Daniel Soto curates music programs at the Skirball Cultural Center. He is the recipient of the 2015 Wesley V. Montgomery Memorial Mentorship and Leadership Initiative Award, granted annually by the National Performance Network to an emerging arts leader of color. Current pop cultural obsessions include: Bomba Estéreo’s Amanecer, Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This podcast , and Simon Baker’s new film Tangerine.
In 2015, there’s no dearth of American folk music revivalists. Beyond the prevailing legacy acts that continue to tour (Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the list goes on … ), there’s a new generation of artists for whom analog instrumentation, earnest lyrics, and the American songwriting tradition are as timely as ever. A glance at any summer music festival lineup is bound to reveal at least a handful of rising indie folk acts as well as a few bands who have conquered the charts with guitars, banjos, and fiddles in tow. Yet few of these artists feel as vital as Alynda Lee Segarra and her band,Hurray for the Riff Raff. Not content to merely emulate the aesthetics of Americana music, Segarra marries folk traditions of the twentieth century with current political concerns.
Segarra was born to Puerto Rican parents and raised in the Bronx. At seventeen, she left New York and traveled the country aboard freight trains, eventually finding her way to New Orleans, where she became enamored with the city’s musical traditions. She busked on the street with a group of musicians, playing washboard and banjo for tips, before finally writing songs of her own.
Last year’s Small Town Heroes is Hurray for the Riff Raff’s fifth album and their major label debut. It’s garnered praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and NPR. On the album, the band successfully explores a multitude of American folk traditions, from the Appalachian-style of the album opener, “Blue Ridge Mountain,” to the honky tonk feel of “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright).”
“I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright)”
But where many modern-day folk artists are content with merely aesthetics, Hurray for the Riff Raff is committed to using their platform for championing issues of social justice. Continue reading →
This week, the Skirball continues its nineteenth season of Sunset Concerts with Mali’s Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba, who will perform songs from their celebrated new album, Ba Power. I thought I would take this chance to break down Kouyaté’s musical lineage and show why this Thursday night the Skirball will be the best place to experience the future of Malian music.
Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba: (left to right) Moustapha Kouyaté, Bassekou Kouyaté, Amy Sacko, and Madu Kouyaté.
Since exploding onto the scene in 2007, Bassekou Kouyaté has established himself as a leading world musician, appearing at major music festivals such as Glastonbury and WOMAD in support of three critically acclaimed albums. He has played and collaborated with such esteemed musicians as Taj Mahal, Paul McCartney, and Damon Albarn. To those who have seen him perform live, Kouyaté’s extraordinary rise may come as no surprise, but his career trajectory appears more unexpected on paper.
Come hear Pasatono Orquesta fill our Ahmanson Hall with Mexican folk tunes sure to get your whole family on their feet.
The Skirball’s annual Hanukkah Family Festival approaches, and this year the festivities take inspiration from Latin American culture. Along with Mexican tin art painting, mariachi and Capoeira performances, and Latin American–influenced Hanukkah treats, don’t miss out on seeing Oaxaca’s Pasatono Orquesta.
Pasatono Orquesta has made a name for itself over the last fifteen years by reinterpreting traditional Mexican folk music. The group’s latest album, Maroma, pays tribute to the traveling circuses that were once popular throughout rural Mexico. These maroma, as they were called, consisted of a single clown tasked with juggling, telling jokes, reciting poetry, and performing acrobatics, drawing inspiration from a mixture of pre-Hispanic indigenous traditions, European street performances, and modern circus elements. Continue reading →
Alice Russell’s most recent album, To Dust, is a collection of soulful torch songs about unwavering tenacity in the midst of spurned love. Her live shows are raw and gritty affairs—her vocal acrobatics flying effortlessly across funky grooves and R&B beats. In celebration of indie label Tru Thoughts Recordings’ fifteenth anniversary, Russell performs live at the Skirball on October 24, with openers Lost Midas and The Seshen. I asked Russell to share some thoughts about her music career, her songwriting process, and where in L.A. she’ll be visiting while she’s here.
It’s been ten years since you released your debut album, Under the Munka Moon. How has a decade affected your music?
Time has sprinted past. I have opened up over time. Over this decade I toured a lot, and that, bit by bit, forced me to really open up on stage and, in turn, in the studio. I have had the privilege to visit amazing places to perform and record, and these experiences can’t help but affect the music that I am now making. Continue reading →
Flaco Jiménez and Max Baca & Los Texmaniacs play the Sunset Concerts stage this Thursday evening, August 14, at 8:00 p.m. KPFK DJ Betto Arcos spins starting at 7:00 p.m.
Mexican conjunto music is that rare hybrid that perfectly embodies the spirit of the Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—enduring musical traditions and cross-cultural exchange, with one foot in the past but an eye fixed toward the future. For legendaryaccordionist Flaco Jiménez and bajo sexto player Max Baca—who take the Sunset Concerts stage together this Thursday night—that music is in their blood.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Jiménez hails from a long line of conjunto musicians. His grandfather, Patricio Jiménez, played in dance halls with German and Polish immigrants who brought the polka and the button accordion to South Texas, and his father,Santiago Jiménez Sr., was instrumental in popularizing conjunto in the 1930s. While Flaco followed in his family’s footsteps, he also helped make conjunto relevant to new audiences in his own way—in addition to playing standards, he also played accordion with contemporary musicians like The Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder, and Bob Dylan.
Flaco Jiménez performing a rendition of “La Bamba” with Ry Cooder
Max Baca was only seven years old when he met Flaco Jiménez, but by then he had already taken up the accordion and was performing with his own father, who was also an accordionist. It was Jiménez who inspired Baca to switch instruments and become the renowned bajo sexto player that he is today. Continue reading →
People Get Ready fuse music and modern dance in a combination that’s as arresting as it is unexpected. After attending one of their shows, Bob Boilen, host and creator of NPR’s “All Songs Considered,” dubbed it his favorite show of 2012: “No single show took my breath away the way this one did—part rock concert, part performance art, part dance, all perfectly melded together. … It felt like a band creating a music video for every piece of music performed.” Below, check out a live video of People Get Ready’s performance for the song “Middle Name,” followed by a collection of six music videos in which unexpected dancing is the name of the game—including a few videos featuring artists with ties to People Get Ready.
1- In this music video for Blonde Redhead’s “Top Ranking,” artist and filmmaker Miranda July contorts her body in a series of one-second-long poses. [Interesting connection: People Get Ready’s Steven Reker served as choreographer for July’s 2011 film, The Future.]
2- Bay Area–based art-rock band Deerhoof enlisted People Get Ready members Steven Reker, Jen Goma, and James Rickman to dance in their video for “Fête d’Adieu.” Check out Reker’s solo around 1:36.
Hunter Hunted at our last Into the Night event in July. Photo by Lindsey Best.
Local bands Jenny O., In the Valley Below, and Body Parts as well as sets by KCRW DJ Travis Holcombe, oversized games, live wild animals, cocktails, craft making, a balloon artist, nighttime activities in Noah’s Ark, and screenings of Dr. Seuss’ The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T—that is what we can offer if you join us Friday, August 30 for our end-of-the-summer extravaganza, Into the Night: The Wild Side! For a little insight into the three local bands who will be performing, members of our Programs Department discuss the band they’re most excited about bringing to the Skirball:
Photo by Melanie Bellomo.
When I saw Jenny O. perform at The Echo back in March of this year, along with Harriet (who performed at the Skirball on July 12), the chatting, mingling audience (including myself) was immediately captivated. Jenny has a surprisingly demure yet powerful stage presence, and her band has a warm, old-timey sound that is reminiscent of The Beach Boys and Harry Nilsson, whom Jenny O. cites as her greatest influences. Her latest album, Automechanic (featuring accompaniment by Jake Blanton of The Killers), is full of deeply personal lyrics and interesting harmonies that are a testament to her artistic growth since her 2011 EP, Home. I’m really excited to see the band perform at the Skirball, and am looking forward to hearing some of my favorites like “Automechanic” and “Well OK Honey” live!
—Kasia Gondek, Program Coordinator
I cannot remember how I found In the Valley Below. It might have been one of those Bands-You-Ought-to-Have-Heard lists, or maybe a friend or colleague recommended them. But ever since I played their first EP, I’ve been describing them as my new favorite band. Continue reading →
The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—continue this week with acclaimed composer and musician Shye Ben-Tzur. Each week, SkirBlog will feature a preview of the upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about the band, view photos and videos … then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Shye Ben-Tzur, this Thursday, August 1, at 8:00 p.m.
Among my music-loving, concert-going friends, we can trace our fanaticism to a handful of shared seminal moments in our youth: going to impromptu garage shows in high school, waiting in line at a venue to secure a good view of the stage, staying out late to talk to bands. Yet rarely do these moments add up to a life’s calling, much less a cultural and spiritual journey that literally takes you thousands of miles away from home—such as in the case of Shye Ben-Tzur.
Ben-Tzur’s origin story reads like a modern retelling of an ancient epic: Continue reading →
In just a few short months since forming, Hunter Hunted has already made a big splash, including a nationally televised gig on Conan, a raucous set in front of a packed crowd at the recent Make Music Pasadena festival, and upcoming dates with Weezer and Fitz and the Tantrums. The duo, made up of Dan Chang and Michael Garner, writes songs with soaring melodies and intricate harmonies mixed with a slightly hard edge. (Their music video for “End of the World” shows them running for their lives in a post-apocalyptic landscape.)
L.A.-based rock band Nightmare and the Cat makes music that escapes easy categorization, blending jangly pop, bluesy riffs, and anthemic hooks that soar with lead singer Django Stewart’s powerful vocals. Catch them this Thursday night when they play Gary Baseman’s House Party to celebrate the opening of Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. Stewart speaks below about the band and their unique collaborations with Baseman, who will paint live on stage during their set.
What is the origin of the name “Nightmare and the Cat”?
It is a song by an amazing artist who never got signed and never made it on stage. He disappeared without a trace, and Sam and I just loved the song and his lyrics so much, we named our band after him. I’m hoping that one day we may meet him wherever he may be.
How did you meet Gary Baseman?
We met Gary at our friend Carina Round’s birthday party. She had written a song for one of his characters and Gary came out of nowhere dressed in a giant pink ChouChou costume and asked Claire in our band to dance.
Watch a video of ChouChous dancing:
How did Baseman painting on stage while you play come about?
This was a very natural occurrence. I feel Gary has always been making art while we sing and play. Painting was just a grander medium than the usual little sketchbook. Continue reading →