THE CITY HALL SESSIONS: Concerts Where Music Celebrates Freedom

Music is a universal language that brings together an entire social spectrum around human fairness. The City Hall Sessions is an annual musical festival that first came about to celebrate South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections in 1994. From then on, each 27th of April the City Hall Sessions take place to celebrate what today is known as Freedom Day. These concerts are definitely a taste of diversity, inclusion and freedom.

As an example of this cultural diversity, take a look at this beautiful performance of Amaryoni-Azapella. This South African-a capella band is strongly influenced by the Is’cathamiya and gospel styles becoming very popular amongst the people of townships.

 

On December 5th 2013 the Nobel Peace Prize and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela passed away. He was a man that changed the world forever achieving what no other leader could make possible in human history. In 1990 he was released from jail after spending 27 years in Robben Island. He ran for the presidential election in 1994 becoming the first black president of South Africa.

Built in 1905, the City Hall is not only the home to the Cape Philharmonic Orquestra but also the host of the music festival. This beautiful cultural space and auditorium has been seen across the world. It was the place where Nelson Mandela addressed a crowd of over 100,000 supporters from its balcony after his release from prison in 1990. I’m pretty sure that the 2014 festival will be full of thrills and many events honoring Mandela’s memory.

 

These series of concerts started in 2011 bringing to the city a unique blend of the best musicians from Africa and the rest of the world. The objective of this program is to showcase Africa’s both social and musical diversity. The City Hall Sessions are trying to establish Cape Town as a center of cultural innovation and appreciation for people in Africa.  This local festival is becoming more global every year building stronger connections between musicians, music industry and the Capetonians.

The local-Capetonian composer, pianist and extraordinary jazz musician, Paul Hammer remembered in a comment the local social environment when he was music student during apartheid days.

“I was a music student at UCT (University of Cape town) and we used to get cheaper tickets to come on a Thursday night to the Philharmonic concerts in the City Hall. But my father didn’t want me to come. He said, ‘There’s a permit for this place to be open to people of colour,’ [people of colour needed to be permitted access to public buildings during apartheid]. And I retorted, ‘There is a permit at UCT for people of colour to be there.’ And he said, ‘Well, that is for your education.’ And I said, ‘This is also for my education”.

In 2013 he played his music for the city hall sessions. Enjoy this amazing performance:

 

 

 

 

The “City Hall Session” is a project developed for Creative Cape Town, which is a Cape Town Partnership program and supported by the National Lottery Development Trust Fund. The company Making Music is in charge of the technical and organizational production of the event. The prestigious local-producer and music documentarian Steve Gordon is the head coach of the festival.

The festival has had many performances of very well-known African and world musicians  such as Ray Lema (Democratic Rep. of Congo), Didier Awadi (Senegal), Steward Sukuma (Mozambique),  Chico César (Brazil), among others.

In 2012 one of the most representatives of the Pan African musicians, Ismaël Lo from Senegal played one of his most popular songs “Dibi Dibi Rek”.  He fills the stage with his Afropop and reggae rhythms in a sold out concert. This video shows his brilliant performance with the Cape Town group “Azania Ghetto Sound” in support.

 

 

 

 

I think this kind of festival provides not only the opportunity to enjoy the musical performances of a different bunch of musicians, but it also brings important benefits for the people of Cape Town promoting social cohesion. This remarkable effort of social and spatial reconstruction after apartheid is the main objective of Cape Town partnership.

 

We’re giving musicians a much-needed platform (medium-sized performance venues in the city are few and far between), creating jobs in the industry, and using the medium of music to help create new citizen memories in a historic city space” Cape Town Partnership CEO Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music Video of The Week – Equilibre – Hocus Pocus ft. Oxmo Puccino

Production : On And On / Fadereight Films
Réalisation : 20Syl / David Couliau / Kévin Couliau

Music :

Hocus Pocus’ latest opus, ’16 Pièces’, is a major step up in terms of production for this band and this track showcases the blend of jazz and hip-hop that the group is so well-known for. Sylvain Richard, aka 20Syl, is truly a master of the MPC and music production and sampling have virtually no secrets for him. He is also an incredible lyricist who knows how to manipulate the French lexicon with finesse and creates puns smart enough to tickle the brains of the most pedantic members of the French Academy. In this track he pairs-up with another French master and poet : Oxmo Puccino. This guy’s diction and articulation give the French consonants a new voice and sonority. Together, they write about the human paradoxes that are present in all of the lifestyles that run in parallel on this planet. And how the ‘Equilibre’ (french for balance, equilibrium) is impossible to reach, no matter how much anyone writes, sings, or talks about it ; ‘Face au vent je ne fais pas le poids, ma plume n’a qu’une masse dérisoire’ – ‘Against the wind I don’t stand a chance, my quill only has a derisory mass’

Video :

The video for this song was shot in New York City. It is shot with beautiful cityscapes and backdrops of New York rooftops and seafront. Split screens sequences reveal some unusual and quirky street-signs that add a ‘je ne sais quoi’ of French vibe found in America. Around three minutes into the video, a little interlude shows 20Syl messing around on a MPC, playing around on a bass, looking for scratch samples on a turntable, and locks it all back into beat as the song resumes. If you want to see him make a beat from scratch and appreciate the talent of the man, watch this 8 minute video here.

Snarky Puppy ft. Jayna Brown – I’ll Do Me – Family Dinner Volume One

Music:

Most of the music-savvy folks out there already know the name of Snarky Puppy. The band has pretty much become a benchmark in terms of jazz bands and they truly deserve the exposure. The individual level of proficiency that the members demonstrates can certainly account for that. All of their albums are recorded and filmed live, and the band director and composer, Michael League shows-off his genius on every occasion. This song, I’ll Do Me, is a blues tune. It’s not the usual style that Snarky usually performs in, they’re more of the big band type of register. But this whole album is more than just Snarky Puppy. Family Dinner volume 1 showcases talent from the MusicLab at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, VA. and plays arrangements of one of each guest’s songs; the result is phenomenal. Back to this song however. The tune was written by a 12 year old girl named Jayna Brown and boy can she sing. She belts it like she has had a lifetime of experience at singing blues. Gabriel Morales, a 15 year-old guitar student, also from the Jefferson Center, joins her and takes a solo that is all blues and taste. It is truly amazing to see two young musicians playing alongside others twice their age, and show an equal level of musicianship. It is also reassuring and comforts the idea that not all talented young musicians set themselves on a path to become the next Bieber or Cyrus and grow up to get in fights with paparazzis or do drugs on stage. But this is another battle.

Video:

The whole concept for this DVD stays true to the vibe Snarky usually sets for their live recordings and even brings it forward. The live setup usually consists of the 20+ piece-band playing in a circle around a reduced crowd of 25 (or so) people. This time the band is set on a stage, and the crowd is scattered around it and sat on living room sofas and comfy cushioned chairs. Half of this record was shot and recorded on the one evening. On the second evening, around 800 people were invited to attend the performance, recording, and video shoot session. The vibe that seeps out is that of a cosy evening at a local jazz bar, minus the gin & tonic. And the picture matches the quality of the music, it captures the atmosphere perfectly and complements it with slow pans and occasional close-ups of players pulling faces that evoke groove and concentration.

Definitely a band to check out if you haven’t already, and this encompasses the entirety of their music. They touch upon all styles of grooves and melodies, and have just enough jazz to get the undivided attention of most musicians without losing that of non-players who aren’t generally attracted to that type of music.

ROCK LABEL OF THE WEEK: Matador Records

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Rock Label of the Week is focused on highlighting some of the biggest – or most obscure- labels that you may – or may not – have ever heard of. 

  • Name Of Label: Matador Records
  • Founded: 1989
  • Location: New York City, NY.
  • Label Type: Independent
  • Distributors: INgrooves, RED, ADA
  • Genre of Focus: Indie Rock
  • Current Roster: Belle and Sebastian, Cat Power, Interpol, The New Pornographers, Pavement, Queens Of The Stone Age, Sonic Youth.
  • Inactive Roster: Arsonists, Neko Case, Jaguar Love, Lou Reed, Mogwai, Pretty Girls Make Graves, M. Ward.
  • Website: http://www.matadorrecords.com/

Matador Records was founded in 1989 in under the bright lights of New York City. Founder Chris Lombardi began the record label under the roof of his apartment, and shortly after Matador’s inception, Homestead Records manager Gerard Cosloy would join in on the fun. Through hard work and connections, Matador was able to release albums from Superchunk (self titled LP) and Teenage Fanclub (A Catholic Education) in 1990, which would both turn out to be unexpectedly successful. The inflow of cash would allow the label to afford an office space, and sign Pavement. Pavement’s release Slanted and Enchanted in 1992, the label became a known force in the industry.

This success would be followed with the successful signing of Liz Phair. While Liz Phair’s biggest single “Why Can’t I?” doesn’t put her on the map as a “rock artist”, her earlier work under Matador was grungy (like a combo between the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and Garbage). The singer songwriter released album Exile In Guyville in 1993, and was fairly revolutionary for female artists:

“Calling Exile In Guyville a “song by song” response to the Rolling Stones’ swaggering, staggering “classic” Exile On Main Street, Phair dared rewrite rock’n’roll’s heinous clichés from the lady’s perspective. Her blushingly frank take on modern sexual entanglements —sung with plenty of frank sailor-talk and confessionals overshare— gave a face, a voice, and a name to the women who, 20 years earlier, could’ve only found one place in rock culture: groupie.” [Matador Top 20 Albums

Through its successes, Matador partnered with Atlantic Records. Eventually, the partnership ended and the label was partially purchased by Capitol Records in 1996 (eventually Lombardi and Cosloy bought back full ownership of Matador, but lost Liz Phair to Capitol in the process). In 2002, Matador split ownership with by Beggars Group (Beggars also co-owns 4AD, Rough Trade, and XL Recordings) and through this venture, a London office for Matador was established in order to handle worldwide distribution/marketing for the label.

Matador Merch

Matador Records Merch.

 One of the keys to Matador’s success is that the label focuses on signing artists that have already released music prior to any deals being made. Chris Lombardi discloses the reasoning behind this choice:

“There’s something infinitely more attractive in an artist that already has a completed album, that has a record that we already know and like. We’re not A&R men in the archetypal sense: we don’t handhold the artists, sculpt them in the right image. We simply let them be as they are.” [Alt Music Matador History]

QOTSA

Queens Of The Stone Age live at Letterman.

Matador independently handles their own A&R, art production and direct-store distribution with no outside influence, while Beggars handles the responsibilities of Matador Europe.

Matador also created one of the most beneficial marketing strategies for their label: The Matablog. With the Matablog, users that were selected by the admin (this role has been taken on by Patrick Amory, general manager of Matador) and are invited to blog openly on the website. Bloggers are encouraged to post material about Matador, including new releases, tour dates, etc. Record exec’s for Matador and artists on the label are also encouraged to post any relevant information about themselves/the label. The Matablog has created immense amount of traffic for the labels website, and Patrick Amory indulges in the purpose of the blog:

“The personality of the label – essentially the combination of all these factors – is, in turn, an important way of conveying to the public why they should be interested in buying our music.  Matador releases are not just a collection of songs or albums – they are part of a larger community of interesting, interested people.” [Hypebot Interview]

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Ceremony article on Matablog.

Matador Records is here to stay. With signed acts like Cat Power, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Pavement, the success of Matador has never faltered. On the labels website, the FAQ of the label ends with this:

“Throughout the label’s history, Matador has been a champion of artistic freedom, diversity and innovation. The label’s catalog and release schedule reflect the tastes of the company’s owners, Lombardi and Cosloy, and their longstanding commitment to sharing the music they love with as many others as possible.” [Matador Website]

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ROCK LABEL OF THE WEEK: Equal Vision Records

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Rock Label of the Week is focused on highlighting some of the biggest – or most obscure- labels that you may – or may not – have ever heard of. 

  • Name Of Label: Equal Vision Records
  • Founded: Early 1990’s
  • Location: Albany, NY.
  • Label Type: Independent
  • Distributors: RED Distribution
  • Genre of Focus: Post-Hardcore/Popcore
  • Current Roster: A Lot Like Birds, Eisley, Saves The Day, The Dear Hunter, We Came As Romans, etc.
  • Inactive Roster: Alexisonfire, Chiodos, Circa Survive, Coheed and Cambria, Portugal. The Man, The Fall Of Troy.
  • Website: http://www.equalvision.com/ 

As a scene kid of the millennium, I always found that my heart began at Equal Vision Records, which is why my first blog begins there too. Created in 1992 by Ray Cappo (Vocalist for bands Youth Of Today, Shelter, Better Than A Thousand), Equal Vision’s original purpose was to distribute music for Cappo’s band, Shelter. Shelter was unique in that they identified as a Hare Krishna hardcore band, and because of this, Cappo distributed other Krishna music through Equal Vision [About Equal Vision]. Cappo’s Krishna background also shaped the name and logo of his new record label, as described in an interview by current label owner Steve Reddy;

“Equal Vision was initially created because Shelter wanted to put out their own records. The name came from a verse spoken by Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita. The logo is a picture of Krishna that a Hare Krishna artist had lying around, unused in her portfolio. Ray Cappo, the singer of Shelter and founder of Equal Vision, liked it and asked her if we could use it and she agreed. We used the logo for all of our Krishna-core bands, but when I signed Shift—our first non-Krishna band on the label—we switched to just the “e v r” letters as a logo. We wanted to make a differentiation so kids knew Equal Vision wasn’t just an all-Krishna-core roster. We did it that way for a couple of years, but after the Krishna-core stuff faded away, we decided to go back to [our original] logo for all releases. The Krishna logo still means a lot to me today, and I’ve always preferred how it looked over just the letters.” [Behind The Logo’s Interview]

Equal_Vision_Records-Sticker

Equal Vision Logo.

In 1991, Reddy purchased Equal Vision from Ray Cappo, and from that moment on the label opened itself up to become a broader, hardcore label. It also meant relocation – while Equal Vision started up in New York City, it was moved to Albany, NY once Reddy took over. By the end of the 1990’s, the roster for Equal Vision (then known as EVR) had doubled. Within the Equal Vision building, bands were having their music produced and marketed right in house, while the merchandise portion of the website dedicates itself to sales on clothing, accessories, and album sales.

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MerchNow Warehouse.

On top of Equal Vision Records, Reddy and his wife Kate also created MerchNow, a merchandising company with a focus on band apparel to be sold on the online store, as well as on tour (from individual tours with bands on their roster to festivals like the Vans Warped Tour). The company holds the values of the Hare Krishna attitude, providing full health care benefits and a lunch program that hosts locally grown food to their employees. Not only does MerchNow sell band apparel for the roster of Equal Vision, you can find band apparel from bands not included in the “Equal Vision Family”. [Merch Now Interview]

Equal Vision Records has connected itself to numerous business ventures within the past few years. A sub-label, Mantralogy, created by Kate Reddy, was designed to support and promote yogic musicians in the way Equal Vision supports their hardcore roster (some artists on Mantralogy’s roster include The Mayapuris, Prema Hara, and Gauri Vani &As Kindred Spirits). Other ventures include two imprint labels off of Equal Vision: Max Bemis of Say Anything created Rory Records and Casey Crescenzo of The Dear Hunter created Cave & Canary Goods.

We Came As Romans on EVR Instagram

We Came As Romans on EVR Instagram.

Through it all, more than anything, Equal Vision has dedicated itself to living moment to moment. The focus is on the music, and making sure this music reaches the public. The label is very active online (from Instagram posts to numerous Tweets daily) and the focus is less on making money as it is connecting the artists to the fans. While it seems unimaginable, that’s the Krishna way, and from Ray Cappo’s beginnings to the label today, they haven’t lost sight of their core values. Looking at their extensive roster, it shows that these values have found a spot in the hearts of the bands as well. Equal Vision has a business model that has worked, and will continue to flourish if they stick to their guns.

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Check out more music on the Equal Vision Records Youtube Channel!

Looking for more reading material? Check out my blog Heavy Bass and Breakdowns on WordPress!