I first heard Gatemouth Brown thirty years ago in a friend's basement in North Vancouver. This particular collection of songs touched me deeply. Gatemouth was born in Louisiana and grew up in Texas, while my situation was the reverse. We both had roots on each side the Sabine River. This region is known as "the Big Gumbo." Ten years later, my grandmother moved up to Canada from this same region. I decided to give her a night of music at a downtown club where Gatemouth was performing. He grew up in the next town to hers. Well, we got to the venue and there were no seats left! I lied to the doorman that we had come from Beaumont, Texas to see Gate. A few minutes later, a tall man with a beard introduced himself as Gate's manager, Jim Bateman. He got us a table up front, sat with us and then took us backstage between sets. There I was eating fried zucchini strips with Gatemouth, Jim and my grandmother, who was bouncing Gate's little daughter Renée on her knee. Before it was over between those two, Gate tried to hire my grandmother as a baby-sitter and gumbo cook for his entourage. My grandmother wanted to do it but she was just too old. Gate gave me his card and said to call if she changed her mind. I carry it in my wallet to this day. It was a magic night. My grandmother died soon after and was buried in Beaumont, Texas. Gate died in 2005. He is buried twenty miles away in Orange, Texas. Gatemouth was a legendary musician and a very special human being. Every time I hear his music, I smile because I know our paths are going to cross again someday.
"Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash." -Leonard Cohen Substitute the word "music" for the word "poetry" and you have my opinion of the music of Precious Fathers. This Vancouver group has done many things well. Music is made up of sounds and the spaces between sounds. These guys are aware of the spaces and their importance. The music is immediately accessible, but reveals many subtle delights to the listener. The arrangement of the compositions is very intelligent. The mix of instruments is refreshing. Brass is used sparingly and is akin to the aftertaste of a good wine. All the compositions are imbued with potential energy and this is its appeal. Rather than exploding, these songs are like a fuse burning. Avoiding the explosion allows the listeners to engage their imagination. The tunes seem simple, but they are gently unpredictable. Like clouds. We see them all the time, but if you watch one cloud, it will change in unpredictable ways. Listen to this music on your next road trip.
I once made an unplanned automobile journey to San Diego to see an old friend. During this visit, I was introduced to the music of Michael Hedges. I was transfixed! I watched a DVD of a concert he gave. This man had obviously re-invented the guitar. There was an edifying power in the lyrics to his songs. I saw from his body motion that he was an instrument and that something invisible was playing him. It was the first time in many years that I had been excited by a guitarist. Michael said, "You can’t make your music good. You can’t try to be good. You can try to be present and you can try to remain open, so what is going to speak to you can speak through you." I highly recommend this music for its edifying power, beauty of composition and innovation. Michael died in an automobile crash, but if you get the chance to see him on DVD or on the internet, he will remind you that you are the author of a world that is limited only by your imagination.
This type of music is five hundred years old. It came to Marrakech with black African slaves from Mali. Their descendants are the Gnawi of Morocco. They perform derdeba ceremonies, in which evil spirits are exorcised. Their traditional instruments are the sintir, the qarkaba and the ganga; a lute with three strings, large metal castanets and a drum. Hassan Hakmoun has played Gnawa music since the age of four. He went to New York about twenty years ago and began integrating Western musical instruments into Gnawa music. In the CD featured here, he uses Arab musical instruments. You can hear an oud, a banjo, a dumbec and orchestral violins. I recently went to a concert by Hakmoun. His music made everyone dance joyfully. I heard musical echoes of every "style" of music that exists. Gnawa music reveals the truth about music. Hassan is a human musical instrument. Music, which exists everywhere in the universe, plays him. He directs this power with the honorable intent of healing and cleansing. This music is auditory apophyllite!
Canadian composer, Colin McPhee lived in Indonesia for five years. He loved the sound of the Balinese gamelan. He said, "I could only think of a flock of birds wheeling in the sky, turning with one accord, now this way, now that and finally descending to the trees." McPhee transcribed many Balinese and Javanese songs for orchestra. In 1946, he assembled the transcriptions of gamelan music into the Suite in Six Movements. In the fourth movement, Gambangan I hear the spirit of the rain. This composition is a musical bridge between different cultures. We all benefit when imaginations are shared.
The group Juluka also record as Savuka. Johnny Clegg and the group are from South Africa. The music of Juluka is strong, primitive and positive. It can clear the air in a room. The same way that lightning can clear the air in the mountains. This music causes people to dance. Their songs are stories which must be voiced. It is brimming with spirit!
Leif is multifaceted. He is a guitarist, a trumpet player, a singer, a song writer and a lyricist. He honestly acquired a salt-water voice. Music is in his blood. As you listen to Leif's songs, your imagination is activated. The melodies are not cluttered. They are built in a manner that allows the participation of the listener. That is the mark of a musician, who understands music. Ask Miles Davis about that. Leif has an innate sense of rhythm and he constantly surprises his listeners. His songs are solid. Arntzen and his group,tlab are based in New York City. Do you like jazz? Acquire his CD, Channeling Chet.
Ofra Haza is from Yemen and was born in 1957. Many scholars consider the Yemenite Jewish community to be among the most ancient. They lived under a harsh government. Many families immigrated to Palestine. Ofra and her family walked to Israel. The songs are traditional Yemenite songs written in the 16th century by a Spanish Jew, Rabbi Shalom Shabazi. Yemenite Jews were not allowed to play musical instruments. Instead, they hammered on petrol cans and on trays. You can hear Chaim Gispan play this type of percussion. Ofra brings us close to antiquity with her evocative voice.
On the north-east coast of Australia is the Yolngu homeland. This region is sacred for Yothu Yindi. A talented group of many members. They play every style of music from hard-rock to soft ballads. Many of their songs are sung in dialects that are older than 40,000 years. A marriage of the modern and the ancient. These people are warriors for our Mother, the Earth. They also fight for equal rights for indigenous people. Their weapons are truth, wisdom, and music.
One rainy night, I got free tickets to a concert. I decided to gamble. An hour later, I was entertained by four people from Greece. They played violins, flutes and a Celtic drum. They also played several musical instruments I had never seen. Suddenly, we were dancing an ancient dance in oregano-scented hills. The music was different from bouzouki and rembetiko. Much more ancient. Happily, Pallaina Seferia sold the CD in the lobby, after the concert. It was a magic night!
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.