Monday, October 17, 2011

Deolinda - Neo-Fado (a misshapedmixtape)

If Aloe Blacc or Raphael Saadiq (two of my favorite contemporary artists) can be called neo-soul (which in actuality is not really a proper label for either), then I figure the Portuguese group Deolinda can be called neo-fado. I have been listening to Deolinda for the last couple of years after being put onto them after reading some dude's blog (where else?) and their music comes from such a soulful, heart-place (which is a BIG reason why I’ve been more and more attuned to world music in recent years… because it seems that so much American [esp. Caucasian] music comes from such a head-place – in short, it doesn’t make me FEEL much).

Anyway, neo-fado (a made-up genre name that I just coined and, coincidentally, the name of this mixtape) is in reference to the Portuguese style of music, fado, that can be traced back to at least the 1820s according to wikipedia. Oh, and the word “fado” also translates to English as meaning "destiny" or "fate." However, unlike traditional fado music (which is mournful and is traditionally performed in all-black attire), Deolinda have put their own twist on it... and the stunning vocals of Ana Bacalhau don't hurt either. This is the kind of music that you can listen to a lot and never grow tired of it.

A little backstory: The band is named after the fictional character of Deolinda, a 40-year-old spinster who lives with her cats and goldfish in a Lisbon apartment and watches through her window as the world goes by. This "character" is merrily unmarried, in love and out of love, and writes her own songs by peeking through the curtains of her window, drawing inspiration from the old gramophone records that once belonged to her grandmother and by the bizarre and strange life of her neighbors.

I am job-hunting today, so I’m cutting some corners on this write-up. The fact that I can’t speak Portuguese is a good excuse also. Though Portuguese has GOT TO be the most beautiful language in the world...

To read more about Deolinda, I highly recommend checking out this fantastic article that was posted on The Bluegrass Special website [note: Deolinda sounds nothing like bluegrass, so sorry/happy to disappoint depending on which side of the fence you're on in that regard... but hey, everybody likes Carolina Chocolate Drops, right?]

My biggest task in this week's post was to attempt an English translation of one of Deolinda’s songs (working from a rough English translation that a native Portuguese speaker posted on the internet), which seemed like a good thing to do, as their song “Parva Que Sou” relates to my state of being right now. Deolinda performed “Parva Que Sou” at the beginning of 2011, and though it has not been officially released as a single, it has been a sensation in Portugal and in Europe (see youtube video here).

One would imagine that “Parva Que Sou” will appear on their third album, which will face the daunting task of trying to equal their first two records: “Canção ao Lado” (2008) and “Dois Selos e Um Carimbo” (2010). I wonder if "Parva Que Sou" may in fact mark a shift in the Deolinda-aesthetic, as its message seems to come from a younger voice and not from the mouth of a 40-year-old spinster? Maybe it is the niece of Deolinda. I am not sure. Regardless, this mixtape features tracks from those first two albums, plus a live version of “Parva Que Sou” as a bonus track.

And here is my attempted translation “Parva Que Sou” ("What An Idiot I Am")… excuse any mistakes… like I said, I was working from an existing translation:

I belong to the “without a wage” generation
And I do not mind this being so
What an idiot I am

Because things are bad and will stay so
I’m lucky enough to even be an intern
What an idiot I am

And I keep thinking, what a stupid world
Where to become a slave, one must first earn a degree

I am from the “homes given to us by our parents” generation
If I already have everything, why want anything more?
What an idiot I am

I keep putting off having a husband or children
And I still have to pay off the car
What an idiot I am

And I keep thinking, what a stupid world
Where to become a slave, one must first earn a degree

I am from the “why bother complaining” generation
There is always somebody worse off from me on TV
What an idiot I am

I am from the “can’t take anymore” generation
As this situation has gone on for too long
And I am not an idiot
As I keep thinking, what a stupid world
Where to become a slave, one must first earn a degree
Without further ado, here is the tracklist for Deolinda – “Neo-Fado (a misshapedmixtape)” [peep the download link in the “comments”]:

01 : Mal Por Mal
02 : Fado Toninho
03 : Não Sei Falar De Amor
04 : Contado Ninguém Acredita
05 : Eu Tenho Um Melro
06 : Lisboa Não É Cidade Perfeita
07 : Fado Castigo
08 : Ai Rapaz
09 : Canção Ao Lado
10 : Garçonete Da Casa De Fado
11 : Clandestino
12 : Se Uma Onda Invertesse A Marcha
13 : Um Contra O Outro
14 : Não Tenho Mais Razões
15 : Passou Por Mim E Sorriu
16 : Sem Noção
17 : A Problemática Colocação De Mastro
18 : Ignaras Vedetas
19 : Quando Janto Em Restaurantes
20 : Alvalade E As Portas De Benfica
21 : Canção Da Tal Guitarra
22 : Fado Notário
23 : Parva Que Sou (Live)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lupe Fiasco - L.ast A.lbum S.ans E.rroneously R.ecorded S.ongs (a misshapedmixtape)

[Pre-warning: this post is my shambling mess of a ramble of some loose-thinking semi-logic... and there's no download link... so buy the tracks and then re-sequence them like this (oh what fun!)... see comment below...]

"I remember bein' in Chicago the day Obama became president-elect. He was playin' basketball, and I was actually in the gym where he was playin'. The people I was with was shakin' hands and takin' pictures, and I was like, I can't shake his hand because I don't know what he's gonna do. It would be dishonest of me to shake his hand 'cos I don't really believe in the American system like that. So I went home, because I didn't want to go to Grant Park to be in the midst of the madness, and watched his speech on television. As soon as he said, 'We need to get our troops out of Iraq,' I was like, 'Yaaaay!' But then he said, ' … and get 'em to the real war in Afghanistan,' and I was like, 'Aw, fuck. I gotta pay for some more bombs.' That kinda pissed me off." – Lupe Fiasco (quote from the March 3, 2011 issue of The Guardian)

Lupe Fiasco doesn’t fuck around. He is a free thinker. He challenges us. He challenges himself. He’s a brilliant artist. I consider Lupe to be one of the greatest writers of our age (rappers are in the Norton Anthology now too, in case you didn’t realize it).

Then, last March I heard “Lasers” (his third album). Simply put, I was flabbergasted. His first two albums were perfect 10s for me. Not many albums of the last five years are up there for me. But then “Lasers”? This one was... um... maybe a 6... with a couple songs that flat out sucked. What the shit happened, Lupe?

Well, many would say that the answer to that question is simple: Atlantic Records.

"We wanted Lasers to be a humongous record. There are so many ways of doing that. You can approach it in a very sleazy way – just throw money at it, go get a lot of the big-name artists, let them hijack it for you and just ride that wave into success. Or you can knuckle down and try to make a really great, different, classic, Kid A kid of thing, with commercial appeal and broad subject matter. The label wanted to do it the sleazy way." – Lupe Fiasco (from The Guardian

So why am I posting about this on misshapedmixtapes? After all, none of this is news to anyone who remotely follows good hip-hop (and therefore has heard ALL ABOUT Lupe’s fallout with his label on the internet).  

I guess the reason I’m writing about Lupe today is that on Tuesday night (this week) the whole “Lasers” saga came full circle (in my eyes).

Here was Lupe on stage at the BET Hip-Hop Awards performing “Words I Never Said” (a song off of what has become a commercially-successful "Lasers" album) while wearing an #OCCUPY t-shirt alongside Erykah Badu providing backing-vocals (who was concealed for most of the song behind a burka).

And you know what? It was awesome. It’s a great song. And I can’t fault his message. It rings true. And while I’m sitting on my ass watching the baseball playoffs, I’m sure that there a lot of Lupe fans (or other smart free-thinking people… maybe Animal Collective fans?) who are out and part of the #OCCUPY movement now. And this movement has a lot going for it. I think that it’s pretty neat.

So, in that way, the BET performance felt redemptive of what has been a strange past twelve months for Lupe. However… while watching the performance, I couldn’t help but getting a weird double-take feeling in seeing Lupe in full-on activist/protestor/bad-ass mode. After all, it was last October when the whole “petition to release the album!” movement was going on in full-force and a number of Lupe’s fans protested outside Atlantic Records' offices in New York City on October 15, 2010 (Atlantic and Lupe had reached a stand-off at this point and Atlantic was seemingly never going to release ANY of his shit).

I’m all for protesting and exercising our right to free speech and shit… but what did those Lupe fans end up with? A pop-rap album with SOME good shit and some songs that completely blow (Trey Songz needs to step off my favorite artists’ albums). This doesn’t even mention the song that DIDN’T make the (label’s) cut and was passed on to his label-mate B.o.B. – who made “Nothing On You” a smash hit. [sidenote: I have heard Lupe’s verses on the original, never-officially-released “Nothing On You” and they were probably the most lackluster lines that he ever wrote… so maybe it never seeing the light of day was for the best. {side-sidenote: I thought that B.o.B. actually pulled the whole “pop-rap album” off remarkably well – even though the cool-kid critics gave him SHIT for it… though I hope that he can one day break free of Atlantic Records and can put out the kind of music that he wants to… or just keep dropping mixtapes on the side that are better than his actual albums like most rappers do these days} end side-sidenote. Wait. [re-start with side-sidebar {oh yeah, I put Lupe’s version of “Nothing On You” as a bonus track to this week’s misshapedmixtape coz it’s REALLY bizarro to listen to}.].

(Fuck worrying about putting periods inside or outside of brackets/parentheses?!?! I’m going to protest that!).

Where was I? Oh yeah, I guess I’m just thinking out loud about where this whole #OCCUPY movement fits in as its own populist movement? What expectations do we have for it? In short, what’s going to be the net gain? I don’t mean to sound cynical (a number of my friends are into the #OCCUPY movement and I respect them for that), but what are we going to end up with?

(I want to put a footnote here but I don’t know how to do it on blogspot. As you can tell from this post [spoiler alert] I’m attempting to equate #OCCUPY with “Lasers”… and while I’m not sure they’re perfectly synonymous to each other, I do want to cite the earlier Lupe quote that he had hoped that “Lasers” would be “a Kid A kind of thing, with commercial appeal and broad subject matter.”) {Follow-up question: how many people have listened to Kid A and even know what the message behind it is? I saw Radiohead at Bonnaroo. I would say maybe 10% if I was being generous}

I truly adore Lupe. He can be sage-like. I respect the fact that he didn’t shake Obama’s hand at the basketball court… and that “Words I Never Said” calls Obama out (lyric: “Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit / That’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either / I’m a part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful / And I believe in the people.”) He’s brave. No doubt.

That said, we need to tread carefully in these times and keep our heads on as straight as possible and our expectations in check. Coz maybe in the end, our protests will bless us with something like “Lasers”… an album that is exasperating and in the end falls short in SO MANY WAYS.

As you can tell, I’m a pessimist. But that’s just because I used to be such a die-hard, never-flinching optimist... who springs from the grave, leaping gracefully onto my right shoulder now and screams: “Hey! In retrospect “Lasers” did have its moments of greatness and (by re-sequencing the album and cutting out the bullshit) it can be appreciated and treasured! Think globally, act loca---”…

So I’m going to do a misshapedmixtape on “Lasers.” 
Shit, I BETTER do one. I’ve written enough about it already!

I could go into an in-depth analysis of each of the strange creatures that inhabit Lupe’s “Lasers” album as songs (Exhibit A would be the ultimate fuck-you-to-the-label-if-you-listen-carefully-to-the-lyrics Modest Mouse sampling song that Atlantic Records forced on him and Exhibit B would be the really grating “State Run Radio” that I hate SO MUCH but I had to put on this mixtape because it’s basically the theme song of this post).

However, in the end, all of that would serve as side-chatter to my main concern of living in this modern age as an artist/human being. Lupe was quoted saying that the process of “Lasers” made him suicidal. As an artist, he was UNABLE to compromise. But he was locked into a contract. And we, for better or worse, are locked in the American system and/or any number of other disconcerting big intangible thingies.

I’ll stop my post here… because I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this… Instead, I’ll let Lupe finish this off:

“Solzhenitsyn put it very quaintly. Basically, there's a duality in everything – there's two sides to every story. Sometimes they complement each other, and sometimes they conflict… I can be Picasso if you want that, and I could do Guernica for you all day. Or, if you want me to paint your dog, I'll come to your house and paint your dog. Once I know my role, I'll play my role to a T. If I'm supposed to be the slave artist, chained to the desk, painting poodles, so be it. Make me rich! You'll get rich in the process as well. But I'm gonna let the world know I'm painting poodles." – Lupe Fiasco (from The Guardian)

Here's the tracklist for Lupe Fiasco - "L.ast A.lbum S.ans E.rroneously R.ecorded S.ongs (a misshapedmixtape)" [you can check for a few added notes -- I obviously added lots of songs that weren't on the original album -- in "comments"... but no link]:

01 : Letting Go (ft Sarah Green)
02 : Words I Never Said (ft Skylar Grey)
03 : Beautiful Lasers (2Ways) (ft MDMA)
04 : Break The Chain (ft Eric Turner & Sway)
05 : All Black Everything
06 : If You Want To (ft Travis Barker & Pharrell Williams)
07 : State Run Radio (ft Matt Mahaffey)
08 : The Show Goes On
09 : Till I Get There
10 : I'm Beaming
11 : Shining Down (ft Matthew Santos)
12 : Never Forget You (ft John Legend)
13 : We Can Do It Now (ft Common & Jennifer Hudson)
14 : Resurrection (ft Kenna)
15 : Don't Look Down (ft Mos Def, Kanye West & Big Sean)
16 : Don't Stop! (ft Pharrell Williams & Kanye West)
17 : The National Anthem (ft Thom Yorke)
18 : Us Placers (ft Pharrell Williams, Kanye West & Thom Yorke)
19 : Building Minds Faster
20 : Tightrope Remix (ft Janelle Monáe & B.o.B)
21 : Nothin On You (ft Bruno Mars & B.o.B)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Nneka - From Africa 2 U (a misshapedmixtape)

I know that I am two days late on this one. But trust me... it's worth the wait. 

Nneka is a Nigerian/German artist that I'm not going to classify. Coz labels are usually lame and sell things short. And I'd probably call her post-post-colonial or something retarded like that. So I won't. 

Anyway, she is GREAT. If you like female artists such as Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu or Mystic (or, to name some newer artists: Janelle Monáe, Dessa or Santogold) then be prepared to fall in love. All six of those artists are among my top-favorites... and Nneka is pushing her way up to join them.

So yeah, that's my pitch. Download this shit already.

A bit more context, Nneka released her latest album, "Soul Is Heavy,” last week in Europe (not yet in the US though). "Soul Is Heavy" follows the two excellent albums that Nneka already released ("Victim of Truth" in 2005 and "No Longer at Ease" in 2008). Unfortunately, neither of those albums ever officially crossed the Atlantic, but there was a 2010 release ("Concrete Jungle") that packaged some of her best songs together on an album for an American audience.

This mix features my personal favorites culled from all three Euro-released albums (including her latest... plus a J.Period remix and two other songs off of an EP) painstakingly sequenced to feel like a real album. I probably spent TOO MUCH time on this tape... but I think that in the end it actually flows together better than "Concrete Jungle" did (in general, Nneka does cover a lot of ground and different styles in her releases, so it was a good challenge).

I hope it serves as a proper introduction to Nneka... though I did omit some fantastic songs ("Come With Me", "The Uncomfortable Truth", "Beautiful" and the album version mixes of "Heartbeat" and "Walking" are just some that come to mind), in part because I wanted to encourage you to actually BUY Nneka's stuff (that you can find). These are the types of artists that we need to support (especially in the USA).

An added bonus is that this mix has a manageable length that can fit onto one CD (if that's still the way you prefer to digest yr musical vitamins... actually I try to shoot for sub-80 minutes most weeks).

You'll find the download link in the "comments" section... and here's the track list below:

Nneka - "From Africa 2 U (a misshapedmixtape)"

01 : Africans [Victim Of Truth]
02 : Camouflage
[Soul Is Heavy]
03 : Focus [No Longer At Ease]
04 : Showin Love [Victim Of Truth]
05 : Heartbeat (Remix ft Nas) [Heartbeat EP]
06 : God Of Mercy [Victim Of Truth]
07 : Sleep (ft Ms Dynamite) [Soul Is Heavy]
08 : Walking (J.Period Remix ft Jay Electronica) [The Madness]
09 : Soul Is Heavy [Soul Is Heavy]
10 : Suffri [No Longer At Ease]
11 : God Knows Why (ft Black Thought) [Soul Is Heavy]
12 : Changes [Victim Of Truth]
13 : Mind vs. Heart [No Longer At Ease]
14 : Stay [Soul Is Heavy]
15 : Kangpe (ft Wesley Williams) [No Longer At Ease]
16 : Burning Bush [Victim Of Truth]
17 : Shining Star [Soul Is Heavy]
18 : From Africa 2 U [No Longer At Ease]
19 : V.I.P. [Soul Is Heavy]
20 : Heartbeat (Chase & Status Guitar Mix) [Heartbeat EP]