Blowing your mind so you don’t have to blow it yourself

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We’ve posted in the past about the theory some anthropologists have that music was our first form of artistic expression. In this way human language evolved from primitive songs. This is all of interest to us because it suggests the reason we establish such deep, often non-verbal responses to music.

At the same time, our connection to our primitive roots is tenuous at best. In many cases, the future of remaining primitive societies around the globe hang on a slender thread. Some are counting their remaining generations, an alarming reality made clear in National Geographic‘s November 2015 issue through a focus on climate change. One particularly moving piece focused on the island nation of Kiribati, whose capital is likely to be uninhabitable by the end of the century. The I-Kiribati people are hardly primitive and could be relocated to Australia, New Guinea or the Phillippines, but at what cost to their culture?

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Many other island societies, as well as those in places like Australia’s outback or the Orinoco River valley in South America, are likewise facing the future disappearance of their cultures. Consider that there are an about 6,000 spoken languages in the world, and UNESCO estimates that half of them will be dead by the year 2100.

This is all made ominously clear in the liner notes to this 1973 album produced by the British Broadcasting Company for Horizon. Program director Joseph Prostakoff writes:

Primitive man’s music provides us with an extraordinary window into his culture — all the more so because it is an integral part of every aspect of his life. This record presents more than fifty examples of exotic chants and instruments, as well as songs of work, war, love, and celebration. All were recorded on site in remote corners of the world and are brought together here in a unique collection — before the music fades forever.

The notes provide just a little bit of information for each of the forty-four tracks, which were recorded on location throughout the world. For instance, this first song is an Ainu folk song called Chkap Upopo (“Singing Birds”) and we are informed that “the sounds of birds and insects are interpreted as gods’ oracles about the weather, crops, and fortunes of the tribe.” The notes also tell us the Ainus are an aboriginal Caucasian tribe inhabiting the northernmost of the Japanese islands, but they do not mention their language is all but lost. The Endangered Language Project estimates there are only two native speakers of Ainu remaining.

This second song is performed by two Bambuti tribesmen, and they accompany themselves on an instrument identified in the notes as the lukembe. Fans of spiritual jazz artists such as Pharaoh Sanders or Chicago’s Kahil El’Zabar likely know this instrument as the African thumb piano. It is comprised of metal strips mounted to a sounding board. To play it one depresses and releases the ends of the strips, sort of like a a piano key.

The Bambuti are a largely isolated pygmy people who live in the Congo region of Africa. This recording was made in the Ituri forest.

This hauntingly beautiful recording was made at the King’s palace at Nukualofa, the capital of the Tonga Islands. From the liner notes: “The origin of the nose flute is associated with the primitive belief that nose breath contains the soul and had, therefore, more magical power than mouth breath.” This is another instrument which may be familiar to jazz fans, as it was often employed by Rahsaan Roland Kirk during his performances.

The sea level around Tonga has risen at about twice the global average since 1993, carving about 40 meters off the island, according to this Radio Australia program. A Tongan representative to the UN’s 2011 climate change conference in Durban, South Africa, sums up the situation faced by nations such as his, who are on the “frontline” of climate change but are essentially powerless.

Those living perilously close to sea level such as those on the Island of Tonga are not the only people whose way of life has already begun to be irreversibly altered by climate change. The fishing and hunting seasons for Inuit people are becoming shorter each year. As the water warms the fish stay deeper below the surface, and residents of the subarctic are seeing flora and fauna they have never seen before.

There are a number of languages in the Inuit family, but as the general culture is endangered so is the language. In Alaska, for instance, only about one quarter of the `13,000 Inupiat people speak the language, and most of them are over the age of forty (these are also divided into several dialects). The song on The Music of Primitive Man was recorded in Canada’s Northwest Territories, where Inuktitut is recognized as an official language. There is even a written form of Inuktitut, called Canadian Aboriginal syllabics.

This track contains two recordings. The first is a solo on the musical bow, which Prostakoff points out in the notes is maybe the earliest stringed instrument. The second recording is a Chicha song, sung by a group of women. Chicha is a fermented drink consumed during seasonal celebration. The third song is a lullaby.

The Motilon Indians live in the Catatumbo River basin, in Columbia and Venezuela. They speak a language called Barí, which is part of a larger group of indigenous languages called Chibchan.

French ethnologist Robert Jaulin wrote an influential book on the Motilon people in 1970 called White Peace: An Introduction to Ethnocide. In it he differentiates between genocide as the killing of a people and ethnocide as the killing of a culture. Jaulin went through a series of initiation rites to become part of the Motilon community, and witnessed firsthand the slow erasure of their culture through the removal of children (to be raised apart from their families), forced labor and compulsory abandonment of traditional customs. And also, of course, the introduction of religious propaganda. Jaulin’s observations are hardly limited to the Catatumbo River basin, as is clear from the future of the other societies featured on this album.

As we wrote earlier, there are forty-four tracks on this album, and in reading about each we could find a similar story. Presently, the transition team put in place by our President Elect implies that we are likely to fulfill his campaign promise to re-visit our treaties and agreements with other nations. Tragically, this may include last year’s historic Paris Agreement, which only went into effect earlier this month. Even with a very serious response to climate change, it seems unlikely that many of the cultures featured on The Music of Primitive Man are likely to survive this century.

While some jazz artists have changed direction and become popular vocalists, others have started singing on their records whether its popular or not. Our favorite of these has long been Dizzy Gillespie.

We’ve posted an entire playlist of Gillespie’s vocal numbers in the past. At home we’ve been slowly adding to the same 90 minute cassette for years — just to create an entire collection of songs with Dizzy Gillespie singing.

the modern idiomAnyways, one we’ve always looked for but had never found turned up in the shop on a compilation last week. The record is in terrible shape, but it played well enough to get us nearly three minutes closer to completing that cassette.

Also, like nearly every single recording of Dizzy Gillespie we’ve ever heard (whether he sings or not), this is just great! Few jazz fans like his vocal numbers as much as we do, but he remains one of the most undeniably accessible and endearing figures in the history of jazz.

 

Recorded from this 10″ EP in the Classics in Jazz series, here’s “Ooh La La.” It’s noteworthy that this one of the few recordings made of Gillespie’s orchestra during the short tenure of a tenor named John Coltrane. The soloist on this session, however, is Jimmy Heath.

 

There is a theory within evolutionary anthropology which posits that human language evolved from music, and that our earliest spoken communications were derived of songs imitating the sounds of the natural world around us. Darwin proposed this in The Descent of Man in 1871, although the idea was slow to gain traction or merit research.

One remarkable implication of this remarkable idea is that music may be one of our deepest connections to the natural world, and the most direct and genuine expression of our thoughts and emotions, transcending language.

Music has long played a central role in our ceremonial, civic and social rituals, and on a daily basis provides us a respite from those trappings which isolate us from our more primitive role in the natural world.

pharoah jewel

Pharoah Sanders’ 1969 album Jewels of Thought was on our turntable this cool morning, before we ventured out to get muddy cleaning up the garden after last night’s storm. The first song, “Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah,” is a prayer for peace sung by Leon Thomas, whose collaboration with Pharoah is best known by “The Creator Has a Master Plan” on Pharoah’s previous album, Karma. The band on this album is a particularly impressive assemblage of top jazz musicians.

Thomas’ prayer for peace is performed by sextet of Christians and Muslims together. There are two bassist and two drummers: Richard Davis, Cecil McBee, Idris Muhammad and Roy Haynes, who are all favorites of jazz fans. The pianist is Lonnie Liston Smith, who co-wrote the music with Sanders.

There is a rich history of racial unity in jazz. Imperfect at times, it is more often inspiring. The seven performers on Jewels of Thought all performed and recorded with white jazz musicians as well. Our favorite of Pharoah’s many albums (Sprits, recorded in 2000) has him backed by two percussionists, one black and one white. And Richard Davis performance on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, probably one of the white-est records of the era, is a classic collaboration.

Less often discussed is the role of jazz on the vanguard of religious unity. There are many Muslim jazz musicians who are some of the most successful and popular, such as Ahmad Jamal who we posted on Monday. Your record collection is just another way in which Muslim have contributed to this country.

Charlie Rich co-produced Wills’ debut album, Barrooms to Bedrooms, in 1975. In the liner notes, the Silver Fox wrote:

I’ve always felt that when a country artist attains a certain amount of success in the business, he should contribute to the industry by helping new talent get started. David Wills is 23 years old and as pure a country singer as I’ve heard. I’m very proud to have produced his first album and pleased he chose to record some of my songs. I must admit a little bit of jealousy because I think he sings better than I do. I hope you’ll enjoy this album. Thanks.

david willsThe album includes two songs which were top 10 hits on the country chart, “There’s a Song on the Jukebox” and the title track. Wills is as good a country songwriter as he is a singer, writing songs for major stars into the nineties (he wrote “Wild Horses” for Garth Brooks’ second album).

His first album features this song, “My Mountain Dew,” which can’t possibly be about the gross, bright green soda pop.

Turns out Mountain Dew was once southern slang for moonshine, and the undrinkable green gunk itself began as a homemade mixer, and was originally marketed with cartoon hillbillies. Yea hoo!

Photo on 8-9-15 at 5.12 PMWe can’t help but imagine the minor league Hugh Beaumont recording the narration on this record with a cheeseburger resting on his spare tire.

This completely broken approach to healthy living is brought to you by the Cambridge Institute of Hollywood, California, circa late 1950s.

Here at Hymie’s we are fascinated with the “Golden Records” aboard the Voyager probes for years, and have posted about them a few times in the past. Some, notably physicist Stephen Hawking, have pointed out that providing directions to Earth may lead to our eventual enslavement by superior beings. Fortunately, it will be another 40,000 years before Voyager 1 passes another star — a lovely little red dwarf known as Gliesse 445, or AC +79 3888, and who is about seventeen light-years or so from Earth at this point.

Voyager 1 is now in interstellar space, and its passage out of solar system has given us new insight into its outer boundaries. Solar rays are still reaching the probe, which will remain functional for about thirteen more years as it continues to drift away from us. Then it will be nothing more than a tiny, silent object in the vast openness of the interstellar expanse — so don’t worry too much about space creatures finding it.

Voyager 2 was launched first, but it’s different trajectory has it on a slower course. It is expected to enter interstellar space in a few years. By taking an alternate route out of the solar system Voyager 2 was able to take the stunning photographs of Uranus and Neptune in 1986 and 1989. Voyager 2 will also pass near a star, Ross 248, in about 40,000 years. And in a mere 296,000 years it will come within a few lightyears of Sirius, the brightest star in our night sky. Sirius is commonly known as the “dog star,” and has been watched and worshiped by humans around the world for centuries.

Last week, IFLScience, one of the most entertaining blogs on the internet, posted Soundcloud links which allow us to hear what it would be like to listen to the Golden Records here.

We’re very excited to welcome Tuscon, Arizona folk singer Karima Walker to the shop for a performance on Wednesday night. She will be joined by Sterling Roots and Crow Call, one of our favorite local traditional groups. Today’s post is for them. Details about the show can be found on our events page here, and on Facebook here.

Crows lent their latin name to the constellation Corvus, a quadrilateral pattern seen in the southern hemisphere near Virgo and Hyrda. Its largest star is Algorab, which is the Arabic word for crow. Writing in The Fixed Stars and Constellations in 1923, Vivian Robson characterizes the star by its “destructiveness, malevolence, fiendishness, repulsiveness and lying.”

Crows have been with us since the dawn of history — Ovid claimed it was Apollo’s ire which made their feathers black, and aboriginals in Australia believed the birds performed the promethean task of the theft of fire itself. Crows are, in some ways, second to dogs as our first friends — although they remain distant relatives. Recent studies have proven crows can recognize and recall individual human faces. Its possible they can report to others the worst of us — crows may be one of the very few non-human animals capable of displacement, meaning they can communicate about things that are happening in a different spatial or temporal place than their current location. Crows can tell stories.

Creatures in the corvus genus has one of the highest measurements of relative brain size in the world (this is called the encephalization quotient, in case you’re wondering). In fact, we’re finding crows to be a smarter and smarter the more we study them, even capable of understanding causality, as demonstrated in this experiment.

While it was once believed crows lived for centuries, their actual lifespan is about twenty years — a captive crow named Tata was believed to be fifty-nine when he died in 2006, as reported in the Washington Post. Most crows are monogamous, and offspring remain with a breeding pair for several years to help protect the nest from raccoons, snakes and cats. Their communal roosts, commonly called a murder, can include as many as tens of thousands of birds. The poor residents of Danville, Illinois are believed to be outnumbered 4-to-1 by crows.

Crows are naturally curious and playful, clear signs of their intelligence. They will often toy with inedible objects such as litter, but they do not steal and collect shiny objects as is sometimes said. They would best be described as scattered hoarders, since they don’t keep their treasures in a single location such as a nest.

Inventor Joshua Klein presented a vending machine for crows at a technology conference in 2008. The crows would learn to pick up garbage and receive a treat in exchange. The indigenous crows on the island of New Calendonia create their own tools for extracting insects. Hooded crows in Israel have learned to use bread crumbs as fishing bait. Farmers have crafted a variety of traps to test the intelligence of crows for centuries, creating the anecdote of the counting crow. No account suggests any corvus could count as high as seven, however, as in the last song on the Counting Crows’ first album, August and Everything After.

The band likely takes its name not from crows who count, but from a once-familiar nursery rhyme. One could count crows to receive a premonition of the future. Here is one variation, which you’ll recognize reflected in the song.

One for sorrow, two for mirth,
Three for a wedding, four for a birth,
Five for silver, six for gold,
Seven for a secret not to be told.
Eight for heaven, nine for hell,
And ten for the devil’s own self.

Given the crow’s role in human mythology and superstition, it’s not surprising they appear frequently in our music. For instance, one of the strangest songs on the early Dylan albums is “Black Crow Blues,” notably for being the first on which he accompanied himself on the piano.

another side of bob dylan

Its surprising how the song presages Dylan’s sound from the late sixties and early seventies, where his jaunty and idiosyncratic piano style steps to the fore. That an alternate version more in the style of the other songs on Another Side of Bob Dylan was left on the cutting room floor suggests he was already interested in expanding the range of folk music as early as his second album.

crowFans of local music surely remember Crow, the bluesy rock band from the late 60s whose early hit “Evil Woman” was covered by Black Sabbath. Crow has broken up and reunited several times over the years. The cover of their second LP, Crow by Crow, depicts a gigantic crow as a member of the band.

A “black bird” plays a lead role in the second song on Brian Laidlaw’s extraordinary concept album about Bonnie and Clyde, Amoratorium. A crow is seen on the cover of the album.

amoratorium

The crows in Walt Disney’s Dumbo were endowed with wit and insight, and while it has been suggested by some that their appearance is representative of endemic racism in classic Disney cartoons, it should be noted they are the only characters besides Timothy the Mouse who treat Dumbo with kindness. The tragic singer Cliff Edwards performed the lead on their song, “When I See an Elephant Fly.”

This last song is from Crow Call, who inspired this little expedition into the spooky awesomeness of our black feathered friends.

10407062_566209380146176_5038564613021826923_nThey’ve described this song from their self-titled debut disc as being “about crows as messengers, being aware of their presence as harbingers in our lives and listening to what they have to tell us.” We chose Crow Call as one of our favorite local albums of 2014, but our previous posts about the disc have hardly hit on its eerie darkness. “They Know” is a fine example of how their music feels like Black Sabbath if filtered through Charlie Parr.

Wednesday night’s show here at Hymie’s starts at 7pm and features The Sterling Roots, Crow Call, and Karima Walker from Tuscon AZ. While shows at Hymie’s are usually free, we are asking for a $5 donation since there is a touring artist on the bill.

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