Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra Electrifies at the Belly Up!

by Tom Nguyen

Last night was an incredible show by Antibalas at the Belly Up in Solana Beach. My first time at this beautiful and historic venue was just last year, to see Salif Keita, and let me tell you a secret I’ve quickly learned: if an act is playing both in Los Angeles AND at the Belly Up, it’s worth the drive for me to see them here, because the sound is incredible and the stage is low, up close and intimate!

And in fact, why not see acts twice? After boasting to a gentleman next to me, that we’d driven 2 hours to be here, he told us he’d driven 3 hours from Moorpark! Brett says Antibalas is a “2 show band” — meaning if they play 2 shows in the area, it’s worth the drive, and he’s seeing them again at their Saturday Los Angeles show at The Regent!

I made the drive with Vanna Mae Art and DJ Glenn Red, who’s been coming to the Belly Up since 1996. We got there in time to catch the last few songs of Here Lies Man, a psychedelic rock group fronted by Marcos Garcia (Chico Mann) and whose percussionist Rich Panta, we know quite well from Very Be Careful. Chico Mann is also the rhythm guitarist in Antibalas, but with Here Lies Man, he gets to really showcase his vocals and rock guitar solos — it’s an audacious mix of what he calls “Afro Rock….What if Black Sabbath played Afrobeat?”   Continue Reading →

‘Gook’: Q&A with Ava Duvernay and why Independent Filmmaking and Representation Matters

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by Tom Nguyen

The indie film ‘Gook’ by director/writer/actor Justin Chon (‘Twilight’) opens in LA theaters today, and has been highly talked about, not only for its provocative title. The story of two Korean-American siblings who own a store in a predominantly African American Los Angeles neighborhood, and the consequences of their friendship with a young black child during the first day of the LA riots, won the Sundance Film Festival’s NEXT Audience Award and was acquired by Samuel Goldwyn Films for national release — a rarity for an independent film written, produced and directed by and starring folks from a minority community…but I’ll get into Hollywood’s diversity problem and Chon’s astute observations later.

The film shot in black and white follows one day in the life of a street-wise Eli (Justin Chon), intent on keeping his late father’s shoe store afloat, despite daily struggle in Paramount, a suburb next to Compton. His brother Daniel (a very funny David So of Youtube popularity) is more interested in aspirations of being a singer than helping Eli mind a store long past its better days. Kamilla (a brilliant 11-year-old Simone Baker making her debut), a young girl from the neighborhood, is the heart and soul of the movie, as an orphaned girl drawn to the store and the brothers, looking for more parental love and affection, than she receives at home from a sympathetic but absent older sister, Regina (Omono Okojie) and stern older brother, Keith (a very intense performance by Curtiss Cook Jr.).

The film is a humanizing, honest snapshot of complex race relations in a lower income Los Angeles neighborhood that isn’t often portrayed on screen. While the film starts out with what could have been tired cliches, like Eli’s multiple encounters with Latino gangsters or the racist Korean store owner across the street who pulls a gun on Kamilla, there’s a purpose to Chon’s depiction of the simmering racial tensions of this multi-ethnic community — the day happens to be the acquittal of white police officers in the Rodney King beating trial and as the riots start in nearby South Central, those tensions boil to the surface, with moral dilemmas and serious consequences for each character. Continue Reading →

This review, just like Sevdaliza, is better late than never

by Cindy Ly Rozas

Sevdaliza, the Iranian born Dutch musician, dancer and visual artist that’s mesmerizing the music world with her unique avante gard glitch pop, performed her first U.S. show to a sold-out crowd at the Echoplex in Los Angeles this past Monday night. Originally scheduled for an earlier March date, Sevdaliza’s imminent L.A. debut was delayed by the administration’s travel ban, which directly affected nationals of seven muslim majority countries, including Sevda Alizadeh’s native Iran. The travel ban, which went on to inspire the track Bevin, was one way for Sevdaliza to transform her frustrations and disappointments with our current state of affairs into art.

Sevdaliza is actually really great at transforming. She transformed from child refugee to star basketball player on the Dutch national team. From then, only 4 years ago, Sevdaliza transformed herself into a producer and musician, DIY’ing every aspect of her career so far. Just this past April, she transformed the release of her first full length album, into a surreal visual experience; “ISON” manifested in physical form.

It’s hard for any international artist to tour the U.S. without a full length album behind them, but Sevdaliza could have totally done it solely based on the strength of her singles and EPs she’s been steadily dropping since 2014. Industrial R&B with a futuristic aesthetic.

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Cambodia meets Mali: Dengue Fever and Tinariwen at the Fonda Theatre

Story and Photos by Ruth Tesfai

I first remember hearing about Tinariwen when I was studying abroad in London. My friend was raving about them and was upset that he couldn’t get tickets to their show. I was curious but didn’t bother checking them out until 3 years later. I remember thinking, “I’ll probably regret this.” And I did. Because they’re good…REALLY GOOD. And so began my love affair with Malian music. It’s similar but different. Foreign but familiar. In what seemed like divine intervention, they performed live in my city a couple months later. It was an incredible night. Their music truly transcends time and space – it’s a spiritual experience. Hassan’s energy on stage is pure joy. Abdullah’s skills on the guitar, fire. And you can’t forget their percussionist, Said. His drumming moved everyone into a trance! Though that night was perfect,  the band was missing their lead and founder, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib. He chose to stay back home for the U.S. tour for undisclosed reasons. I was bummed but wished him well and hoped he would rejoin them for a future tour. Continue Reading →

3 Ecstatic Nights of African Virtuosos: Salif Keita, Noura Mint Seymali, African Guitar Summit

by Tom Nguyen

This past month, we were treated to not one, not two, but THREE nights in a row of world-class musicianship from Africa and her diaspora! In recent years, there have been a lot of international acts cancelled at the last minute due to visa issues, especially from Africa. In this even tougher climate of strict travel bans affecting many musicians, like at the recent SXSW festival, it just seems incredibly fortuitous to have so much great African talent visiting Southern California in one week: Salif Keita at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, Noura Mint Seymali at Caltech‘s Beckman Auditorium in Pasadena, and African Guitar Summit at the Aratani Theatre as part of the annual Aratani World Series in Little Tokyo.

First up was a relaxing road trip south to see legendary Salif Keita. He only had this show and another in San Francisco announced, with a pending Los Angeles date that never materialized. We left Los Angeles in the afternoon to make sure we avoided rush hour traffic for the hour and a half drive down to the Belly Up Tavern and let me tell you, it was well worth it!

It was my first time at the Belly Up, a live music institution in San Diego county since 1974! Unassuming on the outside, and gorgeous the moment you step in, its half moon shaped high ceiling recalls its origins as a US Navy prefabricated building during World War 2. From the friendly staff, to its polished wood bars, floors and stage, to its walls adorned with art work of generations of musicians who’ve played, there is a welcoming and unpretentious vibe here as well as an aura of storied musical history in this intimate venue. DJ Glenn Red, of Afro Funke and La Junta, who I carpooled with, recalled his early formative years in the 90s as a music lover and concert goer, seeing Erykah Badu and many others there, before they became big stars.

The King Salif Keita is here!!! @bellyuptavern ???

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Dobet Gnahoré: A Phenomenal Performance by an Astounding Pan-African Artist

Story and photos by guest writer Samuel Bresenden

Last Saturday night in Los Angeles provided the rare opportunity to experience the shining star that is Dobet Gnahoré, an extraordinary artist from the Ivory Coast in West Africa. Dobet is a gifted singer, dancer, and multi-instrumentalist. Along with her band Na Afriki (‘To Afrika’), Dobet delivered a fascinating performance in a very intimate venue at Cal State LA’s Luckman Fine Arts Complex.

The concert was presented in a smaller stage, which may have seemed less deserving than the main large theater. While that did not appear to reflect the talent of the artist, nor the publicity she deserved, it certainly proved to be a benefit to the discerning music aficionados who filled the hall. It gave the chance for the audience to see, hear, and feel Dobet’s music and commanding stage presence very up close and personal, in a way that might not have been the same in the larger theatre.

The night started with the stage in near darkness, drummer Mike Dibo walked in first, sat down at his drum set, opened with a ‘talking drum’ like solo, then eased into a soft rhythm that welcomed Dobet to the stage. She picked up her Mbira, (a traditional thumb piano instrument from Zimbabwe), launched into a swaying, soulful melody that interlocked with the drums patterns, and was joined seamlessly by guitarist Julien Pestre and bassist Valéry Assouan. Continue Reading →

Australian sensation Tash Sultana plays dynamic Sold Out LA show at The Echo

Story and photos by guest writer Gerren Kelsaw

Australian born Natasha Sultana, known on stage as Tash Sultana, is representative of a new cadre of artists in the internet age. The self taught guitarist and singer-songwriter garnered millions of hits with busking videos before embarking on her professional career. The warm reception even led her to ask the audience at The Echo “How did you hear about me?”

Sultana came on stage in her trademark style. A loose Harley Davidson T-shirt and baseball cap covering her long curly locks. Her looping guitar style mesmerizes as she uses beatboxing and rhythmic licks to build the base of sonically fulfilling tracks. What is most compelling about her performance are the dynamics she uses to work the crowd. Unafraid to reach for the upper notes whilst still availing herself of the raw and rugged parts of her voice. Varying her playing style between fast guitar in rock style and quiet almost bluesy tones throughout the set. Tash is reminiscent of early Ani DiFranco crossed with the timbre and sweetness of Adele. Perhaps her most recognized song “Jungle” brought the sold out concert venue to raucous appreciation. Continue Reading →

Low Leaf’s release party for Palm Psalms took me on a dreamy journey into her world

Credit: Jorge Alarcon-Swaby

by guest writer Fernanda Ulibarri

On Friday, February 10th, independent based LA artist Low Leaf put a beautiful event together to celebrate her CD release entitled Palm Psalms at Center for the Arts Eagle Rock.

The venue is beautiful, spacious, and a historic landmark. Built in 1914 as a Carnegie library, it was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1985. They provide cultural events to the community and put together an awesome music festival in the summer. The space smelled like incense and Thai food. There was a small market section, food, a bar, and colorful projections on the walls. It was a cozy and magical atmosphere that made the event special. It was not only about the music, it was like entering Low Leaf’s world.

I heard about Low Leaf through a friend. I checked her out on YouTube and saw a video where she plays an Aaliyah cover. It’s so adorable! I’ve been waiting for a while to see her live but it wasn’t until this event that I had the opportunity to see her show. Continue Reading →

Review: Princess Nokia, Afro-Nuyorican feminist rapper, defiant and proud at sold out LA show

Story and photos by Mayda del Valle

Armed with a microphone and a stick of sage, Princess Nokia cast a spell on everyone at her sold out LA show at The Echo. After baptizing the audience with a bottle of water and jumping off stage to crowd surf during her first song, the anthem Tomboy, she stood poised at the edge of the stage dressed in a white sports bra and baggy pants, proclaiming “These are the rules of the show: ladies to the front, all you ally brothers get to the back. That’s right, this is a brown queer space. We don’t do none of that misogynist shit.” And with that the crowd cheered in response, and the women present claimed the space we usually have to elbow and shove our way past men at concerts to stand in. It might be this unapologetic claiming of space for marginalized identities that has led to Nokia’s growing popularity on the underground scene, and the sold out European tour she just returned from. Continue Reading →

17th Eagle Rock Music Festival: Triumphant Return and What’s Next

by Tom Nguyen

The 17th Annual Eagle Rock Music Festival (ERMF) returned this summer a bit late or early depending on your perspective. Late because the festival took a hiatus last year to regroup after tremendous growth, and early because they moved from their usual October date to Saturday, August 20.

It was actually to the festival and fans’ benefit that there were so many competing summertime events all over Los Angeles that day. That meant the people who came were really there for what I think was the festival’s strongest lineup ever, with acts ranging from soul and funk group Orgone to Dengue Fever, a Cambodian psyechedelic rock group, to many of my favorites like South LA teen duo Sin Color and East LA’s Cuicani and La Chamba. Instead of the massive 70-80,000 person turnout like in peak years, it was probably about half that and felt like the smaller, more intimate community festival of its roots.

I loved it! With no massive throngs to contend with, I was able to easily zip back and forth between stages. Honestly the festival was a blur, because if I wasn’t dancing, I was running between stages for fear of missing out on so many great acts playing simultaneously.

Jungle Fire Palm Tree_Alejandro Ohlmaier

Photo by Alejandro Ohlmaier, courtesy of ERMF

Every performance I saw was solid but three in particular really stood out for me:

DSC02380Know her name now: Low Leaf. She says she’s a Filipina harpist but I think the singer and multi-instrumentalist is a supreme being from another dimension. There is something so indescribably pure and ethereal about her vocals with the wisdom of an old soul in her lyrics. She and her band took me on journey to another realm completely.

Jungle Fire…the name says it all because they always bring the tropical heat of their Afro-Latin funk and soul. The instrumental ensemble with percussion front and center is always on point with their pulsing rhythms and are completely irresistible, especially when each player takes turns jamming out.

This was the first time I heard Mark De Clive-Lowe and his band in an outdoor setting and it lent an even bigger atmosphere to the experience of listening and absorbing his rich electronic jazz and dance music. He opened with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech playing over hypnotic beats and his lovely talented wife, singer Nia Andrews, joined on a few songs that were incredible.

MdCL_Carlos Garcia

Photo by Carlos Garcia, courtesy of by ERMF

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