Archive for April, 2010

I’ve put a video of this boy up on my facebook page, but had to put this one here. He’s five years old now and has been playing ukulele for a year. He’s Japanese, so if you don’t understand the words to his original song, it’s okay. Check out his other videos, too! As I’ve said before, all children should be given ukuleles at birth.


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I got an e-mail from a friend of mine, Ted Warmbrand, of Tucson AZ (one of the great song encyclopedists of our country) that Salvador Cardenal Barqero had died. I pause for a long moment at his passing in appreciation of who he was.

Salvador was a singer and songwriter, half of the brother/sister duo Guardabarranco from Nicaragua, that was at the heart of the nueva cancion (new song) movement in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolution there and during the aftermath, when the US government was determined to subvert the changes that these well-meaning, hopeful people were hoping to bring to their poor, struggling country. Whatever the Sandinistas and Daniel Ortega have done recently (straying from the vision that brought them to power), that moment in Central American history was singular and hopeful regarding what we might be. Guardabarranco and Salvador’s songs were at the very heart of that hope.

Their songs played in our car and house continuously for several years. What was most striking about Salvador’s songwriting was his commitment not just to a politics of justice, but to all people and especially to the Earth. He was a Sandinista in the eighties because he looked at the planet and imagined the possibility that we might live in harmony with it. As a writer of nueva cancion, he was unafraid to see and say what was in his heart – the vulnerability of lyrics in Spanish is something that’s hard to duplicate in English. He has some line, somewhere, in which he sings that his love is a wave crashing on the beach. That is a hard line to write in English today (we are so unromantic), but the Hispanic world embraces this kind of sentiment. His love for the Earth was communicated beautifully in his work.

From Dias del Amar:

Vienan ya dias de amar
La casa que habitar
Dias de amar, la tierra vegetal
Flor y animal
Vienen ya rios con aqua sin envenar
Agua que beben los que tenen sed
Vienen ya bosques pulmones de la gran ciudad
Selvas que amaran noches de paz
Que hacian falta a la humanidad

In English (roughly, my translation)

Still to come are days of love for
The house you live in
Days to love the world of plants
Flowers and animals
Still to come are rivers of water without poison
Water to drink for those who are thirsty
As you are
Still to come are the great breathing lungs of a city,
Forests that love the nights of peace
Needed, missing by humanity

I met Salvador briefly. He was, as some artists are, tough to be around. I arranged for a concert for him here in Providence. They showed up and Katia was sick as a dog – I don’t know how she got though the night at Stone Soup Coffeehouse. They stayed at our house, one night far away from home, on a very demanding tour. He smoked cigarettes in the house after we asked him not to. He ruined our favorite frying pan when he made some frittata he insisted on making. He begged our forgiveness for his transgressions, depending on his charisma to get him through. Sitting at breakfast, I sang him a song I had just written, and he made one very slight suggestion about the melody, which turned it from a pedestrian one into a memorable one. He could do that. He was gifted and tortured, and wonderful and he will be missed.

Here’s a video of that song “Dias de Amar” (sorry about the lack of accents in the Spanish, folks).
I’m glad he was here.

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I was lucky enough to be the Sounds of the Mountain Festival, in Fincastle, Virginia this weekend with two of my favorite storytelling pals, Beth Horner and Kevin Kling. There was only one stage and we traded time with each other and Alan Hoal, one of the organizers of the festival who did a great job telling. (And Kim Weitkamp was a great emcee – thanks Kim)

It was fun to be there – with only one stage, when I wasn’t talking, I sat and listened to Beth and Kevin. Having worked with them over the years, I know a lot of their material, and I got to hear some of my favorite stories of theirs – Beth’s family story of the civil war, and her tragic (hilarious) encounter with a romance novel, and Kevin’s stories about Christmas, baseball as Greek epic, and survival (hmm, aren’t all Kling’s stories about survival?). In each of those stories, I heard things I had never heard before (especially Kevin’s stories, which are small dense jewels of words and feeling). And I told some stories I’ve been telling a long time – “Bats” and “Build Me Up Buttercup”. In the middle of my stories, things happened that have never happened before.

I’m usually feeling guilty that I don’t have any good, new material – just this old stuff! – it’s a curse. And when you’re working with people of the caliber of Beth and Kevin, you can find yourself wondering what you’re doing up there. (Is my creative well dry? Look at them!) But there’s a flip side to the process of creating, which is that it takes a long, long time, and many tellings of a story for it to really grow into a full-fledged piece of art. The stronger the frame is and the more it’s been crafted and spoken, the more you can relax into the moment and find things you didn’t know were there.

In improvisation, you depend on shutting your mind down with the immediacy of the demand – “There’s no time to think – just do!” Good things happen when you can do that. Well, at least part of the time!

But the other approach is to know something really well, so that you can take a walk through it – in that process, relaxation helps the mind still, and you find new things, and new ways to say the things you have been trying to say for a long time.

I wish I was always immediately brilliant. But usually, it happens when I don’t expect it, and it happens after a long time of thinking I’ll never say anything worthwhile again.

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I’ve been a fan of Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem for a number of years – I like how they’ve brought their own strong, unique voice to traditional music and made it their own. I like their approachable weirdness. And their sense of joy, despite the craziness around us. Now they’ve got a kid’s album out, Ranky Tanky, which brings all of that to songs they think all ages would like. I like it a lot.

They don’t condescend at all, the songs are all really strong, (Where did they find some of them? Never heard “Bear To the Left” before , and am really jealous) the musicianship is great, and it sounds like they’re having a great time playing and singing. All too often people who work for kids present material as if it’s something the kids should like and they’ll put up with. Not these guys.

You can listen to some of their songs here, and here’s a video of a live performance of Ranky Tanky.

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