New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: venezuelan music

Searingly Relevant Spoken Word and Steel Pan Music From Miyamoto Is Black Enough

Miyamoto Is Black Enough blend excoriating, politically fearless spoken word and innovative, kinetic indie classical compositions by the group’s steel pan player, Andy Akiho. Cellist Jeffrey Zeigler serves as bass player and also supplies metal riffage, with Sean Dixon on drums behind frontman Roger Bonair-Agard. Their brilliant debut album Burn/Build is streaming at Bandcamp.

It’s bookended by a piece titled Panifesto. The first part covers a lot of territory: cultural appropriation, Yoruban mythology, and the fact that the steel pan was invented in Trinidad solely to fuel an “exodus to freedom…a weapon in the continued unchaining of the enslaved.” As Bonair-Agard sees it, the steel pan tradition reflects genuine history rather than one codified by “victors and false discoverers.”

Zeigler solos slowly and plaintively over Akiho’s shimmering ambience as the defiant concluding half picks up steam: appropriately, Bonair-Agard’s voice pans the speakers. In Nina, Bonair-Agard teaches a child about genfrication over Akiho’s eerie, dancing pointillisms:

Nina, the bike shop used to be a bodega…
The bar with the M&Ms on the counter used to be a candy store…
This park used to be a park
With potholes and crack vials on the running track
And dirt in the center of the field where grass should be
And that dog run was a field of geraniums
The Dominican restaurant used to be cheap
Used to have a line out the door
I used to be able to afford to live above it
And come down in the middle of the night
Especially after my girl left and I was tired of looking at the linoleum
And the sloping floors…
Kim’s grocery used to sell 40s
This subway stop used to be dangerous…
These cops used to be in squad cars, and not always so polite…
Big Daddy Kane once played a block party right here on Marcus Garvey…
This garden used to be a drum circle
Before the new neighbors called the cops to complain…
That school used to be public
This used to be Brooklyn

Black Shapeshift is a sardonic hip-hop litany of common salutations in ebonics, “where n___a and god both mean love.” Over the Asian-tinged reggae of Revolver, Bonair-Agard chronicles the exploits of a former high school valedictorian whose colorfully vast knowledge extends to firearms and heroin.

21 for Jit, which traces a Trinidad steel pan star’s DIY journey to greatness, has a more hypnotic, circling backdrop. The title track has the album’s catchiest hip-hop groove and also the most venomously relevant lyric, perfectly capturing the outrage of the past six months: “The movement needs both builders and burners…praise guns in the hood waiting to clap back at the right time, this is the right time!”

The group take their name from Ariana Miyamoto, who was chosen to represent Japan in a beauty contest but was later accused of being insufficiently Japanese since her heritage is half African-American.

Unpredictable, Deliciously Psychedelic Venezuelan Sounds From Insolito UniVerso

Digging through the crates to find another treat for you today! Paris-based Venezuelan expats Insólito UniVerso’s deliciously unpredictable, psychedelic album La Candela Del Río – streaming at Bandcamp – landed on the hard drive here in 2018. With their adopted city under an even more severe lockdown than New York, we can only hope the band are surviving.

Looking back, maybe the reason why the album sat around as long as it did without getting any attention here is that the opening track, Transmutada takes so long to get going. When it does, it’s a perfectly pleasant bossa-tinged waltz with surreal touches like keyboardist Edgar Bonilla Jiménez’s electric harpsichord and what sounds like a mellotron, plus, Raúl Monsalve’s dancing bass solo midway through.

The band really put the rubber to the road with the wryly circling Vuelve, with its joropo llanero triplet rhythm, rapidfire lyrics about doing things over and over again, and keening psychedelic organ. It’s like Brooklyn’s Las Rubias Del Norte at their trippiest.

Frontwoman Maria Fernanda Ruette’s multitracked cuatro mingles with the organ in the slowly swaying, bittersweetly gorgeous Machurucuto, a shout-out to a Venezuelan seaside town. The smoky, dubby breakdown comes as a surprise: imagine Country Joe & the Fish with a woman out front. After that, the group pick up the pace with the jauntily rippling Pájaro, which could be a rhythmically trickier Os Mutantes.

Lloviendo en Guatire, which opens on side 2 of the record, blends a hypnotic, Indian-influenced theme with dreampop, surf guitar and bass over drummer Andres Sequera’s mutedly suspenseful beats. He gets a lot busier behind the eerily acidic keys and fuzztone bass in Yo Soy Mi Río. Scampering along with the minor-key rivulets from the band’s arsenal of keyboards, their instrumental cover of harpist José Gregorio López’s El Vuelo del Gabán is the album’s catchiest track and closest thing to psychedelic cumbia here. They close it with Tonada del Guante, a slowly swaying, dubwise, bass-fueled update on an old Venezuelan work song. It’s like nothing you’ve heard this year. If psychedelic sounds are your thing, you’re in for a treat.

Celebrating an Eclectic, Dynamic Force in Venezuelan Classical Music

“I’m having a great time up here,” bassist Gonzalo Teppa told his bandmates with an unselfconsciously grin. He’d been exchanging sly rhythmic riffs all night with the Jimi Hendrix of the cuatro, Jorge Glem. Not something you might expect at a concert celebrating the work of a pioneering classical composer.

Friday night at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, an all-star chamber orchestra played the first-ever career retrospective of music by Aldemaro Romero, a 20th century Venezuelan counterpart to Ernesto Lecuona. Romero came to New York at age 34 with his family and worked prolifically as an arranger in both classical and jazz before returning to found the Caracas Philharmonic Orchestra. His 1955 symphonic album Dinner in Caracas, focusing on his signature mashup of neoromanticism and a wide array of styles from across the Americas, was a huge global hit. His son Aldemaro Jr., a biologist and dean of the college, conducted a shapeshifting ensemble which also comprised the Alexander String Quartet, pianist/singer Selene Quiroga, pianist Gonzalo Grau and drummer Fabio Rojas.

In an eerie stroke of fate, the concert took place on the exact spot on 25th Street that housed the RCA studio where Romero Sr. recorded his famous album. The younger Romero, who also contributed a couple of witty cameos on melodica, did not know this until shortly before the performance. “It gave me goosebumps,” he admitted. That the energy and vitality of the show was as fresh as it was testifies not only to the liveliness of the music but also the fact that the group had come up with some of the charts only a couple of days beforehand.

And the concert was anything but stuffy. This music is full of life, and color, and much of it was made for dancing. Subtle rhythmic shifts were everywhere, referencing grooves from the Romeros’ home turf to Cuba, Mexico and ultimately, Spain. The most striking of the instrumental numbers was Capriccio for Viola and Piano, a world premiere given a vigorously incisive workout by Quiroga and Alexander Quartet violist Paul Yarbrough.

Another world premiere, the second movement of the Concerto for Teresa (a dedication to a Venezuelan New York Philharmnoic member ) rose from starkly elegaic into a lush, majestic remembrance. And the entire string section closed with Fuga Con Pajarillo, the most widely performed piece on the bill, an expansive bit of neoromantic dancefloor indulgence that brought to mind Astor Piazzolla’s late work.

When’s the last time you saw a classical pianist move to the mic for a display of vocal power and versatility? The elder Romero probably would have gotten a kick out of the fact that global audiences probably know Quiroga best as a member of irrepressible ska-punk band Desorden Publico. With dramatic flair and often plaintive nuance, she delivered a series of moody, crescendoing ballads, through the expectancy and longing of Quien to the bouncy, salsa-tinged El Musiquito to the uneasily lilting Lo Que Paso Contigo (What’s Up with You), backed by Glem and Teppa’s erudite jousting. Baruch’s choir the Blue Notes, strolling down the stairs on both side of the audience, added harmonic enhancement.

As is across the various CUNY campuses, diversity rules at Baruch. This is the real New York. The next concert in this year’s eclectic season is a holiday show on Dec 5 at 8 PM with pianist Eugene Marlow’s Heritage Ensemble, who blend acerbic klezmer and latin jazz sounds. Cover is $26/$11 stud.

Party People in the House in Flushing Tonight

If you’re in a party mood, grab the 7 train and head to Flushing Town Hall tonight, Oct 21 where Betsayda Machado and La Parranda El Clavo are throwing a wild Afro-Venezuelan bash at 7:30 PM. There will be all kinds of ecstatic call-and-response, booming drums and dancing: Flushing Town Hall always keeps the front section close to the stage open for the dance crowd. Cover is $16, $10 for seniors, and if you’re a kid between 13-19, you get in free, as you can at all the shows here.

Machado recreates a Venezuelan hill country party vibe, a high-voltage tradition passed down through the centuries and maintained by the descendants of the first African slaves kidnapped and brought to the Venezuelan coast. But not all those slaves remained in chains: just as the Maroons in Jamaica did, some managed to escape and set up self-sustaining communities where the the old African traditions survived more or less intact. Machado and her village band trace their ancestry to those days: with just a choir and many drums handmade from local lumber, they are as oldschool as you can get. Parranda musicians don’t stand still – they typically make a procession. The soaring voices and stomping rhythms of Machado’s band are similar to Carolina Oliveros’ Afro-Colombian bullerengue crew Bulla En El Barrio.

Machado’s new album Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree is streaming at Spotify. It’s amazing how catchy these songs are: a brass band or a salsa orchestra could have a great time filling in the harmonies between the singers and the beats. Which are all over the place: sometimes a straight-up dancefloor thump but more likely to be a swaying triplet groove, a funky dance pulse or tricky, intricate polyrhythms. What’s consistent throughout the album, and the music in general, is the contrast between the hypnotically booming drums and the energy of the vocals. The songs celebrate good times, dancing, console the lonely or the bereaved and invoke the ancient spirits, recast as Christian saints. You can sing along; it helps if you know Spanish.