Under the Baobab Tree

31 01 2007

By Derek Beres

Dave Matthews has been one of biggest promoters (and fans) of African music in the mainstream spotlight – so much so that he founded Ato Records to give voice to interesting musicians from that continent (as well as other global destinations). From the Amandla soundtrack to a recent recording by Vusi Mahlasela, he has been tireless in promoting good music worldwide. One recent project and concert was alongside the legendary Senegalese outfit Orchestra Baobab, a national government-sponsored band in the ’70s that re-emerged in 2001 after being asked to play at reunion concert. Their 1982 album, Pirate’s Choice, caught fire when re-released by Nonesuch and the band, after a 16-year hiatus from performing, was back. Reformed and revitalized, they now tour globally, and their 2002 recording Specialist in All Styles returned them to their rightful throne as being one of West Africa’s great dance bands.

Joined by Phishhead Trey Anastasio, Dave cut a documentary called “Dave and Trey go to Africa.” Part of that video highlights a few moments with Baobab, playing a track from Dave’s solo recording Some Devil:

Of course, you want to see what this band does themselves:


Munchies for the….Obese?

30 01 2007

By Derek Beres

It is an old mythological truism that the cure is in the disease, or put another way – as Michael Meade put it – our freedom is in our wounds. This is a take on the old chivalric notion of romance, that the only one that can heal the heart is the one that punctured it. This idea came to mind when reading an article on Big Pharma’s plans for future uses of cannabis.

Little beknownst to me, companies are already testing out ways to suppress hunger after people smoke marijuana – in more common parlance, get “the munchies.” It’s an interesting avenue, considering the legalized usage of marijuana, at least in America, is to promote, not suppress, hunger. Then again, we have to get into the issue of its illegalization, so we won’t touch that right now. With all the current proposals in Congress for the legalization of its medical use and the reinstitution of industrial hemp as a viable means of fabric and nutrition, we really have to wonder how much longer the staunch views of government will hold out.

Also overseas, Peter Melchett, head of the UK Soil Assocation, was quoted as saying “I am convinced that the era of industrial farming will be seen as a blip, a wrong turn,” in this article. The debate included is interesting. Concerns over Melchett’s overenthusiasm toward organics abound, as do high shelf prices. No one can deny the obvious nutritious value of organic food, but why do we have to deny entire generations and centuries as “misguided?” Evolution is never an isolated incident that we have to forget. It’s a step in a procession of events. Perhaps soil, as more and more US farmers are coming to realize, is the key to both the wound and its healing. We can’t replace damage done, but we can be more conscious of what we plant, realizing that what we put inside the earth ends up inside us at some point, until it returns to the soil once again.

A Scenic Vieux

29 01 2007

Vieux Farka Toure

By Jill Ettinger

In Jan Fabre’s stunning performance Je Suis Sang (“I am Blood”), he explores the perpetuation of existence, examining the continuous dispersion of bodily fluids as blood rewrites itself into endless new identities. Distilling our hemocytes down through a comical and sinister journey, he traces each of us back to a unified entry point into consciousness. Though his investigation is often absurd, gruesome and shocking, it nonetheless makes its very simple point: two things in life are certain, and they may in fact be the same: we will all die and we will exceed limits.

Whatever it is about music that moves us is perhaps not as significant as the fact that it has this effect on us to begin with. Every culture on Earth figured out music before most anything else, and we share it, like food, for the sustenance it provides. As I write this, Bob Marley is singing through my speakers. Though I never met the man, I relate to him as he tells his story. “Every man thinketh his burden is the heaviest. Ya still mean it: Who feels it knows it, Lord, Who feels it knows it, Lord.” Music, in whatever tongue, is a language all its own. We become as much a part of it, as it becomes a part of us, transcending the limitations of thought and feeling. Music is simply, magic.

Malian artist Vieux Farka Toure comes to NYC this Friday for his first U.S. performance at Pacha. Produced by InnerContinental’s own Derek Beres, the late Ali Farka Toure’s son is gearing up for a stellar event under the auspice of the second full moon of the year. What I find most significant about this event is the tricep formation Derek and Modiba Records have put together. You’ve got a legacy in the bluesy sounds of Toure (see him at Joe’s Pub for solo sets next week), a sizable portion of proceeds from this record set aside for Malian families in malaria prevention, and then a remix element. Half a dozen artists will be on site performing their versions from Toure’s self-titled debut. Inspiration a timely theme I find worthy of elaboration.

A comment grabbed me the other day as a friend recounted a story about himself and a friend, “we are karmically connected,” he said. The notion transported me back to my yoga teacher training and the resident Swami’s daily philosophy lectures that often revolved around the topic of karma. Karma being that “unfinished business” that comes with us into this realm, maybe lifetimes in the making, and also “what goes around comes around” type of instant retribution. The Swami said that everyone we even so much as walk past on the street is karmically related to us. We are all here together for reasons – like Fabre points out – our blood made of the same stardust.

Our world is indeed shrinking forward – karmas often becoming humbly indistinguishable. We are facing more and more challenges and guaranteed to exceed even more limits, change the constant unknown. Like Dickens observed in 1859’s A Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 2007 is a world deep in the throws of selfish preservation, war and capitalism, the irreversible effects beginning to be felt while simultaneously we are reaching forward in earnest connection toward revolutionary solutions, where seeing eye-to-eye is a secondary reconciliation to seeing heart-to-heart.

Indeed, seeing from our hearts, no random ability – the blood that connects us pumping through this sacred chamber. A portrait of the world perfect, if it exists anywhere, is most definitely visible in the heart. So we posit this image through the creative constructs of our collective efforts as they come to us, and perhaps nothing more crucial to our world family than music – the heartsong.

The definition of remix is to produce a new version of a piece of music. (I love the way we refer to musical selections as “a piece,” implying it as part of a larger whole.) Drawing inspiration from something/someone else and making it our own is a serious reflection. If ever there was a road to human compassion and understanding, it is through these types of reflections. The weaving of our versions of each other back and forth through time opens doors to hearts, to histories and futures together while war and dispassion towards one another cuts off that opportunity in fearful isolation.

If Friday night with Toure and the crew of artists is going to accomplish anything, I can guarantee you this: it will surely exceed limits. Like Marley puts it in one of my favorites, “If you listen carefully now, you will hear.” Come, and listen.

Unhappy Meals

28 01 2007

by Derek Beres

A very enlightening and thorough article in today’s NY Times by The Omnivore’s Dillema author Michael Pollan. He dives into the reductionistic tendencies of nutritionists – something he cites as nutritionism – that isolate certain nutrients from foods without considering the more broad considerations of geography, ancestry and, most importantly, treating food as a whole instead of breaking down the sum of its parts and treating it as the essence of the food. As he writes, “ecological relationships are between eaters and whole foods,” not just the nutrients from said food.

“Reductionism as a way of understanding food or drugs may be harmless, even necessary, but reductionism in practice can lead to problems,” he continues. The fact that humans consume foods based from four sources (corn, wheat, rice and soybeans) when we once had 80,000 to chose from (and 3,000 in broad use) takes the diversity from our diet, forcing us to seek out pills and pumped-up foods with certain vitamins that we once receieved by simply: eating food. Throughout the article he offers great advice on both minor and major steps to take to eating more fully and nutritiously, and yet it comes down to an extremely basic logic – eat less, pay more (if that’s what your local market demands for fresher foods), and eat whole.

Consumerism: The Industry

25 01 2007

By Derek Beres

One of the more prevalent, though slightly annoying, terms coined in the past few years has been “conscientious consumerism.” Like many ideas, it’s blade has two edges. It is a broad way of targeting consumers with healthy products and foods, promoting the notion that if you’re going to spend money somewhere, might as well do so in a way that’s environmentally supportive. The slice is that it creates a sudden surplus of people surprisingly “knowledgeable” about lavender, gingko biloba and charcoal ash because they read it on the side of a package. The other dangerous cut is the corporate rush to produce “organic” products, something the FDA is still not completely certain on.

Alas, industries are industries, and according to Ethical Consumers and Corporate Responsibility the market is projected to surpass $57 billion in sales in 2011 (while the sales sits at $33 billion after ’06). The study is telling of the cultural mindframe, one that is admittedly more conscious of the steps it is taking in supporting organic foods and products, even if willing to pay outlandish prices to do so. With the surplus of products, we could see a break in prices, but hopefully not quality, as time progresses. For one, if recent pushes to legalize the growing of industrial hemp ever passes in America, we may be able to buy a quality pair of pants for under $100. We can dream…

What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas

24 01 2007

By Jill Ettinger

Most folks will say they’re pretty open-minded, willing to step outside of routine to try something new (even if infrequently, and most especially, when they are sick). Nothing is worse than feeling like nothing is worse, and as winter starts to settle into seasoned bodies, health food stores see a noticeable increase in supplements and supportive functional food sales to ward off misery (often also known as February). Even the Jersey City ShopRite now has a dedicated organic produce section that actually looks somewhat fresh; signs throughout the store point to other organic offerings and a wheat-free section, which often looks like the most shopped aisle of the store, providing allergic locals respite from a gluten-filled world.

A recent trip to Las Vegas filled my eyes with glow-in-the-dark foot long frozen slushy alcoholic “drinks,” “slow cooking” a la heat lamps hovering over all-night buffets and a realization that most anything edible can fit into a deep fryer. But an early morning visit to the Whole Foods Market at the edge of town, warm cup of tea and fresh organic fruit gently reminded me to never give up hope.

The American Cancer Society just announced that cancer rates have declined in the U.S. for the second straight year.

Transfats were recently banned from NYC.  (OK, seriously, who would have thought lawmakers in New York even knew what transfats were?). Other states like California are looking into adopting this healthy choice as well, and some restaurant chains are looking at taking the initiative to make the shift nationwide.

And perhaps most noteworthy, Dannon just saw over $100 million in first year sales of their probiotic yogurt Activia. A feat less than one tenth of one percent of all new products achieve in their first year in the U.S. That is, literally, one holy cow.

Maybe someday the only place left to go to smoke, gamble and eat KFC will be Vegas.

The thing about feeling good is once it gets a hold of you, feeling bad is not  an option. Sure, things happen, some days better than others, etc. But I can’t help to wonder if it is possible though that a pop-music obsessed nation of obesity and dis-ease is finally getting sexier. Organic juicy food tastes amazing, especially when the ears are also being tickled by the latest grooves of Ex-Centric Sound System or Stephen Marley – Like the 1400 plus folks that packed NYC’s Webster Hall for GlobalFest last Sunday night, there is an explorer in each of us willing to brace the cold in eager anticipation to try something new, especially when we know it’s going to make us feel really, really good.

Push & Pull, America

23 01 2007

By Jill Ettinger

There is a growing need in America to be relieved of guilt or responsibility about how the way we live affects other parts of this planet. I came across a chocolate company this morning that donates a percentage of every sale of their decadent treats to feed impoverished Africans . While I spend a good bit of my time exploring and supporting ways to decrease this number (roughly 790 million hungry on this planet), both as an individual and part of a company in the food business, something just doesn’t sit right with me about this project. There are a number of amazing companies that support non-profit efforts like hunger relief, women’s shelters, education programs, etc.; many are vertically integrated to ensure quality of life for communities they work with are constantly upgraded. It’s a humble responsibility, often incorporated as part of a triple bottom line – an ethos that all companies should make an effort to consider the effects of their business on everyone. But here this chocolate project seems a bit more bitter than bittersweet. The effects are more visual: I’m supposed to enjoy a chocolate nougat truffle because this indulgence will feed someone a bowl of millet in North Africa! The proportions of genuine good will (and marketing) blatantly designed to cushion the bottomless pit of America’s need for greed relief lack a consistency of grace. All I can think is: how is this program explained to those it’s designed to support? The wealthy American gets to eat all this yummy chocolate, and if they don’t mindlessly throw out the wrapper in their cacao-sugar high, they enter a code onto the website for your country and you might get some food and water for your family! Sounds more like a kitschy scratch-and-win lottery ticket than actual relief.

Ah, America.

Not only has greed outgrown our borders, but our influence is prominent in the most undeserving places. A trip to Mexico last spring took me to remote villages, hours away from any major city, yet Coca-Cola billboards platered the otherwise pristine forests and deserts. Convinced I could learn to read Spanish just by rolling my eyes over everything they came across, I was able to actually make out the words on a flyer posted on a telephone poll, inviting the community to come out and support an “Osteoporosis Awareness Walk.” I could see the irony in the distance, the culprit to this crippling disease, as the lights of the local mini-market shone on stacks of sodas. (High in phosphorous, soda deprives the body of calcium, one of the leading causes of osteoporosis.) Mexico is the number one soda-consuming nation in the world, and the connection it has to one of this planet’s richest agricultural history is now dwindling – no thanks to President Calderon’s loose grip on corn prices. As the economy bends to support US ethanol demands, their staple food may soon be unavailable to the people, the nation’s poor now seeking imports of corn and hopes that those hoarding grain don’t drive the price up even further. All this amidst death threats to a Texas pizza restaurant chain willing to accept pesos. Apparently US businesses are only supposed to infiltrate and exploit the world market, not be a part of it.