Tag Archives: Sue Zalokar

A long way from Haiti: Portland’s prince of kompa

eddycangeCOLOR copyBy Sue Zalokar, Contributing writer

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The environmental and political travesties there, coupled with the devastating natural phenomena that have pelted the country are documented over centuries. And with the recent landfall of Hurricane Sandy, it would seem that there is no end in sight for the struggling country.

Eddy Cange, a Portland-based musician and member of the all-Haitian band Balans, knows about the harsh realities of life in Haiti all too well. He grew up there, leaving when he was 24 years old to come to the United States after his parents disappeared and were presumably assassinated in the mid-1980s.

It has been a long road for Eddy Cange, one paved with grief, death, devastation and joy — experiences that fuel passionate and political songs. He has found a home in Portland, where he and his wife can raise their children without the constant, unsettling feeling that everything they have could be swept away with one horrific event. Now 46, the Haitian-American musician has found an outlet for the feelings he has about his homeland — making music. Cange’s band, Balans, will play in a lineup of bands at the Someday Lounge in Old Town, Saturday, Nov. 24.

Sue Zalokar: Tell me about your band, Balans.

Eddy Cange: We have seven players.  All of us come from Haiti.  I’m a singer and a drummer. I play conga, cowbell and drum set. At first we started like a gospel band. We made two CDs. After that, all the players went to school because they are young people.  They all went to college and the band kind of broke down. And then we re group again, so we make the band we have now. We play Reggae, American music and Haitian music – but mostly Haitian music. Continue reading

The Judah blues explosion

Judah Bauer (far right) with his Jon Spencer Blues Explosion band mates, Russel Simins (left) and Jon Spencer (center).

By Sue Zalokar, Staff Writer

When The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion formed in New York City in the early ‘90s, it was like they threw a bomb in the middle of the indie-rock and blues-punk scene — a non-lethal bomb with no bass. The combination of a cacophony of distorted guitars of Jon Spencer and Judah Bauer, the driving, syncopated beats of Russell Simins and the eerie sounds of the Theremin set the stage for a band that would forever be emblazoned in the minds and hearts of an audience that would follow them on their 20 year journey.

Make no mistake, were it not for the pioneering of these three visionaries, the road to fame might have been more rocky for the bands that would follow their lead:  Sleater-Kinney, The White Stripes and The Black Keys to name a few. Continue reading

Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls talks with Street Roots about music and politics

By Sue Zalokar, Contributing Writer

When the Indigo Girls hit the music scene, a queer folk duo from Atlanta was quite the departure from the kinds of role models, female musicians had. Now known for their heart-wrenching, gritty lyrics, warm vocal harmonies and social commentary, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers complement one another like no other duo and they have made their mark on the world of social activism just as intensely as they have on the world of music.

The duo was coming of age, so to speak, in the ’80s when other female-based bands and performers such as 10,000 Maniacs, Suzanne Vega and Tracy Chapman were finding success in the mainstream media. It left an opening for the the duo to shine into the lives of a flurry of listeners who would soon become loyal fans and admirers of their music.

While they continue to produce albums and tour together, they each have created individual careers for themselves as well. Saliers is a restaurateur and author and Ray has a solo musical career that rounds out her musical experience.

Recently, Ray sat down with Street Roots to talk about road maps that have led her to where she is now, the music industry, activism, gay marriage and much more.

Sue Zalokar: You and Emily have been forging the way for not only yourselves, but also the legions of female musicians who have and will come behind you. In your experience, has the music industry evolved at all for women?

Amy Ray: Definitely. It’s not perfect, by any stretch. There are steps forward and sometimes you step back. Sometimes it feels like it’s not getting anywhere. It has evolved though, and there are more opportunities for female artists — more exposure. Part of that is the Internet. There are so many avenues that are free and are open from the normal gatekeepers. Continue reading

Natalie Merchant talks with Street Roots

By Sue Zalokar, Staff Writer

For the tuned in, turned on youths of the 1980s, Natalie Merchant’s lilting quiver was a siren’s song; a soothing intellectual voice for a generation of young Americans.

Her audience has grown up with her, and with her latest tour, they’re bringing their kids along.

At 16 years old, disenchanted with high school bureaucracy, Merchant began college on an advanced placement track.  It was while she was a DJ for her college radio station that she met the other members of what was to become 10,000 Maniacs. Between 1981 and 1993, Merchant’s lyrics and voice were among the most iconic sounds in the new alternative music scene.

Since 1993, Merchant has had a successful solo career, and on Oct. 4 she will be performing with the Oregon Symphony at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Her most recent album, “Leave Your Sleep” (2010), brings to life poetry written about and by children of the Victorian era, and more recently, the hearts of New York City school children. The album, which took more than five years to produce, was a gift for her daughter, but it has become a gift to children of all ages.

Over the phone, Merchant’s voice is as glorious when she speaks as when she sings. She’s explaining why she is late in calling for the interview, and I find myself engaged in an organic conversation with one of the most remarkable voices of the last quarter century.

She starts our conversation by telling me about the one she just left after dropping her daughter off at school.

Natalie Merchant: There has been a case of whooping cough at our school. So I was having a conversation revolving around immunizations and Victorian child death. It’s amazing how many illnesses we just don’t deal with because we immunize.

Sue Zalokar: We have had 650 cases reported in Portland this year — more than twice as many as this time last year. That alone is a good argument for immunizing children.

N.M.: Woodstock (New York) is well known for families that don’t immunize. Actually when I had my child, I lived on the other side of the river from Woodstock. I was told not to take my child across the river until she was a year old because there is so much meningitis and whooping cough.

S.Z.: Did you immunize your daughter?

N.M.: I did because I travel frequently and we lived in Spain quite a bit. My husband is Spanish. We lived on the Southern coast of Spain. It just felt like the responsible thing to do. I did a lot of research. It was the thimerosal that was really frightening, but our pediatrician was able to ensure that there was no thimerosal, or preservatives of that nature, in the vaccines. Continue reading

Portland musician Okaidja Afroso releases his third album, ‘Messenger’

By Sue Zalokar, Contributing Writer

Ghana is a long way from Portland, but to local musician, Okaidja Afroso, the gap is almost imperceptible.

Afroso grew up in Kokrobite, a small fishing village west of Ghana’s capital, Accra. Though he came from a family well known for their singing, Afroso was a dancer first. He worked and traveled with the Ghana Dance Ensemble at the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies, touring the U.S. and Germany and teaching about Ghanaian culture.

It was after a rehearsal one day that Obo Addy, a Portland-based musician who is also from Ghana, invited Afroso to be a part of his musical group, Okropong, in Portland. Afroso was in his early 20s when he packed his bags to make the move to the United States.

Today, Afroso is a vibrant and passionate performer and educator who combines the traditional music of his roots with where he is in the present. He teaches workshops and in schools across Oregon about Ghanaian music, stories, history, geography and language, sharing his culture, in the Ghanaian way, through music and oral tradition.

The idea behind his band Shokoto, he says, is to “find unique sounds.” The band plays music with roots in Ghana, and blends ideas from parts of South and Central America — true to a consummate student of the African diaspora. The sounds incorporate the Ga music from the Southern part of Ghana and the Dagomba music from the Northern part of Ghana.

In his native language Ga, Shokoto means a place of no hardship — a paradise, “a place where we would all like to be,” Afroso says, describing it as existing only in the heart.

Shokoto will perform at the Alberta Rose Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 25 for the release of his third album, “Messenger.”

Sue Zalokar: Tell us about the African diaspora and its impact on music.

Okaidja Afroso: The African diaspora brought so much music to the Americas.  One might ask how they (slaves) were able to preserve that music for the longest time. It is through their drum language. Even though they were not able to play it, they could sing it. We practice the oral tradition.  So many things that we know, many things that I know about my culture, I didn’t read in books. It was actually told to me, it was taught to me. It is my duty to teach it to someone else by speaking it to them, by singing it to them, by playing it to them.   Continue reading

On the road with Grace Potter

The Nocturnals’ front woman talks about finding her own place in music

By Sue Zalokar
Staff Writer

Last year, a fresh face hit the country music scene when Grace Potter  performed a duet with Kenny Chesney on “You and Tequila”.  The Vermont beauty had already made a name for herself in the Rock world a year before. In December of 2010, Grace Potter made an appearances at the VH1 Divas Support the Troops concert. It was a tipping point for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, a band that had its own successes, but nothing like the tsunami of interest that followed the show — fans crashed the band’s website in its wake.

For a few days last summer, their self-titled album even nudged out The Beatles as the top selling artists on iTunes.

Viewers who made it through online quickly learned that Potter is far from a country singer. She and her band are mercurial performers, having made a name for themselves with raucous, lively, rock ‘n’roll performances.

Last week, this dynamic frontwoman, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer celebrated her 29th birthday on stage surrounded by her favorite people, a marching band, and a margarita in hand. This spring, the band released its fourth album, “The Lion The Beast The Beat.” She took time out from her tour, which includes a show July 19 at the Oregon Zoo to talk about her music, sex appeal and the power of a good meal.

Sue Zalokar: How did you and music find one another?

Grace Potter: I fell in love with music by watching movies and cartoons as a little kid. My parents just had videos and so I watched movies. There was a rule in our house that we couldn’t just watch TV, we had to do something. So my sister would paint, my brother would dabble in some kind of crayon situation and I would sit at the piano and play along to the movies. I realized very early on that I had an ear for catching whatever was happening in the sonic landscape and recreating it in my own way.

S.Z.: You grew up in rural Vermont on, as I have heard you call it, the Shire. Can you tell me a bit about Potterville?

G.P.: My parents built it when they were crazy hippies dropping acid in the early ’70s and they were reading “Lord of the Rings.” My dad had this vision of building a house that kind of reflected a lot of the storyline of the book. It’s part Shire, part Rivendell. It’s a beautiful place and as it grew, as the family grew and my parents businesses grew, they just kept building little buildings. They just sort of sprouted up like mushrooms. It turned into a little bit of a compound. It also was a place that the whole band moved back to and we all slept and ate and played music together for the first couple of years as we were coming up as a new rock ‘n’roll band.

Continue reading

Martin Zarzar’s New Beat

By Sue Zalokar, Staff Writer (Photo by Kristina Wright)

Portland is a hub for musicians from all over the world. In the case of Martin Zarzar, percussionist for Pink Martini, he brings the world to our city through his music. Having lived and played all over the world, he is a quintessential global percussionist.

At the ripe age of 3, he began to explore music on the keyboard of Eugene Skeef, a South African percussionist, composer, poet and educator living in London. It was just a year later that he remembers falling in love with the bass at a performance by American-born jazz musician Stanley Clarke.

The depths of his worldview are readily available to tap into on his first solo album, “Two Dollars to Ride the Train.” The album combines a multitude of rhythms — many of which, Zarzar explains, are evolutions of African beats. The songs are written in five different languages: French, Spanish, English, Portuguese and Arabic, which he sings mostly himself.

The album integrates global friendship and sounds.  Though joined by a phenomenal cross section of international musicians,  Zarzar shows his proficiency on many instruments on the album, including guitar, piano, percussion, and Middle Eastern oud.

After a decade of touring with Pink Martini, Zarzar is now taking his own album on tour.

S.Z.: Tell me about the album. How did it come to be?

M.Z.: This album really coalesced between the end of December and the beginning of March. I pretty much recorded the entire thing. I wrote most of the material and had the overarching vision come together for the album.

Being on the road all of the time, you change so much.  It’s hard to come back to the same vision that you had before, so I inevitably started over again each time I would come back home.

This time I set a deadline for myself. You reach the crucifixion age. I’m 33. My grandfather always joked about that – the age of crucifixion. That’s when you get married and you do things that mark your life story.

But the story leading up to these few months (when I recorded the album) is basically the story of my life. I tried to encompass that — it comes through in the album – what you do, who you are.  What you live, informs what you’re doing. Continue reading

The endless journeyman: Portland icon Lewi Longmire

By Sue Zalokar, Staff Writer

Lewi Longmire is a staple in the Portland roots rock ‘n’ roll music diet.  He plays gigs more nights than not, appearing with any number of bands. In a 2008 interview with the Willamette Week, he said that in 2003, he peaked at playing 282 shows that year. He continues to collaborate tirelessly with other musicians, from national to local acts, including Michael Hurley, Victoria Williams, Blue Giant, Dolorean, The Minus 5, Fernando, Little Sue, Casey Neill, Michael Jodell, Freak Mountain Ramblers and The Peasants.

A multi-instrumentalist, the fair-skinned redhead left his home in Albuquerque, N.M., 16 years ago for the more forgiving skies of the Pacific Northwest and headed for the vibrant music scene in Portland. In that time, Longmire has cultivated a reputation as a “hired gun”. He is the booking agent for the Laurelthirst Pub.

He recently returned from an Alaskan tour with the Lewi Longmire Band and sat down with Street Roots to talk about songwriting, the Vanport Flood and life in Portland.

Sue Zalokar: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you play?

Lewi Longmire: That’s the question that everyone wants to know of all musicians. It’s difficult to quantify in that sort of way.  I personally am not into these descriptions of music that are a mish mosh of a person’s influences.  Our music is like Frank Zappa has a baby with Courtney Love and they all go out to coffee.  My music is rock ‘n’ roll music played with the spirit of late 60s, early 70s.  I like it kind of rough and ready. I like more modern music, but I can’t say that a lot of that influence has seeped into my music. I tell people the music is along the lines of Neil Young and Crazy Horse — loud, electric rock ‘n’ roll, but with folk songwriting at its heart. Continue reading

Beat of a gypsy Hart: Drummer Mickey Hart and the universe

By Sue Zalokar, Contributing Writer

Grateful Dead backbeat Mickey Hart has been studying the social and cultural aspects of music for decades from his perch inside the drum set. He came by this interest in instruments of percussion by heritage: His father was drummer and owned and operated a music store.  But it was just after high school when Hart’s discovered the music of Nigerian drummer, educator and social activist, Babatunde Olatunji, and it opened up the world of possibilities for Hart. He would later study with Olatunji, bringing the unique rhythms of world beat music to the both the Grateful Dead’s music and his own.

Hart’s 1991 album, “Planet Drum,” hit number one on Billboard’s World Music chart that year, and won the first-ever Grammy for Best World Music Album. He is the author of four books, has testified before a congressional subcommittee on the healing power of music, and has worked with both the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian to digitize and preserve recordings of his own and others.

This month, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame features a Grateful Dead exhibition: The Long Strange Trip. And at 67 years old, Hart has set out on tour with his band this month promoting his newest album, “Mysterium Tremendum.” Hart captured the sounds of the universe and converted the raw data into samples that he uses on stage every night as the backdrop for his latest musical exploration.

The Mickey Hart Band comes to town May 10 at the Crystal Ballroom featuring a world-class, eight-piece ensemble; Mickey Hart, Dave Schools, Gawin Matthews, Tim Hockenberry, Crystal Monee Hall, Sikiru Adepoju, Ben Yonas, Ian Inkx Herman — not including the universe.

“I’m taking light waves from the universe and transferring them into sound waves and using them as part of the composition on space as part of the music,” Hart said when we caught up with him on tour. “It’s a rock-n-roll format with beautiful songs and these amazing space sounds from 13 billion years ago. It’s a wonderful adventure.”

Sue Zalokar: For those of us who haven’t heard the raw data, What does the universe sound like?

Mickey Hart: That’s a good question.  There are a lot of collisions.  There is also a lot of chirping, a lot of thumping, pulsing. It’s not what you would call music.  It’s what you would call noise. So what I do is I take that data and I bring it from the form of light, or radiation, into sound waves and bring into our very limited spectrum.  And then I make it so that it’s not noise, it’s music.  I sound design it.  I take the raw data and I make it so we humans can make it music and dance to it and enjoy it.  But it comes from those original ‘seed sounds’ that created the universe. It’s the trip of a lifetime. Continue reading

Shocked and reloaded: Michelle Shocked

By Sue Zalokar, Staff Writer

Michelle Shocked doesn’t fit into any category, really, except genuine. She hails from East Texas — a self-proclaimed hillbilly with the requisite degree in the oral interpretation of literature. Having traveled the world as a military brat turned “skateboard punk-rocker” turned folk icon turned student of gospel music turned born-again fundamentalist Christian, she continues to shock her followers into reality as if to say, “This is who I am.  Be who you are.”

At 16, she ran away from home and became a troubadour, residing in squats in Amsterdam and San Francisco. She was arrested for protesting at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco (the photo of her arrest became the cover for her album, “Short Sharp Shocked”). In 1986, Shocked met English music-executive wannabe, Pete Lawrence at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas. He pulled out a Sony cassette player, recorded the session, returned to England and there released the bootleg album, “The Texas Campfire Sessions” without Shocked’s knowledge. Shocked learned months later that she was on the charts in England. In January of 1987, Shocked performed her very first professional gig at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

Shocked signed with Mercury Records in the late 80s and released three albums on the label. The relationship ended in a bitter lawsuit against the corporate machinery, with Shocked retaining full ownership of her songs.

In 2010, she launched Roadworks, an ongoing, 5-year touring project. This month she will “Roccupy” Portland at Mississippi Studios on April 27.

Sue Zalokar: You have said, “I can’t tell you where I am going – as an artist – but I can tell you where I come from.” Where do you come from?

Michelle Shocked: I was a runaway when I was 16.  Unlike a lot of runaways, I finished school.  You know, I didn’t really run away. I was kicked out, I was thrown away and I think that is something that a lot of people – people caught up in that cycle of homelessness experiences – feel. Your self esteem takes such a mortal blow.  You cannot find a single, solid piece of ground to stand on to have any sense of worth that you even deserve the shelter everybody needs. It’s a downward spiral. A lot of people self-medicate, not everybody…I did. But when I finally found a politically active community of squatters in San Francisco, it gave me just enough of a foothold to realize that I wasn’t in this thing alone — that what I was dealing with many other people were dealing with.

I lived in Amsterdam and squatted there, in a fairly liberal economy, it was a revelation to me that it was decriminalized to be homeless. It was like, you weren’t a criminal because you were poor. And when the city and the national government helped its youth, it basically was creating a safety net for them to say, “well they’ve got to live somewhere”.  So we had an entire economy built around squats.  We had squat cafes and restaurants, even a squat barber shop. I was working with a pirate radio station that was in a squat.  So because we didn’t have to struggle with sheer survival, we had the luxury of organizing ourselves into a collective that was very productive and very positive and really helped me to get a foothold. I never forgot that experience.  And then shortly after that, I found out that I was a relatively unknown superstar.  It was like being shot out of a cannon, going from being a squatter to people running up to you on the streets asking for your autograph.  But I never forgot where I came from. Continue reading

Abigail Washburn: The original blend of Americana and Chinese folk returns to Portland

By Sue Zalokar, Staff Writer

If old-time Americana and traditional Chinese music were to meld and produce a flesh-and-blood child, the result would be Abigail Washburn. Combining the two musical genres with her ethereal writing and clawhammer banjo style, Washburn has established herself as one of the most unusual and otherworldly players to hail from Nashville, Tenn.

Washburn spent the first five years of her musical career touring with the all-girl American old-time music group Uncle Earl. She went on to focus on her first solo album, Song of the Traveling Daughter, in 2005. During the making of this album, Washburn met and developed a friendship with premier banjo player Bela Fleck of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

Together with Fleck, Washburn helped form the Sparrow Quartet, which blended East and West sounds. In 2006 — at the request of the U.S. government, the Sparrow Quartet toured Tibet, and went on to perform at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Her sound has captured the ears of Robyn Hitchcock and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. More recently, she was a guest performer at Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration.

In 2009, Washburn and Fleck married and set the stage for a banjo-playing heir that, if ever conceived, will surely be the grand ruler of all things banjo.

Her first songs were written in Mandarin, a language that rolls off her lips as fluently as her native English. You won’t find any songs written in Chinese on her latest album, City of Refuge. What you will find is a collaboration of a diverse “village” of players and contributors, catchy grooves, electronic loops and, of course, that old-time sound.

Washburn and songwriting collaborator Kai Welch will be headlining a show at Mississippi Studios on Sunday, April 1. Local groups, Calico Rose and Casey Neill are also on the bill.  Doors open at 7:30 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m.

Sue Zalokar: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard you play before?

Abigail Washburn: Whew. That’s a hard one. I sit next to people on planes all the time and they say what do you do? And I say, “Well, I make music.” And they say, “What does it sound like?”  I usually say that I play the banjo and I sing. And then I say that I speak Chinese and I sing in Chinese. And I write lots of songs in both English and Chinese, and all of my music is very much inspired by traditional music. There is also an indie, folk, pop quality to what I’m doing these days and maybe a little bit of experimentation with sounds outside of the acoustic realm.

S.Z.: You were heading to study law in Beijing and had not considered a musical career. How did your musical journey begin? Continue reading

Lindsay Fuller interview: ‘Play your heart out, and hope that someone is out there listening’

By Sue Zalokar, Contributing Writer

Dubbed “Flannery O’Connor with a telecaster” by the online magazine Twang Nation, Lindsay Fuller is no longer the Northwest’s little secret.

Now based in Seattle, Wash., Fuller came of age in Birmingham, Ala., and the South still resonates in her raw, warm and foreboding lyrics, aggrandized by her distinct vocal delivery and a voice that has been likened to Lucinda Williams and Nick Cave.

Fuller is coming off of a watershed year for an independent artist. She was part of the Dave Matthews Caravan this past summer, signed with a record label, and now she’s touring with Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls and Jeff Fielder, promoting the release her third album, “You, Anniversary.”  The trio will be playing a CD release show for Fuller’s album on March 27 at the Doug Fir on East Burnside in Portland. Amy Ray appears on the new album’s title track and Fuller is featured on two tracks on Ray’s eighth solo album, “Lung of Love,” which was released Feb. 28.

“It’s just been a bit of a whirlwind,” says Fuller, who took time on a visit to Portland to talk about music, death and stories of the discomforted.

Sue Zalokar: You live in Seattle now, but were born in the South — a region thick with a history of notable storytelling.  Was there someone or some experience that brought out the storyteller in you?

Lindsay Fuller: The South has a reputation for storytelling, but I’m sure there are good storytellers everywhere and I guess my family is a bunch of talkers — a bunch of loud mouths — so I just grew up hearing stories. We all have stories. That’s kind of what makes it worth being around for — hearing other people’s stories and feeling like you can connect with something. Continue reading

Street Books brings a good read to people on the streets

This summer, Portland writer and educator Laura Moulton took it upon herself to bring a mobile library to the streets. Her project captured the attention of not only people experiencing homelessness, but the community at large, people in the media, and a devoted cadre of volunteers. Here, Moulton writes about the journey that became Street Books.

by Laura Moulton, Contributing Writer

The first week in June, I rolled up to the South Park Blocks at Salmon Street and parked my bicycle-powered mobile library. It was drizzling — June appears to be Portland’s new November — as I set the brakes, pulled out the drawer and propped it up. I wiped down the books with a cloth, and took stock of my surroundings. There were guys with backpacks at the north end of the square, sitting together smoking and talking quietly. A group of tattooed kids with dogs on ratty leashes sprawled on the grass not far from me, under what small shelter the canopy of branches above provided. People walked through the square with children, others jogged through with headphones on. Continue reading