The Very Best: European Dance Beat with an African Heart, Party Band Spirit and Love for Fans

by Tom Nguyen

The Very Best, the duo of Swedish DJ/producer Johan Karlberg (Radioclit) and Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya, ended their North American tour in Los Angeles at The Roxy on June 24th. LA music audiences can be extremely fickle especially when it comes to unfamiliar and genre-deying music — one of my major gripes are people not showing up for amazing music like this rolling through town. The Very Best is doing something right and kudos to the full house of people who showed up on a Wednesday night!

DSC09599I came expecting just the duo and was delighted so see a full band on stage, with Johan on the decks, Esau on lead vocals and Seye Adelekan and Jutty Taylor on guitars. In fact, the duo set out to make their new album Makes A King much more organic and with less electronic instruments than previous albums. Johan has been quoted as saying, “We’re constantly evolving…not just in the sense that we’re trying to change our sound. But we’re constantly on a new journey which colours the music we make.”

DSC09568The music is a rich blend of Esau’s smooth vocals switching between his native language and English, Johan’s pulsing electro beats and African and Western instruments fusing together. One of my favorites, the title track Makes A King, captures that fluidity in their sound…the changing tempos, drums and beats are so infectious!
DSC09631On stage, the band truly connects with their audience. Esau, Seye and Jutty took turns on vocals throughout the set, with Esau and Seye frequently jumping off stage to join the crowd, and Johan all smiles and head bobbing and weaving, working his electro beats like a party master. I love seeing a band that’s having as much fun as the audience and doesn’t believe in any separation between artist and fan. Definitely in a celebratory mood at their tour-ending show, they accepted drinks from the audience and invited anyone willing to go onstage to join them during their last song.

At one point, Jutty dedicated a song to a fan named Matthew, who always showed up to every show and had passed away recently. DSC09562Their love and appreciation of fans is undeniable and there is a deeper meaning to their music as well, beyond the infectious dance rhythms. Esau is not afraid to sing about issues like poverty and political corruption in Malawi and raising awareness about the region. Their 2nd album MTMTMK stands for “More To Malawi Than Madonna’s Kids” and the video for Makes A King features the community organization and collective, Ethiopia Skate, empowering youth in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, with the birth of a grassroots skate movement.

Interview with Sandra Lilia Velasquez: From Pistolera to her new genre-defying project SLV

SLV Press Photo Duo Floor_photo credit Shirley Rodriguez

photo credit Shirley Rodriguez

by LillyFlor del Valle

(BOYLE HEIGHTS) — If listening to great music is your thing, Eastside Luv is definitely the place to visit. You can always count on top of the line musicians and this time Nancy Sanchez and SLV rocked the stage. The lineup for July 9, 2015 featured Sandra Lilia Velasquez and Sean Dixon‘s musical project SLV. Their debut EP, Dig Deeper, was produced by legendary bassist Meshell Ndegeocello. Velasquez is also the founder of the band Pistolera and Dixon is the drummer for the experimental electronic band Zammuto. Their debut album This Kind was released this past May. I had a few moments to speak with Velasquez about the project and even found out that we’re both from San Diego.

Lilly: What does SLV mean?

Velasquez:  They’re just my initials. I thought Sandra Lilia Velasquez was too long.

Lilly: How did you and Sean Dixon meet?

Velasquez: He has a rehearsal studio in Manhattan, I started renting out his studio space for my other band Pistolera and over time I shared with him music that didn’t in fit with Pistolera. I knew he was also a composer so I invited him to add to the songs, which he did. It wasn’t planned and I’ve always wanted a song writing partner.

Lilly: How does that dynamic work? Continue Reading →

Vusi Mahlasela Interview: On Tour with Hugh Masekela to Celebrate 20 Years of Freedom

by Tom Nguyen

Two of South Africa’s musical icons and freedom fighters, trumpeter Hugh Masekela and singer/guitarist Vusi Mahlasela, will take to the stage together Saturday, March 14, 2015, at Walt Disney Concert Hall.* Their 20 Years of Freedom tour marks the first time the two legends will be collaborating and playing together on one stage and is a special celebration of 20 years of democracy after the end of Apartheid. Vusi, known as “The Voice” back home, gave us a candid interview why remembering this history is as important and relevant as ever to generations in both of our countries.


Vusi Mahlasela and Hugh Masekela (Photo Credit: Dana Yavin)

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Krar Collective: Review and Interview

by Tom Nguyen

I just saw Krar Collective at Rosalind’s Ethiopian Restaurant last night, their 2nd of 3 shows in LA this weekend. The trio, based in UK, combines traditional Ethiopian music with modern arrangements and an electrified krar (lyre), that adds a rock sound. They’ve been called The White Stripes of Ethiopia and last night, they showed us why!

Rosalind’s is a longtime popular restaurant in Little Ethiopia, with a great menu and wonderful hospitality. Krar Collective started the night slowly, to give people a chance to dine and soak in their sounds. Every few songs, lead singer Genet Assefa would disappear to change into one of many colorful traditional outfits and perform Eskista (or Eskeseta), the traditional Ethiopian dance, involving vigorous, rhythmic shoulder and chest movements! It’s said to be an inspiration behind the Harlem Shake, and midway through their set, Assefa started playfully coaxing people one on one to join her on the dance floor.

Band leader Temesgen Zeleke showed off his mastery of his unique electric krar, playing sharp, complex riffs, with Grum Begashaw providing the strong punch of the drum lines, that steadily worked the crowd up off their chairs. Their songs are long, typically 6-8 minutes, and like a kettle simmering over a flame, you’ll be rewarded for your patience as the songs build up and boil over with infectious rhythms and beats and loud crescendos. By the end of their amazing 2 hour long set, they had the whole house jumping, clapping and clamoring for more! Amazingly, after they ended at midnight, Krar Collective simply asked for a 10-minute break before resuming a SECOND set!

In attendance last night were Marco and Miriam of Help A Life Foundation, a non profit to help Ethiopian orphans. Mark your calendar for their fundraiser African Hallow’s Eve Soiree next Sat. Oct. 25.

Krar Collective’s last show is tonight Sat. Oct. 18 at 10pm at Rosalind’s and come hungry and open for both the delicious food and music. It’s like going to a family restaurant that just happens to have an amazing band from Ethiopia via the UK, to serenade you over dinner and then get you to work off the calories at the end of the night. Like Zeleke says in our interview below, learn some Ethiopian dance and it’s better than going to the gym. Watch the last song of their 1st set below and read our interview!

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Tinariwen returns to LA with New EP! Oct. 18 Moon Block Party and Oct. 25 The Luckman CSULA

Our Tuareg blues and soul brothers, Tinariwen, returns to Los Angeles with 2 shows! They are touring the West Coast this month, and will play the Moon Block Party on Saturday, October 18, at the Fairplex, Pomona and Saturday, October 25, at The Luckman at CSULA. Their music and shows are always a soulful, transcendent experience for me and if you’ve never seen them live, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to let them take you on a sonic journey to their desert home.

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Interview with Atash: Mesmerizing, Rebellious World Music…From Texas! Playing LA Sep. 28!

by Tom Nguyen

Atash, an amazing band from Austin, comes to play Los Angeles on Sunday, September 28, at The Mint, and I’ve been addicted to the music on their new album Everything is Music from first listen. They play an original blend of Persian, Middle Eastern, Indian and African rhythms that truly transcends boundaries and I was astounded such a rich, exotically vibrant sound was coming out of Texas of all places!

Well, I had a chance to talk to Roberto Paulo Riggio, the musical director of the 9 member collective and he gave me a fascinating education! Read on about how rich a musical tradition and epicenter Austin, Texas is, for attracting musicians from around the world, their long journey to forming Atash around the pivotal moment of 9/11, and how their music is anything but traditional!

Inspired by mystical Sufism, their music is uninhibited and unafraid to blend and arrange traditional music in new richly layered textures and sounds. Most of all, their mesmerizing music and rebellious lyrics are about bringing people together in the spirit of peace, love, and celebration!

Listen to the song Talangor (Flick!) as singer Mohammad Firoozi recites a poem by Sufi mystic Rumi and read our interview with Atash!

I am not white, I am not black
I am not a follower, I am not a leader
I am not a slave to religion
      I am not as they have said I am
      I am not as you have heard I am
You are the one
You have been seeking your whole life
You are the world itself
You are the moment of love itself

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Don’t Miss Kuenta i Tambu’s first LA tour NOW!

DSC04489I first noticed Dutch music group Kuenta i Tambu on Getty’s roster for their Saturdays off the 405 concert series and was immediately taken by their video Jackhammer. Then I noticed them scheduled to headline LA Commons Day of the Ancestors: Festival of Masks, an annual celebration of African culture. What does an electronic dance group from Netherlands have to do with African culture? A lot in fact! The group’s members are from the Caribbean islands of Curaçao and Aruba and the history of the islands stretches from its indigenous Arawak people, to colonization by the Spanish and then the Dutch, and the powerful influence of the African slaves — the result is a richly unique cultural and musical tradition.

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Watch Out, The Muslims Are Coming!

The documentary, The Muslims Are Coming, recently screened at USC School of Cinematic Arts. Bearing the name of the tour a few Muslim comedians took along the Bible Belt of America, the documentary is a good way to see how the media creates fear in Americans from their ignorance of a religion different than their own. Directors Negin Farsad and Dead Obeidallah, along with fellow Muslim comedians Kareem Omary, Aron Krader, Preacher Moss, Maysoon Zayid and Omar Elba, document their tour and the reactions and receptions they receive. Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofalo, David Cross, Colin Quinn, Rachel Maddow, Lewis Black are among those interviewed giving their own perceptions on how this “Muslim takeover” scare tactic from those in the right wing has controlled the conversation of what being a Muslim is really about.

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To and From the Heart: Taiwu Children’s Ancient Ballads Troupe & Daniel Ho

taiwu 001On my day off yesterday, I had the fortune of finding out about a free educational presentation by the Taiwu Children’s Ancient Ballads Troupe and Daniel Ho at Bowers Museum in Santa Ana from a friend who heard them interviewed on KPFK that same morning. I’m so glad I made the drive down to OC to catch them!

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Selah Sue and Bushwalla at El Rey Mon Aug. 26!

Here’s a tip for discovering new music from abroad before it hits US shores — get to know travelers or even host one in your home! It was 2 years ago, I was taking a Belgian CouchSurfer named Julie on a surf trip during her summer internship in LA. While listening to music during the car ride, I joked that I never heard of any good music coming from Belgium. Being a musician herself, she personally took offense, plugged her iPod into my car radio, and proceeded to school me…in the ways of Selah Sue

Wow I was immediately hooked from the opening guitar riff and her distinctive voice and cadence as she sings and raps in a blend of soul and reggae. I immediately drove home and youtubed her, finding this live performance very early in her musical career:

How does such a young girl with piercing blue eyes from a small Belgium town channel such ragga soul and command such emotional depth? Coming from a non-musical family, a music career was far from any of her thoughts as a teen. Learning to play acoustic guitar at 15, Selah Sue simply wanted to write songs as a way to deal with her teenage anxieties. “I had all these worries and depressions that I wrote down, it was a way of structuring my thoughts,” she writes on her bio. Many of her songs touch on her insecurities and coming out of her shell through her music.

And the rest is destiny: playing open mics in high school and posting her music on Myspace garnered her an instant growing fan base and offers from music producers, which she rejected early on because she wanted to write and sing her own songs. Selah Sue saved the songs she wrote as a teen, like Raggamuffin, for her self-titled debut album released in 2011. Julie left me a copy before she returned to Belgium and I’ve had it on repeat ever since.

Selah Sue writes songs like an old soul, influenced by the funk, soul and reggae rawness of her idols Lauren Hill, Erykah Badu and Bob Marley. Her stage name is in homage to Lauren Hill, whose daughter is named Selah.

I’ve also read she’s a very private person. I finally got to see her live at last year’s UCLA Jazz and Reggae Fest which I believe was one of her first performances in the US. After her set, as she walked offstage to the artist area, I and another “early adopter” who knew her music screamed at the top of our lungs “SELAH SUE” to get her attention and motioning her to come over. I think we were too eager and scared her away, as she shyly retreated away. She played acoustically that day without a backing band and she’s at her most introspective and vulnerable on songs like Mommy, when it’s just her and her guitar.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Selah Sue again and seeing how quickly she’s matured as an artist at just 24 years young on a sky-rocketing trajectory. You may have already heard her voice and not known it.

I know I’ll be ready tomorrow for my spoonful of Selah Sue’s intense soul-baring music tomorrow at the El Rey Theatre., with Bushwalla, the self-proclaimed Original Gangster from Cleveland. It’s an all ages show at 8pm and tickets are just $17.