Letter from Ian Nagoski

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Hi, folks.

It’s been a while. I’m lousy at being in touch.I try to put myself out there on the Social Nutworking, but it only goes so far. Sometimes you have to write a 1999-style mass email. Think of it as an Easter letter.

The big news is that I’m developing, along with two producers at WYPR, Lawrence Lanahan and Bruce Wallace, a radio show called Fonotopia.

http://www.fonotopiaradio.wordpress.com

The format is me talking and playing 78rpm-era records. Each show is themed—an era, a location or a general concept. We have four episodes finished (I think the fourth, titled “A Short Life of Trouble,” will be posted Friday April 2). We have serious hopes that it will be picked up by our local National Public Radio affiliate and by other radio stations. It’s new terrain.

My imprint, Canary Records (manufactured and distributed by Mississippi Records in Portland, OR) got two records out in the second half of last year, and they did as well as we hoped. There are three more releases currently being mastered and designed. They are:

Marika Papagika – The Further the Flame, The Worse It Burns Me: Greek
Folk Music in New York 1919-28
(that one will be out within the next eight weeks; as you may know, I’ve been working on it steadily for three years now. The notes will be a chapbook – some 4000 words.)

v/a – To What Strange Place: Armenians & Syrians in America, 1912-27

and its companion

v/a – The Luminous Interval: Greeks in America, 1916-32

which together with the Marika disc finally bring together my work on the Ottoman diaspora in the U.S.

And soon to follow, further LPs of rural Balkan performances, Javanese and Sundanese classical music and Indian classical vocal masterpieces are “in the works.” And there are negotiations on some ace Turkish stuff. Just you wait!

As all of this has been happening, I have been neglecting to leave the house for days on end and my social life is rapidly approaching nil. I hope to rectify this by doing some live shows. In that department, I’ll be giving at talk at a Sound Art festival here in Balto in mid-May on the cheery subject of “recordings of vocal music responses to grief.”

And then, in early July I’ll celebrate the release of the Ottoman-American LPs on Canary with a show at 2640.

And I’m hoping to make it out to the SF/Portland/Seattle area in the Summer. If you know anyone who wants to book an enthusiastic music nut at their venue or festival… I’ve already asked a lot, haven’t I?

More good news: Black Mirror is supposed to be coming out of vinyl later this year, says Lance at Dust-to-Digital, and it continues to get nice plugs including this one on BoingBoing.net last week (which resulted in the Papagika video being watched seven thousand times in 24 hours!):
http://www.boingboing.net/2010/03/24/-i-first-heard-this.html

be well.
keep on truckin,
Ian

Ian Nagoski surveys the immigrant music stores of Baltimore

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Gilbert Akanno, president and CEO of Olympic International Food Market (photography by Rarah)

From the April 1, 2009 Baltimore City Paper:

Notes From Home
A short tour of non-English-language music for sale in Baltimore
by Ian Nagoski

Ask the man on the street how many music stores there are in Baltimore, and he may be able to name a few of the bigger places–Sound Garden, for example. A minority of passionate music-hunters might name funkier holes-in-the-wall selling mostly used stuff. But the truth is that there are dozens of places with new sounds on offer. The trick is that most of the music isn’t in English. The majority of these places locally are targeted to immigrant groups, people whose music is utterly underrepresented in the U.S. media, or even on the web.

The need for music from the motherland is something that has been consistent among each wave of immigrants to the United States for as long as the country has existed. The Prussian, Slavic, Anglo, and Scandinavian newcomers of the 18th and 19th centuries carried their songs with them in their memories and performed them for one another, often keeping traditions alive in the New World long after they’d faded away in their native lands. The African diaspora has retained essential aspects of the music of the lost homeland. And, as we all know, the styles commingled and transmogrified into “American” music–jazz, gospel, blues, country, rock, hip-hop.

The process of holding on to the songs of the Old World changed when recording came along in the first decades of the 20th century. Starting in the 1910s and ’20s, records were marketed to all of the major immigrant groups: German, Irish, Italian, Bulgarian, Serb, Pole, Arab, Jew, Armenian, Greek, Japanese, Philippine, you name it, the record companies were already going after a share of their earnings by selling immigrants something irresistible–a song from home. For a variety of reasons, including the restructuring of the record business caused by the Depression, the advent of radio, the intermarriage of ethnic groups, and the desire to become capital-A American, by the mid-20th century much of that wave’s imported music remained niche “ethnic” material, kept alive in enclaves or simply abandoned by the immigrants’ descendants.

Over the past 50 years, waves of immigrants from Asia, South and Central America, and Africa have traveled a path to cultural citizenship cleared by earlier immigrants consisting of long hours of work, demands from the predominant culture to adapt linguistically, and marginal representation in the main cultural venues. Latinos may produce hip-hop (Beatnuts) and Armenians may play rock (System of a Down), but they conform to the existing standards of the style, otherwise they remain marginal and “ethnic.” Mainstream America might patronize a Vietnamese restaurant for a taste of the exotic, but no American radio station plays Vietnamese music.

There’s really no reason it should be this way, though. Among every cultural subgroup in the United States, there are beloved sad songs; there are amazing peacock-like displays of virtuosity; there are nostalgic stories about the Old Days; there are special songs for important days of the year or moments in life. These are consistencies among us all, despite any differences in language or sound. Why should it be hard to ask the next guy, “What is this song? What does it say? Who is this singing?” The answers could lead to interesting places–maybe to your new favorite music.

Listening to the music of our neighbors is how many of our greatest cultural achievements have been made. Immigrants do it all the time, and if the descendants of immigrants did it half as much, the country would be richer for it. One place to start is immigrants’ shops.

READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE…

It's Time to Party: Transmodern in B-more and FMA Benefit in B'klyn

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Two big events on the East Coast this weekend. In Baltimore, its the Transmodern Festival all weekend long with a gaggle of some of the best tweaker-performers around (Dan Deacon maybe the best-known of them). Here’s a nice chat with the festival’s organizers from the Baltimore City Paper.

In Brooklyn on Saturday night, there’s the Launch Party for WFMU’s FreeMusicArchive.org , a site that will soon be eating many of your evenings in solitude by providing you with tons of free and totally legal downloads by great musicians who you really want to listen to. Before that happens, you can get out and among other people one last time and hear live music by Sightings, Pink Skull, John Dwyer’s new band, Excepter and DJ Brian Turner. Here are deets.

We will expect to see smiling, drunken photos of you at one of these events on Flickr Monday morning.

Lionel Ziprin Talks Smith-Abulafia Recordings

The story of Harry Smith‘s mid-50s recordings of Rabbi Naftali Zvi Margolies Abulafia, a Kabbalist involved with word-permutations, made between the release of the Anthology of American Folk Music and the beginng of work on the Mirror Animations and Heaven and Earth Magic has been told and retold, but it’s nice to see these newly-posted clips, filmed a dozen years ago of Abulafia’s grandson, poet Lionel Ziprin explaining the story of an extraordinary recording, which the larger world has yet to hear. It’ll happen eventually. Maybe we’ll get a decent reissue of Smith’s Kiowa peyote song recordings, too…

Baltimore Underground Hippie Paper Imagery, pt 1

Here’s the first of a gaggle of posts we’ll be doing of images from newsprint hippie publications from Baltimore, 1968-71.

These are from Harry, which to quote Joe Vaccarino’s Baltimore Sounds: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Baltimore Area Pop Musicians, Bands & Recordings 1950-1980, “was founded in 1969 by Michael Carliner… After a rocky start, when the original staff revolted and walked out on the eve of the first issue’s press run, Harry became the choice alternative free [sic] paper of the Baltimore political and musical communities. Early contributors included Art Levine, P.J. O’Rourke, Tom D’Antoni, Alan Rose and Jack Heyrman. Harry survived many raids, takeovers and other traumatic events to provide alternative and community news at the height of the Vietnam, hippie, yippie era.”
<b>John Waters in a leopard-print dress, ca. Pink Flamingos premier.</b>
<b>detail from a stoned full-page collage of in-jokes, including a young Edith Massey and a goof on the idea that Jim Morrison is not dead but in hiding as an ice-skater in Maryland... (more on this later)
<b>Howdy Duty were lead by Fahey/Denson/Basho associate Max Ochs who has recently been noticed by some younger heads...</b>

Ahmed Fathi in D.C. for Free Fri. March 13

Yemeni oudist and singer Ahmed Fathi is playing the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. for FREE at 6PM this Friday Mach 13 as part of the Center’s Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World series, running for another week.

If this improvisation in someone’s living room is anything to go by, the concert should be a hot one.

Theresa Columbus' Twinkling Transmodern Manifestos

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Baltimore’s 6th Annual Transmodern Festival promises “four days of avant performance, installation, sound, film, mayhem, ecstacy and radical culture” from April 2-5, and you can believe it. Some of this year’s performers includ Dan Deacon, Jenny Graf (of Metalux & Harrius), veteran songster Liz Downing, performance poet Lauren Bender, filmmaker Anne McGuire’s musical duo with Wobbly and bonvivant Rahne Alexander. Hot stuff indeed.

For anyone without plane fare to Baltimore to catch the proceedings, do yourself a solid and check out these amazing texts by unclassifiable performer Theresa Columbus (and their accompanying intro by Catherine Pancake). Here are a couple teaser excerpts to whet your clicking finger:

“Do the things, seek the people, that give you the drive. Give togetherness ridiculous amounts of time and planning, also encourage each other to work like crazy. Align with forces of change and optimism.”

“Joy in politics, I can’t state it overtly, but we know who needs to be heard more, intuitively. Help those people be heard more and improve their communication; the good work needs to be heard and it is a sin to not hear the good work that is unmade when it just needs the slightest push and desire. We need to fill our ears and eyes with it, so we need to see that it exists.”

“It’s not tacky to be a feminist! It can be the most sexy, fun luscious thing in the world. Being on tour and eating breakfast in a diner… yum. Feed each other, pour for each other, juice each other up.”