Cover

Culture & Living
Culture / Food & Health / Houston / People / TrendingThe death of a Pakistani-Scottish chef who claimed he cooked up the world’s first chicken tikka masala is prompting a flood of tributes to what’s been described as ‘Britain’s national dish’ — and reviving a debate into its true origin. Ali Ahmed Aslam, known widely as Mr. Ali, died of health complications on Monday at age 77, his nephew Andleeb Ahmed confirmed to NPR. Aslam was the owner of Glasgow’s popular Shish Mahal restaurant, which he opened in 1964 after immigrating from Pakistan as a boy. In his telling, Aslam devised the globally beloved recipe one night in the 1970s, when a customer complained that traditional chicken tikka was too dry. The chef went back to the kitchen and combined spices, cream and a can of condensed tomato soup. Voilà: the modern model for chicken tikka masala was born. But so, too, was a debate about its origin. Who created chicken tikka masala? In 2009, a Glasgow politician campaigned for chicken tikka masala to be granted protected heritage status and for the city to be named its official home. But the bid was rejected after multiple establishments from around the U.K. laid claim to the dish. Others say the curry was most certainly invented in South Asia. Monish Gurjal, the head of the popular Indian restaurant chain Moti Mahal, says his grandfather was serving chicken tikka masala to Indian heads of state as early as 1947. “It’s kind of like: who invented chicken noodle soup?” says Leena Trivedi-Grenier, a freelance food writer who probed the various origin claims in 2017. “It’s a dish that could’ve been invented by any number of people at the same time.” Chicken tikka (sans the masala) has been a popular street food in Pakistan and northern India for decades. At its core, it involves chicken that’s marinated in chili powder and yogurt, then blackened on a grill or in a tandoor, an oven made out of ground clay. The cooking method leaves chicken tikka prone to drying out, says Trivedi-Grenier; the idea to add a sauce with staples like cream, butter and tomato isn’t too revolutionary. Another point of debate is the dish’s relatively mild taste. In an interview originally shared by AFP news, Aslam said the recipe was adapted from traditional cuisine “according to our customer’s taste.” “Usually they don’t take hot curry,” he said of U.K. diners. “That’s why we cook it with yogurt and cream.” In 2001, the U.K.’s foreign secretary, Robin Cook, said in a speech that chicken tikka masala is a “a true British national dish,” epitomizing “multiculturalism as a positive force for our economy and society.” But to Trivedi-Grenier, the idea that chicken tikka masala was created solely to suit British people’s palates is “garish” when one considers the symbolism. “How do you colonize and enslave an entire country for a century and then claim that one of their dishes is from your own country?” Customers remember Aslam as a humble man and talented chef Aslam, a man who shied away from attention, found a sense of purpose in exposing his customers to new flavors, said his nephew, Andleeb Ahmed. “He was actually serving customers until the end of his life,” Ahmed said. “That was his passion. That was what he loved doing.” Around the world, those who’ve dined at Shish Mahal are remembering Aslam as kind and talented, and someone who helped expand their culinary sensibilities. “I tasted my first curry in the Shish Mahal in 1967 and continued to enjoy them during my student days and beyond,” tweeted a former Scottish member of parliament. Vijay Prashad, an international journalist, wrote that, to say the addition of chicken tikka masala has benefited many menus, is “controversial,” but the food is undeniably good. “Naans down in honor,” he added. Ironically, when it came to his own taste preferences, Aslam ranked chicken tikka masala fairly low, his nephew said. “The chefs would make a very traditional curry for him. He’d eat it at lunch every day,” Ahmed explained. “He’d only have chicken tikka masala when guests were over.” Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. Transcript : MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST: Glasgow, 1972 – it’s about 11 p.m., and a bus driver has come to the Shish Mahal restaurant for a late dinner. But the chicken’s kind of dry. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) ALI AHMED ASLAM: Some customer says, I think we need some sauce with that, and this is a bit dry. And instead of giving them separate sauce, we thought it would be better we cook their chicken tikka with some different sauce. JUANA SUMMERS, HOST: Restaurateur Ali Ahmed Aslam died earlier this week. But in 2009, he told the news agency AFP that he soaked some spices in Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup and cooked the chicken in that. And in this moment, a Pakistani immigrant to Scotland invented what’s now one of the world’s most popular Indian dishes – chicken tikka masala. KELLY: Or at least that’s one common story. Others say that the curry was invented in South Asia. A popular Indian restaurant chain says it was serving chicken tikka masala to Indian heads of state as early as 1947. LEENA TRIVEDI-GRENIER: Do we know for sure that Kundan Lal Gujral was the first inventor of it? No. But we know that he laid claim to it and opened his restaurant, Moti Mahal, more than 20 years before this Pakistani-Scottish gentleman. SUMMERS: Leena Trivedi-Grenier is a food writer who researched the origins of chicken tikka masala in 2017. TRIVEDI-GRENIER: It’s kind of like who invented chicken noodle soup? It’s a dish that could have easily been invented by any number of people. SUMMERS: Ultimately, she says, it was probably a case of simultaneous invention, of several chefs roasting chicken tikka in a tandoor oven, then further cooking it in a rich curry. KELLY: Ali Ahmed Aslam was apparently among them. His nephew Andleeb Ahmed says his uncle loved his work, that he still often personally brought customers their food, though when it came to his own palate… ANDLEEB AHMED: When he had guests in the restaurant, he would have things like chicken tikka masala. But normally, the chefs would make a very traditional curry for him, and he’d have it at lunch every day. KELLY: Ali Ahmed Aslam was 77 years old. His restaurant and his most famous dish live on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright Smack Magazine, NPR. [...] Read more...
Culture / Money & Politics / TrendingThe U.S. Mint will begin shipping coins featuring actress Anna May Wong on Monday, the first U.S. currency to feature an Asian American. Dubbed Hollywood’s first Asian American movie star, Wong championed the need for more representation and less stereotypical roles for Asian Americans on screen. Wong, who died in 1961, struggled to land roles in Hollywood in the early 20th century, a time of “yellowface,” when white people wore makeup and clothes to take on Asian roles, and anti-miscegenation laws, which criminalized interracial relationships. The roles she did land were laced with racial stereotypes and she was underpaid, earning $6,000 for her top billed role in Daughter of the Dragon compared to Warner Oland’s $12,000, who only appeared in the first 23 minutes of the film. For Shanghai Express, Wong earned $6,000 while Marlene Dietrich made $78,166. After experiencing this racist treatment in Hollywood, Wong moved to Europe and starred in English, French and German films. She told the Los Angeles Times in a 1933 interview that she was tired of the roles she had to play in Hollywood. “Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece, and so cruel a villain — murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass,” she told the newspaper. “We are not like that.” Wong’s career spanned 60 films — many in the silent era — and she earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. The U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters Program celebrates five female trailblazers in American history each year between 2022 and 2025. Wong is featured on the fifth coin released this year. The U.S. Mint is expected to produce more than 300 million Wong quarters at facilities in Philadelphia and Denver. Mint Director Ventris Gibson called Wong “a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors.” The tail of the coins will show a close-up of Wong with her head resting on her hand, while the front will feature a portrait of George Washington created by 20th century sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser, who became the first woman to design a coin for the U.S. in 1921. The four other women in the program this year were poet Maya Angelou, astronaut Sally Ride, suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren, and Wilma Mankiller, first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. Content Contributor NPR. [...] Read more...

 

 

Body & Soul
Culture / Food & Health / Houston / People / TrendingThe death of a Pakistani-Scottish chef who claimed he cooked up the world’s first chicken tikka masala is prompting a flood of tributes to what’s been described as ‘Britain’s national dish’ — and reviving a debate into its true origin. Ali Ahmed Aslam, known widely as Mr. Ali, died of health complications on Monday at age 77, his nephew Andleeb Ahmed confirmed to NPR. Aslam was the owner of Glasgow’s popular Shish Mahal restaurant, which he opened in 1964 after immigrating from Pakistan as a boy. In his telling, Aslam devised the globally beloved recipe one night in the 1970s, when a customer complained that traditional chicken tikka was too dry. The chef went back to the kitchen and combined spices, cream and a can of condensed tomato soup. Voilà: the modern model for chicken tikka masala was born. But so, too, was a debate about its origin. Who created chicken tikka masala? In 2009, a Glasgow politician campaigned for chicken tikka masala to be granted protected heritage status and for the city to be named its official home. But the bid was rejected after multiple establishments from around the U.K. laid claim to the dish. Others say the curry was most certainly invented in South Asia. Monish Gurjal, the head of the popular Indian restaurant chain Moti Mahal, says his grandfather was serving chicken tikka masala to Indian heads of state as early as 1947. “It’s kind of like: who invented chicken noodle soup?” says Leena Trivedi-Grenier, a freelance food writer who probed the various origin claims in 2017. “It’s a dish that could’ve been invented by any number of people at the same time.” Chicken tikka (sans the masala) has been a popular street food in Pakistan and northern India for decades. At its core, it involves chicken that’s marinated in chili powder and yogurt, then blackened on a grill or in a tandoor, an oven made out of ground clay. The cooking method leaves chicken tikka prone to drying out, says Trivedi-Grenier; the idea to add a sauce with staples like cream, butter and tomato isn’t too revolutionary. Another point of debate is the dish’s relatively mild taste. In an interview originally shared by AFP news, Aslam said the recipe was adapted from traditional cuisine “according to our customer’s taste.” “Usually they don’t take hot curry,” he said of U.K. diners. “That’s why we cook it with yogurt and cream.” In 2001, the U.K.’s foreign secretary, Robin Cook, said in a speech that chicken tikka masala is a “a true British national dish,” epitomizing “multiculturalism as a positive force for our economy and society.” But to Trivedi-Grenier, the idea that chicken tikka masala was created solely to suit British people’s palates is “garish” when one considers the symbolism. “How do you colonize and enslave an entire country for a century and then claim that one of their dishes is from your own country?” Customers remember Aslam as a humble man and talented chef Aslam, a man who shied away from attention, found a sense of purpose in exposing his customers to new flavors, said his nephew, Andleeb Ahmed. “He was actually serving customers until the end of his life,” Ahmed said. “That was his passion. That was what he loved doing.” Around the world, those who’ve dined at Shish Mahal are remembering Aslam as kind and talented, and someone who helped expand their culinary sensibilities. “I tasted my first curry in the Shish Mahal in 1967 and continued to enjoy them during my student days and beyond,” tweeted a former Scottish member of parliament. Vijay Prashad, an international journalist, wrote that, to say the addition of chicken tikka masala has benefited many menus, is “controversial,” but the food is undeniably good. “Naans down in honor,” he added. Ironically, when it came to his own taste preferences, Aslam ranked chicken tikka masala fairly low, his nephew said. “The chefs would make a very traditional curry for him. He’d eat it at lunch every day,” Ahmed explained. “He’d only have chicken tikka masala when guests were over.” Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. Transcript : MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST: Glasgow, 1972 – it’s about 11 p.m., and a bus driver has come to the Shish Mahal restaurant for a late dinner. But the chicken’s kind of dry. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) ALI AHMED ASLAM: Some customer says, I think we need some sauce with that, and this is a bit dry. And instead of giving them separate sauce, we thought it would be better we cook their chicken tikka with some different sauce. JUANA SUMMERS, HOST: Restaurateur Ali Ahmed Aslam died earlier this week. But in 2009, he told the news agency AFP that he soaked some spices in Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup and cooked the chicken in that. And in this moment, a Pakistani immigrant to Scotland invented what’s now one of the world’s most popular Indian dishes – chicken tikka masala. KELLY: Or at least that’s one common story. Others say that the curry was invented in South Asia. A popular Indian restaurant chain says it was serving chicken tikka masala to Indian heads of state as early as 1947. LEENA TRIVEDI-GRENIER: Do we know for sure that Kundan Lal Gujral was the first inventor of it? No. But we know that he laid claim to it and opened his restaurant, Moti Mahal, more than 20 years before this Pakistani-Scottish gentleman. SUMMERS: Leena Trivedi-Grenier is a food writer who researched the origins of chicken tikka masala in 2017. TRIVEDI-GRENIER: It’s kind of like who invented chicken noodle soup? It’s a dish that could have easily been invented by any number of people. SUMMERS: Ultimately, she says, it was probably a case of simultaneous invention, of several chefs roasting chicken tikka in a tandoor oven, then further cooking it in a rich curry. KELLY: Ali Ahmed Aslam was apparently among them. His nephew Andleeb Ahmed says his uncle loved his work, that he still often personally brought customers their food, though when it came to his own palate… ANDLEEB AHMED: When he had guests in the restaurant, he would have things like chicken tikka masala. But normally, the chefs would make a very traditional curry for him, and he’d have it at lunch every day. KELLY: Ali Ahmed Aslam was 77 years old. His restaurant and his most famous dish live on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright Smack Magazine, NPR. [...] Read more...
Food & Health / Peru / TrendingAt least 13 people were killed in a stampede at a nightclub in Peru when they tried to escape police who showed up to enforce COVID-19 restrictions on such gatherings. According to Peru’s interior ministry, 120 people attended a party at Thomas Restobar Club in Lima’s Los Olivos district on Saturday night, despite prohibitions on social gatherings under the country’s state of emergency. Nightclubs and bars were ordered closed in March, and extended family gatherings were banned earlier this month in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. After being alerted by neighbors around 9 p.m., according to the ministry, police arrived to evacuate the building. Party-goers tried to flee through a single exit, getting trampled and trapped in the staircase as a result. Six other people, including three police officers, were injured. Twenty three people were detained. “The Minister of the Interior deeply regrets the death of thirteen people as a result of the criminal irresponsibility of an unscrupulous businessman; and extends his deepest condolences to his family members,” reads the statement from the office of Jorge Montoya. The ministry said that police did not use any weapons or tear gas on the scene, though the BBC reports one resident told RPP radio that the police threw tear gas canisters during the raid. In a second statement, the interior ministry said again that police had not used firearms or tear gas at any point during the intervention, and had followed lawful, established protocols. It also said the nightclub’s two owners, a married couple, were detained on Sunday. Later that day, health officials said that 15 detainees had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 13 of those still actively contagious. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 585,000 people in Peru have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 27,450 have died. The country ranks sixth in the world for its total number of cases. Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
Brazil / Food & Health / TrendingSince he was laid off from a São Paulo auto repair shop in March, mechanic Edson Santana has struggled to find a job. His fiancée, Jessica Fernandes de Andrade, has been unable to work for weeks because of lingering fatigue and shortness of breath after a case of COVID-19. But they’re pulling through with each receiving a pandemic emergency stipend of $109 per month. “We’ve been able to manage, and I have been able to take care of her,” Santana, 38, says. He says they have Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to thank: “He’s helping the neediest people. It’s the right thing to do.” Pressured by civil society, the government launched the benefits in April as pandemic shutdowns were battering the nation’s already shaky economy. As of July, they reached more than 30 million households — home to half the population of the largest country in Latin America — with an average monthly benefit of $163 per home. Now the relief is also providing an unlikely popularity boost for Bolsonaro, a far-right president who has insulted welfare recipients and who protested measures to prevent what became one of the world’s largest coronavirus outbreaks. Approval for Bolsonaro rose to 37% in August from 32% in June, according to pollster Datafolha, his highest rating since taking office in January 2019. Datafolha found that much of his increased popularity came from the demographic eligible for the new stipend. Now, with the emergency stipend set to expire in September, Bolsonaro says his administration is planning a “Brazil Income” — an expansion of cash transfers to the poor that have been traditionally associated with the country’s left. Family allowance Brazil is renowned for its massive, nearly 2-decade-old cash-transfer program for the poor, Bolsa Família (often translated as “family allowance”). As of March, it reached 13.8 million families, paying an average of $34 per month. (The national minimum wage is about $190 per month.) The emergency stipend greatly expanded the payment, raising meager incomes for many and replacing lost earnings for others. Luis Carlos Aranha, 34, a day laborer in a small town in São Paulo state who received Bolsa Família before the pandemic, says what changed for him with the larger stipend was becoming able to “buy food like fruit and ham for our daughters, instead of just rice and beans.” But the stipend was meant to be temporary. Legislators from different parties are now pushing the Bolsonaro administration to launch broad, long-term income support for the poor. Whither the Chicago school While implementing a basic income could lift Bolsonaro’s popularity, it could also bring him to a crossroads regarding an election promise to keep a tight budget. His economy minister, Paulo Guedes, trained at the University of Chicago with thinkers who helped direct the economic “shock treatment” of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. That unleashed a spree of harsh government spending cuts and privatization to stem chronic inflation in Chile. Bolsonaro’s pledges to dramatically slim down Brazil’s government won praise from investors. Government economists predict the nation’s debt will reach about 95% of gross domestic product with this year’s emergency budget. But in 2021, the government risks exceeding a spending limit imposed after President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party was impeached over fiscal issues in 2016. Guedes and business leaders have repeatedly warned that generous government spending should be kept in check to keep the economy stable and maintain investor confidence. If Bolsonaro “cedes to the populist temptation of irresponsible spending and breaks the rule of the ceiling, it could bring the country to a crisis like the one that we lived through in the Dilma government,” Fernando Schüler, a professor at business school Insper, wrote in an op-ed last week. Bolsonaro’s economic team floated a “Brazil Income” proposal that would set the average Bolsa Família payment at around $46 per family, but Bolsonaro rejected it as too low. Many lawmakers want a higher transfer amount to be available to a wider range of Brazilians after the pandemic assistance expires. With a larger cash transfer, says congressman Felipe Rigoni, “we can avoid millions of people falling into extreme poverty while also establishing security so they could train for better jobs.” Rigoni, of the Brazilian Socialist Party, is a coordinator of a congressional bloc for basic income that formed last month with members from 23 of the 24 parties in Congress. Rigoni says a robust basic income could stay within budget by cutting costs elsewhere. Leandro Ferreira of the Brazilian Basic Income Network, a research group that’s advising the congressional bloc, says a guaranteed income for more than 30% of Brazilians could be financed through measures such as closing tax loopholes for the rich. Bolsonaro has displayed a new friendliness to social spending, including recent visits to inaugurate public works in Brazil’s poor northeast, much in the style of his political nemesis, the Workers’ Party. Gleicyelen Silva, a 25-year-old saleswoman in the northeastern state of Maranhão who voted for Bolsonaro, says she is not bothered by his apparent economic shift, adding that “he is still very different from the Workers’ Party in that he stands for conservative Christian values.” There’s another group untroubled by Bolsonaro’s shift: the military, a major pillar of his support. In a pension reform and budget cuts last year, military benefits remained largely untouched. Bolsonaro’s economic legacy may thus end up looking less like Pinochet’s pro-market regime in Chile and more like a period during Brazil’s own military regime in which the government spent heavily. Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
Food & Health / Peru / TrendingUpdated at 6:10 p.m. ET Peru’s government has launched a campaign of emotional shock tactics to persuade its citizens to help stop the coronavirus from causing more death and misery in a country with one of Latin America’s biggest outbreaks. Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra acknowledges the campaign “may seem too harsh.” Yet he says: “We are in a war. … You have to call things as they are.” The “war” that Vizcarra says they are waging is a result of the virus’s painful and unexpectedly widespread impact on his country of more than 30 million people. Peru has now registered almost 30,000 coronavirus-related deaths, the largest toll in Latin America after Brazil and Mexico. That is despite the Peruvian government’s imposing a nationwide quarantine less than two weeks after detecting the country’s first case on March 6. Peru’s per capita COVID-19 mortality rate of 93.28 per 100,000 is higher than that of any other nation except the tiny European republic of San Marino (population: 34,000), according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University. The awareness campaign has the slogan “COVID does not kill by itself. Let’s not be accomplices.” Half-a-minute, heart-wrenching videos are being broadcast on Peruvian TV and shared online in an effort to drive home the case for masks and social distancing. They show scenes from everyday life — people happily cracking open beers on a street corner, men playing a soccer game and a family visiting a grandmother. After a few seconds, the scene abruptly cuts to the consequences: an elderly relative on a ventilator in a hospital, gasping for breath. The need for such hard-hitting messages was underscored on Aug. 22 by a tragedy at the Thomas Restobar nightclub in Lima, the capital. The club held an illegal Saturday night party that was raided by the police. There was panic. Thirteen people died in the ensuing stampede. Officials later revealed that 11 of the dead tested positive for the coronavirus. The scale of the pandemic has left Peruvians feeling “sad and angry,” says veteran Lima-based journalist Jacqueline Fowks. It has also ignited debate about what has gone wrong and why. Fowks cites the fact that 7 out of 10 Peruvian workers are in the informal sector and often “couldn’t afford to isolate” because they’re dependent on daily earnings. But she also lays much of the blame on the country’s “very poor” health system, which failed to conduct effective testing and contact tracing and, in some areas, collapsed. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Peru had one of the region’s strongest economies, thanks to a commodities boom. Yet while average health spending per capita in Latin America and the Caribbean was $1,026 in 2017, Peru spent only $680, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Peruvian government had plans to increase the health budget but failed to carry these out, says Dr. Godofredo Talavera, president of the Peruvian Medical Federation. “The government doesn’t fulfill its promises,” he told NPR, as he stood within a throng of angry doctors and nurses at a recent protest rally outside the Health Ministry. “We don’t have oxygen! We don’t have ventilators!” he said. No one disputes that Peru is being hit hard by the pandemic, yet some believe the official numbers for coronavirus infections and deaths are inflated. Peru has mostly relied on rapid testing that measures only antibodies, says Dr. Rubén Mayorga, the World Health Organization’s representative in Peru. Mayorga says these show if someone had the virus at some point: “You can have somebody who has … something else, but since you have a COVID-19 antibody test, you will be declared as having died of COVID.” What is not in doubt, however, is the devastating economic impact of the virus on Peru. Its gross domestic product in April was about 40% lower than it was the same month last year, a record decline. The speed with which the economy is shrinking has since slowed, but the country’s Economy Ministry estimates output to be down 12% in 2020 overall. Miguel Jaramillo, an economics expert with the Lima-based think tank Grade, expects parts of the economy to rebound quickly. But he says he is concerned about “the long-term consequences of the loss of human capital — a generation that is going to have a very hard time finding a job.” Jaramillo says that four years ago, he was a member of a presidential commission into the reform of social protection. Its findings came to nothing. He hopes the pandemic will now prompt Peru to learn from past mistakes. “I hope we don’t waste this opportunity to … create a real system of social protection and make a serious effort to formalize the economy,” he says. Ricardo Ramos, a computer shop owner and software developer in Lima, is feeling this breathtakingly steep downward spiral firsthand. In the last few months, Ramos has lost more than two-thirds of his income. He has already laid off five of his seven employees. He says he loses sleep every night, lying awake and “trying to dream up ways of reinventing the business.” Others are still less fortunate. To see that, you only need visit the poorer parts of Lima, says journalist Fowks: “You will see a lot of people in the streets, walking around asking for money, asking for food, asking for any kind of help.” Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
Cover / Food & Health / TrendingPicture this: You’re 17, you walk into a corner store and grab a Coca-Cola and Doritos, but the cashier refuses to sell them to you because you’re underage. That rule is expected to soon become reality in parts of Mexico, as lawmakers in several states push legislation to keep junk food away from children, partly in response to the coronavirus pandemic. First Oaxaca’s state legislature passed a ban on selling or giving out high-calorie packaged foods and sugar-sweetened drinks to minors on Aug. 5. Less than two weeks later, Tabasco state approved a prohibition, too. Now at least a dozen other states are considering similar legislation. “I know it can sound a bit drastic but we had to take action now,” says Magaly López, a lawmaker in Oaxaca’s Congress who spearheaded the ban. More than 70,000 Mexicans have died from COVID-19, the world’s fourth-highest recorded death toll, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University. Two-thirds of those who died in Mexico had an underlying medical condition such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular problems, according to Health Department officials. That has led to a new urgency to change diets so that the younger generation doesn’t suffer those ailments. “The damage of this kind of diet is even more visible because of the pandemic,” says López, who is a member of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party. The party’s critics, however, say its leaders are using preexisting health conditions in COVID-19 patients to distract from a weak government response to the virus outbreak. Yet few would deny the country consumes large amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed snacks with little nutrition — or that Mexico has a major weight problem. One-third of Mexicans aged 6 to 19 are overweight or obese, according to UNICEF. They may not be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 now, but they can suffer myriad health issues, especially in adulthood. “Bottled poison” Senior federal officials have been calling on citizens to cut back on junk food. Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell has called soda “bottled poison.” The country’s overweight health issue “is not the fault of individuals, it’s the fault of this nutritional environment that has been developed to favor those products instead of health,” López-Gatell, Mexico’s coronavirus czar, said in July. He has since endorsed the Oaxaca bill. Oaxaca congresswoman López says legislators from all over the country have called her for advice. In addition to Tabasco, Chihuahua state is debating a junk food ban, and Mexico City’s mayor says her administration is looking into something similar. A federal senator from Oaxaca says he wants to make it national law. Oaxaca’s governor approved the state’s law last week. Legislators still have to draw up enforcement mechanisms, and punishment could include fines and even jail. Business pressure A nationwide law would not be easy. “There are powerful commercial interests that don’t want it to happen, but we must prioritize the well-being of our children,” López says. The business owners’ association COPARMEX said the legislation “will be an obstacle to commercial freedom and will incentivize the informal economy.” Cuauhtémoc Rivera, the president of the National Small Businesses’ Alliance, has been a vociferous critic. “Formal businesses will close and transition to sidewalks and street corners, where consumption of these products will continue,” without regulation or oversight, he says. Rivera finds these laws particularly troubling at a time when coronavirus prevention measures have crushed small businesses. His group estimates 150,000 businesses had to close during the pandemic and it expects many will not reopen. Business groups also say the bans would disproportionately affect the underprivileged. “The daily battle of the average Mexican is to stretch the little money you have as far as it can go, to fill the stomachs of everyone in your house,” Rivera says. The cheapest, easiest calories, especially in urban areas, he says, are things like soda, potato chips and white bread. Power dynamics There are power dynamics at play that helped make these kinds of foods so widely consumed, according to Ana Larrañaga, of the public health advocacy group Salud Crítica (“critical health”). “We should not only be looking at the companies, the brands, that are involved in the processing in the food but also the political context that allowed the lack of regulations,” she says. Larrañaga says the government failed to regulate junk food and soda for decades. She notes that a former leader, Vicente Fox, had once served as CEO of Coca-Cola Mexico before becoming president in 2000. In 2013, Coca-Cola tried to buy goodwill by sponsoring a school fitness program in Mexico. Several public institutions adopted the program, but it’s now widely seen as a failure. Things began to change in 2014, when the government imposed a tax on sugary drinks. The tax contributed to a 6% drop in soda drinking in its first year, according to government research, while milk and water consumption climbed. And last year, a new federal law passed. Starting in October, giant-font warning labels will be slapped on the front of food packages: “EXCESS SUGAR!” “EXCESS SODIUM!” “EXCESS TRANS FATS!” Larrañaga says the junk food ban for minors is another encouraging step toward nutrition, if it really catches on. “Whether this policy will work or not … I definitely think it depends on the acceptance of the population,” she says. “Something healthy instead” Oaxaca could be primed to embrace it. In the rural Oaxacan town of Villa Hidalgo Yalálag, citizens have physically blocked chips and soda delivery trucks from entering since April, saying they don’t want outsiders to bring in the coronavirus or junk food. NPR spoke to several teenagers in Mexico City and Oaxaca state and found almost all knew about health problems related to junk food and agreed change was needed. “I’d be frustrated at first if I couldn’t buy a Coke,” said 16-year-old Wendy Treviño, “but I’d adapt. And maybe I’d think twice and buy fruit or something healthy instead.” And 17-year-old Daniela Santiago in Natividad, a small town in the highlands of Oaxaca, said during a workshop with a nonprofit: “We learned about all the diseases associated with a bad diet, hypertension, diabetes, things like that, and I didn’t know about all that.” Santiago thinks avoiding junk food should not be a problem, since Natividad’s residents have easy access to fresh produce and can stick with traditional dishes based around beans, vegetables, fruit and corn tortillas. But she knows it may not be so simple in urban areas. “People in cities are always pressured by their work or school schedule and have no option but to eat junk,” Santiago says, “even if they know it’s unhealthy.” [...] Read more...
Cover / Food & Health / TrendingGuatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said Friday he’s tested positive for the coronavirus. Giammattei made the announcement to Sonora, a local radio station. He said he feels well, is showing typical symptoms of high fever and body aches and has been treated at the Centro Medico Militar, one of the hospitals designated to treat COVID-19 patients in Guatemala City. In a live appearance on the Guatemalan government website, Giammettei said he’s following his doctor’s recommendations, “resting and isolating myself from all public activity,” though he said, “your government continues to work.” Giammettei said he’s asked his entire cabinet to be tested and to work remotely. The Central American country closed its borders with Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico as well as its international airports on March 16. Giammettei’s announcement came on the same day that Guatemala reopened its borders, the International Aurora Airport in the capital, and Mundo Maya International Airport in the northern part of the country. The Ministry of Health announced new travel protocols, asking that everyone older than 10 seeking to enter the country present a COVID-19 negative test result taken at most 72 hours before arrival. The ministry is also making face masks, social distancing and hand sanitizing mandatory at the ports of entry. If a foreign traveler presents suspect symptoms upon arrival, the traveler will be denied entry; a local traveler will be isolated. The small country with a population of less than 20 million has 84,344 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,076 deaths, according to the Guatemalan Ministry of Health. Giammettei was elected president last year. He is a former prisons chief who has butted heads with President Trump over immigration. Giammettei joins the ranks of other world leaders who have tested positive for coronavirus, such as Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and Boris Johnson of the U.K. “I ask for your prayers,” said Giammettei on his live remarks. The 64-year-old president has multiple sclerosis and walks with the help of a cane. Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
Cover / Food & HealthSeveral vaccines are currently in large-scale studies to see if they can prevent COVID-19, and more are on the way. President Trump has been hinting that a vaccine could be ready before the end of October, but Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to the administration’s Operation Warp Speed, downplayed that possibility in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered. “There is a very, very low chance that the trials that are running as we speak could read before the end of October,” Slaoui said. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the large-scale vaccine efficacy studies that Slaoui was discussing. How big are these trials? The intention is to enroll at least 30,000 volunteers per trial. Half will get an injection containing the vaccine candidate, and half will get an injection of an inert placebo. Neither the person giving the injection nor the person getting the shot knows which is being administered. This is so neither party has a predetermined idea of what the outcome might be. Studies like this are called double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, and they are generally considered the best design to get definitive answers. Researchers chose enrolling 30,000 people as a target for pragmatic reasons. To test a vaccine, it needs to be given to enough people who will subsequently be exposed to the virus. But researchers didn’t know for sure where the virus would be circulating when they were ready to test their vaccine. So the researchers hedged their bets and chose a large number, “primarily due to the uncertainty as to where those infections … will happen,” says Holly Janes, a biostatistician at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. What determines whether the trial is successful? By conducting a large trial, researchers hope to learn whether the vaccine is safe and whether it prevents infection. Initial safety studies were done by testing a small number of healthy volunteers. A large trial should reveal less common side effects. To determine whether the vaccine is working, researchers will compare the number of infections in the people receiving the active vaccine with the number of infections in the people receiving the inert placebo. The Food and Drug Administration is the federal agency that will decide whether to authorize the use of the vaccine. It has said a vaccine must reduce infections in the vaccinated group by at least 50% to be considered. When will we know if the vaccine is working? That’s not clear. These are what’s called event-driven trials. “An event-driven trial means that the primary analysis of the trial happens when you get enough events,” Janes says. “We don’t know how long that’s going to take.” By “events,” Janes means laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 disease. Janes says the trial now underway aims to get at least 150 events among the trial participants. To make sure the researchers are unaware of who’s getting the vaccine and who’s getting a placebo, an independent body will track the data as they’re collected. That data safety monitoring board is made up of experts in all aspects of clinical trial design and implementation. What’s the drawback to putting out a vaccine too soon? If the vaccine doesn’t work well, people would continue to get sick and die. A vaccine that is only 50% effective would still mean people could get COVID-19, but even a partially effective vaccine would make the pandemic more manageable. Releasing a vaccine with serious side effects, even rare ones, would mean perfectly healthy people would put their health at risk if they got the vaccine. If the vaccine is perceived as a flop by the public, it will undermine confidence in the government. What vaccines are being tested now, and how can I sign up? All vaccines being tested in the U.S. can be found on the government website ClinicalTrials.gov. Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca are conducting large studies now. Johnson & Johnson and Novavax should be starting their big tests in the next month or two. Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...

Fashion & Style
editorTrending2022 was a banner year for Honey Dijon. She co-produced two of the fiercest tracks on Beyoncé’s latest record, Renaissance, and she released her own studio album this fall, called Black Girl Magic. But Honey – one of the only Black trans DJs playing the biggest clubs in the world – has been a mainstay on dance floors for decades. And she’s become a historian, and champion, of the Black musical traditions that house music draws from. In this episode, Honey talks to host Brittany Luse about using music to create spaces of liberation, and paving the way for future generations to do the same. The interview highlights below are adapted from an episode of It’s Been A Minute. Follow us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, and keep up with us on Twitter. These excerpts have been edited for length and clarity. Interview Highlights On collaborating with Beyoncé on Renaissance Brittany Luse: You were recruited by Beyoncé to work on her album, Renaissance, and you produced “Cozy” and “Alien Superstar.” What was it like working with Beyoncé on that album and sharing your experiences of the scenes that made you? Honey Dijon: Well, first of all, I had to pick my jaw off the ground when that call came. I was like, “How does Beyoncé know about me?” It was so humbling to feel that the work, that your lived experience, was being acknowledged by someone of that caliber. One of the things that I was told from her team was that she wanted to make this a dance record and she wanted to go to the true source of Chicago house music. I think of so many people that have laid the groundwork for me to be able to express that. You know, I think of the Frankie Knuckles and the Ron Hardys and the Derrick Carters and all of these amazing artists that have gone before me. For Beyoncé to acknowledge that was just so gratifying, and it made me proud. I had to pat myself on the back. My mother always says, “You may see my glory, but you don’t know my story.” And I just thought about all of the years of being told, “no,” or what I was doing was being misunderstood. So when that call came, it was such a proud moment for me. On the parties she went to as a teenager Luse: You are from Chicago’s South Side. And Chicago was famously the birthplace for warehouse music, house music, for short. And that’s where you started going to warehouse parties. Were you technically old enough to be out partying like did you have to sneak out of the house? Dijon: No! I lied and snuck out of the house, like most teenagers do, saying I was going to study homework at a friend’s house and we would go out. And you could get a fake I.D. So I was a 13 year old dressing like I was 25. Luse: Talk to me about what those parties were like. What was the vibe? Dijon: Unfiltered abandon. You just had, you know, all this teenage energy and angst and community. And it was just electric. I always tell people, “You ain’t been to a party ’til you’ve been to a party like how Black folks party.” Because Black folks party were their entire being. Luse: It’s true. Dijon: From the rooter to the to tooter. From the hair follicles to the toenails. We use every part of our body. On DJ’ing her own parents’ parties Luse: Talk to me about the music that you would play at those parties. Dijon: So I would play my hour and then they would put me to bed. My bedtime was like 9 o’clock so I could play from 8 to 9. Luse: Before it got totally jumping, right. Dijon: But then we would go to bed, and around 11 o’clock, we would start hearing all this laughter and cursing, and we could smell the cigarette smoke and glasses breaking. And it was just like, what is this world? And we would sit on the top of the steps, and that’s where I would hear all the music. You know, Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan. Minnie Riperton, the Isley Brothers. There was lots of Marvin Gaye. I like to call it Black consciousness music because it was post-civil rights. So those were the records I would play. Luse: So you’re in your parents’ house. You play music for their parties. Are you starting, at that age, to notice how people are responding to different songs? Dijon: Oh, yeah. I got off on just sharing the music. This sort of sense of fulfillment that just hasn’t left me. I think I was just born to do this. On creating spaces of liberation through music Luse: Have you met and/or seen people be able to grow and find themselves in those late night parties that you DJ’d, the way that you were able to at that point in your life? Dijon: Well, in their own way, yes, of course. I mean, I see a new generation of kids coming up and I can tell that they feel a bit more liberated just by my existence and what I stand for. I’ve had people tell me they’ve met their spouses and future partners on my dance floor. “Oh, my boyfriend just proposed to me on the dance floor, and I wanted you to know.” The club is community for me. And it always will be. So one of the things that I always tell people when they want to become a DJ, I say, “Well, why?” What is it that you want to do as a DJ? Do you want to contribute to culture? Do you have a voice that you want to connect people ? I build community through sound. And I try to create spaces of liberation. Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorCulture / Food & Health / Houston / People / TrendingThe death of a Pakistani-Scottish chef who claimed he cooked up the world’s first chicken tikka masala is prompting a flood of tributes to what’s been described as ‘Britain’s national dish’ — and reviving a debate into its true origin. Ali Ahmed Aslam, known widely as Mr. Ali, died of health complications on Monday at age 77, his nephew Andleeb Ahmed confirmed to NPR. Aslam was the owner of Glasgow’s popular Shish Mahal restaurant, which he opened in 1964 after immigrating from Pakistan as a boy. In his telling, Aslam devised the globally beloved recipe one night in the 1970s, when a customer complained that traditional chicken tikka was too dry. The chef went back to the kitchen and combined spices, cream and a can of condensed tomato soup. Voilà: the modern model for chicken tikka masala was born. But so, too, was a debate about its origin. Who created chicken tikka masala? In 2009, a Glasgow politician campaigned for chicken tikka masala to be granted protected heritage status and for the city to be named its official home. But the bid was rejected after multiple establishments from around the U.K. laid claim to the dish. Others say the curry was most certainly invented in South Asia. Monish Gurjal, the head of the popular Indian restaurant chain Moti Mahal, says his grandfather was serving chicken tikka masala to Indian heads of state as early as 1947. “It’s kind of like: who invented chicken noodle soup?” says Leena Trivedi-Grenier, a freelance food writer who probed the various origin claims in 2017. “It’s a dish that could’ve been invented by any number of people at the same time.” Chicken tikka (sans the masala) has been a popular street food in Pakistan and northern India for decades. At its core, it involves chicken that’s marinated in chili powder and yogurt, then blackened on a grill or in a tandoor, an oven made out of ground clay. The cooking method leaves chicken tikka prone to drying out, says Trivedi-Grenier; the idea to add a sauce with staples like cream, butter and tomato isn’t too revolutionary. Another point of debate is the dish’s relatively mild taste. In an interview originally shared by AFP news, Aslam said the recipe was adapted from traditional cuisine “according to our customer’s taste.” “Usually they don’t take hot curry,” he said of U.K. diners. “That’s why we cook it with yogurt and cream.” In 2001, the U.K.’s foreign secretary, Robin Cook, said in a speech that chicken tikka masala is a “a true British national dish,” epitomizing “multiculturalism as a positive force for our economy and society.” But to Trivedi-Grenier, the idea that chicken tikka masala was created solely to suit British people’s palates is “garish” when one considers the symbolism. “How do you colonize and enslave an entire country for a century and then claim that one of their dishes is from your own country?” Customers remember Aslam as a humble man and talented chef Aslam, a man who shied away from attention, found a sense of purpose in exposing his customers to new flavors, said his nephew, Andleeb Ahmed. “He was actually serving customers until the end of his life,” Ahmed said. “That was his passion. That was what he loved doing.” Around the world, those who’ve dined at Shish Mahal are remembering Aslam as kind and talented, and someone who helped expand their culinary sensibilities. “I tasted my first curry in the Shish Mahal in 1967 and continued to enjoy them during my student days and beyond,” tweeted a former Scottish member of parliament. Vijay Prashad, an international journalist, wrote that, to say the addition of chicken tikka masala has benefited many menus, is “controversial,” but the food is undeniably good. “Naans down in honor,” he added. Ironically, when it came to his own taste preferences, Aslam ranked chicken tikka masala fairly low, his nephew said. “The chefs would make a very traditional curry for him. He’d eat it at lunch every day,” Ahmed explained. “He’d only have chicken tikka masala when guests were over.” Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. Transcript : MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST: Glasgow, 1972 – it’s about 11 p.m., and a bus driver has come to the Shish Mahal restaurant for a late dinner. But the chicken’s kind of dry. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING) ALI AHMED ASLAM: Some customer says, I think we need some sauce with that, and this is a bit dry. And instead of giving them separate sauce, we thought it would be better we cook their chicken tikka with some different sauce. JUANA SUMMERS, HOST: Restaurateur Ali Ahmed Aslam died earlier this week. But in 2009, he told the news agency AFP that he soaked some spices in Campbell’s Condensed Tomato Soup and cooked the chicken in that. And in this moment, a Pakistani immigrant to Scotland invented what’s now one of the world’s most popular Indian dishes – chicken tikka masala. KELLY: Or at least that’s one common story. Others say that the curry was invented in South Asia. A popular Indian restaurant chain says it was serving chicken tikka masala to Indian heads of state as early as 1947. LEENA TRIVEDI-GRENIER: Do we know for sure that Kundan Lal Gujral was the first inventor of it? No. But we know that he laid claim to it and opened his restaurant, Moti Mahal, more than 20 years before this Pakistani-Scottish gentleman. SUMMERS: Leena Trivedi-Grenier is a food writer who researched the origins of chicken tikka masala in 2017. TRIVEDI-GRENIER: It’s kind of like who invented chicken noodle soup? It’s a dish that could have easily been invented by any number of people. SUMMERS: Ultimately, she says, it was probably a case of simultaneous invention, of several chefs roasting chicken tikka in a tandoor oven, then further cooking it in a rich curry. KELLY: Ali Ahmed Aslam was apparently among them. His nephew Andleeb Ahmed says his uncle loved his work, that he still often personally brought customers their food, though when it came to his own palate… ANDLEEB AHMED: When he had guests in the restaurant, he would have things like chicken tikka masala. But normally, the chefs would make a very traditional curry for him, and he’d have it at lunch every day. KELLY: Ali Ahmed Aslam was 77 years old. His restaurant and his most famous dish live on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright Smack Magazine, NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Performing Arts / Review / TrendingThe rule of thumb, for decades, is that only one-in-four commercial Broadway productions makes its money back. But this has been a tougher year than usual. In the year-and-a-half since Broadway reopened, tourism and ticket sales have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, which means some very well-received shows have struggled. So, looking forward to spring 2023, you never know what’s going to hit or miss. But the shows that make the most money aren’t always the best ones. Often all you can do when trying to predict what will be worth seeing is to look at who wrote the script (and score, if it’s a musical) and who’s directing and starring. Here are nine Broadway and off-Broadway shows I’m keeping an eye on, some of which I’ve seen in previous incarnations. They’re listed in the order they’re appearing on NYC stages. The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window One of the most highly-anticipated productions of the winter is this revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s (A Raisin in the Sun) final play, starring Golden Globe-winner Oscar Isaac (Star Wars) and Emmy-winner Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) as a married couple. Set amongst a group of friends in Greenwich Village in the 1960s, it deals with race, suicide and queerness. Directed by Obie-winner Anne Kaufman, who helmed a revival at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 2016, this will be the first time the play has been seen in New York since its brief original run in 1964. BAM Harvey Theatre, begins previews Feb. 4, opens Feb. 23 Bad Cinderella Even as his Broadway hit The Phantom of the Opera plays its final performances after a remarkable 36-year run, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber brings his latest show, a contemporary retelling of the Cinderella story, to New York. With a book by Oscar-winner Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) and lyrics by David Zippel (City of Angels) the show – just called Cinderella in London – was dogged by the COVID pandemic and closed prematurely. Since then, the creative team has added new songs. Will Lord Lloyd Webber, who was last represented on Broadway with the modest hit School of Rock find success with this new musical? Imperial Theatre, begins previews Feb. 17, opens March 23 The Jungle This immersive production, first seen in 2018, puts the audience right inside the tents of an improvised refugee camp in Calais, France. Written by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson and co-directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, it tells the heart-rending stories of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, all of whom hope to make it to England for a better life. It was enormously affecting the first time around – now more people can encounter this singular theatrical experience. St. Ann’s Warehouse, begins performances Feb. 18 Sweeney Todd Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece is being revived in a full-scale production starring Tony- and Grammy-nominee Josh Groban as the murderous barber and Tony winner Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots) as his pie-making partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett. The production will be helmed by Tony Award-winning director Thomas Kail (Hamilton), choreographer Stephen Hoggett (Once) and Jonathan Tunick’s original 26-piece orchestration will be conducted by Alex Lacamoire (Hamilton). Over the years, when Sweeney’s been revived, it’s been in smaller, more intimate productions – this promises to be a production that gives full justice to the late composer’s quasi-operatic score. Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, begins previews Feb. 26, opens March 26 Camelot Lerner and Loewe’s final show has always felt a bit unfinished – during the out-of-town tryout in Toronto, director Moss Hart suffered a heart attack and librettist/lyricist Alan Jay Lerner was hospitalized for a bleeding ulcer. Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher has enlisted Tony Award-winning author Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, To Kill a Mockingbird) to rewrite the book, and he’s put together an exciting trio of leads: Andrew Burnap (The Inheritance) as King Arthur, Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) as Guinevere and Jordan Donica (My Fair Lady) as Lancelot. Sher has brought new life to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific and The King and I, as well as Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady, paying scrupulous attention to detail and overarching vision, so this is an intriguing new production. Lincoln Center, Beaumont Theatre, begins previews March 9, opens April 13 White Girl in Danger What will Michael R. Jackson’s follow-up to his idiosyncratic, highly personal Pulitzer- and Tony-winning musical A Strange Loop bring? This show, set in the fictional town of Allwhite, uses tropes from daytime and nighttime soap operas and is centered around a character name Keisha, who steps out of the “blackground.” The piece will be directed by Liliana Blain-Cruz (The Skin of Our Teeth) and choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly (A Strange Loop). I can’t wait to see what Jackson comes up with next. Second Stage/Vineyard Theatre production, Tony Kiser Theatre, previews begin March 15, opens April 10 Fat Ham James Ijames’ Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy was a hit on a small stage at the Public Theater in 2022; how will it fare in a much larger Broadway theater? A retelling of Hamlet, set at a Black family cookout, it deals with questions of masculinity and queerness and is both funny and joyous. The complete off-Broadway cast has been engaged, as has director Saheem Ali. Roundabout, American Airlines Theatre, begins previews March 21, opens April 12 New York, New York Martin Scorsese’s 1977 film, starring Robert DeNiro and Liza Minnelli, was a flop, but the songwriting duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote some indelible songs, including “The World Goes Round” and the title tune. Bookwriters David Thomson (The Scottsboro Boys) and Sharon Washington (Feeding the Dragon) have created a new story, set in post-World War II New York, and Tony Award-winner Susan Stroman (The Producers) directs and choreographs. Most intriguing is that 95-year-old composer John Kander has teamed up with Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) to write new songs for the show. St. James Theatre, begins previews March 24, opens April 26 Prima Facie Emmy Award-winning actress Jodie Comer (Killing Eve) appears in this one-person play by Suzie Miller, which was a hit in London. Comer plays a barrister who defends men accused of sexual assault, then gets assaulted herself. It will be exciting to see this actress in person. Golden Theatre, begins previews April 11, opens April 23 Other shows to keep an eye on There are always unexpected surprises each season. John Doyle’s well received production of Lynn Ahrens/Steven Flaherty/Terrence McNally’s chamber musical, A Man of No Importance, starring Jim Parsons and Mare Winningham is rumored to be coming to Broadway. And I’m interested to see three shows with three terrific directors this spring: Native American author Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play, which received several productions in regional theaters and off-Broadway and will be produced on Broadway with Tony Award-winning director Rachel Chavkin (Hadestown) at the helm; A Doll’s House, starring Jessica Chastain, in a new translation by Amy Herzog and directed by Jamie Lloyd, whose Cyrano was a highlight last season; and Pictures from Home, a new play from Sharr White, starring a powerhouse cast of Nathan Lane, Danny Burstein and Zoё Wanamaker, and directed by Bartlett Sher. Copyright 2023 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / New Music / Review / TrendingTaylor Swift is back with a deeply reflective new album this week called Midnights. It’s a record she co-wrote and produced with Jack Antonoff and Zoe Kravitz, with songs that tug between self-hatred, doubt and narcissism, with tales of troubled relationships and the ever-present longing for escape. We kick off this week’s show with a listen and talk about the ways Taylor Swift continues to grow and expand her sound as an artist. We’ve also got powerful meditations on race and identity from the U.K. rapper Loyle Carner, the transfixing voice and sounds of singer iLe, a transporting collaboration between Dawn Richard and Spencer Zahn and more. Alt.Latino host Anamaria Sayer joins contributor Cyrena Touros and Radio Milwaukee’s Tarik Moody, along with host Robin Hilton, as they share their picks for the best albums out now on Dec. 30. Featured Albums: Taylor Swift — Midnights Featured Songs: “Lavender Haze,” “Vigilante S***,” “Karma,” “Sweet Nothing” Loyle Carner — hugo Featured Songs: “Hate,” “Nobody Knows,” “Georgetown” Dawn Richard & Spencer Zahn — Pigments Featured Songs: “Cerulean,” “Vantablack” “Sandstone” iLe — Nacarile Featured Songs: “Ningún Lugar,” “traguito” Nick Hakim — COMETA Featured Songs: “Feeling Myself,” “Something,” “Ani” Lightning Round: Bibio — BIB10 Frankie Cosmos — Inner World Peace Tegan & Sara — Crybaby Other notable releases for Dec. 30 a-ha — True North Alice Boman — The Space Between Archers of Loaf — Reason in Decline Arctic Monkeys — The Car Babyface — Girls Night Out Carly Rae Jepsen — The Loneliest Time Dry Cleaning — Stumpwork Goat — Oh Death Jesse Harris — Silver Balloon Jeezy & DJ Drama — Snofall Meghan Trainor — Takin’ It Back Rubblebucket — Earth Worship Simple Minds — Direction of the Heart Sloan — Steady Takuya Kuroda — Midnight Crisp Wiki & subjxct 5 — Cold Cuts Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / New Music / Review / TrendingWhen Run The Jewels released its fourth full-length, RTJ4, in the spring of 2020, the country was in turmoil over the police murder of George Floyd. The music, recorded before Floyd’s death, seemed prescient, speaking directly to police violence and systemic racism. Now the duo of El-P and Killer Mike are dropping RTJCU4TRO, a re-imagined version of the album done with Latinx rappers, producers and singers. We give the record a spin to open this week’s show, and talk about the many ways the music is just as urgent — and at times more celebratory — remixed in Spanish. We’ve also got Bruce Springsteen‘s tribute to classic soul, the bare-knuckled debut EP from Memphis rapper GloRilla, a gorgeous new Blue Note release from jazz guitarist and composer Bill Frisell and more. Contributors Christina Lee and Keanna Faircloth join NPR Music’s Ann Powers and host Robin Hilton to share their picks for the best releases out on Dec. 16. Featured Albums: Run The Jewels — RTJCU4TRO Featured Songs: “JU$T,” “santa calamif***” Bruce Springsteen — Only the Strong Survive Featured Songs: “Soul Days,” “I Forgot To Be Your Lover,” “Turn Back the Hands of Time” Christine And The Queens (as Redcar) — les adorables étoiles (prologue) Featured Songs: “Ma bien aimee bye bye,” “My birdman” GloRilla — Anyways, Life’s Great… Featured Songs: “Blessed,” “F.N.F. (Let’s Go),” “PHATNALL” Bill Frisell — Four Featured Songs: “Claude Utley,” “For Hal Wilner” Lightning Round: claire rousay — a heavenly touch (vinyl reissue) Duval Timothy — Meeting with a Judas Tree Ernest Hood — Back to the Woodlands Morris Day — Last Call Other notable releases for Dec. 16: Actress — Dummy Corporation Ben LaMar Gay — Certain Reveries Gold Panda — The Work Heather Trost — Desert Flowers Homeboy Sandman — Still Champion Illogic — The Transition Jordana — I’m Doing Well, Thanks For Asking Lyrics Born — Vision Board Nas — King’s Disease III Puck — Best Friend Sharon Van Etten — We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong (Deluxe Edition) The Sonora Pine — II (vinyl reissue) Tyondai Braxton — Telekinesis Wizkid — More Love, Less Ego Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / Review / TrendingIt’s official: 2023 is the year of magenta. That’s according to the Pantone Color Institute, the authoritative consultancy that’s christened an “it color” every year for more than two decades. Its latest pick is none other than Viva Magenta 18-750, which it describes as “a shade rooted in nature descending from the red family and expressive of a new signal of strength.” Other words the company uses to characterize the color — and, by extension, the current cultural moment — include powerful, empowering, electrifying, boundaryless, audacious and inclusive. “Viva Magenta is brave and fearless, and a pulsating color whose exuberance promotes a joyous and optimistic celebration, writing a new narrative,” it says. Some skeptics would point out that magenta doesn’t technically exist, since there’s no wavelength of light that corresponds to that color. But Pantone — which literally wrote the book on color-matching in the 1960s — defines it as a “nuanced crimson red tone that presents a balance between warm and cool.” Magenta is a hybrid in many senses, the color authority says, as it straddles the physical and the virtual, the organic and the innovative. “It is assertive, but not aggressive, a carmine red that does not boldly dominate but instead takes a ‘fist in a velvet glove’ approach,” it says. “Exuding dynamism, PANTONE 18-1750 Viva Magenta is a transformative red tone capable of driving design to create a more positive future.” “An unconventional shade for an unconventional time” The Pantone Color Institute was founded two decades after the color company and has been championing colors of the year since cerulean blue in 2000 (cue the iconic Devil Wears Prada monologue). The program aims to highlight the relationship between color and culture, and colors of the year are chosen because they reflect the global culture at a specific moment in time, according to Laurie Pressman, the institute’s vice president. Its selection process involves looking at everything from the entertainment and travel industries to technologies, cultural events and socioeconomic conditions, to analyze and forecast trends. Pantone invented a completely new shade for 2022’s color of the year: Very Peri, a light purple representing courage and creativity. In a first, it previously picked two separate colors — bright yellow and solid gray — to embody the dual moods of 2021. (Technically, it picked a blend of two colors, a pale pink and pale blue, back in 2016.) This year, experts observed a “heightened appreciation and awareness of nature”: People are bringing more plants and florals into their homes, finding newfound enjoyment in outdoor recreation and travel after the pandemic-induced pause and looking to nurturing, “life-giving ingredients” as a result of the public health crisis. They say Magenta is fitting in part because of its organic origins, which it traces to the cochineal, the source of red carmine dye. There’s also a psychological, emotional component. Pantone says magenta balances boldness and fun, confidence and humanity. It likens that to how digital spaces have accelerated globalization, allowing people to connect with others and deepen their empathy. “The Color of the Year 2023 merges the richness, warmth, and strength of natural matters with the rich, open horizons of the digital world,” Pantone says. “The result is a shade of red that expands our horizons of authenticity.” While last year’s color also spoke to the balance between nature of technology, Pantone says what sets magenta apart is its “ability to answer our collective need for strength.” “Three years deep into a pandemic, facing a war, an unstable economy, social unrest, supply chain breakdowns, and mounting climate change, we need to heal,” it adds. “And still, we need to find the motivation to continue. Here, Viva Magenta cloaks us in both power and grace, and sends us out into the world with the verve we’ve yearned for.” Why the color of the year matters Pantone effectively makes a color into an industry celebrity, as University of Leeds business history professor Regina Blaszczyk told Planet Money’s The Indicator in 2020. Pantone’s chosen colors of the year go on to influence product development and purchasing decisions in all sorts of industries, including fashion, industrial design and product packaging. Viva Magenta is a “universally flattering shade,” it says, offering tips for how to incorporate the color into your wardrobe, home and graphic design. It seems the “Magentaverse” is already upon us. Pantone has partnered with companies including Motorola, Spoonflower and Cariuma to release cellphones, wallpaper, skate shoes and more in the designated shade. And the art space ARTECHOUSE is offering an immersive magenta experience, starting during Miami’s Art Basel and opening to the public on Saturday. But Pressman says the program’s goal isn’t to promote a color, even though many colors of the year do become more popular as a result of their distinction. Instead, it aims to “help companies and consumers better understand the power color can have.” Color has power in consumer behavior — one 2015 study found that 85% of shoppers base their purchasing decisions on a product’s color — as well as self-expression and communication. Pantone has a lofty view of what color can do not only for people who are deciding what to wear or buy, but for society as a whole. “It is a visual language we all understand, one whose message crosses genders, generations, and geographies,” Pressman says. “Learning more about the unique meanings particular colors give voice to helps us to be a more expressive, closely connected society, one that provides people with a more holistic understanding of their peers and communities alike.” Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit NPR. Correction: December 5, 2022 A previous version of this story incorrectly said a cochineal was a type of beetle. In fact, it is not a beetle. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Review / TrendingWe still believe in rock and roll — as a force for good, laughter, debauchery, introspection or whatever revs your energy on a Saturday night. In 2022, the top 10 rock albums took a pilgrimage to Memphis, communed with theologians and poets, found the interconnectedness of all beings and danced through pain and pleasure. Below, find a ranked list the year’s most essential rock music, along with a short list of personal favorites, by NPR Music staff and contributors. You can also hear a conversation about 2022 in rock via All Songs Considered. 10. Kevin Morby, This is a Photograph Another young, white rock songwriter pilgrimages to Memphis, mining the river city’s heritage of tragedy, triumph and soul-baring music that maps the route between the two? Stop the presses. But sequestered in a Peabody suite as the pandemic raged outside, Kevin Morby used Memphis’ legacy as a lens to look inward, to ask incisive questions about family, love, fame, careerism and what he wants from life itself over nuanced soul, folk and chamber ballads that unspool like a deep eddy. “The living took forever,” he offers during one such slow beauty, “but the dying went quick.” It’s a fitting existential mantra for these times, dispatched from a place accustomed to transmuting loss. —Grayson Haver Currin 9. Soul Glo, Diaspora Problems Soul Glo‘s Epitaph debut is as thematically bold as it is musically visceral. Trauma, family, self-love, racism and the fecklessness of white leftists are all addressed on Diaspora Problems. Songs like “We Wants Revenge” and “Coming Correct is Cheaper” build upon hardcore’s decades-long tradition of fury and catharsis, and distill it into a potent, 40-minute punch. It’s refreshing and exhilarating to hear such a sharp critique of contemporary Black life that sounds this wild and unhinged. —John Morrison, WXPN 8. Special Interest, Endure When Earth’s human race finally meets its demise — whether via climate catastrophe or impending asteroid or zombie apocalypse — the sound emitting from the last nightclub standing amid the rubble might sound like Special Interest‘s Endure. The New Orleans band crafts a pummeling, righteous dance-punk opus that takes aim at fascism, gentrification and corporate greed while espousing the importance of community and pleasure. The sounds of ’80s post-punk, house music and the spitfire cadence of ballroom manifestos melt into a chaotic, magnetic vision unmatched by any punk album this year. —Hazel Cills 7. caroline, caroline There’s a seed inside every caroline song; sometimes it’s a weighted-blanket chord progression, a mournful interval or a simple phrase repeated. And in that fragile inkling of an idea, something grows outward and seeks light. On its self-titled debut, the London-based octet pulls from minimalism, Midwestern emo, post-rock, free-jazz, folk and chamber music not as genetic genre splice, but as a way to build community sprouted from an unforgiving Earth. —Lars Gotrich 6. Hurray for the Riff Raff, LIFE ON EARTH “Nature teaches us that our work has to be nuanced and steadfast,” adrienne maree brown writes in Emergent Strategy, “and more than anything, that we need each other … in order to get free.” Alynda Segarra’s eighth album as Hurray for the Riff Raff, deeply inspired by that text, embodies that maxim. Its eleven tracks of “nature punk” are sharply constructed and deeply felt, finding hope in the power of compassion and the fundamental interconnectedness of all living things. —Marissa Lorusso 5. Alvvays, Blue Rev The general feeling of disaffection — tempered by urgency, turbulence and angst — is masterfully relayed in Alvvays‘ third and best record so far. Replete with hooks, licks and clever lyrics that are never too-clever, Blue Rev is a monument to power pop furnished with a rich cultural and musical lexicon, and delivered with explosive defiance. Simply put, and as my best friend said, “It makes me wanna put my head inside a speaker.” —Vita Dadoo 4. Wet Leg, Wet Leg Wet Leg‘s “Chaise Longue” was one of last year’s greatest songs, an introductory single whose deadpan come-ons exuded wiry wit and playful cool. Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers’ full-length debut lives up to that track’s enormous promise, with songs that tap into several generations’ worth of rock and post-punk influences while still capturing a cocktail of moods that’s unmistakably of-the-moment: somehow both over- and under-stimulated, introspective but distant, lusty but numb. —Stephen Thompson 3. Nilüfer Yanya, PAINLESS Listening to Nilüfer Yanya sometimes makes me feel like I’m handling one of those self-defense trinkets designed for girls — a plastic comb that splits at the center to reveal a switchblade, a pretty, innocuous thing with grim intent. The British singer-songwriter often pairs her gorgeous voice with devastating electric guitar melodies and chillingly simple lyricism that only reveals its bruising later. On her second full-length album PAINLESS, she drags her listener into a maximalist swirl of insecurity and existential dread like never before, filling its tracks with brooding, grungy rock that masterfully honors the quiet darkness of her work. —Hazel Cills 2. Alex G, God Save the Animals Alex G‘s most confessional album builds its lofty questions about morality with the base reactions of animals, human and not. For an artist of few clarifications, God Save the Animals is ambitious in its questions about consciousness, flitting between transcendentally aware observation and nearsighted emotional desperation — and forgiveness, a maybe-fake thing made real all the time by people who choose to give it. This fragmented meditation is given flesh by, in addition to theologians and poets, Alex G’s baroque melodic sensibility, sick groove and the ascetic simplicity of his observation: “Yes, I have done a couple bad things.” —Stefanie Fernández 1. Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You I wouldn’t normally associate tenderness and humor with rock music, but those are just a few of the outstanding qualities that make Big Thief‘s Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You deserving of our No. 1 spot. Recorded in four cities and produced by drummer James Krivchenia, this double album is both a sonic adventure and an insightful lyrical exploration. In a single song, there are words of whimsy (rhyming “finish” with “potato knish”) while at the same time exploring and accepting the differences in ourselves and those around us. And that’s just one of 20 songs in an album that reveals something new for me on every listen. —Bob Boilen And 12 more, in no particular order: Tomberlin, i don’t know who needs to hear this…: 2022 brought us many records birthed in isolation and none more stunning than this. It’s an album bathed in ambiance and uncertainty, yet somehow warm and compelling. —Bob Boilen Enumclaw, Save the Baby: Pacific Northwest rock in the classic fashion: heartfelt, rebellious and as rough-edged as a dock stained by salt air, with a view as big as Puget Sound. —Ann Powers Jockstrap, I Love You Jennifer B: A great, mind-expanding, constantly surprising, possibly controversial answer to the perpetually re-upped question, “What does ‘rock music’ even mean anymore?” —Jacob Ganz MJ Lenderman, Boat Songs: The Asheville, N.C., guitarist and singer-songwriter (and member of Wednesday) brings exceptional humor, wit and empathy to twangy tracks about fulfillment and failure. —Marissa Lorusso Editrix, Editrix II: Editrix Goes to Hell: Like Van Halen beamed from an alternate dimension via cable-access television, this is a noisy and sometimes goofy rock record that smiles through crooked teeth and baffling riffs. —Lars Gotrich Metric, Formentera: Formentera is escapism that doesn’t buy the possibility of escape from modern decay. Instead, it makes its dark peace with synth-rock clarity, a companion that offers to sit with you in late-night lost time. —Stefanie Fernández Just Mustard, Heart Under: This Irish five-piece has found its happy place: in a basement corner, incanting obliquely and confidently towards the scrappy concrete in deep, dark thuds. The whiff of desperation underlying it all feels like a native species to the present day and age. —Andrew Flanagan Angel Olsen, Big Time: I was head over heels in love with this deeply earnest, beautiful album from singer-songwriter Angel Olsen, that dives into the sound of classic country. —Hazel Cills Soccer Mommy, Sometimes, Forever: On Soccer Mommy’s dreamy and assured third album, Sophie Allison’s indie-pop palette seamlessly incorporates everything from blissful early-’90s shoegaze to throbbing, glitchy industrial sounds. —Stephen Thompson Young Jesus, Shepherd Head: A compendium of natural sounds funneled through snares and synths, Shepherd Head is delicate and grand at once — an open-air monastery or agora with the traces of a dance floor. —Vita Dadoo Peter Matthew Bauer, Flowers: The Walkmen member wrestles with age, not to mention the joy and sadness of being alive. Flowers conjures a feeling of grandeur that recalls I Am the Cosmos, the only solo album by Big Star’s Chris Bell. —John Morrison, WXPN Drive-By Truckers, Welcome 2 Club XIII: Following a suite of timely sociopolitical screeds that delivered necessary messages to its Southern brethren, this century’s most consistently great rock band digs deep into its own archival baggage. The result is a galvanizing reminder that it didn’t earn that honorific without catastrophe or controversy. —Grayson Haver Currin Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / TrendingMany of the biggest hits in pop music used to have something in common: a key change, like the one you hear in Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” But key changes have become harder to find in top hits. Chris Dalla Riva, a musician and data analyst at Audiomack, wanted to learn more about what it takes to compose a top hit. He spent the last few years listening to every number one hit listed on the Billboard Hot 100 since 1958 – more than 1100 songs. “I just started noticing some trends, and I set down to writing about them,” says Dalla Riva, who published some of those findings in an article for the website Tedium. He found that about a quarter of those songs from the 1960s to the 1990s included a key change. But from 2010 to 2020, there was just one top song: Travis Scott’s 2018 track, “Sicko Mode.” How the key change is used in pop music According to Dalla Riva, changing the key – or shifting the base scale of a song – is a tool used across musical genres to “inject energy” into a pop number. There are two common ways to place a key change into a top hit, he says. The first is to take the key up toward the end of a number, like Beyoncé does in her 2011 song “Love on Top,” which took listeners through four consecutive key changes. This placement helps a song crescendo to its climax. The second common placement, Dalla Riva says, is in the middle of a song to signal a change in mood. The Beach Boys took this approach in their 1966 release “Good Vibrations,” as did Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” “The key is just a tool,” Dalla Riva says. “And like all tools and music, the idea is to evoke emotion.” Key changes falling flat According to NYU professor and author of “Dilla Time” Dan Charnas, the key change has faded out of popularity alongside the often slow and emotional ballad, which he calls a “bastion of key changes.” Meanwhile, hip-hop has taken center stage. “Hip-hop is a rejection of a lot of the tropes of traditional musicianship,” Charnas says. Music composition has also changed, prioritizing rhythm and texture over individual notes and chords. There are some numbers from the late 80s, like Michael Jackson’s 1988 hit “Man in the Mirror,” where the key change can be seen as both a mark of beauty and a cliché. “You can look at that song in two different ways. On one level, it’s a perfectly constructed song, a beautiful piece of songwriting. A lot of craft goes into it,” Charnas says. “In another view, it’s tropey, maudlin and completely manipulative.” While the key change was once a mark of musical sophistication, many now consider it a crutch. Dalla Riva says a lot of his peers think using the key change is lazy. “It’s just like you get to the last chorus and you’re like, all right, we need to inject some more energy. Let’s just shift the key up a half-step or a whole step.” Where pop music is headed Some fans and pop music experts might be inclined to mourn the “death” of the key change, but Charnas says musical tools and composition techniques are constantly evolving. “There’s lots of ways to get dynamics in a song and in a composition,” Charnas says. “Key change is just one of the ways.” In the absence of key changes – and in a time where hip-hop and electronic music have gained popularity – composers have turned to varying rhythmic patterns and more evocative lyrics. And if you’re one of those folks who wants the key change to come back, Charnas believes there’s one way to do it: fund music education. “You want to know why Motown was such an incredible font of composition? Three words: Detroit Public Schools.” Though it can be cliched, Charnas says he does miss hearing a key change when it’s used at its best. “Do I miss good key changes? Absolutely. Do I wish more people could rock a key change like Stevie Wonder? Absolutely.” Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / Trending“You have to be, like, a beast. That’s the only way they respect you.” A shock of neon in an otherwise beige studio, it’s 2010 and Nicki Minaj is ranting. She’s noticed that when guys like her mentor, Lil Wayne, act like divas, it goes differently than when she does. “When I am assertive, I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss!” she goes on, her dopey boyfriend nodding along from the couch. Her theater-kid roots are showing as she performs an impression of “You’re fired!”-era Donald Trump, a man who gets what he wants when he wants it. “But when you’re a girl, you have to be, like… everything. You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet, and you have to be sexy, and you have to be this, and you have to be that, and you have to be nice, and you have to…” But then, she’s ashamed. There’s a camera crew filming all this for a documentary, and the Nicki Minaj who looks like an acid-trip Barbie and just delivered the hardest rap verse of the past decade (on Kanye West‘s “Monster”) isn’t supposed to stress about this stuff. “Don’t use this footage, please,” she says. “It’s just gonna make me look stupid.” If you’d asked me then what feminism meant to me, I’d have sent you a link to that video. This was the beginning of an era that often conflated female empowerment with female entrepreneurship, when people got very excited about concepts of female corporate supremacy repackaged as activist fantasies. Looking back at the supposedly uplifting pop culture artifacts of that time, there’s a lot to cringe at. But that Minaj speech still gets to me, because it’s clear how much the topic weighs on her, and because I know what happens next. With four platinum records and more Hot 100 hits than any woman in history other than Taylor Swift, she will become the most commercially successful and creatively influential female rapper of all time, and she will have earned it. For a few years, she’ll have a legitimate claim to the title of best rapper alive; for a few more years, she’ll blur the lines between rap and pop and performance art with such fearless panache that even her critical flops will feel like breakthroughs, her most tossed-off guest verses more interesting than some of her peers’ entire catalogs. For the better part of a decade, Nicki simply existing as Nicki — an oddball perfectionist outworking everyone to shatter rap’s glass ceiling — felt like a radical act. Along the way, things changed: rap, the internet, fandom, feminism. Maybe Minaj did, too. Last month, Minaj achieved another milestone: her latest single, a fun Rick James flip called “Super Freaky Girl,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, the first time a female rapper’s done so solo since Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” in 1998. That this was a first for Minaj seemed odd. Doesn’t it feel like that ought to have happened years ago — maybe with 2014’s super-viral “Anaconda,” the new song’s obvious predecessor? It could’ve been any number of the career-spanning hits she tore through Sunday night at the VMAs — the charmingly weird “Super Bass,” the villainous “Chun-Li,” the totally bugged-out “Roman’s Revenge” — where she co-hosted with Jack Harlow and received this year’s Video Vanguard Award. Accepting her trophy in pink sequins and ice-blue contacts that gave the effect of a sexy, scary baby, Minaj appeared almost shy. “I wrote this down, I don’t know why, y’all, but this was in my spirit to say,” she read breathlessly from her phone. “I wish that Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson were here. I wish people understood what they meant and what they were going through. I wish people took mental health seriously, even for the people you think have the perfect lives.” In her most revealing moments — that sad video from 2010, a weirdly contentious New York Times Magazine profile in 2015 that painted Minaj as a drama queen, or an anecdote about a near-death experience tucked into a 2014 BET Awards speech that felt like a cry for help — it has often seemed that Minaj is profoundly unhappy, even at the top of her game. I associate her career’s peak with the years between Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (her most underrated record, with indescribably bonkers vocal performances on tracks like “Stupid Hoe” and “Come on a Cone” alongside some fun experiments in dance-pop) and 2014’s emotionally raw The Pinkprint, an album with a startling number of references to pill popping, even for that moment. Those were contentious times, with culture wars waged over Nicki’s duality. She spent the period effectively closing the case as far as her pandering to a teenybopper audience, or so said old heads like Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg. The radio personality, who had proclaimed that “Starships” was “not real hip-hop,” later emphasized that the “Starships” chicks were being sidelined during Minaj’s headlining set at the 2012 Summer Jam: “I’m not talking to y’all right now, f*** that bulls***. I’m here to talk about real hip-hop s***.” She’d taken note of these assessments, too, dubbing The Pinkprint a return to her hip-hop roots. In between that performance and the album, there was the run of remixes, my favorite being her hysterically rude take on PTAF’s “Boss Ass Bitch,” during which no rapper’s single was safe from Minaj sinking her claws in and claiming it as her own (in a mode mirroring Wayne). Maybe Minaj had gone a tad commercial, loading her campy videos with spon-con and pumping out party-rock anthems for Bud Light, but she occasionally managed to make selling out look avant-garde, too. More importantly, her pen game never faltered. (“Bitches ain’t got punchlines or flow / I have both, and an empire, also,” she growled on the 2013 bonus track “Up In Flames.”) Minaj never really needed to explain herself to anyone who found Mixtape Nicki and Pop Nicki at odds, like when she closed the deluxe edition of Roman Reloaded with a defensive 20-minute “press conference”: “These other bitches that only did rap and now they’re washed, and they’re living in low-income housing — is that winning? Just so that a n**** in the street can give me a f****** dap? … Get the f*** out of here!” It often seemed, in any case, that it was her visual presentation the Rosenbergs of the world were responding to: the candy-colored wigs, the burlesque outfits, the greased-up six-packs in the “Super Bass” video. Whether she was spitting like she did in her Smack DVD days or performing gonzo femininity over sparkly EDM beats, I mostly just liked it when she sounded like she was cracking herself up. From the era I consider as Minaj’s creative peak, the 2015 VMAs ceremony stands out as a moment of reckoning. Weeks beforehand, the nominations for Video of the Year had been announced; “Anaconda,” the most talked-about music video of that summer, wasn’t one of them. “If I was a different ‘kind’ of artist, Anaconda would be nominated for best choreo and vid of the year as well,” Minaj had tweeted pointedly, punctuating her statements with sardonic smiley-faces. “Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it.” Her comments activated two of that moment’s Main Pop Girls: Swift, America’s sweetheart, who accused Minaj of not being a girl’s girl, and Miley Cyrus, the Disney Channel star turned self-styled twerk queen, calling Minaj angry and “not too kind.” Onstage to accept her award for Best Hip-Hop Video, Minaj turned to Cyrus, that year’s host, with a glare that could wither houseplants, pressing her about her comments. A month later, in the aforementioned Times Magazine profile, Minaj clarified her position: “You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important?” she said, clearly still upset. “If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us.” She was asking for Black women to be acknowledged as human beings rather than trends; commentary that remains prescient and is corroborated over and over in pop, most recently by the case of Megan Thee Stallion. It’s never not been a battle for Nicki Minaj, whether it’s against hip-hop’s gatekeeping boys’ club, the racism thriving in pop music’s upper echelons, the condescending press, or the catfighting with newer rivals after years of being lonely at the top. So it wasn’t too surprising, during the lead-up to her fourth album, 2018’s Queen, when Minaj rolled out a contemporary new marketing strategy: She’d become a s***poster. The day before her album’s release, she debuted a new Beats 1 program, Queen Radio. In theory, it was a platform to connect with her fans in an era that prioritized engagement over art — in practice, it was a well-oiled controversy creation machine and a way to sic her loyal Barbz on enemies real and perceived. Upon learning that Queen had debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart, she let loose a stream of tweets that blamed everyone from Travis Scott (whose Astroworld album had taken the top spot) to Spotify, adamant that this could only be the result of sabotage. Citing her own streaming numbers like receipts, Minaj went off. “Do you know how many women get systematically blackballed out of their positions in an office building & can’t fight back?????” A month earlier, the 26-year-old culture writer Wanna Thompson shared a thought: “You know how dope it would be if Nicki put out mature content?” she tweeted. “No silly s***. Just reflecting on past relationships, being a boss, hardships, etc. She’s touching 40 soon, a new direction is needed.” In response, Thompson received weeks of hate mail from Minaj’s fans, and a message from Minaj herself: “Eat a d***, you hating ass hoe … Just say you jealous I’m rich, famous intelligent, pretty, and go!” If Minaj meant what she’d tweeted about women being blackballed, apparently the sentiment didn’t apply to the apparatus she’d built around herself as one of the most famous people alive, leveraging the might of her success against another woman’s constructive criticism. As if to reiterate Thompson’s point, that same month, a new Minaj song dropped: “FEFE,” a collaboration with 6ix9ine, who raps in belligerent baby talk and was, at the time, awaiting sentencing for a conviction on the “use of a child in a sexual performance.” Watching the two pal around in the video, sharing ice cream cones and singing about how they didn’t need friends, I found myself cringing — not because I believe a man’s sex crimes are Minaj’s responsibility, but because the whole thing was embarrassing. It was obvious the duo were giddy at the song’s potential to piss people off. Minaj, taking her cues from 6ix9ine’s stylebook, sounded downright lobotomized. They’ve since collaborated twice more, most recently on a single called “Trollz” (it debuted at No. 1). But it isn’t Minaj’s responsibility to be a feminist role model, either. It’s not really my business whether or not she makes space for fellow female rappers at the top. (In recent years she has been, giving her blessing via guest verse to everyone from Megan to Doja Cat, the truest current heir to Minaj’s pop-rap throne and with whom she now shares a manager.) Last year’s lawsuit brought against Minaj and her husband, Kenneth Petty, is a bit more complicated: A woman, whom Petty assaulted in 1994, alleged a pattern of harassment by the couple and is suing for emotional distress and witness intimidation. Minaj was eventually dropped from the lawsuit; Petty was sentenced this summer to three years of probation and one year of home detention for failing to register as a sex offender. Some seem to hold her accountable for his actions. What people have come to expect from stars in the decade-plus since Minaj infiltrated the mainstream often feels unfair, or at least unrealistic — beyond all the requirements she exhaustedly listed in that studio 12 years ago, you must now be morally unimpeachable, too. Feminist conversation has shifted since then toward topics of intersectionality that often feel cursory, or used to ward off public scrutiny. (Cue Swift enthusiastically lip-syncing along to Minaj’s performance at this year’s VMAs.) It’s no wonder that stars seem so desperate to control their own narratives, insisting they’re the winner, or the victim. It’s been sad, though, to see Minaj’s obsession with winning often come at the expense of her art — to see one of the most gifted, inventive voices of a generation caught up in engagement metrics that devalue music and make modernity feel lame. She has dulled her brilliance for a monochromatic streaming infrastructure built to reward mediocrity and punish idiosyncrasy. Listening back through a few of Minaj’s recent collabs with a new generation of tough-girl rappers, it barely even seemed fair: the sleepy sing-song currently in vogue can sound like radio static when compared to the dynamism, the elasticity, the sheer spectacle of any given Minaj verse. Call me a hater, or old, or whatever, but you probably know it, too. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / New Music / Review / TrendingThe mysterious U.K. group SAULT surprise-dropped five new albums this week that are as sonically diverse as they are ambitious in their breadth and scale. From the soaring symphonic scores of AIIR to the prog rock of Today & Tomorrow and gospel on Earth, each record celebrates Black music and God’s love. We hear a bit from all five albums on this week’s show and talk about the ways SAULT takes everyone to church. But first we’ve got the droll, sometimes comical, sometimes graphic debut from the Atlanta duo Coco & Clair Clair, the brilliant lyricism of R.A.P. Ferreira, a new one from the French pop group Phoenix and more. Contributors Christina Lee and Cyrena Touros join WXPN‘s John Morrison and host Robin Hilton to share their picks for the best new albums out on Nov. 4. Featured Albums: Coco & Clair Clair — Sexy Featured Songs: “8 AM,” “Bad Lil Vibe,” “The Hills,” “Love Me” R.A.P. Ferreira — 5 to the Eye with Stars Featured Songs: “fighting back,” “mythsysizer instinct,” “ours,” “tennessee farmer jutsu” Phoenix — Alpha Zulu Featured Songs: “Season 2,” “Winter Solstice,” “Artefact” Big Joanie — Back Home Featured Songs: “In My Arms,” “Cactus Tree” SAULT — AIIR, Earth, Today & Tomorrow, UNTITLED (God), 11 Featured Songs: “4am,” “Heal The World,” “Valley of the Ocean,” “Together,” “Life We Rent But Love Is Rent Free,” “Love Is All I Know” Lightning Round: Connie Constance — Miss Power First Aid Kit — Palomino Marvin Tate’s D-Settlement — Marvin Tate’s D-Settlement Surya Botofasina — Everyone’s Children Other notable releases for Dec. 9: Ami Dang — The Living World Demands Caleb Landry Jones — Gadzooks Vol. 2 “Captain” Kirk Douglas — New Unknown Dean Fertita — Tropical Gothclub Dermot Kennedy — Sonder Ezra Collective — Where I’m Meant To Be h. Pruz — again, there Jakob Bro & Joe Lovano — Once Around the Room Lecrae — Church Clothes 4 The Lone Bellow — Love Songs For Losers Okay Kaya — SAP Rayland Baxter — If I Were A Butterfly Special Interest — Endure Teddy Swims — Sleep Is Exhausting The Welcome Wagon — Esther Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorArt & Living / TrendingWhat if everyone in a room knew your bank balance? A Brooklyn art collective has created an ATM that lets people put their balance on display at the Art Basel in Miami Beach. The ATM created by MSCHF puts the cash balance of those who use it on display at the art fair and ranks people by wealth. American DJ and music producer Diplo posted on Twitter a video of him taking the No. 1 spot on the ATM at $3 million on Friday. “ATM Leaderboard is an extremely literal distillation of wealth-flaunting impulses,” said Daniel Greenberg, co-founder of MSCHF. “From its conception, we had mentally earmarked this work for a location like Miami Basel, a place where there is a dense concentration of people renting Lamborghinis and wearing Rolexes.” The ATM was sold for $75,000 at Art Basel, Greenberg told NPR. Wherever the ATM crops up next is up to the discretion of the buyer, but top scores on the leaderboard will remain on the ATM after each showing to encourage people to top previous users. MSCHF collaborated on the ATM with Perrotin, a contemporary art gallery that has also presented quirky pieces like a banana duct-taped to a wall priced at $120,000 in 2019. MSCHF creates products that often go viral with the help of top influencers. Kylie Jenner, with over 370 million followers on Instagram as of Dec. 3, shared a photo of a pair of imitation Birkenstock sandals made with leather from Hermès Birkin bags she snagged from MSCHF last year. Lil Nas X partnered with MSCHF to create “Satan Shoes” — an aftermarket Nike sneaker with drops of blood that sold out in under a minute. MSCHF was sued by Nike last year for selling their shoes, which cost $1,018 a pair, unauthorized. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / TrendingIn a 1997 documentary about Björk, U2 frontman Bono spoke of the Icelandic pop star’s voice as a weapon. “The girl has a voice like an ice pick. Such a pure sound,” he gushed. “When The Sugarcubes played with U2, I would be preparing in the dressing room, and even if I couldn’t hear the band … I could always seem to hear that voice. It seemed to travel through metal and concrete and glass.” By then, Björk was four years into her solo career, having parted ways with her Reykjavík alternative band at the start of the ’90s. She snowballed the momentum she’d gathered with The Sugarcubes and, in 1993, broke from rock into a mix of big-band balladeering and rave-inflected Europop with Debut, the album that laid the groundwork for her to become an international star and Iceland’s most visible cultural export. When asked herself, the artist described her own singing as something that came naturally, a form of expression learned in childhood and preserved since then, as automatic as speech. “When I was small, my mother couldn’t take a bus because I was always singing on the buses. I would stand up on the seats and shout out my favorite songs,” she said during a 1988 magazine interview. “I’ve never learned to sing. I just sang. It’s very easy, just like I can talk.” Yet as it rang across global airwaves, that voice thrilled listeners with its specialness — its unique pronunciations, distinct syntaxes, unselfconscious reveries and abundant power. Music writers splashed bewildered language over the sound: Björk’s voice was “a heavenly hiccuping thing that almost defies terrestrial description,” “this dazzling, pure instrument that can put the fear of God into you when she lets fly.” It came part and parcel with the uninhibited persona, once summarized as “eccentric Icelandic techno elf,” that manifested in the distinctive look and choreography of her performances and music videos. As a solo artist in the ’90s, Björk came up amid a generation of women eccentrics that included PJ Harvey, Lauryn Hill, Fiona Apple and Tori Amos — all daring songwriters who inspired as much discomfort as devotion in a patriarchal pop culture. Still, she stood apart. Her face and accent denoted her otherness, her belonging to a volcanic island at the northern tip of the world. Journalists picked apart the “kooky” ways she moved and dressed ad absurdum. And she sang with a fearlessness that many read as childlike — a little too raw and earnest for the world of adults, too prone to spurts of glossolalia, as if she were still serenading commuters on that bus. “You’ve got to understand that all the interviews that journalists do to me, they always just ask me for an hour what it’s like being strange,” Björk said while promoting her second album, Post. At the same time as she was beginning to bristle at its limitations, her stardom took a painful turn: In 1996, she briefly became tabloid fodder after attacking a reporter at a Bangkok airport who had tried to interview her young son. The same year, an obsessed American fan sent her a letter bomb before filming his own suicide. As spectacular as that voice was, as much as it struck awe into whoever heard it, it vaulted her up to a bizarre and lonely place. To critics, it amplified an intractable weirdness, evidence of individuality so excessive it couldn’t help but result in celebrity. To fans, it held her aloft from the world of other people. Sound became synonymous with personhood: Björk was the voice that leapt out of her. She would soon tire of that isolated vantage. Her early years in the public imagination had made her rare and in high demand, but she was interested in more than singularity. She wanted to connect. “Everything’s geared toward self-sufficiency. F*** that,” Björk told Interview in 1995. “For me, the target is to learn how to communicate with other people, which is the hardest thing, after all. What you should be doing is learning how to live with other human beings.” In the three decades since her solo debut, the artist has worked steadily toward that ideal: a place where her voice can flow into the ears of her listeners and the throats of her collaborators, flexing together with them as a single muscle rather than bowling them over from on high. To get there, she had to prove she wasn’t just a voice. With her third album, 1997’s Homogenic, she took on the role of producer as well as performer, swirling together orchestral arrangements with harsh industrial beats. Those electronic sounds originated organically, in her own throat: When drum patterns came to mind while she was out touring Post, she’d translate them vocally, calling her engineer and simulating beats into the phone. “Because I’m not a drum programmer I’d call him up and go, ‘I’d like this: pssht … shtsss … crsht.‘ And by the time I got home he had built up a library of more than 100 beats. Then I used those to start building a kind of mosaic.” The resulting album had a newly holistic tenderness: For the first time, her voice sent roots down into its accompaniment rather than soaring above it. When Björk sang of the “emotional landscapes” of a powerful friendship on ‎”Jóga,” she created them as much as she described them. She cracked and faltered in time with the drums on “Unravel,” swelled when the strings did for “Bachelorette.” Her voice was no longer an alien beam striking earth from an outer world, but a gateway to that new realm: a warm, enveloping welcome into unbounded space. Other voices joined her there. On 2001’s Vespertine, she explored the ego-dissolving mutuality of good sex with help from a full choir. While living in New York after Sept. 11, an era when the dominant culture flattened anything considered un-American into an enemy, she conceived of her next record as a way to play at relationality without borders. “I had to use ingredients that I trusted, like my voice, my muscles, my bones. I couldn’t really use all the other stuff,” she said of 2004’s Medúlla, on which her voice tangles with those of other idiosyncratic vocalists — Faith No More’s Mike Patton, Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Roots beatboxer Rahzel. The album largely dispenses with other instruments, letting the collaged voices propel and support each other. Inside Medúlla‘s playful, interwoven world of voice, Björk’s lost its singularity. The sound of the album paralleled a shift in how the singer conceived of her own image, and she went so far as to declare the persona of her early career, the coy pixie dream woman with the astounding voice, dead and gone. “To a certain extent, the creature that the media collaborated on, she was mass-murdered,” she said in 2003. “You could argue that. She died a tragic death somewhere.” By burning her own idol, Björk became malleable, a substance to be shaped — and charted a course through ambitious, changeable work full of experiments and collaborations. The maximalist Volta, from 2007, saw her teaming up with Timbaland and Danja (whose boldly staccato production on Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” was still pouring out of car radios) on brash, colorful beatwork. With 2011’s multimedia project Biophilia, she dipped into ’90s drum-and-bass to stage a scientific exploration of the natural world. That affinity with the planet itself has spilled into her most recent work, as she’s pulled back from her more abstract, theoretical tendencies and returned to powerful emotionality. Her 2015 album Vulnicura found kinship in Iceland’s volcanoes as it plumbed the pain of her split from her longtime partner, the artist Matthew Barney. On 2017’s Utopia, a celebration of new love and feminist hope, she sampled South American birdsong, drawing lines among the vibrant vocal expressions of other species, the air whistling through flutes and the sound of her own voice. Throughout these releases, she has mutated her look as much as her sound. From Volta onward, she’s appeared on her album covers in outré costumes and avant-garde makeup, distorting her unmistakable image. Through her repeatedly mutated morphologies, she has supplanted the idea of Björk the celebrity — an object fixed in place — with a generative force that never sits still. In her 21st century work, she flows out from herself until her original shape disappears. Björk’s 10th solo LP, Fossora, continues excavating the questions of connection across difference that have intrigued her since the early years of her career. The seams between the human being and its neighboring species have inspired her since her debut single, “Human Behaviour,” which scrutinizes the world from the perspective of an alien anthropologist. Nearly 30 years later, she organizes Fossora around the theme of fungus. The title is an invented word, a feminized version of the Latin fossor, or digger. After Utopia’s skyward gaze, Björk now opts to plunge into the dirt, to look into what the world does under the feet of those who walk on it. Beneath the mushrooms they sprout, fungi grow vast networks of threaded cells, mycelia, through the soil. These serve as plant communication systems; trees send nutrients back and forth through them while repaying the fungi in sugar. By studying these networks, scientists have discovered that trees recognize their own kin: “Mother” trees speak to their children, the sprouting seeds that dropped from their own branches, encouraging them in particular to take root and grow. (Or maybe what they do is more like singing, lullabies made of electrolytes instead of sound waves.) The 2019 documentary Fantastic Fungi, which Björk took as partial inspiration for this album, illustrates these interactions as webs of flickering light — not so different, it suggests, from the neurological structure of the human brain. Fossora delights in the idea that mushrooms and people might collaborate to solve the problem of connecting with others. Björk populates the album with a vast array of voices, both her own and those of her friends and children. The muddy, teeming undergrowth of her production, which blends woodwind arrangements and gabber beats, evokes those electrochemical whispers carried along invisible chains in the ground. With nature as a guide, she sketches a model of voice as network: not the imprint of a rarified celebrity, but a web of far-flung filaments that group individuals together. The early interlude “Mycelia” makes the proposition explicit, as Björk chops up wordless segments of her own singing into a simulation of mushrooms chattering away. The concept has appeared in her music before. “Heirloom,” from Vespertine, paints voice as a fluid that drains over time, but can be refilled by other people: “I have a recurring dream / Every time I lose my voice / I swallow little glowing lights / My mother and son baked for me,” she sings. “While I’m asleep / My mother and son pour into me / Warm glowing oil / Into my wide open throat.” That striking image established, she then multitracks herself into an army of Björks, who repeat the same lyrics in the plural — each “me” and “my” swapped for “us” and “our.” When one voice dries up, the love of a mother and son revives a host of voices, their elusive rituals with luminous oil multiplying the artist until she’s no longer just one self, but a mysterious, plentiful “we.” Björk’s son, Sindri, and daughter, Ísadóra, both sing on Fossora. Indirectly, so does her mother, the environmental activist Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir, who died in 2018. On “Ancestress,” Björk recalls the sound of her mother’s voice feeding and carrying her through childhood: “When I was a girl she sang for me in falsetto / Lullabies with sincerity / I thank her for her integrity.” Sindri accompanies her, completing “Heirloom”‘s intergenerational triad, as does the famous Hamrahlid Choir, an Icelandic institution, whose conductor Þorgerður Ingólfsdóttir “absolutely insists that every single person in the room, emotionally, goes to the light,” Björk said in a recent Atlantic feature. Fungi don’t only mimic human communication; occasionally, they facilitate it. Fantastic Fungi touches on the curiosity of psychedelic mushrooms — fruiting bodies that plug right into our neuroreceptors, causing profound hallucinations and, for some, feelings of universal benevolence and connectedness. The documentary highlights the stories of palliative care patients who have found tremendous solace in their late-life trips; in some cases, the mushrooms help them shed their fear of death and find meaning in its approach. In an interview, celebrity mycologist Paul Stamets recounts his own transformation in the grip of psilocybin: After years of feeling embarrassed by a youthful stutter that didn’t respond to speech therapy, Stamets climbed a tree while tripping and focused on his voice as a thunderstorm rolled in. The next day, he says, he could speak without the stutter, and said his first confident “good morning” to the woman he had a crush on. By digging deep into their own head, the psilocybin user can sometimes find a way to get out of it. Fossora finds its own loosened mode of conversation by enmeshing Björk’s voice with those of her featured guests. “Allow” draws the electropop singer Emilie Nicolas into a fluttering web of syllables, their edges so soft it’s hard to make out which voice comes from whom. On “Fungal City,” she duets with the experimental R&B artist serpentwithfeet, their voices tracing lyrics that map the “celebrational intelligence” of a romantic partnership onto the subterranean pulses of fungi in conversation. On the closing track, “Her Mother’s House,” Björk ruminates on the ways voice can spill through familial and social fields. “A moist voice comes from abundance,” she and Ísadóra sing together. “A balloon painted with red clay / With lubrication will not crack / But will inflate evenly / And float higher.” A voice fed by the voices of others returns the nourishment supplied; a generous voice begets more voices until a whole ecosystem sings. The word “voice,” in the context of artistic creation, tends to stand in for “self.” A person’s voice is their brand, a siloed essence that denotes their value. In shared cultural stories about work and merit, exceptional voices earn exceptional rewards. Celebrity is one of these, a story about how some people are so special they can’t be touched, can’t mingle with the rabble, can’t communicate except with their own kind. The story of celebrity mirrors the larger-scale narrative of human exceptionalism, the idea that our species alone has the power, and the right, to manipulate its environment — that humanity is separate from and above nature. In the time since her vaunted breakthrough years, Björk’s work has aimed to unstitch both myths, an unraveling beautifully embodied by her latest obsession. Fungi can nourish us, and they can kill us, and they can carry us through previously untrod passageways in our own minds. But mostly, what they do is devour the dead. A decomposing corpse feeds legions of fungi, who digest it back into nutrient-rich soil. This macabre transformation might be the most intimate point of union between the mammal and the fungal, and Fossora does not neglect to amaze at it. “Into sorrowful soil our roots are dug,” Björk sings on “Sorrowful Soil,” a eulogy to her mother. The voices of the Hamrahlid Choir echo hers, chasing her words, giving credence to the first-person plural pronoun. No instruments accompany them, save for muted synthesizer bass, and even that carries a warmth that suggests it could have sprung from a human throat. If Björk’s voice, creased and earthy, can be teased out from the rest of them at the start of the song, it loses itself in the mix by the finish. It dips among the nine other voices, which crest and dissipate like waves, processed so as to sound even more numerous. Lyrics repeat, curling back on themselves. “You did well,” Björk tells her dead mother, and so does everyone else. “You did your best. You did well.” She could have taken those lines on her own. What could be more singular, more personal, more siloed than assuring your mother, in her recent death, that she did a good job raising you? Who else could speak to such a claim? But that’s what Björk’s best music does: It enters the vanishing point of the self and comes out the other side, where everyone else is. Mothers die constantly. People grieve as we speak. It can be isolating, to move through such thick loss, but it’s never actually isolated, or we wouldn’t have words for it. So Björk pours her lament into a choir, lets them sing to the same mother that once replenished her voice in a recurring dream. Her childhood becomes their childhood. Her grief becomes their grief. Her voice melts itself until it doesn’t belong to anyone, and then it belongs to everyone, open and formless as the air it stirs to reach you. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / TrendingAs frequently as music fans tend to point to the early 2000s as the dawn of our digital enlightenment, consider the ways those first few years online now feel like the dark ages. Bound by terrestrial radio formats, genres still mostly dared not mix on air — and when they did, a song that perfectly blended hip-hop and R&B might face waves of resistance outside of “rhythmic” radio, while clumsy rap-rock sailed through to pop dominance. Entertainment companies launched piracy lawsuits against individuals who downloaded music — including, memorably, a 12-year-old — and spent the next decade-plus trying to catch up to the internet’s potential. Independent labels flourished where they could, but lacked the infrastructure to support musicians at even a fraction of the level of the majors, which meant curious listeners were left to scour record stores and mail-order catalogs, and sometimes you wound up hating that album you’d purchased on faith from your favorite indie. Hip-hop had completed its ascent to the most influential youth culture around the globe, and yet Black artists were paradoxically expected by the industry to perform within strict expectations of floss and gloss. It arguably took until the mid- and late 2000s, the golden age of music blogging, before the cracks in the dam could be seen with the naked eye. MP3 blogs complemented what curious listeners were already gleaning from Limewire’s mishmash of poorly labeled contraband; by their powers combined, all sorts of music that had once required tiresome detective work to discover began landing on our eMac screens, as if by magic. The specter of poptimism was on the horizon, a critically important moment that challenged the entrenched belief — most often proffered by the straight white men who then dominated music writing — that records created by multiple songwriters and producers were illegitimate next to the holy solo genius suffering monastically on the mount. (The worst side effect of that shift, a defanged skepticism of the corporate stewardship behind major-label artists, has unfortunately survived.) It was a weird time, full of persistent assumptions about race and gender and capital, and yet inching every day toward the dissolution of genre as we knew it. In 2007, Santi White had just moved from her hometown of Philadelphia to New York City, then deep in the blogosphere-and-grimy-club era currently being retroactively christened as “indie sleaze,” and had already witnessed years of music industry churn from the inside. After beginning her career as a major-label A&R, she’d written and produced the slept-on 2001 album How I Do for Philly singer Res, then grabbed the mic herself as the vocalist for the post-punk band Stiffed, whose small catalog was produced by Bad Brains bassist Darryl Jennifer. But when she finally emerged as Santigold (or, briefly, Santogold) with the instant internet hits “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Creator,” the creative identity she’d arrived at couldn’t have felt better aligned with the cultural shift in progress. Santigold’s 2008 eponymous album showcased just what she could do with the chops and acerbic intellect she’d honed on her long road to a solo debut. Versatile and deeply original, it landed her in critical conversation alongside musicians like TV on the Radio, M.I.A. and MGMT — artists whose disparate influences tilted their poppy songs askew, and whose tenure in Brooklyn embodied and informed the specific pulse of NYC at the time. Her live performances, flanked by two militant-looking women doing rigid, unconventional choreography in matching sunglasses, felt like a critique of the industry’s tendency to crowd Black women into a mold of athletic femininity, perfected down to the backup dancer. Moreover, she represented the type of iconoclast that pop radio was just beginning to show interest in. That same year, New York’s Hot 97 began heavily rotating her longtime collaborator Ricky Blaze, who had accurately labeled his hi-NRG single “Cut Dem Off” as “trancehall.” Soon after, Kanye West flipped a sample of Santigold’s own dub-reggae song “Shove It” into the Jay-Z juggernaut “Brooklyn Go Hard.” It may seem unremarkable now, but back then any instance of established, mainstream artists reaching into the underground for inspiration seemed earth-shaking. It would still be another year, after all, before the blogs imploded at the sight of Beyoncé attending a Grizzly Bear concert. In the 10 years since 2012’s excellent Master of My Make-Believe, Santigold’s position as a cultural bellwether has receded. One review of that album pondered whether listeners, after a few years of accelerating exposure to an ever-wider range of sounds, had “simply caught up” with White. But importantly, the artist has also shown a consistent disinterest in squeezing her output into trends, particularly as the boundaries of the social algorithm have constrained record label appetites once again. She’s always shown a commitment to making her ideas whole, and despite having been involved with Atlantic Records in one way or another since her debut, she’s mostly been able to sidestep the demands of a fickle and often taste-poor industry. When she’s had a rare misstep — her 2016 album 99¢, a conscious send-up of that side of the business, didn’t quite match the musicianship of her other work — she’s returned in fighting form, manifesting the pretty brilliant 2018 dancehall mixtape I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions, as though she were relieved to get back to doing what she wanted. By the time Spirituals, Santigold’s fourth album and first in six years, arrived this September, the now 46-year-old artist was juggling a few new jobs: most notably as her own label executive, on her imprint Little Jerk Records, and as a podcaster, that most contemporary of side-hustles. (Her thoughtful show, Noble Champions, features conversations with fellow artists about craft, including a recent episode with Questlove, Tunde Adibimpe and Angela Yee about what constitutes “Black music” and who gets to decide.) White’s growing slate of extracurriculars, which also includes skincare products and a tea company, nods to a sobering truth of the moment: that more musicians are seeing music corporations as extractive and moving away from them, and that, in the streaming era, most can’t support themselves on music and touring alone. Indeed, she told Shamira Ibrahim at Okayplayer, “I f****** hate the music industry. I think it’s the worst business in the world, and I don’t want to be in it anymore. I’m not saying that I will stop making music because I love making music and I’ll always make music. But this career is wack, honestly.” Her frustrations notwithstanding, Spirituals represents a high point for White’s musicality, the clearest articulation of her vision in years. Joining and transcending the annals of albums written in pandemic lockdown (in her case, while parenting three young children), it shoulders big ideas of isolation, alienation and determination, both as they relate to her own process and to more global struggles for justice. The title, according to a press release, is a nod to Negro spirituals, “songs that served the purpose of getting Black people through the un-get-throughable … music whose sound and physical performance allow its participants to feel transcendental freedom in the moment.” It’s a compact, considered suite of songs that juxtapose her characteristic resoluteness with the sorrow and uncertainty of disconnection, expressed through minimal and direct means that pare her sound to its bare heart. The album begins with the mournful “My Horror,” an incongruously honeyed dancehall lullaby in which White lilts about having “a hole in my head,” perhaps an artistic block in the face of the days bleeding into one another, and transitions into the yearning synth track “Nothing,” a narration of the internal critic and external forces that conspire to pick the self apart. “All day I fight what I can’t see, my nothing,” she falsettos, over a beat that sounds like a ticking clock. “On the inside I got to beat my nothing … Won’t you say I mean something?” This early head-on confrontation with depression sets a resonant tone for the rest of the album, like White is giving us permission to get vulnerable alongside her. As quickly as she’s let us in, she reminds us of the pioneer she’s been and continues to be on the sproingy, exuberant “High Priestess,” a quintessential Santigold bad-bitch number that showcases her side-angled approach to songwriting, aimed at the anthemic but swerving around easy melodies. She raps melodically about her artistic largesse before breaking into a sly, shady chorus: “Hey pretty / Aw, you really want my thunder / I guard the gates here / Guard the secrets while you wonder.” It’s the kind of song you blast in the mirror before going out to face your demons, and maybe that’s what she’s doing here. In the acknowledgment that she’s still as artistically abundant as ever, she locates a kind of power more durable than youth-culture cachet, that has allowed her to reach a new apex of self-assuredness. With her own position secure, she can bring us along as the setting grows darker, drawing on strength in numbers. The piano-tethered dirge “The Lasty” encapsulates the devastation of watching videos of cops killing unarmed Black people and reframes it as a necessary warning of protest, turning sorrow into strength (“Officer / I’m taking the fall / You woke him up fool / Beast is coming for y’all”). “No Paradise,” too, is a call to action, on which she chants “There’s power in our struggle” over a skulking beat courtesy of Afrobeats scion PJ2, as well as her prior collaborators Dre Skull and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner. On the immense bass track “Ain’t Ready,” which tags in long-missed U.K. producer SBTRKT, she sounds confident and resolute in her work, as though she’s reached a moment of unforeseen clarity. Her posture calls to mind the mold of David Byrne (another past collaborator), the kind of artist who sticks to their vision despite whatever’s de rigeur, and in the process has founded their own dominion. It’s an approach that engenders longevity, if not lucre, and shows how she’s been able to stay culturally important, urgent even. On Sept. 26, a little over two weeks after Spirituals‘ release, White announced she was canceling a planned North American tour for the album, set to begin in early October and wrap just before Thanksgiving. In a statement to fans, she expressed heartbreak and disappointment, but was unequivocal that she felt the hurdles in front of her — spiking inflation, a market flooded by touring musicians trying to make up for lost time, the logistics of booking venues and hotels while mitigating COVID exposure and the risk of cancellations due to illness — amounted to doomed odds for the moment. “I have tried and tried, looked at what it would take from every angle, and I simply don’t have it,” she wrote. Near the end of the note, she emphasized that the choice was a matter of prioritizing her physical and mental health, and reminded herself aloud that Spirituals is an album about honoring one’s own boundaries. “It feels like I’ve been hanging on, trying to make it to the ever-distant finish line, but my vehicle’s been falling apart the whole time … I will not continue to sacrifice myself for an industry that has become unsustainable for, and uninterested in the welfare of the artists it is built upon.” In the arts, longevity tends to be equated with consistency, the business rewarding those who never stop grinding, never leave our feeds for more than a moment. But an undervalued part of survival is knowing when to fall back — when to sacrifice short-term gains to keep from being eaten alive. In 2022, the machinery of the American mainstream has found it can no longer ignore fans’ interest in the musicians and genres and cultures and countries it previously marginalized, from Bad Bunny to Burna Boy. In that context, Santigold — whose entire career has been defined by a singular ability to coax her influences into cohesion — sounds sharper than ever in her current form, her art distilled to its purest intent. Spirituals is a document of a focused musician growing into her next phase, defying the notion that artists are diminished or become less political as they grow older, meeting the moment like a leader while also reminding the world that she has been around it. On the eerie, crystalline bass track “Witness,” which echoes like dancehall for the spirit world, she intones cheekily, “I’ve already gone there / Now let the crowd say amen.” Her point is made: No one makes music like her, and we’d do well not to forget it. Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is a journalist and critic at work on her first book, about growing up in Wyoming and the myth of the American West. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / Trending“The end of the world is just a destination.” Special Interest, the dance-punk band from New Orleans, repeats that line at the end of its new album, a record that illustrates the resistance and escapism necessary in a society hurtling toward its breaking point. An invigorating sonic playground of discordant guitar squalls, disco basslines and thumping beats pushes the listener into sweaty nightclubs, rat-infested apartments and burning warzones; the band observe brutal capitalist conditions, cruelty and oppression, and the urgent freedoms and pleasures that we seek within them. The record is titled one encapsulating word: Endure. “There’s so much to endure, and more endurance is to come,” explains vocalist Alli Logout. “But I think that’s also why I like the word. When I think of it, I hear future within it. We can hold all these really intense and painful things, but there is also this future that we’re all pushing towards.” The band — Logout, guitarist Maria Elena, synth and drum programmer Ruth Mascelli and bassist Nathan Cassiani — formed in 2015; its previous albums, 2018’s Spiraling and 2020’s The Passion Of, feature claustrophobic, politically incensed no-wave experiments with abrasiveness and noise. Collectively, the band members come from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Texas, and their early gateways to music include Nirvana (Cassiani), Nine Inch Nails (Mascelli), Erykah Badu (Logout) and David Bowie (Elena). The diversity of these backgrounds feeds a shrugged-shoulders approach to claiming a genre and sound. “We were just f****** around,” says Logout of the band’s beginnings, “and we have continued f****** around to this day.” Work on Endure began in summer 2020; the band was fortunate to have a practice space large enough for physical distancing, and writing sessions became one of the few sources of any social contact for the four members. As a natural reaction to the strange creative circumstances, the music that resulted treads exciting new ground. Instead of using drum machines and electronics to create chaos as they had previously, they were using them to craft danceable, often playful tunes. “I was interested in our sound developing — I didn’t wanna make the same record again — and I’ve always been interested in pop production and the way things are layered,” explains Cassiani. “Mostly, the way I engage with music in a live setting is going to clubs, and I really missed that during the pandemic, like a lot of people did. So when we were writing, trying to experience that feeling in some way was important for me.” Also new was that the band couldn’t use the sounding board of a live audience to help define the shape and feel of songs. Instead, there was a feeling of mutation and mystery during the process. “It was terrifying to not test any of the songs , ’cause it got weird pretty quick. But then it just got loose, it kept showing itself,” says Elena. “A lot of songs took really different turns than I thought they would,” Mascelli adds. “I feel like we follow them where they take us, so it’s unexpected.” The epic closing track “LA Blues,” on which Logout delivers an intense, multifaceted vocal performance across eight minutes, was one example of a song that was thrillingly unpredictable, according to Mascelli. “When I heard the vocals for the first time I was completely blown away. We had been playing it as this long instrumental dirge for months, and I had no idea it was gonna go that hard.” Lyrically, Endure is unflinching in its assessment of an inhumane society. “Foul” exposes the physical and mental degradation of working under capitalism — back pain, sleep deprivation, UTIs — via nervy, frenzied punk. The droning, dread-infused “Kurdish Radio” connects the dots between imperialism and domestic white supremacy. “Concerning Peace” is a manifesto for violent resistance: “Violence in its complexity is the only tool against indignity.” Yet it isn’t all dark; groovy lead single “(Herman’s) House” is an ode to hope and liberation via the story of the late Black activist Herman Wallace, on which Logout promises, “Won’t lose myself in this world that wants my end.” And tracks like the ecstatic “Cherry Blue Intention” and the sensual “Midnight Legend” explore visceral, personal sources of joy too — dancing, sex, community. “Those are the two things that we’re all holding at once — our own experience and personal growth, and the other is all the things you can’t change that are going on outside of you.” says Logout. “Joy is this quite fleeting emotion, but there is so much joy in literally just the little things. If we don’t have that or don’t find it, then what do we have? A life without joy is a life that’s not worth living, in my opinion.” Anger, and knowing how to wield it, is an important tool in Special Interest’s arsenal too, Logout goes on to explain. “When thinking of songs like ‘Concerning Peace,’ I was trying to name all the injustice that I feel like needed to be named, and the deeply maddening effect of this respectability politics situation here in America with Blackness,” they say. “I am watching daily the devastating effects of anti-Blackness within this country — it’s unreal and it’s otherworldly.” There’s deeply palpable anger as well on tracks like “Foul,” where it’s directed at a system that demands a worker’s entire life and spirit, and “Impulse Control,” where Logout spits rage toward “nepotistic dumb f****.” “I think anger has been really useful in my life in a lot of ways to move through things in a way that I don’t think I could have once upon a time,” Logout says. “I’ve also found that living too much in anger for me has been destructive. But I think I just know now how to experience that in a way that is more useful.” “Music is like a spell,” they add. “It has the power to push you to name all the things you feel like sometimes you can’t say, and be able to sit with them and feel them, and also to move you forward.” It’s tough not to feel moved by Endure, in the figurative and literal sense of the word. “It’s something for your mind and something for your body,” opines Mascelli. “We’re trying to make something that moves us physically on a level beyond having to put it into words. And I think it makes the message more impactful, when it connects to you on that level where you can feel the beat.” That musical dynamism and fluidity also keeps things fun while performing, which is crucial during a set that can undoubtedly become heavy in subject matter. “Some songs, I feel a little bit too much sometimes, and it can send me there in an unpleasant way,” says Logout. “I feel like over time I’ve learned how to separate that, but also be able to channel it when I need it.” All four band members ease that burden through their personal friendship, too; tours are punctuated by clubbing excursions and karaoke nights, for example. Endure is an album marked by juxtaposition and contrasts. It presents the circumstances we must endure, and the tools we have with which to do so; the pain and yearning of feeling beaten down, and a resolve to fight back. It puts words and music to a personal set of challenges, yet with an encouraging assertion of communality. And all the while, it provides a host of sounds that alternately energize, challenge and soothe, to create a map for figuring out how to endure together. “It’s kind of like you’re walking down the street and there’s music playing from a store on one side, and then there’s a car accident over here and people laughing up ahead,” Mascelli says. “All this stuff is going on all at once, trying to capture the feeling of vertigo between it all.” Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / Trending“When I’m playing snare, bass drum, cymbals, I hear orchestral sounds. I hear a universe of sounds,” says drummer and composer Nate Smith. Audience members present at Crosstown Arts in Memphis, Tenn., on May 7 were welcomed into a new section of Smith’s musical universe: When he and ensemble KINFOLK took the stage, they were joined by a string octet comprised of members of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. The addition of live string accompaniment heightens the sense of theatricality and lushness already present in Smith’s music. For pieces like “Home Free (for Peter Joe),” which already include strings on the recordings, this concert is an opportunity to hear them performed as originally conceived. After you watch this electrifying concert take a listen to our radio episode, profiling Smith’s journey from Chesapeake, Va. through to the present moment in his career. Musicians: Nate Smith, drums, arrangements; Jaleel Shaw, alto and soprano saxophone; Brad Allen Williams, guitar; Fima Ephron, bass; John Cowherd, piano; Amma Whatt, vocals; Marcin Arendt, Marisa Polesky, Jessica Munson, Yennifer Correia, violin; Beth Luscombe, Mario Williams, viola; Mark Wallace, Kimberly Patterson, cello; Sam Shoup, conductor. Set List: (All music written by Nate Smith unless otherwise noted) “Signs of Life: Secret Agents of Weathering” “Street Lamp” “Don’t Let Me Get Away” (Nate Smith, Amma Whatt) “Pages” (Nate Smith, John Gordon, Amma Whatt) “Morning and Allison” (Nate Smith, Amma Whatt) “Home Free” (for Peter Joe) “Rambo: The Vigilante” Credits Producers: Mitra I. Arthur, Nikki Birch, Sarah Geledi; Technical Director/Lighting Designer: Steven Michael Black; Front of House Audio Engineer: Daniel Lynn; Monitor Engineer: Dustin Reynolds; Production Coordinator: Justin Thompson; Videographers: Mitra I. Arthur, Morgan Bell, Nikki Birch, Kevin Brooks; Audio Mix: Neil Tevault; Editor: Mitra I. Arthur; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Lead Producers: Nikki Birch, Alex Ariff; Supervising Editor: Ben de la Cruz; VP, Visuals and NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Gabrielle Armand, Anya Grundmann. Special Thanks to Jenny Davis, Jazmin Miller and the Crosstown Arts staff. For more episodes, including our weekly radio show, full-length concert films and short video documentaries, head to Jazz Night in America. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / TrendingIn the spring of 1967, Tania León won the lottery. Her reward wasn’t any cash prize — instead, the 24-year-old budding pianist boarded an airplane just east of her native Havana, bound for Miami. León was one of an estimated 300,000 Cubans who left as refugees on the so-called “Freedom Flights,” a program that ran from 1965 to 1973, organized by the U.S. and Cuban governments in a rare cooperative effort. Although she came from a poor family, with a mother who couldn’t read or write, León had rich dreams — as well as the support of a few well-wishers in her community who invested in her talent, including the gift of a piano. From the U.S., a mere stepping stone in her grand plan, she hoped to travel to Paris, where she would continue her studies and launch a career as a concert pianist. But her dream was deferred: As a refugee from Cuba, she learned she was required to stay in the U.S. for five years. She couldn’t go to France; she couldn’t even return home. León quickly made her way to New York, where she met the dancer and choreographer Arthur Mitchell, who was busy with a dream of his own. After hearing her play, Mitchell asked León to help him establish the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and encouraged her to compose music for the company. The writing of that first ballet came so instinctively to León that she changed her major at NYU from piano to composition. She has followed it with six more ballets, an opera and a broad range of instrumental and vocal music. León says she never planned to become a composer, much less one who earned a Pulitzer Prize. She won the award in 2021 for Stride, her orchestral work inspired by Susan B. Anthony’s activism and premiered by the New York Philharmonic. She also never thought she’d be a conductor, but a little nudge from composer Gian Carlo Menotti and studies with Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa proved that she possessed that skill within her too. And through her 35 years as an educator at the City University of New York and the founding of Composers Now, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and celebrating living composers, she’s found ways to reinvest those skills into her field. In July 2022, León achieved another lofty distinction: Kennedy Center honoree. The gala ceremony, which includes fellow honorees George Clooney, Gladys Knight, U2 and Amy Grant, takes place Dec. 4 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and will be televised Dec. 28. On a video chat from her home in Nyack, N.Y., the now 79-year-old composer explained how one fateful plane ride forced her to reimagine herself several times over, throughout a singular career. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Tom Huizenga: We spoke in 2021 on the day you won the Pulitzer for Stride, and you said then that the women’s rights activists who inspired that piece had really taken a “failure is not an option” approach. I’m wondering if you had a similar idea in mind when you, at age 24, stepped onto that plane out of Havana. Tania León: I come from a very poor family, a family integrated by people of different cultures. But what we had in common was the fact that we were poor and dreaming of something that was virtually impossible. It was my grandmother who got an idea that I liked music because of the way I reacted to music on the radio. She would tell me, “You’re going to see your name in the marquees of the theaters.” And I saw these people scraping pennies, literally, to provide me with my education. That man who bought me a piano when I was 5 years old — to this day I say, “Was he crazy?” You don’t buy a secondhand piano for a child. But it was to provide us with the best education possible, and the talk was always positive: “You can do this, you can do that.” How did you decide you wanted to leave Cuba? When I was 9 years old, I told my family that I was going to live in Paris, and they looked at me like I was nuts. I started trying to leave when I was 17. After struggling so many years, and finally getting the support of a family in Miami through the Catholic Church … I got a telegram telling me that I was to fly on the 29th of May. And one of the things that happened boarding the plane — I didn’t know that all of a sudden I was a citizen of the world, not a citizen of my country anymore. Not long before you boarded, you learned that once you left Cuba you wouldn’t be allowed to return anytime soon. What were you thinking? First of all, I was in shock. Second, I felt I didn’t have anything to do with the other Cubans on the plane, because I’ve never been into politics. They were talking about things that were none of my concern. And that is how I arrived here. I was very afraid. Afraid of what — just the act of leaving itself? My grandmother tried to persuade me not to leave. She had a tremendous hope that the Cuban Revolution was going to really be very good for everybody and for the country itself. She thought that if I stayed there, every dream I wanted to achieve was going to be possible. But I had already took the steps. I said to her, “Look, you gave me wings, and now you don’t want me to fly.” I said, “Remember, if things don’t work out, I’ll be back.” And that was something that always ruminated in me — those words and the face of my grandmother — because I promised her something that was not possible. She died four years after I was here and there was no way for me to go back. I didn’t have a visa, I didn’t have permission to go to Cuba, to her funeral. It was absolutely devastating. I’m glad that before she passed, your grandmother knew that you were firmly on your path to success in New York. At least she knew by then that I had joined forces with Arthur Mitchell, and that I was a key member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, something that she was really very proud of. Because my grandmother was a mixed-race woman. Her father had origins from Spain, her mother was one of the different manifestations of the African people, and she was always leaning toward the liberation of people of African descent. I want to go back to your early years in New York. Beside the fact that you came without speaking English, there was upheaval in the U.S. at the time. Within about a year of your arrival, both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. What did you think about all the unrest here? I was petrified. Cuba is not that big, and Havana, even as the capital, is a small city in comparison to New York. I had no idea that this was going on here. I saw the marches of Martin Luther King on television for the first time in my life. It was right after the assassination that I met Arthur Mitchell, in a chance encounter. It was my first time going to Harlem and to the Harlem School of the Arts — I went to replace a classmate who got sick. And that’s the same day that Arthur Mitchell went looking for a place to start his project. He heard me play the piano, approached me and asked for my number. About two weeks after, I got this phone call from somebody speaking Spanish, telling me to go to the same place. And that was the first class of the Dance Theatre of Harlem — four female dancers with a barre in the middle of a sort of gym, and a piano, Arthur and I. As you said, your original plan was to get to Europe. That was the goal for many American musicians of your generation, especially musicians of color, who felt more doors would open for them there. Do you ever feel you may have missed opportunities in Europe by staying here in the U.S.? Not really, because I was part of a project that, for me, was incredible — the creation of a classical company where people of color would have the chance to really demonstrate that they could actually do this art form. Arthur turned to me and said, “Why don’t you write something, and I’m going to do the choreography?” And that became my first ballet. After that I went back to NYU — I was already there validating my degree as a pianist — and said, I want to change my major to composition. Because the first piece I wrote was instinctual, but I wanted to really know the techniques. I wanted to actually understand the art form. That first ballet was Tones, from 1970. Exactly — which is dedicated to my grandmother. Speaking of writing music, I spoke with composer Julia Wolfe recently and she mentioned your name. She said, “It’s been so much easier for me than, say, the generation before me — people like Joan Tower and Tania León and Meredith Monk, they really had to get the machete out and carve a path. Nobody was really, truly recognizing women composers in that generation.” Did you ever feel that you had to work harder to get attention paid to your music? We all have a brain. We all are capable of doing anything. We have talents that don’t have anything to do with the way you look or your skin tone or how tall you are or how old you may be. That has been my mantra. So therefore, I’ve never accepted anybody putting me down because of something like that. The motor behind my heart has to do with my grandmother, my grandfather — all these people that, while I was growing up, had so much faith in me. They believed so much in my talent. And as came into the house, they embraced it and wanted to participate. I have no problem saying that my mother didn’t know how to read and write, but she could recognize the piano concerto by Robert Schumann. To me that was incredible — to see that they were so invested in this, that they understood what was happening, musically speaking. You know, we all dance salsa, but we were also listening to and discussing these things on a very high level. As I understand it, after you left Cuba, your music wasn’t performed there until 2003? I have no idea. The first person that I believe interpreted a work of mine there was Ursula Oppens — I wrote a piece for her called Mistica. In fact, the day of her recital was Mother’s Day, and after she premiered the piece Ursula stood up and asked if my mother was in the audience, and gave her the score because I had dedicated to her. Many composers who have left home put their yearning for their homeland in their music. Have you done that at all over the years? It is not so much the entire island of Cuba, because, due to our financial situation, I don’t know Cuba. I know a little bit of Havana. As a child, in school, they took us to see the Viñales Valley, so I knew a little bit of that province. I know Varadero because of the beach. And before I left Cuba, my mother took me to Sagua la Grande to say goodbye to her older sister. I don’t really know the country where I was born. You said in an interview, “Composing is internal. Your music has to come from inside of you from that spiritual part, the part of you that really talks to you deeply.” In your own work, how do you know when you’ve reached something profound? Well, I am very close to my pieces. When I listen to them, I go to that moment of the sound — not the images or the places that connect me to a sound, but the moment of the creation of that sound. This happened with Stride: I was writing that piece and all of a sudden there’s something like these gigantic steps — I felt them. I was writing the piece and this thing came into my mind. I’m not a composer, but I imagine it must be an amazing feeling — like it’s something almost bigger than yourself. Exactly. All of a sudden, I heard this thing, and it was like seeing the marches of Martin Luther King again, and imagining the march of Susan B. Anthony. Every time people want to ask for something they feel they’ve been deprived of, they collect themselves and they march. That came in, and I trusted it. And the more that I wrote that passage, the more that I had the vision. I don’t know how it works. I just hear this thing, I trust it, and put it on the paper. Paper? Many composers these days use computer software to help them write out a score, but it sounds like you are old school — you still write directly on manuscript paper? All these musical tools for us to work with now are fantastic, but I don’t like the computer to tell me what to do. For me that’s just mathematical — it doesn’t have the movement. I mean, you and I are talking, and yet we have an incredible clock going that is in a different tempo, and that is a beating of the heart. Computers cannot breathe. This might be a good time to talk about rhythm, because it plays a key role in your music. That role can be very obvious, like the Brazilian beats and instruments in your ballet Inura, or more complex, such as in a solo piano piece like Momentum. What is it about rhythm that fascinates you? Rhythm has to do with my inner culture, the culture where I grew up. You go to Cuba, to Puerto Rico, you go to the Caribbean, this is something rhythmical. I worked with a musician in Europe who plays the kanun . He is from Turkey, and I felt very comfortable with what he was doing. Mentally I can hear the different layers and how they communicate. I think that has to do with the training we had — cultural training that is so rooted in rhythmical ambience. One of my favorite pieces of yours is Horizons, the orchestral work you wrote in 1999 for a festival in Hamburg, Germany. I love how you described the piece — you said, “Rather than being in a fixed form, Horizons is more like a stream that widens and narrows unpredictably, following a winding course.” I’m wondering if that description is almost a compositional philosophy for you? Because the music is meticulously thought out, but it sounds like a winding, unpredictable river. Well, you just hit it on the nail. One of my dreams that I was able to realize is that there are pockets of that piece that are navigating in a different tempo from the majority, so all of a sudden you feel this rush. One of the composers that inspired me to do that was Charles Ives. It is my exploration, something that I really would like to continue doing, but I realize is very difficult for an orchestra because it requires a lot of rehearsals. I want to note that you spent a few decades as an educator at the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College, beginning in the mid-1980s. I know you’re retired now, but what would you say is important for young composers to understand these days? One of the things that I try to inspire in a composer from the very beginning is to get in touch with precisely what we are talking about — the internal drive that actually makes them write music. If you are compelled, it’s because you feel that you have something to say in the world of sound. When you study the early works of any composer, there are traces that grow into the later compositions — you find the seeds there. So if you as a student want to get into this, you have to pay attention to what you’re doing from the very beginning. You’ll be 80 next year, and in the run up to that milestone you’ve been recognized with two particularly big American awards: In 2021 you became a Pulitzer winner, and this July you were named a Kennedy Center honoree. Were there any little thoughts in the back of your mind wondering why these two awards didn’t come earlier? No, not really. In fact, I was surprised, because I have always been doing my own thing. Years back, we used to describe the different trends : “uptown,” “downtown,” “midtown,” whatever. And I always said that I was “out of town,” because I knew everybody, I loved everybody. I was a good friend of John Cage. I remember when Julie and David and Michael started Bang on a Can. I was the first defender of Philip Glass. By the same token, I had a fantastic friendship with Charles Wuorinen, and have been sort of an assistant to Joan Tower from the very beginning. I mean, I love composers regardless of what they write — it could be Broadway or musical theater or electronics, it could be anything. They are the kings and queens of sound. I ask the question because when you won the Pulitzer, I heard many people saying the same thing: “It’s about time.” I heard that. People wrote me and said: “Long overdue.” When I got the call from Kennedy Center, I was ready to say, “Are you sure it is me?” Because I have not played the politics — I have never put my name into any competition, so they have been real surprises to me. Those things don’t determine the way I want to write, or the way I’m going to be manifesting myself as a musician. How much longer am I going to be on this planet? I don’t know. I’m not concerned about that. I keep going. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / TrendingBy the time Daddy Yankee plays “Gasolina” one August night at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, the crowd rumbles so loud it feels like the venue will cave in on itself. It’s a show that’s been months in the making: La Última Vuelta, Yankee’s last tour before he retires. He announced the decision to bow out in March, with the release of his first studio album in a decade. LEGENDADDY, as he so aptly named it, found the reggaeton veteran giving himself his flowers for a career that’s spanned more than three decades and made him a household name across the world. “Gasolina” is Yankee’s encore, and the boisterous crowd has been anxiously awaiting the familiar, roaring motors all night. Yankee wants the payoff — the screams, the singing along, the perreo — before he walks off this stage one last time. And his fans, ranging from teenagers to boomers and repping flags from almost every single Latin American country, gladly deliver. “Gasolina” is undoubtedly one of the most significant songs not just in Yankee’s career, but Latin music as a whole. It was released as the lead single for Barrio Fino, the 2004 album that debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart — the first reggaeton album to do so — and went on to become the best-selling Latin album of the decade. The first reggaeton song to be nominated for the Latin Grammy for record of the year in 2005, “Gasolina” elevated the already popular reggaeton formula of breakneck verses, a booming beat and a woman’s sensual hook (from the undersung vocalist Glory) to a global platform. O sea, un temazo — it’s catchy as hell. And on this particular night, it feels like the Puerto Rican maestro is winking at the double-meaning of the bridge in this context. Tenemos tu y yo algo pendiente Tu me debes algo y lo sabes. (We have something pending, you and I You owe me something and you know it.) Hearing “Gasolina” live now is bittersweet. It’s a song that revolutionized the music industry, because that’s what Yankee was always aiming for. In the years since its release, reggaeton has become a global powerhouse, blasting from fitness studios and chain restaurants across the U.S. And whether or not Yankee’s retirement means he’ll never perform or make music again, the trailblazer’s highly publicized farewell signals the genre has entered a new era. In a moment where reggaeton — a movement started in underground bars and homemade studios — has reached its commercial apex, how will artists propel the genre forward? Born Ramón Luis Ayala Rodríguez in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Daddy Yankee grew up in public housing and originally dreamed of becoming a baseball player. One night while taking a break outside a studio, gunshots rang out and a stray bullet from an AK-47 struck his leg. He spent more than a year in recovery, and even though it shattered his athletic aspirations, he realized music could be his way forward. Yankee belonged to a class of pioneers that included Don Omar, Ivy Queen, Wisin & Yandel and producers like DJ Negro and DJ Playero. Throughout Puerto Rico, they were building off the reggaeton groundwork laid by Panamanian artists like El General, who’d helped combine reggae, dancehall and Spanish-language hip-hop — genres that were mixing due to Jamaican migration to Panama, Panamanian migration to New York — to create a new sound. But as exciting as that explosion of creativity and melange of Caribbean genres was, reggaeton lacked financial support both in PR and abroad, says Leila Cobo, VP of Latin for Billboard and author of Decoding “Despacito”: An Oral History of Latin Music. “Daddy Yankee had to create his tapes in his little home studio, sell them from his car, and there was no one he could call and say, ‘Do this for me,’ ” she says. “There was no capital. He had to do everything on his own. It was very, very hard. There was nothing, there was no infrastructure. So really built it from the ground up.” While artists like Tego Calderón focused on socially-conscious lyricism, Yankee honed in on the business opportunity. Katelina Eccleston, the music historian of the platform Reggaeton con la Gata, says that Barrio Fino pushed for space on Spanish-language broadcasting, especially in the U.S., and proved that reggaeton could successfully get radio play around the world. A lot of Spanish-language broadcasting at the time focused on pop and rock en español, as well as regional music. Latin artists like Shakira rebranded, crossing over to be played on English-language stations. The Latin music industry in and outside of Latin America looked down on reggaeton as vulgar, overtly sexual, poor or working-class music. But Daddy Yankee’s breakthrough started to reverse that trend. “Daddy Yankee is the perfect product,” Eccleston explains. “He set the precedent and really raised the bar for how reggaeton artists should be approached, how they should be invested in and how the genre should be respected.” And Barrio Fino‘s success only marked the beginning. Yankee consistently churned out banger after banger in the form of albums like El Cartel: The Big Boss, Talento de Barrio, and the more pop-oriented Prestige in the following years. He collaborated with stars in the American market, like Snoop Dogg and the Afro-Puerto Rican, reggaeton-dabbling N.O.R.E. and intelligently positioned himself, Eccleston says, as the Latin idol amongst their ranks. But it’s not just the creation of an image or social clout that led to his colloquial nickname, “The Big Boss.” Cobo links a big part of Yankee’s commercial success to the fact that he stayed independent through El Cartel Records, the label he founded in 1997. He retained ownership of his masters — a power move he has said started off more or less unintentionally, because he just couldn’t get signed without being cut a short deal — and partnered with major labels like Sony, Universal and Interscope for distribution over the years. “He really showed several generations of artists that this was economically viable,” says Cobo. In 2017, more than a decade after “Gasolina” first hit airwaves, the genre reached another turning point. Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi was working on a track that would go on to change the course of Latin music history: “Despacito.” “Luis Fonsi finished the track without reggaeton in it, and then after he took it to his producers, they said, ‘You know what?’ Between all of them, they said, ‘It feels it needs something different. It needs something urban,’ ” says Cobo, who detailed the song’s creation and impact in her book. “And ironically, they didn’t go to Yankee first.” Nicky Jam took the first pick, until other commitments caused him to step back from the project. Then, Yankee became the obvious choice — and the song took off. A Justin Bieber feature on the remix only solidified its status, and the remix tied, at the time, with Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day,” for most time spent at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart (16 weeks), topped the Billboard Hot Latin charts for 42 weeks (another record) and became almost inescapable in public. In 2020, “Despacito” became the most-watched video at that point in YouTube’s history with over 7 billion streams. The song ushered in an era of Latin music that even saw Beyoncé jumping on a J Balvin and Willy William remix. But it also solidified Daddy Yankee’s place in pop, and signaled a move toward a bit of a cleaner, more palatable image and sound for reggaeton. All of a sudden, the English-language industry realized it could get in on a profitable market — all artists had to do was get a verse on a reggaeton song already tearing through the club scene. “The thing about reggaeton is that just off of its pure existence — Panama, Puerto Rico, New York, Jamaica — it’s an international genre, period. It has many homes,” says Eccleston. “So it was bound to be successful in many parts of the globe. I think what Daddy Yankee did differently is that he scaled it exponentially.” And he made room for younger generations along the way. Cobo credits Yankee’s power with lending a model for youth in Puerto Rico that has partially resulted in the island’s ever-growing pool of talented singers, writers, producers and engineers. But his reach is felt outside of his home, too. Becky G says she grew up listening to Daddy Yankee — her young “cool” parents played his music in the house. She first collaborated with Yankee when he was one of the writers and producers on her song with Natti Natasha, “Sin Pijama,” in 2018. She describes his presence as godfather-like. “If it weren’t for Yankee vouching for us,” she says, “A lot of people tried to discredit what we were doing as women.” She remembers the success of her 2017 single “Mayores” and Natti Natasha’s “Criminal” being attributed to the presence of their male collaborators — Bad Bunny and Ozuna, respectively. But she says Yankee respected and believed in her and Natti Natasha’s craft, and later gave them room to rep women empowerment on the “Dura” remix in 2018. Fast forward four years, collabs between exclusively women artists in reggaeton aren’t only more common, but they sell. Earlier this year, Becky G’s “MAMIII” with Karol G — a big middle finger to a toxic ex — debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart. “I feel a responsibility now moving forward to just be true to what saw in us — being empowered, young Latinas who want to have a seat at the table, who want to be in the driver’s seat,” says Becky G. “He’s always been so encouraging of that. It’s funny, you know, how he sometimes references himself as ‘the big boss’? We walk in, me and Natti, and we’re like, ‘the little boss!'” They’re two of the younger superstars featured on LEGENDADDY — along with Bad Bunny, Myke Towers, Sech, Rauw Alejandro and dembow prophet El Alfa. A businessman until the very end, the album was a strategic move on Yankee’s part. He’s “handing down” to the artists he made space for, all already so successful in their own right — a level of stardom Yankee has, in many ways, helped secure for them. Daddy Yankee pushed forward, eventually creating his own business model around reggaeton because he didn’t really have another option. Today, it’s a completely different industry. Bad Bunny is the most streamed artist in the world and Un Verano Sin Ti just became the first Spanish-language album to receive an album of the year nomination from the Grammys. There’s momentum, money and a built-in global audience for the genre. But if reggaeton came up through the freedom and resistance of underground perreo, will the new stakeholders carry on that drive set by Yankee’s generation to create something fresh and disruptive to the industry? Sech says that expansion is already underway. “We have mambo from Rosalía, we have pop from Rauw, we have Quevedo doing house,” he says. “It’s all happening in Spanish, and it’s helping our genre grow.” Musically, the landscape is only getting richer. There’s Shakira and Ozuna doing a bachata pop, Rauw wading deeper into dancefloor futurism (produced by DJ Playero, no less) and Tokischa crooning explicitly across dembow, corrido and EDM tracks. That last example is important, because it’s part of what Eccleston says is a larger expectation, in today’s industry, for artists to take on the personal and the political in their music, and prioritize inclusivity. For Tokischa, whether intentional or not, the sexual openness of her music does that work. “There is a collective, racist understanding that reggaeton can be great, but also we can’t play the vulgar stuff in front of mami y papi,” says Eccleston. “But it’s not for mami y papi, you know? It was created by sexually liberated adults for other sexually liberated adults.” And it’s not just Tokischa. Bad Bunny continues to authentically wrap political statements about Puerto Rico’s colonial state into his music, all while disrupting gender norms and uplifting queer and women artists at his shows. This past summer, that meant inviting artists Villano Antillano and Young Miko, who are at the core of the trans and queer Latin trap movement, onstage in San Juan. But despite strides in reggaeton’s commercial popularity, Afro-Latino artists beyond Sech and Ozuna still rarely take center stage in the movement. Reggaeton is a genre that still struggles to constructively talk about race, despite being built and actively profiting off Black culture and sounds in the Caribbean and abroad. At this year’s Latin Grammys, Rosalía accepted the album of the year award while her bachata song, “La Fama,” blasted in the background — but Black Latinx artists who’ve created those sounds don’t get the same reception or recognition. “There’s this desire to try to clean reggaeton,” says Eccleston. “This whitening or blanqueamiento of reggaeton is definitely pervasive in the space.” Aside from the genre’s issues with inclusivity, family-friendly reggaeton pop songs will continue to permeate the airwaves and Billboard charts; that’s part of Daddy Yankee’s legacy, after all. He cracked the code, and helped build that market from scratch. But he also illustrated how much political power reggaeton wields. Yankee set a precedent of social and artistic resistance by taking a genre from working-class neighborhoods in the Caribbean and popularizing it into one of the most recognizable and profitable sounds in today’s landscape, even though the Latin music industry initially looked down on what he was doing. Now, as he bids his farewell, reggaeton has reached a point where that defiance set by Yankee’s generation can take new shapes of rebellion and experimentation, both in sound and in politics — even if perreo is no longer confined to underground clubs and garage parties, but now fills entire stadium and arena tours. “Reggaeton is music with so much happiness, so much movement, so much expression,” says Sech. “And everyone has their own definition of art. But if reggaeton doesn’t have that sense of street , it’s not what we started with.” Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / Review / TrendingBetween the hostile diminutives of Southern U.S. racism that give the term “boy” its fraught legacy, and the reclamation of Black innocence and enjoyment by Black people who demand the language back on its own terms, lives Julius Eastman‘s Joy Boy — a composition that objectifies the ecstatic self in order to reclaim it in a world that projects suffering onto the Black psyche before it even has a chance to assert jubilance. Echoes of vocals that mimic displaced giggling give the composition a haunted atmosphere, as if the sound’s potential for conjuring joy is smeared with dread for its very own delights — or the dread of the backlash that Black delight might inspire. Is Black joy an indulgent form of self-deception, this music asks. Can its subject, a self-actualized Black man, override its stigma without succumbing to rage or self-sabotage? There can be no answer but to play and replay it, to meet doubt with the resolve to go again, and fear with an allegiance to pleasure. The improvisational, Los Angeles-based music collective Wild Up chose Joy Boy as the title track of its second album-length exploration of Eastman’s music, a choice that suggests an intent to revel in his compositions while being bound to impossible laws within them. Sometimes, they are even forced into exile from the music while deciphering it. The laws in the title song are the laws of an endless adolescent rebellion, given sovereignty over itself at the very moment it grows out of the need for it, looking for structure and rules to abide at the precise moment freedom comes. It’s a little unnerving that Eastman is considered a minimalist, when in feeling it’s maximalism he inhabits. It takes Wild Up’s 30 musicians pursuing a quivering, ephemeral unison to attempt to recreate what he called “organic music,” by which he meant music that changes when it acquires new information without evading past information. Music that spirals and weaves through changes like a child growing up and learning his personality and its maddening fluctuations from lucid to solemn to obscene to exuberant. The feat Wild Up achieves in interpreting Eastman is the refusal to attempt impersonation. Playing his found compositions, the musicians make him their muse without fetishizing him. Perhaps Eastman anticipated the frenzy to rediscover him and rigged it with pre-emptive retribution for how many times he would later be referred to as gay, Black and homeless, before any mention of the music he created or his formal training. The second in what will be a seven volume series, Wild Up’s latest recording feels ordered in a way that allows aspects of Eastman’s personality to be sifted from the hyperbolic emphasis on his identity. Buddha (Field), the album’s second track, is reverent as it edges toward cathartic detachment. Its tone of pseudo ego-death in the name of self-preservation is a fitting commentary on the West’s appropriation and remix of Eastern philosophies and religions, that self-congratulating syncretism whose best accomplishments are new music. The score is a bundle of concentric circles with implied grooves in them, interpreted as pulses and pitches. On the page it could be associated with the belly of the prophet, or an abstracted nerve center — the guts and inner workings and the mind that lives there before it reaches verbal thinking. A drone of strings leads the listener to the center, surrounded by a muffled hysteria of broken Zen, suspended there while the music lodges screams in a fount of trembling whispers. This is the music of sustained and painful meditation. That it follows an ode to joy only exhibits Eastman’s range and Wild Up’s commitment to inhabiting it, even when the compositions themselves seem to prefer drift and solitude — to bask in the myth of themselves without intervention. Touch Him When (Light) and Touch Him When (Heavy) follow and address notions of violation and longing, exile and retaliation. It’s rumored that Eastman’s erotics were sometimes wrapped up in his sound and style as a musician. The artist Tiona Nekkia McClodden, who curated the 2018 Eastman retrospective “That Which Is Fundamental” in New York, learned through her extensive research that he would make some performers kiss his boots before taking to the stage to play his music. This does not suggest that he had a subjugation kink, but rather that the poetics of relation between him and the white avant garde had to be troubled before he could hear himself think. He had to feign fetishization of that which fetishized him. The raucousness of these compositions is a relief that makes space for more lightness. If there were no tantrum intervening on the whole motion of Eastman’s sound, it might seem insincere. Even as it understands its entitlement to a pure uncomplicated joy, it also knows when to work in opposition to that mood in order to nurture it. Buddha (Path) follows, hurling itself like an ocean meridian. The strings here are triste and tormented, not afraid to bleed and open to softening, with a ballad for flute, oboe and trumpet that allows the strings to sigh away some tension. This Buddha is less alienated, animated toward the cinematic in a distinct triad of frenetic angst, divine sorrow and their mutual unraveling. The peace attained here is precarious and Wild Up is faithful to its depths. Stay on It is an idyllic close to this suite of moods. The chanting of the title phrase grows so insistent it breaks apart — “on it” becomes shards of onyx or honest, code for stay honest, stay Black, that coaxes the self into a hallucination of a better self, one that stays precipitously on the axis of being and disintegrating. The mantra becomes sermon, and the church of Eastman closes its doors to faithless pillagers through this relentless call to remain on the path. Chanting gives way to muffled and distressed squeals just when you expect it to get predictable, and then halts like a train breaking to avoid hitting a stranded animal. Stay on It closes in a shimmy of bells, as if the self stayed course for so long it at last became liberated, all the karmas burnt off into spectral will. Under the direction of Christopher Rountree and with the devotion of musicians who are also Eastman scholars and revere not just his music but the work he did to ensure that fetishistic engagement with his legacy would not override it, Wild Up creates a testament here to Julius Eastman’s vastness. In a world where music is often tampered with and sampled into coherence as opposed to explored in its original form, Wild Up is attempting to recreate the compositions of a man who left us vague or deeply personal insinuations for scores — whose scores were tossed into the street and nearly lost forever. What the group unearths on Julius Eastman, Vol. 2: Joy Boy is more than just music, it’s a set of relations and modes of comporting in the world that risk trading fleeting, worldly praise to regain the eternal soul. Throughout Joy Boy it becomes clear that Eastman was making devotional music, that jazz was as much his muse as so-called minimalism, and that what he meant by organic music was that which encouraged collective listening and dissolved some of the narcissism that the music industry has inflicted on music making. Just when a composition could veer toward solipsism, Eastman yanks it back into relation with a larger mass — a non-self, even. This may be why he was able to vacillate between formal professionalized musicianship and the jongleurism of the true griot during his lifetime. It’s why his celebrity is posthumous and in many ways instrumentalized by the worship of those who know that he might have lived as comfortably as John Cage and Terry Riley, were he not — as the congregation won’t let us forget — gay, Black, unconventional. To play his music without exploiting this identity is the justice Eastman deserves and Wild Up seems committed to trying, making that effort collective in a world of soloists and small ensembles where a scale like the group’s is seen as a liability. I don’t think Eastman himself pursued celebrity as much as he did community and creative freedom. At the Los Angeles music and arts venue 2200 Arts + Archives where I am a curator and archivist, Wild Up recently staged a 24-hour summer solstice performance to celebrate Julius Eastman, Vol. 2: Joy Boy. When I walked in, maybe 12 hours into the endeavor, it was as if walking into a non-denominational church. Audience members were napping or stretching on mats and tapestries. A Dionysian asceticism anchored the vibe and the musicians by then were cornered in a small nook in the room, left of center, offstage, and focused on building the body of Buddha. Eastman could not be there in the flesh to make anyone kiss his boots before entering the music, but the somber perseverance of his dominance made the chamber an altar. While his music is best created in large collectives, for audiences, in order to escape some of the pomp and performance surrounding the composer’s reputation, it’s best engaged by listeners who can handle privacy and the dignity of open secrets at a concert, without a clique or agenda. When I tuned out the stylized attentiveness of the audience and let my own sacrum beam with the light in the sound, I could recognize its strident call again: stay on it, stay on it, stay on it — a minimal maximalist’s version of by any means necessary. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorCover / Entertainment / Music / Review / TrendingGiven where she’s been lately, it should come as no surprise that Megan Thee Stallion has chosen to dispense with pleasantries on her new album. The ferocity of Traumazine begins with its cover, which shows her visage in an emotive triplicate reminiscent of Cerberus, the three-headed hellhound of Greek mythology. In Dante’s Inferno, Cerberus resides in the Third Circle of Hell with the gluttons, where he “rends the spirits, flays, and quarters them.” As an executioner, Megan is more precise. On the Rico Nasty collaboration “Scary,” she renders both her lyrical and physical form as a foreboding omen for her detractors: “Say my name like Candyman, and bitch, you know I’m there / These hoes wish they saw me when they lookin’ in the mirror.” Megan is also used to being the life of every party. Her bawdy, unabashed 5’10” presence quickly won her devoted followers, and as her star rose she engaged in rowdy revelry with these loyal supporters at famed roving spaces called “Hottie Parties.” She was so eager to please that base — the fans who helped elevate the carnal slow-burn “Big Ole Freak,” from her 2018 EP Tina Snow, into her first bona fide hit — that she continued to perform as the good-time gal they had come to love even as she entered what would be the most traumatizing years of her life. Where her debut studio album, 2020’s Good News, clanged against the public awareness of that turmoil, Traumazine leans into it: making space for ruminations and grief, managing the swirling emotions produced by years of acrimony and cathartically letting them rise to the surface. In reaching for a more confessional mode, she reaffirms her commitment to talking her talk. At her best, Megan is a lyrical virtuoso who brings motion and menace to her self-reliant songs, crafting innovative rhyme schemes that both thrill and tantalize and then coating them in her seductive Houston drawl. She bares her teeth on the opening track, “NDA,” weaving in and out of Memphis producer Hitkidd’s hi-hat heavy production to make mincemeat of multi-syllabics: “They take all the hate that they got for me and they market it / When they shit ain’t poppin’, they usin’ Megan for marketing /And they ain’t got enough in they budget for me to talk to them.” “Ungrateful,” featuring Memphis rapper Key Glock, is in conversation with her cult-favorite “Still Tippin’ Freestyle” — doubling down on the whiplashing flows of that verse, she swings her bars around the highs and lows of the melody. The ease with which Megan navigates collaborations with producers and rappers from Memphis only reinforces the strains of the one-time Three 6 Mafia member Gangsta Boo in her DNA. On “Who Me,” she corrals Pooh Sheisty, another Memphis native, into form around skipping drums while she quips, “I feel like Biggie, who shot you? But everybody know who shot me, bitch.” Trauma is cyclical, especially when you are forced to process it before the world. Megan’s string of accomplishments — three Grammy wins, two chart-topping records and a college degree — has been stymied by a series of misfortunes. In 2019, her mother, a stabilizing figure in her life, died from brain cancer. An ongoing dispute with her label, 1501 Certified Entertainment, has complicated her career. But most pressingly, in 2020, she was shot in an incident involving the rapper and singer Tory Lanez, and the near-constant refutation of her version of events, in both the courtroom and the court of public opinion, has been an obvious drain of her energy. In the songs of Traumazine, she reckons with these events by probing at her own feelings, by returning to familiar haunts, and by reaffirming her skills as one of rap’s bar-for-bar heavyweights. The more introspective tracks, like “Anxiety,” perform a sort of sleight of hand, expertly using upbeat production to cover darker material: “If I could write a letter to Heaven / I would tell my mama that I shoulda been listenin’/ And I would tell her sorry that I really been wildin’ / And ask her to forgive me, ’cause I really been tryin’,” she raps. It’s a brave decision to expose her wounds, metaphorically or otherwise, as she has experienced repeated recriminations for that choice. But in this instance, she is not seeking to exonerate herself, but offering insight, showing that even one of rap’s most self-confident women can be plagued by the deepest insecurities. “Not Nice” and “Plan B” dispense with the pretense of easing a listener into her frustrations, launching directly into the depths of what feel like venting sessions in a private journal: expletive-laden, unrestrained and uncouth. For those who have long clamored for Meg to return to the charmingly commanding Foxy Brown-meets-Pimp C character work of Tina Snow, there is plenty of the sample-heavy, raunchy and nonchalant music that defined that era. This reset is exemplified by “Consistency,” which uses a sample of The Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” as cushion for breezy, brazen raps tailor-made for a late-night Instagram Stories caption. “Ms. Nasty” is a short and pithy return to erotic form, whipping her words around with the force of a lyrical domme. She playfully takes the reins of the beat, which bucks like a mechanical bull, as a clear demonstration of her undeniable control: “P-I-M-P, put it in my pocket / If it ain’t ’bout my money or me nuttin’, we ain’t talkin’.” At a lengthy 18 tracks, some of the album’s potency gets diluted by more inert moments. Its formulaic and unmemorable lead single, “Pressurelicious,” showcases Future at his most asynchronous. “Sweetest Pie,” which caps the album, is an abrupt tonal shift, and seems to serve little purpose beyond guaranteeing a streaming-inflated RIAA certification at the expense of cohesion. Similarly, “Star” is an unexpected and awkward intermission from Megan’s more aggressively raunchy melodies. But for every swing and miss, there is also a statement. Despite Meg’s rapid ascent into popstar status, she always roars the loudest for the hometown that molded her, helped craft her sound, and continues to stand beside her. The Juicy J-produced “Southside Royalty Freestyle” stands out as an ode to the Third Coast, placing Megan amongst Houston mainstays Sauce Walka, Lil’ Keke and Screwed Up Click’s Big Pokey. “It takes 10 female artists to make a Megan Thee Stallion,” Sauce Walka boasts on his outro, before reminding everyone of Lil Keke’s heralded opening bars on the DJ Screw Houston classic “Pimp tha Pen“: “I’m draped up and dripped out.” The posse cut again reconnects Megan with the hometown sound, in what feels like a search for comfort. The reminder is necessary because she has grown into a pop-rap luminary, and elsewhere on the album, she stands resolutely in her reputation, as if posing for the cameras. “Her,” a paint-by-numbers dance single that beats the Azealia Bankses of the world at their own game, plays like a statement of renewed purpose. In its verses, Megan slyly addresses any barb or insult that could be lobbied at her before the mud-slingers can even bother to hit send: “No matter what they do or say, it ain’t no gettin’ rid of me.” Megan joins a long line of women seeking agency through music — manifesting her anger, her resentment, and her full-bodied sexuality — attempting to define herself on her own terms after watching the public wrestle her story away from her, leaving her with the carnage. Listening to Traumazine brings to mind another time when one of the world’s biggest pop darlings attempted to reclaim her power after a high-profile abuse scandal. For Rihanna, then a superstar in the making, the daring Rated R helped redefine her, changing her image and setting the tone for the rest of her career. While Traumazine is not the transformative pop revelation that Rated R was, it is absolutely a declaration, and at times, a provocation, one in line with her freestyle breakthrough. It is a testament to her skill that she displays such command; it is a shame that she even feels the need to prove herself once again. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / Review / TrendingIn celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, NPR Music is spotlighting a series of artists across Latin America who are engaging with their musical heritage in unique ways. From reworking conservative genres for new eras, to teasing out modern sounds from old-school instruments, these artists represent the wide range of experimentation that makes up contemporary Latin music. Three months ago, the experimental musician and composer Lucrecia Dalt was on the Spanish island of Mallorca licking a rock. She was filming the music video for “No Tiempo,” the lead single from her new album, ¡Ay!, playing the part of Preta, an alien newly landed on planet Earth. As Dalt explains over a video call, she was licking the rock because Preta is able to sense stratigraphy with her tongue — in a way, she is able to taste geological history. At another point, Dalt dances weightlessly because Preta is “organless,” moving with a slow motion grace to a winding bolero rhythm. Together, the images and music conjure a world that is sensual, surreal, sci-fi and decidedly romantic. Today Dalt is sitting in her Berlin home studio, dressed in a comfy woolen cardigan, backed by an array of synthesizers, a gigantic bookshelf and an ominous sculpted white hand. She laughs at the absurdity of pairing what she describes as the “tropical music” that she grew up listening to in her native Colombia — bolero, salsa, merengue — with the album’s alien-driven narrative. “Sometimes I read the lyrics and I’m like, ‘God, this is so insane,’ ” Dalt says. “Other times, people ask me what the lyrics mean and I’m like, ‘Preta is channeling time through her glandular gate.’ It feels bizarre that I’m saying that in the context of a bolero song but, at the same time, it feels right.” Dalt has become one of modern music’s most fascinating chameleons. Across a series of albums released since 2005, the musician has occupied many forms, from creator of off-kilter indie pop (released under alias The Sound of Lucrecia) to purveyor of esoteric Colombian field recordings. A pair of records on Human Ear Music solidified an avant-electronic sound before her move to New York-based label, RVNG Intl. prompted more reinvention — spoken word poetry on 2018’s Anticlines, atmospheric horror on 2020’s No Era Sólida. On ¡Ay!, which translates as “Oh!,” Dalt has recorded her most dramatic transformation yet: an album of lushly arranged “bolero sci-fi,” one that fuses tropical music, jazz and electronics but which — she makes clear — is no “fusion” record. Dalt has been thinking about ¡Ay! for many years. The Berlin-based musician summoned the “memory of rhythms” from her Colombian upbringing rather than precise, studied recreations. She started writing as the pandemic began in the spring of 2020, a period following some of the busiest months of her life. She had recently wrapped up work with an orchestra in Chicago, recorded a collaborative album with Wolf Eyes‘ Aaron Dilloway, and produced material for an art installation at the Museum of Modern Art of Medellín in Colombia, all while recording and touring No Era Sólida. The musician was possessed by an “eruption of wild, creative energy,” but when the virus arrived she was forced to slow down. It felt like the right moment, Dalt says, to pursue an album of tropical rhythms that would eventually require “very patient studio time.” Each day the Colombian sat at her keyboard, listening, reflecting, and playing the music of her childhood. “I had more of this introspective time,” she says. “I was slowly analyzing tracks and thinking, ‘What is happening with this progression? Why does it generate this feeling of longing within me?’ ” Like so many people who experienced the pang of homesickness during lockdown, Dalt sought comfort in the music of her past. “You look at those memories in a different way, through the lens of nostalgia,” Dalt says. “I was here, they were there.” The emotional thrust of music from artists La Sonora Matancera, José A. Méndez and La Lupe became intertwined with Dalt’s recollections of the place she most associated with the music, her family home in Pereira, a city high in the Colombian mountains. “The best way for me to describe it would be the memory of cozy meetings at home with my uncles, the family gathering and talking. The music was just there — very present,” Dalt says. Her grandfather played maracas and sang; Dalt’s mother played guitar. In a broader sense, she says, “Music was encouraged but it wasn’t imposed … I always thought of it as something fun.” You can hear a playful sensibility rise to the surface of ¡Ay!, not just in its delightfully absurdist story of an alien, but the arrangements themselves. On “Bochinche” (“The Mess” in English), amid a tremulous organ and a salsa beat performed by longtime collaborator Alex Lázaro, Dalt sings of Preta the alien inhabiting a corporeal form, perhaps for the first time, “Oh how nice / Oh how great / A hand / In my hair.” As Dalt croons with poise and a wonderful sense of comedic timing, a spritely trumpet played by Lina Allemano parps into life. “It was so funny to see this excessively experimental jazz player doing such a silly melody,” Dalt jokes. “Her making faces as she’s doing it and us enjoying it, of course.” Despite springing from a place of melancholy, the tone of ¡Ay! could hardly be considered sad. Often it sounds as if Dalt is simply having too much fun experimenting with music, not only incorporating the metallic stabs of her Prophet 6 synthesizer into downtempo rhythms of South America, but stretching her vocals around traditional song structures. Melodies often fold back on themselves, as on “Dicen,” in which Dalt relays the village rumors circulating about Preta. “She thinks she’s the Circe of Aeaea … / She crawls around and licks it all up,” Dalt sings as a mournful trumpet pipes alongside her. When it arrives, the Colombian’s breathy exhalation of the closing phrase, “So ‘dada’,” lands like a musical punchline. While Dalt’s sound has shifted profoundly, her lyrics repeatedly return to time, earth and the limits of human perception — the hallmarks of her work for a number of years now. But where there was a clinical, almost scientific nature to earlier contemplations, as if Dalt occupied the space between her former profession as a geotechnical engineer and current career as a musician, on ¡Ay!, her voice is altogether richer and full-blooded. Even on “El Galatzó,” in which Dalt returns to spoken word, the aural quality of the words feels just as important as their meaning. “Now I know how it feels / to have cubic miles of rippling water in my peripheral / vision,” she recites as if performing a soliloquy, backed by Isabel Rößler’s flickering double bass. Preta is the product of conversations with Miguel Prado, a U.K.-based philosopher, with whom Dalt struck up a friendship with in 2021 over Twitter. “We ended up talking about the idea consciousness quite a bit,” Dalt says. “How limited our knowledge is, and even where it can be located. That idea triggered the existence of Preta as this pure consciousness entity that can’t be contained within our human body.” For Dalt, the album’s alien protagonist represented an opportunity to expand the romantic, Latin genres she’s mining. “Bolero music, and all of this music, is about love,” she continues. “I thought, ‘Okay, maybe Preta can bring some kind of idea about love that is more eternal. How can I play with that in a way so that it feels as if it’s still embedded in the romanticism of bolero without being explicit?’ ” “Why not put these two things that have nothing to do with one another next to each other and see what happens?” Dalt asks of these genres and such cosmic ideas. On the one hand, “sci-fi looking out but also looking inwards,” Dalt says. On the other, the big emotions of bolero — sorrow, compassion, intimacy and eroticism. The relationship between the two elements of ¡Ay! has only flourished since its recording, becoming even further “entwined” during the development of the live show alongside choreographer Yalda Younes. As Dalt says laughing, seemingly reveling in blurring the boundaries between reality and performance, tradition and the avant-garde, “Preta has really gotten into bolero dancing.” Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorEntertainment / Music / Review / TrendingAt the heart of I Walked With You A Ways, the debut album from Plains, there’s a sense of freedom. It’s the freedom of driving fast down an enormous, dusty road: “tak the quickest route on this 4-lane highway,” but also “crying on the highway with my windows down.” It’s the kind of liberation that comes from finding your own path, after you’ve brushed aside everyone else’s expectations and judgements — of knowing what’s true to you and where you’re headed, even if you know the road ahead is challenging. The album is a collaboration between Katie Crutchfield, who writes and records as Waxahatchee, and Jess Williamson. Together, the two songwriters craft stories of heartbreak, empathy and self-knowledge, bolstered by a wry wisdom and rooted in their shared love of classic country sounds. Crutchfield and Williamson met five years ago, introduced by Crutchfield’s partner Kevin Morby; Crutchfield told the New York Times that, upon meeting Williamson, she immediately thought, “This person is for me.” The two quickly developed an intense friendship on top of their mutual admiration for each other’s music. During the early days of the pandemic, after the release of Waxahatchee’s 2020 record Saint Cloud, Crutchfield felt ready for something new — but wasn’t quite ready for another Waxahatchee record. So she and Williamson hatched a plan. I Walked With You A Ways is a true collaboration; Williamson and Crutchfield each brought a handful of songs they’d individually written to the project, and they each trade off taking lead across the album. In the studio, they buoyed each other’s creative impulses: Williamson convinced Crutchfield to keep lyrics she might otherwise have tossed; Crutchfield encouraged Williamson to embrace sounds she might not otherwise have felt bold enough to attempt. Despite the songs having been written by two different people — plus a cover of Hoyt Van Tanner’s “Bellafatima” — there’s a shared sense of narrative on I Walked With You A Ways, filled with references to broken hearts, stormy weather and long drives on country roads. Crutchfield’s penchant for dotting her lyrics with surprising, multisyllabic words (who else could make “scientific cryptogram” feel natural in an indie rock song?) is pared back in favor of a more direct approach. This shared narrative is centered on songs about asking explicitly for what you want, and being clear-eyed in your certainty of what doesn’t suit you. Several of the songs are sung from the perspective of someone who knows when it’s time to cut and run: “It hurts to be leaving, but I know that / staying ain’t right,” Williamson sings on the opening track; later, on the title track, she sighs that she “ain’t your girl no more.” Crutchfield offers odes to high standards and hard work: “It’s not gonna be easy, babe,” she warns on one; on another, “If you can’t do better than that, babe / I got a problem with it.” Despite being a new creative endeavor, I Walked With You A Ways also honors the strengths of each songwriter’s solo output. Williamson’s knack for scene-setting carries throughout, guided by her achingly beautiful voice. Crutchfield’s piercing introspection, too, is a cornerstone; the hard-won patience and compassion, both towards herself and others, that defined Saint Cloud anchors even the most heartbreaking moments here. The sound of I Walked With You A Ways is also a testament to being true to yourself. Both Crutchfield and Williamson — who were raised in Alabama and Texas, respectively — grew up listening to country music, but as they established themselves as musicians, they consciously shied away from country signifiers in their own songs. “If you only knew how hard I was trying to suppress that Southern accent for so long,” Crutchfield says. Williamson, too, says she felt like incorporating elements of her Southern upbringing “wasn’t what was allowed to do,” as she told Crutchfield in a conversation for The Creative Independent a few years ago. But as both songwriters have grown more assured in their songwriting, they have found themselves gravitating back towards these formative influences. In 2020, they each released an album that leaned heavily into country and Americana sounds — the astounding Saint Cloud and Williamson’s wise and wistful Sorceress. The music of Plains — filled with mandolin, banjo and fiddle, rich harmonies and several classic country waltzes — is an intentional step deeper into those waters. Country history is, of course, filled with collaborations among family and friends — The Chicks, Waylon & Willie, The Judds — and in her own way, Crutchfield has long honored this legacy; her earliest experiences in music included playing in bands with her twin sister, Allison. Trio and Trio II — the collaborative records by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt — were an inspiration for Plains, too. The pairing also calls to mind boygenius, the indie-rock trio of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus — another recent set of artists who, at breakout moments in their individual careers, sought refuge in laid-back, creative collaboration among trusted friends. The acuity on I Walked With You A Ways isn’t without pain, but even among the more plaintive moments — as on “Abilene,” a stunning track about the denial that can result from a broken heart — there’s a sense of quiet defiance. More often, these songs look compassionately at the aftermath of heartbreak; their narrators are clear-headed and unguarded about the risks they’re willing to take: “I tried to warn you,” Williamson shrugs on one; “I can’t blame ya, angel,” on another. It’s heartening to listen to the two songwriters’ voices together as they sing through each other’s pain and resolve. “There’s almost a magical quality,” Williamson said in that Creative Independent conversation, “to just being 1000% yourself.” Sometimes the key is having someone else to lean on. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. To see more, visit NPR. [...] Read more...
editorCulture / Money & Politics / TrendingThe U.S. Mint will begin shipping coins featuring actress Anna May Wong on Monday, the first U.S. currency to feature an Asian American. Dubbed Hollywood’s first Asian American movie star, Wong championed the need for more representation and less stereotypical roles for Asian Americans on screen. Wong, who died in 1961, struggled to land roles in Hollywood in the early 20th century, a time of “yellowface,” when white people wore makeup and clothes to take on Asian roles, and anti-miscegenation laws, which criminalized interracial relationships. The roles she did land were laced with racial stereotypes and she was underpaid, earning $6,000 for her top billed role in Daughter of the Dragon compared to Warner Oland’s $12,000, who only appeared in the first 23 minutes of the film. For Shanghai Express, Wong earned $6,000 while Marlene Dietrich made $78,166. After experiencing this racist treatment in Hollywood, Wong moved to Europe and starred in English, French and German films. She told the Los Angeles Times in a 1933 interview that she was tired of the roles she had to play in Hollywood. “Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece, and so cruel a villain — murderous, treacherous, a snake in the grass,” she told the newspaper. “We are not like that.” Wong’s career spanned 60 films — many in the silent era — and she earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. The U.S. Mint’s American Women Quarters Program celebrates five female trailblazers in American history each year between 2022 and 2025. Wong is featured on the fifth coin released this year. The U.S. Mint is expected to produce more than 300 million Wong quarters at facilities in Philadelphia and Denver. Mint Director Ventris Gibson called Wong “a courageous advocate who championed for increased representation and more multi-dimensional roles for Asian American actors.” The tail of the coins will show a close-up of Wong with her head resting on her hand, while the front will feature a portrait of George Washington created by 20th century sculptor Laura Gardin Fraser, who became the first woman to design a coin for the U.S. in 1921. The four other women in the program this year were poet Maya Angelou, astronaut Sally Ride, suffragist and politician Nina Otero-Warren, and Wilma Mankiller, first female principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Copyright 2022 Smack Magazine. Content Contributor NPR. [...] Read more...


Notice: Undefined index: amount in /home/smackmag/public_html/wp-content/plugins/addthis-all/backend/AddThisRecommendedContentWhatsNextTool.php on line 73

Notice: Undefined index: amount in /home/smackmag/public_html/wp-content/plugins/addthis-all/backend/AddThisRecommendedContentWhatsNextTool.php on line 73

Notice: Undefined index: amount in /home/smackmag/public_html/wp-content/plugins/addthis-all/backend/AddThisRecommendedContentWhatsNextTool.php on line 73

Notice: Undefined index: amount in /home/smackmag/public_html/wp-content/plugins/addthis-all/backend/AddThisRecommendedContentWhatsNextTool.php on line 73

Notice: Undefined index: amount in /home/smackmag/public_html/wp-content/plugins/addthis-all/backend/AddThisRecommendedContentWhatsNextTool.php on line 73