Tag Archives: music

Un-expectations and Loving Life

Sometimes things don’t go the way we plan. We all know this. We adapt and survive. And somehow, sometimes we not only adapt but thrive at the same time.

Late last Thursday we got the bad news that Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté would not be able to travel for their much anticipated scheduled performance on our program the following night. Clearly, this was a bummer. It’s been years since Toumani performed in Los Angeles, and never with his son here. They are amazing performers and we were eager to watch the 71st and 72nd generations from one of Mali’s most revered griot families.

Details were few in the moment and almost irrelevant as it was time for us to rally to make the necessary announcements to ticketholders and changes to the production schedule for the following evening. Luckily, this performance was always intended to be a co-headlining event with the one-and-only, the amazing Rokia Traoré so we knew there was still something great in store.

As I spread the word to the members of the media who I knew were coming, the resounding response was while the Diabatés would certainly  be missed, the evening was still a must-see concert with Rokia and her full band doing an extended set.

I talked to our box office manager who had spoken to several ticket buyers on the night of the show who said they used the Toumani and Sidiki cancellation as a reason to find out more about Rokia, and chose to attend just for her.

I don’t think anyone was disappointed. She was luminous. She was powerful. She rocked. She soothed. She got us up out of the comfy seats to dance along with her and her mesmerizing duo of backup singer/dancers.

At one point in the evening she started talking about why she doesn’t write traditional love songs.

“I am, in general,” she said in her liltingly sultry voice. “In love. With life. And so, in everything I sing, I am singing about love.”

I can get on board with that sentiment. And it seemed to me that everyone who stuck around to welcome this remarkable artist to the Royce stage for the first time, felt pretty much the same way.

We were also fortunate to have among us KCRW’s Tom Schabel. I don’t know about you, but I consider this man to be my world guide. I trust him. I need him to help me hear sounds and songs and voices I might not otherwise encounter. KCRW in general is a great place for just that, but Tom’s focus on artists from around the globe as made him our local ambassador to the music of the world. He was on hand that night for a pre-show DJ set and to talk about the extraordinary music of Mali.

He shared some background information on the Diabate family, noting that Toumani’s sister had passed away which is what prevented the artists from traveling, which helped everyone listening understand, empathize and perhaps even celebrate the present moment more deeply.

The whole situation reminded me of a story I read about Afrocubism. Back in 1996, the plan was to gather in Havana a group of singers from Cuba and a group of musicians from Mali, including Toumani. For some unexplained to this day reason, the Malian artists never arrived. Instead, recording carried on with just the Cuban contingent, and a little album known as The Buena Vista Social Club emerged. (Afrocubism was finally recorded and released 14 years later).

A couple of years after that, I was working for a DVD/home entertainment magazine, covering the emerging music DVD market. The Buena Vista Social Club DVD blew my mind and made me think about the phrase “world music” in a very different and much more eagerly exploratory way.

It’s so interesting to know that it came into being by a sort of accident of fate. It’s had such a lasting impact on my music tastes. Many artists who come to our program have such an impact on my music tastes, deepening and broadening them at the same time. Rokia has taken her place among that list now.

We can’t control the fates, but we can control the way we react to them. Friday night we were thrown for a loop, but we still came together in celebration of music and the people who make music that speaks to our souls, music and artistry that maybe helps us all be just a little much more…..

well…..

In Love.

With Life

An evening with Rokia Traore Sept. 26, 2014-Royce Hall

Our unsigned editorial from the evening’s program notes

It is not untoward or hyperbolic to apply the word magical to Malian music. Music is an integral part of the country’s culture, its societal structure, its entire way of life and way of being in the world. For an art form to play such an important role in the history and ethos of an entire nation is magical. And it follows that Mali is a country that has become known around the world for its extraordinary musicians.

The ancient griot tradition of Mali weilds roots that run deep and yet branch themselves across time and space, through generations and into hearts and minds of peoples of all races, creeds and religions around the world.

The modern musicians who share the blues-based music of Mali share with us their certain magic. A soul-stirring, uplifting, and yes, even sometimes heart-wrenching magic.

In 2012, Islamic extremists overtook Northern Mali, imposing harsh Shariah Law that included an attempt to ban music. Mali’s artists refuse to be silenced. This art, so magical, so integral to the culture of Mali, will not slip away thanks to the bravery, the artistry, the purpose and intention of the people who continue to create and share it with us.

Tradition and exploration coalesce in Rokia Traoré, who we are utterly delighted to present tonight with her full band. Rokia, like so many artists from Mali, serves as a bridge between worlds, between the modern and the ancient, between memory and reverie. Rokia’s music speaks a magical language, deftly traversing themes of hope as well as sorrow and defiance.

This evening has taken shape differently than we originally intended. One of Mali’s most-revered artists and a man who is known as one of the greatest instrumentalists in the world, Toumani Diabaté was set to appear with his son Sidiki as they toured in support of their recent album of duets.

Unfortunately, just yesterday we were informed by Toumani’s  management that they have experienced unexpected personal and logistical difficulties to start the tour. These factors, complicated by Toumani’s poor health, have resulted in their inability to come to the States.  Everyone deeply regrets the circumstances that have lead to this outcome.  We are working with the artist’s management to review the feasibility of rescheduling this tour.

We’re very grateful you are here tonight to help us welcome Rokia Traoré to Royce Hall for the first time.

Make no mistake, she is going to rock this place.

Mali’s most precious assets are its music and culture, its traditional faith and the bonds that bind its many different peoples. And its artists have an innate ability to create ties that bind between us all.

That part of tonight’s performance is unchanged.

Thank you for joining us.

 

In the Machine

This weekend we got a rare experience to get up close and personal with the art we present. Folks who attended the Paul Dresher Ensemble Schick Machine performances  were invited to cap off the show by taking a hands-on tour of the eponymous machine from the production.

And I mean hands-on. The creators refer to this moment as “The Petting Zoo.” They not only allow, but encourage eager hands to pick up mallets and bang on implements in this crazy sonic laboratory. Dresher and Schick and members of their crew were on hand to offer suggestions and instructions of how to make sounds and to explain how all the pieces work.

I attended the Sunday matinee with my significant other, who is something of a sonic tinkerer himself, (mostly in a playground called Abelton), I could sense his wonder and desire to crawl inside this glorious concoction on the stage (which kind of is what I imagine the inside of his brain looks like).

We immediately lined up, eager to get our chance inside the machine, along with about a third of the audience from the performance, many of whom were young children who excitedly chattered with their parents about their favorite parts of the machine and how they might build their own.

Steven Schick himself came out and chatted with a few of the kids for a minute, asking “Are you ready to go in and bang on some stuff!?”

The answer was a resounding “yes.” We all were ready, and we were not disappointed. Up close, the Schick Machine was cleverly ingenious and delightful to experience as a group of curious amateurs collectively provided a soundtrack of dissonance that was somehow just as engaging as Schick’s charming and meticulous theatrical stage performance.

Of course, few of us were able to extract the same quality and precision of sound as the mastermind himself, but that is as it should be.

Paul Dresher, composer of the piece was staked out on the stage to help answer questions and guide interested audience-goers through the elaborate inner workings of the device and how it all comes together in live performance.

It was a moment of incredible generosity from a group of passionate artists that I have no doubt left a powerful impression on the imaginations of all those who got a chance to experience it with us.

If you were one of those people, thank you so much for leaving your own stamp on the machine and helping invent this performance for CAP UCLA.

On Dreams and Tightropes

The last few weeks of artists and programs that have entered our sphere have made me think about dreams and tightropes.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr @Creative Commons
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr @Creative Commons

Mike Daisey, in a solo performance that was somehow softer, more-nostalgic and more inherently loving than I had originally anticipated, talked about not only the dreamscapes he inserted himself into– as a participating observer of Burning Man, his family’s obsession with Disney World and the passionate fervor of the people who originated the Occupy Wall—but also of his own sense of dreaming, the import that holds on his practice and career and they ways in which we can daily invent and reinvent the world together.

He ended his performance on the steps in front of Royce Hall, his booming voice echoing against the portico, the foggy drizzle of raindrops functioning as punctuation to his testament of the power of dreams, and hopes and imagination.

A few days later, as I watched decades-old footage of British miners, their faces—some grizzled, some wide-eyed and fresh—turned to the camera as they crawled into tiny box cars that led them beneath the earth. Listening to Johan Johannsson’s elegiac music of the Miner’s Hymns added to my sensation of wonder. I wondered what those men’s dreams were? And did those dreams include a life spent largely beneath the earth? What were their days above like? Were they happy? What would they think about being immortalized so many years later as part of a dreamscape created by music and film artists?

This weekend brings yet another dreamscape, an entre into a secret inner world of a percussionist. Schick Machine isn’t just a theater performance. It isn’t just a music performance. It is a shared moment of invention, a celebration of the tinkerer, the mad scientist, the creative explorer in us all.

I’ve also been thinking of tightropes. Theater legend Peter Brook uses the concept of the tightrope as a rehearsal technique, which he allowed his son Simon to document in a new film called (appropriately) The Tightrope.  He takes a seemingly simple idea—move with freedom, abandon and cleverness all while adhering to the idea that you are suspended above air on a two-inch surface.

According to a New York Times review of the film:

 The most important requirement is that they convey a sense of reality, as if they were genuinely suspended in the air, their feet hugging a thin cord. After a while, it becomes clear that the tightrope is also a metaphor, standing for the existential risk inherent in every serious instance of playing.

All art, invented by dreaming, through imagination and exploration, exists on a tightrope, a precipice of risk. Creators create in a landscape of unknown outcome.

We as an organization gladly and gratefully also walk this tightrope with every performance, every year as we carefully shape a season of what we believe will be deeply nourishing and meaningful experiences that will in turn instigate more dreaming, more reasons to step on a sliver of reality and look at the world, ourselves, our art, our relationship to art and artists from a new perspective.

Here’s to dreams and tightropes.

“I Love Everything About Young Jean Lee”

That’s what music legend Lou Reed says in this delightfully gushy testimonial about the incredible New York theater artist we are proud to be bringing to Los Angeles for the first time this November.

Reed’s not the only Young Jean Lee lover in the artistic world. On August 6, Young Jean Lee and Future Wife release their first album WE’RE GONNA DIE, with original tracks from the theatrical production performed by Young Jean and featuring a truly eclectic mix of modern recording artists including Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz, Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson, Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt of experimental electronic duo Matmos and Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, and The Julie Ruin.

Just this past Monday, Young Jean and Future Wife performed tracks from the forthcoming album at New York City’s Chez Andre at The Standard for a special Annie-O Music Series Performance.

Check out the album single at Soundcloud and get a taste of what’s in store when Young Jean Lee Theater Company hits LA in November (Single tickets for all five performances at the Actor’s Gang Theater in Culver City go on sale July 11, by the way).

We’re eagerly anticipating Young Jean Lee and Future Wife’s Los Angeles invasion. Until then you’re most welcome to join us in keeping tabs on this truly unique artist who is changing the theater landscape in very exciting ways. Checking out the album when it hits. Get a dose of the Young Jean style by reading a few of her plays in print.

Join us for WE’RE GONNA DIE. Let’s get exhilarated and depressed together.

Summer Dreaming

We celebrated the solstice last night with our friends at the Fowler Museum in a special summer bash.

It was a lovely setting on the Fowler’s treetop terrace, watching the sun make a kaleidoscope out of the foliage and shadows that enclosed us in a setting of wonderful food from some of our favorite Westwood eateries (MANY thanks to the Glendon, Palomino and West) and great companionship. The turning of the season (such as it is in our gloriously temperate climate) allowed us to collectively to count some of our many blessings–namely the art and artists that we and the Fowler Museum are so proud to support and perpetuate and the generous donors who allow us to do so.

Kristy Edmunds introduces 3 Leg Torso, gets the party started.

The evening was set to the lively gypsy-like sounds of Portland’s 3 Leg Torso. If you’ve never heard of this group, I encourage you to check them out. The pure joy and celebratory nature of their instrumental tunes would make a perfect backdrop for many a summer bash.

We spend a lot of time over the course of the season with the most passionate members of our audience, those individuals who choose to support our programming through not just monetary giving but the giving of their time and energy, both in the sense that they pound the pavement to being even more resources to bear for our endeavors and as they attend performances, leaning forward to make the artists we believe in feel welcomed and understood.

During the summer, when our performances are on hiatus, and as we eagerly prepare for the coming season, we miss those in-person moments with our donors and audience members. We love hearing their thoughts, reactions and yes even critiques to the programming on the stage.

Art should instigate dialogue, connection, communion and reflection that lives on beyond a moment on the stage or a thoughtful pass through an inspiring installation. Live performance especially always instigates a shared moment, a shared experience. And then, as Kristy Edmunds so often reminds us, we as the audience, the promoter, the supporter, we get to walk away with that experience, whatever it may have wrought inside, and we become the permanent collection of an ephemeral piece of art.

We’re all walking galleries with a beautiful responsibility to share things that have inspired us with one another. It was great to take a moment last night to remember that.

I was reminiscing with one of our board members about the Trisha Brown Retrospective and the impact that massive production had on both my personal life as an art lover (not to mention my sleeping patterns as a worker here).

She shook her head thoughtfully and said: “That week. You know, that week changed my life.”
Yeah, I know. And that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

Here’s to a summer chock-full of life-changing moments. This city is so vibrant in the summer. There are so many ways to experience music and live performance, from free concerts at Grand Performances or Leavitt Pavilion, or right here in our neighborhood at the Hammer Museum.

We hope you seek them out. We will be.

And we hope you seek us out in September when our new batch of programming begins.

The Art of Intention

As a presenter of ephemeral art, we talk a lot about “purposeful intent,” and how it is the engine that drives our mission.

We started 2013 with that mission in full effect and have also been fortunate to spend this New Year surrounded by the purposeful intent of some truly astonishing artists.

Cheek by Jowl’s early-January performances of a 400-year-old and yet still utterly shocking work of English drama illuminated just how powerful intention can be. It is companies like Cheek by Jowl who keep ancient words and thoughts and language very much alive and give them shape and form. Classic theater texts like John Ford’s would not live on the way they do without the purposeful intent of artists like the performers, directors and crew of companies like Cheek by Jowl and we were honored to host the final performances of the ever-controversial “‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore.”

Avant-pop violinist Amadeus Leopold brought us a fascinatingly purposeful look at his own highly theatrical approach to classical music. In an oddly compelling blend of bondage gear and blood capsules, he confessed to “the murder of Hahn-Bin,” rising anew as the one-and-only Amadeus Leopold and treated us to a recital that straddled virtuosic skill and highly intentional imagery.Just two weeks ago, a tiny but by no means diminutive, force of nature blew through our lives as Meredith Monk and her acclaimed vocal ensemble prepared for the world premiere of her “On Behalf of Nature.” As the name implies, this deep, profound and meditative piece was incredibly purpose-driven. It is not in Monk’s nature to outright preach or create a work of abject activism. But there was a wistful sadness, and an elegiac longing in the intricately staged theatrical moments of “On Behalf of Nature,” deftly woven into the beautiful vocal and instrumental compositions. We were meant to leave that space ruminating on our own interpretation of our place in nature, our power as humans to either destroy or preserve it, our responsibility to it and to ourselves.

Leading up to the performances, Meredith re-visited the work she began with students last spring as CAP UCLA’s first resident artist, working with them to craft a subtle and highly-individualized pre-show installation that those students (and a few art-loving non-students!) performed in the courtyard of the Freud Playhouse prior to every showing of “On Behalf of Nature.” It was simultaneously conspicuous and understated in a way only Meredith could create and it set an incredibly appropriate tone for the audience before they even entered the theater.

Watching these students interact with Meredith Monk in those days before the performances, it was clear that part of her purpose as an artist is to pass along elements of her craft to a new generation, and it is clearly something that will echo long into their futures. These students and members of our campus community quite literally, as they rehearsed in uncharacteristically frigid Los Angeles temperatures, warmed to Meredith like moths to a flame.

I watched her sit within a circle of them as they rehearsed a brief vocal refrain, turning her head from one to another, smiling with approval and almost, it seemed to me, in blessing.

Meredith Monk performing “On Behalf of Nature” Freud Playhouse Jan. 18-20

It was a beautiful moment to witness and a beautiful one for the students involved to experience. But you don’t have to take it from me. Read first-hand from one student-participant’s perspective.

Just last weekend we were incredibly proud to be a home-away-from-home for Australia’s Back to Back Theatre, in the company’s first visit to Los Angeles. Their truly compelling and uniquely crafted original work “Ganesh Versus the Third Reich” was moving and stimulating as it challenged us to consider who has the right to tell a story and how.

These tireless storytellers approach the world from a different point of view. As performers with intellectual disabilities, their worldview often comes from a place of marginalization, and almost always from a sense of “otherness.” The actors and creators here last week were incredibly generous with our audience and our community, sharing their work and insight into their creative process with high school students from across Los Angeles, with students on this campus, and with our own audience Saturday night in a candid Q&A session. We were enthralled company’s bold creativity and intentional mission to set askew our own notions of power, stories and art itself.

It serves us to be intentionally set off our axis once in a while, I think. And many of our visiting artists did that in varied ways this month.

I will wind this long-windedness up with a closing thought about this Friday night, and a bit of a challenge.

Coming up Feb 1, is a concert from “the Hendrix of the Sahara,” Vieux Farka Touré who will perform in tribute to his legendary father Ali Farka Touré. LA’s own afrobeat collective Fool’s Gold opens the show.

Typically this would be just another amazing Royce Hall music moment from another amazing musician.
But, this Friday night serves another purpose–to shine a spotlight on the heartbreaking situation in Ali and Vieux’s homeland of Mali, where the rich culture of music and art came under attack by Islamic fundamentalists.

It’s an unfathomable situation, and one that has only recently started to improve, slowly. Still, it remains somewhat under the radar in U.S. media coverage and general public attention. But Mali matters.

Mali and its rich musical history matters to Fools Gold. The group has been greatly inspired by the artists and music from this part of the world, and is looking to help affected people in the area. They have partnered with an organization called African Sky, which sends humanitarian aid to Mali.

Come to Royce Hall Friday night, hear some amazing music both directly from and inspired by Mali, and check out the limited-edition T-shirts designed by the mission-driven design collective
Upperatus, which will be on sale at the Fool’s Gold merch table. Proceeds from the sale of these T-shirts will go to African Sky.

Many thanks to all of you who joined us for a January filled with artistic riches. And there is so much more to come. We hope to see you soon!

What are you NOT listening to?

That’s a weird question to ask right? I mean, how do you know what you’re not listening to? But as a music lover, do you ever wonder about all the great music you have yet to encounter? I know I do.

As we get ready for a season of great music here at UCLA Live, I’ve been digging around getting more informed on our lineup–which I admit, includes a wealth of artists I’ve not encountered before–educating myself on all that music I haven’t been listening to.

I found this article from last spring from NPR’s “All Songs Considered” program.

Music You Should Love But Don’t

The article specifically mentions a couple of artists UCLA Live has been proud to present, including the up-and-coming guitarist from Mali, Vieux Farka Touré, who is appearing here with blues legend Taj Mahal Oct. 22

This NPR piece also highlights Allen Toussaint, who was on the bill at UCLA Live last spring. What an amazing show that was. If you’re a music lover with varied tastes, you’ve probably encountered Toussaint’s influence  at some point– he’s written songs for or collaborated with just about everyone, including The Meters, Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Band, Paul McCartney, Aaron Neville, Dr. John, Jerry Garcia, Phish and so many others.

But if you caught him here at UCLA Live last season you were lucky. And, if you ever get the chance to see him perform live again, grab it.

Toussaint is incredibly slick, smooth as silk in person, and an gracefully warm and gifted presence on the stage, effortlessly sliding from storytelling to consummate vocals, his hands never missing a chance to caress music out of the keyboard in front of him.

Allen Toussaint at UCLA Live March 6, 2010

I had been loosely touched by Toussaint long before I ever really knew the man’s name, thanks to an old boyfriend who introduced me to The Meters, which has become a perennial favorite.

So now, I’m asking all our music lovers out there, how do YOU discover new music? And what do you love that you think everyone should be listening to?

What are the most trusted go-to sources that consistently inspire new music discovery for you? (Hopefully UCLA Live and other quality performing arts organizations are a part of that for you.)

For me, I have a handful of friends/music lovers in my life whose taste I trust so implicitly that I will listen to anything they tell me I should, no questions asked.  That’s not to say I like everything they like, but I never feel like I’ve wasted my time by checking out one of their recommendations.

Often I will listen to KCRW, especially “Morning Becomes Eclectic” with the day’s tracklist open on my computer. That way when I hear a song that makes me go “Oh wow, who was THAT?” I can make a note of it.

I’ve made a lot of pleasant new discoveries that way.

I’ve discovered my mind and soul are like super-absorbent sponges when it comes to music. I am built to consume as much as possible.

Tell us what we should be listening to! And, we’ll do our best to return the favor on stage in Royce Hall this year, I promise.

The Soundtracks of Our Lives–Live

Yes I dig the band whose name is alluded to in the title of this blog entry, but it’s other self-created “soundtracks” that are running through my mind right now.

I’m talking about those albums that worm their way into your heart and life, the ones you play over and over incessantly (I can’t be the only person who does this!). The ones that either started out meaning something to you, or that grew on you until they did, or that carry such powerful emotion or pack such an evocative punch  in 13 or so tracks that they literally become a soundtrack to periods in your life.

I’m thrilled that we’re starting off our season in September with an event that strikes a chord like that. The legendary John Cale is coming to perform his Paris 1919 album in its entirety. I admit, before coming to UCLA Live, I was not well versed in Cale outside of The Velvet Underground.  But I am absolutely intrigued by this upcoming performance.

It’s a very nostalgic album, written while Cale was living in Los Angeles and apparently thinking very fondly of cities in Europe that he loves—sort of a soundtrack to a time in his life, not to mention  inspired (at least titularly) by the Treaty of Versailles. (Only John Cale could set the Treaty of Versailles to an artistic rock soundtrack nearly half a century after it occurred.) It’s been called his most accessible solo work and it’s extremely appropriate for our Royce Hall stage considering Cale originally recorded it with the UCLA Philharmonia. He’ll be accompanied by a full orchestra here too.

I love the concept of performing albums in their entirety. I’ve only witnessed it a few times….Roger Waters doing Dark Side of the Moon at the Hollywood Bowl and at Coachella a couple of years ago. The Pixies doing Doolittle at the Palladium just last fall.

It works for me. It’s like this ride that you’re on with the artists on stage….you know what’s coming next, they know you know,  and you can just go with it together. It’s a beautiful thing.

Obviously it’s not appropriate for every single album ever made. I can think of a few of my personal favorites that it just wouldn’t be right for.

But I can also think of a few others of those aforementioned soundtracks of my life that I think it might work out with, including The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Green Day’s American Idiot, (though I suppose I could just go see the Broadway show, don’t mock me), Radiohead’s OK Computer, The White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan. (I have yet to truly hone in on why I love that album so much, I’m just going with it).

What do you think of the complete-album performance conceit? What are some of the soundtracks to your life that you might like to experience live and in full?

Even if Paris 1919 may not be on that list (yet), it’s sure to be a magical night in Royce Hall. Hope to see you there.

Photo courtesy nati via Flickr.