Ancient metaphors of love

Toward the middle of the 13th century B.C.E., shortly after a granddaughter of the great Hittite king married the Ugaritic ruler, a matrimonial scandal shook the kingdom. The first lady of the city-state of Ugarit was accused of disporting herself with the nobles, of “ceaseless enjoyment” with them: the Akkadian word ṣiāḫum (to laugh joyfully, to flirt) was the discreet description of conjugal infidelity.

“To laugh” had been the euphemism for sexual intercourse and physical love for at least 700 years, as is attested in Paleo-Babylonian love songs. Already in Sumerian songs of the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E., the verbs “to delight” and “to utter joyful cries” were used to describe amorous play.

The language of love in Aššurian songs is one of metaphors and discreet allusions; carnal love is mentioned only indirectly, through stock literary devices stemming from a long tradition. Amorous metaphors include “the scent of cedar is your love”, “she seeks the garden of your opulent love”, and “today my heart is full of play and music”.

This according to “La musique des amoureux” by Brigitte Groneberg (Dossiers d’archéologie 310 [février 2006] pp. 50–54).

Above, a Paleo-Babylonian plaque; below, Peter Pringle performs his recreation of an ancient Egyptian song that uses similar metaphors.

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Allen Toussaint’s legacy

Ranking among America’s most influential and versatile musical figures, Allen Toussaint excelled as a songwriter, arranger, session pianist, and producer. His influence extends across the popular music landscape; though he is most often associated with the music of his native New Orleans, he enjoyed success in R&B, jazz, country, blues, and pop. His piano playing blended the wealth of Crescent City styles, barrelhouse blues, marching band references, jazzy intervals, and sweeping octave leaps.

By the late 1950s Toussaint was already cranking out hits and frequently doubling as keyboard player and/or producer. In the 1960s two of his instrumentals became huge pop standards—Java for Al Hirt and Whipped cream for Herb Alpert. Glen Campbell’s version of his Southern nights was nominated for the Country Music Association Song of the Year award in 1977, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

This according to “Toussaint, Allen” by Ron Wynn (Encyclopedia of the blues II [2006] pp. 1005–396); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Toussaint’s 80th birthday! Above, receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2013; below, his classic Yes we can can.

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Ruth Brown’s legacy

Ruth Brown’s recordings—including, just for starters, 5-10-15 hours, (Mama) He treats your daughter mean, and Oh what a dream—have come to define for generations of music lovers the epitome of 1950s-era R&B: elegant and swinging, yet with a sassy sexiness that proclaimed the freedom-seeking spirit of a new generation.

Generations of vocalists, extending into the present day, have cited her as a major musical role model. And they weren’t all women: Little Richard patterned his squeal on his hit Lucille after Brown’s squeal on (Mama) He treats your daughter mean three years earlier.

This according to “Ruth Brown” by David Whiteis (Living blues XXXVII/1:188 [February 2007] pp. 69–71).

Today would have been Brown’s 90th birthday! Above, performing in 2005; below, Little Richard’s muse in 1955.

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Palghat Raghu finds a teacher

In a 1995 interview, Palghat R. Raghu recalled how he became a disciple of the legendary Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer.

“I was born in Rangoon. My grandfather was a self-made musician and in the locality he was known as Rangoon Radhakrishna Iyer. I was fond of drumming on biscuit tins for rhythm. [A relative] who came to our house presented me with a small mṛdaṅgam. It was a slow progress.”

“[A friend] suggested that I should have the guidance of Palghat Mani Iyer. So we shifted to Palghat. But Mani Iyer did not accept me as a disciple at our first meeting. My grandfather told him beseechingly, ‘We want to entrust Raghu in your hands. The boy is eager to learn from you.’ There was no encouraging response from Mani Iyer.”

“Two or three days we visited his house expecting a favorable reply; but no word of acceptance from Mani Iyer. It was here I found the hand of God coming to my rescue. One day when we were waiting in Mani Iyer’s residence, a close friend of his came there with a vessel of halwa and gave a piece to me and told Mani Iyer ‘Mani, this boy plays exceedingly well. I have heard him.’ That settled it. Mani Iyer asked me to come every day for lessons.”

Quoted in “Challenges brought out his best” by S.V. Krishnamurthy, an article included in The Hindu speaks on music (Chennai: Kasturi & Sons, 1999, pp. 245–47).

Today would have been Palghat Raghu’s 90th birthday! Above and below, the master in his element.

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Mozart in Naples

In 1984 the Scottish National Portrait Gallery acquired two oil paintings signed by Pietro Fabris and dated to 1771. An old label on the frame indicates that the paintings were produced for William Hamilton, the British ambassador at Naples from 1764 to 1800, and the Viscount Kenneth Mackenzie, later Lord Fortrose, who spent time in Naples from 1769 to 1771.

While in the first picture, depicting a scene of fencing, a character sitting at the table has been identified as Niccolò Jommelli, there have been many doubts about the identity of the characters in the second picture, showing a chamber concert. They are now identified as Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the first at the harpsichord and the second, waiting to play, in front of a triangular spinet.

This according to I Mozart e la Napoli di Hamilton: Due quadri di Fabris per Lord Fortrose by Domenico Antonio D’Alessandro (Napoli: Grimaldi & C. Editori, 2006)

Above, the painting in question (click to enlarge); Wolfgang and Leopold are on the left; Lord Fortrose in in the center, with his back turned, with Hamilton on his left and Gaetano Pugnani on his right, both playing violins. Fabris himself peers out at the viewer from the lower left, holding the painting-in-progress.

Below, Mozart’s symphony in G major, K. 74, which he completed during this visit to Naples.

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Tweede Nuwe Jaar in Cape Town

Each January, Cape Town’s sixty-plus minstrel troupes take over the city center with a sweeping wave of sound and color in the annual carnival known as Tweede Nuwe Jaar (the Second of New Year). The celebration’s origins are often linked with the December 1st emancipation processions of the mid-to-late 1800s that celebrated the abolition of slavery in 1834, and also with the annual slave holiday, the one day a year slaves could take off work.

The parading troupes, called Kaapse Klopse (Clubs of the Cape), use their bodies to collectively lay claim to Cape Town and access urban space through sonic and embodied performances, re-appropriating city space in relation to the black community’s colonial and apartheid experiences of dispossession, forced removals, and social dislocation.

Despite the increased formal recognition that the event has received in recent years as an important heritage practice, participants’ embodied claims continue to be undermined, contested, and policed. Through their affective experiences, participants memorialize places of significance and occupy the city; far from a form of escapist revelry, these sonic and embodied acts are practiced and disciplined choreographic moves that pose a challenge to Cape Town’s contemporary spatial order.

This according to “Choreographing Cape Town through goema music and dance” by Francesca Inglese (African music IX/4 [2014] pp. 123–45). Below, Kaapse Klopse in 2013.

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Studies in the Grateful Dead

In 2017 the University of California Press launched Studies in the Grateful Dead to explore the achievement, impact, and significance of one of the most iconic American rock bands, the Grateful Dead. The series presents original monographs and edited anthologies by experts representing a range of disciplinary perspectives and fields that highlight the complexity, power, and enduring appeal of this protean, compelling musical and cultural phenomenon.

The inaugural volume, Listening for the secret: The Grateful Dead and the politics of improvisation by Ulf Olsson, is a critical assessment of the Grateful Dead and the distinct culture that grew out of the group’s music, politics, and performance. With roots in popular music traditions, improvisation, and the avant-garde, the group provides a unique lens through which we can better understand the meaning and creation of the counterculture community.

Below, a performance from 1974 that has been cited for its outstanding group improvisations (beginning just before the five-minute mark).

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Air guitar and Asian fury

Competitive air guitarists have long understood that their art form provides an ideal means for contesting the overwhelming whiteness of rock and the electric guitar, sometimes extending their critique to include gender as well.

Asian and Asian American competitors in particular have used their performances to comment ironically on the emasculation of Asian males and the infantilization of Asian females through the construct of Asian fury, helping audiences to reimagine the linkages between race and rock.

This according to “Asian fury: A tale of race, rock, and air guitar” by Sydney Hutchinson (Ethnomusicology LX/3 [fall 2016] pp. 411–33).

Above and below, David “C-Diddy” Jung, winner of the first U.S. national air guitar championship and perhaps the originator of the term Asian fury as it applies to air guitar; the video shows his award-winning performance in 2003.

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An Afro-Andean Christmas ritual

Every year from Christmas to Epiphany, the communities descended from the African slaves who mined gold for the Spaniards celebrate the Adoraciones al Niño-Diós in the Andean valleys of Cauca in southwestern Colombia.

The celebrants sing and dance until dawn in front of a creche set up in one of the village houses. A group of six musicians, unusual because it includes violins, accompanies the women who are the singers and the leaders of the ritual.

The tradition is documented on the CD Colombie: Adoration à l’enfant-Dieu (Département du Cauca) (VDE-Gallo 1349 [2011]). Below, a brief documentary on Auroras al Amanecer, the group featured in the recordings.

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Paco de Lucía’s roots

Flamenco purists may carp at Paco de Lucía’s incorporation of classical, Afro-Cuban, and jazz elements into his music, but no one can deny his prodigious knowledge of flamenco’s traditions or his ability to perform it like no other guitarist before him.

He insisted that all of his musical explorations and innovations are based on a solid commitment to flamenco tradition. “Everything I have heard has influenced me as a musician. But I have been careful about putting it in the music—my flamenco is not a fusion. I have always been careful that it doesn’t lose the essence and the roots and the traditions of flamenco. I have incorporated other styles, but they have not altered the philosophy of my music.”

This according to “Flamenco buena: Paco de Lucia’s guitar sings” by Felix Contreras (JazzTimes XXXIV/6 [July–August 2004] p. 44).

Today would have been Paco de Lucía’s 70th birthday! Below, performing in Carlos Saura’s Flamenco, flamenco (2010).

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