Category Archives: Writing

Viva la Amateur!

In Praise of Amateurism

by Lochie Bradfield
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‘You are the music, while the music lasts’ –  T.S. Eliot

The first ever sound recording was made on April 9th, 1860 by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville on his ‘phonautograph’ – a device that scratched sound waves onto a sheet of paper blackened by the smoke of an oil lamp. Roughly ten seconds in length, the recording is of an unidentified woman singing “Au clair de la lune, Pierrot répondit” – a section from a popular French folksong.

This moment marked a turning point in history, the effects and consequences of which are effectively impossible to measure. This humble sound recording led to a series of miraculous discoveries and wonderful inventions, from the phonograph to the radio, cassettes, CDs, personal headphones, walkmans, MP3s and iPods – in the process creating a very different relationship for how humanity relates to, and experiences music.

Prior to recording mediums, music was something we actively did – families had pianos in their homes, people sang at religious ceremonies or while working in the fields, audiences attended performances in major cities or were perhaps lucky enough to see travelling bands touring through regional areas. Walter Murch wrote, ‘Music was the main poetic metaphor for that which could not be preserved.’

In short, music was ephemeral – it was there while it was being played and then it was gone. All that was left was a memory – coloured by all kinds of external and subjective factors – what your day had been like, who you were with, how much you had paid for the experience, what the weather was like.

At this time in history there was no clear distinction between amateur and professional musicians – the cult of celebrity and music as commodity did not yet exist. Of course there were great composers and instrumentalists of the time, but access to these greats came either through sheet music, which you yourself had to play, or through performances, which you had to attend. If you wanted to hear a song then it was up to you or someone around you to sing it – there was no Maria Callas, no Aretha Franklin, no Beyonce – there was just you.

Indeed phonographs in the early 20th Century actually had microphones included with them to record people’s home performances. There was an explosion in people sitting around their living rooms recording parties, orating, singing karaoke style numbers. This recording feature – while hugely popular with the armies of amateurs belting out pop tunes in their living room – was taken away by the record companies, who had an altogether different agenda.

They were more interested in selling ‘quality’, ‘professional’ records, which sat in stark contrast to ‘amateurs’ exploring the joys of music at home. They envisioned a system that placed higher value on the audience appreciating ‘quality’ music than active participation or creation. Effectively audiences were converted from active participants to passive consumers – a system which largely dominates today. We all know what it looks like – the all too familiar sight of a carriage full of iPod wielding, headphone-wearing, disengaged passengers commuting on the train, appreciating Rihanna’s latest single – this being but one everyday consequence of the effect recorded music has had upon our relation to and creation of music.  

John Philip Sousa, aka ‘The March King’, famous for his American military and patriotic marches, was opposed to recorded music as a substitute for human beings. In 1906 he published ‘The Menace of Mechanical Music’, writing (from an American context) that,

“The wide love for the art springs from the singing school, secular or sacred, from the village band, and from the study of those instruments that are nearest the people. There are more pianos, violins, guitars, mandolins, and banjos among the working classes of America than in all the rest of the world…[but now] the automatic music devices are usurping their places.

For when music can be heard in the homes without the labour of study and close application, and without the slow process of acquiring a technique, it will be simply a question of time when the amateur disappears entirely…

The tide of amateurism cannot but recede, until there will be left only the mechanical device and the professional executants.

Then what of the national throat? Will it not weaken? What of the national chest? Will it not shrink?”

Of course, it’s not all bad, and I’m not suggesting we should be nostalgic for a time that pre-dated recorded music. Musical dexterity and innovation has been greatly enhanced by recording technology. Music from all over the world can now be experienced as easily as if it had been produced locally. Jazz musicians used to listen to the solos of their idols on repeat, learning every note of a solo, developing an understanding of the relation between the solo and the form. Radical innovations were able to emerge, changing forever the trajectory of modern music – for better or for worse.

What I do lament is the modern industrial complex of specialization, in which people feel that their contribution and enjoyment of music, no matter how amateur, is not of value. ‘Why should I sing when I can listen to Lady Gaga?’

The irony of this situation being that now anyone with a laptop can record a song, or a whole album for that matter. What has changed is people’s conditioning – to believe that ‘they are not musical’, that somehow their exploration of music has no artistic merit.

As David Byrne writes in his excellent book, ‘How Music Works’, ‘many people believe that there is some mysterious and inherent quality hidden in great art, and that this invisible substance is what causes these works to affect us as deeply as they do.’

I would suggest that no such inherent quality exists – of course there are great songs and there are not so great songs – but what is of primary importance is the process. A process that anyone can partake in and from which all people can derive meaning and value.

Friedrich Nietszche wrote “We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.” I would say ‘We should consider every day lost on which we have not sung at least once’. Even if it is in the shower. puch:shower

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KID’S ROCKING REGGAE – THE QUEENS OF AMATEURISM:

‘Emerge in the West’ Festival, Footscray 18.05.13

Dancing in the Street

by Lochie Bradfield

As part of the 10th anniversary of the ‘Emerge Festival’ , which kicked off last Saturday, Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV) and the Maribyrnong City Council threw a street party called ‘Emerge in the West’  – a celebration of the contributions African communities have made/are making culturally, socially, musically, economically and gastronomically to Melbourne’s West.

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Burundian drummers performing @ Emerge in the West, Footscray. Photo by Lochie Bradfield

Despite a few showers in the afternoon, people were out in Nicholson St, Footscray, dancing to the sounds of Sudanese pop, Ethiopian jazz, Azmari banter, Somali pop, traditional Burundian drumming, West African dance and Cape Verdean reggae. The best part? All the performers now call Melbourne home.

There were performances from Ajak Kwai, a Sudanese singer from the Malakal Region of the Upper Nile. She sings in her native Dinka language as well as Arabic and English – songs of freedom, love, peace, death, marriage and cows.

One of the highlights of the afternoon, technical difficulties aside, was the pop stylings of Somali group, Aussom Band, led by Abdi Mohamed Abdi, aka ‘The Man with Ten Hands’. Abdi is is originally from the southern Somali port of Kismayo. Since the civil war in Somalia, which saw the banning of music (among other things), many well known musicians have been persecuted by fundamentalist insurgents, including Abdi. He lived in exile in Kenya for 18 years before settling in Australia in 2008. It was amazing to hear the Somali group here in Footscray, reconnecting with their country’s music after such a long and dislocated experience.

Other highlights included Ethio-Jazz ensemble, Jazmaris, led by Ethiopian pianist Danny Seifu, with powerful vocals by the ever-exceptional Seble Girma. This band just finished supporting the legendary Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed on his recent Australian tour in January 2013. The band was sounding tight, well rehearsed and very comfortable with their arrangements.

Bitat Seyoum, accompanied by Anbessa Gebrihiwot, played a wonderful set in her native Amharic language, even as the rain fell and audience members sought cover underneath the roofs of shops in Nicholson St.

The Burundian Drummers provided a trance-inducing set of traditional Burundian rhythms with 7 big drums or ingomas, knocking out ever evolving polyrhythms. In Burundi the use of the ingoma was historically a symbol of power, used to commentate on the daily life of the king. The drums were believed to bring peace and unity throughout the kingdom, a belief that continues to present today  – 12 years of civil war notwithstanding.

The afternoon came to a close with roots reggae outfit Ras Jahknow Band, fronted by Cape Verdean born Jorge Abreu (aka Ras Jahknow) They sing songs in English, Portugese, and Creole. The band never strays far from the deep and slow rhythms of roots reggae and created a good vibe to end proceedings on.

‘Emerge in the West’ was a fantastic opportunity for many of the people and communities who make Melbourne’s West what it is – to show their talents, share culture and partake in some good ol’ fashioned dancing in the street.

As a final thought, I was struck by the Burundian drums – upon which they have painted the Australian flag, alongside the Burundian flag. Hitting the sides of the drums with their sticks, the Union Jack on the Australian flag looked as though it were being beat in to submission. I, for one, am very excited about the impact these cultures, musical traditions and musicians themselves are going to have upon the future of Australian music.

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The Show goes on!

The Emerge Festival continues until July, with ‘a colourful series of performances and unique cultural experiences encompassing music, dance, visual arts, exotic foods, ancient crafts and ceremonies.’ These include:

–       ‘Main Event’ at Fitzroy Town Hall on Sunday June 16th (12-5pm, FREE)

–       World Refugee Day Rally 2013 at Melbourne Museum forecourt, Sunday June 16th (rally will march to Fitzroy Town Hall)

–       Remastered Myths, Sunday 2nd June at the Toff in Town (3-5pm, $10)

–       Restoring Hope – A Creative Refugee Week Performance, on Saturday 22nd June at Fortfivedownstairs, Melbourne (3-5pm, FREE,)

–       Emerge @ Drum Theatre, Dandenong, Saturday 20th July (2-4:30pm, FREE)

–       Don’t Be Left Out in the CALD – a series of Music Business Skills Workshops for musicians from CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) backgrounds. Topics include: Getting Gigs, DIY Releasing, APRA & Licensing, Music Law, Grant Writing, amongst others. Saturday 8th June – Monday 10th June. Places are limited and acceptance is by application only. You can send expressions of interest to: projects@multiculturalarts.com.au or call (03) 9188 3681 for more details.

‘Intermittents du Spectacle’ vs ‘Newstart’

Artist Welfare

by Lochie Bradfield
794px-Australian_banknotes_in_walletimage source: Martin Kingsley, Wiki Commons
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As a follow up to the article, ‘A musician’s Perspective on Art’s Victoria’s report in to the ‘Economic, Social and Cultural Contribution of venue-based live music in Victoria’ I thought I would look at the ‘Intermittents du Spectacle’ – a welfare benefit for artists living and working in France.

The program was established in the 1930s, in order to supplement the income of film industry techs (eg. set designers, lightning technicians and camera operators), who worked intermittently under short-term contracts, so that they could remain available for future projects. These days it extends to performing artists of all kinds – musicians, actors, dancers, circus artists, puppeteers – protecting them from the inevitable downtime between jobs that those working in the entertainment industry perpetually face.

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♫ ♫ ♫ Ah!Puch! presents Lebeha Drummers, Hopkins, Belize ♫ ♫ ♫

Belize is a diverse, mixed up little country on the coast of mainland America – wedged between Mexico to the North, Guatemala to the South and West, and the Caribbean Sea to the East. Indigenous Mayans, British colonialists, shipwrecked Garifuna fisherman, Mulatos, Creoles, Mestizos, Chinese and even the Amish and the Mennonites, can all be seen riding around the country in retired US school buses. Reggae jams pumping, hurtling down roads lined by jaguar filled jungles, with fleeting glimpses and panoramic vistas of the Caribbean Sea, complete with palm trees, fishing boats and cabanas.

Gaining independence from Britain in 1981 (it was previously British Honduras) the mainland country sways to a distinctly Caribbean vibe, with English as its official language. Many people there profess music to be the main cultural asset, though it is often hard to find live music, beyond the locals’ penchant for karaoke in beachside bars, where the rum costs less than water back home in Australia. Everyone agrees though – the music of Belize is to be found in the South of the country, where many of the Garifuna people live.

The Garifuna people are now found all along the Caribbean coast of Central America – in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. In 1635 a ship carrying African slaves, predominantly from Nigeria, capsized in the Caribbean Sea. Some of the slaves were able to make it ashore to St. Vincents Island where they began relations with the native Indians, the Arawak and Red Carib people, who had migrated from Guyana and Venezuala respectively. After a century of integration, and impressive reproduction rates, the Garifuna became the dominant group in St. Vincents’ society, causing social ruptures and rifts. Soon the French were involved, and then the British. Decades of war ensued and the Garifuna were deported to the Honduran island of Roatán, where they continued to flourish and procreate. Forced to flee yet again after the republican revolt in Honduras, they continued their exodus, in ever increasing numbers to the southern Belizean coastline in 1832. Today the 20,000 or so Garifuna people make up 6% of the Belizean population.

We found some live music in Hopkins, a small Garifuna fishing village just south of Dangriga – a larger Garifuna fishing village with a Rastafari culture – think tropical heat, fresh fish, weed, reggae and t i m e . We had to hitchhike with some Mennonites from Dangriga because the bus wasn’t coming that day, or maybe it was, or was it yesterday? Or maybe it wasn’t on Thursdays, but Fridays? No one could be sure, yet everyone had an opinion about when the bus was or wasn’t coming. All agreed though, we could catch it from where the main street and the river intersect…That’s if it showed up – which it didn’t. All I can say is thank the lord for the Mennonites.

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Once in Hopkins we found the Lebeha Drumming Centre, at the Northern end of town. The centre was started 10 years ago by Jabbar Lambey, a Garifuna drummer and Dorothy Pettersen, an ex-pat from Canada. We entered in to the neatly kept grounds and met Jabbar. I asked if there would be any performances coming up, as I was interested in making some recordings. He explained that he could get some people together and we could make some recordings that evening.

We returned that evening to find Jabbar, Warren and John ready with their drums, which are made in nearby Dangriga by Austin Rodriguez. The drums are made from mahogany and mayflower woods with animal hide skins, including the Primero (first drum) the Segunda (the bass drum), shakers which contain seeds from a fruit tree inside a calabash gourd, and turtle shells – quite literally a turtle shell strapped around the percussionists neck and struck with soft mallets.

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Garifuna music is quite different from the music of the rest of Central America. The most famous form is Punta, while other forms of Garifuna music and dance include the hungu-hungu, wanaragua, matamuerte, sambai, paranda, berusu, and punta rock; some of which can be heard in these recordings.

In 2001, Garifuna music was proclaimed one of the ‘Masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’ by UNESCO, along with Garifuna language and dance, though as the Lebeha Drumming Center says on its website ‘this does little to help the hand to mouth daily existence of the people. Tourism and escape to the U.S. offer some consolation and money but there are few opportunities for the practicing masters of the tradition; some of the finest elder musicians are now more conversant with a bottle of rum than with a drum. Fortunately the musicians at the Lebeha Drumming Centre are keeping the tradition alive and kicking.

To learn more about the Lebeha Drumming Centre or about Garifuna culture in general, check out these links –

http://lebeha.com/
http://www.garifuna.com/

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☮ Gone to the Americas ☮

Hello. Just a quick post to say that I am heading to the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, and perhaps as far as Costa Rica, through Nicaragua, Honduras & El Salvador. Hopefully I will make some great field recordings to bring back for you all to hear, some nice photos for you to look at, and some entertaining videos for you to watch! I also hope to meet musicians, conduct some interviews, and visit the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) , who have been very influential on my thought and music.

I’ll be back in about 5 months, so until then, take care!

Peace!

Ah!Puch!

NEW MiX – Block 5 Primary!

Next up is an audio & video set recorded at Block 5 Primary School, in Gaborone, Botswana.

Hypnotic kids is all I can say.

Listen here – Block 5 Primary!