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Listen to Amber Mark’s silky vocals in new single “What If”

Amber Mark | still from video

The 23-year-old alternative R&B artist Amber Mark is a highlight of the Made In America festival undercard, as we hear on her soulful new single “What If.” This is the second song she’s released so far this year, the first one being “Mixer” back in April. Mark hails from New York and began songwriting when she was a teenager as a way of coping with her mother’s death. Growing up, she spent time in India, Germany, Brazil, and Nepal, soaking up different cultures and experiences. She uses this as inspiration and to tell personal tales through her music. Her newest release is about the lessons that come from hardship and how they’re necessary in order to feel happiness. Continue reading →

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Bring Da Ruckus: Wu-Tang Clan takes its roof-raising celebration of the groundbreaking 36 Chambers to Franklin Music Hall

Wu-Tang Clan | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

“Hip Hop is often treated as a collapse or retreat from the ‘high’ African American culture of Jazz, a bastard kind of offspring lacking the musicality, sophistication, complexity, even the spirituality ir morality of its besuited forebear. But if you think of the music of the African slave diaspora as a music of re-reference then it’s possible to suggest that Hip Hop is, in fact, its highest, most realised form…..the most re-referential music ever made” – Will Ashon

In his latest book, Chamber Music: Wu-Tang And America (in 36 Pieces), English scholar Will Ashon lays out a detailed exegesis of the Wu-Tang Clan’s aesthetic and philosophy in 36 interrelated chapters. Using the group’s debut album Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) as a launching point, Ashon digs deep into the story of how an impossibly dense web of influences combined to birth the Wu-Tang. Positing the group as the standard bearers of hip-hop’s obsession with reference and recontextualization, Ashon argues that it is the group’s (and hip-hop in general’s) hybridized nature that lies at the core of what makes them one of the most wholly unique phenomena that American popular culture has ever produced.

Formed in Staten Island in the wake of hip-hop’s initial flowering out from The Bronx and into New York’s surrounding boroughs, the Wu-Tang Clan expanded on hip-hop’s voracious appetite for cultural sampling. Melding together spiritual lessons from the 5% Nation of Islam, classic Bronx-style rap routines, beats sourced heavily from Stax-style southern soul records, as well as a wealth of visual and sonic cues taken from Golden Age Hong Kong action cinema, the group would craft a singular mythology out of this chaotic mix of desperate cultural touchstones.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the release of 36 Chambers and the group has embarked on a tour of North America to celebrate. After years of infighting, internal lawsuits, canceled shows and attempted reunions, it seems as though the Clan has healed, pulled themselves together and are ready to receive their just due appreciation. On January 24th, all 7 surviving members — RZA, GZA, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Raekwon — along with Cappadonna, Masta Killah and Young Dirty Bastard (performing his father Ol Dirty Bastard’s verses) brought the first show of the tour to Franklin Music Hall in Philadelphia. Continue reading →

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Raekwon will appear at Han Dynasty’s fifth annual 36 Chambers of Flava events next weekend

flyer by Hanah Jang | instagram.com/hanahjang | via facebook.com/Han-Dynasty-247950394192

Lest we forget, his full name is Raekwon da Chef. So does that mean that the legendary founding member of the Wu Tang Clan is going to be preparing dandan noodles in the back of Han Dynasty next weekend? Or is he going to be in the front of dining room, rocking the house with his music? Or is he just going to be enjoying food and company?

We’re not totally sure, to be honest. But Han Dynasty’s Wu-themed party 36 Chambers of Flava event has been going on for five years now, and is always full of surprises. Last year, Ghostface Killah was in attendance, and the flyer for this year’s events — November 19th in Brooklyn’s Han Dynasty at DeKalb Market Food Hall, November 20th at Han Dynasty’s Old City location — very simply promises “20 courses, 16 beers, 1 hip hop legend.” That is a metric ton of food and drink. Continue reading →

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Now Hear This: New songs by Amber Coffman, The Mountain Goats, Jade Jackson, Bleachers, Diagrams, Blondie and more

Amber Coffman | via facebook.com/AmberCoffman123

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

The calendar still says it’s spring, but that’s purely a technicality. It is summertime, buddypals, and with the year we’ve been having, it’s about dang time. So where are the jams? Doesn’t quite seem like Katy Perry’s coming through for us this time around – the Teenage Dream summer of 2010, it turns out, was a long seven years ago. I’m personally getting major mileage out of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Cut To The Feeling,” a soundtrack loosie packing as potent a dose of fizz-pop headrush euphoria as anything on E*MO*TION, let alone last year’s B-Sides (Man, was 2015 only two years ago?) Keep a lookout for Lorde’s new LP this Friday (and Haim a bit down the line), but in the meantime I’ll share some other prospects with you below.

On the live show front, it’s been a busy month what with another fabulous NonCOMMvention here at WXPN, last weekend’s dueling cross-town polarities of the Roots Picnic and West Philly Porchfest, and an action-packed concert calendar across the board – my personal highlight being the first of Sylvan Esso’s two-nighter at Union Transfer, featuring the most fervently enthusiastic audience I’ve been a part of in ages (no wonder, considering the show sold out in a matter of hours.) Things are looking strangely sparse for the remainder of June, at least from my vantage point (U2 who?), which I blame on the increasing dominance of the summer music festival circuit, infiltrating nearly every level of the industry as opportunities for the sweaty intimacy of those AC-free mid-summer Unitarian basement gigs steadily dwindles. Perhaps. Still, there are a handful of bright spots, particularly on the rootsy/folky end of things, which I’ll get to a bit further on. Continue reading →

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Local chamber choir The Crossing reflect on 1680 composition with new Seven Responses

the crossing
The Crossing | photo by Mark Conti Photography

More and more, contemporary composers seem to be engaging with and drawing inspiration from early music. The ascetic beauty, stark melodicism and raw emotion of pre-Classical music seems to enjoy a particular resonance with the most modern of composers and ensembles. That bridge between future and past can’t help but appeal to The Crossing, Philly’s remarkable new-music chamber choir. Dedicated to both the newest of creative music and the oldest of instruments (the voice), The Crossing engages in that era-spanning dialogue every time they perform.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia with Andrew Lipke at World Cafe Live, CRUISR at The Fillmore and Jonathan Richman at The Chameleon Club

Andrew Lipke
Andrew Lipke performs 11/2 at The Fire

South African multi-instrumentalist Andrew Lipke will be performing with The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia tonight at World Café Live. This exciting collaboration is part of the Intersect event which aims to celebrate the combination of genres by bringing together the chamber orchestra with some of the most gifted musical talents in the Philadelphia area. Tonight they will be with Andrew Lipke, who has made a name for himself as a critically-acclaimed arranger, producer, composer and performer. Continue reading →

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Sax player Mark Allen draws out the beauty of the baritone

Mark Allen
Mark Allen | photo by Howard Pitkow

The baritone is often treated as the red-headed stepchild of the saxophone family. It’s often viewed as a bulky, unwieldy instrument, good only for anchoring the sax section in a big band where its honking bleats can be kept under control. A few great bari players have emerged over the course of the history of jazz, but even the best known – Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Cecil Payne, Hamiet Bluiett – have failed to approach the iconic status of their smaller horn counterparts like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Continue reading →

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“Big, bold and inspiring”, The Roots make their mark on the city at mural dedication

Photo by John Vettese
Photo by John Vettese

“Philly, all we ever wanted to do was make you proud of us,” Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson told the crowd assembled at the schoolyard of World Communications Charter School on South Broad Street.

Rising above the wall behind him, splashed in dramatic blues and oranges and pastels, you could see his likeness hitting the drums, along with the various other members of The Roots. A year and some in the making, The Roots mural was dedicated this afternoon with the full band on hand, as well as the artists from Amber Art and Design, Mayor Michael Nutter and Mural Arts Program Director Jane Golden.

The event, which drew a couple hundred family, fans and onlookers, kicked off with DJ PHSH spinning a continuous mix of Roots nuggets on his turntables. (Highlight: hearing “Meioso,” the collaboration between MC Black Thought and DJ Krush, into “Rolling With Heat” off of 2002’s breakout LP Phrenology).

Nutter stepped to the podium shortly before noon, hailing The Roots as “not only Philly’s house band, they’re the world’s house band.” He reminded the crowd that the long-running, Grammy Award-winning group got its start as the project of two friends from CAPA – the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, just a few blocks south on Broad Street.

“You never know what our young people can do unless you invest in them and support them,” Nutter said.

Golden echoed these sentiments, saying how the mural was just one piece of the year-long project, which also included a Roots 101 curriculum for youth in Mural Arts’ education program that highlighted music, art and entrepreneurship – or as Golden put it, gesturing to the mural behind her, “what it takes to make your mark on the city in a big, bold, inspiring way.”

Golden was literally jumping up and down as she brought The Roots onstage (“I love you guys,” she could be heard saying to Thompson) and the band was gracious and a bit at a loss for words at the sight of themselves painted on the side of a building in their hometown.

“I’m glad this is in South Philly,” Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter told the crowd. “This is where I’m from.”

Ernel Martinez of Amber Art and Design, the artist group behind the mural, said he’s been a Roots fan “since they came out. It’s an honor to do something on their behalf. I’m glad they dug it.”

Thompson, who kept his earlier remarks brief, later went on Instagram with more composed thoughts:

Wow Philly. Thank You. 21 years ago this Saturday two high school graduates tried their luck at *busking* on 5th & South Street to make “date money” and cop some Girbauds. 21 years & 10 blocks later we return to the scen—nope–the dream of the crime. Incredible Journey. Wouldn’t change a thing. Thank you @muralarts & @michael_nutter & @knightfdn & @gsteuer.

Check out photos from the dedication ceremony in the gallery below. The 6th Annual Roots Picnic takes place tomorrow at the Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing; in addition, the Roots Rock Run takes place that morning.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Heyward Howkins with Birdie Busch at PhilaMOCA, Kelly Hogan at World Cafe Live, Anais Mitchell at Johnny Brenda’s, Dangerous Ponies at The Blockley and Mark Eitzel at North Star Bar

Two outstanding Philadelphia singer-songwriters are taking up residence in PhilaMOCA tonight. Birdie Busch is gearing up for the release of her latest effort, the earthy / spacy LP Birdie Busch and the Greatest Night, which is available on CD in January (and via Bandcamp now). Also on the bill is Heyward Howkins, whose dusty folksy debut The Hale and the Hearty was one of the year’s best slices of Philadelphia-area music. The all-ages show begins at 8 p.m., tickets and information are available at the venue’s website. Below, check out what Howkins has in store for the followup LP he’s getting ready to record – a tune called “Praline County.”

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Lizzo, Lil Uzi Vert, Charly Bliss among artists added to Made in America lineup

(from left) Lil Uzi Vert, Charly Bliss, Lizzo | photos by John Vettese for WXPN

The eighth annual Made In America festival returns to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on August 31 and September 1, and more artists have been added to the already strong lineup. The Jay-Z curated festival just announced that Lil Uzi Vert, Gucci Mane, Alina Baraz, Jay Critch and more will also be performing at the Labor Day weekend festival. A few of the additions we’re particularly excited about — Lizzo, who has made a huge splash this year with her great new record Cuz I Love You, and the more under-the-radar indie rock band Charly Bliss. Continue reading →