Nikki Yanofsky

Posted by jeff on Dec 2, 2010 in Song Of the week, Writings

Following below is an article I wrote for the Jerusalem Report, Dec 10, 2010 about the very charming and very talented (and very young) Nikki Yanofsky. Following it are some great pictures by David Rubin. Read more…



071: Lyy, ‘Giftavisan’

Posted by jeff on Oct 16, 2010 in Nordic, Other, Song Of the week

Väsen, Ranarim, Garmarna.
Gjallarhorn, Hedningarna, Hoven Droven, Lyy?

Put on your fleece parkas, folks. This week we’re going to take a little jaunt up to the lands of the North, to make the acquaintance of some very hot music from a very cold place, Nordic Roots music, or Scandinavian neo-folk. Ice also burns.

I made a musical visit to Sweden a couple of years ago. I felt like a child in a candy shop. My wife in a teddy bear museum. A teenage boy in the Playboy mansion. Paul Simon at Graceland. The streets are clean, the people are warm and generous, the women are blond and tall, and the music is as pure as glacial water in a fjord.

I’ll be the first to admit that I romanticize Scandinavia, but I’m not the only one. My cab driver was an Iraqi Catholic engineer who fled Sadaam Husein (who was as fond of Catholics as he was of Jews) in 1990 with his family for Brazil, where he lived for eight years, followed by eight years in Stockholm. “I was very happy to leave Iraq,” he said, in typical Iraqi Catholic understatement. “But there were a lot of problems in Brazil.” “Well,” I said, “There are problems everywhere. Aren’t there problems in Sweden?” He mulled over that for a minute. Finally, thoughtfully, he answered—”No.”

Neo-folk is an oxymoron that’s been around for a while. The Weavers saw themselves as drawing directly from ethnic, roots music. But I doubt they ever picked any cotton. Even if he liked to picture himself as hobo, a man of the land, in retrospect Woody Guthrie was an original, a creative artist. Joan Baez was never a Welsh farmgirl whose husband went off to sea, and Peter Paul & Mary were more at home in Greenwich Village than in Hokie, West Virginia.


In the formative years of the late 1960s and the early 1970s, an interesting difference developed on either side of the Atlantic. Numerous artists whose roots were in roots became the founding fathers of rock—Dylan of course, but also The Byrds and The Lovin’ Spoonful and The Grateful Dead and especially Jefferson Airplane. Where was there to come from, after all? Either The Gaslight Café or The Dick Clark Show. Those were the only scenes.

In England, there was a much more vibrant folk scene. Artists such as Bert Jansch and John Renbourne (later together in Pentangle), Davey Graham, John Fahey and John Thompson (later with Fairport Convention) worked in rock, in blues, in jazz, but never strayed too far from their traditional roots, especially Celtic folk music (Scotland, Ireland, Wales). There are some very nice collections of this music, especially “New Electric Muse – The Story Of Folk Into Rock”. The song that best expresses for me the link from Celtic folk music through rock, and the ground prepared for later forages into world/neo-trad music, including that from Scandinavia, is Fairport Convention’s very fine ‘Tam Lin’.

One band that clearly comes from that tradition is Shooglenifty, a band from Edinburgh which combines traditional Scottish music with rock, pop, jazz, and urban dance music to create a “hypno-folkadelic/ambient/traditional sound”. Folkadelic, huh? Wish I had coined that word. Here’s a really neat taste of their music.


The Swedish and neighboring scenes were influenced by this British and Celtic neo-trad music. From what I can garner–and I’m certainly no expert in this area– it began to flower in the 1980s and really took shape in the 1990s when it was impacted by World Music, which often incorporates dance rhythms into non-pop, indigenous materials.

In any case, for twenty years now, The Land of The Midnight Sun has been awash with young, hip, cutting-edge musicians steeping themselves in their very broad musical traditions. It’s hard for us foreigners to grasp the excitement, the zest, the drive, and the diversity of the music going on there. It often features traditional instruments, such as the nyckelharpa, kantele and hardanger fiddle. The lyrics and music often draw on traditional sources, either imported into a thoroughly young and vibrant setting, or melded together with a myriad of influences. These bands aren’t purists. They’re making great music, derived first and foremost from their own folk roots, but enthusiastically stealing from everything they can lay their hands on.


In SoTW 063, I described the Norwegian a cappella group Pust’s mind-boggling take on two traditional dance forms.

One traditional style of singing that blows my mind is kulning (from Wikipedia):  a domestic Scandinavian music form, often used to call livestock down from high mountain pastures where they have been grazing during the day. The song form is often used by women, as they were the ones tending the herds and flocks in the high mountain pastures…perhaps a pre-historic way to tame wild animals in herds. The song has a loud, high-pitched call using head tones, so that it can be heard or be used to communicate over long distances. It has a fascinating and haunting tone, employing half-tones and quarter-tones (“blue tones”) often conveying a feeling of sadness. When a call is made in a valley, it rings and echoes against the mountains. The animals, a number of whom wear bells tuned so that the livestock’s location can be heard, begin to respond to the call, answering back and the sound of the bells indicates that they are moving down the mountain towards their home farm.


Or, as it was so charmingly explained to me: in olden days, this is how the farm women would call in the cows while their Viking husbands were out raping, pillaging and plundering. Here’s a great example.

Anyway, there are bunches and bunches of bands making this Nordic Roots music of a hundred different styles in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Greenland. Jeff, are you really promulgating Greenlandish music? NorthSide, a small Minneapolis company has done a great job of bringing this music to North America. They’ve compiled several collections of Nordic Roots music that I enjoy greatly.

Here are a few choice examples of music from Scandinavian bands I’ve come upon:

Ranarim:   ‘Maj Vare Valkommen‘, ‘Höga Berg

Garmarna:  ‘Gamen’,  ‘Euchari‘ (based on a melody by a very spiffy lady, 12th century abbest, mystic, composer, and eventually saint, Hildegard Von Bingen)

Hedningarna:  ‘Metsän Tyttö‘, ‘Tuuli‘ (a spell to raise a powerful storm, calling on the god Ukko and goddess Akka.)

Gjallarhorn:  ‘Suvetar‘,  ‘ I riden sa‘ (a less purist group, I’m told, from the Swedish-speaking part of Finland)

Hoven Droven: ‘Kottpolska’, ‘Headbanger‘ (for the hardcore grunge-trad polka fans out there)

Lyy singer Emma Björling

And our Song of The Week is from a young band, one of my favorites, called Lyy. They’re a Swedish quintet: Anna Lindblad (fiddle), David Eriksson (nyckelharpa), Petrus Johansson (guitar), Martin Norberg (percussion), and the very lovely lead singer, Emma Björling. Here are three video clips:

Lyckan‘ (Happiness), an original song in a traditional spirit (“I thought I had to be successful and rich to be loved, but now I understand that someone likes me for who I am, and I’m grateful for everything I’ve got.”)

Rifs, Rifs, Rafs‘ (Traditional) “All the men in the village want to marry me, but they are all fools. My advice to all the girls is to avoid all the household work that comes with having a husband and children.”

And my favorite, and our Song of The Week:

Giftasvisan‘ ((“Why should one get married? If you take a rich man, you become greedy; if you take a poor man you go hungry; if you take an old man, you get wear; and if you take a young man, you get pregnant!”).

As I say, I’m no expert on this music, and I don’t feel like I have a real firm grasp of its scope and shape and character. But I do know that I enjoy it very much. I find it consistently charming, invigorating, cheering and fun. So click on some of them links, rosin up the bow, and let’s take a little trip up North.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

063: Pust, ‘En Reell Halling’

059: The Real Group, ‘Joy Spring’

033: Radka Toneff, ‘The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress’ (Jimmy Webb)

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068: Hermeto Pascoal, ‘Santa Catarina’

Posted by jeff on Sep 25, 2010 in Brazilian, Jazz, Song Of the week

[This post was originally written in 2010. A 95-minute video of a 2012 concert of Hermeto’s (similar to the ones I saw) was recently published. Give yourself a treat– expose yourself to this otherworldly, entrancing music. JM]

Hermeto Pasocal is a 78-year old albino Brazilian sorcerer who makes music from gargling water and banging on teapots and processing football commentators, as well as from more conventional sources, like the bass harmonica and his 30something wife’s voice. Miles Davis called him “the most impressive musician in the world”. The guy is so far beyond my ken that I’m quite humbled trying to describe him, but as the Sages say, “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the job, but neither are you at liberty to refrain from it.”

My predilection for Brazilian music I’ve expressed in an earlier SoTW about the song ‘Mambebe’. This week I’m pleased as punch to share with you a small taste of the very spiritual experience I had hearing Hermeto’s two sets at the Red Sea Jazz Festival a month ago. They started at 1:15 in the morning, in withering heat, and continued till the organizers turned off the electricity, much to Hermeto’s chagrin. The band comprised seven members, all of them making wondrous sounds on a myriad of implements. The performance was as much of a trip as The Grateful Dead concert, just with all that Brazilian joie de vivre. The festival took place at the end of August, on the cusp of the month I spend in the house of worship of my choice. Throughout his sets, when my consciousness came up for air, I couldn’t help wishing I could be so immersed, so riveted, during my non-secular prayer.

Hermeto Pascoal (Photo: David Rubin)

I’ve been listening to the 17 CDs of Hermeto’s that I’ve acquired, as well as devouring oodles of YouTube clips. I usually try to present in Song of The Week music that I feel I have some grasp of, where I feel some modicum of authority or at least mastery before I shoot my mouth off. Not so here. I grasp Hermeto Pascoal no more than I grasp how to fold laundry. But I do want to try to share a bit of what I’ve learned and experienced. Pascoal was born in 1936 on a farm without electricity in a remote corner of northeastern Brazil.  Being albino, he couldn’t work in the fields with the rest of his family, so he learned the accordion from his father and spent hours practicing indoors. Fascinated by the sounds of nature, he used to play for the birds on a

Hermeto Pascoal (Photo: David Rubin)

Hermeto Pascoal (Photo: David Rubin)

pumpkin fife he crafted. He would immerse himself in the lake, creating sounds with the water, and hang scrap metal from his grandfather’s blacksmith shop on a rope, banging on various shapes to explore their sound. This led to his approach to music, in which the tones themselves are more central than chord progressions, scales, or modes. When Hermeto was 11, his father quit playing the 8-bass accordion in his son’s presence, because his son’s abilities so surpassed his own.

He had a long and varied career in Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1971 he came to New York, where he performed two of his songs with Miles Davis on the “Live-Evil” album, Nem Um Talvez (Not Even a Maybe) and Igrejinha (Little Church). Since then he’s been based in Brazil, recording some 80 albums in various formats and traveling the world.

From June 23rd, 1996, through June 22nd, 1997, he wrote one composition a day, no matter where he was, ‘so that everyone could have a song for their birthday.’ Here’s mind-boggling example of Hermeto composing a song. I’ve watched it numerous times, and I still don’t believe my eyes and ears.

Aline Morena and band members (Photo: David Rubin)

In 2002 he met the young singer Aline Morena, who has become his wife and a key member of his band. She plays 10-string guitar and sings. In both sets in Eilat she performed a piece in which she dances and sings while providing percussion by stomping her feet and slapping her body. It was so joyous, so invigorating, so super-physical that the thousands of people in the audience stood enthralled, jaws hanging open, dumbfounded and charmed beyond sense. Here’s a lovely example of the two of them making music together.

Here he is leading his band of merry pranksters into the water, making ‘lake music’ and clearly having a lot of absolutely contagious fun.

Here’s another exploration of sound, Hermeto eliciting the music from a sportscaster’s description of a football play, ‘Tiruliruli’.

Here’s a wonder called ‘Chorinho Pra Ele (Little Cry For)’, from the 1977 album “Slaves Mass”.

And here’s the same song sung by his god-daughter, Luciana Souza, who in my humble opinion is nothing less than The Best Female Vocalist working today. It’s from her brilliant CD “Brazilian Duos II”.

The Hermeto Pascoal Band (Photo: David Rubin)

What shall I choose as my Song of The Week? From the 17 CDs I’ve been trying to incorporate into my musical soul, here’s ‘Santa Catarina’, pulled almost at random out of his hundreds, probably thousands of miraculous creations. My friend Miki explained to me the background of the song: Dorival Caymmi wrote a classic early Bossa Nova song, ‘Minha Jangada Vai Sair Pro Mar’ (my fishing skiff is sailing out to sea), which we all know from innumerable versions. It describes a fisherman’s fears and prayers (in a minor key), that he will have enough wind (but not too much), will return safely, and with a good catch.

‘Santa Catarina’ is Hermeto’s sunny, major, optimistic take on that song. It’s from the 1984 album “Lagoa Da Canoa Municipio De Arapiraca” (The Arapiraca City Canoe Lake). Santa Catarina is an island off the coast of southern Brazil. The boat may be a canoe in the man-made municipal pond of the album’s title. He glories in the beautiful weather, and he returns with a boat full of fish. “This was the greatest day of my life,” he says.

Hermeto Pascoal (Photo: David Rubin)

It begins with undefined natural sounds—wooden beads? rain in the puddles of a dirt yard? A man speaking. I don’t know what he’s saying, but it’s warm and gentle and convincing. A distorted keyboard. Birds. Some instrument approximating wind. A dog yowling – no, sorry, that’s a man excited – a ship’s bell. The melody is at least tripled on flute, a faint voice and the mangled keyboard, a tune so endless, pointless, serpentine, sweet and warm that you want to cuddle up and just lie there hugging it. As Miki says, Hermeto has one single credo: abundant love. That’s the tame, melodic recorded version. Here’s a live version, where he uses the tune as a springboard, and moves on to play his beard, a clay whistle, a gurgling pan, a tin teapot, and an air pump that I won’t even attempt to describe. In his homeland, Hermeto Pascoal is known as o Bruxo (the Sorcerer). He is indeed a weaver of wonders, creating a musical rite of enchantment. God bless those Brazilians.

Great thanks to David Rubin for the great photos.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

022: Roberta Sá and Chico Buarke, ‘Mambembe’

066: Rickie Lee Jones, ‘Skeletons’

067: Musica Nuda, ‘I Will Survive’

SoTW is a non-commercial, non-profit venture, intended solely to promote the appreciation of good music. Readers are strongly encouraged to purchase the music discussed here at sites such as eMusic or Amazon.

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Omri Mor at The Red Sea Jazz Festival

Posted by jeff on Sep 21, 2010 in Song Of the week, Writings

Following below is an article I wrote for the Jerusalem Report, Sept 27, 2010 about the Red Sea Jazz Festival in general, and specifically about the very fine Omri Mor Trio. Click on each of the four pages below to read the article. Thanks to David Rubin for the great photos. And while you’re reading, you can listen to a couple of clips of Omri, Gilad and David playing in Eilat. Read more…

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