In Mississippi, America’s most revolutionary mayor

Al Jazeera America, September 19, 2013

JACKSON, Miss. — On July 1, Chokwe Lumumba, an attorney with a long record of black radical activism, took office as mayor of Jackson. His inauguration took place in the gleaming convention center that sprang up four years ago in the state capital’s mostly deserted downtown.

A crowd of 2,500 packed the hall. The city councilors and other dignitaries, most of them African-American — Jackson, a city of 177,000, is 80 percent black — sat on the dais. The local congressman, Bennie Thompson, officiated. The outgoing mayor, Harvey Johnson, the city’s first black mayor, wished his successor well. The Mississippi Mass Choir gave a jubilant performance of “When I Rose This Morning.”

Finally, Lumumba, 66, approached the podium, pulling the microphone up to suit his tall, lean frame. “Well,” he said, “I want to say, God is good, all the time.”

The crowd replied. “God is good, all the time!”

“I want to say hey! And hello!”

The crowd called back, “Hey! Hello!”

Then Lumumba smiled and raised his right hand halfway, just a little above the podium, briefly showing the clenched fist of a Black Power salute.

“And I want to say, free the land!”

Applause rang out, bells chimed, wooden staffs rose up and people shouted back, “Free the land!” That’s the motto of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), the movement formed in 1968 that sought to turn the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina into an independent black nation.

Jackson’s new mayor is a former vice president of the RNA and a co-founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), a national group born in 1993 that seeks self-determination for African-Americans — whom it calls New Afrikans — “by any means necessary.” Like many shaped by the Black Power era, Lumumba long shunned formal politics, until a successful run for City Council in 2009. Now, as mayor, he is seeking to apply the tenets of the black radical tradition to the duties of running a city.  [READ THE WHOLE STORY AT AL JAZEERA AMERICA]

Sarod master reimagines the raga

Boston Globe, September 13, 2013

Indian classical music is ancient, codified, rigorous, and refined, yet its spirit dwells in the inspiration and personality of individuals. Because ragas are at once systematic — each is built on a signature ascending and descending scale — and improvised, every performance adds to the body of knowledge, yet no two are alike.

The great vocalists and instrumentalists are ones who bring grace, soul, and even surprise to this system, in a pursuit that can last a lifetime. Amjad Ali Khan, who plays the Berklee Performance Center Sunday night, is one of them. (He also leads a public workshop at the New England Conservatory on Sept. 16.)

Many consider Khan today’s most important living player of the sarod, a fretless lute with a metal fingerboard that is one of the main Hindustani, or north Indian, classical instruments. At 67 and seemingly in top health — at least judging from the broad smile he seems to always wear — he has plenty of years ahead. But he is one of the maestros one should be sure to hear perform live, at least once.Read More

Jorge Drexler puts his music in his listeners’ hands

Boston Globe, September 7, 2013

The singer Jorge Drexler is known for his skill at combinations.

Like Caetano Veloso, one of his idols, he combines South American folk with the great modern songwriting tradition of Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. He started as a doctor in his native Uruguay but is now, at 48, an established star based in Spain.

His moment of fame in the United States, the Oscar-winning song “Al otro lado del rio” that features in the 2004 film “The Motorcycle Diaries,” offered just a glimpse of the sensibility that has earned him an ardent following in the Latin world.

Since his latest album, 2010’s “Amar la trama,” Drexler, who returns to Boston for a Berklee Performance Center show on Oct. 6, has taken his love of combinations to another level.Read More

“Learning to Listen,” by Gary Burton (book review)

Boston Globe, September 4, 2013

In the mid-1980s, Gary Burton was just entering middle age, but he’d had experiences as a jazz player to fill several lifetimes. Duke Ellington had treated him with kindness, Milt Jackson with suspicion, Miles Davis with a death threat. He’d endured the mercurial tendencies of Stan Getz, in whose band he played in the 1960s and who, like so many, fought the battle between creative genius and substance abuse.

Burton’s memoir, “Learning to Listen,” tells these stories and situates its author’s own major contributions in jazz’s history. After leaving Getz in 1966, Burton — with guitarist Larry Coryell and others — pioneered jazz-rock fusion and played venues like the Fillmore in San Francisco. As a player, he brought his four-mallet technique and “Burton grip” to the vibraphone and marimba, expanding the potential for those instruments in both lead and support settings. As a bandleader, he spotted and mentored the likes of Pat Metheny.Read More

With new album, Marc Cary pays tribute to his mentor

Boston Globe, August 22, 2013

NEW YORK – A solo recording is a watershed event for a jazz musician, one that usually comes many years or even decades into one’s career. It marks a commercial risk, as record labels and concert bookers often hesitate to back a solo project. More than that, it represents creative and emotional risk, as the artist is exposed, alone with only the audience and the material he or she has selected to carry out onto the limb.

But the pianist Marc Cary, who has just released his first solo album, was by no means alone in its making. Titled “For the Love of Abbey,” the record draws on Cary’s 12 years in the late singer Abbey Lincoln’s band; more than just an homage, it’s as much a continuation, through her spectral presence, of her mentorship and their collaboration.Read More

Nathalie Pires: the fresh face of fado

Boston Globe, July 25, 2013

NEW YORK — “When I’m in Portugal, I’m an American,” says Nathalie Pires. “And when I’m in America, I’m Portuguese.”

It isn’t a complaint about being caught between two worlds. Rather, for the 27-year-old fado singer from Perth Amboy, N.J., it’s a statement of fact that captures her memories all the way back.

There was her bilingual childhood in northern New Jersey’s close-knit Portuguese community. The long summers in Portugal in her grandmother’s village, riding bikes and hanging around cafes.

And the late nights with her musician dad, who’d bring along his only child and hide her behind the speakers while his band played Portuguese pop covers in Newark social clubs.

But Pires has taken her dual identity to heights rarely – if ever – scaled by a second-generation Portuguese-American kid.Read More

Ravid Kahalani’s musical journey returns to his roots

Boston Globe, July 4, 2013

In retrospect, it was a narrow escape.

Ravid Kahalani, singer and multi-instrumentalist, kinetic performer, restless explorer of genres and traditions, and an Israeli Jew from Tel Aviv, could have stayed on the path he embarked on a few years ago, and become a virtuoso performer of Serbian Orthodox liturgical singing.

And he would have been perfectly happy with that. “I was studying Orthodox church music, and I almost went to live in Serbia and sing in churches,” Kahalani says. “When I do something that I really love, I do it with all the passion. I get into learning it the most exact way that I can.”Read More