Wednesday 31 December 2008

End of the Year's Message

2008 augured well. I was still working in the arts and my family and I had a holiday planned for Malaysia around Easter time; we were going to visit one of my brothers-in-law who had made that Asian country his permanent residence. We were all looking forward to this well-deserved break.

As the months passed by my company's financial situation became worrying. It had been so for some time up until then but there was no reason to suspect that we would lose our jobs. Unfortunately life sometimes deals one a very bad hand and the self-defence mechanism that we think we have in place to shelter us from this kind of adversity ends up tumbling down like sandcastles in a storm.

By summer 2008 I had been made redundant for the first time in my life. I felt numb and powerless. Although I had been given a month's notice it was not until I started gathering my personal belongings that it suddenly dawned on me that I was going, going from the place where I had worked for five years, going from the comfort of a permanent job, paid holidays and sick time. Going, going... gone.

What happened thereafter can only be described as a maelstrom of feelings and emotions. Anger became angst, hope traded colours with despair. I tried to remain strong, but even I could not fool myself: inside I was breaking slowly.

However, even as I was staring down the abyss, my family stood by me. My wife helped me out with application forms and as a result I had countless job interviews. Still, no offer was forthcoming. One day, on my way to yet another interview, I began to sob quietly and calmly on the tube. Two tears streaked down my cheeks whilst I was reading the paper. I realised then that I was probably on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

I finally landed a job at the end of July, just in time to go camping with my family as we usually do every summer. And throughout my whole ordeal a series of words kept popping up like a Jack-in-the-box: family, values, self-confidence, respect, trust, optimism.

That was what enabled me to get my current job. That strong infrastructure that my wife and I have built over the years propelled us to overcome what can be a very testing period for any couple. And we all (the children included) came out the other side as victors.

A couple of months into my new job I found a sheet of paper Blu-tacked to a cleaning cupboard (despite having been in my present employment for four months now, I still come upon 'surprises' every now and then) that contained the words below. I had seen them before on the net; countless versions abound. But never had they acquired such a strong meaning as on that occasion and I am not ashamed to write that they brought a tear to my eye.

A philosophy professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The students laughed.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "yes."

"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things-your family, your children, your health, your partner-things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else-the small stuff.”

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner.

There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the disposal.

Take care of the rocks first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

This is my message to you on this, the final day of 2008. I also would like to finish this post with a clip from a movie I didn't like the first time I saw it (It's in Spanish, but fret not, my dear English-speaking fellow bloggers and readers, there are subtitles). My younger self was not able to understand the theory behind it. It was only a few years after, in the early to mid 90s, when Cuba was engulfed in an economic crisis, that I sat to watch this film again, this time with my best friend. And as the credits began to roll up at the end of the movie, we both hugged each other in silence. I had finally understood Rantes' plight. 'Hombre Mirando al Sudeste' (Man Facing Southeast)* became my 'comfort film', my way of making sense of the chaos and corruption around me. The scene I bring to you tonight is one of pure jubilence and elation, no wonder they chose Beethoven's Ninth Symphony 'Ode to Joy' to accompany it. Enjoy it and Happy New Year!

* There have been two Hollywood versions of 'Hombre Mirando al Sudeste' (Man Facing Southeast), one with Richard Gere (Mr Jones) and the other one with Kevin Spacey (K-Pax). Neither measures up to the original, in my opinion.

Copyright 2008

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Allegro Moderato)

Christmas has always posed a major problem for the bilingual in me. Until ten years ago most of the phrases I use in English now related to this particular December festivity were unknown to me even in my native Spanish.

Christmas in Cuba was always a hush-hush subject. The reasons were plain for everyone to see. Religion was taken out of the equation shortly after the incumbent government took control of the country. But as an ex-colony of the Spanish empire the main celebration before 1959 was always Christmas Eve or Noche Buena as we call it in our mother tongue. A big supper at 12 midnight marked the birth of one of the most controversial figures ever.

In my house my late Grandma did maintain the Christmas Eve big supper tradition and despite my cousin's links to the Youth Communist League and my late auntie's membership of the Communist Party's a shindig was held every 24th December with most of my relatives coming from far away in the countryside to eat the roast pork laid on the table.

When I arrived in Britain one of the first tasks I had to face was how to learn the new words that involved the Christmas festivities and translate them into Spanish for my offspring. No easy feat this, as many of these terms were not used in Cuba at all since they were clearly rooted in Castillian Spanish.

The gamble has paid off, though, Im glad to say, as my own children recognise that sometimes I'm lost for the meaning of a certain word in Spanish and we all strive to look up the more apposite translation in the dictionary.

In 2007, however, our Christmas celebration reached its zenith. The surprise arrived after devouring the tasty 'guanajo' (turkey) that Wife had cooked that day.

Wife had arranged a special 'Desert Island Discs' with Children, Mother-in-Law and Mother-in-Law's Boyf. We were to pick three tracks that had made a special impact on us in our childhood, younger years and adulthood. Of course, because Children have not been out of nappies for that long yet their choice was limited. However, as I mentioned before the songs they chose showed me how important the union of two cultures under the banner of respect and acceptance was. Amongst the tunes Son selected was Los Prisioneros' 'Estrechez de Corazon', featured already on this blog whereas Daughter went Brazilian and chose Tribalistas' 'Passe Em Casa', also included amongst my favourite Autumn Songs.

At some point during the velada (soiree) I could not help thinking what a marvellous phenomenon multiculturalism was. Here we were: Wife, born and bred in Britain, but of British and Gibraltarian ancestry, Mother-in-Law, born and brought up in Blighty but with some Irish blood in her veins and a whole career playing flamenco music behind her (her playing the guitar whilst accompanying Wife's Father was one of the songs we enjoyed that evening). Me, Cuban-born, of Chinese, African and Spanish ascendance and Son and Daughter with all this mix running through their young bodies.

And on the stereo amongst other types of music, rhythms from Spain and Latin America reminding us that we were just tiny particles in the immensity of this global multilingual universe.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Copyright 2008

Thursday 18 December 2008

Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music, Ad Infinitum...

I blame Salva.

There I was, minding my own business a couple of Sundays ago when I decided to check the feedback on my last Song for an Autumn Sunday Morning. I was cooking at the same time and helping my children with their homework (yes, I can multitask, thanks for asking). Salva left me a link to a clip that used music by Martina Topley-Bird and suddenly my Sunday was turned upside down.

But in a positive way, mind you, so thanks, Salva. I was cooking lentil dahl, so that recipe became the theme for my regular Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music, Ad Infinitum... and as for the music, the minute Salva mentioned Topley-Bird, my mouth began to salivate.

I love Martina's music. I bought her debut album Quixotic a few years ago and it's never been out of my CD player. My favourite track so far is 'Soul Food' (this is the original album version). So, guys, fasten your seatbelts, this is going to be a bumpy and funky ride. And yes, this is another vegetarian dish, sorry my carnivorous brethren and sisters, dahl is one of the regular food staples chez moi.

Lentil Dahl


200g red lentils
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
150g runner beans
1 tin tomaotes (or 2 large, fresh tomatoes)
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon
About 1 litre water

Peel the onion. Chop it in half and then slice finely. Peel and crush the garlic. Crush the cardonom pods to remove the seeds. Discard the outer pods. Heat a thick bottomed pan on the hob until it is hot. Add the spices and cook for 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Put the spices in a pestle & mortar and crush. Heat the oil in the same pan as you heated the spices in. Add the onion and garlic and saute, covered, for 5 minutes. Add the spices and stir well. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add the lentils and about 3/4 of the water. Mix well. Cover and simmer gently for 1/2 hour. Check and stir regularly. If it looks like it's drying out, add a little more water.
Prepare the runner beans by trimming the ends and cutting off any stringy bits on the sides. Then slice diagonally into fine strips, about 5mm wide. Drain the tomatoes (if from a tin) and chop roughly. Once the lentils are softened, add the runner beans and tomatoes to the pan. Stir well and cook for a further 5 minutes.If it looks like it's drying out, add a little more water. Serve with rice or nice, crusty Tiger bread.

Now, a dish with so much heart and soul in it, deserves an equally ardent and spicy playlist. We kick off with Fatboy Slim's 'Praise You', purely because it's got one of the silliest and funniest dance routines I've ever seen in my life. This is followed by one of the most eccentric and charismatic Cuban singers ever to roam this planet, La Lupe, and her take on this old classic 'I Did it My Way'. She was too hot to handle for the Cuban government post-1959, which banned her music from commercial radio until the early 90s. My beautiful island is still present in the next track with Mongo Santamaria on congas covering 'Afro Blue'. Nick Cave's powerful lyrics give our bodies a much needed respite, but not our minds, though; the prisoner's plight is still ringing in my ears by the end of his masterpiece 'Mercy Seat'. And who can forget one of the better intros ever? That'll be The Temptations 'Papa Was a Rollin' Stone '. St Germain's one of my favourite musical outifts for when I am cooking, especially soups, dahls or any kind of broth. They fill me up completely and 'So Flute' is one of my favourite tunes by them. I love the video, too. Martina Topley-Bird follows quickly after and despite the sound not being top quality in this clip, I seriously recommend it, 'Soul Food' is contagious and catchy. We finish as we began, with Fatboy Slim and who has he brought with him this time? None other than Mr Christopher Walken, he of that famous monologue in 'Pulp Fiction'. Oh, yes, you know, the one about the watch. Mr Walken happens to be also one of my favourite actors (when he's in the mood to perform, mind) and his cameo on this video is a pleasure to watch. 'Weapon of Choice', ladies and gentlemen.

By the way, this is the music I was cooking dahl to. If you choose to eat it whilst listening to it and you end up holding your sides and in stitches, don't blame me, blame Salva. Thanks.

Copyright 20008

Monday 15 December 2008

Killer Opening Songs (Bob Dylan - Blowing in the Wind)

Open letter to Ms Germaine Greer from Killer Opening Songs:

Dear Germaine,

For a long time now I have followed your writing avidly, especially your regular column in The Guardian newspaper every other Monday. Your insight into arts and literature is fascinating and thought-provoking. Your book '
The Female Eunuch' is currently sitting on my bookshelf and it won't be long before it and I become a temporary item, wandering around the streets of London arm in arm, metaphorically speaking. I even felt sorry for you the other night when you cameoed on 'Have I Got News For You', the BBC's flagship political satire programme, because of the rough time, I believe, you were given by your (male) counterparts.

As a critic, you speak your mind and you do it, usually, in a coherent and intelligent way. That's why I was so surprised to find your recent feature on Bob Dylan so lackadaisical and ill-informed.

Please, note that I am not questioning your right to like or dislike Bob's music. What I am bringing to the fore, rather, is the futility of the arguments you used in order to back up your theory.

First one in line has to be your certainty (or belief) that Dylan 'thought that rhyme equalled reason'. I disagree on all counts. The example you give, 'Visions of Johanna' is a chronicle in musical form, rather than an attempt to pair up words that rhyme. How's this for an intro?

Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're tryin' to be so quiet?/We sit here stranded, though we're all doin' our best to deny it/And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin' you to defy it/Lights flicker from the opposite loft/In this room the heat pipes just cough/The country music station plays soft/But there's nothing, really nothing to turn off/Just Louise and her lover so entwined/And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind.

Secondly, it seems to me that your aversion to Bob's music stems rather from the fact that he kept his fans 'waiting at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969 for three hours, from 9 o'clock till midnight, before he would sing a word'. Notice the use of the possessive pronoun 'his'. You were not amongst those fans, so this is really 'animus by proxy'.

You also aver that Dylan's texts cannot be considered verse, not even doggerel. You then go on to assert that his prose makes no sense. But then you compare him to Morrissey, he of The Smiths, towards the end of your article. To me that's a contradiction. Although, I am not a The Smiths person, even I cannot fail to notice the long tradition of good story-telling that both Dylan and Morrissey draw from. How else to explain the obvious and in-your-face pessimism underpinning 'Heaven Knows I am Miserable Now'?

What she asked of me at the end of the day/Caligula would have blushed/"You've been in the house too long" she said/And I (naturally) fled. By the way, does it make any sense, Germaine?

You then compare Dylan to that stalwart of the Romantic period, William Blake. Just to be on the safe side, Ms Greer, Blake's works were at first considered to be the works of a madman. It was only years after he died that his poetry and painting acquired the high status they rightly deserved. Dylan, too, suffered misunderstanding when he began his career on account of his early compositions. Not everyone 'got' him. I have no idea why you had to dig out Blake's 'The Sick Rose' from his 'Songs of Innocence and Experience' to put one over the American troubadour. Your analysis of the fragment quoted is flawless, but it adds nothing new to your argument because one is verse and the other one is a song (Visions of Johanna). As to the difference between lyrics and words, which seems to me to be you main gripe, the online dictionary I normally default to, defines a lyric as having the form and musical quality of a song, and esp. the character of a songlike outpouring of the poet's own thoughts and feelings, as distinguished from epic and dramatic poetry. So, song, first, lyric after. And therein lies the importance of both poet and troubadour. Their works are usually short, romantic (broadly speaking) and, if possible, humorous. Pope knew it, so did Shakespeare. Facetiousness is present throughout Dylan's oeuvre, as well as in other modern poets/singer-songwriters' work. Listen to Ursula Rucker and you will hear sarcasm mixed with pain. This is not poetry/music for the faint-hearted. Listen to Dylan's 'It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)' and the line 'But even the president of the United States/Sometimes must have/To stand naked' provokes both mirth and pensiveness.

Further on in your feature you attempt to explain the differences between a singer-songwriter and a poet's creative process by pointing out how the former 'transforms his words in the way he writes the music and the way he sings his song' whereas the latter encapsulates this whole process in silence. What a lot of balderdash! To partially quote you, Ms Greer, 'fustian of this ilk' is what makes my blood boil. Poets also carry a musical voice inside. They might not use it in the same way a singer-songwriter does, but, believe you me, their poems have an innate musicality.

Lastly, these are your very own words in regards to the difference between lyrics and words of a song: 'The other aspect of a lyric is its mystery. A lyric does not explain itself, nor does it tell a story, except by implication(...)When Morrissey sings a Morrissey song, he knows exactly what colour every part of every word is meant to be(...)the music catapults the repetition towards us like a javelin. The music does what the words alone cannot do. To present the words without the music is to emasculate them.


You can still present the words without the music sometimes and they would still be considered lyrics. Two examples come to mind and both of them include repetition as a means to provoke a reaction in the listener. One is '
The Mercy Seat' by Nick Cave which includes the lines: 'They are sick breath at my hind/They are sick breath at my hind/They are sick breath at my hind/They are sick breath gathering at my hind' (notice that 'gathering' in the last line, a clever, little device from Nick, playing a mind game on the listener). The other example is Maya Angelou's anthemic poem 'Still I Rise' which contains the following verses: 'You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies/You may trod me in the very dirt/But still, like dust, I'll rise(...)Just like moons and like suns/With the certainty of tides/Just like hopes springing high/Still I'll rise.

As for Bob Dylan, the American poet, singer-songwriter who is visiting the Killer Opening Songs lounge this week, I think it would be more fitting to allow his most powerful and inspiring K.O.S. ever to do the talk for him. And believe me, Germaine, there're no hard feelings from me to you whatsoever. Enjoy.

For earlier editions of Killer Opening Songs click on any of the links below

Killer Opening Songs (D'Angelo's Brown Sugar)
Killer Opening Songs (Sinéad O'Connor's 'Fire on Babylon')
Killer Opening Songs (Queen's Mustapha)
Killer Opening Songs (Caetano Veloso-Haiti)
Killer Opening Songs (David Bowie - Unwashed and S...
Killer Opening Songs (Massive Attack - Safe From H...
Killer Opening Songs (Bob Brozman)
Killer Opening Songs (Vanessa da Mata - Vermelho)
Killer Opening Songs (The Beatles-Help!)
Killer Opening Songs (Souad Massi-Raoui)
Killer Opening Songs (Habib Koité - Batoumambé)
Killer Opening Songs (Mary Black - No Frontiers)
Killer Opening Songs (Chico Buarque & Milton Nasci...
Killer Opening Songs (David Gilmour - Shine On You...
Killer Opening Songs (Ernesto Lecuona - 'La Compar...
Killer Opening Songs (Chopin 'Fantaisie-Impromptu ...
Killer Opening Songs (He Loves Me by Jill Scott)
Killer Opening Songs (Tracy Chapman - Talkin' 'bout A Revolution)
Killer Opening Songs (Patti Smith - Gloria)
Killer Opening Song (Silvio Rodriguez - Canción del Elegido)
Killer Opening Songs (Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit)
Killer Opening Songs (Fela Kuti and Jethro Tull - Jam Session)

Copyright 2008

Sunday 14 December 2008

Thursday 11 December 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Cantata)

'The Battle to Save the Semicolon'
Part of the current exhibition at the National Gallery
1st Oct 2008 - 1st Feb 2009
The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square
For more information on this exhibition click here.
Copyright 2008

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Killer Opening Songs (Fela Kuti and Jethro Tull - Jam Session)

This week Killer Opening Songs is not bringing you an introductory track, but rather, as part of our mini-series within a series of K.O.S. that became trailblazers in their own right, Your Weekly Column will be profiling the work of two of the most prolific musicians ever: Scottish-born Ian Anderson and Nigerian firebrand Fela Kuti.

Each artist developed his own revolutionary style, Anderson as leader of Jethro Tull, Fela as the backbone of Afrobeat, the rhythm he pioneered in the 70s with his band Africa '70. The Tull became one of the linchpins of the so-called prog-rock movement in the 60s and 70s despite the fact that their early recordings had a strong blues influence. Fela, meanwhile, brought his political activism to his music and, on returning to his homeland from LA in 1969, founded the Kalakuta Republic in Nigeria, turning it into a commune with a recording studio and home for those connected with the band.

The clip below shows these two artists' incredible musicianship. I hope you enjoy it. Killer Opening Songs certainly did.

Copyright 2008

Sunday 7 December 2008

Song for a Winter Sunday Morning

- No.

Act 1, Scene 1. London. Winter. Indoors. A fire is lit and two figures are stooping over it whilst rubbing their hands.

Me: No.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: But, why?
Me: Oh, I don't know, it's... it's... it's beyond my control.
Juan Antonio Pesetas (getting exasperated): Beyond your control? Who are you? Bloody John Malkovich playing Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons, rejecting Michelle Pfeiffer?
Me: No, I mean it, it really is beyond my control. You see, I expected to find real winter in London when I arrived in the city eleven years ago. The kind they tell you about in fairy tales but the snow rarely materialises. And that's why I've always felt that winter in this city is fake. It gets cold, surely, very cold, but no snow.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: But you got it wrong, my friend.
Me: Don't call me your friend.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: I didn't call you 'your friend'. I called you 'my friend'.
Me: Yes, that's what I meant, 'my friend'. You're my alter ego.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: The dandy one.
Me: Yes, the dandy one.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Because in the absence of real taste you have to appeal to a man who knows how to dress properly.
Me: Hmmm...
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Don't 'hmmm' me. You know I am telling the truth and that's why you're reluctant to begin a new section of songs for winter Sunday mornings.
Me: No... I... it's hard to explain... I still don't believe in winter.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: That's not the point, is it? The point is, it has nothing to do with you believing in winter or not, it is to do with us, your alter egos, having some independence.
Me: Who's ever heard of alter egos being independent from the matrix?
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Have you seen 'The Matrix'?
Me: Yes, why?
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Because... ahhh, nothing... So, you are not going to budge, are you?
Me: I have no reason to.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: You have no reason to? How about the overwhelming response you had to your 'Song for an Autumn Sunday Morning' section?
Me: That was different. Autumn is different. It's full of delicate auburn hues, nostalgic sunsets and a sense of complete, melancholic abandon.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: And winter, on the other hand, carries its grey, white and blue very well. It's a far more elegant season. It lays bare landscapes' anatomies. It unearthes gardens' bones and through its microscopic eye we are able to see the various components that make up our surroundings without the distraction of those terribly garish summer colours.
Me: I take it that you're not a summer person.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: You know that very well, don't you? At the end of the day I inhabit your brain. By the way it's getting a bit crammed in these days up there, what with Autumn Songs, Song for an Autumn Sunday Morning, Road Songs and Food/Music arguing over space I can barely stand upright now.
Me: Sorry about that.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Oh, yes, and Living in a Bilingual World was complaining the other day about inappropriate working conditions. The word 'trade union' was muttered in Spanish, French and German.
Me: Thanks for the tip.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: You're welcome. Back to winter. Yes, or not?
Me: OK, what have you got for me, then?
Juan Antonio Pesetas (growing visibly excited): Oh, boy, you're going to love this. Songswise, I've got 'El Cóndor Pasa', 'Hallelujah', 'Angie', 'The Secret Life of Plants', the list goes on.
Me: And artists?
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Artists? The lot. I. Have. Got. The. Lot. From Beny Moré to Billie Holiday, Rufus Wainwright, Cesária Évora, Simon and Garfunkel, Chambao, Martine Girault.
Me: Well, it seems to me that you have everything pretty tied up.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Yes, none of your 'it's beyond my control' malarkey. And what's more, Song for an Autumn Sunday Morning did a little compilation for us, readers and fellow bloggers, of all the tracks it played recently, week in, week out. Scroll down to the bottom of this post and relive again those beautiful, orange-tinted mornings. The order has been altered, though. It's more like a random playlist.
Me: Well, that's it, then. (looking at YOU out of the computer screen) From today until the spring every Sunday morning you, my dear reader and/or fellow blogger, are invited to come in, sit down in my little cyber-house, kick your shoes off and enjoy watching a clip especially selected to withstand these cold winter mornings (only if you live in the northern hemisphere, mind). In the meantime I will be busy in my cyber-kitchen making us both a hot cuppa, coffee for me, though. I am not a tea person. And all thanks to one of my alter egos, Juan Antonio Pesetas. Thanks, Juan.

Silence. Juan Antonio Pesetas stares at me intently.

Me: What's the matter?
Juan Antonio Pesetas: There's something else...
Me: Yes?
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Have you made a decision yet?
Me: About what?
Juan Antonio Pesetas: About... you know... what you've been working on for a very long time...
Me: Ahhh! I almost forgot! No, I'm sorry, Juan, it's been hectic these days.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Yes, but you started it, seventeen years ago.
Me: I know, I know, Juan, and I am also aware that I had a stab at it about two years ago and I managed to squeeze a few ideas out of it.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: How many pages so far?
Me: Forty-seven at the last count.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Forty-seven? Forty-seven pages in seventeen years?
Me: Well, you know that I did not start it in Cuba.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Yes, but you conceived it there! Did you not?
Me: Juan, I don't need your aggro now, mate. It'll get done when it'll get done.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Really?
Me: Don't look at me like that. It'll get done.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: That's not what I would like to hear. I would like to hear the phrase 'it will be done'.
Me: OK, it will be done.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Fine, can you crouch down now, please? I need to go back in.
Me: Be careful.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Yes, I don't need reminding, though. The other day I almost fell on top of Road Songs' head.
Me: Can you give it a message from me, please? Tell it that I am preparing a one-off post to be uploaded very soon. It's a type of hootenany.
Juan Antonio Pesetas: Consider it done. Cheerio.
Me: Cheerio, Juan. Chao.
'El Cóndor Pasa' - Performed by Drip Trio

'Song for an Autumn Sunday Morning' Compilation

Image by photographer Cornell Capa, from Life Magazine Archive.

Copyright 2008

Thursday 4 December 2008

Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music, Ad Infinitum...

This is a little nod to my vegetarian readers and fellow bloggers. Thanks to Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi, the chef/patron of Ottolenghi in London. This recipe was first published in The Guardian's Weekend supplement.
Serves four to six.
Chickpea, tomato and bread soup

1 large onion, sliced
1 medium fennel, sliced
About 120ml olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled, cut along the centre and sliced3 sticks celery, sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
250ml white wine
1 tin Italian plum tomatoes
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp picked fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp caster sugar
2 bay leaves
1 litre vegetable stock
Salt and black pepper
160g stale sour dough bread (crust removed)
400g cooked chickpeas
4 tbsp basil pesto
1 handful fresh basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Put the onion and fennel in a big pot, add three tablespoons of oil and sauté on medium heat for four minutes. Add the carrot and celery, and cook for four minutes, just to soften the vegetables, stirring occasionally. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for a minute. Add the wine and let it bubble away for a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and their juices, herbs, sugar, bay, stock and season. Bring to a boil, then leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes.

While you wait, break the bread into rough chunks with your hands, toss with two tablespoons of oil and some salt, scatter in a roasting tray and bake for 10 minutes, until dry. Remove from the oven and set aside.

About 10 minutes before you want to serve, put the chickpeas in a bowl and crush them a little with a potato masher or the end of a rolling pin - you want quite a rough texture, with some chickpeas left whole and others completely mashed. Add the chickpeas to the soup and leave to simmer for five minutes. Finally, stir in the toasted bread, and cook for another five minutes.

Taste the soup, and add salt and pepper liberally. Pour the hot soup into shallow soup bowls, place a spoonful of pesto in the centre, drizzle with plenty of olive oil and finish with a generous scattering of freshly shredded basil.
Playlist to go with this dish
Amel Larrieux - Get Up
Esbjörn Svensson Trio - When God Created The Coffeebreak
Emiliana Torrini - Sunny Road
Mercan Dede - Istanbul
Talking Heads - Slippery People
Lhasa De Sela - Who By Fire

Copyright 2008

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Killer Opening Songs (Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit)

In 1991 Seattle conquered the world.

As statements go, they don't get more opinionated and boisterous than the one above. But Killer Opening Songs has a big mouth. Oh yes! And K.O.S. will demonstrate immediately why the caption decorating the top of this post is not just a display of cheap bravado.

By the time Nirvana broke into the pop charts with their sophomore album, 'Nevermind', the musical scene had totally changed. Glam metal was in freefall with bands like Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe almost collecting their pensions whereas rap was becoming comercially successful with the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul releasing ground-breaking records. This was also the year when Freddie Mercury, Queen's erstwhile singer, died of AIDS, prompting 'Bohemian Rhapsody' to top the charts once again sixteen years after its first release. It was this musical vacuum that grunge stepped into, turning Seattle into the hotbed of alternative rock'n'roll. And the song responsible for that? 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'.

However, it would be totally irresponsible and unfair to claim that Nirvana invented grunge. This particular musical style had been doing the rounds since the mid 80s in the USA, a spin-off of hardcore punk and heavy metal. What happpened in the early 90s was that grunge stripped down its image and bared its teeth. Out went the big perms from the eighties, in came shorter hair, checked shirts and baggy trousers. Instead of the usual 30-second guitar solo so typical of bands like Poison and Whitesnake, bands like Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains went for a sludgier and more distortioned guitar sound. The lyrics got angrier and so did the feelings expressed by what then began to be known as 'Generation X'.

On the other hand, though, it would not be too far-fetched for K.O.S. to claim that 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' opened the floodgates of the grunge movement and brought it into the mainstream. DGC Records was hoping to shift a maximum 250 000 units of 'Nevermind'. In the event, the album was selling 400 000 copies a week in the US by Christmas 1991.

The song, as such, has become an anthem for young people around the world who feel disenfranchised, alienated and confined. From the iconic intro, the main feature why Killer Opening Songs has always regarded it so highly, to the guitar solo, which, in a blatant break from convention replicated the lyrics verbatim, only instrumentally, this is the track that encapsulated the movement's ethos.

'Smells Like Teen Spirit' has been covered by many artists over the years, Tori Amos and Patti Smith are but two of them. Without wanting to come across too snobbish, K.O.S. has not been always happy with the outcome. This is an angry song by and for an angry generation and the stripped down, acoustic versions that abound sap the energy that is so ubiquitous in the original piece. Only Kelis, in K.O.S.' humble opinion did it justice a few years ago when she played the Glastonbury Festival.

So, another week, another Killer Opening Song. Enjoy.

Copyright 2008


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