Monday, November 19, 2007

The Hope Business

The Hope Business means people who make it their business to spread hope.

Cynicism is the weapon of the weak, someone said, and happily, since we last met. I have been exposed to heavy doses of hope. "I prophesy that before too long, HIV will be RIP!" Bono flamboyantly announced onstage at the AIDS charity Keep A Child Alive's star-studded Black Ball in NY's Hammerstein Ballroom. The Irish shaman was being honored alongside  Dr. Pasquine Ogunsanya of Uganda's Alive Medical Services, and Nick Reding, a British actor who moved to Kenya and founded SAFE (Sponsored Arts for Education.)


Bono at the Black Ball
The incomparable and tireless Bono

The Black Ball is known for red-hot music -- and that night was blazing, right from the first foot stomps of a South African dance troupe, Juxtapower, and the intense harmony of South Africa's Agape Choir of AIDS orphans.

Justapower Video
Juxtapower - Got Zulu?

The charity's co-founder and global spokesperson is the ludicrously talented Alicia Keys. Unlike many charity-hopping celebs, Keys' is hands-on at KCA's twelve clinics and orphan care sites in seven countries in Africa and India, experiences that have clearly transformed her. No wonder she has a great crew of musical girlfriends, who showed up in force that night -- Sheryl Crow and Gwen Stefani, all in top form.

Alicia Keys
Image courtesy of Keep A Child Alive

Sheryl Crow and Alicia Keys Video
Alicia always hits the right note
Sheryl Crow and Bono and Gwen Stefani
from l to r: Sheryl Crow, Bono and Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani at the Blackball

Gwen Stefani lost in the song

The music was outstanding. An easy joy flashed between them as they relished jiving and jamming with sisters of equally formidable powers. They tore up tunes like Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues", Sheryl's "Winding Road", U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday,"  Gwen's "Watcha Waiting For" and Alicia was tender in her delivery of "Like You'll never See Me Again" and Bob Marley's "Turn The Lights Down Low." Keys said, "You don't know what this voice does to me," as she introduced opera singer Kathleen Battle and together they tore up U2's "Miss Sarajevo".


KCA need all the help they can get, and find innovative ways to bring it on, from their original Dollar A Day program to their new Good Cents Initiative.


Nelson Mandela and Bono both big-upped my old friend and hero, Nick Reding, who switched from acting (though you can see him in "Blood Diamond"!) to found SAFE. Perhaps only Nick could have made it happen -- three traveling theatre troupes on the Coast, in Nairobi slums and the wild Masai highlands, performing original plays that make the audience laugh till their hardness to AIDS sufferers crumbles. You may have seen their audacious street theatre in "The Constant Gardener." Truly, Nick's work lives up to SAFE's motto - Compassion, Solidarity and Hope.


Top music at a KCA event is no surprise, as spunky, punky founder Leigh Blake, was a CBGB's regular and Talking Heads cohort in the first punk days. Serious artists gravitate to her work because plebs or celebs, Leigh infects everyone with the feeling they can -- and will - make a difference.

Bono and Padma Lakshmi and Alicia Keys
From l to r: Padma Lakshmi, Leigh Blake, Ali Hewson, Bono and Alicia Keys

Hope is the mission of my mate Mariane Pearl, too. She recently had the (slightly surreal) experience of being played by Angelina Jolie in the film version of her book, "A Mighty Heart", which chronicles  her search for her missing husband Wall Street journalist, Danny Pearl, and dealing with the grim discovery of his video execution by Al Qaeda. She was just in New York to promote her new book,  "In Search of Hope", and to receive Glamour's Woman of the Year award alongside luminaries including Toni Morrison. It gathers her articles Glamour published over  an extraordinary year spent chronicling little-known local heroines on the front lines of Global Warming, the child sex slave trade, and many other flashpoints. Mariane's series received an overwhelming response from American women, whose urge to understand and act on life's inequities has been seriously underestimated. The grandes dames of Mariane's vivid reportage grab their grim fate and shake it till it recedes and is replaced by a positive future.

What's always attracted me to punk is its inclusionary, activist sense of community, and I agree with Leigh and Nick, who both said that when you have service in your life, things get better, and Mariane's positivity proves it.


In signing off, here's a summons from Bono -- "Love thy neighbor is not advice -- it's a command." How punk is that!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

London calling and more from reggae central

Here's This Week's Big Question --
From S.W.

Firstly, a great thank you for turning me onto some great music when I was at school (eg 'Jeannot Ou Est Le Serieux.) Re: NME (the UK music weekly,) when it was putting Sun Ra, etc. on the cover -- do you think that punk can take any credibility for opening up some of this other 'world music' to a wider public, music which seems again to be ignored. The question there somewhere was about Punk's relation to other music, or the music presses brief period of openness. -Question (b) what about music (punky) that you didn't personally like, for example, I don't know Siouxsie and the Banshees? How do you feel about them in retrospect? And is it possible to like the punk ethic (D.I.Y.) and think the Pistols were miserable and wonder why John Lydon always has to sound eternally bored when he opens his mouth. Something to do with Punk's acquired habit of nihilism..? Also, I loved your record with Chantage. Was it a one off?

Hey S.W, I don't know who or where you are, but your letter does strike a chord that zings in my heart. It's so nice you remember that long gone moment when the music press was really experimental, and having a mass youth audience, there was a way that information about stuff you might never have even thought to look for, snuck into your consciousness. Now it's all split up into niche marketing, special interest groups (which can be good), and there are sites like and serving world music fans; but you miss out on that random quality of stumbling across some totally unexpected life changing groove in a style you didn't know you liked.

Just like you, it really was the D.I.Y. punk ethic that got me, babe; though that Rotten snarl trademarked a moment, still gives the chills, and did the job of grating up the charts like nails scraping the paintjob of a new Humvee, Rotten himself was more likely to chill out at home with a wicked dub than a punk 45, and so was/am I. Having said that, "Oh Bondage Up Yours" by X Ray Spex is still a disc to live by/with/for, and the same goes for many punk gems.
The point you make about punk and world music is a good one -- certainly the more complex sounds of post-punk, like Gang of Four or the Raincoats, say, aren't shy to be jazzy; and of course, punk interacted profoundly with reggae, which was the "world music" of the time, as African and other non-Anglophone musics were rarely around. I reckon the rather sad tag of "world music" loosely means stuff that it isn't sung in American or British English.

Gang of Four's - I Love A Man in Uniform

P.S. S.W. -- I love that you remember "Jeannot Ou Est Le Sérieux" and my old Chantage record, "It's Only Money" both from the early 80s! Yes, that twelve inch was our one and only. Maybe me and my mysterious partner in our duo, Moona, should unleash it on the world again. How ever did you find it?


From Drew S.
How would you define the differences between Punk and Ska, both the music and the lifestyles?

From Tee Bob
Lady V, The term "bottom line" is most often used in business usually to achieve goals derived from a strict accounting criterion. How is this concept in tune and in conflict with punk ethic and punk business practices? What is the punk business ethic and where does it stop?
Love and Donuts, Neonsandwich

Since We Last Met:

The Stranglers performed at Camden Town, London's legendary Roundhouse - 30 years to the day since they last played the venue...the Bush Tetras played NY after almost as long away...and arguably the biggest re-reunion of all, the Sex Pistols did LA and London... and here are special reports from our Spies...  

The Stranglers - Midnight Summer Dream

The Bush Tetras - Too Many Creeps



When I labored at punk-rock weekly SOUNDS in London, one of our bright writers was Pete Silverton who went on to co-author "I was a Teenage Sex Pistol" with Glen Matlock, the Tuneful Pistol.

Glen Matlock


Pete Silverton - Our man at the Sex Pistols homecoming happening

Pete reports from London:  "They were the Sex Pistols. They played every song they knew and recorded. It was everything you wanted. It was loud and fun and noisy and familial in a strange kind of way. My son wore my original 1970s black leather Schott jacket, the Ramones one. It was a typical moment of the evening. The audience was far too acute to complain that this was a show rather than the frightening, unstable upheaval of a 1976 Pistols 'performance'. I didn't pay, of course. But I would have."

Jamaican scene maker Wayne Jobson, aka Native Wayne, is a film-maker and top reggae DJ on the West Coast's Indie 103.1. Back in the classic punk time in London, he was a real reggae regular on the scene and had a band back home called Native, together with his wonderful brother Brian. Their daring, haunting album "Rockstone", produced by dubmaster general Lee "Scratch" Perry, is just reissued on the groovy UK label Pressure Sounds. Wayne reports from the Pistols' LA show -- where old cohort John Lydon bigged him up from the stage!

Rare reggae groove from the fabulous Jobson Brothers

"I have seen the future of punk music, and it is the past!" The Sex Pistols stepped onstage at the Roxy in Los Angeles and showed all the clones to the throne like Green Day that they are all still green and that their day has not yet come! Easily one of the greatest front men in history, Johnny Rotten put all the impostors in their place, even reminding the audience that it was the Pistols that started the revolution and not the Ramones! Steve Jones attacked his axe like the crazed Jack in The Shining. Paul Cook and Glen Matlock showed us why they are still "the tightest rhythm section in punk music."

And more from Reggae Central. You want to play for hours, opening the wee envelope flaps to discover the mini-CDs and memorabilia of "Reggae Scrapbook" (Insight Editions), a very personal statement from actor/broadcaster/archivist and Marley specialist, Roger Steffens of Reggae and African Beat magazine, and photographer Peter Simon. They ransack their visual and memory stash to deliver a glorious, very touchable coffee table book of tricks and tales.

Reggae Scrapbook cover by Roger Steffens and Peter Simon Chocka with reggae tchotchkes.

A last word on New Identity Dance Music: By starting the weekly Basement Bhangra parties in Manhattan in 1997, DJ Rekha became godmother to a global movement that made the thundering throb of the traditional tall dhal drum a regular sound on Ibiza dance floors. Guests at Rekha's album launch at writer/producer/actor/siren Tanya Selvaratnam's Lower East Side pad cheered this long-awaited long-player, which features collaboes with Wyclef Jean and remixes by all the bhangra biggies -- Bally Sagoo, Apache Indian, Punjabi MC.

From l to r: DJ Rekha, Tanya Selvaratnam, Vivien Goldman at the Basement Bhangra bash