Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Guitar Gods

January 16, 2012

He walks into the aucoustic guitar room, so quietly that I may not have noticed him had he not asked almost immediately:

“Hey, have you taken lessons?”

“Not really, maybe like two or three of them, and that was a long time ago,” I look up from the $400 guitar I had been playing to appraise this high pitched inquisitor.

“Oh,” he says, “Me neither.” He’s about four feet tall, Asian, and most certainly seven years old. He’s got round little glasses and a puffy black jacket. He’s freaking adorable. The kid picks up a guitar and sits down on the stool across from me. The guitar is markedly too big for him but he manages somehow to reach the strings. I stop playing and hold my breath because I’m almost certain I’m about to get schooled out of this Best Buy by a musical prodigy. Just my luck, I think. Here I am in this Best Buy, feeling pretty OK about my mediocre ability to have a good time playing the guitars, and this kid walks in.

“Do you have a guitar strap?” he asks all of a sudden, before playing a single chord.

“No, I don’t have one,”

“I really, really want one.” He looks down a the guitar which is black and larger than his entire body. “I’ve never played on a real guitar like this before. But I need a big one. A big one to play Blackbird on.” He sighs and starts playing the first couple notes. He’s not bad. He may be prodigy material, but I’m relieved to realize that I’m not about to get totally blown out of the water. Phew, that was a close one. We both keep playing, a dissonant duet: me whatever I was already playing, he the first three notes of Blackbird over and over again.

“Do you get finger picking?” He stops playing and looks over at me.

“Not entirely: It’s pretty tough, right?”

“Yeah, it’s really hard! I don’t get finger picking!”

“Well I bet if you keep practicing one day you’ll be really, really good.” Suddenly I realize I’m sitting at a different end of that proverbial table, you know, the one that turns on around you without even making a sound. No longer am I the kid fooling around with the guitar in the shop (for me it was Redemption Song, not Blackbird) but instead I’m the adult fooling around with the guitar in the shop and trying to offer advice that I (the kid me) never really followed. But this kid, maybe he’s smarter than I was; he smiles and doesn’t answer. Instead gets up to put the large guitar back on the rack. I offer him the one I had been playing, because it’s a bit smaller, in tune and it’s probably time for me to get going anyway.

“No thanks, I should probably leave this room too, before I break somethun,” as he follows me out the door. Ah, a pragmatist, after all.

heard them stirring

September 11, 2011

“I LOVE YOU!” A pause in the music, and a surprisingly masculine voice from somewhere in the masses: “I want to have your babies!”

Now, an actual woman: “Me tooooo!”

“Me threeeeeee!” It’s like a call and response hymnal worship out here tonight.

And then, the drummer, looking down at the microphone: “Maybe…maybe you’re really just in love with a deeply complicated web of potential misconceptions.”

I can’t think of a better way to subdue an entire amphitheater of slightly tipsy idolators into several moments of awkward silence than by making them briefly consider the motivation behind their swollen affections, so freely offered up into the chilly September air. God, Fleet Foxes. With deadpan that good, how can I help but love you? Oh and of course, the music. For those harmonies, I’ll misconceive you any day.


Also, good Lord I want a twelve string guitar.

in case you haven’t heard

May 5, 2011

If I know one thing, it’s that everything that I see

of the world outside is so inconceivable

often I barely can speak.

Later: The Vienna Philharmonic

March 2, 2011

To my left, there is a fat man in dress pants scribbling on his program. To my right, a woman who won’t stop questioning me about why I, a student at this University,  would be at the orchestra by myself amongst these hundreds of people on a Friday night.

“Oh, you write for the Daily Cal,” she says when I answer the question in terse tones (“I’m press,” I say). “So are you a student of Music, too, then? …. No? Oh, really? Physics? Wow. So how are you going to know what to write about, then? Why are you here?…No one else wanted to cover this concert? You were the only one? They where all too busy for this? Tsk. Is the Daily Cal still a radical liberal rag?”

Clearly, the Vienna Philharmonic is not something meant for common denizens like me.

But in the first few chords of “Tristan und Isolde” all pretense is lost. On your fifth listen to a Radiohead album, you might finally be able to convince yourself that it means something to you. Wagner, instead, grabs you by the shoulders with the first tone. Even as you hate yourself for seeping quietly into a broth of romantics in the concert hall seat, you can’t help but let in all visions, void of explanation, that the music brings. The order that jars are placed on the ledges of cellar windows, the way that fabric folds, the startling redness of the blood that goes through the tiny veins in human eyes—richness in small details, like the most subtle dissonance of tones, is always what overwhelms.

The Orchestra—the raw force of it—was meant, even if unintentionally, exactly for common denizens like me.

At the performance’s end, the lady behind me is yelling “Ja whol! Ja whol!” For a second, it’s 1800, and I’m in Austria. I think of the time I saw Mozart’s ghost, the Berlin Opera, and what the world must have been like before there was Hitler or the internet. A second later, it’s 2011 again, and the Woman to My Right is glaring again, waiting for me to move out of the way so she can exit the long aisle of seats, adjust her coat and wait sternly for her slower-moving husband to meet her smiling at the top of the theater.

i’ll explain later

February 26, 2011


Norrland and Urkult, part 2

August 19, 2010

Continued from the post ‘Norrland and Urkult, part 1’

This was the playground for the young and the young at heart… hammocks and rope swings and giant wooden ship all included.

And this was the stage before the opening ceremony, which included music and fire dancing. Not to mention a lot of r-rolling and other slam-poetic treatments of the Swedish language.

Here are the acts I liked best from the festival:

Malin Foxdal

Malin Foxdal makes Dalarna sound like Sweden’s Appalachia. Meaning: this lady from Dalarna translates American folk-style music (mostly the songs of the Great Gillian Welch) into Swedish.

I saw her perform in a church with a band consisting of a Bass, a fiddle, a mandolin, and a guitar. On the guitar was Esbjörn Hazelius, who often plays with one of my favorite Swedish musicians, Sofia Karlsson (who unfortunately wasn’t at the festival), and the band, as a whole, was quite suberb. Malin has quite the voice, ranging from very rich deep tones to lofty, airy notes—and doing Welch’s songs the justice they deserve.

Theresa Andersson

My fellow American! Theresa Andersson is from New Orleans, but has at least one parent from Gotland (island off the East coast of Sweden). One of my interests in seeing her concert was to check out what her accent in Swedish was like — thinking that Gotlandska and American would be an interesting combination. Turns out, her Swedish was really good, but still I could hear places where she made similar differences in pronunciation to the ones that I always have. It made me feel like I had a friend : )

Anyway, her performance, was simply put, something else. I am not sure if I have ever seen a musician utilize recording so much or so masterfully as Theresa. Basically she would start off a song with a simple sound: a beat, a simple sung melody, a few note on the violin, a few chords on the guitar… and that simple wound would be recorded and played back over and over. As the song progressed, she would add more and more sounds, everything building on the sound before in a rhythmically interesting way.

Chissko Systems

Senegalese folk music is not something I expected to here in the middle of a forest somewhere in Northern Sweden. But I am sure glad I did.

Rocking the Kora harp and some kinda drums made outta a large vegetable, the musicians radiated an unbelievable pure form of joy, made even more tangible by the fact that some of the musicians’ friends and family members hopped up on stage out of the audience to dance along.


I am just gonna say, naming your band after your area code seems like one heck of a redneck thing to do.

Nevertheless, these guys where great. Three middle-age men from Västerbotten, they put a very subtle modern spin on Norrlandsk folk music with the inclusion of an electric guitar into the traditional instrumental line up, all while maintaining the folk-dance-able quality of the music.

Long live Swedish rednecks.

Mari Boine

One of the world’s most prominent Modern Sami musicians (read: one of the world’s only). She incoporates the joik (see previous Urkult post) into music that has elements of pop, jazz, rock, and, um…. Enya (if that can be considered a musical style). In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that  I spent most of the concert sitting by one of the bonfires trying to stay awake. Later on, I did listen again to one of her CDs and read english translations of her Sami lyrics, which actually were quite beautiful.

Svarta Sagor (Black Tales)

This group of young artists draws from the traditions of bard from the days of yore—telling stories accompanied by music. Performing in the darkened Näsåker school theater, Svarta Sagor’s goal is to retell classic, happy-ending fairytales in a dark and disturbing way.

It often happens that I am focusing too hard on understanding to simply enjoy the sound of the language at the same time. However, during Svarta Sagor’s performance, the storytellers spoke so clearly—and with what I thought was a lovely northern accent (but then again anything not Skånska seems somewhat ‘northern’ to me) —that I really felt as if I was enjoying the sound of the language while understanding at the same time. Maybe it is because the performers where so talented musically and linguistically… or maybe it was because the stories were so twisted I couldn’t help but hang on every word.


Aside from the concerts, we also swam everyday. One day we even took a trip out to a waterfall to look for underwater caves. Unfortunately, we found none

On the last night of the festival, after folkdancing for a couple of hours, I stepped out of the dance lodge and realized that the lightness was already creeping up in the edges of the sky. There seemed to be almost no point in going to bed before sunrise, so I sat for a while by the lookout point and watched the dawn slowly appear over the mountains.

After watching the sunrise, I walked back by myself to the camp. The colorful ends of the Urkult festival where still fluttering around Näsåker: A woman serving the last drops of Chai Tea from a large kettle, teenagers getting in one final ride on the enormous tree swing, two men dueling violins in an empty parking lot.

It was so warm that I pulled my sleeping bag out of the tent and slept in the open air under the gradually brightening sky. Open air that is, until is started to rain. O, Sweden.


Stay tuned for the ‘Tales from the Road’ about how the heck I (barely) got back to Lund in time to catch my flight to California.

Norrland and Urkult, part 1

August 11, 2010

sunset view of nämnforsen from the festival area

Hey everyone, sorry I haven’t put up the post about London yet. You’ll get to hear about it some day soon, I promise.  But for now I want to tell you a tale of the north. A tale of folk music, joiking, hippy-like swedish people, and reindeer meat. A tale of Urkult, the music festival that I went to in Näsåker, Västernorrland last weekend, and my final ‘big adventure’ in Sweden before heading to California.

Also, you should know that this post is also sorta epically long. And there will be a part 2. Sorry. But there are a lot of pictures…

The lakes in Norrland are black. I thought maybe it was because of the depth. Nämnforsen does have some steep dropoffs. But I think it must be something more. Probably something chemical. But imaginatively speaking, maybe, something magical.

Sweden north of Sundsvall feels like a completely different country. The landscape changes so drastically it is hard to believe that this Sweden, the Sweden of the North, is the same as the low-lying wheat and raps fields of Skåne, or as the island city of Stockholm, or as the green fields and björk-tree landscape of Uppsala. The North is mountainous, dark. The way to get up to Näskåker, where the festival was held, was one heck of a journey to say the least. It is a bit alarming for me to think of how long it was to get up there, how far North it really seemed… and then to look up at the map and realize that Näsåker is only about half way up Sweden. In the real, real north, in Lappland, above the polar circle there is Sarek, and there are the fjälls: the place where the trees stop and the landscape becomes unearthly. I wanted to make it up there during this trip, but it proved to be just a little bit too far and my cash just a little bit too short. Supposedly, the real, real, north looks something like this:

Well, I didn’t make it that far this time, but at least this gives me a reason to come back. Anyone up for backpacking in the North of Sweden one day?

Anyway, back to the main story.

The day started off with a 5AM train ride on the x2000 (with cheap last-minute tickets that where bought only 6 hours before) to Stockholm, followed by a commuter train to Uppsala. It turns out the the Uppsala Reggae festival was the same weekend, and I ran into my friend from Ramsjö Gård, Anna, the German farmgirl with a full head of bright blond dreadlocks, on her way to the festival grounds. It was great to see her again, and the fact that we meet just randomly in the streets is a reminder that even though Sweden is huge … it is still a small country. The hike through Uppsala continued past the Reggae festival, toward Johanna’s friend Fanny’s Co-op, which would be our home for the night. The Co-op (or kollektiv) was, well, a co-op. And all of a sudden, I felt very much at home.

The next day we arose bright and early (again) to catch the 7 AM train to Sundsvall, and were joined by the rest of our festival-going gang and several other random festival goers, their motives made clear by their hiking backpacks, coolers, and ukuleles. We got on to the train as scheduled, but it didn’t stick to schedule for long. Apparently there was something wrong with the train signals in Gävle and we had to on-and-off stop and ride slowly in what made for about 2 hours worth of delay. However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. First, they made everything in the Bistro car free. That’s right: free pre-made sandwhiches, cinnamon rolls, juice, coffee, tea, salads. Awesome. Then, since we missed our Länstrafik buss from Sundsvall due to the delay, the train company ordered a charter buss that went directly to the festival. Wait, it gets better. The train company refunded 25% of the ticket cost. In my opinion, totally worth a little extra train time, especially since my sleep on the train that day was the first time I hadn’t had nightmares about finding my bike (only to awake and realize that I hadn’t found it).

On the buss ride from Sundsvall, as I watched miles upon miles of forested mountains pass by, some people in the back of the buss started singing choir songs. When they got to ‘En Vänlig grönskas rika dräkt’ I couldn’t help it any more and had to sing along. It was the first of what would be many random musical moments.

When the buss dropped us in Näsåker, I realized that the place had an unusually high population of hippie-like people. Can you imagine the strangeness of seeing so many hippie-like-people in Sweden? There was a part of me that was extremely glad (felt a bit like home). But there was also a part of me that was extremely confused at the high numbers of Swedish people in dreadlocks and colorful and often Southeast Asian-inspired clothing.  It is as if one where to discover a part of town in Berkeley with people clad exclusively in Swedish traditional dress. It was weird.

We set up camp in Sigge’s family camping (the girl who checked gave me my first opportunity to hear real Norrlandska, the northern dialect live!), and there turned out to be about 15 people in our group. Our food situation was kind of brilliant: everyone only had to help with preparing food for one meal out of the whole time–the rest of the days we just could show up and eat. Because we shared the cost of food, the major meals for the whole festival cost about 40 kronor, or 6 bucks. Not bad.

After setting up camp, it was time to swim in the lake, something that would become a daily ritual. And then it was on to the festival area to get our wristbands. Oh, the festival area. It was on top of a hill overlooking the river, and was encircled by lofty pines. Aside from the expected stages and food stalls, there where also hammocks, firepits, teepees, swings to swing on, ropes to climb on, a wooden ship, and games for children to play.

That was one of the truly wonderful things about Urkult. The festival population was made up of all sorts of people (not just the hippie-likes). There where Grandparents, parents, children, and in some cases even very little babies, all gathered to celebrate folkmusik. The music was likewise varied, and not at all confined to the scheduled performances, but rather all around, all the time. It was really fantastic to see musicians of all ages from all over Sweden (and in fact the world) gather and just play. Also, it made my secret desire to learn to play the fiddle even more urgent.

And the music didn’t stop at the just the festival area – people played in the town, in the campgrounds, in the church graveyard, by the river… everywhere and whenever possible. My favorite moment came when a woman at asked the people camped next to me for a cigarette, and subsequently got roped into a conversation. When asked where she came from, she answered she was a Sami, the people native to the North of Sweden, and that she would be more than happy to Joik for them. Joiking is the traditional form of Sami music that I first heard of during my freshman year at Berkeley. I was fascinated by the idea of a joik as a sort of musical portrait of a person or animal, and I remember thinking to myself that one day, I wanted to hear a joik live. Well, it turns out that in that field-turned-camping-ground in the middle of pretty much nowhere, I would get my chance. And so, she joiked, and I listened.

At the moment she finished I got the whim to travel immediately to Lappland, live in the Sami culture as an apprentice reindeer-herder, and learn to joik. Unfortunately, all romantic visions of such a life are quite quickly crushed by the memories of the darkness of winter and the foul, foul, smell of reindeer meat.

Yes, reindeer meat. The mingling aromas of body odor and Indian food (and something else that is sorta illegal in CA and very illegal in Sweden) is a scent that I have experienced amongst hippies in California and was well aware of. But at Urkult, you have to factor the reindeer meat tent into the festival-scent equation. Yes, there is a food tent that serves taditional Sami food…which is pretty much reindeer meat ontop of reindeer meat ontop of tunnbröd (a kind of thin bread). Every time I walked by so named tent, the smell was for some reason so disagreeable to me that I had to run a little bit. Admittedly, that didn’t stop me from wondering in the back of my head: I wonder what it tastes like. I am not sure if I am grateful or regretful that I never dared to find out…

Stay tuned for part 2, in which I talk about the actual performances during the festival. There might even have to be a part 3 in which I talk about how I managed to get back to Lund (equally, if not more, exciting).

I know you’re all on the edge of you seats.