Anyone who glances at my social media platforms will quickly realize that my niece Dahlia is the center of my universe. As such, when I am home, every element of my life is at her beck and call, particularly television and music. Though a lover of opera and orchestral works (isn’t every five year old obsessed with the oboe and conducts along to Bruckner?) she has a known fascination with the soundtrack of the recent Disney hit Coco and it is the first selection on every road trip. A glorious celebration of the Mexican/Latinx culture, Coco follows the young protagonist Miguel as he embarks upon an accidental adventure to the tierra de la muerte where he discovers his musical past and destiny. The soundtrack has lush orchestrations, awe inspiring guitar skills, and is full of vibrant references to the Mexican heritage and traditions. Often times lively and dance inspiring, surprisingly the most memorable moment of the show comes in the simple father-daughter duet Remember Me/Recuerdame Me. Accompanied by a sparse guitar lick, this song is Hector’s promise to his toddler daughter, Coco, that no matter how far away he must travel to make his dreams come true, he will always hold her in his heart and sing this lullaby in each night of his absence. As a performer on the road, apart from their young love 90% of the year, this brief song often brings me to tears but also gives me hope that through music Dahlia and I can continue to grow together whether near or far. Well done, Disney. Well done.
Remember me, though I have to say goodbye
Remember me, don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away, I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart
Remember me, though I have to travel far
Remember me, each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again, remember me
Three hours in NYC never fails to be exciting endeavor, one with no shortage of music. Journeying from Grand Central to Times Square/Port Authority, I heard no less than five new performers and ten different pop hits of today and yesteryear. There is an almost overwhelming fusion of marketing, visual art and music throughout the city that pierces all the senses synonymously.
Now imagine crossing the street and seeing a crowd gyrating to the same beat…but there is no audible beat. Perhaps the zombie apocalypse has commenced. Bartender, I’ll have whatever they’re having. New workout trend?
Ever heard of a silent disco? At first that seems like an improbable question but it is one that provokes many different images and feelings. Well, pop on earphones and you are essentially in your own silent disco – multiply that scenario by the power of about twenty-five people listening to the same broadcast and you’ve joined me as I cross the corner a few blocks east of Times Square. Next to the 8.5×11 sheet explaining the situation, they had wireless headphones (and alcohol wipes, thank God) allowing passers-by to tune in. How could I resist? Sanitize. Slip on. Power Up. Bollywood?! All these people were fist pumping, salsaing, and doing their best imitation of the Jai Ho choreography to this unexpected, irresistibly feel good beat. I couldn’t help but be swept into the wave as well. It wasn’t until the 3 minute mark of me clumsily swaying along with my three bags of luggage that I realized I had absolutely no idea what this song was about or what they were saying—I will be the first to admit that Punjabi nor Hindi are my strong suit.
Peeling myself away in an attempt to responsibly be early to my transportation transfer, the hunt for answers began after nabbing the song title from the DJ.
“Okay Google: translation of London Thumakada by Janjua?”
What to do?…Honeymoon!…Queen Saadi Victoria…Like a Virgin?!
You’ve become one from two – The whole of London dances with you!
A wedding song! Of course such fun could only by incited by the colorful, beauteous sound, imagery and family that a Bollywood style wedding portrays. Throughout the song there are references to the tuk-tuk beat of shuffling high heels, women putting on their best makeup while their joy rings out like the bell of Big Ben, and the gutar-goon (pigeon sounds) of flirtation at the ceremony and after. All of these references inevitably culminated in dance for us at that corner, and a new playlist bop for me. Unbeknownst to more than 3/4 of the boogieing crowd we were celebrating the union of a family and in jubilation, creating our own sacred bond. Thinking back, there were no less than ten different ethnicities in the crowd, five languages shouted over the muting of the headphones, ages ranging from 5-65 and at no moment was anyone’s participation questioned or judged. An assembly of varied minds and cultures, joyously forgetting our differences to share innocent human instincts, smile and escape the troubles that surround us. For a moment we gifted one another the chance to simply dance as if no one is watching.
As I listen to Janjua’s hit here in a quite cafe, I uncontrollably commence the sway and head nodding yet again. The visceral need to celebrate the beautiful things in life that bring us happiness cannot be resisted, especially when coated in fun deep percussive beats and bright vocals delivered from the heart. In a world that is so determined to tear us apart and stigmatize everything, to push us to hate what we see on the outside rather than learn what lies within, I think we could all use some more Janjua and silent discos in our lives.
QUEEN by LONDON THUMAKDA
Orient proved to be the rejuvenating oasis of my dreams. There was no shortage of rolling waters, crisp breezes, ample slices of lemon pie and unforgettable musical moments. The bright toned yippings of dogs were accompanied by rehearsals overflowing with not only beauty but unending laughter. Much of that laughter came from the antics and theatrical genius of the one and only Johnathan McCullough. Innovative in every piece, Johnathan went above and beyond to induce tear jerking laughter in Kahane’s Craigslistlieder selection “Opera Scene” – proclaiming the splendor of his available three story walk up apartment, all utilities included for only $550. We soon learn why the price is so low.
I think every New Yorker, especially those of us cautiously traversing this new age of Gypsy Housing, Tinder dating and LinkedIn job offers, can appreciate the unfiltered, at times sensual, honesty of this East Village weirdo. Confessing that he has a compulsion to put ice cubes down people’s shirts (a problem the new roommate will have to bear the brunt of) no catfishing is to be found here. Ignoring musical boundaries, we are seamlessly pulled through six genre bending sections, influenced by the likes of Purcell, Stravinsky, and contemporary musical theatre. One moment a simple suspended recite supplies us the nitty gritty details of the rental, the next second offers a broad arioso akin to “No Word From Tom”, flushing out the characters inner arctic induced ecstasy. A particularly delightful moment comes in the delicate falsettos as the character reveals that he always keeps ice to use on hand, and the audience can feel the tingling dribble of a hexahedron melting in ones palm with each phrase. As the summer comes to a close but the lingering city heat weighs upon our shoulders, I think back to Johnathan crooning “I may come up to you and put an ice cube down your shirt” and guiltily wish I had my own temporary Craigslist creep to do the same…
Andrew Garland sings “Opera Scene” from Craigslistlieder by Gabriel Kahane
In times of joy, in times of chaos, in times of celebration and in times of sorrow, we thrust ourselves into the realm of music. A balm for the soul, music provides a solace that is irreplaceable. Cue my travel from Buffalo to Orient that proved to be a scene cut straight from Dante’s Inferno. Rather than completely going off the rails about a 8 hour commute turned into a 20+ hour nightmare, I decided to plug in my headphones and make the best of the situation with the help of Spotify.
For me, one of the great beauties of music lies in its memory association. Like a strong perfume, the right verse of a song can throw us so vivdly into the past that it becomes the present moment and we are shook to our core. As top 40 hits blared into my earbuds I tried to muster up a smile and ration my water but felt unendingly anxious until the opening bars of “Angel from Montgomery”.
I hadn’t had much interest or knowledge of this song beyond its artists and hearing it at random times, until this summer. Though it isn’t particularly profound, dodging attempts to make grand poetic gestures, and instead offering constant references to the simplicity of a girl just seeking a cowboy and a rodeo poster, therein lies the glory. “There’s flies in the kitchen I can hear ’em there buzzing and I ain’t done nothing since I woke up today.” The simplicity of this song, leaning back and accepting the moments of peace and quiet that this world offers, reminded me of my first trip to Orient in 2015 when it came up in the Cafe Corner playlist—a time when I needed a place to teach me who I was and how to embrace the small, simple pleasures, how to truly inhale the ocean and enjoy that guilty slice of pie—and suddenly my worries went away. I tapped the repeat button and allowed John Prine and Bonnie Raitt to heal my soul for the next hour as I zoomed off to my own slice of paradise and its angel—Orient and my dear Steve.
When an icon passes there is the unavoidable sharing of their creations and outward expressions of nostalgia from fans across borders. In the 21st Century we share in the profound grief that fans face beyond word of mouth and radio broadcast but even more profoundly through social media, sources that allow us to recall or experience for the first time the insurmountable joy fans received from an artist’s work. As I scrolled through Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and every other site this week I was faced with post after post of the gut wrenching truth that the world lost yet another an icon, one who’s influence went far beyond the boundaries of their craft and challenged preconceived notions about not only music, but style, race, and sexuality: this irreplaceable genius was Prince.
I had already written about a Shubert piece but after hearing Purple Rain pipe through my headphones for the tenth time as I lie in the middle of Central Park staring at the clouds I knew I had to change my course. If this is your first of fiftieth time hearing this song let it wash over you with open hearts and minds as the man who made this emblematic piece no longer exists with us but his art endures on.
A combination of rock, gospel and orchestral music, Purple Rain was a staple of Prince’s concert repertoire. A lone guitar starts the piece and is joined by drumming and an organ to set us in a gospel church mood. As the pared down musical summary of the same named film, this track follows the story of “The Kid” and his quest for reconciliation with three characters in his life. The first verse is dedicated to his father, then his ex-girlfriend (Apollonia), and then his band mates.
For decades fans have pondered the true meaning of Purple Rain and why Prince would embark upon such a radical, evocative song style. Prince himself said “When there’s blood in the sky, red and blue equals purple. Purple rain pertains to the end of the world and being with the one you love and letting your faith/god guide you through the purple rain.” Band mate Lisa Coleman said the song symbolizes “a new beginning. Purple, the sky at dawn; rain, the cleansing factor.”
Whether it was supposed to signal the end or beginning of an era, Purple Rain undoubtedly was a dramatic change for pop music and a definitive moment in Prince’s career. Re-translate “Purple Rain” as “Purple Reign,” and Prince’s royal connotations with the color purple throughout his career come to the forefront and further the belief that he was, and remains, an uncontested member of musical royalty. Allow yourself to journey through the entire Purple Rain album, venture on to Sign o’ The Times and then Dirty Mind. Recapture the powerful hopes and emotions that his music and performances stirred up from within us in our youth and now today as adults. Remember our incomparable Prince.
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