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The Key Studio Sessions: Ali Awan

“I kind of get stir crazy if I’m not out playing shows,” says Ali Awan. “I always have to be in a certain project, I love writing and working on stuff.”

In recent years, the Philadelphia psych rock singer-songwriter — WXPN’s Artist to Watch for the month of January — has played lead guitar in a handful of northeast bands, including Philly’s Needle Points and New York’s Jane Church. But his own solo material was always in back-of-mind, and the four songs populating his Bandcamp page, going back to his year-old debut solo release “Citadel Blues,” were all the result of downtime within other projects.

“I was pretty much writing a lot of this stuff as I was in those bands, but I never knew how I wanted to present it,” he says. “Should I get a band together? Is it just a recording project? Playing ‘Citadel’ live was the last thing on my mind, because as much as I love being a frontperson, I also love just playing guitar.”

It’s not a new obsession, either. Awan is 26 now, but he’s been playing music around Philly for more than a decade, going back to when he was a 14-year-old kid who would take the regional rail downtown from Abington to catch punk shows in basement venues with names like Disgraceland and Halfway House.
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Watch Helen Leicht’s 10th Annual Home for the Holidays concert featuring Ali Awan, Hardwork Movement, Katie Frank, Mutlu and more

The 10th Annual XPN Home for the Holidays concert | photo by Lisa Schaffer | SkylerBug.com

XPN midday host Helen Leicht has been celebrating the holidays on air since 2009 with her annual Home For the Holidays concert, gathering some of her favorite voices in the Philadelphia region to sing festive music for the final XPN Local show of the year.

For the tenth annual edition of the concert, Helen took Home For the Holidays out of the studio and onto the stage. Recorded on Sunday, December 2nd before a sold-out crowd at World Cafe Live, this year’s Home For the Holidays included ten musicians in the round, plus two featured performances and a group singalong to close the night. Continue reading →

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Swift Technique’s new single “Annawanna” will be one of your summertime jams

Swift Technique | photo via facebook.com/SwiftTechnique

Funkified Philly octet Swift Technique is back with a summertime jam titled “Annawanna,” It has an infectiously catchy beat that will get your feet movin’ and your hips groovin’, with a variety of instruments such as horns (saxophone, trumpet, trombone), guitars, electric bass, percussion, and keyboards to create this funk-alicious tapestry. Over it all, frontwoman Chelsea ViaCava takes center stage with commanding vocals, while Alex Ayala kills it with a wild keyboard solo. Continue reading →

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Noura Mint Seymali will change everything you think about Afropop

Noura Mint Seymali | Photo courtesy of the artist
Noura Mint Seymali | Photo courtesy of the artist

American writers generally have a tough time talking about African music, and it’s easy to see why. For those listeners who lack the time and resources to learn any of the continent’s hundreds of languages, not to mention every subdivision and nuance of music under the sun, our knowledge is restricted to the handful of artists that music writers can feel confident talking about – artists with global ambitions that, in a digital age, likely make some amount of choice to spread their message to a global audience with whatever power of presentation they have.

The term “Afropop” is a catch-all for a lot of popular music styles from across the continent, but chances are high that you’re only think about very specific artists or genres. Highlife. Fela Kuti. Youssou N’Door. Antibalas. Afrobeat (Kuti’s term). These signifiers conjure up images of large bands with elaborate horn and percussion sections, a few electric instruments sitting comfortably alongside traditional African ones, syncopated rhythms and evocative lyrical refrains that blur the line between dance party and socio-political rally.

An artist like Noura Mint Seymali, who makes her Philadelphia debut at The Painted Bride this Saturday, do not fit so neatly into that narrative. Continue reading →

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Maggie Rogers to Vampire Weekend: 8 of 2019’s Most Anticipated Releases

Maggie Rogers | photo by Dylan Eddinger for WXPN // J.S. Ondara | photo by Josh Cheuse | courtesy of the artist // Ali Awan | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

New year, new music; today, XPN Morning Show host Kristen Kurtis rounds up eight records that she cannot wait to hear in 2019. Read and listen below.

WHO: Maggie Rogers

WHAT: Heard It in a Past Life

WHEN: January 18th

WHY: It feels like forever since a demo of “Alaska” made Pharrell cry while hosting a master class for songwriters at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. A year and a half (and one SNL performance) after that viral video made Maggie Rogers an immediate internet sensation, she is finally releasing her full-length debut album. She plays the Fillmore Philadelphia on Saturday, March 30. Continue reading →

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The Key’s Year-End Mania: Mike Vasilikos’ all-Philly best of 2018

Orion Sun | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com
Orion Sun | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2018 incredible. Today, XPN’s Mike Vasilikos recaps the best music he’s heard come out of the Philly scene this year.

More lists! Yes, it’s almost time to flip over the calendar but not before everyone gets a chance to reflect on their favorite music of the past 12 months.  I guess it’s my turn!  Last year, I altered my approach to year-end reflections.  The idea being: focus on what’s happening locally, because in all honesty Philadelphia is a special place for music.  Across all musical landscapes, the artistry in our community rivals anywhere in the country.  So that said, here’s what I was listening to in 2018. Continue reading →

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Free at Noon Flashback: Kensington Clearwater Revival celebrates 50 years of CCR at World Cafe Live

Kensington Clearwater Revival | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

WXPN’s final Free at Noon concert of 2018 was not just a rip-roaring rock and roll party, it was a celebration of Credence Clearwater Revival’s self-titled debut record, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Taking the World Cafe Live stage at the stroke of noon was Kensington Clearwater Revival, a homegrown tribute featuring Philly faves Jeff White and Ali Awan on dueling lead guitar, with Owen Stewart of Kiska and Ruby the Hatchet on lead vocals, plus two of his Ruby bandmates: Jillian Taylor on backup vocals and Sean Hur on organ. The band is rounded out by R.J. Gilligan on bass, Tony Zamboni on drums, with a guest appearance from Max Cudworth on the sax.

Kicking off with “Fortunate Son,” the band ripped across an eight song set of Credence classics and deep cuts, propelled by Stewart’s gruff and gravely delivery, which was about as good an approximation of John Fogerty as you’ll hear in the 215. White and Awan traded licks with finesse, and Taylor’s guest spot on “Proud Mary” was roof-raising. Continue reading →

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The Week Ahead: Strand of Oaks, Ivy Sole, Mavis Staples, Swearin’ and more

Ivy Sole at SXSW | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN | racheldelsordophotography.com

From alt rock heros to rising stars in hip-hop, a Philly favorite taking over three nights at Boot and Saddle in South Philly, while a soul queen posts up for two nights at World Cafe Live in University City. And the time of year being what it is, there are not one, not two, but three holiday shows on the calendar this week. Here are 16 concerts to see in the next seven days all around Philadelphia.  Continue reading →

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RSVP for Helen Leicht’s Home For the Holidays concert featuring Good Old War, Jeremy Keys, Katie Frank and more

WXPN Home For The Holidays

Every December XPN midday host, Helen Leicht, gathers a group of Philly-area musicians in a local studio to record the sounds of the season for a special radio broadcast called Home For The Holidays. This year marks the 10th Anniversary of Home for the Holidays, and to celebrate, she’s recording the show live! Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Joey Sweeney and the Neon Grease

Joey Sweeney has been a fixture on the Philadelphia scene for as long as I can remember. Back in my college days, he was a witty, sassy, no-bullshit columnist for the Philadelphia Weekly who also fronted the Wilco-tinged indie rock band The Trouble With Sweeney. He went on to found the revered cityblog Philebrity (which, sadly, seems to be on something of an extended hiatus), then returned to music in the 2010s: first with the wacky denimcore rock outfit Arctic Splash, then with the elegant Long Hair Arkestra. That’s to say nothing of the early ramshackle rock acts of his formative years, which I wasn’t around for, but I’m told The Barnabys were quite good, and their brief reunion at his 40th b-day gig Your Life is Calling, and tracks on its companion compilation, seem solid.

Point being: Sweeney has been ingrained in the city’s music and culture for so long that he probably needs no introduction. And now that I’ve gone and spent all this time introducing him, we arrive at the question: why? What keeps us returning to Mr. Joey Sweeney two decades into his career? Continue reading →