by Lavinia Spalding | 08.09.16 | 1:05 PM ET
After being turned away from the school choir, Lavinia Spalding lost her love of public singing. Then she moved to South Korea.
by Don George | 12.09.15 | 12:20 PM ET
Don George was in Cremona, Italy, and grieving the loss of his father, when he heard the violin soar
by Pam Mandel | 07.15.14 | 5:47 PM ET
Sometimes, when you’re out road-tripping, all your radio gets is country music. And sometimes, you just give in to whatever that turns out to be. I started laughing at the first chorus of this tune and made a note to look it up as soon as I got home. The video? Even funnier than the song.
All my flights are just like this.
by Jim Benning | 02.24.14 | 4:04 PM ET
The billionaire drug kingpin captured in Mexico over the weekend was, of course, the subject of numerous narcocorridos. How could he not be? After all, the guy once escaped from a Mexican prison in a laundry cart.
In this song, recorded after that 2001 getaway, Los Tucanes de Tijuana predicted he’d never be seen again. They were almost right.
by Jim Benning | 08.07.12 | 12:39 AM ET
The singer who recorded countless classic Mexican rancheras during her long career died in Cuernavaca, Mexico, last night at the age of 93.
Like a number of Americans, I suspect, I fell in love with her deep, husky voice the moment I heard her rendition of “La Llorona” in Julie Taymor’s 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic, “Frida.” That was my gateway ranchera to others she recorded, like this one.
Writer Daniel Hernandez has been tweeting from Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City tonight, where people gathered to remember Vargas. “A couple thousand people just sang ‘Volver’ at once behind Eugenia Leon like it was one big therapy session,” he wrote. “Overwhelming. Only in Mexico.”
Here’s Vargas singing “La Llorona”:
by Jim Benning | 07.07.12 | 4:22 PM ET
Jonathan Demme’s third documentary about Neil Young, in select theaters now, features a solo performance Young gave at Toronto’s Massey Hall and footage of Young driving across the Ontario countryside, musing about life and his childhood.
by Lenore Greiner | 06.27.12 | 10:15 AM ET
In Italy, visiting Nigerian students asked Lenore Greiner to explain a classic American song
by Jim Benning | 06.05.12 | 9:56 AM ET
People who’ve spent much time in Los Angeles know the city is home to some amazing architecture—classic mid-century designs, rustic Craftsman homes, bizarro medieval castles—and that these places are often tucked away in canyons, or behind tall fences, or in nondescript suburbs.
The musician Moby is now living in L.A., and he was so impressed by this that four months ago he launched a blog about it featuring his photographs and observations. It’s a good read. This short video offers an intro to L.A. architecture and his perspective on it:
by Jim Benning | 05.30.12 | 10:51 AM ET
The Icelandic band, whose ambient, ethereal sound evokes the cool, steaming landscape of its native country, has released a new album, Valtari.
Most reviews find the album to be a lot like the band’s other stuff. As the Washington Post put it: “Ultimately the band’s commitment to pleasant but forgettable ambient soundscapes represents a sort of Rorschach test for listeners. One person’s transcendent experience is another’s somnambulant snooze.”
Funny the critic used “snooze.” For me, Sigur Rós has always made music to wake up to.
From the new album:
by Jim Benning | 05.26.12 | 12:16 PM ET
Because there just aren’t enough songs about reading travel books.
The things you stumble across when you’re waking up, randomly searching for a video of Paul Theroux talking about his new novel.
It’s a nice little ditty. More of the uke-player’s ouvre, including a song about the first dog in space, can be found here.
by Jim Benning | 04.27.12 | 12:41 PM ET
Or something close to that. The promotional song, recently released by the city’s tourism organization, is getting slammed, especially in comments on the song’s YouTube page. One example: “It’s like the theme song from an ‘80s sitcom, probably starring Tony Danza, only it’s the muzak version of that song. A milestone in war crime level banality.”
You almost have to wonder if the whole thing is a put-on, made intentionally bad to draw more attention to the city. I mean, it is getting Chicago a lot of press. You be the judge:
by Jim Benning | 04.02.12 | 4:49 PM ET
This looks promising. That said, I don’t see an official release date set; it got a mixed review in Variety; and according to a piece last month in the Hollywood Reporter, “The film has no sales agent nor distribution deals in place.” Hmm. (Via @TranquiloTravel)
by Jim Benning | 03.13.12 | 4:44 PM ET
This looks great. Nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for best animated feature, Chico & Rita is set in Havana, New York and Paris in the 1940s and ‘50s and features some great music by the likes of Bebo Valdés. A.O. Scott just gave it a rave review in The New York Times, calling it “an animated valentine to Cuba and its music.” He also notes that Havana’s streets “are exquisitely rendered and meticulously colored.”
It’s playing in select Landmark Theatre locations; in Los Angeles, it’s at the Nuart through Thursday.
Here’s the trailer:
by Jim Benning | 01.25.12 | 6:12 PM ET
Arab American composer Mohammed Fairouz watched the uprising in Tahrir Square on TV a year ago today. As he looked on, with the volume off, he began composing a piece of music. “Tahrir for Clarinet and Orchestra,” now complete, is “the first movement of what will eventually become a concerto in three movements,” according to a fascinating report on PRI’s The World.
You can hear the movement in its entirety below, but the radio segment is well worth a listen, particularly Fairouz discussing the various facets of the uprising he was trying to evoke through the music.
by Jim Benning | 11.02.11 | 12:40 PM ET
Jim Benning asks the musician about his new book of photographs and how travel has humbled him
by Jim Benning | 07.29.11 | 11:17 AM ET
Is it just me or is mariachi-rock fusion a thing these days?
Mariachi El Bronx sings in English and plays with more abandon than the typical buttoned-down folkloric mariachi ensemble. But its songs follow the strict conventions of the form to the letter.
When I heard the first Mariachi El Bronx record in 2009, it struck me as a bit of a clever gimmick—you know, dress a punk up in an elaborate charro suit and watch what happens. On II, inside the tales of lost love and other tragedies, there’s plenty of tradition balanced by shots of pure joy and irreverence. And that makes all the difference.
It sounds pretty good to my ear. Here’s a taste:
by Jim Benning | 07.11.11 | 1:27 PM ET
Latin America lost one of its great folk singers over the weekend when Facundo Cabral was gunned down while on tour in Guatemala. He was 74.
The singer-songwriter in the nueva trova tradition railed against oppressive dictatorships in South America and wrote novels and non-fiction. He was riding in a car to the airport in Guetamala City when it was ambushed. Officials suspect a nightclub owner also in the car was the intended target of the attack.
From a New York Times story:
Many of Mr. Cabral’s songs mixed expressions of mystical spirituality with a desire for social justice, which gave him a reputation as a protest singer. That proved dangerous after the Argentine military seized power in a coup in March 1976, and he fled to Mexico, where he remained in exile until after the collapse of the Argentine dictatorship in 1982. On his return, in 1984, Mr. Cabral was more popular than ever.
His sold-out concerts were an unusual mixture of music and the spoken word, with songs preceded by long introductions in which he would muse on philosophy and religion and often quote from his favorite poets, including Borges and Walt Whitman, and spiritual masters like Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
Here’s Cabral performing one of his classics:
by Jim Benning | 06.28.11 | 10:49 AM ET
Cross-posted from JimBenning.Net.
by Jim Benning | 06.08.11 | 3:03 PM ET
Afar magazine sent filmmaker Jorma Taccone to Kenya, where he co-wrote a travel-related song with a Nairobi rapper named Rabbit and shot a video. Considering its mzungu origins, it’s not half bad.
by Eva Holland | 09.29.10 | 12:56 PM ET
Jim Manzi is living in Paris, where a recent Buffett concert has him reflecting on the expat experience:
One of the many great things about living here is the fun of having typically American experiences completely out-of-context. The annual late-September Buffett concert in Paris has become, like the seven-a-sides in Hong Kong, a ritual gathering point for expats for thousands of miles around. This created a hilarious Anglophone bubble in the middle of Paris. About the only French I heard came from Jimmy at the mic (who, having lived here years ago, still seems to have pretty passable French).
A surprising number of his songs reference the city. In fact, he closed the concert with a great acoustic version of He Went to Paris, which is a song that Bob Dylan cited as one of his favorite tunes by one of his favorite songwriters. Though not many of us here are living a Lost Generation literary life, it still felt very bonding.
I can relate. One of my favorite weekends, during the year I lived in England, was spent preparing a makeshift Thanksgiving dinner and tossing a football around the backyard with other North American students—funny, since pigskin and pumpkin pie are no part of my life at home, however “typical” they are supposed to be. As Manzi points out, context is everything when you’re living abroad.
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