Category Archives: Popular music

Ša‘bī and politics

Commonly associated with Cairo’s working class, ša‘bī (شعبى ) is a politically charged musical genre with a long history of bawdy humor and trenchant social critique. While the cultural elite may see the term as an index of the backwardness of the uneducated masses, for many Egyptians ša‘bī evokes a sense of identity, tradition, and heritage.

One of contemporary ša‘bī’s foremost practitioners of social commentary and political dissent, Ša‘bān ‘Abd al-Raḥīm (شعبان عبد الرحيم, above), stormed into popular culture in the early 21st century by mobilizing the genre’s potential to tap into the pulse of the Egyptian-Arab street. By 2002 ‘Abd al-Raīm’s brazen sociopolitical commentary had turned him into the unlikely hero of millions of Egyptians and Arabs.

This according to “‘I’ll tell you why we hate you!’ Ša‘bān ‘Abd al-Raīm and Middle Eastern reactions to 9/11” by James R. Grippo, an essay included in Music in the post-9/11 world (New York: Routledge, 2007, pp. 255–75).

Below,   ‘Abd al-Raīm’s Obama, which excoriates George W. Bush while poking fun at the notion that the newly elected Barack Obama will save the Arab world like Saladin.

 

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Recorders in 1960s pop

While the recorder is still best known as an early music instrument, its revival in the 20th century led to its adoption as a modern concert instrument by a number of composers, and even in jazz.

The recorder also figured, at least briefly, in the British pop music boom of the mid-1960s, when Klaus Voormann played it on Manfred Mann’s Semi-detached suburban Mr. James and Trouble and tea, and Brian Jones played it on The Rolling StonesRuby Tuesday (above and below); the latter featured “a very obbligato recorder part which weaves intricate counterpoints over the basic melody in a very effective and interesting way” according to Richard D.C. Noble, who reported on the phenomenon in “The recorder in pop: A progress report” (Recorder and music magazine II/5 [May 1967] pp. 135–36).

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Popular music

Heavy metal and Classical antiquity

The early 21st century witnessed a surge of interest in comics and cinema regarding Classical antiquity, inspiring new studies in Classical reception. Heavy metal has also drawn on historical and mythological Classical material for subject matter, but this genre has received little attention from academics.

Classical reception in heavy metal illustrates an independent engagement with antiquity by the world outside academia, illuminating ways for scholars and students to better understand the impact of the field on contemporary media. Since the late 1970s Classical works, themes, and characters of Greek and Roman antiquity have inspired the lyrical, musical, and visual content of a number of heavy metal groups, with topics including works by Homer and Aeschylus, the founding of Rome, and the rise of the Principate.

This according to “Heavy metal music and the appropriation of Greece and Rome” by Osman Umurhan (Syllecta classica XXIII [2012] pp. 127–52).

Above and below, Ex Deo, one of the groups discussed in the article.

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Di goldene kale

Like most newcomers to America, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the 1920s faced homesickness, deprivation, and language difficulty. Yiddish musicals helped them to come to terms with their environment by reminding them of home while highlighting the benefits of the New World.

Confronting the past with the present and fusing the folkloric songs, liturgical chants, dances, and theater styles of Jewish tradition with American rhythms and social topics, the genre helped to resolve onstage the conflicts in the lives of the new inhabitants. These comic and dramatic musical works chart the evolution of a community in its acculturation and eventual assimilation.

Di goldene kale (The golden bride) premiered at the 2000-seat Second Avenue Theater in New York on 9 February 1923, one of 14 Yiddish programs in the city that night. It ran for 18 weeks and was then performed throughout the U.S. and in venues in Europe and South America. The music is by Joseph Rumshinsky, the undisputed dean of Yiddish operetta composers in the U.S., who wrote the music for well over 100 such works.

Written and produced at a critical time of transition, between a law passed in May 1921 that greatly limited immigration from eastern Europe and another, in 1924, that reduced such immigration to a trickle, the work illuminates the period in which the arrival of some two million Russians and other east-Europeans in the U.S. had peaked.

A new edition and study of Di goldene kale (A-R Editions, 2017) provides multifaceted insights into the absorption, not only of Jews, but of every immigrant group, into the American mainstream

Below, excerpts from a 2016 production.

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Filed under Dramatic arts, Humor, New editions, Popular music

Afrofuturism and anti-anti-essentialism

In the 1990s the term Afrofuturism emerged to describe a vein of science fiction-inspired art that repositions black subjects in a purportedly race-free future that is nonetheless coded as white. While ostensibly about the future, Afrofuturism in fact works dialectically with an equally overwritten past to critique the reified distance between racialized fictions of black magic and white science.

Three successive concepts— the experimental jazz bandleader Sun Ra’s myth-science, the funk bandleader George Clinton’s P-Funk, and the hip hop artist Kool Keith’s robot voodoo power—track a historical continuity of collapsing fictions of both past and future in Afrofuturist music, reflecting strategic versions of what Paul Gilroy refers to as anti-anti-essentialism. The robot voodoo power thesis thus recognizes in Afrofuturism a dialectical third way out of the double binds and unproductive debates about racial essence and non-essence.

This according to “The robot voodoo power thesis: Afrofuturism and anti-anti-essentialism from Sun Ra to Kool Keith” by J. Griffith Rollefson (Black music research journal XXVIII/1 [spring 2008] pp. 83–109).

Above, Sun Ra in the early 1970s; below, Earth people by Kool Keith (as Dr. Octagon), one of the works discussed in the article.

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Filed under Black studies, Jazz and blues, Popular music

Nickelback jokes

 

Nickelback is one of the most successful rock bands of the early 21st century; it is also one of the era’s most publicly derided groups.

Nickelback hatred became trendy when the band was signed to Roadrunner Records in 1999, and the extreme metal label lost its subcultural cache even as it raked in the profits. From there the circle of scorn grew ever wider. In 2006 Nickelback released their most despised single, Rockstar, with lead singer Chad Kroeger’s reputation taking hit after hit.

Finally, with the birth of Web 2.0, contempt for the band was democratized and made available to all. Memes and a steady stream of jokes at Nickelback’s expense assured their “worst band ever” punch-line status. Around 2012 Nickelback finally took the if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em escape clause, reinforcing their butt-of-the-joke status with self-deprecating humor.

This according to “Nickelback the meme: A complete history of how we came to hate a successful band” by Sage Lazzaro (Observer 26 January 2016). Below, the official (and widely loathed) Rockstar video.

 

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Filed under Humor, Popular music, Reception

The Vatican’s Top 10

The Vatican has recommended ten pop and rock albums as perfect listening for being marooned on a desert island. The recordings serve as an alternative to the mediocre songs featured at Italian pop festivals and on the radio.

The Top 10 list includes the Beatles’ Revolver, David Crosby’s If I could only remember my name, Pink Floyd’s The dark side of the moon, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Donald Fagan’s The nightfly, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Paul Simon’s Graceland, U2’s Achtung baby, Oasis’s (What’s the story) Morning glory?, and Carlos Santana’s Supernatural. Bob Dylan is excluded from the list because he spawned generations of singer-songwriters who have harshly tested the ears and the patience of listeners with their tormented stories.

This according to “Dieci dischi per sopravvivere ai festival: Prontuario semiserio di resistenza musicale” by Guiseppe Fiorentino and Gaetano Vallini (L’Osservatore Romano CXLVIII/37 [14 February 2010]).

Below, the concluding track from David Crosby’s album.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Renaissance

Maddy Prior gets her ear in

In an interview, Maddy Prior recalled her early impressions of English traditional music.

“We did a bit at school and as a result I didn’t like it very much,” she says, “but it was cool in my adolescence to sing American folk songs and get into Bob Dylan. From that I started going to folk clubs.”

“I drove Reverend Gary Davis around for a month in 1966. That was a character forming experience! Then I met this American couple and drove them around for a year. They told me to stop singing American folk songs, because they said I was rubbish at it!”

“They had lots of tapes of English folk music and I started to listen to them, reluctantly at first, I might add. I found the songs old and boring. But I listened to the tapes again, and again, and eventually I found ‘Oh I like that song’, ‘Oh I like that one too’. You get your ear in, that’s what you have to do with any music.”

Quoted in “Please to see the folk-rock queen” by Kernan Andrews (Galway advertiser 8 May 2014).

Today is Prior’s 70th birthday! Above, at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in 2016; below, singing Steeleye Span’s 1975 hit All around my hat in 2004.

BONUS: The female drummer in 1971, when the Steeleye Span lineup included the legendary Martin Carthy and Ashley Hutchings.

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Ian Anderson’s visual songwriting

In an interview, Ian Anderson discussed the songs on his third solo album, The secret language of birds.

“I like singing songs that put people in a landscape. I have a picture in my head for each song that I write, and it’s a framed, still image. My early training as a painter and drafter, I think, produced in me a way of writing music and lyrics that illustrate visual ideas.”

“I try to bring some maturity to the thing I’ve been doing for most of my career, writing songs that tell people a story, not in the temporal sense, but a story they make up to fit the picture I suggest to them.”

“It’s like sending people a postcard. You’re giving them a little flavor of where you are and what you feel and how you’re getting on. But it can only be just that, a little snapshot. They have to do some of the work to imagine the bigger picture.”

This according to “Passion plays: Ian Anderson’s three decades of visual songwriting with Jethro Tull” by Steve Boisson (Acoustic guitar XI/5:95 [November 2000] pp. 86–97).

Today is Anderson’s 70th birthday! Above, performing in 2000, the year the album was released; below, the album’s title track.

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Carlos Santana and “Smooth”

In 1971 Carlos Santana’s Black magic woman hit number 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It would take him nearly three decades to make the top 10 again, but it was a comeback worth waiting for. In 1999 Santana’s Smooth, featuring Rob Thomas on vocals, topped the chart for a stunning 12 weeks and stayed 58 total weeks on the list, making it the No. 2 Hot 100 song of all time. The recording also won three Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

Recalling the recording session in a 2014 interview, Santana said “I didn’t want [the guitar part] to have brain or mind or energy. I wanted it to be with innocence. Innocence to me is very sacred and very sensual. People should never lose their innocence. So I didn’t practice, purposefully. As soon as I found out where my fingers go on the neck, you close your eyes and you complement Rob. Kind of like a minister: He says Hallelujah, and you say your name.”

“When you make it memorable, you hang around with eternity.”

This according to “Smooth at 15: Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas reflect on their Billboard Hot 100 smash” by Leila Cobo (Billboard 27 June 2014).

Today is Santana’s 70th birthday! Above, performing Smooth in 1999; below, the official music video.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music, Reception