Saturday, September 20, 2008
Twangin guitars, grinding washboards, and ballads about whiskey, guns, and wild animals having sexual encounters with mountain men--not what you might expect to hear in a packed saloon in Williamsburg on a Tuesday night, but that's exactly what concert-goers got when The Defibulators and Andy Friedman and the Other Failures hit the stage at Zebulon July 24th. Both bands are based in Brooklyn and both bands are living proof as to why the Brooklyn country music scene is not just alive and kickin but downright thriving.
Most people would be surprised to hear there's a blossoming country music scene in Brooklyn, NY, a place more widely recognized for bagels, bridges, and brownstones than bluegrass, ballads and back country hoe-downs, but in a place as diverse as Brooklyn where most people who live here moved from somewhere else, anything is possible according to Andy Friedman, "There's probably a blue male monarch butterfly collecting scene in this city that's as big as the Brooklyn Country scene. Everything happens here, and everything comes from all over the world and seems to meet here, and that's why it's a great place to live."
Andy Friedman grew up on Long Island before he moved to Brooklyn at the age of seventeen. He first heard a pedal-steel guitar in a Billy Joel song--The Great Suburban Showdown on Streetlife Serenade, his second album--and was first introduced to country music by exploring the influences of Bob Dylan. It's in the Dylan tradition of songwriters that Freidman sees the Brooklyn Country scene today, "To me, the Brooklyn Country scene is a descendent of what was happening here in the late 1950's and 1960's around Washington Square Park and the West Village, or at least I like to think it keeps that spirit (and scene) alive."
The Defibulators are perfect example of the Brooklyn Country music scene. They're comprised of musicians from all over the country representing Texas, Wisconsin, California, and New Jersey. They started out as a traditional rock-a-billy band, but have grown to include elements of bluegrass, honkytonk, blues, and regular ol' country. They describe themselves as "Hee-haw on mescaline."
"I moved up here from Texas, to go to school, and to get as far away from country music as possible," said Bug Jennings the band's lead singer and banjo player. "I bought my first country music record at Tower Records on 4th st., Best of Hank Williams." Jennings never heard a Hank Williams song in his eighteen years growing up in Texas and despised what he heard on the radio. He only truly discovered country music for himself when Roadblock, the band's lead guitarist, lent him a classic country cd after they met working at a restaurant in Manhattan. He now lives in Brooklyn and finds the positive reception his band gets here appropriately refreshing, "Our following makes sense to me because nobody who lives in Brooklyn's from Brooklyn. Everybody's a transplant."
Metalbelly, The Defibulators' washboard player who comes from Austin, Texas originally and dons flannel red one-piece pajamas to every show, pointed out a lot of good country music has come from New York City, "There's a lot of country and folk music that originated up here. There are a lot of original bands and a lot of original people that come out of the melting pot that exists up here." When it comes down to it, Brooklynites love to dance, and there's an undeniably infectious energy that flies around any venue at which The Defibulators play, "We love nothing more than playing for people in a crowded room and seeing what happens."
Andy Friedman and the Other Failures tour all over the country, and their reception doesn't follow what stereotypical expectations might dictate, "I would like to say the further south we go the better the crowd reception gets, but it's not true. We enjoy terrific crowds in the south, but Minneapolis and Chicago are two of our favorite spots, as well. We love the west coast, and liberal arts colleges like Oberlin, Pitzer College, and Warren Wilson. The thing about playing in Columbia, South Carolina, though, is that each time we play someone from the crowd sends us home with a jar of corn liquor. That's tough to beat. What I do notice down south, however, is that's where most of the 'how does a band from Brooklyn end up playing country music' questions most often come from. I always answer the same way: there are plenty of punk bands playing in Alabama."
Thursday, July 24, 2008
When you think of what Greenpoint and Williamsburg need, what comes to mind first: a 28-acre waterfront park or a power plant? If you went with park, the elected officials, community boards, residents and activists of the area agree with you.
North Brooklyn got one step closer to adding Bushwick Inlet Park to its résumé when the State officially killed TransGas Energy's plan to build a $2 billion power plant on eight acres of land along the East River between North 12th and 14th Streets on Kent Avenue. The State siting board put the nail in the coffin on March 20th, due to the fact their proposal failed to meet health and environmental requirements. TransGas has tried to push through their power-plant agenda several times in the past, most recently 2002.
While this was a decisive victory for the park, TransGas Energy (TGE) is expected not to give up yet. Legal counsel to GWAPP (Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning) and Open Space Alliance board member Adam Perlmutter broke down the legal wrangling still left to unfold, saying, "TransGas has filed a petition for a rehearing. The City and Columbia Environmental Law Clinic compile their briefs in opposition in 10 days, on which the board will rule in 90 days."
If and when TGE's appeal fails, they then have thirty days to file an appeal with the appellate division second department on the grounds that the Environmental Siting Board used its discretion in an arbitrary or capricious fashion. Perlmutter said that TGE's chances of success at this point are extremely slim. "Those are extremely high standards to meet,” he asserted. “To say we don't expect TransGas to prevail doesn't convey how strongly I believe they're really not going to get anywhere."
Steve Hindy, OSA Board-member and Founder of Brooklyn Brewery, threw a party to celebrate the community's victory over TransGas. Community activists in attendance included Joe Vance, a prominent Williamsburg Architect and GWAPP and OSA Board-member. He commented on the long fight the community has undertaken with TransGas at which he's been at the front. "It started back in 2000 when Con Edison tried to build a power plant in Greenpoint,” he recalled, “and that's when GWAPP was formed, Greenpoint Williamsburg Against Power Plants."
Gerry Esposito, District Manager of Community Board One was also there to celebrate. His comments reflected the battle that lies ahead: "We're very fortunate that we won the battle, we're lucky to have a community to have fought so hard. Now the battle to be fought is to convince the city to volunteer the necessary money to build the park."
One can't help but admire that resolve and generosity with which people in the community lend their time and money towards fighting special interests such as TransGas.
The victory was largely possible because there is more solidarity today than ever before. "Before 2000, there were certainly six or seven groups in the community doing good things, but the problem was none of them were united,” recalls GWAPP board member Joe Vance. “There were too many little voices. The officials at the time really used that. They would say, 'Oh well, we don't see a consensus.' And that was really when we got together and decided we had to work together."
Vance was not the only person to notice this trend.
"I don't think that another community that hadn't been as organized through formal organizations and long-term planning process taking control of its land use would fare as well as we have,” Adam Perlmutter commented. “It's not just GWAPP and others; it’s the community boards 197 planning process [and] the fact that the community has taken it upon itself to become extremely sophisticated in the area environmental protection and land use. The proof is in the pudding."
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Baye Kouyate's performance at Joe's Pub Tuesday night was a celebration of West African music: musicians from several countries in West Africa, the United States and Europe put on a world-class show that got the entire crowd dancing by the night's end. Baye Kouyate is a talking-drum master from Mali. He descends from Griots, a family line of musicians, historians, and dispute mediators, and is one of the most up-and-coming African musicians on the NY scene.
Baye's Band, Les Tougarakes, is a collection of international all-star musicians with griot master Yacouba Sissoko of Mali on kora, German international recording artist Leni Stern on guitar, Senegalese master drummer Samba Guisse on djembe and sabar, Gbatokai Dakinah of Denmark on bass, griot balafon master Famoro Dioubate of Guinea, and Adam Clark, band leader of the Superpowers, an up-and-coming Afrobeat band out of Boston, on trap drums. Les Tougarakes represent both a wide range of musical styles within West Africa and the wide spread influence of West African music's diaspora.
Kouyate paid homage to the several-hundred year griot tradition from which he descends Tuesday night. Musical energy emanates from him with his beautiful smile, matching voice and talking drum which he makes sing. The virtuosic, rising and tumbling kora and balafon glided gracefully over the serene rhythms of the djembe, trap drums and bass. Leni Stern, who has collaborated with Salif Keita and Baaba Maal in addition to traveling extensively throughout Africa, added a special colorful touch to the ensemble, infusing a bluesy African jazz guitar feel.
Tuesday night was most definitely one to remember. Baye Kouyate is not only an amazing musician but an amazing person. Before the show was over, he paused to thank everyone who has ever helped him get to where he is today, especially the owners of Zebulon. It was in the Williamsburg venue that he made his first connections in the New York music scene and played his first shows.
Even though he descends from a long line of Malian griots, Baye does not see himself as simply an ambassador of African muisc, "I see myself not as a Malian Ambassador but as a Human Ambassador because my music is not just about Mali - it's about the world. My music is about the fusion of traditional and the modern, it's about love and peace in this world. It's about sharing life and no discrimination - it's about who we are as human beings, not just black and white, and together we all can save this world."
Monday, July 21, 2008
Over the last five to eight years, a progressive left political movement has been growing in the United States. These days you can feel it when you walk down the street and Obama '08 signs and buttons abound. One might think the country has simply had enough of the right-wing politics of the Bush-Cheney administration, but The Argument, a book by Matt Bai, a political writer for the NY Times magazine, gives you a behind-the-scenes look at exactly how the left has re-claimed its share of the American political debate.
Bai travels across the country tracing the steps of Howard Dean with his 50-state approach, Moveon.org and their nation-wide house-parties, and the liberal blogosphere that fostered an environment for progressives to flush out their grassroots movement. He provides insight into exactly how the left took back the fight, where it started, and for what they're fighting.
After reading this book, you'll know exactly why Barack Obama disposed of Hillary Clinton and her out-dated centrism in the Democratic primary and is leading Jon McCain in the polls. It's not just a pendulum swinging back and forth from left to right that controls American politics; it's a concerted effort by interests on both sides to frame the debate and influence the outcome of elections.
Monday, July 14, 2008
So many people came to Zebulon to see Nomo Saturday night, they literally had to turn people away. For those who managed to squeeze themselves into the cramped Williamsburg venue, they were not disappointed.
Nomo brought an uncontrollably infectious energy to the Zebulon stage, their favorite club in the city. Throughout their first set, the crowd seemed not to know what to make of them. People simply sat in awe trying to comprehend the complex sounds emanating from the seven-piece ensemble. That all changed during the second set when the crowd thinned out a bit, and the remaining concert-goers got up and danced like they knew they should.
Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Nomo is a seven-piece band whose sound is too unique to put in a genre. They fuse dubbed out 80's hip-hop synths with Tony Allen afro-funk drums and hard bop jazz horn lines. Even their arrangement is unique featuring two drum sets, electric bass, guitar, tenor and baritone saxophones, two trumpets, congas, timbales, bells, mbira (Zimbabwean thumb piano), and a combination of electric distortion effects.
Ghost Rock, Nomo's third full-length album came out last month on Ubiquity Records, and they're touring across the country promoting it playing thirty-four shows in fifty-five days in thirty-two cities. They are without a doubt, one of the most inventive, talented bands I've ever had the privilege of seeing live. Their ingenuity of arrangement and wide span of influences put them in a class by themselves. After listening to their records for the first time in the last six months, I had extremely high expectations for their show Saturday night, and they totally blew them away.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Chin Chin proved why they're one of the funkiest bands in the city Thursday night at Joe's Pub. They came out firing an all cylinders with their 9-piece band and brought a unique attitude and sound that said, "We're here to party and you better be too." Lead singer Wilder Zoby brought so much energy to the performance he was literally bouncing off the walls.
Chin Chin is a rotating group of highly talented musicians from the Brooklyn scene. Thursday night's show featured among others, Torbitt Schwartz on drums, Jesse Boykins III on backup vocals, Jeremy Williams on guitar, and Eric Biondo and Aaron Johnson of Antibalas on trumpet and trombone respectively.
Their infectious energy and groove make Chin Chin the perfect party music. You simply can't help but move with them on stage. They have a show coming up on the 24th of August at McCarren Pool. If you like to dance, check them out.
Chin Chin MySpace
Seun Kuti, Afrika Bambaataa and U-Roy with Love Trio at Central Park Summer Stage-July 6, 2008 (ShortandSweetnyc.com)
Central Park Summer Stage took its Afrocentric programming credibility to a new level last Sunday when Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, and U-Roy with Love Trio put on an energy-packed show that kept the crowd dancing from start to finish. All three acts are icons of their respective genres, and all three lived up to their prestigious reputations.
U-Roy and Love Trio opened things up. U-Roy is a legend of Jamaican music and founder of the reggae sub-genre dub. In the early 60's he pioneered toasting, or rapping over popular songs in dancehalls to liven up the party. He used his same signature style on Sunday, acting as lead vocalist with Love Trio, bridging the generational gap between a founder of dub and those continuing the tradition.
Next on stage was Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, one of hip-hop's founding fathers. They kept the crowd jumping and gyrating while interjecting Afrocentric and political charged messages into their rhymes. Some were more overt than others; Afrika Bambaataa spoke only once at the end of the set, "Peace, Love and Unity, One Nation Under a Groove, and Fuck George Bush."
Closing out the show was Egypt 80 and Seun Anikulapo Kuti, son of Afrobeat pioneer and international protest figure Fela Kuti. Seun took the climbing energy from Afrika Bambaataa and U-Roy and vaulted it even higher. Egypt 80 took the stage first warming up the crowd and setting the Afrobeat groove. Seun made a dynamic entrance and automatically demanded the attention of the crowd. Everything from his appearance to his sound was highly reminiscent of Fela. His dance moves reminded me of his father the most, but when he introduced himself as "the best singer in the world," I knew the apple couldn't have fallen far from the tree.
Seun Kuti Myspace
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
It's not often you'll hear Portuguese lyrics sung over a cajun blues backdrop, but Legends of the Preacher, the new album from Nation Beat, set to release July 15th on Modiba Productions, has a groove and character all its own. Blending sounds of Southern blues with Brazilian maracatu and a whole lot more, their sound is definitely unique. With Liliana Araujo's beautifully full, soulful voice gliding gracefully over the red hot multi-layered rhythm section composed of Mike Lavelle on bass, Scott Kettner and Eduardo Guedes on percussion, and Raphael McGregor and Sky Steele adding their southern blues sounds with lap steel and fiddle, Nation Beat maintains an intricate multi-layered melody and tight groove.
Legends of the Preacher displays a delightfully wide range of sound and influence, which comes as little surprise from a band that is at the heart of the Brooklyn music scene, one of the most diverse in the country. In a given song, Nation Beat will give you a taste of bluegrass, funk, Brazilian macaratu, and rock. They blend it all together to create their own signature style which is downright infectiously danceable.
As if Nation Beat didn't already have a style jam-packed with different influences from all over the musical globe, they recorded three tracks on Legends of the Preacher with Grammy Award winners The Klezmatics, a klezmer-fusion band out of the East Village. The Klezmatics, particularly their horn section, add to the already rich texture of Nation Beat's non-traditional sound.
Nation Beat personifies the growing trend in contemporary popular music--fusion. As the world, and the music industry, become increasingly globalized, sounds from all over the world are not nearly as far away as they once were. Bands are incorporating more and more diverse sounds into their repertoires, and appreciation for heterogeneous danceable music is growing as well. The energy and passion exhibited on Legends of the Preacher is even more in-your-face and alive in their live concert. If you like to dance, make sure to check them out as they will be touring all over the east coast and mid-west with dates in Montreal, Milwaukee, New York and Boston to name a few.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
After my friend Linh and I sat through two terrible, hipster, indie-rock bands at the Crash Mansion Friday night, I thought to myself, "The Blue Method better be as good as I remember them." Luckily for us, they were better. Their bass and guitar lines were funkier, lead singer Brian Williams was fatter, his voice was more soulful, and their drums rocked even harder.
The Blue Method is a 5-piece funk band out of Philadelphia that has a sound like a ten-piece ensemble. They opened with a couple tracks from their latest album, followed them up with a James Brown cover, and then played the funkiest version of Van Morrison's "Caravan" I've ever heard by far. Brian Williams is a big man with an even bigger voice whose energy and passion accentuates the band's infectious on stage attitude.
Featuring Brian Williams on lead vocals, trumpet and trombone, Tom Long on saxophone and rhythm guitar, Mike Patriarca on lead guitar, Rah M. Sungee on bass, and Theron Shelton on drums, their live show features a soulful mix of covers and original tracks off of their two studio albums Kill the Music Vol. 1 and 2. They have an incredibly tight sound, and they will make you dance all night. They tour all over the east coast on a regular basis, so definitely check them out whenever you get the chance.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
"If someone were to say to me, 'Tell me about yourself,' I would just hand them a copy of Hello and say, ‘Here, this is everything you need to know,'" those are the words Tristan Prettyman uses to describe her second full-length album, Hello, from Virgin Records, a twelve track storybook collection of thoughts, musings, and portraits that are at the same time enticing and edgy.
Prettyman has a sexy, smoky, bluesy alto voice that glides perfectly over the musical backdrop of steel-pedal guitar,
Put simply, Prettyman has character. She plays the type of music that has depth if you care to listen, rhythm if you care to dance, and soul if you care to feel. Hello explores Prettyman's love of country-blues and folk from the '60s and '70s, artists like The Band, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan. "There's something really pure and uncontrived about what they do," she says. "I really connect with that simplicity.”
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
What do you get when you take bluesman and Balkan Beat Box guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood, add the Yeah Yeah Yeah's drummer Brian Chase, two horn players from Antibalas, Stuart Bogie and Jordan McLean, and bass saxophonist Colin Stetson of Arcade Fire and Tom Waits' band? The funkiest bar mitzvah band on the planet, The Sway Machinery. I first heard about the Sway Machinery from Stuart Bogie six months ago while interviewing him for an article about Antibalas and had been eagerly anticipating seeing the band in concert ever since. I checked them out Wednesday night at University Settlement on the
The Sway Machinery is a project inspired by Jeremeiah Lockwood's grandfather, the legendary Cantor Jacob Konigsberg, who exposed Jeremiah to Jewish Cantor music at a young age. Lockwood sings in Hebrew perfecting the other-worldly sound the musical arrangement creates. The Sway Machinery is definitely like nothing you'll see or hear anywhere else. They have a harsh, powerful sound anchored by the bass saxophone and enhanced by the rest of the horn section. Their set exhibited great range going from slow, deep, dark, and mysterious to fast funky, happy, and danceable.
The Sway Machinery are playing several upcoming shows this summer: June 8th at 92YTribeca and July 20th at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park If you like music that pushes the envelope hard, go check them out. With the amazing roster of talented musicians on stage, there's no doubt it will be an amazing show.
Saturday, May 31, 2008 8:00 pm
The Town Hall*
123 West 43rd St
Ticket Prices: $15-$20
Have you ever wanted to travel in
A Night in Slovenia is a celebration of Slovenian culture--music, food, drink, and dance. The night kicks off at the Hudson Theatre in the Millennium Broadway Hotel (
Then the music starts. First on the bill is Laibach a Slovenian experimental music group, associated with industrial, martial, and neo-classical musical styles. They are an edgy controversial group who, through their use of lighting and special effects, has made a great impact on the musical culture of
Continuing the night in "accordance" with its theme is American-born accordionist and composer Guy Klucevsek who will be sharing the stage with fellow Accordion Tribesman Bratko Bibic, a Slovenian accordionist who first came to prominence as a rock musician, playing in the ensembles Begnagrad and Nimal in the 1980s. Klucevsek is one of few accordion players active in jazz and free improvisation. He has released 16 albums as a leader or co-leader, and has recorded or performed with Dave Douglas, John Zorn, Bill Frisell, Laurie Anderson and many others.
Third in line is jazz performer Vasko Atanasovski, one of Slovenia’s most creative composers and musicians, who will be performing with Marc Ribot and Greg Cohen, two premier musicians of the jazz field. Ribot has collaborated with a ridiculously long list of musicians, Tom Waits, John Zorn, David Sylvian,Jack McDuff, Wilson Pickett, The Lounge Lizards, Arto Lindsay, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Cibo Matto, Elysian Fields, Sam Phillips, Elvis Costello, David Poe, Allen Ginsberg, Foetus, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Susana Baca, The Black Keys, and the Lucien Dubuis Trio. Cohen boasts a similarly long list, most notably including Ornette Coleman, Elvis Costello, Lee Konitz and David Byrne.
Next on the bill is Brina, named after its lead singer Brina Vogelnik – the ensemble was established in 2003 with a desire for a fresh and bolder musical approach. Brina's seven-member ensemble draws its musical motifs from traditional music, which is brought back to life and rearranged, producing a repertoire consisting of original pieces. Brina's latest album Pasja legenda remained in the top ten of the World Music Charts Europe for a remarkable three months.
As if that weren’t enough, next up is Zlatko Kaucic, a Slovenian drummer who has performed all over
Europe with an incredibly wide range of musicians. Zlatko’s specialty is a unique solo percussion performance that expresses his own personal style. He has played the North Sea Jazz Festival twice and currently plays with his own trio, which tours regularly. He also plays with an octet and composes music for theatre and dance groups. Spain
Taking things down a notch will be Silence, a Slovenian electronic, synth pop and soundtrack music composing duo consisting of Boris Benko (singer and songwriter) and Primoz Hladnik (keyboards and arrangements). Their music is characterized by melancholy experimental sounds and vocal arrangements, and they are known to incorporate live instruments, including the piano, violin, viola, double bass, cello and valiha. The duo is recognized for their vast involvement in music writing for contemporary plays in Slovenian theatre.
Closing out the night will be Katalena an ensemble that emerged from a workshop that was originally meant to be a one-time only musical project. Its members are derived from different musical backgrounds, including classic rock, folk, blues and hip hop. The band believes in the legacy and timeliness of Slovene folk music, and they are known for recreating and performing it in their own unique way.
This will undoubtedly be a night attendees will never forget. The musical lineup is nothing short of legendary. If you’ve always been a Slovenian music enthusiast, are into expanding your musical spectrum, or simply want to see a night of great live entertainment, you owe it to yourself to check out this amazing celebration of Slovenian culture.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Do you like music that's unique, music that takes elements of music
you love and transforms it into something totally different and
amazing? If your answers to those questions are yes, then you need to
check out Nomo's new album Ghost Rock.
Nomo is a jazz fusion band out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. While they
have a sound reminiscent of Afrobeat, they're simply too unique to
classify. They have an aggressively dynamic horn section that cuts
hard horn lines over an even nastier rhythm section.
Ghost Rock, the band's second release with Ubiquity Records,
accentuates an other-wordly electronic vibe that brings in an entirely
new element to their already incomparable sound. Nomo will
simultaneously make you dance and expand your mind. If you haven't
heard their first full-length album, Nu Tones, go out and buy it today
to tide you over until Ghost Rock comes out on June 17th.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
The Superpowers' 2007 release Revival Time is a groovtasticly aggressive Afrobeat album that will leave you dancing from start to finish. Presented by the Boston Afrobeat Society, this nine-piece Afrobeat ensemble is a burgeoning group on the cusp of an even hotter Afrobeat scene. Their nine track release is a tightly arranged pulsing Afrobeat monster fit to be named "super."
The Superpowers are all graduates of New England Conservatory where they came together under the leadership of Adam Clark, the band's drummer and founder. They started playing Fela Kuti tunes and found Afrobeat to be an amazing new medium through which to express themselves as jazz musicians.
While the Superpowers are definitely an Afrobeat band with an aggressive Afrobeat sound, they incorporate elements of several musical styles including jazz, funk, soul, reggae, and rock. Their horn section delivers lines one would expect to hear from Earth Wind and Fire or the JB's over pulsating Afrobeat grooves laid down by their proficient rhythm section. Their guitars and keyboards incorporate the perfect amount of distortion effects to add a psychedelic rock/dub feel.
What's really great about Revival Time is the range the album encompasses. There are slower smooth tracks like "Cosmic Spiral" and "Moonlit Heart" to chill you out, more upbeat lively tracks like "Abbey Rockers #1" and "Abami Eda" to make you dance, and more unconventional, unique sounding tracks like "Revival Time" to give you something you haven't heard before.
What's best about Revival Time is the extent to which it exposes and accentuates the influences and components that led Fela Anikulapo Kuti to create the genre, particularly the American elements of funk and jazz. The rhythm guitar lines are extremely funky as well as the horn lines, but at the same time, the keyboard and horn solos are extremely jazzy. A lot of Afrobeat bands will prioritize staying true to the Afrobeat tradition. The Superpowers aren't afraid to deviate from the accepted Afrobeat sound, and that allows them the freedom to develop a much more unique and interesting style.
Half the Superpowers live in Boston and half live in Brooklyn, so they play a lot of shows in both cities. They tour most of the northeast hitting cities like Providence, RI, Burlington, VT, Northhampton, MA, and stops in between. Their sound is growing, and so is their fanbase as they are at the forefront of a booming Afrobeat scene. Bands like Antibalas and Akoya are spreading Fela's message, and The Superpowers can hang with any Afrobeat band out there. Their horns are tight, their rhythm section rocks, and their attitude and sensibility set them apart from the rest.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Proposed Grand St. Rezoning, a Step in the Right Direction for Williamsburg-February 1, 2008 (Block Magazine)
"While we're sitting here they're out pouring concrete." Those are the words of Tom Burrows, a deeply concerned Williamsburg resident whose sentiments echo those of the community. I spoke to Tom at the January Community Board One public hearing where the primary topic of discussion was the rezoning of thirteen blocks of Grand St. in Williamsburg.
The resolution in front of the board for review is a proposal by the Department of City Planning to rezone thirteen blocks of Grand St. bounded by Berry, N Third, Fillmore, Hope, Marcy and South First, from R6, with C1-3, C1-4, C2-3, and C2-4 commercial overlays to R6B for all blocks along Grand Street and north of Metropolitan Avenue and R6A for the entire block bounded by Berry Street, Metropolitan Avenue, Bedford Avenue, and North 1st Street. In other words, the city would be imposing height limits to protect against real estate developers erecting tall apartment buildings that would ruin the character and consistency of the neighborhood.
The meeting room of the Swinging 60's Senior Citizens Center was packed with Hasidic Jews, hipsters, activists, angry citizens, rabbis, priests, students, lawyers, and journalists. Board-members and bystanders alike, over a hundred people filled the room to capacity. There was a solidified consensus of outrage and resolve as community members took the microphone one after the other to voice their concern for the future of their neighborhood. The angry citizens weren't opposed to the passing of the resolution; they were angry it's so limited.
Williamsburg is, and has been, one of the most sought after areas in the city for developers and builders. Last year alone in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, nearly 1, 400 permits for new buildings, alterations, and demolitions were issued, a 46% increase from 2002. The increase in development has coincided with a steady increase in construction-related complaints; 784 emergency 911 calls involving mishaps in Greenpoint and Williamsburg were logged last year - a 300% jump from 2003. Calls to the city's 311 hotline more than tripled as well with 1,662 construction complaints recorded last year, up from just 487 in 2003.
Williamsburg residents have just about had it with real estate developers coming in and disrupting their neighborhood. Nancy Wechter, a long time resident of Williamsburg, is concerned for the future of her community and is encouraged by the action being taken, "I'm very disgusted with the changes that are going on in the neighborhood. The whole fabric of life is being ripped apart. I applaud city planning for doing the right thing, and I feel that as a community, and a community board, seeing this small change go through quickly is one of the only things we can do to restore any quality of life in the neighborhood." Wechter is fed up, and the cheers her words garnered from those in attendance let her know she wasn't alone, "I'm just tired of things being done for the benefit of one or two developers at the expense of the entire community."
Elizabeth Hynes, a representative of Assemblyman Vito Lopez, spoke on his behalf, "We would like to applaud the dept. of city planning and Community Board 1 on their effort in putting forward this proposal. We feel this goes a long way towards addressing the issues and concerns the residents of the neighborhood have about height density and a design concept, however the resolution doesn't go far enough. For the rezoning to stop just north of Grand St. presents a problem for us. We feel south of Grand St. would like height restrictions and be a good fit for contextual zoning as well. We look forward to to working with the Department of City Planning and Community Board One on expanding this proposal and having a healthy dialogue moving forward."
Several other community members spoke at the meeting all delivering the same message, "This is not what we want for our neighborhood." Ken Fisher, an attorney representing a real estate developer in the area, was the only one to voice opposition to the rezoning for obvious reasons. Everyone else in attendance stood unified against the overdevelopment of the community.
Community members are concerned the time needed to complete the review process will allow developers more than ample time to circumvent the zoning changes and rightfully so. The rezoning legislation is in the midst of a five step public review process. After the Community Board One review is over, there are 30 days of Brooklyn Borough President Review, 60 days of City Planning Commission Review, and 50 days of City Council Review. If developers can get a shovel in the ground and make enough progress in their project before the new rezoning laws are enacted, they will not be subject to the changes, a practice that leads to a lot of rushed construction and shoddy planning.
Only time will tell what the future holds for Williamsburg. Already, neighborhoods like Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant are being increasingly populated with young artists, students, and other recent transplants due to climbing rent in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. While moving further out along the L-train may be fine for artists and students, long-term residents of Williamsburg like Nancy Wechter, Tom Burrows, Laura Newman, and all the other angry community members who raised their concern at the CB1 meeting are looking to save their neighborhood while they still have the chance.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
Friday January 4th, 2008, the day after the Iowa caucus, every news channel on television is talking about Barack Obama. Commentators on Fox News are debating whether or not Oprah won the election over the other candidates, Chuck Norris is on screen with Mike Huckabee, and everyone is showering Barack Obama with praise. What his supporters have been waiting for all along is finally happening, people are starting to believe in Barack Obama.
He's been there all along, nipping at the heels of Hillary Clinton, narrowly edging Jon Edwards and the rest of the democratic field, but in the weeks approaching the nation's first primary, he caught fire. His relentlessly hopeful message of "change" resonated with the people of Iowa, something the whole country eagerly awaits.
The Democratic Party has been waiting for a candidate like Barack Obama and so has the media. Ever since his speech at the 2004 Democratic convention as a newly elected senator from Illinois, his name was connected to this election. After John Kerry and Al Gore, the democrats felt the same "urgency of now" Martin Luther King channelled into Barack Obama and decided they couldn't trot out another boring, bland candidate even though Obama was short on experience. Doubters cared less about experience every day Obama's camp preached their idealist message, and Iowa bought it hook line and sinker.
On the news hour with Jim Lehr, the sound cut out during a round table discussion, and the producers cut to Barack Obama's victory speech. He talked about kids, senior citizens, and republicans who have all taken a new interest in politics because of him. His powerful, passionate, eloquent delivery stood in sharp contrast to Hillary Clinton's distressed, worried, nagging voice trying to fend off the effects of a crushing defeat, and Jon Edwards' glowing ebullience after finishing second.
Obama's timing couldn't have been better. The media went from doubting him and questioning his experience to praising him lavishly. Now Obama is taking the lead in New Hampshire, and America is inching closer and closer to its first African-American President. With every poll that shows his lead is growing, to every talking head gushing over him, Obama picks up more and more steam. All he needs to do now is not screw it up.
The media would be more than happy to rain on his parade much of the same way they pounced on Howard Dean's mishap in 2004. Every channel on television might be singing his praises for the next two weeks, but the nomination is far from his. Any number of things could happen to derail his hopes, but Obama doesn't appear to be worried. It's almost as if he's been expecting it all along. His genuine, calm, level-headed, self-posessed demeanor hasn't wavered, and it doesn't look like it will be tested anytime soon.