Welcome again to “The State of Kuwait,” a reoccurring series here on Blacktooth.
This entry proves a little less polemic and a lot more global-village-y (thanks NPR! you bastion of liberalism, you). Ranging from some Nashville videos that are both entertaining and mawkishly sentimental, to Morocco and Thailand. East to West, y’all.
Without further adieu:
Hans Chilburg (no joke) put together this great, minute-long, smashed-up footage. He’s currently working on a full-length feature that we hope to have our hands in (somehow) called “Dreamscape” and it’s in post-production right now.
Kim McCulla put together this great, three-minute-long, smashed-up footage from our 4th of Joo-Lie party last year, where Ben Trimble of Fly Golden Eagle and the boys in Chrome Pony played the National Anthem every hour on the hour until something ridiculous like 3 AM the next day. It was awesome and so is this video.
In other news,
Natasha Pradhan is an artist/researcher in Morocco. We’ve read a little bit about her, and was exposed to her work by our friend Josephine Foster (Click for her music. Ben Trimble of Fly Golden Eagle played on her new record and Andija Tokic from the Bomb Shelter recorded it. Pick it up when it comes out later this year). Natasha’s visuals are stunning and with a little digging we found a pretty good paper she wrote on the indigenous Moroccan esoteric music rituals that was extremely knowledgeable, both from the writer and for the reader. Here’s an excerpt and click below for a video of the Hamatcha Lila in action. (It is highly suggested you read, if not the whole article, at least the excerpt. Which, in true Blacktooth form, is hardly even terrain as far as “presumed excerpt length” is concerned. You need to read more anyway.)
“This evolution of the Gnawa ritual as a secular performance is largely a matter of economics. Secular performances and collaborations energize a very needy community with the economic fuel to sustain themselves, and potentially their religious tradition in an increasingly modern economy. The Gnawa community has become visibly more well off (nowhere near wealth, but rather distanced from poverty) compared to other brotherhoods. Does this increase in wealth sustain the essence of the Gnawa tradition or fuel more performances that further articulate the distance from a space that was? A new economic relationship with their spiritual practice does have a radical rhythmic impact on life. While zaouia’s are kept up through the giving of small amounts of money in a ritual setting with the idea of baraka, the Gnawa ceremonies are now indirectly funded by large sums of money less frequently from secular sources.
The process of bestowing of money to sacred musicians is a materialization of listening, or receiving practices of the music itself. When the music of the Sufi brotherhoods is absorbed in a space of ritual with its sacred potency, the resulting economic exchange is an offering for baraka. When money is bestowed in exchange for work (secular performance) the musicians receive a salary or stipend. By the same means that practices of creative listening (Novak 2008: 30) are “a vital social activity and the cognitive basis of an interactive music culture.” The materialization of these listening practices directly to the musicians in turn alters their relationship to their performance practices.
One such instance occurred upon the removal of the sacred music of a town called Zahjouka from Zahjouka. Brion Gysin, an artist associated with the beat generation that spent a large part of his creative career in Morocco, describes his discovery of Zahjouka’s music in an interview with Terry Wilson: “I heard some music at that festival about which I said: ‘I Just want to hear that music for the rest of my life. I wanna hear it everyday all day. And uh, there were a great many other kinds of extraordinary music offered to one, mostly of the Ecstatic Brotherhood who enter into trance, so that in itself – it was the first time I’d seen large groups of people going into trance – was enough to have kept my attention, but beyond and above all of that somewhere I heard this funny little music, and I said: ‘Ah! That’s my music! And I must find out where it comes from.’ So I stayed and within a year I found that it came from Jajouka…[tape stops]” (Vale 1982: 47). Gysin proceeded to develop an economic relationship with the musicians in which he could hear this music all day everyday. “Oh the restaurant [1001 Nights] came about entirely because of them…I said ‘I would like to hear your music everyday’ and, uh, they said ‘Well, why don’t you just stick around and live in the village?’ And I said, ‘No, that isn’t possible, I have to go back and earn my living’…and they said, “Well, then why don’t you open a little cafe, a little joint, some place in Tangier, and we’ll come down and make the music and, uh, we’ll split the money?” (Vale 1982: 52)
Secular income from a performance concretizes the economic potency of the performance as work. A sacred ritual becomes a production of a commodity (music) to be consumed, an in turn transformed, by its reception unto secular ears.
What is lost by the popularization of sacred sounds and the assimilation of esoteric modes of existence into a secular economy? Attempts that understand the emergence of modern forms of old traditions, or the mechanisms to sustain traditional forms in modern contexts, as a preservation of these traditions commits the fault of reducing these traditions to their superficially extractable elements. Institutional attempts at preservation of the music of Sufi brotherhoods in this way (through stage performance and marketed recordings) are victim to a flawed essentialism that slightly alters the original meaning of the music each time it is employed for a commercial or popular purpose.
The ritual is the embodiment and sustenance of a particular mode of existence, a particular shared conception of time and situation of space. As life, the ritual is never fixed. Essentializing modes of understanding or recreating the ritual results in preservation attempts that do not transgress the superficial. The forces that endorse secular festivals featuring sacred music and musical recordings as “world music” perceive a space or experience and proceed to reduce this space to its musical performance. Such efforts fix the musical ritual in time and fuel folklorization. The case of the Gnawa ritual makes evident that an either/or attitude is in fact more harmful because it forces this distinction to be digested by the musicians; and as a result of imbalances in resources, the new ritual that articulates a modern and secular digestion of this music is that which prevails. Sacred understandings of one’s musical and religious practice becomes assimilated into modern understandings of one’s musical and labor practice.
Looking forward, subsequent research of the ritual practices of the Sufi brotherhoods and their evolving contexts in environments dictated by popular conceptions of music and musical performance should explore new avenues of preservation. Preservation practices of the Sufi brotherhoods can manifest itself either towards the sustenance of esotericism (or the re-introduction of esotericism), or through modes ofcreative preservation.
Esotericism makes spaces not susceptible to the deleting forces of popularization on the practice of spirit possession and faith-building through hadra. By simply placing restrictions on the dispersion of a music, its popularization, and subsequent economically-systematized secularization can be limited.
Perhaps more useful, however, is to explore existing and possible avenues of creative preservation. Creative preservation is to preserve not the rationally perceivable elements of a tradition – i.e. the music, costume, etc. but rather to preserve what is contained within the ritual and practices of sacred music. This preservation takes into account the space, the performance practices, the faith behind, and the experience of time and space as embedded within the space of ritual. Instead of understanding preservation as a freezing of particular aspects of a tradition that have penetrated popular consciousness, creative preservation sustains and reinvents the what is experienced within the music rather than facilitate reenactments of its forms. This bears into being new rituals, rather than staged reenactments that extract from whatwas and cage an entire way of life within the past.”
Luk Thung – Classic & Obscure 78s From The Thai Countryside is an awesome compilation that came out this year, curated by the Monrakplengthai music blog and others (read about it here: <click!>). In the attempt to seem less ethno-voyeuristic, deem these as simply good, grooving songs. Songs that are long considered as hailing from the the margins by the disfranchised people and continue to serve that function in the political turmoil that resides still today.
May 1st, 2012. Strange things coinciding, convulsing.
Terry Riley – 20th Century Avant-Classical composer – is speaking, along side a panel of others, at Vanderbilt University in conjunction with the premier by the Nashville Symphony of his newly commissioned piece.
Bombino is playing their initial – and presumed by some (although proven wrong) to be their lone, ever – show at the VFW Post 1970 in West Nashville.
May Day is happening. At once an ancient, cross-quarter pagan holiday, relatively neutered by Christianity, and (more popularly known as) the International Workers’ Day after the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago. A fine, lost-but-resurfacing memory of police brutality if there ever was one.
I decided to set out on all 3 of these events, all together in my life by happenstance, and to see if I couldn’t make something out of them. I don’t know if I did, but recount is worth explication.
The May Day event took place internally. A re-membering of mine and many others’ lives and stories to a Grand-Narrative scale, one that would serve true posturing, inward disposition, and personal politic.
Most likely, Terry Riley does not need an introduction. If you do, it’s relatively easy to sink into, and will probably be given by someone far more adequate than me. I am fairly familiar with his corpus of work – mainly from my brother – but I was also familiar with his thoughts and musings, spiritual or otherwise. I expected a sagacious old man; what my friends and I got was so much more – and so much smaller – than that.
As Riley spoke (he is who I will primarily focus on, although most everyone else on the panel had not only great insight, but convivial tales of running around New York with their buds as well) I got the more than slight impression of a reflective life. Not only because he was the oldest among the group speaking (77, the others 40-50), no, his internal pace was different. Unhurried and unsullied. When he talked about taking the “improvisational moments and composing from them to allow the architectural possibilities to get seen,” I didn’t hear pious or heady nonsense; I heard a light-gravity from a man who was (and still is) desperately seeking to convey beauty, and who seemed to know that to do that sifting through of life took a long, slow time, and was on nobody’s schedule but its own’s. He was truly insightful and quite the regular human being. Riley didn’t get classically trained players when he premiered (what would turn out to be) his monumental piece, “In C”: he had regular players because he felt that amateurs “get it”. (Of course when some of those amateurs happens to be John Cage and John Gibson, well…) He said he wanted to make consciousness music, not in melody, but in the sound of it all. He wants people who were open to that.
The crowd was sparse, tame (save when an impromptu jam session happened between violinist Tracy Silverman, which was electric), white and (probably) educated. The atmosphere was proper, clean and very conducive to thoughtful conversation and questioning. That’s not to say it always happened, but it was most certainly ready for it.
The sun was setting at the VFW as we arrived, full of fun thoughts and discussion. In this turn, the VFW was to become a hybrid for the evening. There were the regulars, presumably (always) there for the fried chicken and would soon – again, presumably – leave once the show began (spoiler alert: not so! entirely).
The Cherry Blossoms and William Tyler opened for Bombino, but again, my recounting will focus on the one.
Bombino might need an introduction. In brief: The GROUP is called Bombino, which consists of 4 players, but the MAN in question is Omara “Bombino” Moctar, a member of the pseudo-nomadic desert people, the Tuareg. The Tuareg have traversed the Sahara desert since time immemorial, allowing IT to provide for THEM. In some ways, they have kept their nomadic ways, and have settled in some. They are also a very matriarchal society. The fantastic musical group Tinariwen is also Tuareg. Their peoples’ movements (or lack there of) has caused rifts with the made-up borders that now exist (i.e., Niger, Mali, etc.) and have led to two uprisings of the Tuareg people. It is my understanding that after the first one, Bombino started writing songs for his people, both to encourage and educate, as well as help them remember their past (there’s that consciousness thing again). To say the least, they took to them quite nicely. As the second Tuareg rebellion, the government of Niger executed two of his fellow musicians/band mates and sent him into exile. After the “peace” (and Bombino’s rise in popularity) he was allowed back and…here we are? In short: I felt an immense respect to get to hear the music.
The scene was wild, sweaty, and fun. The usual walls were gone – or were at least not apparent within the crowd. The usual “cool” was gone; the new sincerity was gone; the irony was gone. The vibe felt cohesive. Something, in a crowd that diverse, I hadn’t felt in a long time. There were older people from poor to affluent amounts of money and culture. There were people who had their ear to the ground as far as music in Nashville. I never thought I’d see weed smoked in a VFW, which struck me as ironic at first, but later on not so much. There were people who had fought in wars, some which were just fine relegating themselves to the back bar.
Bombino struck a chord with a bunch of Nashvillians. So did Riley. (I later saw the premier of his piece via the Nashville Symphony, which I thought was ok.) It was very apparent that they were both after a third thing, on “the cusp of magic” if you will. The thing that happens apart from the self and creation of something. The thing that can change things. Both were equally as gracious to us as we were to them, and it seems fitting to me that on May Day I got to experience these workers in the field. The events themselves were very different in some ways, but were strikingly similar in others. It was nice having some sort of Classical Avant-Garde world sit nicely next to desert rock and roll AND have people enjoying themselves (we were not the only ones at both).