Noura Mint Seymali and her band lifted worldly spirits Thursday night at the Price Center Ballroom East. The dark ballroom was filled with some 150 chairs and the high-ceilinged room. Noura’s band entered first, tuned up and settled in.
Many of the songs were played in different modalities so the guitar player and Noura’s husband, Jeiche Ould Chighaly, was constantly tuning between songs. For Californians, his guitar playing was out of this world. For Western references, think Sir Richard Bishop for scales and attack or Richard Thompson for tones and textures.
The audience could tell right away that the music for the evening would gather forces from another hemisphere and transit over oceans and deserts to create a magical and unique musical sensation. All the hammer-ons and runs Jeiche was doing in warm-ups only heightened the anticipation.
The couple herald from an historic musical lineage in Mauritania, where the Sahara and the Magreb meet and what blooms is an honest explosion of the West African Arabic world. A couple of the songs they played in their 60 minute set were written by Noura’s father (himself a popular and famous Mauritanian musician).
The sounds of the guitar and Noura’s 9 string harp were textured and filled with the gritty sand they have touched from years of playing desert locales. It felt authentic and raw. The combination of traditional songs mixed with modern pop styles of blues and psychedelia fused places and times.
When Noura came out and began singing with the guitar and the rest of the band, it all came together. The semi-formal room took a little bit of time to warm up. Noura’s voice was full and loud, empty of the standard reverb that so many western pop acts employ. The long and lush vocal runs intertwined with the beautiful and unique guitar styling to set the foundation for the evening.
As the night gained momentum, the band, Noura’s voice and the crowd all warmed up. The audience let go a little bit, Jeiche started smiling more and the voice began to transport the listener. Her long Arabic runs imagined far away places, where cultures intertwine and complexities spice meaning. Her spiritual nods to Mohamed settled over the mixed crowd and opened eyes into smiles and brought people together in ways that only great music can.
Every time I see an Art Power event, I am transformed and transported. The unique selection of the avante guard artists across the multiple mediums is tricky and can be very powerful when done right. Bringing Noura Mint Seymali to San Diego was a great move that collected many different groups together for a night at UCSD. The normal Art Power crowd was infused with young Muslims and African Americans celebrating the authentic spirit of an honest joyful expression.
Yesterday at the David Sedaris show, a rather large and inebrieated woman sat on the other side of my wife. I’d guess her blood alcohol level was over 0.08% and she obviously wished to be more of a participant than an audience member. She was with a couple of men who were constantly checking their phones, and the three were engaged in lively conversation. As the lights dimmed and David come onstage, it became apparent, through her whoops of bravo and snorting laughter along with the flashing lights of the men’s phones and constant conversation, I would first have to overcome the distractions to my left before I could enjoy the show.
At one point, an older woman, part of a nicely dressed couple, turned around and gave her that look, like “can you mind your manners?”, to which the large woman smiled. And when the lady in front turned back around to enjoy the show, our loud friend shot her the dancing, middle finger, snickering with her male accomplices.
As a coping mechanism, I started counting her claps, each was accompanied by some utterance of approval, like we were at a southern church and Sedaris was the preacher. She would lean forward with her arms in the air and create thunderous booms with her hands shouting, “Yes, bravo! That’s right!” and accompany it with a deep chested choke of a laugh.
As the arc of her inebriation peaked, her claps became less frequent, she slumped a little and it slowly became time for the audience to focus on Mr. Sedaris. Her friends became more and more distracted by their phones and finally left, one after the other, in the middle of the show. Once the alcohol fatigue sank in, I was finally able to shift my attention from my left to front. It was about then that David was telling a story of a young man who had impeccable manners sitting next to a loud talking ninny on the plane and I couldn’t but help hope the woman sitting next to my wife was seeing the parallels. Was I that polite young man in the story?
Damn, David is funny and crass. He’s so accessible to the masses that he commands the stage at the larger Balboa Theatre even when tickets are priced from $40 and up. I’m very fortunate to have been able to see him. A night of laughter is priceless really, so what’s $50 buck? He read from his gigantic catalogue for much of the evening. HIs stories focused on themes of homosexuality, culture, the south and his interactions with the service world as a touring artist. Always politically correct, he still liked to dance around the edges of crudeness and race in a way that could make the old, white people laugh, (there were a lot of old, white people at the show, in fact the show was mostly older, white people)…disclaimer, I border on this demographic.
There weren’t many people of color in the audience, there weren’t many students and the culture espoused by the star was one of privilege, NPR ideology and it was definitely snarky. No doubt David is funny and an extremely talented writer. No doubt there is a huge audience for a show such as this. The ArtPower director in his introductions said this was one of the featured events of the whole year’s programs. As David said while reading his edited journal entries, “This is the edited me”. It would interesting to hear the unedited parts.
The riskiest parts of the evening were some bawdy jokes and some voices he did for African American characters from the South. His one liners from his diaries were a big hit and had people rolling in the aisles. His longer stories were less successful as they tried too hard to be a package and felt flat or formulated. David likes to cap on people and their eccentricities and their lack of interest. But sometimes we all fall flat in those situations.
He liked to say very often that he would say something to another person he had just met, just to make it weird and that’s how his show felt sometimes. Many times it worked and very often it seemed canned. Oh well, you do this every night for 45 nights in 47 days and I’m sure it difficult to be fresh, new and inventive. Don’t get me wrong, the people loved it and I laughed my ass off. I’m sure it was a successful night for ArtPower and David, though it just left a slightly off-putting after taste in my mouth. Sort of like the story of his fatty tumor that he wanted to feed to a turtle near his house might have tasted.
The lady next to me was the every lady in David’s stories. I could definitely relate to his edginess relative to other people and overall she just confirmed David’s theme for the whole night. So, if I were paranoid, I’d have to say she seemed like some kind of plant. But, in reality, she’s just another one of those characters from David’s pieces that were somehow inhuman and real at the same time.
As the Japanese people are infatuated by all things American, the Americans are fascinated by all things Japanese. And rightfully so. OQ (okyu is the phonetic reading of the Japanese word for “palace”) made for a fantastic evening of peaceful bliss. Meditative and sonically compelling, the show was a blending of Eastern and Western cultures. The dance styles were modern and ancient, spastic and still, mesmerizing and peaceful. A certain stillness entered the audience that allowed for a deep and spiritual connection at Mandeville Hall.
The piece was in two acts and they were a sort of Taoist Yang and Yin. The first half of the show was spastic and full of electric energy. Five dancers filled the stage with exciting and very different styles. Each of the three men and two women had their own distinct takes on a similar tone, though Mina Nishimura stole the show. You’ve probably seen her on Saturday Night Live in her fantastic performance with Sia. I was so excited by that performance! She was so amazing to watch onstage that she could have carried the piece alone. She trained under Kota Yamakazi and together the two of them were stunning to watch. She has also been involved in projects based on the works of two of my favorite artists of all time, Harry Partch and Haruki Murakami.
They carried the power of Japan and the butoh influences that gave the piece a potent life force. The somewhat disturbing body movements were mediated by the amazing score of Masahiro Sugaya and the set design of SO-IL. The second act of the show was completely driven by the piano sounds. They were fantastic and reminiscent of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. The movements were so slow that it was really like a theater piece as much as a dance show. It felt like a break in time for a deep and thoughtful reorganization of life’s foundational paradigms. Perfect art.
Once again, we have the formidable ArtPower organization to thank for bringing this amazing and soulful presentation. I wish more people were able to understand the depth and breadth that ArtPower is bringing to San Diego. San Diego needs to get in their cars and head up to La Jolla to support their ground breaking shows. Nowhere in this town do we have such a complex and rich offering of beauty.
Bang on a Can All-Stars played Brian Eno’s Music for Airports last night at the San Diego aiport, in Terminal 2. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Music for Airports is one of my favorite albums of all time and I was excited to hear this interpretation of the album, though at the same time I couldn’t bear it if it were off balanced, or if too much liberty was taken.
The setting was very cool, nuetral, upstairs at the very most west end of the new building accompanied by some awesome, distrubing and appropriate ambient sounds of the airport. The last ticketing terminal was taken over by ArtPower (UCSD’s impecable curator of world class talent, and host of this evening’s performance). There was a small raised generic stag, low key lighting and folding chairs for maybe 200 people (they were all filled). Of course the normal airport travelers were there, enjoying a random piece of ambience shining from the terminal building.
I knew from the first piano notes of 1/1 that I would not be disappointed. There is no other sound so distinguishable as the first notes of Eno’s Music for Airports and Bang on a Can treated it authentically and with great taste. Chills filled my body from the top of my crown chakra all the way down my spine, as only the best of sounds can do, and the room sat rapt in attention of those notes that form the mantra of the ambient genre. The sounds of the godfather were rising from the halls of the San Diego airport. Thank god and the father! The treatment and compositions were a delight to the fans in attendance.
If you don’t know this 1978 album, you are missing out. If this was your first exposure to these godly sounds, you had a great introduction. This was true art and we all got to be there. The setting and pacing of the concert was true to the integrity of the original and the crowd hovered in joyous celebration of the music we have grown up with, meditated to, made love while it played, did yoga with and had acupuncture treatments to. These were the sounds we have used for decades to calm and slow down life. Bang on a Can honored the intention of Eno. I’m sure when he saw it premiered outside of London, he felt the same way.
It was the setting that set the natural boundries. Everyone was rushing around with their bags, trying to make it through security. The public announcements going off every five minutes created the juxtaposition intended by this piece of music. The crowd sat quiet and contemplative with hints of Mona Lisa smiles curling up the edge of their faces. The audience was completely satisfied with this authentic rendition and showed it with their warm, standing ovation.
The organic instruments were played in such a way as to barely register the difference between the electronic original and the live version. The organics made it slightly more human and emotional than the original and for a live concert it seemed appropriate. The bowed and bent sounds on the strings and the slight upswells, all played into the audience’s deep connective reaction to this performance. Listening to this album over and over for years and years, it was nice to get a swell going that was more than the record. We couldn’t help but transport to all those memories, that this album has been the foundation for, across all of our years.
In combination with the airport, ArtPower did a great thing by bringing this performance to our town. It was as close to going to church as it gets, though in the airport. The airport that screams ambient noise down to me in Ocean Beach every day. It was a small gesture from the folks at the airport against the heaviness of the metal flying above me constantly. But, it did much to engender my feeling towards Terminal 2.