A young Albanian immigrant discovered the group Retrovizorja during a typical teenage bout of existential uncertainty. Their music ached, desperately to belong to something. It’s ambience, unease, and provocative lyrics were the first to trigger an interest in indie music coming from the Albanian diaspora.
After years of sharing Retrovizorja songs with college friends and coworkers, I finally met some of the musicians that gave so much hope and meaning to life back home in Milwaukee.
Elina Duni, the vocalist, was recently in Prishtina touring with her Jazz quartet, a group based out of Switzerland where she grew up. The Elina Duni Quartet with Colin Vallon on piano, Patrice Moret on double bass and Norbert Pfammatter on drums, “represents a return to her musical sources, a combination of Balkan folk songs and jazz”. I was able to sneak an interview with her just before her dress rehearsal.
The beauty of music lies in its ability to provide feeling across borders, classes, and races, and to resonate where words fail. I remember hearing the Gypsy Kings playing live at a Merkato 55 brunch party in New York; I remember dancing to Cuban band Las Orishas at Poble Espanol in Barcelona; I remember listening to Australian rock from my tent at Glastonbury in the U.K.; I remember singing “Beautiful” along with Akon, live at the Indian Premiere League Launch in Mumbai. With such an eclectic fusion of sounds crossing the globe, I wondered about India’s spot on the playlist. While Bollywood music is certainly a global export, my time in Mumbai has introduced me to a new, innovative, and increasingly popular scene that is gaining momentum all over India and on the international stage.I had heard about Indian Ocean from the moment I stepped foot in India. The Delhi-based band has been around for about 20 years and many have grown up on their music. I knew their powerful words had the ability to move people of all ages and that they were immensely popular on the Mumbai scene. Nothing, however, prepared me for the crowd I witnessed on a Wednesday night in Mumbai when Indian Ocean performed at Blue Frog, the city’s most popular music venue. The concert was slated to start at nine, so I assumed an arrival time of eight would give me more than enough time to get settled. When I pulled up to the venue, however, I was greeted by the sight of hundreds of Mumbaikers who had already beat me to the scene, waiting in line since morning to what was an already completely full and sold out show. Luckily, my friend knew the owner, and he ushered us to the front amid much animosity from the other fans. I felt bad for all of those waiting in line, but then again, it was research!
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It drizzled as I drove to the annual meeting of the “rain prophets.” Farmers from around the northeast of Brazil gathered in Quixadá, a town in the interior of the state of Ceará. The prophets, who learn from the time they’re young how to predict when and how much it will rain each year, make their forecasts by observing nature. Some listen to birdsong, others measure honey inside dissected bees. The stars, the leaves, and the behavior of ants all suggest how much rain will fall, and the prophets share their predictions so farmers will know when to plant their seeds. The organizer of the meeting, João Soares, is the president of the Instituto de Pesquisa de Violas e Poesia Cultural Popular do Sertão Central (the Institute of Research of Ten-String Guitars and Cultural Popular Poetry of the Central Sertão), and he sees the two-day event as a way of preserving regional culture and traditional ways of knowing.
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This is the Coral Natal de Luz (the Christmas of Light Choir) singing a poppy version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in Portuguese. The kids are all in different windows of a building in downtown Fortaleza, and if you look closely, you can see Santa in the bottom center window.
I have been conducting interviews with young people participating in the Hip Hop Therapy Project on their views about American Hip Hop music and culture (a report on that to come shortly!). During one of these interviews, a young man named Ojok Thomas told me he was a rapper so I asked him to rap for me.
He rapped a song he wrote about “returning to the Grand Land”. I wanted to share it with you because it is a wonderful illustration of how Hip Hop is used throughout the world (including Gulu!) to express social concerns and frustrations.
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