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Whale of a time (Sunday)

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I got a call last night from my friend Steve Lazar, the Postcard King. He was hoping I’d help get the word out for this special historical film screening/lecture happening Sunday at the Miniplex in Richard’s Goat about the history of whaling in Humboldt. He said he’d send me some postcards, which fortunately didn’t take much time since it didn’t involve any stamps or the Post Office stuff like that, because, well, we live in a digital era, where, for better or worse, we can send instant postcards via FB-Message.

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I have to admit, I don’t know much about local whaling, and IMHO, it was sad that these giants of the ocean were once hunted. Without going off on too much of a tangent, I think it’s possible that they are smarter than us. The fact that they don’t walk on land or have opposable thumbs or other things that supposedly make us superior never gave us the right to kill them. What do suppose they think of us?

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Anyway, returning to my conversation with Steve, he had his Historical Society friend Morgan send me an email with some P.R.

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As a fundraiser for our digital archive project, Historical Society staff will present archival film footage of whaling crews on the high seas in pursuit of whales off the Humboldt coast. Film footage includes shots of the Eureka whaling station at Fields Landing, the last operating whaling station in the country. Recorded in the 1940s, the original reel-to-reel film will be shown using a vintage projector.
Running vintage cellulose film on an original projector is dangerous business, but not to worry – this film has already been preserved digitally. This screening is a fundraiser to support the digitization of other valuable resources unique to the Humboldt County Historical Society collection.
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Historical Society archivist and historian James Garrison will provide live narration and historical presentation about the Eureka Whaling Station at Fields Landing and the history of whaling in Northern Humboldt. There will be two presentation times, one from 4-5pm and one from 6-7pm.

There will be ready-to-frame photo-prints for purchase. All profits from photo-print sales will directly fund our digitization project.

Thank you for helping us spread the word!

Best Regards, Morgan Harvey

Humboldt County Historical Society Research Assistant

A little more about the whaling station at Fields Landing can be found on the H-Society website. The station opened June 1940, with the ship “Gleaner” bringing in the first whales. “From the start the station was promoted as a tourist attraction. Sightseers paid a small admission fee to watch a whale being butchered. Local newspapers announced when a whale was on deck, and people arrived dressed up to have their photographs taken with the dead whales.”

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“This girl is standing in the mouth of a Finback Whale, her hands resting on in the baleen plates in the whale’s upper jaw.”

Again, knowing as much as we know now about whales, it’s hard to imagine what’s going through the heads of people posing with freshly butchered whales, but whatever.

Here’s a clip about whaling further down the Pacific Coast. Steve wanted to save the rare footage of local whaling figuring it should be a surprise when (and if) you see it Sunday. Maybe I’ll see you there…

Thomas Mapfumo: Voice of the Revolution revisited

Fifteen years ago I did this interview with Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo, aka the Voice of the Revolution. A headline about what’s going on in his homeland made me revisit our chat. It took a long time to dislodge the despot who ruled Zimbabwe, but it looks like Robert Mugabe may finally be gone.

When Thomas Mapfumo began his musical career, the country he lived in was called Rhodesia. During the armed struggle in the ’70s to drive out the colonial government and establish Zimbabwe, the songs he wrote and recorded were an integral part of the revolution. He called his music chimurenga, using a word from the Shona language that means struggle.

The music he makes with his band, the Blacks Unlimited, combines the sound of the mbira, a traditional Shona thumb piano, with horns and electric guitars. Mapfumo is still singing songs that comment on the corruption and injustice he sees in his homeland and elsewhere.

Before he came Humboldt County, I called him at his home away from home in Oregon. He was working in a studio there writing new songs dealing with the issues of the day…

What are you writing about now?

There are a lot of issues. We sing about the problems that the world is facing today. As you know there are so many disturbing situations that we hear about like the situation back in Zimbabwe, the situation in Palestine, these kinds of situations are all over the world. There are a lot of people who are not very free in this world. They don’t have their freedom. They don’t have a voice. We as musicians, through our music, we can be their voice.

When you were growing up, you lived with your grandparents in the country, in a somewhat traditional Shona home. Does what you do with your music connect in some way with traditional Shona music?

Music back home played a very important role. Sometimes you would have music for the workers. The workers in the field would have music to encourage them, to give them enough strength to work. There is music for fairs and music for when you gather because someone is dead. This is a different type of music. Another is music for when people are partying, gathered together enjoying themselves, drinking beer, drumming and singing, things like that. There are some traditional ceremonies held where the elders gather and there is mbira music going on, and then some medium spirits are also there. That is the work of the music, and as I say before, music also has a very important role to play concerning politics.

When you were fighting to establish Zimbabwe, the music you made was part of the revolutionary struggle…

We would write songs that would encourage fighters, those who were fighting from the bush, fighting for freedom. That type of music actually motivated them to fight fiercely.

This is what you call chimurenga music?

Yes, Chimurenga means struggle.

I understand there was an earlier revolt or chimurenga at the end of the 19th Century.

Chimurenga Chekutanga was fought by Mbuya Nehanda. She was a medium spirit and she was actually arrested and executed by the white regime.

The revolutionary struggle in the ’70s, Chimurenga Chechipiri, was led by a group that called itself the Patriotic Front… Were you aligned with the Patriotic Front?

I was part of the struggle, but not part of the Patriotic Front. I was one of the oppressed, so actually it was very, very important for me to join the struggle and fight together with my people, but I wasn’t affiliated with any political party because I stand by myself.

When the struggle was won, there were elections and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. How did your role change?

My role at that time was to unite the people. All of Zimbabwe’s population, blacks and whites should be seen walking hand in hand, doing the same thing at the same time like brothers and sisters. Some of the white people were born there, they grew up there, they don’t have no other home to go to. They are Zimbabweans as well, and to see them being harassed because of political reasons, I did not think was logical.

I assume that stance was not universal, that there were blacks who wanted to see all of the white people gone.

That’s right. In any society, you find white people who don’t have a good mind, who think all black people are bad, and you can also go to the black side and find people who think all whites are bad. Those kind of people, they must be discouraged. You know we are all the same in the eyes of God and no one can change that.

When the Patriotic Front won the war and change came in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe of ZANU took power. I take it you are not happy with what happened later. What went wrong?

The thing is, they say ZANU liberated the country, that ZANU and ZAPU liberated the country, but I don’t think so, because everyone was involved in that war. They should say Zimbabweans liberated themselves.

And there was a struggle for power between ZANU and ZAPU, between Mugabe and Nkomo…

That’s right. They pretended to be together for the struggle when they formed the Patriotic Front. But when the war ended, Mugabe parted ways with Nkomo because he knew he had an advantage over him because Nkomo came from Montebeliland. He was not Shona and Mugabe knew very well that the Shonas were the majority. Most of the people who were in the Patriotic Front were from Shonaland and he knew he had the support of the Shona people. He was very ambitious and wanted to be the president. He wanted power.

Is this a classic case of the corruption that come with power? I remember a song you wrote years ago, “Corruption.”

That song was about Mugabe and his ministers. After about eight years we started noticing that there were a lot of corrupt people working within this government. This is the reason I wrote the song, I wanted the people to know that it was a corrupt regime.

How did they respond to your criticism?

Well, some people said the song should be banned from being played on the radio and they don’t play it any more. Some said, ‘Give it a green light. Let it play, because this man is singing the truth.’

And since the government runs the radio stations your music might not get airplay…

That is very true. It is government controlled radio. Now after they banned “Corruption” they also banned this other song, “Chimurenga Explosion” and they have banned my latest release, “Chimurenga Rebel.”

What sorts of things are you commenting on at this point.

I was commenting on a lot of things, like these people when they were campaigning for the presidential elections, a lot of people were beaten. These youths from the ruling party, they call the militias, they were going ’round from house to house asking for ZANU-PF membership cards. If you don’t have a card you are suspected to be an MDC supporter. They beat you up. The police were doing the same thing, the soldiers were doing the same thing, harassing the opposition supporters wherever they see them. When it came to the election results, it was laughable. You cannot believe it was done by a man with President Mugabe’s status. He’s not supposed to act that way he did. It was clearly a fraud. The elections were not free and fair. They claim that they won the elections, and now they want to sit down with the opposition, with the MDC and work out the problems, but they are the ones who created the problem.

Does other popular music in Zimbabwe have a political edge? I’ve heard Oliver Mtukudzi, and he sings about AIDS and some indirectly political things.

A lot of the music played by these youngsters is what you call it — music about love, bedroom love — they sing about their girlfriends and things like that. There are not a lot of bands who try to do political music. Some of them are afraid to stand up and speak out.

Because it is dangerous?

Of course it is really dangerous. Like what I was telling you about the youths going house to house looking for people who have no membership cards.

Do you have one?

I don’t. I don’t need it.

I assume you famous enough that they would not attack you personally, at least not physically.

I’m a big name myself and a lot of people support me. So you have to think twice before you do anything with me.

So your recent songs are a comment on what happened with the election and after?

Yes, they are. I really have to comment. What we need now is unity among our people. Some in power are trying to run away from the accusations. They know very well that there are a lot of questions that must be answered. They know they have a lot to answer for, but they are trying by all means to hang onto their power. As I said before, we musicians speak as the voice of the people. It is my role as a musician to speak out.

 

What are you doing for Zero Day?

The City of Arcata wants you to do something for nothing today — at least to think about it. We’re to think about moving toward Zero, where you throw nothing away since you haven’t generated any waste (well, less anyway). Wednesday, Hump Day, 11/15, halfway through November, it’s officially Zero Waste Day in Arcata. Time to do something. I have something planned.

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The city announced ZWD with this press release, ending with a question.

The air is crisp and trees change color as fall arrives with Thanksgiving just around the corner. While the holiday season is a happy time for all, it can also be the most wasteful time of the year. For example, Americans spend approximately $3.2 billion every year on wrapping paper and single-use gift bags, most of which are sent to the landfill. On November 15, 2017, the City of Arcata in collaboration with local businesses and organizations will be celebrating Zero Waste Day to promote the concepts of zero waste and to encourage the community to participate in practicing zero waste principles.

To help combat these issues, the City of Arcata recently adopted the Zero Waste Action Plan to divert at least 90% of waste generated in the community from landfills and incinerators within 10-15 years. Zero waste is a community-wide movement that requires participation from everyone. To help you reduce your waste, the City will also be releasing a Zero Waste Guide for Arcata residents on Zero Waste Day.

From 11am-2pm on November 15, the City of Arcata will be partnering with the North Coast Co-op and several local waste reduction groups including Zero Waste Humboldt, Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT), Waste Reduction & Resources Awareness Program (WRRAP), and the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC) to demonstrate ways that you can reduce your waste. Stay tuned for events on November 15, and learn how you can participate in helping Arcata reach our Zero Waste goal. What will you do to make a difference?

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There’s action at the Co-op starting at 11 a.m. running until 2 p.m. with all this including the chance to get more stuff:

• Zero-Waste Living Starter Pack Giveaway
• Motor Oil Pan Giveaway• Q&A with the Co-op’s Sustainability Coordinator
• Drop-in workshops & other sustainable crafts with W.R.R.A.P., HSU’s Campus Center for Appropirate Technology and Zero Waste Humboldt
• Earth machine compost bin demonstration with the City of Arcata
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Also, ask the folks at the NEC about their “Adopt-a-Block” campaign where you can help clean up after litters who don’t put their trash where it goes (usually the dump).

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And check with Surfriders on the big Trash Bash running until Nov. 30.

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Mick McAuley, an Irishman, one night only, and more at the Crib…

via email from The Crib

Why: to be amazed by the breadth of expression a mere diatonic accordion is capable of.

Hello House Concert Ears;

It’ll be quite a coup to have a player the caliber of Mick McAuley holding forth in the intimate surroundings of the humble digs. Mick has been traveling the world playing great theatrical stages with SOLAS, arguably one of the finest gatherings of Irish traditional musicians ever, for the past 20 years. Now he’s rediscovering the joy of playing solo in cozy spaces for small appreciative audiences (that’s US!) where he highlights his singing/songwriting and guitar as well as some of the fiery squeezebox playing he was known for with SOLAS.

Mick’s website describes him thus: “Mick McAuley is an Irish musician, composer and songwriter who has recorded and toured internationally for many years. While his music is rooted firmly in the Irish tradition, he has been part of a movement which continues to push the musical boundaries of that tradition to bring Irish music to a wider and more diverse audience around the world. As a long-time member of the Irish-American ensemble SOLAS, he recorded and toured nine albums with them and received widespread international acclaim. The Boston Herald hailed SOLAS as “the best Irish traditional band in the world”.

As is beautifully common in Ireland, Mick grew up in the embrace of a musical family supported and nurtured by a community of older musicians who gave freely of their time, talent and music to ensure the passing of that centuries-old cultural tradition. By his teens, he was also seeking out more contemporary singers and musicians. He played with Ron Kavana (Alias Band), Terry Woods (Sweeneys Men, The Pogues) while in London in the early ’90s and began to tour at that time with the acclaimed Irish singer Niamh Parsons. Mick found the ideal balance of traditional and contemporary in the instrumentals and songs of the newly-formed Solas while in the bustling Irish music scene of New York in the mid-’90s.

A multi-instrumentalist, Mick plays accordion, melodeon, concertina, whistles and guitar and has been a guest on many recordings and performances including Patti Larkin, Paul Brennan (Clannad), Susan McKeown and Mick Hanly among many others and more recently spent time playing melodeon for Sting in his Broadway production “The Last Ship.”

His debut solo album An Ocean’s Breadth (Shanachie Records) was awarded “Best Celtic Album” of the year by Washington Post.

Spring 2016 saw the long-awaited release of his solo album HIGHS AND BELLOWS. It is an acoustic selection of traditional and original instrumentals and songs recorded in the New Inn.

There’s more information on music at the CribConcerts website as well as news about everything coming up. Concerts are accompanied by customary fresh bread, soup, drinks & conviviality that supports the house with music usuallly starting at 7. Hope to see you there!

Next up at the Crib, Sunday, Nov. 19, Hot Damn Scandal:

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Hot Damn Scandal finds its songs under park benches and in forgotten alleyways. The resulting outlaw ballads, dirty jazz, circus freakouts, shanty-rags, string band funk, lonesome heart-breakers, and whiskey bottle love songs blend together in a sweet song syrup somewhere between a ramble and a roar. Sometimes called ‘Tipsy American Gypsy Blues’, Hot Damn Scandal pulls no punches and and puts thunder in your molasses.

Manatee Commune comes to town (tonight) whatever that means…

MANATEE COMMUNE ON TOUR 2017 from Grant Eadie on Vimeo.

I’ve been writing the Hum long enough so that I’m on dozens off mailing lists alerting me to the latest info on all sorts of artists. Earlier this week an email came from Ryan Romana, a publicist who works for a firm known as Press Junkie.

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It announced, “Manatee Commune in Arcata on 11/12, Drops New Single “Like Me” and let me know an electronica act was playing the The Jam this Sunday for what is known as Sundaze, a regular thing at the club that been running for years. A link to his new song with vocalist Siena Liggins.

Crystalline synthesis and ridiculously catchy melodies mark Manatee Commune’s latest single featuring Detroit native Siena Liggins. A classic story of the inevitable drama that comes from any intimate relationship meshed with carefree, light-hearted production and danceability, evoking  sense of acceptance for the emotional throws of having a significant other.

Around the same time I received a Facebook invite to the same show from my friend Marjo Lak, a DJ from Brazil originally who is part of the local Deep Groove Society. She part of the show Sunday along with Fresh Depz, about whom I know nothing.

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From Ryan the Press Junkie, I learned that Manatee Commune is the nom de plum of Grant Eadie, a 20-something e-artiste from Bellingham.

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He’s been at it for awhile going far enough to land an interview on NPR after he was a finalist in the Tiny Desk contest with a clever entry in which the room where he playing on a tiny desk is taken away to reveal that he’s actually playing on the side of a mountain somewhere in the Northwest.

He switches back and forth from a mixer to drums then a viola, which is where he started in music (after switching from violin). I imagine he’ll have a similar setup at the Jam. I like the mix of organic sounds with synthesizers, especially when he adds some soul via guests vocalists. It’s not likely that he’s at a level where he’d be touring with Siena, but you never know, she could be his girlfriend.

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I always like to hear what Marjo is up to. She moved from Brazil to Humboldt a few years ago, bringing what she calls “Butter Music Brazil” with her.

“It’s a record label started by a DJ collective with five DJs who started doing festivals and parties together,” said Lak, who talked with me for the Hum awhile ago . “It’s a label I carried with me — it’s kind of developed into a style with electro-minimal house, heavy bass lines and groovy beats.”

Integrated with her dance music is an environmental and spiritual ethic. Lak originally came here to study Chinese medicine and natural foods at Heartwood Institute. “Then I got stuck here,” she told me with a laugh. “I got married and stayed.”

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Marjo Lak – photo by Bob Doran

“I think modern society has changed the way we use music in gatherings,” she continued. “If you go back to older cultures, music is part of every gathering for spiritual experience where people sing and drum and pray together.  The whole idea is to bring back that sort of reconnection with nature and Earth and create a sacred space where we can dance. We share what we [believe] — basically that we want change, to change our relationship with Mother Earth and with nature.” Sounds like a good idea to me.

The Hum: Absynth Q released

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I was thinking about what I might write about the Hum this week when I received at Facebook message from Michael Simon “Tofu” Schwartz, the soundman who also plays drums for Absynth Quartet.

“Can we talk about the new AQ CD release?” he wondered.

“Sure,” I replied. I’d actually messaged the band earlier with a question based on the title of their new release, “What Do All These Knobs And Switches Do?” but no one had responded. I mentioned this when I ran into Tofu at the Tom Rush show at the Old Steeple, so he was basically catching up.

“This is the first one with just the Quartet,” Tofu began. The fact that what had previously been a quintet and now has renamed themselves to become a quartet is actually quite significant.

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I’ve been following the fortunes of the various members of Absynth for more than a decade, through several albums that included a changing lineup.

The original core was three string players: Ian Davidson on banjo, Ryan Roberts on guitar and Chris “Bird” Jowaisas on mandolin. A bass/drums rhythm section filled the bottom. Tofu and bassist John Ludington joined a few years ago.

The last AQ disc was Telepathy with Glowbugs, released in 2014. Since then Bird left the band. He wrote almost all the songs on Telepathy, aside from two songs by John, and one, a gypsyish waltz called “Drago’s Valse,” written by Ryan and Bird. His departure was difficult for all concerned.

This time out as the knobs turned on the new record?   

“John wrote most of the songs, but Ian has one and Ryan has two,” said Tofu. “We recorded this whole album at Ryan’s studio in Arcata, slowly over two years.”

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The band did not give me an advance listen, so I’m not certain how it all turned out, but John’s role should change things considerably. I always felt Mr. Ludington’s quirky songs add a different flavor, something that was not utilized to its full potential. He can add a twisted twist to the classic AQ “fire-breathing indie grass” formula that takes things in a new direction. For example we have the first “single”:

Absynth Quartet – Shores of Turpentine from Neeti Fidurko on Vimeo.

So, what exactly ARE all those buttons and knobs for?

“One knob is for irony. We dial in the presence while switching between the past and the future,” said Tofu.

And how much do electronics play into the sound?

“All three of the string players use a vast, yet tasteful array of pedals and effects to shape our sound. Some add sustain, while others, like the pink bunny, are a sort of probability engine that is still being tested.”

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Does he employ any electro fx? Ian plays a space age “banjo” that probably goes beyond pink bunnies, and there’s that “array” of effects.

How do you fit in drum wise?

“I am the last acoustic instrument in the band, an acoustic stringband, no less 😀

At what point did you join the quintet? “Ryan and Ian and I started jamming in the late ’90s with some others. I joined the band in 2005, just after they released Flying Baby Swing. John joined in 2010, just after we’d finished IOTA.” They’ve come a long way (baby).

At Humbrews Friday Diggin Dirt will open the show. “They have become a super tight funk band, with killer vocals and arrangements,” said Tofu, and I agree, indeed, very funky.

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AQ guests that night include John’s special friend Andrea Zvaleko singing on one song, with Tim Lane from Likwifi on another.

Also, “The horns from Digging Dirt will join us for a few tunes, as will their drummer, Joey. We worked out something special on the drums.”

I’m sure the whole thing will special. Can’t make to Arcata?

“FYI we will be livestreaming video of the event with three cameras and a soundboard feed.”

 

Very cool. I may see you there…

More things to do over the weekend? Coming soon…

Tom Rush has no regrets…

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Fall is here and the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love is officially over, and with it the little jump in interest about the hippie era, which was in some ways was already coming to an end in 1967. Shortly after that time my hippie sister and her hippie boyfriend stopped renting their Victorian apartment in the Haight and took off on a trip in their VW van looking to join the fabled back-to-the-land movement.

While they were exploring the North Coast, they left a box of record albums with me. I was living in the ‘burbs with my folks, and absorbing new music all over, with my FM radio tuned to the underground station, and taking occasional trips to the Fillmore, the Avalon and Golden Gate park for historic concerts.

Tom Rush - The Circle Game. Elktra Asylum 7401B-2. 1968(89)

That box of albums contained some real treasures. I discovered the Jim Kweskin Band and others from the East Coast music scene, in particular the Boston folkies, among them Tom Rush, a singer/songwriter who had a warm and friendly voice and an attitude that matched.

On his first (eponymous) record he mixed songs from the public domain with some by bluesman and a couple by Woody Guthrie. His next albums showed him to be a master at discovering new songwriting talent, first by including the work of James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Jesse Winchester, then Joni Mitchell, whose “The Circle Game” was the title track on his third record.

Introducing the song back in 1968, before she had released her own version on Ladies of the Canyon, Joni noted, “This is a song that’s been recorded by a couple of friends of mine, so maybe you know it a little better than the other ones.” Those friends were Tom Rush and Judy Collins, who had an ever bigger hit with it. 

The song was part of a song cycle on Tom’s record, a tale of a failing love affair that ends with a fine song he wrote himself, “No Regrets.” I imagined it was a song that spoke to my breakup with a teenage crush, but truth is I was really too young for those feelings.

 

I promise you’ll hear that one when Tom comes to Ferndale for a show Wednesday (Oct. 4) at the Old Steeple, (aka Ferndale Music Company), an excellent venue where I’m becoming a regular. I know we’ll hear some new stuff since Tom has a new record in the works via a Kickstarter-type funding site PledgeMusic.comPretty sure there are a few tickets left. Check it out. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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