Co-curated by Portland’s purveyors of tropical pop, Brainstorm, and self-proclaimed amateur ethnomusicologist, Christopher Kirkley of sahelsounds, Global and Mobile Pop strung together the work of musicians (foreign and domestic) in the African tradition, but with an Information Age twist. A triad of tall screens provided a data-rich backdrop with imagery evoking the foreign and the familiar: hyperbolic, color-saturated music videos hailing from West Africa; Safari windows devoted to on-the-spot search results piloted by local musician turned website jockey, Jason Urick; and a live Twitter feed soliciting audience participation, with all the facets of the microblogging world — sometimes informative, other times insightful, or irreverent.
Brainstorm – “Flat Earth”
Urick kicked off the night with his contribution of songs based on edits of African songs that were sourced from YouTube. They were paired with time-warped videos arranged by Kirkley, who also sources much from the video site to weave his revisions. The resulting meditations were an amuse-bouche for the senses — light, airy, dream-like suspensions of hacked-up vocals, altogether reaping the unlikely benefits of YouTube’s imperfections. Distortion, compression, and murkiness added to the aged, second-hand quality that comprises the charm of many foreign recordings.
The evening went on to include live music, in a trio of performances crafted for the event. Nigerian guitarist, Mdou Moctar, performing via Skype (a special session recorded for this event), was the torch-bearer for the original source material that sparked the impetus for the evening: raw, engaging music from West Africa. His hypnotic guitar work, aided in part by the warped quality of the broadcast, recalled the faraway, heat-stroked sweep of the Sahara.
LIVE SHOW REVIEW CONTINUED BELOW
Mdou Moctar and Brainstorm conversing via Skype, four months before the TBA Show
Mdou Moctar – “Anar” Music Video (Directed by Christopher Kirkley)
The buzz of Moctar’s song whet the audience’s appetite for Brainstorm’s set of upbeat songs turned Tuareg (a term used to classify the nomadic people of North Africa and their culture) on its head for new audiences, through covers and their own original material inspired by the style. Brainstorm’s treatment of Moctar’s songs retained the melodic integrity of the originals but lent them a glossier, updated, and triumphant sound, their trio of instrumentation filling out the sparse source material with spastic percussion and bold group vocals. Moctar’s “Tahoultine” and “Anar” became Brainstorm’s “The Devil Cannot Wait” and “Vanessa,” respectively — the results of the band’s homophonic translation of Moctar’s song lyrics. Brainstorm delivered this style with aplomb and bombast, a natural move for a band whose work is already evocative of warmer climates.
Listen to Brainstorm’s Mdou Moctar Covers
The night’s closer, Iftin Band, featured members who are quite literally heirs to the super sound from Somalia (keyboard player Yasir Shankar’s father and uncle were in the original lineup, of whom we were shown clips via Youtube). The finale was an appropriate alliance of the performances and clips that preceded them. It seemed an amalgamation of old world style fused with new generation sensibilities. The steady beat of Axmed Xaji Weli’s congas ran beneath the Yahama-driven synth work provided by Shankar, creating, in sum, the funky songs (and the only ones that got some of the crowd actually moving during the night) that comprised their set. It lacked the big band sound that previous iterations of the band might’ve had, but it was a good primer, and a sweet testimonial to the draw of this music.
And although at first the onslaught of media seemed to demand much from the audience in its three-pronged approach, the quickly scrolling, scanning nature of the two outer screens created a magical juxtaposition with what was often in the center: long, simple, and even if imperfect, footage of the art we owed the night to, the vibrancy and allure of African music and its performers. Even the new footage of Moctar, in all its graininess and somewhat warped sound, recalls a sort of faraway place for which we might have little context but compellingly desire to know.
BRAINSTORM TOUR DATES
# = with Dinosaur Feathers and Shark?
9/25 BOISE @ Neurolux — Radio Boise Tuesday w/ Ringo Deathstarr
9/27 FORT COLLINS, CO @ GNU Experience Gallery
9/28 DENVER @ Lion’s Lair
9/30 LAWRENCE, KS @ Jackpot Saloon
10/2 CHICAGO, IL @ The Burlington
10/3 CHATTANOOGA, TN @ JJ’s Bohemia
10/4 ASHEVILLE, NC @ The Get Down
10/5 RALEIGH, NC @ King’s Barricade #
10/6 GREENVILLE, NC @ Tipsy Teapot #
10/7 CHARLOTTE, NC @ Snug Harbor #
10/8 ROANOKE, VA @ The Shelf House #
10/9 CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA @ Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar #
10/10 WASHINGTON DC @ Black Cat Backstage #
10/11 PHILADELPHIA @ Goldilock’s Gallery #
10/12 BALTIMORE, MD @ Golden West Cafe #
10/13 BROOKLYN, NY @ Shea Stadium #
10/14 RED HOOK, NY @ Bard College
10/16-10/19 CMJ Music Fest
10/18 BROOKLYN, NY @ Muchmores (CMJ Music Fest)
10/21 BLOOMINGTON, IN @ The Bishop
10/22 FAYETTEVILLE, AR @ Nightbird Books
10/23 DENTON, TX @ Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios
10/24 AUSTIN, TX @ The Mohawk w/ Dignan Porch
10/25 MARFA, TX @ El Cosmico
10/26 SANTA FE, NM @ Betterday Coffee
10/27 TUSCON, AZ @ Club Congress Block Party
10/28 SAN DIEGO, CA @ Bar Eleven
10/29 LOS ANGELES, CA @ The Satellite — Free show
10/30 SANTA BARBARA @ Muddy Waters Coffee House w/ Little Owl
10/31 FRESNO, CA @ Fulton 55
11/1 SAN FRANCISCO, CA @ The Knockout
11/3 SACRAMENTO, CA @ Bows and Arrows w/ Appetite