The best film of 2014, and it wasn’t terribly close. It comes from the brilliant Belgian directing team, the Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre & Luc), whose work has long shimmered with plainspoken elemental human truths. This film is a brilliant addition to their oeuvre. It stars the mesmerizing Marion Cotillard as a working-class mother, just returning to work after a bout with depression, only to find her boss has held a vote with her co-workers to keep their bonuses at the expense of her job. She is given one weekend to change their minds or be laid off. Deceptively simple in its execution, but positively stunning in its effect: It’s as honest and insightful about the human condition as Bicycle Thieves, an assertion I by no means make lightly. In the end, it’s an example of one of the rarest and best forms of morality cinema: It makes no demands, and grinds no axes, but makes its powerful statement in absolute service to its characters. A triumph.
This gorgeous Criterion blu-ray edition also features interviews with the Dardenne brothers, as well as Cotillard and co-star Fabrizio Rongione, a tour of the film’s locations, and When Léon M.’s Boot Went Down the Meuse for the First Time, a Dardenne doc from 1979, among other goodies.
In a world of increasingly quick, fast, now, next… we can and easily do lose sight of some things that last longer and delve deeper. Many move on to the next before really appreciating the now. Theoretically, it seems something extraordinary will just simply rise to the top against lesser competition. But it often tends to be the opposite — with a distracted and perhaps media-exhausted audience.
Just look at how we find new music – blended in with a seemingly endless list of others one click or swipe away; as opposed to sitting down for a listen to one album by one artist, for a dedicated period of time. Let alone if music doesn’t follow a traditional 4/4 format and verse/chorus/bridge in a clean 3.5 min package. That is what for many of our ears we’ve perhaps accepted as comfort.
But for the likes of saxophone extraordinaire Kamasi Washington, no bother. He has succeeded in growing his talent immensely since a young age, and now pioneering an impressive career while doing what may be exactly the key: Not really paying attention to what conventional wisdom would say – rather making strides to explore and hone his craft the way his art form and fellow musicians inspire him to do so. And letting the track run on a little longer [10 + min at times], where he may come across a new found groove that would’ve remained caged and tethered. Ahhh, let freedom reign!
This approach, whether directly intentional or not, has frequently landed Kamasi in recording studios and on stages with many of music’s brightest stars, save no genre — including Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, and Broken Bells just to name a recent few.
Now in 2015, he has proudly presented his momentous effort, the critically acclaimed and aptly entitled album, “The Epic.” Take for example that Kamasi — and his crew “The Next Step or The West Coast Get Down” (who have been playing together since high school) have spent nearly five years putting together this album — which is a close to three-hour collection featuring full choirs and string sections.
I talked with Kamasi ahead of his upcoming show at World Café Live 8/27 (tix HERE) about The Epic, some experiences that have in turn formed his approach, and much more.
CONVERSATION WITH KAMASI WASHINGTON
Aran Hart: What do you think it is in your musical education, exploration, or maybe just in your natural ear for music that lends itself to successfully trying out different varieties/forms of music?
Kamasi Washington: It’s probably mix of all that, my personality combined with how I like to live. I kind of get obsessed with whatever I’m doing. I was also an Ethnopsychology major (the psychology of races and peoples) in school. I studied jazz music growing up and got my first gig with Snoop Dogg… so it’s always been a mixture of things bringing me to where I am today.
AH: With a lot of music that listeners are exposed to today, there is a safe format/structure that many have come to expect when they press play… How does your approach and style differ? How do find a groove and bring all the moving parts together into what can be a track/song/album ?
KW: In my approach to music I didn’t ever really take to thoseconventions. With my career I spent so much time playing for other people and immersing myself into whatever their music was. It was great for me because I learned and absorbed a lot from them, but it became hard to express my own thoughts, ideas, and concepts.
When I started into my own process, I was able to be much more uncompromising. It’s like a dog that’s lived in the yard for so long and you open the gate — it wants to run. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to run, I wanted to go, I didn’t want to really pay attention to other people. I was by myself and there were no rules… no time punching … I could just make the music the way that it naturally came. It happens so often that musicians feel as if they don’t follow those conventions, that no one listen to their music, that no one will play their music, or no one will like their music. So they follow those guidelines because they think that’s what they need to do. I didn’t care. I was going to express myself how I wanted to express myself and not be so concerned about the outcome.
AH: I know you just talked about how you focused inward for your own music. Could you also talk about the importance of playing with other musicians — that collaborative process — and for you in particular how it has helped you learn and grow as a musician…
KW: It’s very important in general, not just in music, but in life… in order to expand your horizons. For me when I play music with someone else I try to totally immerse myself in their philosophy, and take that information and that philosophy back to my music. I often learn something new about my music by looking at it in a new way I didn’t know was there.
I remember in the band we had together with Snoop, people were seeing that they had this super detailed and different approach to hearing music and playing music… For example, there were different frequencies and tones people felt were relevant to them. Not just what key you were playing but what part of the beat you were playing on. We weren’t just talking about notes… we were talking about frequencies, and life organisms (haha). And really they were all related to what everyone else knew about each other. It gets deep…
AH: Given your music’s format and style, how closely does the live version of your music resemble its recording?
KW: Every time I play it’s completely different. Even if I tried to make it the same it would be completely different. When I was putting together my album we had a full choir, a full band, and we had all these plans. It’s a difficult thing but it’s a beautiful thing about the guys that I play with… We’re all really tuned in to each other. And when you’re tuned in like that your spirit changes not just day to day, but even hour to hour. It won’t be the same tempo, won’t be the same place. So, the music is dictating for us to go different places. The slightest little change in feeling or space might, and usually does, totally change what you end up playing.
In terms of live versions — we just finished our first two weeks of our first tour [dates] — and basically every single night has been completely different. It’s cool though because it ends up being relevant to where we are. I don’t try to force it in any one direction… just flow with it, and we’re all open to responding and reacting to what it is, not what it was.
AH: Are you superstitious or ritualistic about any part of playing your music? Any kind of must haves or must do’s that you can share?
KW: No, not exactly. If anything I really try to clear my mind and relax by taking a moment or two to day dream. I’m around a bunch of musicians that all are pretty spacey and all over the place [haha]. So I find myself wrangling all the personalities to I guess … keep the chaos in order — but really the chaos is the order. I think I try not to do any one thing because there’s an energy and a spirit that you get from being free and you can’t really be free and do the same thing every time. I try to let myself be open to whatever’s going to happen at that moment.
AH: You have an impressive list of features and appearances where you’ve played with a lot of different people and sat in on studio sessions etc… Discuss the difference in the creative process for you now being the “leader” of your own project(s)?
KW: For someone else’s project you are figuring out what that other person or people have in mind as their vision — and what they want. And you know, sometimes it’s challenging and sometimes it’s not. Some people are articulate and can tell you want they want and some people can’t.
Making music for yourself is more trying to create that vision, which is a different feel and different process — it’s more introspective. It’s like looking in versus looking out. When I was making The Epic, it was very clear to me what the vision of this album was and what I was going to be trying to capture. There was a sound and an approach I knew that we as a group had been working on for a while.
As a listener, you kind of just listen. With this, I could really feel all the changes, the push and pull of what was happening. I was in it. Everything felt amplified, and bigger, and slower in a way. For me it became very contextual and I could see it the different colors and different textures, if you will.
AH: Two part question: Your music being mainly instrumental seems to allow the listener to interpret a scene, rather than lyrics driving a topic… Do you see any movie scores or soundtracks in your future? And also, talk about the power of instrumental music compared to music that is lyric driven…
KW: As far as the movie score, yea that would be awesome. When I came up with the concept of The Epic I was definitely thinking about epic in the sense of “the story,” not “the size.” What inspired the whole album to be what it is, was that I had this vague kind of dream, which turns into this “wow story.” That story really encompasses what all the songs are about.
In regards to instrumental music… Music to me is a universal form of expression and to a degree sometimes words can get in the way of expression. Of course also sometimes lyrics can capture what the music is expressing. I feel like music in general doesn’t come from us, it comes through us. It comes to us as a seed and depending on what you do to it, it grows. So in that aspect, music is left in the hands of the writer and in the musician.
That’s why great songs differ from good songs, and good songs differ from bad songs. It’s like listeners all think, “Did the composer capture the essence of the music? And if so, how exactly did they capture that essence?” Basically, that’s going to dictate to the listener if they like the song.
Words add another layer — but also another opportunity to mess it up. Instrumental music is the purest form of expression. Once you bring words into the mix it can really amplify an expression — by either having your words match that expression, or you can mess it up by having words that don’t match.
With instrumental music you just feel it. It’s telling you something. You’re learning something. You’re feeling something and absorbing it. You’re communicating something without words… rather with a pure emotional connection.
AH: Lastly, where would one most likely find you in your hometown of LA?
KW: I’m all over the place. I live in Inglewood so maybe catch me somewhere like Leimert Park. We have an ongoing residency at Piano Bar in Hollywood. Honestly, I’m a pretty active person, not a home body, so I’m all over the place… So wherever there’s something happening, there’s a good possibility I’m there!
Red Bull Sound Select returns to Philly this week on Thursday, August 20th at Underground Arts with Philly native and legendary singer Bilal, who is currently on tour promoting his critically acclaimed album “In Another Life.”
Curated by WXPN/The Key, this show will feature talented soul singer Son Little and electo pop artist Kate Faust, both of whom call Philly their home.
Guests can RSVP HERE and pay only $3 at the door for entrance.
Summer is in full swing and the party continues with Heineken Green Room! Please join us for 3 Feet High: A Creative Co-mix of music and art featuring Maseo, the beat-making backbone of the legendary hip-hop group De La Soul, and Tim Diet, international guru of contemporary graffiti.
Plus come dance to sounds from DJs Manuvers and Mr. Sonny James while enjoying refreshments amidst a rare art exhibit, as Heineken Green Room celebrates the best dynamics in urban culture.
Remember, this event is open ONLY to Heineken Green Room members. RSVP to obtain access for this and future events, for you plus a friend by August 17th at 5pm.
You must be 21 or over to enter. RSVP does not guarantee admittance, so arrive early, as entry will be first come first serve.
King of Kings. Lords of Lords. And… The Storm of Storms
The whole city was caught in a torrential downpour Thursday Night that buzzed mobile phones with legitimate flash flood warnings — as streets like 12th St and Callowhill filled up with 3ft + of water [see photo below]. Thus, the scheduled performance at a then puddly Underground Arts was quickly moved to higher ground; at the friendly and cozy confines of The Fire in Northern Liberties.
So, after a quick jaunt and unexpected performance from “The Homophones” — South Philly rock band who was gigging on The Fire’s calendar — “The Young Lions Tour” (on the tail end of two months across the United States) took center stage after midnight.
Youthful backing band The Bebble Rockers quickly dialed in the sound [and UP the bass] before welcoming headlining act Kabaka Pyramid to begin his talented display. Arguably, and perhaps due to a lack of peers willing to do so, Kabaka in many eyes is a leading torch bearer for critically acclaimed conscious reggae artists. Search his catalog of recordings, or step inside a live show and you’ll quickly find he’s up to this challenge.
Chanting against social injustice and for the teachings of Rastafari, the Kingston born and bred performer proudly shines a bright smile on stage to balance a focused and gifted delivery. Unfazed by the change of venue and later start time, Kabaka Pyramid roused his audience and shared many pleasant exchanges, pausing at times to explain the poignant messages in his lyrics .
Fellow Jamaican (Linstead, St. Catherine-born) and tour-mate Iba Mahr provided an ample encore presentation, plus more, bouncing between a raspy-er style and sweeter notes. This effort succeeded in keeping The Fire [pun intended] burning well past closing time — with hands, sentiments, and mind states held high. This tour being an in person introduction to many for Iba Mahr, it will be interesting to see what heights he ascends to.
Famously in my family, my parents went to see this Alain Resnais classic when it first came out in 1959. One of them loved it, one of them hated it, and they debated its merits in the days afterward – and for years after that (when the title ever came up in conversation, my sister and I knew what was coming). Delicately directed by Resnais, working from an intricate screenplay by novelist Margaurite Duras, the film is ostensibly about a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva), in Hiroshima to make a decidedly anti-war film, who has an affair with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada), as they debate their philosophy on war. What it’s really concerning though is what we talk about when we talk about war, an observation on the ways in which we communicate with each other, as humans, combatants, and doomed lovers (a Duras specialty).
Similarly hypnotic and trance inducing as Resnais later masterpiece, Last Year at Marienbad, the film is little more than an extended, slightly existential conversation between two soulful people (perhaps an inspiration to Richard Linklater for his excellent Before series), that is always fascinating and engaging. It might not have the same shock-value it did when it was first released, but it remains every bit as vital. As it happens, I can never seem to remember which of my parents liked it and which one hated it, but, given the film’s circumstances, that feels strangely appropriate.
This handsome Criterion BD release also is laden with extras, including a commentary by film historian Peter Cowie, interviews with Resnais and Riva, and a mini-doc on the film’s arduous restoration.
THIRD ANNUAL ROOTS, ROCK, RUN 5K RETURNED TO GERMANTOWN NEIGHBORHOOD IN PHILADELPHIA TO PROMOTE HEALTHY LIFESTYLES IN URBAN DISADVANTAGED COMMUNITIES
Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, The GrassROOTS Community Foundation (GCF), members of The Roots band, and hundreds of Philadelphians took to the streets of Germantown on May 30th for the 3rd Annual Roots, Rock, Run (R3) 5k community walk/run.
“We are running, walking, and talking in Germantown to show our support for healthy girls and healthy communities,” declares Trotter, co-founder and MC of the, The Roots.
Fourteen year-old Crystal Ortiz (pictured above), was this year’s winner finishing the route in 18:25. She was one of hundreds of runners and walkers that helped raise nearly $6,000. Proceeds from the race went to support GrassROOTS afterschool health programs for youth at Anna L. Lingelbach Elementary School. Primary support for R3 comes from Jimmy Jazz stores, who gifted 100 pair of Adidas sneakers and Reebok who donated 100 pairs to participating youth. Additional key support came form State Legislature Stephen Kinsey, Councilwoman Cindy Bass, State Senator Art Haywood, the Philadelphia Police Department and SEPTA.
R3 is a GrassROOTS engagement activity that raises awareness of the importance of physical activity and healthier living and seeks to reclaim impoverished neighborhood spaces. This year’s event took place once again at Lingelbach Elementary, site of the new GrassROOTS’ afterschool program for girls, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
GrassROOTS chose to remain at Lingelbach because of the economic and social challenges facing the community. More than a quarter of the residents in the targeted neighborhood live in poverty, and the income per capita is 15 percent less than the rest of Philadelphia. Equally important was the fact that Lingelbach was only awarded $160.00 for their discretionary funding for the entire school year.
City Councilwoman Cindy Bass, State Rep Steve Kinsey, State Sen Art Haywood and Aja Graydon of Kindred the Family Soul were all in attendance, along with runners from Black Girls Run, the Black Running Organization, Black Men Run and even the principal of Lingelbach. R&B groups Mprynt and Good Girl both performed.
The day also featured other acts of service and activities, including face-painting and surprise musical performances. And as tradition dictates, R3 hosted its dance contest. The Lingelbach Home and School Association was also collecting summer reading books and toys that encourage outdoor activity.
Philly, It’s time to celebrate the African New Year and our city’s rich culture and heritage with the 40th Annual Odunde Festival. Meaning “ Happy New Year” in Yoruba, Odunde was created in the likeness of African celebrations of the Yoruba people in Nigeria.
Held every second Sunday in June since 1975, this massive event brings South Street West to life, drawing thousands of visitors from around the country to shop its African marketplace, take in lively performances, and enjoy all of the other Odunde festivities.
Each year, the festival begins with a group procession from South 23rd and South Streets to the Schuylkill River to make offerings to Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of the river. Then the crowd returns to 23rd and South for the official start of the festival, which stretches over twelve city blocks. In the African marketplace, vendors from around the globe offer great food, art, clothing, jewelry, and other black and African-influenced wares.
In addition to great shopping and eats, Odunde features two stages that will explode with some of Philly and the country’s most entertaining performers. Be on the look out for great R&B, soul and gospel music, African dancing and Odunde’s signature drum circle.
This year’s performance highlights include Philadanco, Rennie Harris, Philly Youth Poetry Movement and a special throwback hip-hop concert feaeturing Kurt Blow, Special Ed, Chubb Rock and Kwame.
Click here to get the full deets on this year’s Odunde festival.
Do you believe ‘The world is at your fingertips’ ?? This belief may be showing its truth more and more every day. Your ability to reach the world through travel and the internet has afforded many opportunities that many would never image. The individual from a small rural part of the world now has the ability to touch those in large cities like New York and Tokyo. Which brings us to an unlikely pairing on paper but in today’s ever changing market, more common than not. How does a leather goods company from Spain connect with a Maasai Chief from Kenya? This is where opportunity and preparation meet.
Pikolinos is a Spanish shoe brand that forms part of the Pikolinos Group, a company whose activities range from tanning leather to having their own shops. Their story…
Maasai Tribal Chief Kikanae Ole Pere, or William as he is known in the West, is a Maasai warrior who was declared leader of his community in Kenya after his unwavering efforts to provide for his tribe. William crossed paths with the President of the NGA ADCAM Rosa Escandell and together started a long journey to raise awareness in the Maasai community to inspire them to build for a better future via their own economic resources outside of tourism. Together they created The Maasai Project.
Maasai Project is a design collaboration program with Pikolinos and the Maasai Mara in Kenya and Tanzania where the profits are given back to the Maasai women involved to provide hope and opportunity for a sustainable future through building their own economic resources while empowering women with greater rights and employment.
I had the honor to meet and speak with William at Benjamin Lovell Shoes in Center City.
Olumide: How did the collaboration start between yourself and Pikolinos?
William: This all started from a dream I had that one day I’d be able build my own business, travel, and positively affect the people in my community. I was lucky to meet the owners of Pikolinos and present them my ideas and we were able to create the Maasai Project.
How has this project helped the women of the Maasai Tribe?
The project has allowed women to be self-sustaining in an environment that does not always foster a woman’s independence. Through the Maasai Project it was taught women entrepreneurship and allowed them to make wages for themselves feed their families and send their children to school.
Are there any plans or hopes to expand into other fashion areas?
Yes, working with Pikolinos has given us a great opportunity to see how well the woman’s designs are for shoes and since Pikolinos works with leather goods we would love for the women to design more. With this current project the women have been able to create bracelets and necklaces that are great accessories with the shoes.
Do you think this will inspire the youth to pursue more projects that allow them to affect their community and the world?
Yes, this was a part of my dream. I wanted my people to be able to have more opportunities to grow and learn. We’ve been able to create programs that help educate children. Through this we hope to expose children to more opportunities and have an interest in what they can do for their community and the world.
How do you think your leadership has changed the tribe for the better?
My leadership has opened the eyes of the community and how we view women. Before women were not as valued as they should be. Entrepreneurship has really allowed women to go above and beyond the Maasai Project and shown the strength and ingenuity of our women.
Do you have a favorite design?
Yes I have a favorite. They are all my favorite (laughs)!