AFRICAN IMPORT: When Paul Simon went to South Africa in the mid-'80s to study indigenous music and write songs with local performers, he accomplished a number of things, none the least of which was Graceland (Warner Brothers, 1986), the masterwork of an already illustrious career (and not that it should matter, but he won a bushel of Grammies for said album).
He also fueled an ever-growing trend among pop musicians -- Peter Gabriel and David Byrne spring to mind -- to seek out exotic and obscure forms of music and bring them to a mass audience, an endeavor that not only makes for a more global music appreciation, but puts more change in the pockets of the local economies. (Or, if you're of a more cynical mind, these guys are just rich pop stars looking to intrude on a culture long on tradition and short on capitalist values for personal artistic and financial gain.)
If you think I'm over-politicizing things here, I point to my experience of seeing Simon on the Graceland tour (which also included Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Hugh Masekela).
It was St. Louis, 1987, and the streets outside the Fox Theatre were clogged with both concert-goers and protesters proclaiming that Simon was raping South African culture for personal gain. To be honest, the thought had never even entered my mind until then. And I almost started to wonder if the protesters were right; that is, until I witnessed the sheer joy of the Africans' faces as they performed in a beautifully ornate theater to a religiously appreciative -- and yes, mostly white -- audience. The magic of the music transcended socio-politics. I decided the protesters were wrong, and if they'd actually seen the show, some might've felt differently.
Twelve years later, with various types of world music enjoying more success and a higher profile in this country than ever before, I wonder what those people are thinking now. And I also wonder what they would think of Baaba Maal, a singer and songwriter from Senegal who uses his African roots as the foundation for a musical experience that draws on Cuban rhythms, reggae, funk, house music, trip-hop and Celtic influences.
His latest album, Nomad Soul (Palm Pictures/Island), features contributions from Sinead O'Connor's backing singers, The Screaming Orphans, Jamaican reggae star Luciano, Afro-Celt Sound System's Simon Emmerson (who also produced Maal's previous album, the Grammy-nominated Firin' in Fouta), as well as Brian Eno and Howie B, who collaborate on the album's closer, "Lam Lam," a nearly 13-minute electro-dub experiment.
Perhaps you're thinking this is just another project where indigenous music is given a Western, modernized sound to hook American listeners who wouldn't otherwise know Senegalese from Selena. But if anything, due to a proliferation of world music that's now familiar, Maal's material is recognizable but nonetheless challenging in its cross-cultural references. The only comparison I can think of -- and this really doesn't do him justice -- is Youssou N'Dour's collaborations with Peter Gabriel.
If you missed last month's amazing performance by Sam Mangwana, here's your chance to redeem yourself: Baaba Maal brings his 12-piece band to the stage of the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St., for one show only at 8 p.m. Thursday, September 9. Tickets are $17 at the door. For further info, call 740-0126.
FLAMENCO-A-GO-GO: Of all the materials I get, the silliest genre -- with the obvious exception of Swedish Death Metal, which is a category unto itself -- would have to be flamenco. These are invariably rife with the same, hyperbolic language: "the fire...the fury...the passion," etc. A classic case of words being an insubstantial substitute for the music they describe.
At the risk of getting hyperbolic myself, good flamenco is beautiful and hypnotic; at its best, downright transcendent. And one of the best practitioners I've recently heard makes his way to town this weekend. Oscar Lopez was born in Santiago, Chile, where he established a respectable, Paco de Lucia-influenced career before emigrating to Canada in 1979. While in Winnipeg, he put in his time in a number of reggae and rock bands, but found himself drifting back to the pure, unadulterated sound of the nylon-string acoustic guitar, bringing his experiences with other types of music with him this time.
Judging from his latest release, Passion (Narada), he must have spent at least part of that time playing Joe Satriani or Yngwie Malmsteen covers. And while he carries on the speed of those players, that speed co-exists with--well, passion, I guess. And soul, which is something Satriani never even heard of. Lopez is fast, but subtle. His melodious playing is rarely marred by an explosion of fireworks. He builds rather than wreaks havoc.
Check out the Oscar Lopez Trio at 8 p.m. Saturday, September 11, at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. All seats are reserved; $14 in advance at Antigone Books, Enchanted Earthworks and Hear's Music, or by phone at 881-3947. Tickets are $16 at the door. Call 770-3690 for more information.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Once again, our fair burg is giving us many great shows to choose from, unfortunately all on the same night.
In addition to the Tucson Jazz Society's Swinging Jazz Party (see related article on Dickie Thompson, page 47), we have several worthy rock dinosaurs to choose from.
When I was in, oh, probably the third grade, I was asked to write an essay about someone I respected. While the other kids prattled on about their great parents, or how Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, I intently scribbled in my notebook about Styx guitarist Tommy Shaw.
I was most impressed by the fact that, when the band's original guitarist quit only a week before a scheduled tour, the group hired Shaw, who immediately learned all of the songs in the band's repertoire, thereby saving the tour! (You can imagine how devastated I was years later when he teamed up with The Nuge and that guy from Night Ranger to form the paragon of all that is bad about rock music, the Damn Yankees.) But historic grudges aside, Styx is back!
Actually, the original Styx first reunited in 1996 for an American tour, the results of which can be heard on the 1997 release Return to Paradise (CMC International), a double album which placed live versions of the band's greatest hits alongside new material.
Now here's the amazing part: the album actually sold enough copies -- half a million discs, a quarter of a million copies -- to be certified Gold by the RIAA. Due to that album's success, the band re-entered the studio to record a new album, the just-released Brave New World (CMC), based on the Aldous Huxley novel. (No, I'm not kidding). But while the band's original lineup recorded the album, the lineup that's hitting town this weekend retains only the band's two longtime guitarists and singers, James Young and, thank God, Tommy Shaw. Even longtime fans will have to admit: no one could ever come close to singing "Come Sail Away" like Dennis DeYoung, but he's always been kind of an annoying little twit, anyway.
So check out this Styx semi-reunion at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, September 12, at Centennial Hall on the UA campus. All seats are reserved, and will cost you a cool $31 to $36. Tickets are available at all Dillard's outlets and at the Centennial box office. Charge by phone at 1-800-638-4253 (Dillard's) or 621-3341 (UA).
The other Sunday dinosaur offering gives you two, two, two dinosaurs for the price of--well, $8 in advance, $12 at the door. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, take a "Slow Ride" down memory lane with the blue-collar blues rock of Foghat. (And if you go, take note that the band's cover of Willie Dixon's "I Just Wanna Make Love to You" was completely ripped off on that new Sevendust song).
Oh yeah, don't forget to take a "Free Ride" down to the show to catch "Frankenstein" himself, Edgar Winter. We're talking '70s blues-rock heaven here, people! Si Jargo kicks things off at 7 p.m. Sunday at the New West, 4385 W. Ina Road. Advance tickets are available at Dillard's, Hooters, Western Warehouse, Zip's University and at the club, or by phone at 1-800-638-4253. For details call 744-7744.
If Bob Marley was the father of reggae, and Peter Tosh was the son, that must make Jimmy Cliff the holy spirit (as well as the only surviving member of Jah's trinity). Cliff signed his first contract with Island Records 35 years ago, and along the way he both pioneered Jamaican reggae and helped introduced it to a new audience, most successfully in his featured role in the 1973 film The Harder They Come (as well as in his trio of songs on the soundtrack -- the title track, the unfailingly optimistic "You Can Get It if You Really Want," and the beautiful ballad "Many Rivers to Cross" -- a timeless and quintessential reggae compilation).
Let's just say Cliff's place in the Reggae Hall of Fame is secure. Catch the legend on -- you guessed it -- Sunday, September 12, at Metro, 296 N. Stone Ave. Local mainstays Neon Prophet kick the show off at 8 p.m. Advance tickets are $15, available at CD Depot, Strictly CDs, Zip's University, and the club's box office, or by phone at 1-888-244-8444. They'll be $20 at the door.
And finally, for those of you who need something a little more off the beaten path, you'll want to go with Option No. 5: The Ökrös Ensemble, is a seven-piece combo that plays Gypsy music from Transylvanian, Hungarian and Romanian traditions. (See related article, page 47).
BAND WAGON: Heads up, greasers! Don't miss Texas rockabilly monster Mack Stevens, who hits town this weekend to play up Mack Stevens at Rollin' Rock: The Las Vegas Stomp! (Hightone/HMG). The album was recorded in just two days, and features such tongue-in-cheek barnburners as "Don't Start a War Daddy," "Daddy's Goin' Mad," and "Momma Stop Me Before I Kill Again." Local rockabilly gods Al Foul and The Shakes kick things off at 9 p.m. Friday, September 10, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Cover is $4. Call 622-8848 for details.