Flaco Jiménez’s Modern Conjunto Is Right on the Button

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 legendary accordionist Flaco Jiménez and bajo sexto player Max Bacawho 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

A Musical Family Tree: The Haden Triplets Branch Out

The Haden Triplets will take the Sunset Concerts stage this Thursday night, August 7, at 8:00 p.m. Come early and hear DJ Robert Mora do a set starting at 7:00 p.m.. Photo by Jo McCaughey.

I was really excited when I first heard that The Haden Triplets were going to perform at this year’s Sunset Concerts. These three talented women—Tanya Haden, Rachel Haden, and Petra Haden—have a tremendous artistic range and have done so many unique, eclectic, high-quality projects, on their own and collectively. From collaborations with Beck, Weezer, the Silversun Pickups, and Bette Midler, to touring with Todd Rundgren, to creating an a capella version of The Who’s classic album The Who Sells Out, to their latest project performing their own gorgeous interpretations of classic American country and folk songs—there is nothing these sisters can’t do!

Check out the Haden Triplets performing a recent NPR Tiny Desk concert. Careful! You may end up playing this on repeat, as I have been doing.

I particularly appreciate that they choose to make music as a family and that they are carrying on their family’s rich tradition of music. The Haden Triplets, along with their brother, Josh, of the band Spain, are following in the footsteps of their father, the late legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden, as well as those of their grandparents who performed as The Haden Family when Charlie was a child. Together they are not only preserving an important musical history but also making this music accessible to a new generation. Continue reading

Por Fin Viene: Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas in L.A.

I visited Cuba in December 2011 to attend a major international jazz festival. It was a great chance to view the Havana beaches and cityscape, including the Hotel Nacional de Cuba (pictured above right). Photos by Jordan Peimer.

When I think of Cuban music, I think of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. Its grand ballroom has hosted all the greats—from Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas, founded by renowned bandleader Arsenio Rodriguez (1911–1970), to, more recently, members of the Buena Vista Social Club. In the 1940s and 1950s, the hotel was the center of Havana’s rhythmic culture, a place of glamour where residents and vacationers alike could rub elbows with celebrities, gangsters, and politicians and dance the son. [Incidentally, a large influx of American Jews traveled to Cuba specifically to explore the Latin sounds that had provided the soundtrack to the Borscht Belt’s nightly dance parties. There, in the Catskill Mountains, Latin music had been entertaining Jewish audiences for decades.]

You’ll definitely get on your feet and dance when you hear Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas this week at Sunset Concerts. Here’s a clip of the band performing at Lincoln Center in New York this year.

This Thursday night at Sunset Concerts, Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas perform in the ensemble’s Los Angeles debut, bringing more than seven decades of history as icons of Cuban son. In recognition of how much Angelenos love Latin dancing, the Skirball will be removing many rows of seats and installing a dance floor for the show. We invite you to bring your dancing shoes and dance the night away—just like you would have in 1940s Cuba at the Hotel Nacional! Continue reading

House Party with Noura

Noura and me at the party in Timbuktu.

Noura Mint Seymali comes from Mauritanian music royalty. Her father was the first person to apply written notation to folk music in Mauritania. Her stepmother is Dimi Mint Abba, one of the few Mauritanian singers to achieve a degree of fame outside her home country. And Noura herself is a master of the ardine, a harp-like instrument containing about fifteen strings and built from a calabash base and two cylindrical wooden rods. But these impressive facts do nothing to prepare you for Noura’s voice—an instrument of such power, control, and resonance that it seems to fundamentally rearrange the DNA of the listener. Like Umm Kulthum (Egypt), Sussan Deyhim (Iran), and Fairuz (Lebanon) before her, Noura takes the root sounds of her homeland and transforms them into something new and ecstatic.

Umm Kulthum performing “Baeed Anak” in Paris, November 1967.

I first met Noura in Timbuktu, Mali, in January 2012. Like me (and thousands of others), she had come to Timbuktu for the twelfth edition of Mali’s famed Festival au Désert. Unfortunately, geopolitical events had recently forced the festival’s organizers to abandon their longstanding location in the rural commune of Essakane. As a result, the festival instead took place within walking distance of Timbuktu’s city limits. One evening, as the festival was winding down, I received word of a house concert being held by my hosts in Timbuktu in their private compound just across from my quarters. Noura was scheduled to perform with her band at the festival the following day, but that evening we were treated to an intimate command performance that ran late into the night. Continue reading

Your Recipe for a Romantic Vegan Date at the Skirball

Check out my recipe (linked in the article below) for a fresh vegan summer salad, a satisfying accompaniment to Sunset Concerts at the Skirball.

Check out my recipe (linked in the article below) for a fresh vegan summer salad,
a satisfying accompaniment to Sunset Concerts at the Skirball.

It’s summer, and that means concert season has begun! Now that it’s officially July, you can start counting down the days to this summer’s Sunset Concerts at the Skirball. It all starts on July 24 with a performance by Noura Mint Seymali and continues every Thursday night through August 28.

Sunset Concerts are fun, festive events to share with friends and family. Each concert offers you a night filled with music and dancing, and the concerts are all FREE! Every concert showcases a different style of music, so make sure to check out the Skirball website for a complete line-up. The concerts begin at 8:00 p.m., but try to arrive early because the seating is first-come, first-served!

In my opinion, Sunset Concerts are especially perfect for a romantic date night. If you are looking to impress that special someone, I’ve outlined the recipe for a romantic summertime evening below:

  • I would suggest planning ahead and packing a picnic. Who doesn’t love to be courted with a home-cooked meal? If your date has any special dietary needs, check out my recipe for a vegan Greek salad. As with any great recipe, there’s room for modifications; for instance, you can add feta cheese if you prefer to make a nonvegan version. Along with the salad, pack a baguette or crackers, your favorite hummus, and grapes or strawberries to nibble on. (If packing a picnic isn’t your style, you can purchase a complete meal on site at Zeidler’s expanded grab-and-go cart, featuring gourmet sandwiches, salads, hot dogs, and assorted other goodies.) Continue reading

President’s Greeting: Jul/Aug 2014

Dendé And Band on stage for Sunset Concerts at the Skirball 2013.

Dendé And Band on stage for Sunset Concerts at the Skirball 2013.

Music moves us like few other forms of human expression. It speaks a universal language. Gladness, sorrow, yearning, hope, love—each of us feels these emotions as unique, yet music has a way of connecting them, and us, in all our shared humanity.

Music, like every language, is more than sound. It comes from somewhere—not only from a voice or an instrument, but from a composer, a performer, and a context. The Skirball Cultural Center is all about context—the communities we inhabit, the cultures we celebrate, the memories we cherish. When concerts are performed at the Skirball, they are appreciated not only as music but as vessels of community, culture, and memory. They enrich our knowledge of the world and of each other, even as they unite our hearts in song and dance.

This summer, Continue reading

My Summertime Jams

BelleBrigadeTN038Summer is coming to an end, and with it some of my favorite things about being in Los Angeles at this time of year, like the outdoor summer concerts that take advantage of the clear, crisp nights of the city. The best part about a majority of these concerts is that they are inexpensive and often free! What most attracts me to these summertime music events is reaffirmed each time I attend one: that music has the profound ability to bring people from all different backgrounds and ages together. It builds a sense of community, which is no easy task in a city as extensive as Los Angeles. Music reminds us to celebrate our lives, the people around us, and the beautiful city we are given the opportunity to live in. While there are many free summer offerings all over Los Angeles, each one offers a unique type of experience from the other.

Last year, as part of my Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Internship at the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, I was able to watch a Grand Performances: Lunch Box Noon Concert featuring the pop-folk band The Belle Brigade. The downtown Los Angeles atmosphere, with its tall, gleaming buildings that enclosed the outdoor concert, provided a feeling of togetherness and acted as an oasis to the chaotic and constant flux of its metropolitan surroundings. Set up next to an outdoor fountain, the small amphitheater allowed audience members to congregate in a more intimate space, where children, teens, and adults alike could sing along and dance all while enjoying their lunch boxes, which were handed out to audience members prior to the show. Set appropriately at noon, the performance took advantage of the perpetual sunshine this city is known for.

BelleBrigade_Sunset Concerts_SkirballIt was awesome to see my summer music experience come full-circle, when, while working as the Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern at the Skirball this summer, The Belle Brigade kicked off their Sunset Concerts series on July 25. As this was my first Sunset Concerts experience, I really did not know what to expect from this outdoor, all-ages music event. Unsurprisingly, in a similar way to their performance at last year’s Grand Performances concert, The Belle Brigade was able to make audience members dance and smile with their infectious melodies and catchy lyrics. The warm, starry night enveloped the attendees, providing a comforting and carefree vibe. The Taper courtyard filled with people of all backgrounds and ages: a family with four kids, racing each other from the parking lot to the venue; a young couple with their own picnic; and even local band Harriet, Continue reading

Sunset Concerts at the Skirball Week 6: Dendê & Band

Dende2The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—finish up this week with Dendê & Band, rhythm-heavy Afro-Brazilian music led by master percussionist and composer Dendê Macêdo. Throughout the season, SkirBlog has featured a preview of the week’s upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about this year’s final performance below, then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Dendê & Band, this Thursday, August 29, at 8:00 p.m.

When I walked into New York’s famed S.O.B.’s (Sounds of Brazil) and first saw Dendê & Band, I immediately knew that the mixture of African percussion and Brazilian melodies would make for a perfect addition to Sunset Concerts. Bahia-born bandleader Dendê currently splits his time between the Brazilian state and New York City, and along the way he has collaborated with some of the world’s great musicians, including David Byrne, Zakir Hussain, and Vinicius Cantuária. He has been performing since he was a young teenager, and while he leads a number of combos with slightly different focuses, all his music is about percussion and has been a hit from the Kennedy Center to Lincoln Center and at festivals around the world.

As a bandleader, Dendê exudes the charisma to create deep audience connections and his music easily cajoles even the most reticent onto the dance floor. The sound is a wonderful mixture of traditional Brazilian melodies and Afrobeat with added flavors of reggae, merengue, and other tropical sounds that will sweep you onto your feet. Time Out New York says the music “ought to delight fans of Afrobeat and psych-tinged funk.” Rest assured, when Dendê & Band start playing, you will be out of your seat and on the dance floor.

Watch the official video for “Cafézinho” by Dendê & Band:

Continue reading

Sunset Concerts at the Skirball Week 5: Maria Muldaur and The Campbell Brothers


Courtesy of Folklore Productions

The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—continue this week with a world-premiere collaboration between Maria Muldaur, singer of the megahit “Midnight at the Oasis,” and the rock gospel ensemble The Campbell Brothers. 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. Maria Muldaur and The Campbell Brothers, this Thursday, August 22, at 8:00 p.m.

Nearly anyone familiar with American folk music from the 1960s will think fondly of Maria Muldaur. Since her early days in Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band, Muldaur has been a major voice in American music. She is best-known for “Midnight at the Oasis,” but throughout her career Muldaur has worked with some of the most important names in music including Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, and The Grateful Dead. She has always approached traditional Americana with complete reverence, even when sounds like country and western music were out of fashion, so it comes as little surprise that in recent years she has become one of the leading female voices singing the blues. Continue reading

Sunset Concerts at the Skirball Week 4: Mamak Khadem and Ensemble

The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—continue this week with beloved Iranian singer Mamak Khadem, accompanied by an ensemble of world-class musicians. 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. Mamak Khadem and Ensemble, this Thursday, August 15, at 8:00 p.m. Mamak-Khadem-179

Persian vocalist and musician Mamak Khadem is one of my favorite performers in Los Angeles. Her distinctive, passionate voice is stunning and clear—it truly opens my heart. Aside from her voice, what I love about Mamak is her versatility and her ability to connect different cultures and music traditions to create something new and unique. Throughout her career, Mamak’s work has primarily focused on reimagining Persian music and poetry and revitalizing it for the next generation of Iranians, as well as introducing new art forms to a cross-cultural audience.

Mamak-Khadem-230While she has performed several times at the Skirball—whether as a member of Axiom of Choice, as a solo artist with her own ensemble, or as a guest of another artist—each time Mamak performs she brings something new and invigorating to the stage. I’m excited that she has developed a special concert of upbeat dance music, blending Iranian, Armenian, and Greek traditions, for the Skirball’s Sunset Concert series on August 15.

Along with her soaring vocals, Mamak employs rhythmically entrancing percussion and some very cool Middle Eastern instruments in her music. My favorite is the zurna, a wind instrument that to me sounds like a magic horn. Continue reading