29 May 2006

Monday's mp3: Casamance on My Mind

While I've never been to Senegal, it looms large in my musical mind, with such superstar artists as Cheikh Lô, Baaba Maal, Youssou N'Dour, and Thione Seck. But a lesser-known region of the country is increasingly coming to mind: Casamance.

South of the bulk of Senegal, Casamance is largely cut off from the rest of the country by The Gambia. Though it reportedly has excellent tourism draws including beaches and wildlife, the region is less recognized culturally and economically disadvantaged. due in large part to regional conflict in recent years.

You can learn more about Casamance from this BBC feature, including audio. And for Casamance photos and information, check out www.au-senegal.com.

Casamance is in mind largely because of a confluence at the recent World Sacred Music Festival. Included in the festival were Casamance drummer Modibo Traore, and kora player Kane Mathis. And somehow listening to the beautiful strains of Kane's West African harp led us back to the music of Lamine Konte. His 1987 album La Kora Du Senegal apparently is now out of print, though you can find it in a few places online. Lamine Konte - La Kora Du Senegal

You won't learn much about Konte from allmusic.com, which sums up this album with the economical description: "Beautiful music comes from the great kora master." More instructive is this background:

Trained at the Arts Institute of Dakar, his musical interpretations include the poetry of the founders of the Negritude movement in the thirties, such as Léopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal and Aimé Césaire of Martinique, it also includes African legends and African love songs. Lamine Konté also writes poems. His performances are a celebration of his homeland and the peoples of the African Diaspora in general.

Other kora players have eclipsed Konte in recent years, but this album has special appeal. It displays an early, subtle fusion that includes touches of Latin and jazz, with some surprisingly well-integrated piano alongside kora, flute, balafon, hand drums, and vocal harmonies.

[mp3] Lamine Konte: "Fode Kaba"
from the album La Kora Du Senegal

similar albums to check out:
  • Ludovico Einaudi & Ballake Sissoko - Diario Mali: New kora-piano duet album, lovely in places, though the it seems aimed more at piano fans, as the kora often is relegated to a supporting role.
  • Kane Mathis and Rusty Knorr - Kora and Percussion: Traditional tunes on kora and djembe from this magnificent Seattle-based duo (who have recently added a bass player to their mix and are working on a new album).
  • Prince Diabate - Djeleron: A fusion-friendly master kora player from Guinea, who was recently featured on Spin the Globe radio.
  • Thione Diop - Sunu Africa: Senegal-born Diop is a Seattle-based djembe master, and while the album focuses on drum rhythms, some kora is included.
  • Etienne Cakpo & Joselito Atchade (Gasango) - Ji: Farther from the roots of traditional griot/jali music, this wonderful album features kora by Kane Mathis.
Finally, since today is Memorial Day in the USA, we'll take a moment to recognize the casualties of the ongoing US war in Iraq.
  • US military deaths: 2464
  • US military injuries: 17869
  • Iraqi civilian casualties: unknown
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26 May 2006

Reforming Immigration Reform

We Americans don't much like learning from others. We often forge ahead with laws, policies, even wars...despite what history might tell us. So amid the continuing debate on immigration reform, an article in The Christian Science Monitor may well be ignored, despite obvious relevance.

It seems that the German Labor Ministry has decreed that at least 10% of seasonal farmworkers should be Germans, not immigrants.

With only 170 German field hands in the state of Brandenburg so far, the experiment is off to a rocky start. And German farmers are angry, saying native-born pickers are only half as efficient as the Poles. Unemployed Germans lack both practice and motivation, farmers here say.

The unemployed are giving it a go in part because they can get a paycheck for picking asparagus and other crops, while still drawing unemployment compensation. But their lack of skill and motivation makes them about half as productive as Polish pickers, the article says. The bottom line, one asparagus-farm owner says: "Were it not for the Poles, we'd have to close down."

The USA, with some 8-12 million undocumented, mostly working immigrants, might well consider this example, as politicians debate criminalizing certain groups of foreigners. As in Germany, however, the immigrants are arguably a crucial part of the economy. What may be more needed in the US is tougher government policing of businesses that employ "illegals".

The core problem illegal workers pose for the native-born is that the illegally employed are less likely to demand their rights and to complain about unfair treatment. The problem would be much less severe if the federal government were doing its job. (workingforchange.com)

We tend to agree with those who see the immigration problem as a symptom, not a disease.

[T]he solution has nothing to do with immigration policy. It has everything to do with economic policy. ... We need less yelling about immigration reform, and more creative thinking applied to helping raise Mexico to some measure of economic parity, if not by U.S. standards, then at least closer to Canadian standards. (Seattle P-I)

Hmm. That's true: we're not rushing National Guard troops to the Canadian border...

Immigration is an issue not just in Europe and the USA -- Australian opposition leader
Kim Beazley says in The Age that Australian employees are beginning to feel threatened by migrant workers who are prepared to accept poorer pay and conditions.

If the US government showed any inclination to multilateral solutions, we might expect to get together with the Europeans and Australians and others at an international conference to address the causes of unwanted human migration. We could deal with the roots: poverty, war, political instability, ethnic oppression. But as long as politicians' best solution is to militarize borders, I won't get my hopes up.
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24 May 2006

Nubian Silence: Farewell to Hamza El Din

Oud master and Nubian music advocate Hamza El Din is no longer with us. His gorgeous music evoked the spirit of Nubia (just as the music of the late Ali Hassan Kuban convinced us to dance like a Nubian).

Often pronounced as a patriarch of Nubian soul music, Hamza El Din was born in 1929 (the same year as Kuban) in a part of Nubia that now lies in Sudan, and he performed his first US gig at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. A pioneer in what would later be labeled "world music," he got his first recording contract through the help of Joan Baez. He moved to California and found a friend and promoter in the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart, and went on to collaborate with a great diversity of musicians, as well as passing along his knowedge to students.

Performing brilliantly on the Oud (the precursor of the lute, pipa and biwa) and the Tar (the ancient single-skinned drum of the upper Nile), along with haunting voice and spellbinding compositions, Hamza el Din combines the pleasures and subtleties of Arabic music with his indigenous music of his native Nubia. In his masterful hands, the oud has become a virtuoso instrument as well an accompaniment to his gentle and hypnotic singing. He has single handedly created a new music, essentially a Nubian-Arabic fusion, but one in line with both traditions and informed by Western conservatory training. His music has captured the interest of millions of listeners from Europe, Japan and North America. (otherminds.org)

"I am not the musician, He (God) is the musician," Hamza El Din said in an Afropop interview. "I'm just the instrument holder and he's playing the instrument." Ah, but what an instrument holder he was. Hamza El Din passed away yesterday in Berkeley, California.

website: www.hamzaeldin.com

Hamza El Din albums currently in print or readily available:

23 May 2006

Gangbe: 'Metal Sound' Brass Band

As a devoted world music fan, you know about Gangbe Brass Band, right? I mean, you've heard their great blast of horns and percussion. You know that they hail from Benin in West Africa. You know that their name is Fon for "metal sound" (and you know that that refers to the sound of the bell and the brass, not any inclination toward head-banging).

You know that the 10-piece band has a blast of sound with roots in West African dance music, French military band music, and New Orleans, with sprinklings of funk and Afrobeat thrown in.

What you perhaps don't know is that they played yesterday in Tacoma as part of the International Children's Festival. I made it to the final festival gig on a drizzly gray afternoon, and sat amid a gaggle of youngsters and teachers as the band tore through a 50-minute set. In the middle, they took time to introduce (via offstage translator) each of the percussion instruments to the kids.

Last time I saw Gangbe, I was most impressed with trombone player Martial Ahouandjinou, who really seemed to be a musical leader injecting energy into the performance. This time I was rivited by one of the percussionists, who I swear was looking right at me with a wry smile as he played "When the Saints Go Marching In" as a solo talking drum piece. It was a brilliant way to spend a damp afternoon.

[mp3] Gangbe Brass Band: "Noubioto"
from the album Whendo
buy Gangbe music as mp3s at gangbebrassband.spintheglobemusic.net

22 May 2006

Monday's mp3: In a Liberian Café

Listening to music this week, I rediscovered a gem of African musical history.

In the 1940s, Arthur S. and Lois Alberts drove around remote West Africa with a Jeep-powered tape recorder. "I wanted," he wrote in an August 1951 National Geographic article chronicling the trip, "to show that so-called Darkest Africa has more to offer than the tom-toms and jungle chants usually associated with it by the Western World."

A number of recordings by Alberts have been released, including one CD of music from coastal cafés of Liberia and Ghana. The album provides a chance to hear unusual African music, which reminds one more of the Caribbean, than mainland African. Read an expanded review at Spin the Globe.

The track that most caught my ear is by blind Liberian pianist Howard B. Hayes. It was recorded live at the Yarngo Bar, reportedly a venue with one of the few pianos in Monrovia. The duet with Malinda Parker (described in the notes as "a leading citizen of Monrovia") tells of a suitor who is rebuffed by the object of his affection, who tells him to go milk a bush cow. A bush cow being a "dangerous, ornery jungle beast," she's essentially telling him to get lost.

The second song here has a similarly universal theme and needs little explanation. In both songs you'll hear links with calypso and blues, and they're certainly unlike what most people think of as "African music."

[mp3] Howard B. Hayes with Malinda Parker: "Bush Cow Milk"
[mp3] Jacob A. Browne & the Greenwood Singers: "People! Go Mind Your Business"

You can get the album directly from Arthur's nephew Guthrie Alberts, for a very reasonable $13 shipped.

19 May 2006

Balloon Sounds & Balloonwear

Nobody has ever made us a SoundRoots-shaped balloon, but we're still fans of the... well, what is it, a toy? Wikipedia calls it "an inflatable bag" and of their 26 listed uses for balloons, they don't list a key one: musical instrument.

Yes, the time has come for the balloon bass. A balloon-crazy gentleman named Addi Somekh has transmogrified the humble inflatable bag into an honest-to-gosh musical instrument. Actually, he uses three balloons for this.

The balloon bass is a musical instrument comprised of one round balloon and two skinny (twisting) balloons. It's made by using one non-inflated skinny balloon as a strong and the other skinny balloon to create a resonator that connects the string to the round balloon. The player plucks the string, producing a sound in the resonator that is then amplified in and by the round balloon. The balloon bass is a three-and-one-half octave instrument, costs about $.15 to make, and lasts for about a week -- or until you play it so much that it pops.

[mp3] Addi Somekh on the balloon bass: "Juicy Brunette"
more songs at balloonbass.com

And as if that's not enough balloon fun, Addi Somekh also has a multicultural balloon project underway. Starting in 1996, he and partner Charlie Eckert started touring the planet, bearing balloons that they used to make hats for the often-bewildered natives of other lands.

You will find photos of and quotes from their balloon-bearing global friends at balloonhat.com, -- you'll even find out about the Balloon Hat Modeling School for Young Women. You can even sign up for the Balloon Hat Photo of the Week.

Maybe as long as the Senate is holding confirmation hearings, we could get Addi confirmed as the official US balloon ambassador at large. Top a few White House staffers and Iranian clerics with suitable balloon hats, and we could chuckle our way to a whole new relationship with Iran.

17 May 2006

Cheikha Rimitti, Mother of Rai

What a legacy. As an orphaned girl named Saadia ("joyful"), she learned to sing as part of an itinerant troupe of traditional Algerian musicians. She went on to be one of the first Algerian women to sing publicly and release albums. During her career she wrote over 200 songs as well as mastering traditional material, though she never learned to read and write.

The performer who became known as Cheikha Rimitti passed on May 15 in Paris at the age of 83, still with an active schedule and two days after a performance at Zénith. Her legacy includes a thriving Rai scene.

[mp3] Cheikha Rimitti: "Nouar"
from the 2000 album Nouar
also appears on the 2002 compilation Sahara Groove

Hear full-length streaming songs at the official Cheikha Rimitti website. Or hear/buy Cheikha Rimitti mp3s at cheikharemitti.spintheglobemusic.net

Tributes are pouring in: Morocco Times, Times Online (UK).... Would love to hear from anyone who had a chance to see her perform.

15 May 2006

Monday's mp3: Whirling with God

There were no whirling dervishes at the second annual World Sacred Music Festival 13, but still plenty of cause for ecstasy. 21 sacred-themed performances and workshops over the course of 11 hours, all with easy-to-navigate crowds and great sound.

Favorites, you ask? Hmmm. I'd have to mention Modibo Traore, a bougaroubou drummer from the Casamance region of southern Senegal, whose energy was truly infectuous.

Doug Bridges' didgeridu workshop was packed with people trying to coax rumbles out of their practice tubes, and I learned some new things about Tuvan throat-singing at the workshop put on by Devan "Tuva Trader" Miller. And the New Life Church Mass Choir nearly blew the house down with their rousing 40+ voice gospel choir.

The quieter sounds of the the koto-shakuhachi duo En and the World Meditation Ensemble provided a calm amid all the great energy. And the finale by the Kane Mathis Trio highlighted the ever-improving chops (and voice) of this great kora player -- and I enjoyed the addition of bass to his music, which I'd heard previously only with kora and djembe.

I've left out several great performances, but there was just so much! For more on the festival, see www.olysacredmusic.org.

[mp3] Derviches Tourneurs: "Yayli Tanbur (Luth)"
from the album La danse cosmique des Derviches Tourneurs: Niyazayin (a recording of Turkish dervishes on the Herisson Vert label -- apparently now out of print)

12 May 2006

Balinese Gamelan

We've waxed before about some modern hybrid gamelan sounds. But as part of our ongoing focus on sacred music, today we get a little more traditional.

The angklung ensemble features a large number of small metallophones in different sizes, each with only four keys. Because the instruments are light-weight, the angklung is most frequently heard in processions, with the musicians carrying their instruments. The most common ceremonial function is the funeral procession to the cremation grounds.

Here's a little such music for you, from Kertha Jaya of Abianbase, Gianyar. This piece was a winner in a 1989 competition for new compositions. Read and hear more at the link below the song.

[mp3] Kertha Jaya: "Sapta Murti"
for more such music, see www.asianclassicalmp3.org

You can hear a different style of gamelan this morning on the radio show Spin the Globe. Gamelan Degung Girijaya plays a West Javanese gamelan style, and they're doing a radio preview of their upcoming performance at the May 13 World Sacred Music Festival. It's on KAOS 89.3 FM if you're in the South Puget Sound area, or can be heard online.

10 May 2006

MP3 Mantras & Sacred Sounds

Don't have a lot of time for ranting this morning, so we'll let the music do the talking. Many of these have a sacred theme. As mentioned earlier, sacred world music is on our mind with the approach of the May 13 World Sacred Music Festival. Several of the links lead to more free mp3s, so explore.

[mp3] FESO: "Tadzungaira"
From a Vancouver, Canada based troupe comes this traditional Zimbabwean song with a plea for direction: "We are wondering, lost souls in this world, Chaminuka and those spirits under please guide us tadzungaira..."

[mp3] Shabava: "Lama Bada"
From the Portland, Oregon group Shabava, which plays Persian and Arabic music.

[mp3] Kazem al-Saher: "Esh Jabrak 'Ala Elmorr"
His music is rich with the melodies, rhythms, and complex sonic textures of Arabic classical music, but at the same time, his compositions are strikingly contemporary, and his superb voice and good looks have helped to make him a pop icon throughout the Arabian Gulf, the Middle East and beyond.

[mp3] Kane Mathis: "Midnight Meditation"
Kane Mathis is a Seattle-based artist more known for his playing of the West African kora. But he also plays a mean oud, as shown on this track.
www.issaboulos.com or www.kairarecords.com

[mp3] Yamuna with George Harrison: "Govinda"
From the album The Rada Krishna Temple, produced by George Harrison and recorded at Apple Studios in London (1970).

09 May 2006

World Music Top 10 - May 2006

SoundRoots / Spin the Globe Top 10 Albums
May 2006

1. Richard Bona: Tiki
2. Word-Beat:
The Soul Dances
3. Sara Tavares:
4. Slavic Soul Party:
5. Salif Keita:
Girish: Shiva Machine
7. Afrissippi:
Fulani Journey
8. Fantazia:
Mul Sheshe
9. Chirgilchin:
10. Sergio Mendes:

More summer world music tours/concerts have been announced recently, including Maria DeBarros (Cape Verde) at Jazz Alley June 6 & 7, Vusi Mahlasela @ Jazz Alley June 27 & 28,

And a fair number of regional festivals featuring world music are on the way, including:
Olympia World Sacred Music Festival
Northwest Folklife Festival
Juan De Fuca Festival
ICA Folkfest
Vancouver Folk Music Festival
North American Jew's Harp Festival
Bob Marley Roots, Rock, Reggae Festival
various Festal ethnic celebrations at the Seattle Center
and, of course, Bumbershoot.

For more details on these and many other shows, see the SoundRoots/Spin the Globe calendar.

I still miss WOMAD, but these are some sweet consolation.

08 May 2006

Monday's mp3: Sacred Solos of Unni Løvlid

In an earlier post, I mentioned the haunting music of Norwegian vocalist Unni Løvlid, and the request of SweetKali and timing of the upcoming World Sacred Music Festival here in Olympia are reason enough to revisit her voice.
Unni Løvlid - Vita-Life
Løvlid, who is also the vocalist in the Norwegian trio Rusk, recorded this album in what a less accomplished singer would consider a most intimidating atmosphere: singing solo, in front of an audience, in a tomb. The album is named after the fresco artwork that covers the Tomba Emmanuelle, which explores the theme of "eroticism and man's sexual instinct, conveyed through multitudes of naked bodies, women and men in impetuous intimacy."

The resonant atmosphere is stunning, even through the filter of the CD. "O At Skue" is a song sung by Løvlid's great-trandfather Samuel. She never met him, but recalls in the album's liner notes that "in 1994, my grandmother gave me a cassette recording of her father singing. Looking at me she said: 'I don't want to tell you everything, for you to remember.'"

[mp3] Unni Lovlid: "O At Skue"
from the album Vita (buy at CDRoots)

SoundRoots likely will feature more sacred world music this week. Would love to hear about your favorite sacred musical traditions or artists.
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05 May 2006


Cinco de Mayo seems to be one of those holidays that is widely celebrated but little understood. Go to a party or a bar today, and ask around. How many people know that the holiday is a celebration of the victory of Mexican forces led by General Ignacio Zaragoza over the French expeditionary forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862?

Wonder if anyone celebrates it unwittingly in France?

Despite the flap over "Nuestro Himno" and the ongoing immigration debate, only a few blog whackos seem to be bothered by the prevalence of this Mexican holiday north of the border. And yes, some US gasbags have called for a boycott of all things Mexican today. One such call reads:

This shall be our protest: A call to boycott this "Non-American" holiday that has infiltrated our border, and our cities and towns, along with the ILLEGAL ALIENS who brought it here. This is your chance to say, we don't want you here marching in our streets, and we don't want your holiday. If you're angry at the growing problem of illegal immigration, if you've had enough of our government's lack of response, and if you are downright fed up with images of marching, protesting illegal Mexicans trying to run our country...then May 5th is your chance to do something.
Cinco De Mayo!
SoundRoots instead suggests that you embrace the holiday, particularly if you live in that part of the USA that was once part of Mexico. Eat Mexican food, drink Mexican beer, hug actual Mexicans. Debate with Mexicans whether this was a greater military victory than the sputtering end of the War of 1812.

Then, thus refreshed, feel free to re-engage in the immigration debate. Because it's not just about Mexico and Mexicans. Estimates vary, and obviously specific numbers aren't known, but estimates say that around 78% of the 12 million or so undocumented people in the USA hail from Latin America. That's all of Latin America, from Chile to Mexico. The other 22% come from all over the place: Asia, the Middle East, Russia, Europe, and that insideous nation to the north, Canada.

Or do you want to boycott them too? No more Oktoberfest? Say no to Phad Thai? Deport all sitars?

How about we discuss the real issues and reform the immigration system, and leave the cultural boycotts out of it?

And if you don't want to go out, here are a few tunes courtesy of Portland Oregon's Cinco De Mayo Fiesta!
[mp3] Rogelio Martínez: "Angel Rebelde"
[mp3] Rogelio Martínez: "No Me Importa Tu Olvido"
Pre-order his upcoming album Dos En Uno

[mp3] Los TexManiacs: "Ando Buscando un Amor"
[mp3] Los TexManiacs: "Hey Baby"
Buy the CD Tex-Mex Groove

[wma] Las 3 Divas: "Hey Boy"
[wma] Las 3 Divas: "Bumpin All Night"
Las 3 Divas have a self-titled album - buy it here

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04 May 2006

(Legal) Immigrant Makes Good!

Map of TogoImage via WikipediaWhile we're not big on upping commercial enterprises, we will make exceptions for the exceptional. One such organization is Alaffia, which recently set up shop here in Olympia, WA, and is becoming known regionally for high quality products and a progressive business model.

A fair trade company that works in partnership with a women's cooperative in Togo, Africa, Alaffia is run by Olowo-n'djo Tchala and his wife Rose. Their story is told well at their spiffy website www.alaffia.com.

Along with great products made from the shea butter and other products they get from Togo, there's a return benefit. Alaffia folks gather and repair bicycles and send them to kids in Africa.

This isn't an ad. I won't tell you to buy their stuff, even I'm happy with several of their products that are lingering around our home. Naw, I just wanted to point out something good going on, a positive contribution being made (by an immigrant!) to both this country and his land of origin. Alaffia is making money, employing Americans, and making a difference. And maybe a few more stories like this in the mainstream media would help re-frame the current immigration debate.

Listen to a KAOS radio interview with founder Olowo-n'djo Tchala.

Watch a trailer for an upcoming documentary.
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03 May 2006

Why the Twists in Nuestro Knickers?

I've listened. I've read the lyrics and their English translation. I don't get it.

Bloggers -- even President Bush -- are all a-tizzy about the Spanish-language re-imagining of our national anthem by artists including Haitian-born Wyclef Jean, hip-hop star Pitbull, and Puerto Rican singers Carlos Ponce and Olga Tanon. It's all tied in with the immigration debate, of course, and recent protests, marches, and walkouts in solidarity with immigrants. SoundRoots weighed in recently on immigration. But we're still having trouble comprehending the venomous response to this song.

The argument over "Nuestro Himno" is partly an argument over what the national anthem is. It's a cultural artifact that also functions as a political statement: an oath. People who emphasize its cultural importance might hear the new version as an act of musical vandalism; for them, the song's importance lies in those specific words and that specific tune (even though the melody comes from a bawdy 18th-century English song). (New York Times)

Hmmm. I guess I'm just too open-minded to consider this musical vandalism, just as I'm so open minded that I think the US Constitution and Bill of Rights don't burst into flame if some protestor (or idiot) burns a US flag. But here, you have a listen:

Nuestro Himno (emergency backup link)

English translation:
It's sunrise. Do you see by the light of the dawn
What we proudly hailed last nightfall?
Its stars, its stripes yesterday streamed
above fierce combat a symbol of victory
the glory of battle, the march toward liberty.
Throughout the night, they proclaimed: "We will defend it!"

Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free, the sacred flag?

Its stars, its stripes, Liberty, we are the same.
We are brothers in our anthem. In fierce combat,
a symbol of victory the glory of battle,
(My people fight on) the march toward liberty.
(The time has come to break the chains.)
Throughout the night they proclaimed: "We will defend it!"

Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free, the sacred flag?
Nothing wrong with that. Oh sure, maybe the "sacred flag" thing could raise church-state issues. But that's not what I've heard whiners whining about. And sure the singing and arrangement are a more modern style, but I've heard similar (and worse) things done to "The Star Spangled Banner" at sporting events.

The song's 15 minutes of infamy seem to be passing already, which is a shame. Because this could be a great moment for reflection by Americans. Sure, our roots are in the American revolution. But that's not enough. Nations that obsess about their revolutionary origins (Cuba, USSR) don't move forward, or don't survive. Francis Scott Key's lovely, unsingable-by-average-people anthem is a relic. "Nuestro Himno" comes as a relief, and a welcome acknowledgement of the multicultural state of our nation. But it's not enough. The national anthem doesn't need a linguistic remodel, it needs replacing.

If there's a single compelling argument for a change in our national anthem, it's Ray Charles. Take a moment and listen to his version of "America the Beautiful." Right now.
Ray Charles: "America The Beautiful"

Now tell me that doesn't give you chills. I'm an American, proud of my country if not always my government. This song manages to celebrate the nation's founders, its natural beauty, heroes, patriots, cities, mountains, farms, skies, even fruit! -- all within a lovely melody. And, as Ray does it, with great soul.

Maybe it's time the USA changed its tune as a sign that we are also moving beyond an image of "bombs bursting in air" and rockets and other such things. We'll always need them, to be sure. But I'd rather sing about beauty.

01 May 2006

Listening to Immigrants

Immigration. My own family dealt with this generations ago, but my interest in the musics and foods and cultures of the world keeps this a front-burner issue for me. That, and the recognition that the USA is a nation of immigrants, built by immigrants (with recognition of and apologies to descendants of the pre-Euro-immigrant native population).

I'm a great respecter of the rule of law, but I find it funny how everyone cries "but it's illegal" as a knee-jerk response to any proposal to revise immigration policy. Things are illegal because we say they are. These are human decisions, not laws of nature. If I'd been born a generation or two earlier, my interracial marriage might have been illegal. Some generations earlier, slavery was legal. Laws change, often for good reason. I'm glad that we're at least talking about immigration law. Reforming it seems a logical alternative to either deporting or continuing to ignore the millions of "illegals" among us.

At this time of perpetual warfare, some politicians try to frame the debate primarily in terms of security. But without the contributions of immigrant scientists, we might never have won WWII and become the world's sole superpower. Immigration does bring risk, but also new knowledge and perspectives and resources.

SoundRoots favors a thoughtful and liberal immigration policy paired with a concerted effort to promote stable, prosperous nations around the world. Immigration should be a choice, not an act of desperation. Build bridges, not walls.

Without immigrants, we damn sure wouldn't have the great music we have today. A recent email by Ken Braun of Stern's Music makes this point indelibly (you can read it at the RootsWorld blog). Finally, making a musical argument for immigration, we have Detroit-based group Immigrant Suns.

[mp3] Immigrant Suns: "Last Tango in Dearborn"
from the album Montenegro

By the way, the Library of Congress has an amazing and educational immigration website.
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