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In Their Own Words

Listen to interviews gathered for our segments on Eastern Standard, the weekly public affairs radio magazine on WEKU.  Click on the images to listen to UnderMain’s Art Shechet, in conversation with Speed Museum contemporary arts curator Miranda Lash; Tatiana Gant, executive director of the Montana Arts Council discussing with Sky Marietta the value to rural artists of their “Artrepreneur” program; and Wendy Barnett sitting down with Ave Lawyer, co-founder of Lexington’s unique On The Verge theatre company, and actors Kevin Hardesty and Rachel Lee Rogers to discuss the production of Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part Two.

Miranda Lash, Speed Art Museum curator of contemporary art

Tatiana Gant, Executive Director, Montana Arts Council

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Arts Tasting Menu

A handcut tasting of cultural delicacies from Lexington, the region, and beyond.

The richness of our regional galleries and museums is amply demonstrated in this week’s tasting menu.

Appetizer

Bob Morgan and Lina Tharsing. Lexington Art League, Lexington. Gallery Hop, May 17th. Opening Reception, May 26th. Thru July 5th.

An intriguing pairing of two Lexington artists working in different mediums. Part of the Art League’s renewed efforts to focus on local and regional artists and artists of different artistic generational cohorts.

Entree

Yinka Shonibare CBE: The American Library. The Speed Art Museum, Louisville. Thru September 15th.

A celebration of American diversity and a provocation to deeper conversation, the British-Nigerian Shonibare’s library includes six thousand books covered in his signature textiles. On the spines of many of the books are the names of immigrants to America or individuals whose ancestors immigrated to this country, the names of African-Amercians who left the South during the Great Migration, and the names of people who have spoken out against immigration, diversity, and equality. iPads allow visitors to inquire about the names on the book spines and participate more deeply in the exhibition.

Dessert

Unbounded Domains: Vian Sora. Moremen Gallery, Louisville. Thru May 25th.

The Iraqi-born and raised artist’s florid and barely-contained abstract work suggest the upheavals in her native country during its seemingly endless cycles of war and destruction, and the richness of its culture. The viewer is challenged by the affective resonance of her paintings.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World OF Hip-Hop: MC MSZ

“The music can transmit the power of the word and dance can express the music that is invisible and, also, our emotions. For example, some people cannot hear, but we can show the music with dance. It’s a fusion of the good parts of the music and dance and I can express myself and my emotions.”

Misuzu Takashima is a different kind of MC, in that she doesn’t rap or write lyrics, but she is an event host and a pioneer in the Japanese B-girl scene, having paved the way for hundreds of female breakdancers all across Japan. Her title of MC still stands for Master of Ceremonies, but in Japanese, MC typically is a reference for event hosts and MC MSZ does this very thing for hip hop events all across Japan, mostly events that are centered on promoting hip-hop culture to the youth.

Originally from Kyoto, where she told me there are a lot of old-school hip-hop heads, MC MSZ is now based out of Tokyo. When we met in Shinjuku, she told me that, in Kyoto, she started dancing at 15 when there were a lot of hip-hop dancers practicing outside of the train stations. She learned about hip-hop through her mother, who would play the music at home, and became skilled at breakdancing by hanging out outside of Kyoto Station with friends. In 2006, MSZ and her crew won second place in the international Battle of the Year breakdancing competition.

She added that she is hopeful for the current teenage generation’s love of hip-hop and that the number of female breakdancers has been increasing since 2010. “I am from the third generation of breakdancing and, from there, the number has certainly increased. Also, there are people from the first and second generation, who are older than me, who are still active and still doing it.”

Even though she isn’t breaking anymore, MSZ, with the help of her apprentices, is still staying busy organizing annual events in Tokyo called “Girls Night”, to showcase female singers and artists. Their movement is growing more and more every time they do it and she said it is a different dynamic because it doesn’t feel like the artists are there because the music industry is trying to sell them, but they are there for the love of music.

MSZ also is the main MC for the first annual 2018 Youth Olympic Games, an international breakdancing competition that is designed to get youth interested in competition and to elevate their skills and their love of hip-hop culture.

Listen to my interview with MC MSZ here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

You can follow MC MSZ on Twitter and Instagram

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: MaryJane (Luna and Tsugumi)

MaryJane is a hip-hop duo from Tokyo consisting of two MCs, Luna and Tsugumi. Luna is 38 years-old and is from Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward and Tsugumi is 37 years-old and hails from Sapporo in Hokkaido. The crew met in the Tokyo hip-hop scene and their sounds are deep in the soulful 90’s style R&B vibes. The name MaryJane is, without a doubt, a reference to their love of weed and Dr. Dre-style California G-Funk hip-pop. MC Luna started out singing when she was young and appeared on the Showtime at the Apollo amateur night stage in New York. She started performing hip-hop around Tokyo in 2003 and performed many shows in clubs around Australia and abroad as well. She quickly gained the alias “Club Queen.”

In 2008, Luna started her own label called LILBOOTY RECORDINGS and in 2013, she teamed up with producer and rapper, Tsugumi, who had gained notoriety through a group that she is in with her sister called SOULHEAD. In 2014, after collaborating for years on production as solo artists, together as MaryJane, they put out their first album called “Street Names”. Since then, the two have enjoyed lots of success, released a handful of solo releases, and, in 2016, they released an EP called “Two”. LILBOOTY also produces other artist’s music, such as Aoyama Thelma and MINMI, and Luna is currently working with hip-hop dancer, NAZUKI, to promote her original hip-hop-inspired fashion brand, ViiDA.

You can find their music on their website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: コムアイKOM_I from 水曜日のカンパネラWednesday Campanella

Wednesday Campanella is a fresh, complex, and ever-changing project that combines a unique multi-genre blend of EDM, J-Pop, and hip-hop to make vibrant, catchy songs that have made a giant splash in Japan and abroad. Though they have shifted to the slower side of the spectrum these days, 26 year-old lead singer, KOM_I (pronounced Komu Ai), often raps on their tracks and producer Kenmochi Hidefumi’s music, especially on their earlier albums, has a strong hip-hop feel, which makes sense because he also made music under Nujabes’s Hydeout Productions.

The name of the group is a reference to the day of the week that they met for practice and the themes of their songs often discuss larger-than-life historical characters and concepts, for example, Napoleon, Aladdin, or The Wright Brothers. KOM_I performed lyrics are often kind of Dadaist, pun-heavy, and seemingly stream of consciousness observations about events or peoples and the group decided that, despite being a trio, that only KOM_I would perform and be present during live performances.

Wednesday Campanella began taking shape in 2011 when Dir.F, a label manager at Tsubasa Records, met Hidefumi at the yearly Design Festa Tokyo event and the two started working together. In 2012, at a house party, Dir.F met KOM_I, a native of Kanagawa Prefecture, and invited her to join the group, which she did, while still being a high school student. In 2012, the group sold their first demo CD at Design Festa Tokyo and, in May 2013, the group released their first mini-album, “Crawl To Sakaagari”. Later that year, in October, the group released their second mini-album, “Rashomon”, which was only sold at Tower Records in Tokyo.

Their third mini-album, “Cinema Jack”, came out in March 2014 and, eight months later, they released their fourth mini-album “Take Me To Onigashima Island”. Finally, in 2015, they released their first full-length album called “Zipangu” and gained the attention of Warner Brothers Records, who signed the group.

After playing their first American show at SXSW in 2016, Wednesday Campanella released their first mini-album, “UMA”, on Warner Brothers Records in June 2016 and then released their first major label full length, “SUPERMAN”, in 2017, which rapidly expanded their fan base in Japan and abroad.

In 2018, the group released the “Galapagos” EP and is heading off on a world tour to promote it, taking them to Hong Kong, France, Taiwan, and many other magical places. KOMI_I’s energetic, surreal, and powerful live performances are a sight to be seen, including her Wayne-Coyne-esque giant clear ball that she rolls around in, Lately, she has been modeling in Tokyo, appearing on Japanese television a lot, and is viewed as a fashion icon in Japan (and by GQ). You can get a taste of KOM_I’s erratic dance moves, funky vocals, and truly unique performances via their myriad vibrant and vivid music videos.

You can find their music at wed-camp.com and follow KOM_I on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: 泉まくらIzumi Makura

Izumi Makura is a rapper from Fukuoka Prefecture and the concept around her music is about being a normal girl who raps, is slightly sexual, but mostly lonely with a propensity for gushing tears. Her flow isn’t strong or weak, but is slightly monotone and purposefully normal and basic. Her videos are typically illustrated by artist Tomoko Oshima and she hasn’t started appearing in person in her videos until recently.

Starting in 2011, Izumi Makura put a song on Subenoana’s SNEEEZE mixtape and, in November 2012, released her first album with Subenoana, called “Sotsugyou To, Soremade No Utoutou (Graduation and, Dozing Off Until Then)”. In 2013, she released “My Room, My Stage” and, in 2014, she collaborated on a track with Yoko Kanno for the TV anime, Space Dandy. Shortly after, she gained a lot of attention after releasing an official remix of Lorde’s hit, “Royals” via Universal Japan.

In April 2014, she released her third album, “Ai Nareba Shiteiru (If it is love, I will know)” and, in September 2016, she released her fourth album, “Identity”, with all tracks being produced by fellow Subenoana label-mate, Nagaco. 2017 was a busy year for Izumi Makura with the January release of her album “Yuki to Suna (Snow and Sand)” as well as the release of a cover album called “TOKYO GIRLS LIFE”, featuring covers of songs from Fishmans and MONGOL800. Later that year, Izumi Makura released “5 Years”, a double-disc best of compilation, including a few new tracks as well as songs that she did guest spots on.

You can find her music at Subenoana’s website and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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秀吉a.k.a.自称アイドルラッパー Hidekichi a.k.a. Jishou Idol Rapper

There is a lot of mystery surrounding Hidekichi because not a lot of people know her true identity. She never shows her face and celebrates this by using the hashtag, “顔出しNG (It’s not good to show your face)”.

Even though her persona is a mystery, she is making quite an impact on the next generation of Japanese female MCs. Her lyrics often discuss pain and regret, but also the joys of being a woman, and her first album, “The Female Shou”, has been getting a lot of attention since it was released in July 2014 on the Village Again label. Since this album, she has done multiple features with other artists and put out a 4-track EP on Victor Entertainment in December 2017 called “Sugao”, which means “True Face”.

You can follow her on Twitter.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: ダヲコDAOKO

DAOKO is a 21 year-old rapper and singer from Tokyo, known for her proto-Shibuya-kei tones and ASMR-level whispery vocals that shift between singing and rapping. She got her start in 2011 when she gained fame for her cover songs that she would upload to the Japanese video sharing site, Niconico. She was inspired by the Japanese hip-hop group Nitro Microphone Underground to start writing raps. When she was only 15, these videos caught the attention of Japanese band Jinmenusagi, who helped get her signed to the label LOW HIGH WHO?.

In 2012, DAOKO released her first album, “Hypergirl”, and would go on to release two more full albums and a few EPs with LOW HIGH WHO? before getting signed to Japan’s fourth biggest record label, Toy’s Factory. Because she was so young, very little information was known publicly about her life or her real name and fans didn’t see the face behind the voice until after she graduated high school. Her face was first seen on the video for the song “ShibuyaK”.

Her first major debut album, “DAOKO”, dropped in March 2015, and she was nominated for the 2015 “Next Break Artist Award” at the MTV Video Music Awards Japan. In 2017, she released her second album on Toy’s Factory, “Thank You Blue”. DAOKO often collaborates with the members of M-Flo, Kenshi Yonezu, and TeddyLoid. She recently had her song “Owaranai Sekai de” chosen as the theme music for an upcoming Nintendo game called “Dragalia Lost” and often contributes music to multiple anime programs. She also hosts a radio show on J-Wave every Monday from 9PM to midnight called “Sonar Music”.

You can find her music on her website at Daoko.jp and you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: Sarah Midori Perry from Kero Kero Bonito

In England, particularly in London, there is a large Japanese ex-pat community and out of that world emerged the bilingual J-Pop-meets-Chiptune crew of Kero Kero Bonito (KKB). It’s important to know that “Kero Kero” is the onomatopoeia for a frog’s call and “Bonito” is the name of the tuna used to make katsuobushi. The group consists of producers Gus Lobban, Jamie Bulled, as well as bilingual half-Japanese, half-British lead vocalist, Sarah Midori Perry, who grew up in Hokkaido and lived near Nagoya until she was 13.

KKB started out in 2013 by connecting through MixB, which is an online message board for Japanese ex-pats in London. After connecting and discussing their mutual love for J-pop, the trio released their debut mixtape on Double Denim, “Intro Bonito”, with a fun mix of fat synthesizers, funky dance beats, and Midori Perry’s clear-as-day Japanese and English lyrics mixed over the top of it all. With Japanese lyrics about everything from flamingos, to parties, to doing your homework, to the importance of taking a break, KKB have gained significant popularity in Japan, which is their second-biggest market.

In 2014, their song “Flamingo” appeared on producer Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs compilation and allowed them to gain a large fan base around the world before they released their debut album, “Bonito Generation”, in October 2016. In February 2018, they released the “TOTEP” EP and announced in May that they will have a new album called “Time n Place” coming out soon. KKB was strongly influenced by Plastics, Tokyo Jihen’s Sheena Ringo, and, most obviously, the J-pop group, Perfume; ultimately, those influences are why their music feels like if Cibo Matto got trapped inside of a Super Famicom at a dancehall battle.

You can find their music on kerokerobonito.com and you can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: 072 (Onatsu)

Way up north in Japan, holding down the Hokkaido hip-hop scene, is 072 (pronounced “Onatsu”). The 31 year-old MC was born in Asahikawa and raised in Obihiro, Hokkaido and, after watching the movie Sister Act 2 when she was 12, decided to start writing her own lyrics. In 2006, she moved to Sapporo and started to connect and build in the local hip hop scene. 072 has two solo albums under her belt already and collaborates with artists in Tokyo and way down south in Okinawa.

She pulls inspiration from Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse and often pulls influence from artists outside of her hip-hop framework. She also has a very close relationship with Sapporo hip-hop legend, B.I.G. Joe, and, in 2012, he helped her put together her first album, “Inquisition”, on the Lo-Vibes label. In 2013, she went to Okinawa to finish up work on her second album, “Sol Terra Three”, and dropped the album later that year on B.I.G. Joe’s Triumph Records. For this album, she worked with Okinawa-based producer, LF Demo, who has been called the Japanese J-Dilla. This album is a unique blend of the far-reaching influence of hip-hop on the far northern and southern ends of Japan.

Currently, 072 is in a group called TANEMAKE with MC Kai and 1Loop on the beats.

Check out their video for “Taiyaki”:

You can find her music at Apple Store and you can keep up with her on Facebook

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: MINAMI from Teng Gang Starr

Teng Gang Starr is a trip. Deep in the fat bass and psychedelic trap department, the group consists of two rappers, Kamui and Minami Nakamura a.k.a. MINAMI. The group initially met while MINAMI was playing drums at Tsujidou Suwajinja Shinto Shrine in Kanagawa Prefecture and shared a love for the NYC hip-hop group, Gang Starr, hence the name. The Teng part of their name comes from Tengu, which means “celestial dog” and is a Japanese folk trickster demon with an unusually long nose, who is connected to the Tsujido shrine.

Kamui and MINAMI were both solo artists and, when Kamui heard Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in a taxi, he decided that hip-hop was what he wanted to do. They started the group up in 2015, took a year off, and then in 2017 came back stronger with their track, “My Style”. The duo prides themselves on futuristic Akira-esque neo-Tokyo vibes and deep bass tones.

They haven’t released a full length yet, but they have put out some singles on Trekkie Trax and bpm tokyo and Kamui’s production (done under the moniker 3-i) has received props and attention from some major producers around the world, such as Diplo and Skrillex, just to name a few.

You can find their music on Apple Store, Spotify, Soundcloud, and you can follow MINAMI on Instagram and Twitter

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip Hop: RIN a.k.a 貫井りらん Nukui Riran

Tokyo-born RIN a.k.a. Nukui Riran (her real name) grew up in Odawara City in Kanagawa Prefecture and has been into hip-hop since elementary school. She started to explore the genre after listening to the track “Urban Grammar” by old-school nineties Japanese hip-hop crew, Scha Dara Parr.

She started hanging out with other hip-hop fans in high school and started rapping in 2014, with the help of producer K.E.N a.k.a. kiddblazz. Together, in 2014, they put together the “DRIP EP” and have since released another EP called “Eniro Nana Hengen (Glossy Colors Seven Transformations)”. In 2016, she released a full length album, “Rinne (Cycle of Life and Death)”, on Taidou Label, featuring guest spots from Ken The 390 and Meiso. She also was the feature MC at the 2018 Poetry Slam Japan competition.

You can find her music on Apple Music, YouTube, and you can follow her on Twitter.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip Hop: NENE from ゆるふわギャング Yurufuwa Gang

NENE from Yurufuwa Gang is definitely the most trippy, psychedelic artist on this list and is probably the most detached from Japan’s current hip-hop boom. The name comes from a combination of the word “yururi”, which means “leisurely”, and the word “fuwa”, which means “light” or “fluffy”.

The pair of Ryugo Ishida and NENE writes all the lyrics and producer, Automatic, makes all the wavy, pseudo-trap beats. NENE, who is 23 years-old and used to go by the name Sophiee, grew up in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward and the duo met at a hip-hop event in Tokyo in 2016.

Their 2017 debut album, “Mars Ice House”, was put out on Mary Joy Recordings and was influenced by the films of Quentin Tarentino. NENE released a solo album called “NENE” in December 2017 and the duo’s follow-up album, “Mars Ice House II”, just dropped in July of 2018. They released it with a music video for the track “Palm Tree”. They’re also getting props abroad with Diplo giving them a shoutout on Twitter and The New York Times Style Magazine featuring the duo.

You can find their music on Spotify, Apple Music, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: Awich

31-year old Akiko Urasaki, from Okinawa, raps under the name Awich, which is short for “Asian Wish Child”. She often bounces back and forth from Japanese to English, which she learned on the U.S. military base. She grew up going to protests with her parents that were against the United States military occupying Okinawa and started writing raps when she was 14 and she often incorporates indigenous Okinawan dialects. Awich signed with a record label in Tokyo a few years ago, but left when they told her that she couldn’t be political.

She first got into hip-hop by listening to Tupac’s “All Eyez On Me” and released her first EP, “Inner Research”, in 2006, right before moving to Atlanta for college. Awich later moved back to Japan and, in 2017, she put out a full length album on Yentown called “8” and performed live on Abema TV.

She also runs her own company, called Cipher City, which sells local Okinawan goods abroad. As it says on her Facebook page, “Her lyrics, positions, and perceptions turn both the positive and negative aspects of her surroundings — cultural fusions, identity crises, pride and shame — into an honest craft. This process, in turn, becomes a vital part of creating a modern Okinawan sense of space and identity”.

You can find her music on her website at awich.jp and you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: DJ みそしるとMCごはんDJ Misoshiru & MC Gohan

Despite the name, DJ Misoshiru and MC Gohan is actually just one person, 28-year-old MC Gohan, from Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture. Her recipes-that-you-can-rap project started in Saitama Prefecture at Kagawa Nutrition University, where MC Gohan started making raps for her final graduating project. After her YouTube channel gained lots of followers, she released her first album, “Mother’s Food”, and signed to the Ki/oon Music, a subsidiary of Sony Music Japan. Her hip-hop influences include Pete Rock, Nitro Microphone Underground, and Q-tip and her fans lovingly call her by the nickname “Miso-han”.

Food is the epicenter of MC Gohan’s raps and, when I went to the multi-venue Yatsui Fest in Shibuya, Tokyo, to see MC Gohan perform at Club Harlem, she had everyone in the crowd throw up a pizza gesture with their hands as she rapped about how delicious home-made pizza can be. She also, with the help of Richako from the J-pop group, Vanilla Beans, stopped the show to ask the crowd what food they didn’t like and tried to suggest new ways of cooking or recipes that could make those items enjoyable. Some of the most popular answers were cilantro, Goya (bitter melon), and a little girl in the front row said corn.

MC Gohan definitely has a passion for all foods and is known to have cooking demonstrations at some of her concerts. BBC Radio recently featured an English translation of MC Gohan and her recipe for making onigiri rice balls that look like soccer balls.

MC Gohan also has had her own show on NHK called “Gochisongu DJ” since 2014 and, on her albums, her songs are about a variety of foods including the pleasures of homemade rice, asparagus and bacon wraps, sweet potatoes, shortcake, stuffed green peppers, roasted chicken, macaroni gratin, or, everyone’s favorite, cucumber butter. She just released a mini album, called “Apron Boy’s Five Fundamental Seasonings”, that is a lot of fun.

I mean, who doesn’t like talking about good food?

You can find her music on Spotify, Apple Store, and you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: 椿 Tsubaki

Tsubaki is a 27 year-old rapper and battle MC from Chikushino, Fukuoka Prefecture, and is currently living in Tokyo. The name Tsubaki is the Japanese word for the flower Camellia japonica, which is very popular in her hometown. Tsubaki discovered hip-hop through dance, then started rapping in Fukuoka, and got her big break when she was the first female MC featured on a TV Asahi show hosted by ZEEBRA called “Freestyle Dungeon”. After that, she participated in the national UMB (Ultimate MC Battle) competition and was the first female MC to win the Fukuoka qualifier. She went on to make it to the final 16 and made a huge name for herself as a dominant battle MC.

In early 2017, Tsubaki was the overall winner of the second annual Cinderella MC Battle, a freestyle battle solely for female MCs, held at Harlem in Shibuya. The overall winner of the first battle was Akkogorilla.

Tsubaki has also done tracks with MCfrog, Coma-Chi, and FUZIKO, and, in November 2017, she released her first album, “Misaki Murasaki”, which means “Beautiful Blooming Purple”. She raps proudly about the Fukuoka scene and you can see it in the video for her track “Fukuoka”.

You can purchase her music on Apple Music and follow her on Twitter.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: Acharu

“Through my filter, I want to live as I want to live.”

Acharu is a singer, rapper, producer, and painter from Sagamihara, Kanagawa. Her real name is Aya and she wanted to add the word “ryuu”, which means “style”, to her name to make her MC name mean “Aya-style”. “Ryuu” also is a homonym for “flowing”, which ties into her musical philosophy that the pulse of life and the rhythm of music are eternally flowing interchangeably. Because of this, in 2017, as a follow-up to her first album in 2010, “Nasty”, Acharu named her second album “Art of Flow”.

Her grandfather is a music producer who has worked with many popular Japanese artists, including a popular enka composer and actor named Chitose Shokakuya. When she was little, she would play around in his studio and mess around with instruments, When she was in junior high school, she heard about hip-hop through a Japanese rap group formed in New York called Buddha Brand, who she describes as having “a real New York sound”. She said,” I really respect them and they influenced me to start writing rhymes.”

Acharu told me that the Kanagawa hip-hop scene is pretty interesting and she recommended a club called Flava, in Machida, to see real Kanagawa hip-hop. “Lots of farm-grown graffiti writers with high skills. Their life itself is hip-hop – there are many good vibes that you can get here.”

I asked Acharu about some of her favorite albums that have influenced her and she mentioned D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” and many songs by H.E.R. Interestingly, she incorporates recorded sounds of rivers or other natural elements in her production and she has a Okinawan-style track on “Art of Flow” that was produced using stones that she picked up in Okinawa.

Acharu also has a very active YouTube page, where she often interacts with an online world-wide community of musicians who cover songs and share their reinvented versions on their channels. Outside of the internet, she also performs all around Japan in such locales as Ishigaki Island in Okinawa, Ehime Prefecture, Osaka, as well as Tokyo and runs her own label, NaturalHighSense Productions. She is currently working on a remix version of her album “Art of Flow” and is working on finishing up the artwork, as well as a music video.

You can check out her Youtube page here, you can buy her music from her website here, and follow her on Instagram here.

Listen to my interview with Acharu here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: MCfrog

“Everybody is different in what they want to transmit, their message. Some people want to convey some good time that they enjoy, or some people do it because it’s cool, but the point is that each person has their reasons. I think, for those who become serious about music, they are the real rappers. For those who dropped out along the way, maybe they just wanted to show off.”

I interviewed MCfrog on the day of a 6.1 magnitude earthquake in Osaka that woke everyone up at 7:58 AM and stopped the trains for the rest of the day. My tenth floor Namba hotel room shook for nearly sixty seconds and literally threw me off the bed. After frantically gathering my things and running down an emergency exit staircase with loads of screaming Chinese tourists, I headed out into the Osaka morning and met MCfrog at a curry restaurant in Nishishinsaibashi to talk about her rap career and the Osaka hip-hop scene.

MCfrog is a twenty-two year-old rapper from the Hagashinari Ward of Osaka, located east of the city center. She first heard about hip-hop through her mother, who would play a variety of different musical genres in the house. Growing up, she was always listening to mostly Lauryn Hill, Beastie Boys, and Cypress Hill. MCfrog is mostly known as a battle MC, but also composes music and “would like to be a rapper that can do both.” When I asked her what she likes to talk about in her rhymes, she told me that she mostly raps about her bitterness in not having achieved her dreams yet.

MCfrog told me that the current Osaka hip-hop scene is really hot right now and it is very unique with lots of strong characters and cool MCs. The main MC Battle event in Osaka is called Enter, which is held once every three months and, if you win in the top three, you can move on to an event called Spotlight, which is the grand championship.

MCfrog confirmed that there are some other female MCs in Osaka, but not many that are very active. She said that, at first, the other MCs treated her like she was “the female rapper”, but, after keeping at it and never budging from what people say, she doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all. MCfrog received help from the east Osaka hip hop crew, NFMCS, who she says, “have taken care of me a lot and they are the people who are taking care of the humanities. Given the scary image that hip-hop has sometimes, those people are working to turn that image upside-down.”

When I asked her to tell me about a female MC in Japan that we should celebrate, she suggested Fukuoka-born MC, Tsubaki, who is now living in Tokyo. We’ll cover more on Tsubaki later on the list. She also told me that one of her current favorite Japanese MCs is Chinza Dopeness and she likes his style of music.

You can find more of MCfrog’s music on Youtube, at Castle Records in Tokyo, and you can buy her second EP, Find the Street, here. You can also keep up with her on Twitter.

Check out this MCfrog track with Tsubaku called “Furubokko”.

Listen to my interview with MCfrog here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

Lyrics to “Furubokko” by Tsubaki and MCfrog
(“Furubokko” is slang for “full” + “bokobokonisuru”, which means “fully beat up”)

(MCfrog)
Don’t take it wrong, fun and courtesy.
A quick fix will become a shame and I roam
Wherever I go, same mistakes
This stage is not that easy.

Just a mouth that asserts anything,
Cheap spirit and motivation, that is not enough.
Only a pretense, the words are light,
I don’t want even a bit of such collusion.

Time limit doesn’t give me a time to choose.
Impending, will go insane.
When it becomes complicated, try to escape immediately.
View the negative race cycle as dangerous.

The stage, to show my potential,
From this place, I can go up anywhere.
To show the hope, limitless,
Do or do not, will be a friend or foe tomorrow.

I chose this from many,
Think carefully. Take action, this site.
Too many players to sweep and throw away,
See to let them live or kill and cut off the chain.

Ordinary is not any different from general.
Social reform, a maverick, an extreme, a worthless rascal.
Find your value, polish yourself,
No mercy, until the day that we meet at the high point (stratosphere).

(Tsubaki)
Do not touch, danger, it’s scary if you lick it.
There is not a tepid awareness, nor a sense of crisis.
Try furiously and sometimes a poor shot hits,
A suspension bridge of dream, check your steps.

Blindly nervous, open microphone,
As soon as I get off (the stage), flattering, boring.
Preach needs love.
If not, using armed force, dragged out and cross-examined.

Mouth is evil, I am fully aware of it.
Disgorged poison and virtue fall upon.
Your problem resolver is not helpful.
At last, what is questioned is my own value.

Sowing, watering, growing lyrical,
Shine with the inner growth,
Don’t misunderstand the meaning of being selected and standing here.
If you just want a flower, go to some other place.

I chose this from many,
Think carefully. Take action, this site.
Too many players to sweep and throw away,
See to let them live or kill and cut off the chain.

Ordinary is not any different from general.
Social reform, a maverick, an extreme, a worthless rascal.
Find your value, polish yourself,
No mercy, until the day that we meet at the high point (stratosphere).

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20 Female Japanese MCs Changing The World Of Hip-Hop: Kagura Sunshine

“Since I was little, I was physically big, so I was always like a big sister character and everybody always came to me to consult with them about their problems. So there, I realized the power of words and, even if there was a negative situation, the way of thinking can convert it to a positive.”

Kagura Sunshine is a rapper and a poet from Miyako City in northern Iwate Prefecture, currently living in Kanagawa Prefecture. The name Kagura Sunshine was inspired by her uncle, who was a Shinto priest, and often danced the Kagura dance, which is part of a religious ceremony. After he passed away, to pay tribute to him, she took the MC name, “Kagura”. In 2011, after the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami destroyed the majority of Sendai and Kagura Sunshine’s hometown area in Iwate, she wanted to “become sunshine” for the displaced people from her region, so she added the name “Sunshine” to her MC moniker.

She first heard about hip-hop during her second year of high school and started listening to Japanese R&B and hip-hop artists like Sugar Soul and ZEEBRA. After graduating high school in Iwate, she moved to Kanagawa Prefecture and took her music with her. About her writing process, she told me, “I’m always searching for the beat that matches to myself and my voice and, when I find something that matches to my voice, I get the words that are suited to my emotions at the time from the drawers of my emotion.” She told me that, originally, hip-hop artists in Iwate had a complex about being rural country people, but, after they lost so much during the 2011 disaster, they have become stronger and hip-hop artists are putting more emphasis on building homegrown scenes and improving their lyricism.

Kagura Sunshine’s latest release, a 7-inch record with rapper Aruma called “Stay With Me”, came out in May 2018 and the beat was made by Yakkle, who often works with popular Japanese hip-hop artist, Shing02. The song was originally about the 2011 Tohoku disaster and she told me that it was the first time that she felt like she could write about the devastation. However, when she found herself singing on the track, she felt that it wasn’t a sad song, but a song of love, so she rewrote the lyrics and the rest is history.

Even though she currently lives in Kanagawa, Kagura Sunshine spends most of her time working in Tokyo but she has noticed that the Kanagawa scene is very confident and the artists love celebrating their local areas. She often performs at Club Family in Shibuya, in Tokyo, and around the Kansai area, near Osaka. She’s also producing new music now for her third album, set to come out on her label, Far East Bay Records. She started the label in 2015 and her husband, Towa, does most of the artwork for her projects, in addition to his live painting performances.

Some of her favorite current producers are DJ Premier and DJ Krush. When I asked her what she wished that our English-speaking audiences knew about Japanese hip-hop, she said, “The power of the word: in English, words have a groove to them, but in Japanese, they don’t. But in Japanese, our words have a soul and I want them to feel that.”

You can find her music on ITunes and follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

Listen to my interview with Kagura Sunshine here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

Lyrics for Kagura Sunshine x Aruma – Konya wa PARTY MAKER
Beat by CHIBA-CHIIIBA, Scratches by SPIN MASTER A-1
(Aruma)

I got older, my body is now heavy.
Don’t worry, party tonight.
Popping rhythm and a song like this,
Dance, shout, entirely high.
If you get tired, just sit down,
Go home without being found.
Cool arrangement! Cheers! Tequila!
1 shot, 2 shot, Sunboy Killer!

If you have ears and eyes, should be fun.
Dancer, dance relying on them.
Rapper, DJ, let them listen,
This is the world HIP – HOP, no doubt.
It is not outright, such a flow-master,
Avoid it if you are not interested, for today.
Yes, I guess that’s the way it should be,
Break down like this, take care of it.

That clerk at their part-time job
Has a discriminating ear and seems really good.
Create a local technique and fight it out,
Just a few seconds of chance time, a-ha!
If you can speak, you can dive at the fastest speed,
I have a discriminating nose, groping in the dark,
Rhyme is a coup d’état,
Operating the time, it is a PARTY MAKER!

Yeah yeah, you tell me it’s a fun time,
Leave it to me, I’ll rock the floor.
Try to check meaningful words,
Try to detect your heart beating fast.
Check it out, yo! How are you feeling?
No worries, tonight is the party.
It’s not outright, this kind of flow,
blow up blow up, get high!

(Kagura Sunshine)
I am speaking from a humble place,
The outstanding low voice female in Japan.
Even on the B-side, there won’t be any slip-ups
A-Spin, the master is blowing.
A black donut changed my life.
What it will become? I achieved my dream at that time.
Not an dimwit any more, tough tortoise,
A cool Future is in this hand.

My soul is a non-flattering yellow,
This clown is flying, betraying expectations.
Every time, people want to dance.
2 Turntables, leave it to the DJ.
Wanting this original world as well,
Really shy, but l am an invincible girl.
This verse blows me away,
Lock on your heart, lock-on.

Tonight all ages and cultures in the house, yo!
Everyone has their own roots,
Black disk magic.
To your identity, bi-bi-bi-bi,
To extraordinary days, rigorous and gallant,
Surely everyone is a lyricist.
Rhyme is survival with vinyl,
Yes, that’s it! PARTY MAKER!

Yeah yeah, you tell me it’s a fun time,
Leave it to me, I’ll rock the floor.
Try to check meaningful words,
Try to detect your heart beating fast.
Check it out, yo! How are you feeling?
No worries, tonight is the party.
It’s not outright, this kind of flow,
blow up blow up, get high!

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あっこゴリラAkkogorilla

“We all have our own different ways of expression, but what we have on the bottom line is all the same: to put importance on individual personalities. So many times we hear the line that “female rappers are good” or “who is going to be the best of the females”, but we are just individuals. It’s personal; it’s different.”

Akkogorilla is from Tokyo, or, as she clarifies, she is from Planet Earth. She first heard about hip-hop when she was ten years-old, in elementary school. When she first learned about Japanese hip-hop artists RIP SLYME and Kick the Can Crew, she was influenced to start writing her own lyrics. At first, she started just writing rhymes to play with rhythms, just for fun, but after gaining confidence and becoming a full-time rapper later on, she has been more influenced by other artists and her unique and vibrant style, juxtaposed in a world of J-pop monotony, has manifested brilliantly.

She first started out playing drums in a two-piece pop-rock girl band called Happy Birthday. During Halloween shows, she would come out on stage dressed up as a gorilla and would play drums behind her friend. At home, she would practice writing and recording and finally took her raps to the stage in 2015. After talking with Ken the 390 and soliciting advice for getting more shows, he encouraged her to participate in local MC battles. At first, she was scared and nervously threw up before most battles but, eventually, she won a few battles and gained admiration from fellow MCs. At the time, much like her friend MC Frog in Osaka, she was one of less than ten female battle rappers in Tokyo but she feels like the number is increasing these days.

The name Akkogorilla came from when she was still a drummer. As she said, “without thinking very seriously about it,” she named herself that because she learned that gorillas communicate through rhythm and thought it was cool. In 2016, Akkogorilla released her first mini-album, “Tokyo Banana”, on Kamikaze Records and it features a track called “Donkey Kong” that sampled music from the Super Nintendo game, Donkey Kong Country.

The gorilla motif continued in November of the same year when she quickly followed up this release with an EP on 2.5D Production called “Back to the Jungle” and, for the video of the title track, Akkogorilla traveled to Kigali, Rwanda. When I asked her how the experience in Africa was, she said,” I can’t say much about that trip except that I had some of the best moments of my life and also some of the worst moments of my life.” The beat for the song, made by HirasaWonder, samples Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and Akkogorilla told me that this song really represents her transitional period out of rock music and into the realm of old school and new school hip-hop. She is a big Public Enemy fan and, right now, she told me that she is digging the new Anderson Paak and Princess Nokia tracks.

In early 2017, Akkogorilla released a number of singles on 2.5D Production leading up to the release of her EP, “Green Queen”. In April 2018, Akkogorilla released the “Tokyo Banana 2018” EP as well as her first major label single with Sony Music Japan, called “Yoyuu (Margins / A Cinch)”. The song is really a reflection on her last 3 years figuring out how to be a rapper and gaining the confidence that she can do it and do it in her own unique style. She is also working on her first major label album for Sony at the moment and, when I asked her if she had a title decided yet, she said,” I haven’t decided the title yet, but it’s very clear what I want to say and what I want to do. I’m just looking for the exact words to express those.”

Currently she is organizing annual events in Tokyo called “Donkey Kong”, that blend a multi-genre variety of rock, rappers, beat-makers, and others artists assembled in a unique way that only Akkogorilla can put together. If you check out her Instagram, you’ll see that fans often bring bananas to the show and hold them up to show her their support.

When I asked Akkogorilla what female rappers should be celebrated in the world, she mentioned a transgender Japanese MC named Fuziko, who was born a female and recently married a woman. Akkogorilla glowingly added, “She is the real cool rapper that we can be proud of.” Akkogorilla has a song about gender fluidity called “Ultra Gender” and, she said that, when she met Fuziko, she thought of the song and said, “Wow, it’s real.”

You can find this song and all of her releases on Spotify and, for more information on Akkogorilla, visit http://akkogorilla.yellow-artists.jp/

Listen to my interview with Akkogorilla here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

Lyrics for Akkogorilla’s “Yoyuu” (which literally means “Margins” or “A Cinch / A Piece of Cake”)

A cinch, (say it) it’s a cinch, a cinch!
While reading the surrounding atmosphere,
Life is finished in an instant.
Before someone says something,
I’m making a comeback to myself.

“What are you doing,? Hey!”
“Who is imprinting?”
“Remember your place!”
“It’s beyond your ability!”

If you move before hearing the voice, the world can be changed.
It saved me; it was not a man,
It was not a prince.
The heart to believe in yourself is king.

(I wonder) why at that time
I did that?
Just remembering it,
I shouted it in the bathroom.
If I repeat being out of place,
After some years,
It would become “normal”.

You can repeat it multiple times,
And live life like a lie,
But before looking down on yourself, reach out a hand.
Fully experience today and create your real self.
A Cinch, (say it) it’s a cinch, a cinch!

Actually it’s not a cinch
Lean, lean and mean, mean, everyday.
I have come to understand, because I have been running,
That the ultimate result is just a cinch!

Although the self-esteem is low,
Nurture the pride.
Getting a laugh only by self-degradation.
I was bound, bye bye!
What about it was frightening?
Someone let me borrow a ruler to measure.
Is it a cool style?
That judgment, I want to make by myself.
Defense mechanisms are abundant
But now: how to, how to,
Check 1. 2.
Alright?

Many of you are laughing,
You have weapons,
But my magnum
Is ultra-gigantic.
Laughing with the voice volume that is twice as big,
Let’s raise the volume of your inner voice!

It’s really a cinch,
A piece of cake,
It’s a cinch, if you do it.
It’s a cinch, you can do it!

Follow than the natural inclination and smartness.
It’s more important for the heart
to say you like what you like.
Are you ready?

You can recover yourself multiple times,
And live an awesome life like a lie.
I want to live everyday properly,
You, who save yourselves, are invincible!

A Cinch, (say it) it’s a cinch, a cinch!

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コマチComa-Chi

“This is just my way of thinking, but I think those who are seeking the real hip-hop, they are not looking for just fashion but they are looking from the bottom of their soul.”

Coma-Chi is a Tokyo-native rapper, singer, DJ, and mother, currently living in the bay area of Hayama, Kanagawa Prefecture. She first heard about hip-hop when she was 15 and was deeply moved by the feminine strength of Lauryn Hill and MC Lyte. She started rapping as Coma-Chi at 20 and began writing lyrics after listening to Japanese rap groups like Rhymestar, Nitro Microphone Underground, and Tha Blue Herb. At 34, Coma-Chi reflects on the Japanese world around her from an underrepresented female perspective. Her lyrics include everything from relationships and the female point of view of going to the club to calling on the spirits of ancient Japanese empresses to speak to their modern feminine descendants.

In 2005, Coma Chi participated as the only female in the pioneering annual B-Boy Park MC battle in Yoyogi Park, in Tokyo. When the organizers planned the tournament, they had not envisioned that a female MC would make it to the final, so they organized the final to be in the center ring of the sacred sumo stadium, Ryogoku Kokugikan. Traditionally, women are not allowed to enter the ring, which created quite a debacle when Coma-Chi fought her way to the final. At first, the organizers had discussed suspending the final battle, but ultimately determined that, since it was not sumo, she could participate with the caveat that she could not wear high heels in the ring. Barefoot and determined, Coma-Chi took second place and became the first female ever to battle in the reverent Dohyo of Ryogoku Kokugikan.

In 2006, she put out her first independent release, “Day Before Blue”, on Da.Me Records, and the success from this record and her fame from B-Boy Park lead to her signing a contract with Knife Edge Records. In February 2009, Coma Chi released her first major label album called “Red Naked” and, a year later, released a second album called “Beauty or the Beast?” in May of 2010. When she made her major label debut, there was a feeling that only male rappers were allowed in Japan’s rap scene, but Coma-Chi wanted to change that. Being a trailblazer, Coma-Chi overcame the initial looking down on female rappers in Japan, and when she made her major label debut, she proved that women could do it and do it well. In 2011, Coma-Chi finished her contract with Knife Edge and decided to take her career in a different direction.

After experiencing the lack of control that major label artists experience and how they often don’t take the artist’s opinions into consideration, Coma-Chi decided to return to putting out her music independently. She started her own label called Queens Room Records, which first published a children’s picture book and CD called “A Boy Called The Sun”. Inspired by the 2011 Fukushima disaster, this books talks about the connections of love and nature and is about a young boy’s parents who catch a disease called “American Dream”. The disease forces him to go around asking for advice on a cure. He ultimately asks the sun, who says that they must return back to the origin of human beings, in Africa, to be healed. When they are healed, they become African. The book also comes with a CD that has a collection of original R&B, jazz, and afro-beat music on it.

In 2012, after doing loads of features on tracks with Japanese hip hop stars like RIP SLYME, Rhymester, Zeebra, Coma-Chi put out her first full independent album on Queen’s Room called “Golden Source”, and, in December 2013, she gave birth to her first child.

Her new album, released on Queen’s Room in March of 2018, is called “Jomon Green”, and it was inspired by a photo in a magazine that Coma-Chi saw last year. The photo was of a Kaen-Doki, a Jomon-era earthenware piece from around 4000 B.C., and she felt like our modern society was in great need of the ancient wisdom from the Jomon Period, a period of human civilization in Japan stretching from 14,000 B.C. to 300 B.C. and noted for the earliest evidence of fired clay pottery. She studied more about the era and discovered that, within it, there was a period of 10,000 years with no war. She also discovered that, because they were hunter-gatherers, they lived a sustainable lifestyle and the Jomon civilization was a maternal society, where mothers were the center of society. Ultimately, Coma Chi wanted to meditate on the connection between strong ancient Jomon matriarchs and women in today’s modern Japan and she does this very thing on her song, “Woman” (see below for link and lyrics).

I asked Coma-Chi to tell us some other Japanese female MCs that we should celebrate and she recommended a Shinto Shrine employee named MC Mystie, who started rapping at 42 and is featured on “Jomon Green”. She also recommended Tsubaki, who is also featured on this list. Her favorite female rapper in the world, at the moment, is Rhapsody.

When I asked her what message she wanted to share with our English-speaking audience, she said that you can listen to her album Jomon Green from anywhere in the world, that there is a song on the album called “Water” that has English lyrics, and she wants you to give it a listen and feel the ancient Japanese vibrations.

You can find more information at http://www.queens-room.com/

Listen to my interview with Coma-Chi here, with interpretation help from Junko Takahashi.

Lyrics to Coma-Chi’s Woman:

戦うために生まれたわけじゃない 大事なものただ守りたい
Overflowing love, I don’t deny it anymore.
溢れだす愛 もう否定しない 心に広がる母なる大地
Mother Earth, which spreads in the heart.
両手でハグするソウル 君に届ける優しい鼓動 「おかえり」
Soul to hug with both hands, gentle heartbeat to deliver to you.
ここが帰る場所 何故って答えはひとつ Because
Welcome back, here is the place to return to. Why? The answer is one because

We are the woman…
安らぎの 歌を歌おうLet’s sing a song of peace.
This is the women’s world

そうそれはDNA 組み込まれているのさ先天的に むしろ原始人
Yes it’s DNA, inherited congenitally, rather than from primitive man.
ネアルデルタールの頃からずっと受け継いできた長い歴史
It’s a long history, inherited all the time, since the age of Neanderthal.
女は守り 愛し育み 一人一人がまるで女神さま
Women protect, love, and raise; each one is a complete goddess.
だからいたわってその体 いつか大事な子を宿すから
So, please take care of the body because one day you will carry an important child
そしてその命が繋がり未来へ羽ばたき緑は輝き水は青き
And the life connects; to the future, wings flapping, green shimmers and water is blue;
この美しい地球を彩るcolorになる
Those will become the colors of the beautiful Earth.
明日を担う力生み出す 母の子宮恵みのひとしずく
Mother’s womb creates power for tomorrow, one drop of mercy,
苦しみ産み落とす 思い残すことなく種を残すBecause
Suffering by giving birth, never regretting leaving seeds behind because

We are the woman…
安らぎの 歌を歌おうLet’s sing a song of peace.
This is the women’s world

男たちは競い合う事で得る快感 深めてゆく絆
Men gain pleasure and deepen bonds by competing.
それも素敵だけど私達は違うの方法が
It’s nice as well, but we are different; the methods.
同じ土俵じゃ比べられないのわかってちょうだい
We cannot be compared on the same ring, please understand.
この世界の構造自体通用しない新時代
New era, the structure of this world itself is not accepted.
Back to母系社会 偶像崇拝なら美しい裸体
Back to the maternal society, if it is idolatry, beautiful naked body
マグダラのマリア宝のありか隠す内側
Mary of Magdalene, inner-side hides the treasure.
慰め癒す力 きっと何よりも尊いから
The power of comfort and healing, there is nothing more precious.
確かな第六感と共感力フル稼働して振りまくのさLOVEを
Fully operating a certain sixth sense and compassion; spread love.
笑わないでよスピリチュアルな波動
Don’t laugh, spiritual wave
Don’t think feel 伝える感情
Don’t think, feel emotion to tell
母なる地球 みたく包み込む 許し与える全て
Embrace like the Mother Earth. Forgive and give all.
混ざりあう色 時は優しく 溢れ出す永遠のLove‥
Mixed colors, time is gentle. Overflowing eternal love.

The folks at Japanesepod101.com also featured Coma-Chi and her track “The Voices of Kamuy” from Jomon Green and you can check it out here:

Also, check out her latest release, “This is Japan”, inspired by Childish Gambino’s “This is America” : https://soundcloud.com/coma_chi/this-is-japan

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Chats with Chuck: A UK Cafe in Japan?

UnderMain contributing writer Chuck Clenney is off to Japan for a gig teaching English as a second language. But, as they say, “you can do this from anywhere.” And Chuck will be writing about the many things that connect the cultures, people and economies of Kentucky and Japan.

UnderMain’s Tom Martin, host of WEKU’s Eastern Standard, had a chat with Chuck about the UK Wildcats Cafe in Osaka, Japan.

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Clive Pohl Interviews Chris Potter: Part III

Jazz saxophonist Chris Potter burst onto the New York scene in 1989 as an 18-year-old prodigy with bebop icon Red Rodney; the Chicago-born saxophonist then became the youngest musician ever to win Denmark’s Jazzpar Prize. His discography now includes 16 albums as a leader and sideman appearances on over 100 more. He has also performed or recorded with such leading jazz figures as Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Jim Hall, Paul Motian, Ray Brown, John Scofield and Dave Douglas, as well as with the Mingus Big Band.

Potter takes the stage at Lexington’s Lyric Theater at 7 pm tonight. Lexington architect and jazz artist Clive Pohl talked music with Potter. Here’s part three of their conversation. 

(Part one | Part two

Clive: Your record This Will Be was the result of having won the Jazzpar Prize in Copenhagen and it’s a live recording is it not? 

Chris: Yes.

Clive: And so, I’m curious: what did that feel like as a young musician? You were not yet 30 years old and you won a very prestigious international prize. That must have been incredibly exciting. 

Chris: Yeah. Well, I thought that helped in terms of visibility for me, you know, especially in Europe, but it also served to give me a little more confidence that, “okay, maybe I can do this, I can actually go on the road as a leader and present my music.” It’s a whole different thing. Prior to that, I’d been doing my own records, but hardly ever performing live with my own group, you know, and there’s a whole thing about leading a band that involves the skills you need as a sideman but also other skills. Choosing what to play and when, choosing how to decide who you’re going to ask to be in the band. Just a million little things. 

Clive: It’s not unlike being an architect wherein you have to get the foundation in place in order to get the building out of the ground with the help of many others who, on some level, have to buy into your vision.

Chris: Right. It’s one thing to have the best vision of what could be made in your head, but then when you have to deal with reality; “okay, well, who is available, and what materials are available, and how much money can we actually spend?” And if you’re not able to negotiate those things, then the thing that actually comes into reality isn’t gonna be on the same level. So, that’s been a journey and a turning point for me; learning how to be a bandleader.

Clive: Am I correct in assuming that with respect to your compositions the ante might have been raised a little bit with the Jazzpar suite?

Chris: Yeah. I don’t remember that I had written for a large, or even medium-sized ensemble up to that point. That might have been one of my first real stabs at that. I think I did some things in school for big band or various ensembles but that helped to lead into a fascination with writing for larger groups and seeing how I can flesh out the ideas that I have compositionally for the bigger palette of a larger ensemble.

Clive: A quick question or two about your compositional development. When you’re writing a piece like, for example, Chief Seattle, (Song for Anyone, 2007) it is an absolutely beautiful piece,  and one that jumped out at me having lived in Seattle for many years. When you choose a name like that; which comes first, the music or the name?

Chris: It depends on the situation. I think that name did come later. I had just read a book with some quotes and a beautiful speech about taking care of the earth. There’s a certain energy about that piece that reminded me of someone who is in charge, and someone that does have a vision of how to lead. I found that feeling in the piece and I think that led me to the name.

Clive: Do you have a spiritual practice, a meditation practice, or a specific time of day that you compose? It’s hard for me to imagine how you find time, given how full your schedule is.  

Chris: I don’t exactly have any one practice that I use. I’ve read about different meditation strategies but really can’t say that I follow one thing with regularity. To a certain extent, the saxophone helps with that in that when I’m working on music, when I’m working on sound, by playing long notes and just focusing on breathing, there’s a kind of saxophone “yoga” I get into, and the music itself can help with some of those things. Music can’t do it by itself – life has to come before the music or there’s not going to be anything worth listening to! But it is helpful to approach music from a bit of a sacred point of view. 

Clive: Well, certainly, playing saxophone is a different experience from playing the guitar in that it involves the breath and anyone can hear that… Paul Desmond’s playing is clearly connected to his breath and inner being.

Chris: Yeah, that’s a nice thing that it has in common with the voice. It is really a complete connection to breath. It’s a serious limitation that you can only play one note at a time, but you can do so much with every note because of the expressiveness you can get from each breath. So, being able to control the breath and really think about what that means on a deep level — it does lead into a meditative state when you’re in it. As far as the time of day that I write, I’m usually grabbing whatever time I can. For that particular record I recall that I came up with the basic framework at home in terms of tunes and the basic structure, but I think I wrote and fleshed it out with the orchestration while on the road. It’s been a great big help to a lot of us as composers that you can write on a computer and save your work and then edit later. It’s very useful to be able to travel and work on things. It’s not ideal, but, in the life of a working musician there’s seldom a chance to say “okay, I’m gonna take 3 months off and do this”. I hope to have that experience in my life but so far, it’s not lining up that way (laughs). 

Clive: Right. I have one last question for you, Chris. It may be a difficult question for you to answer, but I’m curious to hear how you might muse upon it. You’ strike me as someone who is clearly talented from early on and clearly disciplined and committed to the music. So, the question of nature versus nurture, where do you stand with that? What percentage of your makeup is natural talent versus just raw hard work? 

Chris: That is something I’ve thought about. I mean, being naturally gifted at something is obviously a big head start, and I think a big part of the head start is that, if it’s rewarding to do it, immediately if you say like “oh okay, I get this”, then you’re gonna want to do it more and you’re gonna devote more energy to it. So, it’s a cycle that reinforces itself. It’s definitely easier for some people to grab certain things I’ve seen and harder for others, you know. It definitely helps to just be able to understand things quickly. I mean, not in every case, but that was something that manifested itself fairly early with what I was doing. On the other side, I feel like I’ve known many extremely talented people that never found a way to live up to what they were probably able to do. I’m a firm believer that while raw talent helps, it doesn’t even get you halfway there. There really has to be a lot of time spent, and a lot of commitment to it.

Clive: I suspect too that on some core level, you understood as a teenager that you had to get up to New York and that commitment to that place helped to fuel your forward motion.

Chris: Oh yeah. I mean, it was great to get kicked in the pants! I mean, there wasn’t anyone my age in South Carolina that I knew who was playing at all. So, I was this big fish in a small pound. So, coming to New York and meeting all these other amazing musicians and being exposed to all this stuff that I really just hadn’t heard was a huge catalyst for growth and remains that way and that’s why I’m still here. 

Clive: Yeah. There is a decidedly competitive streak between musicians, no doubt about it.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. In a mostly positive way.

Clive: Sometimes delivered with love and sometimes not. 

Chris: Yeah. Maybe sometimes not, but usually with, you know – if there is respect!

Clive: That’s right. That’s right. Well, on that note of love and respect, I  want to thank you and I look forward to hearing you on April 22nd. I’ll come up and say hello if that’s OK…

Chris: Thank you! I’m looking forward to it! 

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Clive Pohl Interviews Chris Potter Part II

As the Origins Jazz Series and the Lyric Theater get ready to host jazz saxophonist Chris Potter, here’s an opportunity to become acquainted with this the Chicago-born artist, the youngest musician ever to win Denmark’s Jazzpar Prize, the world’s largest international and annual jazz award. Potter’s discography now includes 16 albums as a leader and sideman appearances on over 100 more. He has also performed or recorded with such leading jazz figures as Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Jim Hall, Paul Motian, Ray Brown, John Scofield and Dave Douglas, as well as with the Mingus Big Band

Lexington architect and jazz artist Clive Pohl caught up with Potter only hours after his return from a European tour. If you haven’t already, check out part one of this three-part series. Here’s part two, loaded with opportunities to listen. Part three is coming your way in a few days –  in time to be fully informed for the April 22 concert.

Clive: I understand that you played guitar and piano as a young musician. Is that right?

Chris: Yeah. Especially the piano. And I’ve used the piano a lot in my writing and in terms of our music.

Clive: I wondered about that. And so, a tune like The Shades (on The Sirens), that’s a wonderful prepared piano piece. Is that done with David Virelles?

Chris: Yeah. That was with David and Craig (Taborn). I can’t remember, you know, ‘cause I think that one is purely improvised. I think they were gonna do something as an introduction to another song and that’s when they started playing. And it didn’t end up working as well as an introduction to a song but I just loved that moment so much I thought, oh yeah, we’ve got to put that on there.

Clive: Yeah. It really is a special little moment. You always wonder the degree to which these things are composed versus improvised. In fact, you spoke to that a little bit relative to Imaginary Cities and your desire to blur the lines there. Before we get into those recent records, I’m curious about the anticipation (of recording for ECM) because I don’t believe you had recorded for ECM prior to The Sirens. Is that correct?

Chris: That was the first album that I had done as a leader for ECM. I had appeared on another ECM record with Dave Holland, Steve Swallow and Paul Motion. But that was my first one as a leader and that was my first one actually working with Manfred Eicher in the studio.

Clive: So, that makes me want to ask about the extent to which knowing you were going to make an ECM record might have upped the ante with respect to your preparation and your composition.

Chris: Not exactly because I had already written all the music and performed with the group before I had been in touch with Manfred about recording it. I mean, the way I remember it, I think Sarah Humphries who works for ECM, came down to the Vanguard when we were doing that music and she mentioned this to Manfred and it kind of grew out of that. So, that was already the kind of concept with the music I wanted to do and even the actual feelings were pretty much done by the time I was in touch with Manfred about it. I mean, it was a fortuitous thing because the direction of that music I felt like really did belong on ECM. That was a good spot for it in terms of the aesthetic that I was looking for and Manfred’s aesthetic sensibilities. So yeah, that was a fortuitous circumstance.

Clive: And you began working right around that time with (Pat) Metheny’s Unity band.

Chris: It was around that time. Yes.

Clive: Did his writing have an influence on yours at that time or was it reciprocal?

Chris: Yeah. I had been listening to Pat’s records since I was a teenager, so I was influenced by him definitely.

Chris Potter on Playing with Pat Metheny

Clive: The second ECM record, Imaginary Cities, is of particular interest to me particularly as we talk about Chief Seattle and the idea of sustainability and treating the planet with respect… I’m looking to you to verify that there is a similar kind of vibe giving rise to the Imaginary Cities four-part Suite: our built environment breaking down and “Rebuilding.” Is that accurate?

Chris: Right. Yeah. That was the frame of mind. Of course, that was definitely written with those ideas in mind beforehand. You know, the idea of what I was gonna be writing about even though it’s very abstract and it’s instrumental music. It was those kinds of ideas – the way we’re living these days and the movement of a great majority of people to cities and the way we are living – is it..

Clive: …sustainable?

Chris: Yeah, is it sustainable and is it really creating a quality of life that is as healthy as it could be for us? I think a lot of us would say no – maybe there is a better way to do it. I mean, music, especially instrumental music, is a very abstract form. So, it isn’t like I’m laying out some specific manifesto of exactly how it would be done, but maybe there was a bit of a vision of another way to live. I would say that the titles of the movements do reflect that idea.

Clive: I’m going to jump to both Imaginary Cities and to The Dreamer is the Dream, which is your most recent record. It strikes me that Imaginary Cities was a very ambitious undertaking with a lot of arrangements and a string quartet and so forth and then perhaps The Dreamer is the Dream is scaling back to a simpler instrumentation, is that accurate? Was it a deliberate simplification?

Chris: Yeah, and also, both The Sirens and Imaginary Cities had a programmatic thing where The Sirens was written after reading The Odyssey and we’ve already gone through the implications of Imaginary Cities. But with The Dreamer is the Dream, you know, “let me just write some tunes and call a band, and we’ll go out on the road, and we’ll play these tunes, and we’ll see which ones work and we’ll record it.” So yeah, it was a bit of a return to a normal state of things. Maybe I’ll just take a break from that – not that I won’t ever choose to work that way again, but I thought it was time for more of a, just a band record.

Clive: The whole band is great. They’re younger players aren’t they?  They’re in their early 30’s?

Chris: Yeah, Joe (Martin) is my age. Joe is someone that I first met probably around the same time I met Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner and Brad Mehdau and all those guys, so I’ve known him a long time. But yes, Marcus and David are definitely from a younger generation and have a different point of view than I do, which I find very, very valuable and it’s also just great to see such extremely talented and dedicated musicians coming up. It provides a new dose of inspiration… now that I’ve been doing this a few years. It’s nice to hear some really advanced things coming at me from a different angle than what I’ve heard.

Clive: David Virelles’ harmonic structures in some of those tunes are just beautiful. And I hear David’s Cuban influence. The other thing I hear with several tunes, obviously, you’ve got the tune Ilimba, and you play the Ilimba.

Chris: It’s a thumb piano from East Africa.

Clive: I’m hearing some of those East African influences, but I’m also hearing on the tune Sky on Imaginary Cities a really clear Indian line and then, you know, obviously some Cuban influence with David Virelles of course. So, you mentioned wanting to get back to the simplest palate and yet there’s a lot going on there.

Chris: I guess yeah ‘cause there’s a lot to think about. There’s a lot to be inspired by!

Clive: Yes. I’m really appreciative of your making these records for us to hear. One last question about your melodic line and this is a stretch, but I’m gonna ask it anyway; you sometimes grab a melodic idea and repeat it a few times. I think it was the tune Sonic Anomaly; might this be a conscious or unconscious reference to the preaching tradition of the black church?

Chris: I don’t know the exact point in that song you’re talking about but yeah, I’d say that is an influence definitely. Some of the first music that I got into was the blues and then the gospel is another side of a similar thing, you know. This was one of the great things about growing up in South Carolina, I think I got a dose that I might not have gotten otherwise. I remember as a teenager doing gospel gigs and the environment just blew me away to actually be there and feel the energy of it and the way that it builds up, and builds up, and builds up. I think that’s one strand that’s always informed jazz music and gives it a strong character that it wouldn’t have otherwise. Of course, that’s where jazz is coming from – that’s where America is coming from; it’s this crazy mix with this very sad history, but the mixing of these different cultures and the way that they come together is something very special and alive. Yeah. The gospel influence, the blues influence, I mean, as abstract and intellectual as jazz can get – and it can go in any direction and be great because it can absorb so many different things – but for me, the way that I think about music and my particular upbringing and the time that I grew up in, the musicians that I’ve met, if it doesn’t have something of that blues feel somewhere in it, it is not as compelling to me.

Clive: Yeah, you mentioned our tragic history, and the whole purpose of the music was to transcend and rise above that.

Chris: Yeah. Of course. Sometimes beautiful things come out of things that are not beautiful at all.

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Don’t Miss Cohen Tribute – Tickets Are Going Fast!

The world of audiophiles and lyric lovers mourned greatly on November 7, 2016, the day Leonard Cohen died. Leaving behind a legacy of songs known and loved by millions, Cohen left a gap in the world of beauty with his passing. Out of a desire to emulate the gift that he was and share it with her community, Anita Courtney felt a strong pull to put on a tribute show for Cohen.

She did. It was a huge success. And now, she’s preparing for an April 28th redux. More on that in a moment.

“Well, he was ready to go, and he left us so much,” Courtney recalls saying to her daughters when they told her the sad news back in November, ’16. Her first thought was to organize a tribute. The idea was shared with others, namely Lynn Motley, Diane Arnson Svarlien and Marlon Hurst, and together they planned the first Leonard Cohen tribute. On November 11th of last year, the concert took place at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church as part of the First Presbyterian Church Music for Mission series.

Adam Luckey and Sherry Sebastian of the Sherry Sebastian trio. | Photo credit: Kopana Terry

“It went beyond our vision…” Courtney states about the first sell-out tribute show. Choosing a variety of musical styles that would emulate Cohen’s catalog with creative diversity, the lineup of local talent was a broad representation of some of the area’s finest musicians. Twelve acts performed that night, each performing one or two songs from Cohen’s lifelong supply of songs and poetry.

Beyond a program that featured everything from a psychedelic/blues rendition of “You Want it Darker” performed by Doc Feldman and Art Shechet, to a jazzy, seductive version of “Everybody Knows” by Paper Moon Jazz Trio, the greatest beauty of that night was the creative variety the artists put into their songs. The evening ended with a rousing sing-along to Cohen’s most mainstream song “Hallelujah” with artists taking turns with verses. The entire crowd joined in, and Cohen’s words rose to the heavens from that church.

Carlotta Abbott was a member of that first crowd. “I had no idea we had this kind of talent in Lexington,” she kept whispering to her friend between each set. “Each performer, I was covered in goosebumps, it just went on and on throughout the evening.” 

Thrilled by the talent that stood before her all night long, Abbott was one of the folks who helped encourage Courtney to have an encore. The talent was spectacular, but the feeling of community and coming together was something she took away from the evening. “The group sing-along, it was a coming together, a unifying experience, it felt wonderful…”

The Four Leonards performing Cohen’s “My Oh My” at the first concert

When the evening was complete, Anita Courtney rested on her laurels and knew that beauty could never be recreated. The night was a total success. Mission beautifully accomplished. But…the phone kept ringing. The emails kept coming. People were insisting that it be done again. “People were using words like ‘I was devastated I couldn’t get in’ or ‘I was heartbroken I missed it’.” The demands were sending a clear message: this tribute had to be done again.

So, Halleluja! Leonard Cohen Tribute Encore is coming!

Sponsored by UnderMain, the 7 pm, April 28th concert is being staged this time at The Lyric Theater. With only a few exceptions due to schedule conflicts, the artists of the original performance will return. This time with more space available, the $15.00 tickets will guarantee a great seat in a historic theater that offers amazing acoustics, and Cohen will be praised once more.

“The Lyric has heft and history, and a solidarity with the themes Cohen sings about. The Lyric has soul, and Cohen has soul,” Marilyn Robie commented, one of the performers that night who will be singing “Dance Me to the End of Love” and “The Land of Plenty” with her group Navi’im.  

Nevi’im – Tom Green, Marilyn Robie, Kim Berryman-Smith, Margie Karp, Benjamin Karp—performing at the first Leonard Cohen Tribute | Photo credit: Kopana Terry

For those of us who are avid disciples of Cohen’s music and poetry, his words will resonate in a timeless manner, and we are grateful to be able to gather together to celebrate his diverse collection. Many people relate to Cohen’s “pan-spiritualism” and his lifelong struggle to find the truth, despite religious boundaries.

“…he sought truth, his songwritings were investigations. When he found something that was true he polished it to be able to say it well,” says Courtney. Quoting Cohen she added, “When you’re moved by someone’s music it means they were unable to hide themselves.”

Leonard Cohen didn’t hide from his fans and colleagues. He gave all of himself, as a sellout crowd at Louisville’s Palace Theater discovered when on the very doorstep of his 80th year, Cohen gave them not one, not two, not three, but four very generous encores.

This creative generosity can be heard in his last album “You Want it Darker,” released October, 16, 3 weeks before his death. This truth is what calls so many musicians to want to emulate Cohen, to give him homage for mastering the craft. All who will take the stage on the 28th for the second time are grateful for the opportunity. And those who filled the seats will do so again – joined, it is hoped, by the many who regret missing the original tribute concert, all happy for that chance to experience community around the poetry and music of the great Leonard Cohen.

To purchase tickets, please visit lexingtonlyric.tix.com

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Clive Pohl Interviews Chris Potter: Part I

 Down Beat called him “One of the most studied (and copied) saxophonists on the planet.” Chris Potter, also an accomplished composer and formidable bandleader, will bring all of that to the stage of the Lyric Theater on the evening of April 22nd – the latest installment of the Origins Jazz Series.

Lexington architect, musician, and composer Clive Pohl caught up with Potter only hours after Potter’s return from a European tour. They had a wonderful, wide-ranging conversation and we’re sharing it in three parts so that by the time you take your seat on the 22nd, you’ll have a full appreciation of artist and music.

Part one:

Clive: I’m curious about your family and the musical environment you grew up in.

Chris: Well, no one in my family was a professional musician or even an amateur musician, but they were big fans of music. My father’s father, my grandfather on his side, was a big fan of classical music and listened to it all the time. So, my father had a familiarity with that and he had all kinds of records around the house along the lines of Beethoven and Brahms, and Igor Stravinsky, and Bartok and, you know, a wide range of that music with a bunch of other kinds of music. There was Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and there was blues music from Chicago. There was, you know, a few other things like, I remember a record of Gamelan music and music from Greece and also a few jazz records. So, that’s how I discovered the music, Miles Davis records, Dave Brubeck records, Charles Lloyd. I was a huge fan of the Beatles – I had their records as well. I discovered them when I was 6 or 7. When I was 9 or 10 is when I really discovered jazz and decided I wanted to see if I could play the saxophone. I carried on about it until my parents realized that I was serious. So, they got me one when I was 10 and I got really involved in it right away. And they were always very supportive, which I’m very thankful for.

Clive: And Paul Desmond was an early influence in that decision, is that true?

Chris: Uh-huh. Well, the sound of Paul Desmond’s alto, you know. That was a sound I had never heard before. A beautiful sound wafting in the air.

Clive: This is something I notice in your playing: the consistency of tone and clarity of each note, regardless of which notes you string together.

Chris: That may be the hallmark of someone that has a vision of what they want to do. I definitely hear that in his playing and it’s a much different quality than, say, John Coltrane’s but, in a way, they share this clarity of purpose.

Clive: Yes, you can hear an absolute commitment. And I’m not surprised to hear you mention such a broad array of influences because I hear some of that in your playing. Some popular references, but also the Bartok reference is very evident. Among all those classical musicians that you mentioned, do you rank him high among them as an influence?

Chris: Oh, sure. Yeah. You know, a few of the composers from the 20th century spoke to me most at first… Stravinsky looms really large. You know, The Rite of Spring! And also the French impressionists, for lack of a better word: Ravel and Debussy. I think they have been an influence on a lot of jazz musicians. But yes, the music of Bartok shares with Stravinsky a very rhythmic focus. They have very different ways of dealing with it, but that was a big focus of their music, which I think is something that you can apply to what we do.

Clive: I’m curious about the Mingus Big Band, your place in it and what that meant as a building block in your development.

Chris: Yeah. I think that was very, very helpful. It was an environment that you wouldn’t get in school, let’s put it that way. There was a certain rawness to the energy of the group that I think was true to Mingus’ spirit. I never met him obviously, but a few of the members in the band had actually worked with him and knew him and so the spirit was such that if you didn’t stand your ground and stand up to take a solo when there was a chance, you just might not get to play! I mean, it wasn’t a nice polite, everyone gets a medal kind of situation. It was much rawer than that and there were arguments and this and that, but it was alive, you know, the music was alive and you could feel the whole thing and there were some great musicians that I had the chance to work with: John Hicks, John Stubblefield, and Frank Lacy… all these guys that were very, very kind to me and supportive. Yeah, that was a big learning thing too…

Clive: In part, because you could hold your own, is that right?

Chris: Yeah. Well, you just have to show that you can jump in and deal, then all right! You’re in the family.

Clive: You started making your own records pretty soon after getting into the scene in New York and you’re Concentric Circles record in`95 with Kenny Werner raises a question because I was very much affected by Kenny Werners book, Effortless Mastery and I wondered if you had anything to do with it or if it influenced your thinking and playing at all.

Chris: He hadn’t written that yet when I was first getting to know him. So, just seeing how he operated was definitely an inspiration. He would show up, there was a weekly class he had at the New School. We would choose notes at random out of a hat and then he’d write a tune based on those notes in different ways and we would suggest different ways of going about it and explore that – using that to promote the idea that you can make something out of anything if you know the craft and have the imagination. And then, in between that, he’d tell all these stories of his crazy exploits and his friends’ crazy exploits and we were just in stitches.

Clive: So, very often brushing up against people like that is less about theory and more about the energetic experience of being human, wouldn’t you say?

Chris: Yeah. The nuts and bolts musical information you can get out of a book or you can get out of looking at scores and reading theory, but the real important thing is how people put it together and how it reflects who they are and what you hear in the music. And yes, there is no direct way to transmit that knowledge except to be around the person and to be receptive to everything about what they’re communicating both about music and everything else. You see how it’s all connected. That’s really the way education works in this kind of music.

Chris Potter

Clive: Charlie Haden seemed to possess a quality that allowed him to transcend genres and you can hear it in his music, it’s wonderful stuff.

Chris: Yeah. There’s a lot of amazing folks that I’ve met being involved in this music. Ornette (Coleman) and Wayne Shorter, I mean,  these are special people – besides being great musicians!

Clive: I know you’ve played a lot with Brad Mehldau, who is a much-admired contemporary of yours, yes?

Chris: I first met Brad Mehldau when I came to the New School and we were in an ensemble together, so we were both like 18 or 19. I feel like we’ve kind of grown up together in a certain way, even if we don’t see each other all the time or play together all the time. Just kind of watching the art of their music, and their life, and their career. People like Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel, you know. A lot of musicians that I’ve come up playing with, you know, like Adam Rogers and Craig Taborn…

Listen: Potter and Mehldau perform Book of Kells on the album “Moving In”

Clive: The Underground Orchestra guys. Is that who you’re touring with in Europe right now or is it The Dreamer is the Dream group?

Chris: No. It’s kind of a hybrid, it’s basically the Underground Band. It’s the same band that I’ll be with there (in Lexington): It’s Adam Rogers on guitar and Fima Ephron on bass and then Dan Weiss who will be playing drums. So, it’s gonna be primarily music that’s already been recorded with Underground, but also some other music. We were just on the road for a few weeks and it was really taking off in a nice way, so we will be happy to present it there.

Treat yourself: 

Watch for part two of Clive’s conversation with Chris Potter on April 16.

To purchase tickets, please visit lexingtonlyric.tix.com

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The Needs of a Nation

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Why Eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts Would Hurt Rural Americans the Most

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Out of this world

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’17 Lexington Chamber Music Fest Gets Jazzy Vibe

Lexington jazz violinist Zach Brock

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Arts Tasting Menu

A tasting of handcut cultural delicacies from Lexington and the region.

Your August menu has some really tasty local treats!

Appetizer

 A Chorus Line, presented by The Lexington Theater Company, Lexington Opera House, August 2-5.

Lexington’s homegrown and highly professional musical theater company follows up its first two-production summer season presentation of The Music Man with one of the most popular contemporary musicals ever. A feast of song and dance. Theater company co-founder, Lyndy Franklin Smith, was dance captain in the Broadway production.

Sheila: You were a rotten dancer.

Zach: Why do you think I became your choreographer?

Entree

The 2018 Woodland Art Fair, Presented by the Lexington Art League & The LFUCG Department of Parks and Recreation, August 18 & 19.

A curated group of over 200 artists set up shop in Woodland Park for  one of the top art fairs in the country. One of our fair town’s largest cultural events, there are also food vendors, music, and community. Rain or shine!

Dessert

Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center and Other Lexington Locations, August 16-26.

The festival, begun in 2007, from the start has brought world-class musicians to Lexington for end-of-summer enchantment. Moving to the Downtown Arts Center last year, the festival expanded its appeal to a wider audience and featured Lexington native Grammy winner, jazz violinist Zach Brock. This year’s festival, with Nathan Cole again as Artistic Director along with his crew of incredible musicians, builds on that, bringing back popular Ensemble-In-Residence, WindSync, and featuring Artist-In-Residence, Lexingtonian, Ben Sollee. Look for an unpcoming piece on UnderMain.

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Full disclosure: I am a New Orleanian. No matter where I live, or how long I live there, I will always call New Orleans home.  I know how to pronounce Tchoupitoulas, am still confused why bars don’t offer to-go cups and can make a roux with my eyes closed. 

morris01I go to Domilise’s for my po-boys and the Spotted Cat for my jazz.  When I was a teenager, I used to sit on the Mississippi riverbank, elephants and monkeys waking up at the Audubon Zoo a few feet behind me, watching the barges and driftwood compete for current.

When I was a little girl, we’d go to the French Quarter to eat souffléd potatoes and grits and grillades.  When we walked into a restaurant, my mom always asked the waiter for an extra tablecloth to wrap around me because air conditioning is its own element in New Orleans. 

My best friend and I would sneak out and take the streetcar down to Jackson Square when it was a full moon and have our fortunes read at midnight.  We paid for it with our babysitting money.

fortune

I never made a plan past what are we eating for dinner?  New Orleans doesn’t require a plan.  In fact, it’s probably best enjoyed without one – which is only a problem when a Hurricane is threatening to demolish the city.  And when the infrastructure  fails and the city marinates in its own filth, not having a plan is a catastrophe.  That is where we are today, 10 years later … picking up the pieces from that catastrophe. 

After Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast, the levees burst and many thousands were left stranded, either literally or in limbo. 

The Superdome became a breeding ground for all things horrific, and it was valuable real estate. To give you some perspective, when the dome reached maximum occupancy, people were shuffled to the nearby Convention Center.  John Burnett, an NPR reporter was there, and gave this stark summary of the Government’s epic failure:

“They couldn’t send them to the Superdome, which was already overcrowded and squalid. Yet more and more people were emerging wet and bewildered from their flooded neighborhoods with nowhere to go. Officials later estimated that 25,000 people were huddled inside the vast convention center — the length of four city blocks — and on the sidewalk. Day after day they waited for buses, but no one came. The fiasco at the convention center came to epitomize the disorganized, inadequate response to the disaster by local, state and federal officials.”

The disaster Burnett described, playing out in a structure that only days prior had hosted Wheel of Fortune, is best understood through imagery.

Katrina was a trauma when it happened, and remains a lingering trauma today.

Walk into any bar on Frenchman Street now and you will hear the sultry, bluesy sounds of poets and showmen weaving the storm into their lyrics.

Like gumbo, Mardi Gras beads in the Oak trees, streetcars and potholes, Katrina has become a part of the fabric of the city.  It remains one of those divisive events that slices through a life, separating it into two categories: pre and post. 

It was a category 3 storm. The death toll was over 1800, making it the third deadliest Hurricane in history.  The third deadliest, yes … but it tops the list in cost: over $100 billion. These numbers do not take into account the many who had no choice but to flee the city, their lives forever altered.

Now, a decade later, the dislocated are hearing appeals to return, with promises of a new land.  Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently gave a speech in Houston and while he was thanking the Texas city for providing refuge for the displaced, he summed up a sentiment about the Big Easy that anyone whos spent time there can agree with:

“We don’t talk the way anybody else talks, we don’t dance the way anybody else dances. [Others] don’t eat the way we eat, they don’t hug the way we hug, and they don’t love the way we love. It’s just different. And it’s wonderful.”

Tens of thousands of New Orleanians escaped the storm. Most settled in Houston. Many have returned, but many others have relocated, resettled and are trying to move on with their lives.

Wayne Lewis is one of those people. He and his wife sought shelter in Austin, TX, Raleigh, NC and eventually landed in Lexington Ky, although he admits that he will always call New Orleans home.  Wayne is many things; a new father, a husband, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky, an education reformer, and a passionate musician – to name a few. 

We caught up with each other in a dimly lit bar in downtown Lexington.  Boisterous, serious and lit from within, Wayne immediately captured my attention.  Had I not known he was from New Orleans, I would’ve assumed as much, which is the best compliment I can think of. 

SAX2bw

Before we talked, he pulled out his saxophone and took a few requests from his captive audience. As the honey poured out from his golden horn, my feet instinctively started moving. Mayor Landrieu is right, we dance differently.  The sound that is created by a New Orleans jazz musician is raw, sweaty, alive and gets right on into your blood. In fact, it’s possible that the first note of When The Saints Go Marching In has an invisible thread tied to your big toe; making it impossible not to dance.

That was the scene in Willie’s Locally Known at 10:00am on a Tuesday morning in Kentucky: two New Orleanians lost in the music, talking about the lagniappe of our lives. 

Wayne is above all else, a man of faith.  When he looked back, he attributes his faith as the saving grace through it all.

“I remember the moment I realized we’d lost everything very clearly,” he said. “My wife and I had just gotten our first apartment in Raleigh. We went to the Walmart to shop and when we walked through the doors, we both looked at each other and, at the same time said … ‘we need everything.’”

I remember the moment I realized we’d lost everything very clearly,” he said. “My wife and I had just gotten our first apartment in Raleigh. We went to the Walmart to shop and when we walked through the doors, we both looked at each other and, at the same time said … ‘we need everything.’

Not some things … EVERY thing. 

“But you know what Lillie, we laughed about it,” he recalled.  “We laughed.  Not once throughout the whole thing did we feel hopeless.  It was just understood that God was going to take care of us.  And he did.”

He went on to tell me about how the storm changed his perspective about life in general. 

“When you lose everything and realize that you’re ok, that you’re still the man you were before, maybe even stronger … when you know that in your heart, then you can really see what living is all about.”

saxBWSo, what does living look like for Dr. Lewis these days? Well, for one thing, he plays his sax as often as he can, which admittedly, is not often enough. 

Currently, he plays in a band called The City. One of their songs, The Levee, composed by lead vocalist/guitarist Gene Woods and featuring a solo by Wayne, is a message of solidarity with those left behind in Katrina’s awful aftermath. The song is haunting in its contradiction and counterpoint: a traditional, upbeat N’awlins second line rhythm that defiantly marches the barely concealed pain and heartbreak of abandonment through the sodden streets of the Lower Ninth Ward, past a preacher shouting from atop the ruins: “Hold the line! Don’t you succumb! You gotta find the will. To carry on.”  Sad and honest, mysterious and revealing; it tells the tale of New Orleans after the levees broke. 

Like Wayne, like New Orleans, like many of us, the profound injustice and sadness is disguised behind a facade of determined joy.

The Levee is an appropriately sad song.  Katrina caused immeasurable sadness in the souls of many. She wreaked havoc on the bayous and flooded the streets with hate and anger. 

But in the end, The Levee is a song … because that’s what New Orleanians do. We deal with the heartbreak by making beats, beans and boudin.  We dance when we’re up, we dance when we’re down.  We let the music explain us and guide us.  It guides us to the food most of the time, where we are the happiest, eating lunch and talking about dinner.

What can you do to help New Orleans today?

Go there. Experience it for yourself.  Eat.  Dance.  Fall in love and spend your money on an experience that will change you forever.  Feel alive. Feel it all.  Let your sunglasses fog up when you walk outside and embrace it as the city’s way of crying for you. Cry on your own.  The river will take it.  In the words of Rebirth Brass Band, just “Do whacha wanna do …” and Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler.

If you need recommendations (which you don’t btw), Wayne Lewis is happy to give them to you.


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Sing them ‘Ol Courthouse Blues (please)

An UnderMain InvitatIon ~

(Credit: Ken Silvestri) - Old Fayette County courthouse with Cheapside Pavilion to left.

(Credit: Ken Silvestri) – Old Fayette County courthouse with Cheapside Pavilion to left.

UPDATE: View a pro-con discussion on KET’s Kentucky Tonight about “LIFT, Kentucky” – the proposed Local Option Sales Tax now before the Kentucky General Assembly.

For quite some time – years – there has been a lot of talk about the fate of the old Fayette County courthouse. What we’ve heard has varied on the theme that it’s a real shame to have this big, shuttered and unoccupied edifice brooding in silence as so much energy goes on all around in a recently revitalized downtown Lexington.

It has issues. Big ones. Asbestos. Mold. There’s that space created in its once open dome to house HVAC equipment. And over the years, there have been many other suffocating renovations of convenience. Mayor Gray said in his State of the City speech that “In 2014 the city shored up the critical needs of the foundation, this year we will be taking steps to save the building.”

It’s a good way to start a new year. Something new, potentially exciting and actually achievable for us to consider. The question is, what?

There’s a ton of history concentrated in that spot, smack dab in the center of our city. Important history. A lot of it is pretty awful. And there may some fairly painful and spirited debate over whether that history should be formally recognized, the legacies of slave auction victims remembered, versus whether the time has come to try to move beyond that ugly passage in Lexington’s story. Maybe some of both.

But one thing is not debatable: with a 21c Hotel taking shape directly to its east while all sorts of eateries and bars thrive to its north and west, the Old Courthouse must either be fixed up and given new purpose, or it should be torn down to make way for something artfully designed, appropriate to the site and useful. Something we can all be proud of.

Leaving it indefinitely as-is cannot be an appropriate option for a city that is seeing so much positive change.

Posting in a thread on Facebook, Foster Ockerman, Jr., President of the Courthouse Square Foundation, said results are expected soon of a study into what needs to be done to restore the building. Ockerman reminds us that the UrbanCounty Council last November approved funding to move the results of this study to the schematic drawings stage. And he notes that a small group, chaired by longtime Lexington real estate sales and leasing professional Frank Mattone and assisted by Lexington Downtown Development Authority President and COO Jeff Fugate, has been looking at potential uses for over a year.

With Mayor Gray setting the tone by placing the building’s future high on his agenda, UnderMain would like to host a community conversation that revolves around the questions: should the old courthouse be renovated? If so, what should be its purpose? How much would that cost? Or should it be demolished? If so, what should take its place? And at what cost to taxpayers?

Breathing new life into an old structure is an expensive matter. If you favor the building’s renovation, would you also support financing the cost with a penny sales tax (meaning, you would favor the passage by the 2015 General Assembly a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow us to vote on whether to permit Kentucky’s cities and towns to ask their voting citizens whether or not they would approve such a tax for such a purpose)?

Also up for consideration in Frankfort during the ’15 legisative session is something called “P3” – it stands for Public, Private Partnerships. While P3s have advantages and disadvantages, the concept does offer another way to pay for an old courthouse makeover.

So please join our Facebook discussion. We’re sure there are many more questions inspired by the prospect of doing something – one way or another – about the old Fayette County Courthouse. If you have them, please feel welcome to raise them. If you have ideas about what the building might become, let’s hear them.

(Credit: LexHistory.org)

(Credit: LexHistory.org)

All, Environment, News, Politics, Uncategorized

Watch what we wish for?

(Credit - Natural Resources Defense Council)

(Credit – Natural Resources Defense Council)

A nod to Randall Stevens for a provocative Facebook posting about contemporary progressive urbanism – “Smart Growth” – posing the question, “What can Lexington learn from this?”

Tiptoe gingerly through the ideologically argumentative minefield and you might recall some troubling cautionary tales taken from such otherwise “cool” places as Boulder and Austin.

Please read and offer your thoughts about our own aspirations for Lexington, Kentucky.

All, Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music, Uncategorized

Transy’s Polashek publishes writers’ block battering ram

polashek_student

“Why isn’t there a word rhythm dictionary?” Tim Polashek once wondered.  He no longer asks. No need. The Transylvania University Assistant Professor of Music got busy responding to his own question, resulting in publication of The Word Rhythm Dictionary: A Resource for Writers, Rappers, Poets, and Lyricists (Rowman & Littlefield), a 689 page gold mine for the creative-yet-stumped.

“I really just see this as another tool. Tools matter in that they offer different perspectives and methods, and can shape direction of creativity,” said Polashek. “For example, some computer programs allow easy reversing of melodic motives. Others don’t. This affects creativity. I’m constantly asking myself and students how a given tool shapes creativity, and to be objective about the tool.”

Rhythm rhymes are defined in the introduction as consisting of two or more words with the same rhythm, sharing the same number of syllables “and relative positions of primarily accented, secondarily accented and unstressed syllables.” Unlike traditional rhymes, rhythm rhymes need not have matching vowel sounds.

Polashek said the book is an expression of his longtime interest in the relationships between music and speech as well as the pitch and rhythms of spoken speech.

He has created a series of computer programs to help him manipulate and search for words with certain properties for creative projects. “For example, show me all the words that have two ‘t’ sounds and a ‘z’ sound.  Or, show me ten words that are five syllables long that have accents on the third syllables.”

Has also has written programs to generate nonsensical text with certain musical properties. “So, when I got around to actually writing the dictionary, I had a lot of software tools to help me.”

The typical rhyming dictionary groups words based on vowel sounds and is primarily concerned with the vowels at the ends of words. The Word Rhythm Dictionary takes a different approach, grouping words by several properties:  syllabic stress (primary, secondary, and unstressed) which determines the rhythm tendencies of the word; within these groups, secondary sorting occurs by vowels; and by consonants. “So as you read the rhythm rhyme-groups there is movement along a timbre/word sound similarity continuum,” he explained.

How might a lyricist or poet use the Polashek dictionary? The author suggests three methods: thinking of a word, then browsing a list of words with identical rhythms; coming up with a poetic foot and then searching a list of words that rhythmically match; or establishing a musical rhythm and then browsing a list of words that rhythmically or lyrically fit.

The approach, said Polashek, makes it easier to locate words that feature similar sounds, matching meters, and rhythmic grooves, from traditional rhymes like “clashing” and “splashing,” to near rhymes like “rollover” and “bulldozer,” “unrefuted undisputed” to pure metrical matches, like “biology” and “photography.”

“Upon observing a couple of words in the same group, some interesting scene or semantic concept might pop into mind that will generate a line of poetry or a lyric, perhaps reflecting some subconscious things that the writer had been considering—a linguist Rorschach test, perhaps?”

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Let’s Focus on What We Already Have

Courthouse section

With the Rupp Arena Area Entertainment District concept now shelved, at least for the time being, attention is returning to some of Lexington’s outstanding existing historic structures in dire need of TLC and holding great potential as re-purposed public spaces.

One such building is the Old Courthouse – situated smack dab in the center of our city, yet sitting there shuttered, moth-balled even as 21c begins to take shape immediately across Upper Street with CentrePointe underway just a stone’s throw across Main. And this is not to mention the burgeoning dining and entertainment district on Short Street.

One consistent advocate of investing in the building’s renovation and return to Lexington’s civic landscape has been Foster Ockerman, Jr. He offers his thoughts in an OpEd appearing in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Please read it, offer your views and share with your friends. We believe this to be a conversation whose time has come.

Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music, Uncategorized

Cross-pollination on the rise in Lexington

Broken Queen – Photo by Mark Cornelison

This is not to suggest that it hasn’t always been there, but networking or “cross-pollination” among various arts disciplines seems to be happening with more frequency lately in Lexington.

As some wise person once said: “more ‘o that!”

Writing in ACE Magazine several years ago, Candace Chaney noted Lexington’s rich literary history and the presence of a serious, if struggling, theatre community and suggested that cooperation and collaboration between the two might give rise to homegrown playwrights. This inspired idea remains a long way from yielding onstage results – although we have seen growth and development in local theatre production. But the concept has taken hold in other areas and we think it’s worth noting.

Recent examples include the mid-June production at the Downtown Arts Center of The Broken Queen, a multi-disciplinary collaboration between Blackbird Dance Theatre and a reunion of the Lexington band Chico Fellini.

And Story Magazine has launched its “Story Sessions” series – intimate concerts that engage a variety of talents and skills ranging from music and sound production to communication and publishing.

Coming up later this month, on June 27, is the Lexington Art League’s CSA LIVE: An evening of story and song, billed as a convergence of Lexington’s literary, music and visual arts scenes.

These productions and events join The Carnegie Center’s Carnegie Classics, and Balagula Theatre in inviting varieties of artists to share talents and skills in collaborative settings.

This departure from limiting our arts scene to the pitting of one discipline against another to grovel for scarce financial lifeblood is healthy and promising.

The question is, what does it take to establish a “go to” network to enable vital communication between, perhaps, a videographer and a sound-designer, or a performance artist and a sound and lighting talent? Is this a function of some independent non-profit? Or should our municipal government establish such a role?

Wouldn’t it be great if we figured out how to sustain arts production in Lexington?

Please offer your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Thanks!

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The Rise of ISIS and Why You Should Care

Transylvania University political science associate professor Michael Cairo

Transylvania University political science associate professor Michael Cairo

In the wake of two Gulf wars costing thousands of American lives and billions in U.S. treasure, Iraq is now rapidly being reshaped into a terrorist state. Transylvania University Political Science professor Michael Cairo, author of The Gulf: The Bush Presidencies and the Middle East (Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy and Peace), replied via email to a series of questions concerning the current escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq as Sunni insurgents seek to create a new ultra fundamentalist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Tom Martin: There may be confusion about the forces now in play in Iraq: Shiite versus Sunni and in particular, the full scale of the intentions of the Sunni insurgency and what its success would imply.

Michael Cairo: What most people fail to realize is that Iraq, in its present state, is a post-World War I creation of the mandate system.

Under the Ottoman Empire, the areas within Iraq were far from the center and relatively autonomous.  As long as these regions remained stable and did not upset the Empire’s interests, the Ottomans stayed out of the region.

Following World War I, the British brought three relatively autonomous groups together under one state: the Kurds in the north, the Shiite in the south, and the Sunni triangle in the center of the country.  It is also important to realize that the Shiite have a majority in the country.  Despite the Kurds also being Sunni, they share different interests than the Sunni in the center of the country.

Throughout Iraq’s existence, violence, paternalism, corruption, and patronage have been central to politics.  Saddam Hussein’s rule added to the distrust since he used violence against the Kurdish and Shiite populations and promoted the power and position of the Sunni population within the triangle.

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein contributed to distrust and violence.  The Bush administration’s de-Baathification of the country meant the removal of all those associated with Hussein’s regime, including those involved simply for employment. This created a ready-made “angry” Sunni population. The Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki has also contributed to this by ensuring benefits for the Shiite population at the expense of the Sunni.

The current sectarian violence, thus, is not a surprise to anyone familiar with the region and its history.

TM: What US interests are at stake in the present crisis?

MC: First, there is a bit of irony here since it may serve to create additional channels of cooperation for the US and Iran.

In recent years, the Shiite Government of Iraq and the Iranian Government have developed closer relations. Moreover, the Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called for fighting against the insurgents in the north, suggesting a possible collaborative effort between the Iraqi Shiites, the Iraqi Government, and the Iranian Government with possible assistance from the US (most likely air strikes).  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country is ready to help Iraq if asked, and would consider working with the United States in fighting Sunni extremists if the US decides to take action.

At the same time, this could prove problematic for the US since it might potentially increase Iranian power in the region. Not showing a degree of interest could signal to Iran that the US is willing to let Iran extend its power in the region. The U.S. aircraft carrier deployed in the Gulf has, in my opinion, two purposes – one to send a signal to Iran and two to be prepared if the president chooses an air strike option.

Second, the US most certainly has economic interests in the region.  Gas prices have spiked as ISIS has had an impact on oil fields in northern Iraq, shutting down exports from that region.  The heart of Iraq’s oil region is located in the south and an ISIS advance could seriously threaten oil exports and US economic interests in the region.

Third, ISIS could have a significant impact on Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, putting potentially threatening and violent regimes near their borders.  Spill-over from the crisis could have a significant affect on the region and lead to a wider war, which could prove disastrous.

TM: How does the present event differ from previous episodes of civil upheaval in Iraq and the region? The Iranian angle might be one example, but anything else?

MC: The current situation could be seen as a continuation of the past, as well as retribution for the past. Sectarian conflict has been a part of Iraqi history.  Saddam Hussein’s atrocities against the Kurds and Shiites are well known.  The Shiites have dominated the system since 2003 and have used economic and political patronage, and violence, as a form of retribution and control.  The difference today is that there is an increasingly religious element to the conflict.  Saddam Hussein’s regime was secular. ISIS is an Islamist group, changing the nature of the conflict somewhat.  Iraq is also home to one of the holiest sites for the Shiites, Karbala.  This adds to the threat that ISIS presents.

TM: Is there a credible possibility that what is now Iraq might end up fragmented, giving rise to the imagined ISIS?

MC: Absolutely.  This is certainly a possibility given the fact that Iraq as a state is an artificial creation, drawn on a map with a pencil and a ruler by British diplomats. This, however, would not necessarily mean a reduction in violence since these entities would likely have conflicting interests.  In addition, control of the economic resources – oil – could become even more significant for these new entities.

TM: Why should Americans care about what is happening in Iraq?

MC: First, Iraq’s geographic position in the Middle East – surrounded by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey – means that it has implications for the countries that surround it.  What happens in Iraq can have significant ramifications for what happens elsewhere in the Middle East.

Second, Iraq has significant implications for the international economy with its vast oil reserves.  We have already seen oil prices go above $113 as a result, in part, of the conflict.  In addition, the conflict constrains companies  from investing in those oil fields.  It is also important to remember that we are partially responsible for the current crisis in Iraq.  We opened the floodgates with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

TM: There have been observations made in media in recent days to the effect that if Bush over-reached in Iraq, Obama has under-reached. Wherever blame for any U.S. failures may rest, it doesn’t change the fact that with the rise of ISIS we have lost thousands of lives, damaged thousands more and evidently wasted billions in treasure in an attempt to stabilize Iraq.

MC: It is generally correct.  It is a tragic case of conflict.  While Bush certainly overreached, I am not so sure that Obama under reached.  Frankly, I am not convinced that increased US force in Iraq can stabilize the region without a serious long-term commitment.  The American public is not prepared for a permanent  American presence in Iraq and such a presence might only serve to increase reactions from forces like ISIS.

It is important to remember that American domestic politics matters too.  Obama could not have “overreached” even if he wanted to.  The critics often forget what he was handed.  While I certainly admit he’s made mistakes along the way, we need to be careful not to forget that he entered office facing an American public that was tired of war and ready to get out.  Perhaps he over responded to the American public, but our recent experiences in Iraq were impacting both him and the public.  The idea of fighting a long term war was out of the question for most Americans.

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Kentucky Pols: right or wrong on Climate Change?

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo says of President Obama’s plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, “It was a dumb-ass thing to do, and you can quote me.”  Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from coal-producing Clay County, told the Lexington Herald-Leader he agrees with Stumbo’s assessment of the proposed regulations.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes calls the president’s plan “pie-in-the-sky regulations that are impossible to achieve.”

Will history prove them famously correct? Or terribly wrong? Please take a moment to read thoroughly Ezra Kein’s sobering assessment of just where things stand with this matter of climate change. (With apologies to the sensitive for the profanity in the beginning.)

Then, we hope you will offer your thoughts via one or some of our social media options.

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‘Book of Visions’ premieres at Transy

The world premiere stage production of Maurice Manning’s award-winning book of poetry “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” debuted March 27 in Transylvania University’s Lucille Caudill Little Theater. This ensemble performance portrays friendships and fantasies from the colorful life of young Lawrence “Law” Booth who imagines incredible things to escape his troubles.

Set in Appalachia in the 1970s and 80s, the coming-of-age poetic saga focuses on the adventures of the rebellious Booth, his scurrilous Mad Daddy, his best friend Black Damon, the perhaps imaginary Missionary Woman and Red Dog, his beloved canine pal.

Drawn directly from Manning’s poems, this theatrical adaptation features vivid monologues, startling revelations, choral storytelling, Appalachian music and many weird and wondrous visions all brought to vigorous life by Transylvania student actors and a professional production team.

“Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” took Manning, an English professor and writer-in-residence at Transylvania, more than 10 years to write. It was a project he began right out of college, and although he felt unsure of what he was doing, he was certain he wanted to be a writer.

“I didn’t really know what that meant or how to go about it,” Manning said. “I just wanted to be a person who read books and carried around a pen and scraps of paper, someone who studies the world for its meaning.”

Manning must have figured it out. “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” won the 2001 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. “Manning’s unfaltering audacity is equaled by its artistic control, and the result is an astonishing collection, still more astonishing as a first book,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and contest judge W. S. Merwin in his foreword. “The individual poems…bring on a cast of characters who recur in a spectrum of forms and phantoms, luminous shapes altering the same kaleidoscope.”

It was this cast of characters that Transylvania theater professor Michael Bigelow Dixon found compelling when reading the work of his fellow faculty member. Dixon says, “I read ‘Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions’ and recognized how theatrical it was: There are continuing characters, a journey filled with dramatic events and a unique poetic voice. Then I attended Maurice Manning’s readings and realized how vibrant and engaging his work is when read aloud.”

It took theater faculty and students four months of meetings, comparisons of experimental drafts and conversations exploring the thematic and theatrical intent of the piece. Different versions of the script were read aloud multiple times by the adaptors and members of the creative team—designers, stage manager and producer. The theatrical adaptation was a team effort consisting of Dixon; Lexington-based Project SEE Theatre professionals Evan Bergman, Ellie Clark and Sullivan White; and first-year Transylvania student Theodora Z. Salazar.

Dixon describes the final product as a “bildungsroman,” or coming-of-age story, divided into three parts that align with Booth’s childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. “It’s a portrait of the artist as a young man in Appalachia,” explains Dixon, and each section includes six to nine poems that offer insight into the development of his character through conflict, friendship and fantasy.

The production includes a prologue and epilogue, reflecting Maurice Manning’s own introduction and conclusion to his collection of poems. Manning, Dixon and Ellie Clark recently talked with author Silas House about “Book of Visions” on the radio program “Hillbilly Solid.” The interview starts at 39:41 and may be heard here.

In addition to enjoying the play, guests can see a faculty/student photography exhibition curated to reflect the themes of the production and Transylvania’s many connections with Appalachian culture. The works will be on display near the theater entrance. And the Transylvania University a cappella group, TBA, has composed and will sing the poem, “A Prayer Against Forgetting Boys,” at a limited number of performances.

If you go

Performances of “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” will be April 5, 7:30 p.m.; and April 6, 2 p.m.

All performances are staged in the Lucille Caudill Little Theater, on Transylvania’s historic campus, located off Fourth Street between North Broadway and Upper Streets in downtown Lexington. There is ample parking in the adjacent Mitchell Fine Arts Center parking lot and handicap/disability parking and seating are available for all the productions.

Tickets are $10 each for general admission and $5 each for the Transylvania community. Tickets may be reserved by calling the box office at 859-281-3621 weekdays March 24-28 and March 31-April 4 between 1–4 p.m. The Little Theater box office is also open one hour prior to performances. For more information, contact Transylvania’s fine arts office at 859-233-8141.

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Ky Dems Differ on Conway, Beshear Appeal Duel

No one can recall anything quite like it: Kentucky’s Attorney General and Governor at odds over a federal judge’s ruling that the state must recognize same-sex marriages.

Attorney General Jack Conway announced that he would not appeal, citing opposition to discrimination and conscience. Conway’s emotional announcement was followed immediately by a statement from Governor Steve Beshear announcing that he will enlist outside counsel to mount an appeal in the belief that the matter is best settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As Phillip M. Bailey reports for Louisville public radio station WFPL, the split between Beshear and Conway has renewed the division among Kentucky Democrats over gay marriage.

Family Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Martin Cothran commented on Conway’s decision and fielded reporters’ questions. Watch the video from courier-journal.com

Have thoughts? Comment on our Facebook page.

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Russian-Ukraine Conflict: Why It Matters

Dr.-Ken-SlepyanUkraine is the scene of a rapidly escalating crisis that has raised fears of a military conflict. As world leaders push for a diplomatic solution, UnderMain launches a dialogue of local perspectives on this global event.

We posed key questions to Transylvania University History Professor Ken Slepyan, author of Stalin’s Guerillas, an account of the Soviet partisan movement in WWII.

UM: Can you enlighten our readers on the relationship between Russia and Ukraine?

KS: Russia and Ukraine have a long and complicated history.  The first Russian state was actually centered in Kiev, the current capital of Ukraine.  The areas that comprise today’s Ukraine have been at different times (and often simultaneously) a part of the Russian Empire, Poland, and the Austrian Empire.  Eastern Ukraine became part of the Russian Empire in the seventeenth century, while the West remained part of the Kingdom of Poland, and then the Austrian Empire.  The borders of contemporary Ukraine  were established only in 1939 (under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact when the USSR annexed western regions from a resurrected Poland).  Because of these varied histories, the culture, experiences, perspectives, and demographics of Ukraine are quite different from each other in the East, West, and South, with Western Ukraine pulled more towards Europe and Eastern Ukraine to Russia.  However, you can find many Ukrainian speakers in Eastern Ukraine, Russian speakers in Western Ukraine, and Ukrainians who speak Russian but identify with Ukraine rather than Russia.

It is also worth noting that in the Crimea, while ethnic Russians do constitute a majority of the population (a little above 50%), the significant Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar populations do not want to be a part of Russia.  The Russian majority was achieved, in part, by the mass expulsion of the Tatar population in 1944 based on alleged collaboration with the Germans, and the resettlement of the area by Russians.  (The Tatars have been returning in large numbers since the 1990s). Also, while it is a bit of an urban legend that Khrushchev “gave” Crimea to Ukraine on a whim in 1954, there are sound geographical reasons why the peninsula was administratively attached to Ukraine, primarily because of food, water, and power needs.

UM:Why should we care about what is going on in Ukraine?

KS: Ukraine is a country that is a bridge between the rest of Europe and Russia and  the Eurasian continent.  It has a culture and history tied both to Russia and Central/Eastern Europe and “belongs” to no country in particular.  We should also care that a sovereign, democratic nation be able to choose its own political course without being invaded by a neighbor who doesn’t like the results when Ukraine poses no threat to Russia’s existence.  It also important that the European continent remain stable and peaceful.  Ignoring Russia’s actions will undermine this objective.  This said, Ukraine is more important economically to the countries of the EU than it is to the US.

UM: What are the Russian Federation’s strategic interests in Ukraine?

KS: Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has deemed the “near abroad” (former republics of the Soviet Union) an essential part of its sphere of influence.  There are three main strategic concerns: 1. The control of the naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea, the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, and necessary for access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.  Losing Sevastopol and Crimea would be viewed by the Russians as a catastrophic strategic defeat (however, there is no credible indication that this was a real possibility) 2. The protection of ethnic Russians living in the near abroad, such as the populations in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine; 3. The establishment of a “Eurasian Union” consisting of former states of the Soviet Union, with Russia as its head, to serve both as counterweight to the European Union and to secure Russian hegemony in the region.  Also, perhaps less important, but also possibly a factor, Ukraine’s heavy industry is located in Eastern Russia (although much of this industry is not up to world production standards).

UM:What are the United States’ strategic interests in Ukraine?

KS: What happens in Ukraine is important but I hesitate to say that in itself it constitutes a vital American strategic interest.  As part of the deals to remove nuclear weapons from Ukraine, we are signatories, along with the Russians, to the integrity of Ukraine’s borders.  It is not in American interests on principle for Russia to violate Ukrainian territorial integrity, and for the message that this sends to other Central/Eastern European nations and the other countries in Russia’s near abroad.  Moreover, Ukrainians, especially in the West look to the US for support and we cannot take that role lightly.

UM: What are the realistic response options for the United States at this juncture?

KS: As I see it, American options are very limited.  I do not think that military intervention is a realistic option or even desirable option, given our lack of immediate bases in the region, the stretching out of our forces dealing with situations, and (not least!) the fear that this could escalate in a much more serious crisis between the US and Russia (both of whom still have substantial nuclear weapons).  The response will therefore have to be political and economic: isolation of Russia (such as not participating in preparations for the upcoming G-8 summit in Sochi, or boycotting them altogether), targeted economic sanctions, possibly aimed at the business community to put pressure on Putin from that direction etc..  It will be necessary to get support from the EU and other countries for these to be effective, but it is unclear how far these other states would go along with these, especially since many EU states remain dependent on Russian natural gas (as does Ukraine).  However, if Russia believes that securing/annexing parts of Ukraine are that important to it, then our responses won’t be able to achieve much of anything, except as a signal to the Russians that we oppose this action.

However, while these measures may be necessary, we also have to remember that we need Russia’s cooperation on other important national security issues: the disabling of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles, our current position in Afghanistan, and continued pressure on Iran to deal with that country’s nuclear threat.  We will have to be intentional as to what our priorities are in these areas with respect to Ukraine.

Uncategorized

Cultural Affairs Can Be a Load of Crap

Someone I know, pondering a try at local politics, recently wondered if his ideas even mattered. Politics and public service, these days, do seem so co-opted, so corporatized by the powerful and monied that it was easy to understand and impossible to dismiss his sense of futility.

Many of us share it. No point in going into the reasons. We’re all more than aware to the point of increasing -and dangerous- cyncism of what has become of the high ideals of statesmanship.

So, can you actually make a difference? Any difference? Do you have a voice? Can your voice influence public policy and bring about positive change or improvement?

Indulge us a bit as we get this thing called UnderMain underway. We actually do believe the answer is “yes.” And part of our mission is to encourage and facilitate your voice as a powerful Lexington cultural resource.

You are invited to become a contributor to the UnderMain blog community. Send your submission for consideration to editorial@under-main.com. Consideration? Yes. There is plenty of snark out there. That’s well covered. This is a place where we talk frankly, but with respect, about moving things forward. We will offer observations of our own from time to time, but our hope is to create a carousel of perspectives and ideas about our cultural landscape and conditions.

I’d like to get this rolling with what may seem an odd question for a cultural affairs magazine. But you know? Sewage is a cultural affair.

So, this multiple choice quiz for your consideration:

How aware are you of the details of the city’s agreement with the EPA to fix the mess that is our ghastly mingled system of sanitary and storm sewers?

I’m up on it

I’m somewhat aware

I’m vaguely aware

I know very little

Huh?

Are you aware that city officials anticipate that implementation of their plan to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act will cost the city at least $600 million?

Yes, fully aware

No. You’re kidding?

Did you know that this cost is being covered with a recently enacted sewage fee that most likely will have to be increased?

Yes and I would support an increase to ensure Lexington is in full compliance.

Yes, but I do not support a tax increase for this purpose

Fixing sewers is decidedly unsexy compared with creating an entertainment district in our downtown. But there is a limit to what our tax base can support. Which is your priority?

Fix the sewers

Build the entertainment district

Which of the following best describes you as a Fayette County citizen?

Actively engaged in the affairs of my community

Interested in the affairs of my community

Somewhat aware of what’s going on

Aware but too busy to care

Unaware but wish I knew more

Unaware. Blissfully unaware.