Friday, 21 September 2012

A Comedian Silences A Room For 9 Minutes. It's Not An Awkward Silence.

Comedians spend years honing their stage persona, but when all-star comic Anthony Griffith tells the story of his life as a comedian and as a father, not even he can keep it together. To be honest, I couldn't either when I watched this video. It's so important to remember that the people we idolize aren't the two-dimensional, easily digestible caricatures that we see of them in the media. I've seen some breakdowns before, and this was the first one that felt real.

Nina Simone’s brother: I don’t want Zoe Saldana to play the role of my sister

Posted by: Latoya West - Posted in Uncategorized on Sep 20, 2012
Nyack resident Sam Waymon, the brother of legendary singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone,  is speaking out against light skinned Latina actress Zoe Saldana playing his dark skinned and “racial conscious” sister in the forthcoming film “Nina.”

“Zoe Saldana is an amazing actress. I like her work but she’s not right for the part,” Waymon said during a phone conversation this morning. “She doesn’t look like Nina, which doesn’t always have to be the case when you are making a movie, but they didn’t even take that into consideration.”
Waymon says he is sure that Simone, who passed away in 2003 at age 70, would have also disapproved of writer/director Cynthia Mort’s casting decision, which has stirred up  an online debate since it was reported in August. (A petition at the website  calling for the role to be recast has 7,498 supporters as of today.)
“I really believe in my hearts of hearts that Nina would not have approved,’” he says. “Nina wasn’t a racist but she was racial conscious. She wouldn’t have thought of Zoe as her first choice or  any choice…I was with Nina in the early years when she was dealing with the black woman’s image and how black women were perceived…Nina would have said ‘let me choose someone who I think resembles me.’”
Waymon, who is also concerned that Saldana isn’t mature enough to play Simone in her later years, says an actress like Viola Davis would have been a better choice. He says his sister would have chosen Whoopi Goldberg.

“I am not attacking Zoe.  She is an actress,” Waymon says. “I don’t know if she knows what she  is stepping into with this controversy. If she has any guts about her, she would back out. That would speak highly of her character if he doesn’t want any part of this defamation of my sister.”
Waymon’s objections to the unauthorized film goes further than Mort’s casting decision. He claims the writer/director has written a love story between Simone and her assistant Clifton Henderson—a love affair that didn’t exist.
“Cliff Henderson was gay and it was well known,” Waymon says. “Nina knew it and everybody knew it. It was not a problem. The question was put to Cynthia about why would she write such and a scene and she said because she wanted to see a loving,  human side of Nina having a love affair. But it’s a lie! What happens with lies that are told in a film is that they becomes history. This lady is messing with my family’s legacy, Nina’s legacy, and Cliff’s legacy. I won’t stand for that. I won’t put up with that.”
“We can’t stop her from writing this movie but I want the world to know that I am out here,” says the musician, who will be releasing a song titled “A Brother’s Love” on iTunes and Amazon. Waymon says he is also planning a press conference in Nyack to bring attention to the movie controversy.
“Don’t mess with Nina. If you can’t tell the truth, leave her alone,” he says.
Photos: The Journal News and AP

Listening with the eyes:

The current market share of Jazz in America is mere 3 percent. That includes all the great ones like John Coltrane and the terrible ones like Kenny G (OK, this is just my own opinion). There are many organizations and individuals like Wynton Marsalis who are tirelessly trying to revive the genre, but it does not seem to be working. Why is this? Is there some sort of bad chemistry between the American culture and Jazz? As ironic as it may be, I happen to believe so.

One day, I was talking to my wife about the TV commercial for eBay where a chubby lady sings and dances to an appropriated version of “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. The lyrics were entirely re-written, and “my way” was transformed into “eBay”. I told her that they did a good job in adapting the original song. Then she said: “Ah, that’s why I like it so much!” She actually did not realize that it was adapted from Sinatra’s song.

My wife and I have always known how differently we listen to music. I tend to entirely ignore lyrics, while she tends to entirely ignore music. We are the two opposite ends of the spectrum in this sense, and it appears that my wife’s side is more common. Many of my friends think that I have a peculiar, or plain bad, taste for music. Whenever I say I like this song or that song, they look at me like I am crazy. Then they go on to explain why it is bad, and I realize that they are referring to the lyrics, not to the music. I then pay attention to the lyrics for the first time, and realize that they are right. The opposite happens often too where many of my friends love a particular song, and I can’t understand what’s good about it until I pay attention to the lyrics.

The eBay example is an extreme case where my wife could not recognize the original once the lyrics were swapped. To her, if you change the lyrics, it is an entirely different song. It is the other way around for me; in most cases, I would not notice any change in the lyrics. The eBay song was an exception; I only noticed it because it is a famous song used for a TV commercial.

I believe my wife’s way of listening to music is typically American, and my way of listening to music, typically Japanese. If you don’t speak English, any songs written in English are instrumental music. Singers turn into just another musical instrument. These days, no matter where you live, you cannot get away from the dominance of the American music. This means that most non-English speakers grow up listening to a lot of instrumental music. In Japan, I would say, it constitutes about half of what people listen to. When they are listening to Madonna, Michael Jackson, or Britney Spears, they have very little understanding of what their songs are about. In this sense, their ears are trained to listen to and enjoy instrumental music, which explains why Jazz is still so popular in Japan.

To be able to enjoy instrumental music, you must be able to appreciate abstract art, and that requires a certain amount of effort. Just mindlessly drinking wine, for instance, would not make you a wine connoisseur. Mindlessly looking at colors (which we all do every day) would not make you a color expert either. Great art demands much more from the audience than the popular art does.

In this sense, the American ears are getting lazier and lazier. It wasn’t so long ago that most people knew how to play a musical instrument or two. Now the vast majority of Americans couldn’t tell the difference between a saxophone and a trumpet. Thanks partially to music videos, music is now a form of visual art. The American culture is so visually dominant that a piece of music without visuals cannot command full attention of the audience. For Americans, music is a background element, a mere side dish to be served with the main course. If they are forced to listen to a piece of instrumental music without any visuals, they don’t know what to do with their eyes, much like the way a nervous speaker standing in front of a large audience struggles to figure out what to do with his hands. Eventually something visual that has nothing to do with the music grabs their attention and the music is push to the background.

If you have written your own music, you have probably experienced this before: You play it for your friends to get their opinions. For about 10 seconds, everyone is silent. After 20 seconds, their eyes start to wander around. After 30 seconds, someone says something, which triggers everyone else to speak up. After 40 seconds, no one is actually listening to your music. I grew up sitting in front of the stereo with my father, closing our eyes, listening only to what came out of the speakers. This would go on for an hour or two as if we were watching a movie. It wasn’t just me; many of my friends did the same. Who does that anymore? In today’s living rooms, stereos are treated as accessories to television sets.

Visual dominancy isn’t the only problem. The bigger problem is the dominance of our thought. Most Americans do not know what to do with abstraction in general. To be able to fully appreciate abstraction, you must be able to turn off your thought, or at least be able to put your thought into the background. This is not as easy as it might seem. In modern art museums, most people’s minds are dominated by thoughts like: “Even I could do this.” Or, “Why is this in a museum?” Or, “This looks like my bed sheet.” Etc.. They are unable to let the abstraction affect their emotions directly; their experience must be filtered through interpretations. In a way, this is a defense mechanism. It is a way to deal with fears like, “If I admit that I don’t understand this, I’ll look unsophisticated.” This type of fear fills their minds with noise, and they become unable to see, hear, or taste.

This is why songs with lyrics in your own language and paintings with recognizable objects are easier for most people to appreciate. They give their minds something to do. It is like holding a pen in your hand when you are speaking in front of a large audience; you become less nervous because your hands have something to do.

Aesthetically, the paintings of Mark Rothko and those of Monet are quite similar, but the former is utterly unacceptable for many people even though they consider the latter to be a master. The difference is that in Monet’s paintings, you can still see things represented in them: rivers, trees, mountains, houses, and so forth. The audience interprets these objects, and projects their own beautiful memories onto the paintings, which makes the whole process much easier. In Mark Rothko’s paintings, there is nothing they can mentally grab on to. What you see is what you get; there is nothing to interpret. So, the audience is left without a pen to hold on to.

The same happens to instrumental music. If there are no lyrics, that is, if there is nothing for the minds to interpret, projecting of any emotional values becomes rather difficult. As soon as the lyrics speak of love, sex, racism, evil corporations, loneliness, cops, etc., all sorts of emotions swell up. Jazz to most people is like a color on a wall; unless you hung something on it, they don’t even notice it.

This rather unfortunate trend in the American culture seems to be irreversible. The popularity of Rap music seems to be a clear sign of this trend. I can appreciate Rap music for what it is, and I see nothing wrong with it, but it does not promote the full development of musical ears. If the song has any musical substance, it can be played on a piano alone (without a singer or any other instruments), and we would still enjoy it. The lack of musical substance becomes clearly visible if you would take many of today’s popular songs, and play them on a piano alone. Many of them would utilize hardly more than a few keys. Perhaps this trend would promote the appreciation of poetry, but it certainly would not promote the appreciation of music as an abstract form of art.

If we were to reverse this trend, we would need to make a conscious effort in promoting the abstract aspect of music. For instance, play more instrumental music in schools or teach how to play an instrument instead of how to sing. We could go as far as to teach kids in school instrumental music only, because their musical exposure outside of school would be dominated by non-instrumental music anyway. It would be a good way to balance things out.

This problem extends far beyond the American disinterest for Jazz; it is a problem for music in general. The dominance of words and visuals in the American culture has lead people to believe that listening to Rap or watching music videos is the full extent of what music has to offer. If this goes on, they’ll be missing a huge chunk of what life has to offer.

by Dyske Suematsu

Black Music that Black People Don’t Listen to Anymore

This was first featured on a top ten list on a website titled 

Stuff White People Like

A blog devoted to stuff that white people like

#116 Black Music that Black People Don’t Listen to Anymore

All music genres go through a very similar life cycle: birth, growth, mainstream acceptance, decline, and finally obscurity.  With black music, however, the final stage is never reached because white people are work tirelessly to keep it alive.  Apparently, once a music has lost its relevance with its intended audience, it becomes MORE relevant to white people.

Historically speaking, the music that white people have kept on life support for the longest period of time is Jazz.  Thanks largely to public radio, bookstores, and coffee shops, Jazz has carved out a niche in white culture that is not yet ready to be replaced by Indie Rock.  But the biggest role that Jazz plays in white culture is in the white fantasy of leisure. All white people believe that they prefer listening to jazz over watching television.  This is not true.
Every few a months, a white person will put on some Jazz and pour themselves a glass of wine or scotch and tell themselves how nice it is.  Then they will get bored and watch television or write emails to other white people about how nice it was to listen to Jazz at home.  “Last night, I poured myself a glass of Shiraz and put Charlie Parker on the Bose.  It was so relaxing, I wish I had a fireplace.”  Listing this activity as one of your favorites is a sure fire way to make progress towards a romantic relationship with a white person.
Along with Jazz, white people have also taken quite a shine to The Blues, an art form that captured the pain of the black experience in America.  Then, in the 1960s, a bunch of British bands started to play their own version of the music and white people have been loving it ever since.  It makes sense considering that the British were the ones who created The Blues in the 17th Century.
Today, white people keep The Blues going strong by taking vacations to Memphis, forming awkward bands, making documentaries, and organizing folk festivals.  Blue and Jazz music appeal mostly to older white people and select few young ones who probably wear fedoras.  But that doesn’t mean that young white people aren’t working hard to preserve music that has lost relevance.  No, there are literally thousands of white people who are giving their all to keep old school Hip Hop alive.
Even as you read this, white people are telling other white people about the golden age of Hip Hop that they experienced in a suburban high school or through a viewing of The Wackness.
If you are good at concealing laughter and contempt, you should ask a white person about “Real Hip Hop.”  They will quickly tell you about how they don’t listen to “Commercial Hip Hop” (aka music that black people actually enjoy), and that they much prefer “Classic Hip Hop.”
“I don’t listen to that commercial stuff. I’m more into the Real Hip Hop, you know?  KRS One, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, De La Soul, Wu Tang, you know, The Old School.”
Calling this style of music ‘old school’ is considered an especially apt name since the majority of people who listen to it did so while attending old schools such as Dartmouth, Bard, and Williams College.
What it all comes down to is that white people are convinced that if they were alive when this music was relevant that they would have been into it.  They would have been Alan Lomax or Rick Rubin.  Now the best they can hope for is to impress an older black person with their knowledge.