99 Percent Blues live at (de)Occupy Honolulu

Here we are holding down the Sunday jam at Thomas Square for (de)Occupy Honolulu: Michael, Laulani, Dave and Laulani, who is trying to video while singing backups and playing ukulele, and myself on slide and singing.  Michael plays upside down and backwards, Jimi Hendrix style, and David has an endless stream of classic folk songs and his own originals.  Michael and Laulani took turns laying down the Hawaiian songs beautifully, some of their own, some classics.  We are there at Thomas Square, corner of Beretania and Ward, just like in the song, every Sunday, along with Food not Bombs, at 3 PM until dark.  I won’t be able to make it this coming week, so I hope five more will take my place!  I’ll be back the following week though, after taking a break to Molokai.

Thomas Square Blues

Extension of “99 percent blues,” acoustic with slide guitar and my sweet new Gibson acoustic on rhythm.  The new verses reflect the 8 raids on the Thomas Square Occupy Honolulu encampment.  Still there though!  Come down Sunday afternoon for Food Not Bombs and a jam with Laulani Teale and myself.  Bring yer instruments if ya gottem and some munchies.

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IndiaMike problems (RESOLVED!)

Yesterday, in my post laying out my musical quest in Kolkata this year, I mentioned the difficulties I was having with IndiaMike.com’s censorship policy, (finally resolved, rr, 12/16/09) which seems to be if you point out mistakes and stereotypes in one of the board sahib’s posts, you will get censored. Ok, so here are my specific beefs with the guy from Indiamike.com, RPG, with a bonus for your patience in hearing me out. First he complains that Bhangra and sitar are not Bengali because I gave as a possible example of what I was looking for as “sitar dub over electronic bhangra beats,” and thus I am being inauthentic and clueless in my query. Inauthenticity is kind of the point here however. Bhangra is also not usually electronic either. I am precisely not looking for the “authentic” or “pure.” As far as sitar not being Bengali, perhaps so, but the instrument is ubiquitous in Kolkata concerts and some of the masters of the instrument, such as Ravi Shankar, are

Anoushka Shankar at Stern Grove Festival, 2007

indeed Bengali. Finally there are dozens of sitar makers in the city making everything from tourist models to delicate works of fine art craftsmanship used by the masters. So really, this complaint, which I am not being allowed to answer on the board (and my original response was way more polite, because I did not realize what a jerk I was unfortunately encountering), is nonsense. And actually I can even think of an example of something close to dub sitar from someone whose roots are in Kolkata, though she no longer lives there, namely Shankar’s daughter Anoushka‘s hybrid trip hop sitar music.

Then he said it would be like going to Hawai’i and “demanding the locals to play the blues.” First off, I’m not demanding anything, just looking and listening with some curiosity. I pointed out that there is a small blues scene Hawaii should you wish to hear it and that you could also find reggae played on ukuleles, neither of which is authentic but both of which are interesting to hear. Interestingly slide guitar used in blues originated around the same time as slide guitar in Hawaiian music, perhaps passed one way or the other by touring Hawaiian musicians or African American paniolos in Hawai’i. In 1929 or so a Hawaiian slide guitar player, Tau Moe, visited Kolkata and demonstrated the slide guitar there. This set off a craze for the instrument, bolstered when Moe and his wife lived in Kolkata during the 1940s. Pandit Brij Bhushan Kabra became a well known master of mixing the western instrument with Indian classical music. One of his students, Debashish Battacharya

Debashish Battacharya
Debashish Battacharya

, had gotten a guitar as a gift from his father, who had received it in payment of a debt. Battacharya took his training in vocal music from his guru Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty and worked it into the guitar music he was learning and combined it with other forms of Indian music to create his own style, and ultimately his own instruments designed specifically with Indian rather than Hawaiian music in mind. Battacharya came to the Islands a couple of years ago to hang out with some Hawaiian slide players and they put on a concert of Hawaiian slide guitar music and Indian classical music that culminated in a big jam among them all. Interestingly, Tau Moe was still alive, so part of Battacharya’s trip was to visit his master’s old teacher.

I won’t get too much into the guy’s stereotypes about Bengalis being conservative based on how the women dress except to say I am partners with one of those Bengali women for the past two decades and regardless of how she dresses she’s anything but conservative. He also says there is “very little in the way of musical innovation. Bengali songs are about the words; musically they are dull and unoriginal (the songs all sound the same).” I don’t suppose he listens to much of what Bengali musicians are playing, which as I’ll demonstrate over the next fews days, is as innovative as anywhere else on the planet where humans play music. Generalizations about a culture of millions seldom hold any water. The thing that really annoys me is that by allowing me to participate except when I disagree with “RPG” it looks on the board as if I am endorsing these arrogant, stereotyping generalizations about Bengalis.