As a singer and multi-instrumentalist, Mike Seeger played an important role in the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. Although Seeger was generally less known than his politically outspoken half-brother, Pete, he helped found the New Lost City Ramblers in 1958 and throughout his career recorded and produced dozens of albums of American music that he called “true vine”, which combined British and African storytelling traditions. Although only eight years older, Seeger had a strong influence on Bob Dylan. Recalling him in Chronicles. I (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), Dylan wrote:
“Mike was unprecedented. He was like a duke, the knight errant. As for being a folk musician, he was the supreme archetype. He could push a stake through Dracula’s black heart. He was the romantic, egalitarian, and revolutionary type all at once—had chivalry in his blood…”
“He played all the instruments, whatever the song called for—the banjo, the fiddle, mandolin, autoharp, the guitar, even harmonica in the rack….He played on all the various planes, the full index of old-time styles, played in all the genres and had the idioms mastered—Delta blues, ragtime, minstrel songs, buck-and-wing, dance reels, play party, hymns and gospel—being there and seeing him up close, something hit me. It’s not as if he just played everything well, he played these songs as good as it was possible to play them.”
Mike Seeger would have celebrated his 90th birthday on August 15. He passed away in 2009. Learn more about Seeger in Country music: A biographical dictionary–find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.
Watch Seeger perform the song Freight Train and a performance on fiddle and banjo from the 1960s.
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In the world of 1970s rock, Freddie Mercury’s voice had few equals. After joining Queen in 1970, his voice quickly became the hallmark of the band. The song Bohemian rhapsody, from the LP A night at the opera (named after a Marx Brothers film) was a coming out for Mercury, whose poetic and dramatic vocal style on that song became a focal point of Queen’s music. In 1976, the band released the LP A day at the races, named for another Marx Brothers film, and performed in London’s Hyde Park in front of more than 150,000 people. Their singles and LPs took the top spots on the hit parades of many countries, millions of records were sold, and the band’s management booked the largest halls and stadiums for their tours.
The album News of the world, released in 1977, featured anthems for the large venues where the band performed, and included the hits We will rock you and We are the champions. Mercury’s flamboyant personality and performances along with his cross-dressing managed to avoid media witch hunts and even enhanced Queen’s public image. Mercury dressed as a ballet dancer and stormtrooper for the 1984 music video I want to break free and convinced the rest of the band to dress in drag for the video as well.
Despite his commitment to the Queen, Mercury nurtured a solo career beyond the band. Before the release of Queen’s 1973 debut album, he recorded a cover version of I can hear music by the Beach Boys under the pseudonym Larry Lurex, and solo work over the course of his career included tracks for a Dave Clark musical and the 1988 album Barcelona, which featured a duet with the Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé.
Freddie Mercury’s 77th birthday was celebrated this week on September 5! Read on in the Lexicon of progressive rock: musicians, bands, instruments, terms (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
Watch the music video for Queen’s I want to break free below.
In case you missed it, here’s a related post on Bibliolore.
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The name Sara González is synonymous with the history of the Cuban nueva trova. The genre differed from the traditional trova mainly because of its political lyrics but some have described nueva trova as “a field of multiple, generic-stylistic confluences” (Gómez 2021:272). Many songs incorporate elements from jazz, pop, concert music, and protest songs–in nueva trova, these resources communicate the poetic message of the song.
Along with the male trovadores such as Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Noel Nicola, and Eduardo Ramos, Gonzalez helped to found and develop the nueva trova movement in the late 1960s. Born in Havana, she began singing as part of the Los Dimos group and later enrolled in Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte (the National School of Art Instructors) with the intention of becoming a music teacher. However, her interest in nueva canción, a genre of pan-Latin American popular music, led her in other directions. In 1972, Gonzalez joined other Cuban musicians on a project that allowed for the institutionalization of the nueva trova, specifically in the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC) Sound Experimentation Group–Grupo de Experimentación Sonora del ICAIC (GESI). Between 1970 and 1978, she wrote songs that explored political themes and integrated ideas of the GESI into nueva trova. In this sense, GESI was important for the establishment of the genre and fundamental in shaping its stylistic features musically. The group also shaped Gonzalez’s musical and political identity. As she described at the time,
“[The Group] has been decisive for who I am. To have ideas of my own, [and] of what I was going to do with my life. . . And as for artistic accomplishment, it was decisive. For everything I have done afterwards, I have always had to resort to what I learned there. . . A school, a method, a way of being, of facing, also, my own creation, my own life. It defined me in every way. I left there with the seed, with the base, firm and secure, that I did not have. And from there everything can come out (González, cited in Sarusky 2005:81-82).
The trajectory of Gonzalez’s career also demonstrated interconnections between a deep knowledge of Western classical music and her devotion to Cuban music and pedagogy. She became an icon of what some considered “the new woman” in the context of the Cuban nueva trova. In this regard, Gonzalez negotiated the gendered political spaces of femininity and masculinity as a woman troubadour.
Read more about the life and work of Sara Gonzalez in Ivette Janet Céspedes Gómez’s chapter Sara González: A different song in the The Routledge Handbook of Women’s Work in Music (2022) and in Lorena Valdebenito Carrasco’s article ¿Hombre nuevo y Mujer nueva? Lo femenino y lo masculino en la Nueva Trova Cubana de Silvio Rodríguez y Sara González in the journal El oído pensante 8.2 (2021). Find the publications in RILM Abstracts and RILM Abstracts with Full Text (RAFT) respectively.
Watch a video of Sara Gonzalez performing Su nombre es Pueblo.
Other Bibliolore related posts to check out:
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Itzhak Perlman contracted poliomyelitis at the age of four after he first started playing the violin, which left him disabled throughout his life. Perlman studied at the Academy in Tel Aviv with Rivka Goldgart and gave his first solo recital at the age of 10. After a tour of the United States and two live shows on U.S. television in 1958, he decided to stay in the U.S. and study at the Juilliard School of Music. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 and won the Leventritt Memorial Award the following year. In 1965 he embarked on a concert tour to Israel, in 1965-66 and 1966-67 he toured North America, and in 1967-68 he made debuts in various European cities, including London and Paris, which led to his final breakthrough as one of the greatest violinists since World War II.
Perlman also made debuts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw and Budapest (1987), the Soviet Union (1991), and China and India (1994). For many years, he was associated with the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado and taught at Brooklyn College in New York. Perlman has received numerous prizes and awards for his recordings and music films, including 1996 gold medal from the London Royal Philharmonic Society and the National Medal of Arts der USA (2000). Perlman has also performed on the children’s television show Sesame Street, at Madison Square Garden with Billy Joel, and the theme to the film Schindler’s List.
Happy birthday to Itzhak Perlman who turned 78 on August 31! Read more about him in MGG Online.
Here is one of Perlman’s appearances on Sesame Street.
“Oh, Beloved! I am honey trapped in your love. Make me hear you!”
As the musicologist Ranjana Saxena writes, lyrics like these illustrate the essence of the tappa, a florid, passionately romantic vocal art form of India. Inspired by the undulating motions of camel-riding Arab tradespeople, the word “tappa” originates from the Punjab province of India and Pakistan. Its root word tappana refers to the bouncing and jerkiness of a camelback ride and the mercurial, melismatic singing that these rides have inspired.
Unlike khayal—the serene art music from the Hindustani tradition of India—the tappa is volatile, unfolding rapidly throughout a single tala (rhythm) cycle. The sung text is usually very brief, consisting of not more than two to four lines. However, tappa singers use this brevity to their advantage. They deftly weave in the frenetic melismas through the scant lyrics, finessing the diction to facilitate speed while maintaining comprehensibility. Unlike other forms of Hindustani art music, where the melodic framework for the piece, encapsulated in the raga, is first outlined, this foreshadowing is summarily eschewed in the tappa. Instead, the emotional content emerges over the course of the presentation, which, due to the extreme physical demands it places upon the singer, does not last for more than ten minutes.
At the heart of tappa virtuosity is the zamzama taan, a circuitous vocal gyration employing short patterns of four to five notes that move through the notes of the raga, often cut with notes that are sung in faster subdivisions to create a sense of drama and unpredictability, or to make abrupt changes in the patterns used even more apparent, according to Debapriya Adhikary, one of the torchbearers of the Benarasi tradition of tappa. “Unlike khayal”, he adds, “tappa singing does not allow for nyaas (resting) on any one note. It is a tireless, intricate pursuit of passionate beauty.” Chhuut taans also find a home in the tappa; these taans start with a wide, upwards jerk and descend rapidly, taking a pliable view of tempo, accelerating and then slowing down for effect, underscoring tension and release. However, sapaat taans—linear runs through the notes of the raga—are avoided to ensure that tappas are never confused with faster khayals, which can be equally dizzying.
The demanding nature of the tappa tends to overshadow its nuanced inner workings in scholarship on the genre, both by Indians and cultural outsiders. Colonial collectors such as William Hamilton Bird and Sarah Plowden described tappa as “wild”. At the same time, orientalists such as William Jones and Augustus Willard considered it a “rude style”. Although it can be hard to look past the virtuosic element of tappa singing, a subtle richness emerges once you do. For starters, there is the curious case of the languages used in the tappa texts. The tappas that have endured in pre-partition India (the longest have Punjabi texts), were sung in various languages, including Sindhi, Multani, Bannochi, Derawali, and Saraiki. The poetry of the tappa speaks beseechingly of love, depicting a traditionally demure view of separation and longing. Most importantly, tappa embody the feminine voice irrespective of the gender of the performer; whosoever sings the tappa has to use female pronouns and embody birhaa and shringar, the emotions most closely associated with the feminine in the Hindustani tradition.
Due to its somewhat limited emotional landscape, tappas tend to be composed in a few ragas, such as Khamaj, Kafi, Bhairavi, Jhinjhoti, Tilang, Sindhura, Des, Jangla, Pahari, Maand, and Sohini. Tala (time cycles) used include Punjabi (adha theka), Pashto, and Sitarkhani, used for their uneven accents that further reinforce the off-kilter feel at the core of the tappa.
The rhythmic gait of the tappa is as complex as its origins, which are contested to say the least. The most common view is that this art form was created by Ghulam Nabi Shori (1742-1792), a genius hereditary musician at the court of Awadh in Lucknow, India, patronized by Nawab Asafuddaulah. Tappas attributed to him bear his nom de plume, Shori Miyan, in the last line of the text. As the story goes, he inherited not only knowledge of dhrupadand khayal, the two most prominent genres of art music in the Hindustani tradition, from his father but also a ceaseless innovative spirit. Nawab’s father, Ghulam Rasul, had adapted some of the qawwali taans to enhance his dhrupad singing. At the height of his prowess and frustration, Shori traveled across India until he finally found inspiration after a chance encounter with the aforementioned camel riders and used their simple folk songs as a base for his melismatic vocal virtuosity.
However, authors like Katherine Schofield have brought this theory under greater scrutiny, suggesting that tappas were sung in Delhi nearly a hundred years before Shori Miyan brought them to Lucknow. Considering that Delhi was also the seat of the Qawwali, it is easy to surmise that this conjecture may carry some weight. Besides Schofield, musicologists Fakirullah and Mirza Khan also have identified famous love songs called “tappay” at the time of the Mughal Emperor Shahjehan in the 17th century. Gokul Nath traced tappay sung by courtesans on the streets of Agra even earlier, sometime during the 16th century. Ranjana Saxena notes that some scholars credit the Besara Geet of dhrupad as the source of the tappa. However, due to the oral tradition of music in India, it is hard to say with certainty how any of these compared with the modern-day tappa popularized by Shori Miyan.
Shori Miyan’s is not the only stream of tappa that can be sampled in India. While a contemporary of Shori Miyan, Ramnidhi Gupta, created a variant of the tappa in Bengal that evolved into something completely different due to the sociocultural climate of its new home in Eastern India, from the mainstream, Northern tappa as practiced in Gwalior and Benares. Famed musicologist V.D. Paluskar also composed tappas, but these were settings of mystical poetry and explicitly Hindu devotional, unlike mainstream tappas with their lovelorn turn of phrase. Shori Miyan’s presence in Lucknow, and the spread of his students eastward, virtually ensured that the tappa never gained prominence in Punjab, the land of its origin, as it did in Central and Eastern India. Gamun Miyan (Shori’s disciple) passed the tappa to Benares, and several excellent tappa singers arose there, most notably Girija Devi, who ultimately passed it down to Debapriya.
“I was fascinated by how intricate her singing was, yet how easy she made it seem,” Debapriya says of his illustrious Gurumaa. “She saw that I had an aptitude for the tappa and a love for learning difficult things, so she started to instruct me in it.” Hearing Debapriya sing the tappa, it is easy to see what may have impressed Girija Devi. His cultured, lyrical, and expressive voice not only exhibits the athleticism required for tappa but is also full of pathos and emotion, which is rare nowadays. Debapriya has cultivated a complete mastery of the four baans of tappa singing–laari daar, guthaao daar, khudi daar, and phande daar–overcoming the many challenges these present both anatomically and conceptually to an outstanding degree. He explains that his gurumaa taught him to avoid excessively heavy oscillations to conserve his voice and to find an appropriate balance between vocal gymnastics and the prosody hidden in the text. “I spent a lot of time trying to connect the notes of any given raga in a series of slow glides, which I could eventually speed up to produce the many scintillating effects that the tappa demands,” Debapriya says, “but in doing so I realized that the onus of hard work has to be upon the student. The teacher can only take you to the fountainhead; it is up to you to put in the hours required to claim knowledge as your own.” Debapriya performs his wide repertoire, including tappa, with his cousin and musical partner, Samanwaya Sarkar, who happens to be one of the few contemporary instrumentalists able to render the tappa on his Sitar faithfully.
–Written by Ali Hassan, a versatile singer, percussionist, an aspiring ethnomusicologist, and a multicultural composer-producer from Karachi, Pakistan. Ali is currently an intern at RILM.
Watch a video of Debapriya performing with Samanwaya Sarkar below.
Here Debapriya sings one of his favorite Shori Miyan tappas, and explains the salient features of the Benarasi tappa.
Skinny Puppy has long been considered a classic band in the electro-industrial genre. Formed in Vancouver, Canada in 1983 by cEVIN Key (Kevin Crompton) and Nivek Ogre (Kevin Ogilvie), Skinny Puppy was influenced early on by Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and Suicide. The band soon created an innovative “hard electronic” sound that combined audio samples of films with heavy metal guitar aesthetics. When asked about the 1980s industrial scene, Ogre stated, “The original idea for industrial music was just a category for abstract ideas and abstract music. . . It didn’t matter what you used. Glass in your cupboard or a rat running across your floor.”
On their first tour, shortly after the release of the Remission EP, Wilhelm Schroeder (Billy Leeb) joined the band as a keyboardist in live performances. In 1986, he left the band to start Frontline Assembly and was replaced by Dwayne Goettel of Psyche. The first LP on which Goettel was involved, Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate, was Skinny Puppy’s worldwide breakthrough. Through this and the following albums and tours, the band garnered fans and gained a strong reputation globally.
In a 2020 interview, cEVIN Key described their songwriting process as having remained fairly consistent over the years. According to Key, “I still luckily own all the original equipment, so I can use that formula if I wish or can improvise with using elements of that formula. We were using a computer to sequence our [early albums] so in this case it’s quite the same even though technology has advanced greatly. . . Luckily, I was trained well by being in a band with five other guys who each had their own world. It’s in this training that I received writing albums, recording, and touring that I was able to grasp the experience to come and produce my own ideas. . . At the time Skinny Puppy was formed, the scene in Vancouver was so vibrant that our first goal literally was to have a song played at the local disco. So, I think, we all started with small goals, and they grew exponentially.”
Part of Skinny Puppy’s success has been that their music, politics, and song lyrics have engaged with the contemporary social issues that have driven them since the band’s foundation, especially animal rights—which inspired their name and albums such as VIVIsectVI. The band also famously billed the U.S. government $666,000 in 2014 for its use of their music played at intolerably high levels in the interrogation of accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. As one of the industrial genre’s most influential bands, Skinny Puppy have laid the groundwork for the mainstream success of acts such as Nine Inch Nails. Now celebrating 40 years together, the band has embarked on their farewell tour in 2023.
Read about Skinny Puppy and many other industrial and electronic artists in Das Gothic- und Dark Wave-Lexikon: Das Lexikon der schwarzen Szene (The gothic and dark wave lexicon: The lexicon of the black scene). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.
Below is a classic video of Skinny Puppy performing Assimilate. Enjoy!
The performance of lip syncing is ubiquitous in the drag community. It represents a drag queen’s modus operandi from high-femme queens to gender queer club kids. Crucial to lip syncing is the idea that voice is both self and other, voicing the speaker and the listener at the same time–creating an autoaffective feedback loop. Drag queens actively listen to the voice on the track, not only in the moment of lip-syncing, but also in rehearsing this synchronization and listening painstakingly while practicing before the performance.
According to Rodent, one of London’s premier drag queens, an intensely high volume of sound is necessary to their successful lip-sync performance because it enables them to embody the music and the voice, and to “transport [themself] in the moment”. The immersive soundscape of lip-syncing allows drag queens to engage tactually with sound’s vibrations forming what Jacob Mallinson Bird calls a “haptic aurality”. Haptic aurality creates a successful drag performance because it addresses the immersive potential of sound, its spatial dimensions, tactility, and intercorporeality while suturing the break between drag queen and loudspeaker, “facilitating the reperformance, dramatization, and extension of the processes of everyday speech”.
Read on in “Haptic aurality: On touching the voice in drag lip-sync performance” by Jacob Mallinson Bird (Sound studies 6/1 . pp. 45-64, RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-3927).
Below is a clip of a drag lip sync performance from a television show in the Philippines called “Drag Race Philippines” (inspired by the US show “RuPaul’s Drag Race”)
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James Brown had an uncanny ability to synthesize the talents of musicians from disparate musical fields into a cohesive ensemble. Still, many of his peers had little regard for his own musical abilities.
“He has no real musical skills…yet he could hold his own onstage with any jazz virtuoso—because of his guts” one of his former bandleaders explained. Indeed, many of Brown’s own players dreamed of eventually moving from pop to jazz, where their individual abilities would shine more brightly.
There is a certain irony in the fact that someone maligned by his colleagues for his apparent musical ineptitude would end up influencing the very musicians that they looked up to: Miles Davis, for example, changed the bebop world when he took the radical step of incorporating Brown’s rhythmic innovations into his music. Further, Brown’s influence is explicitly acknowledged by rap musicians, spawning developments in popular music that continue to reverberate around the world.
A compelling valorization of Brown’s approach is suggested by Gilles Deleuze’s account, in Différence et répétition, of the Idiot as the pedant’s polar opposite. As a musical Idiot, Brown’s naive immunity to conceptual rules or institutionally dominant forms of thinking—his capacity for thought without presupposition—enabled modes of conceptual originality that evaded the musically trained.
“Funk was not a project” he explained. “It happened as part of my ongoing thing…I wasn’t going for some known sound, I was aimin’ for what I could hear.”
Brown’s bravado and innovations were necessary because he lacked the musical and cultural capital of his peers. Deleuze’s Idiot is self-assured because he is not bothered with any image of thought that cannot see him; for Brown, reason yielded to experimentation because his poverty-stricken childhood had demonstrated that abstractions were useless for solving the immanent problems at hand.
Brown had a superlative ability to forge new connections, to make music work regardless of its orthodoxy. This is what Deleuze attributed to the great artist—one who could make new and unforeseen connections.
This according to “James Brown: The illogic of innovation” by John Scannell (New formations: A journal of culture/theory/politics 66 [spring 2009] pp. 118–133; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2009-17662).
Today would have been Brown’s 90th birthday! Below, the Godfather of Soul defies logic in his heyday.
Tall enough to pass as a teenager, he found a temporary job as a substitute cellist in an amusement-park orchestra, and when the former cellist returned he was offered a job playing violin. Piatigorsky accepted gamely, and found that he could play the unfamiliar instrument easily in undemanding passages; but for more difficult ones he had to revert to playing it between his knees, like a cello. For distracting attention from the conductor and eliciting unwelcome applause, the boy was fired.
Still lacking the funds to return to Moscow, he found a job in a café orchestra. To keep the underaged cellist from seeing the nude dancers onstage, the owner had him turn to face the wall of the pit and provided a mirror so he could see the conductor. When he quit in sympathy for a fired dancer he had developed a crush on, he was given a week’s pay.
Piatigorsky used the money to buy a train ticket as far north toward Moscow as he could; he finally arrived home after about 12 days of hitching rides on freight trains by night, sleeping during the day, and selling everything but his cello for food.
This according to Gregor Piatigorsky: The life and career of the virtuoso cellist by Terry King (Jefferson: McFarland, 2010, pp. 8–10; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2010-6179).
Today is Piatigorsky’s 120th birthday! Above, the cellist in his school uniform before he moved to Moscow. Below, excerpts from the film Heifitz & Piatigorsky (Kultur, 1953).
After her breakout performance at Lebanon’s 1957 Baalbeck International Festival (where organizers had initially worried that their sophisticated audience would find homegrown music distasteful) the music of Fayrūz went on to become a powerful emblem of Lebanese identity—a position that it holds to this day.
Fayrūz’s performance, which featured music by the Raḥbānī brothers, was the headline act of the Festival’s first Lebanese Nights series, and its resounding success ensured the continuation of the series, with the Fayrūz/Raḥbānī trio as its mainstay, until the Festival’s suspension at the beginning of the Civil War in 1975. During that time, the trio forged a music that both articulated Lebanon’s national character and aspired toward a future in which the country’s liminal position between the Arab world and the West would bring long-lasting peace and prosperity.
While this element of futurity was rhetorical and discursive, it was also profoundly sonic, manifested in the arrangement, instrumentation, and style of their work. The Fayrūz/Raḥbānī trio’s music was clearly positioned in relation to three major reference points that dominated nationalist discourse at the time: Arab nationalism, the West (conceived as European high culture), and Lebanese culture (conceived as local folklore).
While the style developed by the trio continues to shape understandings what it is to sound Lebanese today, Fayrūz’s voice has become symbolic of Lebanon itself. Notably, she did not sing there during the Civil War; she came back to perform in 1994, and returned to Baalbeck’s stage on the occasion of the Festival’s postwar resumption in 1998. Her wartime silence was publicly received as an act of resistance against violence on Lebanese soil and as a show of solidarity with the Lebanese people—further reinforcing the identification of her voice and persona with Lebanon as a country.
This according to “Hearing cosmopolitan nationalism in the work of Fairuz and the Rahbani Brothers” by Nour El Rayes (Yearbook for traditional music LIV/1  49–72; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-16150).
Above, Fayrūz performing in 1971 (public domain). Below, the official music video for the Fayrūz/Raḥbānī song Lebnan el akhdar(لبنان الأخضر/Lebanon the verdant); the recording is the subject of a detailed analysis in El Rayes’s article.
The main entrance to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts’s exhibition Lou Reed: Caught between the twisted stars opens up on Lincoln Plaza, directly adjacent to the The Metropolitan Opera house. On a sunny day, the Met’s … Continue reading →
Seven strings/Сім струн (dedicated to Uncle Michael)* For thee, O Ukraine, O our mother unfortunate, bound, The first string I touch is for thee. The string will vibrate with a quiet yet deep solemn sound, The song from my heart … Continue reading →
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For it [the Walkman] permits the possibility…of imposing your soundscape on the surrounding aural environment and thereby domesticating the external world: for a moment, it can all be brought under the STOP/START, FAST FOWARD, PAUSE and REWIND buttons. –Iain Chambers, “The … Continue reading →