(A Guest Post by Steven “Trouble” Roth.)
One expects to hear certain kinds of music when at a folk festival. While at the Washington Folk Festival
this past weekend I quickly found myself immersed in many different styles, from Bluegrass to Balalaikas to Blues to Balkan. As I came around a certain corner of Glen Echo Park this past Sunday afternoon, however, instead of banjos I heard beatboxing.Meet Christylez Bacon
. On the surface, all you might see is a straight-up hip-hop artist who’s flow and playfulness is eerily reminiscent of Andre 3000. You might ask yourself (as I did, however fleetingly), “What’s a hip-hop artist doing at a folk festival?” But look again
: that’s a string section backing him up on stage. They are the Washington Sound Museum (his back-up band), with one person playing an electric violin and another on electric cello. Over the next several numbers, he shows that he’s just as comfortable on guitar and djembe as he is improvising rhymes using words shouted out by the audience. It is quickly apparent that this guy is extremely talented. In this somewhat unexpected venue, he appears completely at ease and in his element. He gets this crowd, and the audience responds to that. This is a performer who is completely at home at a folk festival.
Make no mistake -- Christylez Bacon IS a hip-hop artist. He is a born-and-bred native of Washington, DC and you can tell when you hear him lay out a beat on his djembe that go-go music
runs in his blood. His musical “mentor” is none other than local luminary Bomani Armah
. (You don’t recognize the name? He’s also known as D’Mite, who achieved viral success with his “Read a [M************] Book.” Google it, but not at work or around small ears -- the language in the song is decidedly NSFW.) He also fully embraces 21st-century methods for his craft, running his show off of his iPad on stage, complete with mixing mic levels, looping tracks, and playing beat tracks while his hands are busy playing guitar.
But is it folk? Oh yes. When it comes down to it, Christylez is an extremely organic performer. While his music starts with hip-hop as its foundation, he is also eager to include elements of many other styles of music in his performance as evidenced by the fiddle and cello additions. He struck me as the kind of music nerd who could sit down and enjoy any music you put in front of him
, no matter the genre (and maybe even improvise the style into his next performance). Most importantly , however, is just how present he is with his audience while he performs. When I saw him perform, I saw something magical happen; he has the ability to bring in all of the audience members and make them feel like they are part of the music as it is being created. The performance would have been a different thing had any one person in the audience been added or taken away. In that moment, he created music that will never occur the same way again because it was the product of that unique moment in time and those people who happened to be present.
Sounds like folk music to me.
When I arrived at the festival, I had not been expecting to hear rap or hip-hop being performed. To be honest, it is not a musical genre that I had ever directly associated with the folk tradition in my own thinking. However, by including live instrumentation and by bringing the audience into his performance in a participatory manner, I see this falling under the same umbrella of folk music. He may have taken a different path to get there than we are used to seeing, but he does get to the same place; I am reminded of how DJs and other artists have been approaching crossover contras from paths that are different from the usual acoustic bands, but it is still undoubtedly contra.
What do you think? Do you agree with Steve’s definition of folk music? What other sorts of performances might fall under “folk” music using this definition?
...because what's May Day without morris dancing?
Reader Craig Green sent me this video
last week and it made me smile -- speaking of things getting "thrown in" to contra
, here's a fun video of some Perpetual e-Motion fans juggling to the band's rendition of "Sandy Boys"...the jugglers are Craig Green, Cleo Keller, Zach Schillinger, and Adrian Green.
Interesting trend: other stuff getting tossed into contra dance...quite literally.
At the Firecloud debut at Glen Echo about a year ago, it was a couple of balloons that dancers batted about through the dance and collectively kept aloft; at Electric Blizzard in New Jersey last weekend, it was apparently a stuffed whale (?!) that got tossed around.
Assuming that these things don't make for a safety hazard (which in the instances I've seen it doesn't -- balloons will break before they trip someone, for instance, and the dancers I've seen are good about batting them up or off to the side of the dance floor where they're out of the way), what do y'all think of these? Seems like adding white balloons might be a silly-fun, occasional add-on to a black-lit techno contra, but only if most/all of the dancers were game and the called dance was fairly simple (and it was, in fact, occasional...much like improv lines
or strong spices, a little goes a long
way, in my opinion)....
Agree? Disagree? I welcome your thoughts!
Happy New Year to all! May this year bring you all good things!
With any kind of luck, some of those good things will be of a sort found at a techno contra or a similar event. Here are a few events coming up soon (and if you know of more, please do let me know!):
Saturday, January 26, 2013, 9 PM (trad 6-8), Electric Blizzard techno contra, Phase X
with Ron Blechner & Laura Winslow calling. More information
Sunday, January 20, 2013, 6 PM lesson, 6:30 PM dance, DJ B-Ham
spinning, Janine "J-9" Smith calling. More information
.Roanoke: Saturday, March 23, 2013, 7 PM lesson, 7:30 PM dance, DJ B-Ham
spins & calls. More information
A while ago, one of the contra links that I recommended to you folks was South Carolina contra dancer Elyse Marder's documentary on the folk dance scenes Stateside and across the pond in England. (If we're going to go mixing the tradition with other things, it's helpful to know what exactly it is we're mixing with those other things...and it's also helpful to remember that what actually comprises "tradition" may not be as set-in-stone as it may originally appear and may be subject to the whims of the historians whose records survive to the present day.)
I think Elyse created something very cool, and I'm very pleased that she posted the final product on YouTube
(It is highly likely that I will have further comments later in the coming year -- there are lots of things here that seem like excellent blog inspiration.)
Happy 2013 to all!
The stores all have lights up (as do several people at my day job), the radio is playing songs that sing about snow and presents and goodwill toward men...it must be the holiday season. This also means that several radio stations (including the ones around here) are engaging in a bit of holiday musical syncretism. Among my personal favorites are versions of carols arranged by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra
(I don’t think that the composers of the “Shchedryk
” tune, which later became the more familiar “Carol of the Bells” in English, originally had an electric guitar or a synth in mind back in its origins as a folk chant...) and others that are given a twist to match the radio station’s chosen aesthetic.
To get us in a holiday mood -- what are some of your favorite instances of musical holiday syncretism, dear readers? (Links to online recordings/YouTube videos of same are encouraged!)
I was roaming around the Internet and stumbled across The Whoots, who are based in California but had played a crossover event in Massachusetts earlier this year, and found this video (right side)
on their ReverbNation website.
The interesting part, to my mind, is that while the event pictured had the really neat trappings of the crossover environment -- for instance, the pretty lights, the glowsticks, the blacklight -- they seemed to be playing a set that reminded me very strongly of Swallowtail (among others) -- that is, by and large rather traditional-sounding tunes played on traditional(ish) instruments, excepting that backbeat.
I would still argue that the video is of a crossover contra. But it begs the question: at what point on the spectrum does a traditional contra become a crossover contra? (Or is it like a date, where the definition is fluid so long as it's agreed upon by all the participants?)
So as some of you might know, my musical tastes are eclectic and run outside of the folk community as well as within it. I was driving around near Baltimore listening to the local hard rock format station, heard this, and actually did a double take, at which point I turned it up to make sure that I'd heard what I thought I heard: