By now, you'd think that a beats and Bollywood synthesis would be the stuff of nineties cliche. Indeed, it most certainly is. Witness all of the lazily titled 'Buddha Beat'-style anthologies issued by exotica imprints on the one hand, and the 'sitar and bass' records once the province of boutique ethno labels like Outcaste on the other.
Finding a copy of this new Madlib disc for only four bucks, I decided to make the plunge. When this kind of work is done right, absolutely nothing beats it. Luckily, my intuition proved correct. Sampling both film dialogue and music, with Beat Konducta India, the legendary Oxnard DJ takes the idiom in an entirely new direction.
What makes this record work is how it inverts the experience of world music. Instead of making the listener imagine they're somewhere else, it helps you figure out where you already are. Like my block, where sometimes I can hear Bollywood soundtracks blasting out of an Indian restaurant, while cars idling in front pump out loud hip-hop as they wait for the light to change.
“Okay now,” Miss Kennedy finally said, “I want you all to be quiet and begin introducing yourselves, starting with the front row.” A short, fat boy wearing a beige cashmere sweater, with a head of thick, black, comb-backed hair began. “My name is Ahmed,” he said in nearly flawless English, smiling. “I just moved here from Saudi Arabia.” Next up was the dark, pretty girl to his right. “My name is Farnaz,” she said. “And where are you from?” Miss Kennedy asked. “Iran,” Farnaz replied. “I just moved here too.”
And so, based on my survey of how many Middle Eastern–looking kids were in the room, it was clear that Miss Kennedy—a young, blonde and blue eyed teacher married to an American serviceman stationed in London — wanted us all to confess our countries of origin. Following Farnaz was a boy from Syria, followed by an Iraqi, another Iranian, a kid from Lebanon, a girl from Libya and finally, me. “Joel,” Miss Kennedy asked, staring at my nametag, “do you want to introduce yourself?”
An enormous silence fell over the room. I was terrified. I just could not issue a reply. Miss Kennedy stared at me with a concerned look on her face. “What’s the matter Joel,” she asked. “Has the cat got your tongue?” My classmates began to giggle. Finally, seeing fifteen curious faces staring intently at me, waiting for me to say something, I finally blustered “Hi, my name is Joel. I’m from Israel. Can I go to the bathroom, please?”
In retrospect, there was absolutely no reason to be nervous. None of us was older than eleven, and besides, no matter what kind of ideology you inculcate children with, as I discovered that year in London, it appeared as though all vestiges of the Middle East conflict seem to disappear through the classroom collaborations and the friendships we inevitably fell into.
- From my editor's column, Tikkun, September/October edition, 2005
My vinyl copy of Johnny Cash's now out of print 1969 account of his visit to the West Bank's holy sites. Briefly reissued by Harmony records in the late nineties, right after Cash died in 2003, I investigated licensing it on behalf of my former label. From what I recall, the cost would have been far too prohibitive.
Needless to say, this thirty-eight year old half-spoken word, half-sung recording of Johnny & June getting off in places like the Garden of Gethsemane is at its peak of cultural relevance. Christian, Zionist, basking in the significance of Israel's June '67 victory, The Holy Land is in serious need of a critical revival.
Yesterday morning, I woke up with a runny nose. As I pulled myself out of bed to make coffee, I began to sneeze. By the time I got to the bottom of the stairs, my sinuses felt like bricks had been stuffed inside them. Waiting for my coffee cup to fill up, I finally realized what was going on. I'd gotten a cold - the first one of the year.
Like most people, I have an established regime for dealing with these things. I dissolve an Airborne tablet in a small glass of water, and follow it up with Boiron's Oscillo, numerous little white thingies that quickly melt on my tongue. Luckily we had both on hand, and by today, though not feeling absolutely fabulous, I'd dried up, so to speak.
Not surprised I fell ill. The last few weeks have been exceedingly rough for both of us. Running around Los Angeles for three days, attending a funeral, and doing all of the follow up emotional work has been hard. Factor in the traveling we've had to do down south and back, and voila. I'm looking forward to things slowing down a bit and becoming less serious.
We're home. And already thinking about how we're going to get out of bed tomorrow morning. Brazilian espresso, anyone? Its absolutely wonderful, makes a first-class crema, and only costs eight dollars a pound.
Word up to my homey Ron, who shouted me out today about the WBAI show getting posted. For folks interested in listening, click here. An MP3 will load up immediately, courtesy of the always amazing Doug Henwood.
I just listened to the program over dinner, and was really surprised that the background noise didn't drown it the least bit out. Big up to the Bob Hope Airport intercom for being our friend.
The editorial meetings which brought me to New York are now over. After a ten hour-long session that began with a tasty Indian lunch on 96th street and Amsterdam avenue, I'm free to enjoy my last two days here. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it. On the agenda is lunch at a small hummus place around the corner, a stop at my favorite local record store, Other Music, and then a short walk up to 12th and Broadway to meet my family for dinner.
The nice thing about this trip is that it's introduced me to a part of the city I overlooked as a child, when my father and I lived here in the early '80s. After fifteen years in the suburbs, my brother sold his home, and bought a place on the border between Chinatown and Little Italy last summer. A beautiful, two bedroom apartment in a brand new, four story building, David's pad looks out at three Italian restaurants, and is a stone's throw away from the best Malaysian restaurant and tacqueria in the city. On nearly every nearby block, there's a deli replete with cans of Lavazza espresso and freshly baked breads on display in the window.
Before going into yesterday's meetings, I went to the new MOMA for the first time with my former Tikkun co-editor, Jo Ellen. Though we did not have too much time to spare, we saw a few photographs by Gerhard Richter, which were spectacular, as well as a small exhibit of Emigre magazine covers. As magazine editors, this was perhaps the most interesting of everything we looked at. Design-wise the most influential periodical of the first wave of "desktop-publishing," Emigre's influence remains vast and under-appreciated. Thus, it was incredibly gratifying to see the periodical on display at an institution like the MOMA.
The only problem with this trip is how little time it has afforded Jennifer to relax. Hard at work at her company's Manhattan office, she slaved away until eight last night, and then hung out here with my brother until I came in at eleven. Nevertheless, it was immensely cool to see how comfortable both she and David were with each other when I walked through the door. Their second time meeting each other (their first and last meeting to date was at our wedding party last year), the two of them seem to have found much in common with each other very quickly.
Because my family is so spread out - in Israel, France, New York and Maine - I've always lamented how difficult it's been to facilitate this kind of intimacy. But, given moments like this, its clear that we're all learning how to overcome the geographies that separate us. Whereas in the past, I would go up to four years at a time without seeing my parents, over the course of the past sixteen months, Jennifer and I have been to Israel twice to see them, and they've returned the gesture with two visits to the US. Now, with David in the same loop, things could not be better.