Saturday 29 April 2017

London Cycle Diaries: Truman's Ales and Stouts

London Cycle Diaries is both a cycle-based and cycle-orientated series aimed at "discovering" hidden spots in London from the saddle of my Raleigh.

Next Post: "Living in a Multilingual World", to be published on Wednesday 3rd May at 6pm (GMT)

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Cubafonía by Daymé Arocena

Daymé Arocena’s outstanding second album, Cubafonía, can be summed up in two words: maturity and intensity. The former can be evidenced in her approach to song-writing and arranging. It is bold and with a take-no-prisoners attitude. Opener Eleggua combines multi-layered vocals with looped bass and horns. This is followed by a lively party number, La Rumba Soy Yo. Scatting her way through parts of the song, Daymé reminds the listener that she is a pretty good jazz singer in her own right.

The intensity is found throughout the record, mainly in the first six tracks.  Lo Que Fue builds up slowly, starting with Daymé’s signature low rasp and ending with a Cuban descarga. Maybe Tomorrow (sung in English) deals with hope. Infectious Negra Caridad is a throwback to Cuba’s 1940s and 50s big band golden era. That a 24-year-old can hold her own belting tunes that the great late Celia Cruz took years to master, speaks volumes about Arocena’s standing in the Cuban musical scene at the moment.

The largest island of the Caribbean has always been a hotbed of creativity. However, for the last twenty-odd years the sounds coming out of my country of birth are more boundary-breaking and genre-defying than ever. Daymé joins Roberto Fonseca, Yusa, Danay Suárez and Telmary in the search for an identity which, although still recognisably Cuban, is not afraid to draw from other influences. A good example of this is Cómo, a ballad that would not be out of place in a record by Jill Scott. Performed confidently in both English and Spanish, the track shows off Arocena’s softer and more reflective side.

Special mention to Ángel, a minimalist composition (pared back percussion and piano) in which Daymé demonstrates a total vocal control. And also to the closer, Valentine (in which the chanteuse goes from English to French, to Spanish), a cute changüi number.

Cubafonía is a must-have for any jazz/Latin music aficionado. On the strength of this outing, I can only see a brighter future for Daymé Arocena.

© 2017

Next Post: “One-Minute Cycle Diaries”, to be published on Saturday 29th April at 6pm (GMT)

Saturday 22 April 2017

Thoughts in Progress

No sooner had the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced that there would be a general election on June 8th than the political obituary of the Labour Party was quickly drafted up. Pallbearers were contacted (perhaps Blair and Campbell would do the honours?). Flower shops were e-mailed. What size should the wreath be? And just what song or anthem would be appropriate to play as the coffin was being lowered into the ground?

Here we go again

For the third year in a row the British electorate goes to the polls. Fourth, if you live north of the border. Remember the Scottish referendum in 2014? Bet you had already forgotten about that one. Well, Nicole Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party leader, she is calling for another one. If that sentence does not provoke mental – as well as physical, but mainly mental – fatigue in you, then, congratulations! You have finally succeeded in transitioning into a robot. Your future is secured. It is us, mere mortals, who have reason to worry.

And yet, and yet, and yet…

Although Labour lags well behind the Conservatives in the polls (remember those? They were supposed to be very accurate, until they got Brexit and Trump wrong), May and co. have not had an easy ride. Had you asked me back in July last year if Jeremy Corbyn had any chances of getting Labour’s fortunes back on track, I would had said no. Just like that, a rotund no. After Cameron’s cowardly exit (he and Osborne got us into this Brexit mess and rather than face the music, they both abandoned the ship while it was sinking), May was seen as a safe pair of hands. Even I cast my usual cynicism aside and read Labour’s last rites quietly as soon as Thatcher 2.0 moved into Downing Street. Despite the Brexit-related imbroglio in which Mrs May found herself, she began her premiership with a firm hand.

But the honeymoon is over and Theresa knows it. She is the prime minister under whose guard the Chancellor of the Exchequer broke a Tory election pledge on national insurance. She U-turned on that decision. She is the cheerleader for the return of grammar schools. Even her own MPs are against the idea. There has not been much talk of grammar schools recently. She is the leader who went to Washington to meet the new incumbent in the White House. To say that she did not make much of an impression on him or anyone else worldwide would be the understatement of the century. Here is someone who probably thought that by not giving away much about herself she would be able to breeze through the next four years until the general election of 2020. Yet, keeping one’s privacy (good) does not equate to being boring (bad). Theresa May is boring and she has been shown up by someone who has problems creating punchlines for his own jokes. Jeremy Corbyn looks and sounds like a member of the public watching a stand-up show who has suddenly been asked to come on the stage to finish the act of the top comedian on the bill because she or he has been taken ill. Standing in the spotlight and faced with a hundred expectant faces, Mr Corbyn tries out his best jokes, only to see them falling flat on their faces, stepped on and kicked away by a demanding audience.

And yet, only two weeks ago, before May made her unexpected announcement, the Labour party put out a set of policies that were electorate-friendly enough. Not too scary, not too loony-left-sounding, just sensible enough that people could see Jeremy Corbyn in a different light, with a new pair of glasses, if you like.

Mrs May has been dealt a terrible hand with Brexit. She is the Remain-voting politician who has to negotiate a hard Brexit with the EU. In addition to that, salaries have stagnated and job prospects look grim. From a safe pair of hands ten months ago, she has turned into the grim reaper. Burying recovery, real or potential.

Enough has happened in the last year to convince me that the political landscape has grown more unpredictable per day. This works in Corbyn’s favour. I would probably advise him to ditch the “socialist” tag and concentrate on a progressive agenda. It is also the turn for Corbyn’s merry band of followers to stand up and be counted. The Tories are not interested in anyone else but themselves. Their motivation is not just Brexit, but the total annihilation of the Labour party. Victory on 8th June would also send a powerful message to those pesky Scots with their demand for a second referendum. Faced with these grim prospects, Labour supporters have nothing to lose. Go for broke, then. Canvass on every street, knock on every door. Remember, you have nothing to lose.

I doubt Jeremy Corbyn will be our next prime minister. That would be taking unpredictability to a whole different level. However, good results in the general election for Labour will make a dent on the Conservative armour. A coalition would be a realistic target and one that Jeremy should pursue. Whatever the outcome, I do not think that the pallbearers will be used just yet.

© 2017

Next Post: “Cubafonia”, to be published on Wednesday 26th April at 6pm (GMT)


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