Sunday 26 July 2009

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Road Songs (Special Edition)

A couple of years ago I started a section on this blog called 'Road Songs' (I hope my Linkwithin gadget throws up a few samples). It was primarily based on my penchant for listening to music whilst driving and it was also a way of celebrating the positive outcome of my practical driving test in summer 2007 (after four attempts, fifth time lucky!). Although that forum came to an end a year later I always intended to have special editions of it running at some point. And this is the right time for 'Road Songs' to make a comeback.

Recently I undertook a journey to High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and on the way there I was asked by one of my companions whether I liked driving and why. I answered yes, but since I was focusing on the road and on the route at the time, I did not delve into the matter in depth.

So, why do I like driving and why, in my case, has being behind the wheel got such a strong relation with harmonies and arpeggios?

The first reason is that to me driving conjures up bewitching images of gears, wheels and engines. The combination of each element slotting into one another, rubbing against each other, pushing and pulling here and there is fascinating. One of my favourite moments is when I switch the engine on and slowly reverse my car onto the road, change to first gear and then smoothly into second. When I do this without making the car jerk, a little light inside me turns itself on and I smile appreciatively.

And it is the same with music. I love melodies that have the same hypnotic effects, where one instrument (usually the bass/bass guitar/double bass) serves as the platform upon which layers and layers of harmonies are added on. Just like my first clip tonight. It is the famous song by 'The Doors', 'Roadhouse Blues' and with due respect to Jim, Eddie has a good stab at it and pulls it off nicely. Sit back for a second and enjoy the effortless transition from instrument to instrument. Magical indeed.

When I started driving they always told me to learn to listen to the engine. And learn I did. As important as knowing your road signs. And believe me, it is a sweet moment when your motor is roaring to the sound you've come to recognise. It is the same with certain songs like this particular track by K-OS. Since I came across it on Radio Paradise, I can't stop playing it. It reminds me of that polished, regular and reassuring sound coming out of my car's engine. It's the sign that says everything's OK, baby, we're rocking.

Am I a happy man when I drive? You bet. Sometimes, as it happened when I went to Cuba last February, you're behind the wheel on a motorway that stretches for miles on end and suddenly you have a view too beautiful to believe: overcast sky on one side of the road, whilst a strong sun burns the hardest stones into submission on the other side. And your eyes are the only camera available. It's one of those moments when you feel lucky and happy to be alive and to bear witness to the wonders of nature, whilst behind the wheel. That's why my third clip is a mix of song and dance. 'A Day at the Races' might have featured the legendary Marx brothers, but it is this dance sequence which, in my humble opinion, upstages everyone else in the film. I watched the movie recently on TCM and I remember thinking: 'Why, that's how I feel when I drive'. Especially in the countryside. Enjoy.

When I drive I am careful with my speed. That is why there is a special joy that overcomes me when I see the needle indicating 20 miles per hour, or 30, or 40, and the revs still reading number 2 or just above it. The car moves steadily and confidently along devouring miles of asphalt. Same with music, I like songs that start with the equivalent of a first gear, then change swiftly into second and third and by the time they hit the analogous motorway it's pandemonium. This particular track by Metallica reminds me of a similar driving scenario. I understand that the name Metallica might not go down very well with some fellow bloggers, readers and followers, but I was a devotee of this American band in my teens and although I do not listen to them anymore as I used to, I still consider their music to be one of the most creative pieces of work ever. That's why I chose what to me is a very middle-of-the-road version of one of their classics. The way the tempo in their melodies fluctuates and swings is incomparable. And as it happened on that trip to High Wycombe, where I had to drive on the M25, once those two needles remain constant, the speed one marking 50-60 miles per hour and the revs one pointing at a number 2 or 3, you know you're in business. In the clip below, from 4 minutes 25 seconds onwards, what you get is that same pandemonium to which I referred earlier. And obviously the inclusion of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra adds drama and gravitas to a song about death.

Ever driven in the rain? Ever driven in the rain up a hill? Ever driven in the rain up a hill and come to a roundabout with four exits and three other cars coming down the three other lanes signalling right, like you? If you have, or if you ever find yourself in that situation, look at the windshield wipers, yours and the others', dancing from side to side; watch the indicators, winking intermittently; and enjoy that little moment, when rather than applying the handbrake, you bring both clutch and gas pedal up together to keep the car still. Inertia. Biting point. Same as with these dexterous dancers. Watch them as the arms go up together at the same time and how the en pointe is the equivalent of that clutch and gas pedal keeping the vehicle inert. In the same way indicators rarely blink harmoniously, the fact is that on a roundabout where four cars come down four different lanes you will sometimes get indicators flickering in unison, pretty much like this corps du ballet. And the result is as enchanting as listening to Tchaikovsky's score. Wipers swish-swashing on the windshield, indicators winking complicitly at each other, clutch and gas pedals united in a mechanical embrace, feet on point, hands outstretched, music approaching an unrestrained crescendo. This is what I call driving.

And last but not least a subject that no one should ignore: the perils of driving. About a year ago I had a near-miss and that taught me a lesson: never take anything for granted on the road. It is the same mesage that you find in some songs, for instance this little gem by the Spanish band Mecano, a throwback to the good old 80s (and if anyone utters the words '80s' and 'fashion' together, I will send the boys around to his/her house, De Niro-style in 'The Untouchables'. You know, 80s, guys and girls: soulder-pads, mullets, New Romantics, black eyeliner, blazers). The song's name 'Una Rosa es Una Rosa' refers to the dangers to which we are exposed when we plunge into certain relationships headfirst. As you all well know, a rose has thorns. Magnificent.

This is my last column until September when I will return from my well-deserved holiday break. I will still be around in the next couple of weeks but want to concentrate on material for the autumn and winter, so do expect me to visit your blogs until such time when I will disappear because I will be vacationing with my family, possibly in northern Spain, and hopefully behind the wheel. The 'Song for a Summer Sunday Morning' will continue unless blogger decides to play up in the same way it has done these last two weeks gone when my pre-scheduled posts did not come out when I expected them to. There won't be any comments moderator this time because since I don't post about politics or sex (usually), I don't attract spammers or trolls and we're all grown-ups really and I trust you all, above all, I trust you. Besides, I love the interaction there is between my fellow bloggers, readers and followers. When I go to other blogs and I read a comment along the lines of: 'I found you through the Cuban In London blog and I love yours', it fills my heart up with joy. So, let's keep that community spirit up because there's enough hate in the world as it happens. Many thanks for reading my blog and commenting on my posts and when you next go out driving remember to 'Keep your eyes on the road/Your hands upon the wheel/Keep your eyes on the road/Your hands upon the wheel/Yeah, we're going to the roadhouse/Gonna have a real good-time.' Have a happy summer.

Copyright 2009

Next Post: 'Song for a Summer Sunday Morning' to be published on Sunday 19th July at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 12 July 2009

Song for a Summer Sunday Morning (Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi)

And at 5:17, the musician becomes a dancer for a split second. Ahhh, the subtlety of it. I have no idea why I don't post more Italian music, but I can assure that that situation is due to change very soon. Many thanks. I hope you are enjoying your Sunday morning.

Next Post: 'Road Songs (Special Edition)' to be published on Tuesday 14th July at 11:59pm (GMT)

Thursday 9 July 2009

Bach in Havana (Review)

We will never know if Bach would have picked up a conga drum had he been around nowadays, but we can be pretty certain that given his penchant for experimentation, the famous German composer would probably have dabbled in a little bit of Latin fusion. And just to prove this point Tiempo Libre has released an excellent record where they have mixed Bach's timeless tunes with a powerhouse Cuban sound.

What at first might look like an odd pairing soon becomes a seductive offer from a band that has been twice nominated for the Grammy. 'Bach in Havana' is an electrifying 11-track album that travels the musical diapason of that Caribbean island.

'Tu Conga Bach', the first song of the record and based on the Fugue for C Minor, starts with the brass section ushering in an array of instruments such as: percussion, bass, drums and cowbells. Maybe if Scheibe had heard this he would never have famously accused Bach of removing the beauty of harmony.

The Sonata in D Minor is reworked as a tasty cha-cha-cha. Then, on the third track, Air on a G String, the first guest appears and he is none other than Mr Paquito D'Rivera, saxophonist par excellence. He provides an exquisite solo sax that would not have been out of place in 18th century Germany.

The overall production and arrangements are exquisite and the group clearly has a great deal of appreciation for Johann's music. 'Olas de Yemaya' (Yemaya's Waves), based on the Prelude in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier book, sounds like a mournful lament blending the bata drums with the piano.

Tiempo Libre's latest offering represents not just the new generation in Cuban music: risk-taking, irreverent and experimental, but also they symbolise the endurance of classical music throughout the centuries and the ways in which it can be reinterpreted for contemporary audiences.

Copyright 2009

Next Post: 'Song for a Summer Sunday Morning' to be published on Sunday 12th July at 10am (GMT)

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Knives and Forks by Gabby Hyman (Review)

It's incredible. The intensity... I think yeah, development has pushed us away from other people. You know, a lot of times people are rude because they want, like, immediate access or immediate information. You know some things in life can't be immediate, sometimes you gotta wait and let things happen

Street Guru (Part One)

By Nitin Sawhney

What a lucky bugger I am. And pardon my French, please. But, it's true, I am a lucky little bugger. As a blogger I have the opportunity to indulge in my very own nihilistic literary excesses, enjoy unbridled intellectual decadence and share my favourite topics with faceless souls in what I can only call a 'mènage à plus'. And to top it all I get sent books and music to review. Nice work if you can get it.

Gabby Hyman's 'Knives and Forks' is the second book written by a fellow blogger that I will be discussing on this forum. And to use baseball parlance it is two for two so far for me. That two refers to the quality of the writing, by the way. Last year, my compatriot El Yoyo was kind enough to let me pen a few words about his first novel. Now it's the time for the seasoned Dr Bob.

Gabby is a chronicler, as opposed to a story-teller. And to me there is a difference. A story-teller will distort his/her narrative from town to town, with no malice involved, mind, but the elephant that was grey and old in one village, will have become a young, sturdy fellow in the next one. A chronicler, on the other hand, is someone who will focus on the person riding the elephant instead, delving into her/his mundane life, right down to the colour of the mug from where they drink their tea.

'Knives and Forks' is a collection of eight short stories about the characters we come across in our daily lives and yet never give them a second look. Have you ever sat on the tube across a man with a side parting who is reading 'About a Boy'? Have you ever wondered what thoughts are roaming his mind, what little vices populate his life, what he gets up to on weekends?

This is the world Gabby presents to us. Meet Robert, a recovering food addict who moves out of New York after bottoming out in the big city. In his new digs he is introduced to a group of women who all have similar eating disorders. After initial distrust, he is finally welcomed to their group, only for fate to deal an unexpected card to him.

Or how about Carol and Sandy? Brought closer together by the death of Sandy's son, Steve, from Aids? 'Every faggot needs a lady pal, it's like having a safety on the trigger', Steve confesses to his longtime friend Carol one night. But even this reassurance cannot save him from his untimely death.

Or maybe it's Hanamoto's involuntary racism towards his neighbour, red-headed, language teacher, June Bishop, in contemporary Japan. Partnered up with Ichiro, a 'Half' - a Korean with a Japanese mother - June and her boyfriend are soon resented by the locals.

All throughout this fantastic collection Gabby applies a metaphorical microscope to human behaviour. His main strength is delivering the restlessness of otherwise ordinary lives with humour and wit. For instance, in 'Oh Burning Power of the Yes' he provides one of the better opening paragraphs I have read in a long time: 'This is inspiration if I ever heard it. I'm going out with this girl - okay, okay, woman - though she's a young 25 and the damn English language doesn't exactly have to rise and give her a seat. But she's a virgin, and I didn't know they stayed virgins past 25 and I have the crazy jones for her, so she goes up and down and hot and cold. Veronica Locke'. Some writers spend a lifetime trying to come up with a sentence half as good as that passage.

Hyman's stories carry all the baggage and dust of present and past generations in the same way a hobo carries his life in his rucksack. Each story has a spark in its eye and a wink in its soul. Each tale calls to that internal music inside us which chimes with the recognition of similar quirks in his characters.

Above all, Gabby's eight sketches remind us that in this mad, rushed world in which we live, where immediacy is everything, we would do well sometimes to pause and look around and maybe, who knows, ask the bloke with the side parting sitting across from us on the tube what he thinks about his book.

Copyright 2009

Next Post: 'Bach in Havana' to be published on 9th July at 11:59pm (GMT)

Sunday 5 July 2009

Thursday 2 July 2009

Living in a Bilingual World (The One About How Colon, Hyphen and Closed Bracket You Make Me Feel)

Imagine the following conversation:

Person 1: Guess what? I got the job!
Person 2: Congratulations! You must be so colon, hyphen and capital D right now!
Person 1: Yes, and to think that until recently I was really colon, hyhen, open bracket.
Person 2: Never mind, at least the bad times are over.

Did you get it? No? OK, welcome to the wonderful world of the emoticon.

With the advent of the internet and its progeny: Twittter, Facebook, Blogger, MySpace (anyone remember it anymore?) and Youtube, our communication, especially the written one, has undergone a mini-Renaissance. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the use of punctuation marks to express emotions. That is, unless we have an army of emoticons to do the work for us.

Some years ago I wrote - what I thought it was at the time - an innocent e-mail to a group of friends scattered across three continents. The tone of my e-missive was jovial, tongue in cheek and light-hearted. That's why I was very surprised when two of my 'amigos' reacted angrily at my correspondence. I went back to my earlier message and saw nothing wrong with the language used. Then, on closer inspection, I detected signs here and there of words and phrases that could have been misinterpreted. I had fallen into the subjective cyber-trap.

When we speak, our voices, mannerisms and eyes chip in together to create a picture as veritable about us and the message we convey as it can possibly be. When we write that visual image is removed completely; we are at the mercy of our reader's subjective mind and his/her interpretations of our message.

Hence the emoticons. And the punctuations marks, like the ubiquitous exclamation mark. I do it so often, in fact, I overdo it, don't I?!!!

Sometimes, if I am visiting another blog and I read a poem that moves me, or I see a photo or painting I like, I go dodo on exclamation marks, as if by increasing their number I am letting my fellow blogger know how much I love her/his post. If on the other hand I leave a comment that might be (mis)construed as criticism I am quick to attach a :-), or :-D to it, so that no umbrage is taken. Occasionally, I import an emoticon from my very own bank (yes, I am still on credit at that one and no, there's no crunch as far as I know :-D).

However this linguistic phenomenon of using punctuation signs and symbols to complement our written speech is not new. Famously Victor Hugo once sent a telegram to his publisher to find out how his new book was doing. His note read succinctly: '?', to which his publisher replied: '!'. Oh, Twitter, shame on you! 140 characters? You, Misérable!

The main reason why I think that most of us adopt this trend nowadays is that we are, I would like to believe, sensitive readers/bloggers and therefore we take extra precautions when it comes to communicating by e-mail, assessing someone's website or leaving a comment on another blogger's cyber-house. But just as the appropriate use of punctuation marks in the context explained above can be well received, abuse of them can provoke the opposite reaction. Enough to make Jean Valjean want to go back to jail :-).

Copyright 2009

Next Post: 'Song for a Sunday Summer Sunday', to be published on Sunday 5th July at 10am (GMT)


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