Archive for May, 2010


About a month ago, I videotaped the band “Timbila” at their CD release party. Something happens when one observes a band through a camera, and I found myself thinking, “There’s a story here.” Unlike so many of the younger bands in New York City these days (whose members come together as strangers) that bloom for a while and then morph into other musical manifestations, Timbila is a band that evolved over a period of almost fifteen years.

The story has deep roots in the world music community of New York, and front person Nora Balaban and guitarist Banning Eyre are a large part of it. For those who remember the funkier, more artful days of the East Village, the name Tribal Soundz, the music and instrument store that Nora ran for many years, will bring back fond memories. A few weeks ago I profiled Nora, only because I knew that the narrative was too big for just one posting. Here’s the second section, in which I interviewed Banning Eyre, senior editor of Afropop Worldwide, noted author, journalist and guitarist. I wanted Banning to explain the challenges of working with both the mbira and mbila (timbila is plural of mbila) and combining elements of the African music he so loves with Nora’s passion for rock.

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MAY 3, 2010, 12:00 PM

Okay, it’s coming on Cinco de Mayo, so it’s only logical to do a blog post about something Mexican. But the truth is, I really like the music of Rana Santacruz on its own terms, which are solidly Pan-American. As you will see and hear, Rana is a man who loves loud acoustic instruments like the banjo and the accordion. His tastes are eclectic and he wants his mostly USA-born band members to contribute their ideas as well as their chops. The result is something that is a hybrid in the best sense, cohesive and all-embracing—a marriage of the USA’s and Mexico’s musical traditions with healthy injections of contemporary songwriting. The songs are ear candy too. They feel like classics although they have been recently written, and I am a sucker for brass lines that soar like wind currents against a sail. (“Cajita de Barro,” featured here, makes me glaze over. In a good way.)

With all the brouhaha stirred up by the recent Arizona immigration law, resentments are flaring on all sides. But when I caught Rana at Joe’s Pub a few months ago, where he was joined by two members of a New York-based mariachi band in full regalia, I felt good about people, optimistic about the immigrant values this country was built on and I felt a warm link to Mexico. (Me, a non Spanish-speaking New Yorker!) How many musicians, whether intentionally or not, can make us feel that way? So take a break from the politics, and just enjoy the music. And another thing—when you listen to “Cajita de Barro” invite your sweetheart to join you in a waltz. It may not be “hot” or “edgy” but it’s romantic as hell without ever being maudlin…..If you don’t have a sweetheart, this song might just get you one.

Here are the translated lyrics to “Cajita de Barro” (Little Clay Box)

In a little clay box you left a piece of your heart
In a little clay box tied up with cloth and thread
And every now and then I tie it close to my soul and it takes away my pain
And every now and then I grab it and say “I’m sorry”
“I’m sorry”

And when the clouds turn off the lights of the sky
and rain starts falling down
In that little clay box I want to take shelter
And I can’t hide it any longer, and I must accept
That without that little clay box I don’t know what to do
I don’t know what to do

And when my eyes shrink and shrink for crying so much
In that little clay box I start looking for something
And when I miss you and think of you in the middle of the night
In that little clay box I find you again
I find you again

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Here’s where you’ll find my weekly original world music video blogs that appear on Huffington Post, as well as an archive starting in April of 2009.

This is also the place where you will find video that is exclusive to my site. I’ve traveled to places like Uzbekistan, Morocco, and Taiwan and no matter where I go I have found amazingly talented and creative people working in every genre from the deepest traditions to the cutting edge.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to interview them and to capture some of what they do on video. Enjoy what you see and hear, and let me know what you think. I welcome your feedback.