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Resistance and Resilience: Taina Asili on merging music and activism

Taina Asili and band | photo by Kiki Vassilakis Photography | kikivassilakis.com | via facebook.com/tainaasilimusic

Tonight, Philly welcomes back Taina Asili, a musician, activist, and documentarian whose group will be rocking the Rotunda with their highly spiritual, amalgamated blend of merengue, cumbia, reggae and DIY punk.

It’s an amazing mix of styles fully realized on the new album they’ll be celebrating, Resiliencia. Support for the band will be provided by the equally eclectic Afro-latin future fusion band Interminable. We sat down and chatted with Asili about power of music, culture and spirit. Continue reading →

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How Laser Background’s Andy Molholt and Ava Luna’s Julian Fader rose to the summer camp songwriting challenge of Coughy

Coughy | photo by Natalie Piserchio | courtesy of the artist | nataliepiserchio.com

With great summer camp memories come great friendships. With highly efficient recording sessions come infectious albums. Combine the summer camp memories with the recording sessions in two vastly different settings; now pour over the friendship and you have Coughy’s debut album, Ocean Hug.

The twenty-song effort comes from Andy Molholt and Julian Fader, of Laser Background and Ava Luna fame, respectively, while spending the summer of 2016 together at Buck’s Rock Creative and Performing Arts Camp in New Milford, Connecticut. While counseling and teaching classes on songwriting to kids aged anywhere from eight to eighteen, the two managed to find time for some late-night recording sessions in the studio at the camp. It wasn’t until they started playing together that they decided to make all their songs as close as possible to being only one minute long. Continue reading →

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There’s Rakim. And then there is every other rapper.

Rakim | photo courtesy of the artist

If William Michael Griffin Jr. — better known in the music world as hip-hop icon Rakim — had only made golden age rap anthems as Eric B. & Rakim such as 1987’s “Paid in Full” and 1988’s “Follow the Leader,” he would still be regarded as a hip hop avatar of free rhythmic flow and studied lyricism. Masculine without macho braggadocio, confident and spellbinding without over-talking, Rakim made, and makes, slow but forceful word jazz with a writerly éclat.

Based on time playing saxophone (he’s a Coltrane fan), there is often that sheets-of-sound approach that Trane made his spiritual / ritual trademark on Impulse! recordings of the 1960s: something more chilled, stoic and stately than early rap’s frenetic attack mode. The same thing is true of Rakim’s solo output: 1997’s The 18th Letter, 1999’s The Master, 2009’s The Seventh Seal. And it’s a feel that will surely follow into his live work with the Orleans parish funk jazz ensemble The Soul Rebels and their joint program at Ardmore Music Hall on March 28.

We caught up with Rakim late one night in Brooklyn, busy working on a new book for Harper Collins (which he couldn’t discuss), and planning upcoming recorded material. Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: King Britt

King Britt | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

A year after graduating from Central High School, King Britt was working at a new Tower Records location on South Street, having been hired for his judicious taste in music imports. At just 19 years old in 1987, having been brought up on all kinds of music and connected to the arts community in Philly, King was uniquely positioned to make moves, and to update dance music and electronica just at a time when the music industry stood ready to be transformed by the impending advent of digital technology.

At this interview at XPN studios, King reflected on his early hustle, and on those days in the late ‘80s and the first years of the ‘90s — a time of mixtapes and cassingles, hip-house and trip-hop. Few would be able to tell the story more capably or warmly than the Philly-born music producer, as he entreats us to fond memories of his days recording Sylk 130 records at Larry Gold’s studio, of the record label he co-founded with then-fellow-Temple-U student Josh Wink, of his collaborations with Bahamadia, and Ursula Rucker, and to musings about what, in his opinion, we all lost when Napster was unleashed (hint: it may not be what you think!). Continue reading →

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Passing by with Christinna O

Christinna O | photo by Shabnam Ferdows | courtesy of the artist

 

Two years ago, Miami native Christinna O made her way to Philadelphia, not only to attend Temple University, but make a name for herself in the music scene. The alternative R&B singer was already a skilled wordsmith, and it probably helped when she joined Temple’s poetry team Babel and competed in the NAACP’s National Poetry Slam. But more recently, it seems that Christinna O seems ready to get people clapping for her singing instead of just snapping their fingers for her poetic lines.

The end of last year, she released the first single for upcoming EP Girl In Passing, “Shelter”, and has recently released the second single “Lay It Down.” While Christinna O prepares for the arrival of her second EP, we were able to sit down with her to talk about her early beginnings and what her listeners can expect from Girl In Passing. Continue reading →

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Two To Tango: Pink Martini’s Thomas Lauderdale and Meow Meow

Meow Meow and Thomas Lauderdale | photo via World Cafe Live

Before collaborating on an inter-twisting new album, Hotel Amour, and intertwining set lists the likes of which bring them to World Café Live on March 26, Pink Martini leader and pianist Thomas Lauderdale played accompanist and bestest bud to the toast of the Australian cabaret scene, Melissa Madden Gray, otherwise known as Meow Meow.

For the last 15 years, when Lauderdale wasn’t busy touring the land or hitting recording studios for Pink Martini’s space-age bachelor pad lounge orchestrations, he was tinkling the ivories for the kittenish chanteuse. Now fully united and integrated, the pair discussed their origin story from two parts of the globe during one conversation, with Lauderdale in his home of Portland and Meow calling from London.

Continue reading →

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Birdie Busch composes music for artwork at the PMA in a Women’s History Month performance

Birdie Busch | photo by Nikolai Fox | courtesy of the artist

March is Women’s History Month and what better way to celebrate exceptional women in art and music than Philly’s own Birdie Busch performing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art? As a part of the PMA’s Friday Night series, Birdie has written eight original songs inspired by women’s art and seven others for her own project centered around goddess archetypes. The performance will take place in the PMA’s Great Stair Hall and Birdie will be accompanied by four other musicians: Todd Erk on upright bass, Carl Cheeseman on guitar and banjo, Gretchen Lohse on violin and vocals, Thomas Hughes on keys. Projections of art works from the museum collection will accompany the musical performance as well as original visual art by Busch of goddess archetypes.  As a whole, it will celebrate art makers across the centuries and demonstrate what we can learn from our history of remembered — and forgotten — women’s art.

Busch is a staple of the Philadelphia community with a resume as impressive as her open heart and vibrant artistic spirit. She is a musician, writer, photographer, and visual artist whose work embraces the multitudes of our world. She follows her own guiding light when it comes to creating work, and this collaboration with the PMA is no exception. In speaking with The Key, Busch shared that she had already begun a project of songs and paintings that explored goddess archetypes when she was contacted by the PMA. Working with Cat Ricketts, the Coordinator of Evening Programs at the PMA, Busch developed a “super project” that combined her work with goddess archetypes and the PMA’s collection of women’s art.

“It’s been very cool to have those running in tandem,” Busch says, “Originally I thought they would be split, one set of this and one set of that. But now, by studying so much of the background of these women whose pieces I picked from the PMA collection and the female Greek archetypes, it all seems fluid. There’s so many things I wouldn’t have thought of without the combination.” Continue reading →

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The High Key Portrait Series: Lucy Stone

Lucy Stone | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in recurring installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

Posing for some portraits at XPN studios, Lucy Stone calls attention to her sunshine-yellow jacket, and volunteers that her mother said it wasn’t her color and warned her against it, before the singer affixes her own punchline to the narrative, unironically: “That’s why I wore it.”

Having played with local indie rock faves DRGN KING and Sad13 before then striking out on her own for awhile, the Philly native has planned some stage time in the coming months with new crew Vexxed, supporting tracks they recently laid down at a Drexel studio with compositions she’d written when she was 16.

And she can rock her yellow jacket if she wants to, along with a uniquely frank wit and deadpan humor, demonstrated by her response to a mention of her stern portrait visage.

“Good,” she confirms. “I want people to be afraid.”  Continue reading →

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Undead, Undead: Bauhaus celebrates 40 years of sound, vision and vibe

Bauhaus | photo by Graham Trott | courtesy of the artist

For all of what “Goth” would become, and has become, in its mass-mediation — everything from an inspiration to the monsters of Columbine to creating all-in-black characters in South Park — its roots were humbler and less violent (if no less theatrical), with its flashpoint occurring after its first focus had splintered: Bauhaus.

Though the British quartet assembled right after post-punk fellowmen The Cure, Magazine, Siouxsie & the Banshees and Joy Division had, Peter Murphy, Kevin Haskins, David J and Daniel Ash were on their own, loners stuck out in Northampton, England with their German art movement magazine images, stuffily serious bat wing impressionism and their T. Rex records before forming Bauhaus. Frankly, the four members of Bauhaus seemed like a gang of one without connection or camaraderie from other acts, coming into the end of the 70s. Continue reading →

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Revisiting the road to Tomorrow with Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten | photo courtesy of the artist

Sharon Van Etten makes me feel like I don’t do anything.

In the five years since her 2014 opus Are We There alone, it would be hard to find something she hasn’t done. In addition to touring behind that album, she performed and collaborated with countless other artists. She started scoring films. She branched out into acting and appeared on some of the buzziest cult television shows of the era. She even started pursuing her degree in Psychology. On top of all of that, she settled into a long-term relationship and became a parent. Oh yeah, and she wrote and recorded her latest masterpiece, the soaring, sobering Remind Me Tomorrow. Just typing all of that out makes me want to go back to bed, but Van Etten sounds as energized and dynamic as ever. While this album’s songs aren’t about these life events and achievements, specifically, they do accurately convey the emotions and perspective shifts that came with them. It’s a meditation on what it’s like to be happy during unhappy times, and how important and challenging it is to stay happy.

Ahead of next week’s performance at Union Transfer, Sharon was gracious enough to have a long chat with me about everything that’s been going on in the years leading up to Tomorrow, the work and influences that went into it, and how she stays grounded and positive through everything going on around us. Continue reading →