band’s brilliant blend of West African and Afro-Caribbean rhythms beautifully exemplifies the kind of music I love to share with listeners, and they’re one of the bands whose music inspired me to create The Rhythm Atlas for Public Radio Tulsa.
Here’s a nice taste of Orchestra Baobab playing live in 2007. Since then, three longtime members have passed away: singer Ndiouga Dieng in 2016, saxophone player Issa Cissoko in 2019, and singer and founding member Balla Sidibe – who passed away in August 2020.
I hope you can tune in to hear this special show. Long Live Orchestra Baobab!
You can hear the program Saturday, October 3 at 7 p.m. (Pacific time US) on KPBX 91.1 FM – streaming online at Spokane Public Radio or on Sunday, October 4 at 6 p.m. (Central time US) on KWGS 89.5 FM – streaming online at Public Radio Tulsa.
Many thanks to Joe Cohen and World Circuit Records for providing some invaluable materials for this program.
Join me this weekend as I celebrate the show’s 3rd birthday with a special playlist of well-known pop, rock, and country songs as covered by artists from all around the world. People told me they so thoroughly enjoyed this same theme from last year’s birthday special, that I thought I’d dig up some more musical treasures for this year’s celebration.
You’ll hear some unexpected and highly entertaining renditions of familiar songs: a Dutch musician singing a Beatles hit in Spanish, a rockin’ Arabic version of a James Brown song, a classic from Black Sabbath reworked into a cumbia number, a mind-blowing psychedelic-prog rock version of “The Sounds of Silence” by a band from Spain, and much more. It’ll be a blast!
Many thanks to all of you listeners who tune in each week! I appreciate the support of the show and I love being able to share this music with you. And an extra special thank you to Public Radio Tulsa for adding me to their broadcast line-up three years ago, and also to Spokane Public Radio for starting to carry the show in 2020.
(Go the Listen page for further details and links to when and where to hear the show, and a link to the archived audio on PRX. My apologies for getting this posted after the program aired on Spokane Public Radio this weekend. You can still tune in to the Public Radio Tulsa broadcast tonight – September 20th, 2020 at 7 pm!)
I’ll be playing a track called “Pontin Pontin” by Cabo Verdean singer Bana on the program airing this weekend. It’s from a wonderful compilation album titled ‘Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed!’ Released by Analog Africa in 2016, the album collects music from Cabo Verde that features synthesizers in the mix, mostly recorded from 1977 to 1984 or so. I have the song on a different sampler CD, so while doing some research on the album, I found the following notes (excerpted below) on the Analog Africa Bandcamp page. It’s a fun and fanciful story created by the Analog Africa promotional writers to explain the rise of synthesizers in the music of Cabo Verde in the 1970s and 80s. There is no source verifying whether even the most trivial aspects of this story are factual, except for the statement in the last paragraph about the musicians playing the songs on the album. There was a ship that ran aground on the Cabo Verdean island of Boa Vista in 1968, but it wasn’t carrying synthesizers. It was carrying four bells bound for a church in Brasilia as well as other cargo, and its ruined hull is still there on the beach today. I suspect the story of that ship was possibly used as a jumping off point for the creation of “the mystery behind the cosmic sound of Cabo Verde.”
You can read the full notes that include all of the even more fanciful aspects of this tall tale on the album’s page on Bandcamp. Despite the backstory being fictitious, the music is fantastic and it’s fun to hear how these musicians incorporated electronics into the popular music of Cabo Verde.
“In the spring of 1968 a cargo ship was preparing to leave the port of Baltimore with an important shipment of musical instruments. Its final destination was Rio De Janeiro, where the EMSE Exhibition (Exposição Mundial Do Son Eletrônico) was going to be held.
It was the first expo of its kind to take place in the Southern Hemisphere and many of the leading companies in the field of electronic music were involved. Rhodes, Moog, Farfisa, Hammond and Korg, just to name a few, were all eager to present their newest synthesisers and other gadgets to a growing and promising South American market, spearheaded by Brazil and Colombia.
The ship with the goods set sail on the 20th of March on a calm morning and mysteriously disappeared from the radar on the very same day.
One can only imagine the surprise of the villagers of Cachaço, on the Sao Nicolau island of Cabo Verde, when a few months later they woke up and found a ship stranded in their fields, in the middle of nowhere, 8 km from any coastline. After consulting with the village elders, the locals had decided to open the containers to see what was inside – however gossip as scintillating as this travels fast and colonial police had already arrived and secured the area.
Finally, a team of welders arrived to open the containers and the whole village waited impatiently. The atmosphere, which had been filled with joy and excitement, quickly gave way to astonishment. Hundreds of boxes conjured, all containing keyboards and other instruments which they had never seen before: and all useless in an area devoid of electricity. Disappointment was palpable. The goods were temporarily stored in the local church and the women of the village had insisted a solution be found before Sunday mass.
It is said that charismatic anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral had ordered for the instruments to be distributed equally in places that had access to electricity, which placed them mainly in schools. This distribution was best thing that could have happened – keyboards found fertile grounds in the hands of curious children, born with an innate sense of rhythm who picked up the ready-to-use instruments. This in turn facilitated the modernisation of local rhythms such as Mornas, Coladeras and the highly danceable music style called Funaná, which had been banned by the Portuguese colonial rulers until 1975 due to its sensuality!
8 out of the 15 songs presented in this compilation had been recorded with the backing of the band Voz de Cabo Verde, lead by Paulino Vieira, the mastermind behind the creation and promulgation of what is known today as The Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde.”
On a recent weekend trip to St. Louis, I was able to stop in at one of my favorite record stores – Vintage Vinyl in the Delmar Loop – and I picked up a couple handfuls of used CDs from a wide variety of international artists. They have a fantastic selection of music from around the world. One of the pieces I’ll play on the program airing this weekend is from a CD in that bunch: the one and only album released in 1981 by The Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra of America and California, a large ensemble that was based in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a wonderful record full of Yiddish, Israeli, Russian, and Romany folk music. I was intrigued when I read in the liner notes that the album was produced and engineered by Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead. (In 1988, it was remastered for CD release by Rykodisc.)
While doing some research on the group, I came across a wonderful video on Mickey Hart’s YouTube page that gives a nice history of the band and how they came to make the record with him. Spoiler alert: one of the band members was Mickey’s orthopedic surgeon! The 16-minute video features founding band members Gloria and Barry Blum; the story of meeting Mickey starts at the 5:44 mark.
I also found this related short video of Mickey Hart talking with his friend ethnomusicologist Fred Lieberman about the making of the Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra album. Lieberman was a long-time faculty member at the University of California at Santa Cruz (my alma mater!) and was instrumental in helping to facilitate the establishment of The Grateful Dead Archive at the university’s McHenry Library. (I’ve been thinking about UC Santa Cruz and some of my Banana Slug friends that still live in the area as the wildfires have devastated parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains this past week. Here’s a place where people can help.)
Both of these videos were produced when Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released their “Mickey Hart Collection” in 2011.
You can find out more about the Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra album and read a PDF of the full liner notes with information about the songs and each of the musicians in the band at the Smithsonian Folkways website.
I hope you can tune in to hear their lively music this weekend!
Go to the Listen page in the menu above to find out how you can catch the program on Spokane Public Radio on Saturday nights or Public Radio Tulsa on Sunday nights.
Online music retailer Bandcamp is once again waiving its share of revenue from all sales today and giving it directly to the artists and labels who use the site to sell their music and merchandise. You can find all the details about this day of support on the Bandcamp website. If you’re looking for a way to directly support musicians whose income has been severely limited during this global health and economic crisis, check it out! This is the fourth time Bandcamp has provided this service since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States in March, and I know that artists and labels have been very grateful for the extra income they’ve received from it. I buy a lot of music from all around the world through Bandcamp, and their Fair Trade Music Policy seems to really benefit musicians and record labels. Many labels and artists are offering special releases today and some are also donating to charitable causes.
And it’s nice to see that Bandcamp’s featured Album of the Day is the new release ‘To Know Without Knowing’ by Mulatu Astatke & Black Jesus Experience, put out by Agogo Records in Germany. I played a cut from that record on the radio program a few weeks ago and will be playing another track on the show that will air on the weekend of July 11th-12th. It’s fantastic!
Be sure to make any purchases before the promotion ends at 12 midnight Pacific Time in the US.
Tune in to the radio program airing this weekend to hear these albums and more. I’ll feature new music from Cuñao, Ssewa Ssewa, and Siti Muharam, as well as some other recent favorites like Les Amazones d’Afrique and Grupo Fantasma. Go to the Listen page for details about when and how you can hear the show – on your radio dial or live-streaming on the internet – from wherever you are.
June is African-American Music Appreciation Month – originally proclaimed as Black Music Month by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. With rallies and marches for racial justice and an end to police brutality taking place all across the US – and across the globe – we’ll honor Black Voices of Protest from all around the world on this weekend’s edition of The Rhythm Atlas. There is a rich tradition of protest music, and you’ll hear songs from the 1960s to the moment we’re living through right now.
Some of the songs featured include: Miriam Makeba singing “Soweto Blues” – written by Hugh Masekela about the Soweto Uprising and massacre of 1976 in South Africa; “Get Up, Stand Up” – the enduring call for human rights written by Peter Tosh and Bob Marley; Fela Kuti & Africa 70’s song “Zombie” – a blistering attack on those in the military who mindlessly follow orders; Rhiannon Giddens’ recent version of “Freedom Highway” – a Civil Rights era song written by Pops Staples that was inspired by the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 and also references the horrific murder of 14 year old African-American Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955; and the powerful song “Hell You Talmbout” written by Janelle Mońae and members of the Wondaland Artist Collective – David Byrne and his multiracial American Utopia band perform this song that invokes the names of some of the many African-Americans who have been killed by the police or white terrorists.
I hope you can tune in as we honor Black Voices of Protest from around the world.