Friday, February 23, 2018

Band Review: Kozen

Kozen is a progressive rock band from Toronto.

I had originally thought I read hard rock, and it quickly became clear that was not the case.

While there are some effects that sound a little experimental, especially on Swimming to the Stars (B), the overall sound is pretty mellow. Based on that and the spiritual content, they reminded me of Afterglow (which is a real throwback, I know).

I enjoyed their most recent track, "Barricade", best. I think that has a stronger rock sensibility.

They are a good-hearted band, recently taking time on their space to appreciate other musicians. I do think they might be more successful by emphasizing the spiritual content more, as there are audiences that specifically look for that.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Band Review: Melba Liston

Convergence comes about in odd ways sometimes.

Do you remember the Musical Black Girls post? I had started out wanting to feature Black women in the songs of the day for Black History Month 2015, but I kept finding more musicians. That ended up running through July 23rd with no repeats. Well, Diana Ross and Cissy Houston both came up twice because of solo and group careers, but that was a lot of good music, and I went back and reviewed a lot of them later.

That was the first time I encountered Melba Liston. (It was also the first time I encountered Esperanza Spalding, though not directly.)

Melba Liston was an amazing trombone player, composer, and arranger, but she was also a broke ground by being the first woman trombonist to play in big bands. I found that impressive, but at the time it really only got her one song in the list - "Pop" - and I moved on, except that I remembered that she was there.

This year while looking at children's books, I found one about her, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, by Katheryn Russell-Brown and illustrated by Frank Morrison.

It reinforced how young she was and how quickly she became great. That is not just for starting to play at all, but also for getting good enough to be sought out by popular musicians.

This was also the year that I got around to reviewing Esperanza Spalding and concluding that I hate jazz, and yet here I was, being drawn once again to someone who played jazz.

I did not hate it.

As far as that goes, I probably don't know enough about the different kinds of jazz, though I'd say there is more swing in Liston's discography.

That almost can't be known, because she played for and with so many people. I focused on her recordings as a band leader, but that was a comparatively small part of what she did.

Also, I have nowhere to refer you from here. Liston died in 1999, without creating a web presence. The music is out there, and I linked to a Youtube list of videos with various recordings, but all I can really say is that she was remarkably good at trombone when it would have been easy not to be.

There were things in her favor too. She came from a musical family in a musical city (Kansas City, Missouri), then got to study with Alma Hightower, who inspired many performers. But still, Melba Liston got really good at playing while still really young, and she learned enough about how music fits together to become really good at arranging and composing. She faced opposition for being a woman and for being Black, and she overcame that opposition.

She is worth remembering.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

NAHM 2017 - The Apology

There has been about a twenty year period in which Canada has technically made progress on its stance on indigenous people. I am counting this from a series of residential school recommendations made to the government in 1996 to Justin Trudeau removing Canada's objector status to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) in 2016. It includes some class action suits and the Common Experience Fund payouts referred to in earlier posts. What I want to focus on is the 2008 apology. Yes, the Canadian government, in the form of then Prime Minister Steven Harper, apologized for the residential school system.

This is not unheard of. The US government has officially apologized for slavery, internment of the Japanese during World War II, the Tuskegee experiment, and overthrowing Hawaii. In this case, it was a class assignment to listen to and write about Harper's apology.

The first thing that none of us could help but notice is the lack of responsibility government. Everything was stated in a passive sense, as if the schools were not carrying out government policy and it were not a policy that was based on racism and greed.

I suspect some of that is  "Well it wasn't us personally who did it." At the start, no, but for some of the things that continued, there could very well be sitting members of their legislature who were involved. That's the one thing you keep finding when you look at history; the past is closer than you think.

There is probably some desire to wash hands of it: "We agree this is bad and we aren't going to do it anymore, so lay off, all right?" White people get really uncomfortable when you talk about horrible things done because of racism. If you keep things distant and neutral enough, maybe that can make them less uncomfortable, though my memory of any government apology is that some people get really mad about them.

The thing I really noticed though, was how one-way it was.

No, that does not mean that I think both sides should have been apologizing, but I do think the one that is admitting wrong should at least consider listening to those wronged about what they would like done.

I'm sure there are concerns about expenses; we can't even get the United States Congress to agree to study reparations, let alone pay them. Beyond that, I suppose there could be some fears about the practicality of possible requests:

- We want you all to go back to Europe.
- We want to release smallpox on your population.
- We want to take away all the children you are clearly unfit to raise.

(That last one is not just a reference to the residential schools, but also the practice of taking children for adoption and fostering, prevalent from the 1950s through the 1980s, not really ancient history.)

I don't think the bulk of indigenous people would be likely to say anything like that, though I can imagine the 1491s coming up with some great comic material related to it. It would also be possible, in the face of a sincere request that would disrupt all life as we know it, to then look for a compromise, or an end goal that can be worked toward that benefits everyone.

I do think we need to make a room to hear anger though. Maybe you will hear more sadness than anger, which can also be uncomfortable. We still need to make room to listen to it.

The bad feelings are still there. If the dominant group is able to ignore them, and wants to continue that by plastering over things, that's just putting a nice surface over rot. We have to do better than that.

I have this segue in mind from Indigenous American issues to issues of sexual harassment and abuse that I should get to Monday.

Until then, well, you can probably draw a few connections on your own.

Just think about it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

NAMH 2017 - Reverberations

I want to briefly return to Dawn's parents initially saying they didn't have it so bad compared to others. There are reasons that could be true.

For one thing, Dawn's mother only attended for two years, when she was already a teenager (probably a big part of her being able to speak Cree). That put her in the path of the abuse for a much shorter time than other students.

Without it being specified, I am guessing that it was possible for her to spend most of her childhood at home because it was getting closer to our time, and some of the policies for killing the Indian inside the child were loosening their grip. This also makes it very likely that older generations could have suffered more, in general.

Another thing she did mention was not getting beaten for attempting to run away, and being glad she hadn't gone with the girls who tried. Clearly, failure to comply could lead to greater suffering, but greater suffering may have made it harder to comply. The students who tried running may have had worse homesickness or a harder time with schoolwork or other things that made staying at the school less tolerable.

Dawn's father had a humorous memory about how long you could stay in a closet, hiding from a beating by the older boys. He was able to successfully hide, but beatings were still a danger, and not from the priest.

Granted, older kids can bully younger kids at any school, but that it was an environment where the children did not have a lot of power and were in the middle of structural racism could be the kind of thing that led to more abuse. Not every child was raped by priests or nuns, but a system where you could be raped and then be told that's all you're good for is not a set up to inspire kindness and mutual respect.

It is also easy to assume that the mass graves and the hidden individual graves are part of an earlier time, but as recently as 2011 there was interference with investigations, and still living witnesses about some of the deaths that would have been hidden.

Those are all things that are hard, but the thing that kept getting repeated the most is that multiple generations didn't know how to parent. They were taken from the parents who loved them for an education by people who despised them. They were unsure how to show affection to their own children after that, even if they didn't pick up any other demons.

You can see how some of the residential school abuse might result in parents who were likely to be physically abusive or sexually abusive, or that they might have reasons to abuse substances, like alcohol. That's the stereotype, right? Indians tend to become alcoholics because they didn't have the genetic background of years of becoming accustomed to alcohol that built up resistance to alcoholism.

This makes sense because alcohol abuse is so rare among people of European descent, and because there was no history of Indians being systematically killed and relocated and setting down roots only to be uprooted again and again, each time to a place with fewer resources where starvation on the land was likely and getting off the land was not allowed, and then they started separating families.


Dawn's mother frequently left her father because of his drinking. They would keep reuniting, bound by love and children. It would be easy to think that her loving him more if he could speak Cree was a joke, but what would it mean?

If her father could speak Cree, would that mean that he had spent more time with his own family? Would it mean that he had spent more of his formative years where his heritage was valued instead of seen as something to be stamped out?

If the residential schools hadn't been part of his growing up, would he still have the drinking problem?

Once you set damage like that into motion, where does it end? You can't always control results.

And in this case that's a good thing; the goal to eliminate the Indians - physically or culturally - was abominable and it failed. It still caused a lot of pain, and much of that pain is still there.

How do you fix that?

Monday, February 19, 2018

NAMH 2017 - Talking about it

Getting back to Nobody Cries At Bingo, while the part about Dawn's mother loving her father more if he could speak Cree did stick in my head, it meant more to me after other people asked about it.

One thing that does is remind me that taking a class in person instead of online, or being in a book club again, could be great. Beyond that, I think I didn't focus on it as much because there was something else that seemed more important.

What the children learned about the residential schools horrified them, but their parents shrugged a lot of it off. As more people started coming forward, they agreed that those stories sounded bad, but that it hadn't been like that for them, at least not that bad. Well, maybe it was kind of bad. Eventually both parents applied for Common Experience payouts, for which their children teased them. That is when the exchange about the language happened.

That can easily sound cynical, and Dumont acknowledges in the book that they thought their parents deserved it. (Having a chance to tease their parents was just an opportunity that needed to be seized, which I get.)

What was more interesting to me was what was said along the way, before payments were available.

p. 268

Mom told us about always being hungry. "My stomach would hurt but that's only because I was used to eating so much more at my mom and dad's. Sure it bothered me that the nuns and priests ate better than we did. That was to be expected, they're God's helpers." Her off-hand manner was confusing; it was wrong to hurt children, but how come Mom and Dad weren't mad about what happened to them?

Honestly, my initial preoccupation was probably just anger, and maybe an idea that if you are really sincerely trying to help God it's not likely to involve eating well while children under your care starve.

Beyond that, the denial bothers me, and the need to justify it. Maybe it's a survival mechanism; you tell yourself how much worse everything could be and isn't, and that's how you get through and then how you continue to remember it.

What became interesting after that was seeing that it was other people telling their stories that allowed the parents to start admitting to themselves that it was bad.

The next post is going to spend a little longer on the effects of the residential schools, and what that has meant for families, but before going on to that, I want to point out that hearing other people share their stories can help us tell ours.

It can be dangerous to draw comparisons between different types of oppression, mainly because it tends to let the more privileged group forget their privilege and erase others who are more marginalized. There are nonetheless sometimes things that do relate and are pretty hard to miss. There are things about the residential school issues that remind me a lot of the #Metoo movement now. One is that some speaking up lead to more speaking up.

If you want everything swept under the rug and for things to get back to normal, that is bad news.

If you care about people, if you know that abusing people is wrong, and it benefits abusive people not to examine that, if you know how hard it is to hold on to a sense of your worth when it seems like the whole world is telling you that you have none, then you know these conversations are important.

There was a web page the class sent us too that had residential school survivor stories. The stories were powerful and the sheer number was overwhelming. I wanted to link to it here, but now the page is down. Maybe it's a coincidence, or maybe funding was pulled because it wasn't a necessity, or maybe there was something malicious. I don't know.

It does seem like a loss.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Band Review: Palaceburn

I am pretty sure that I was led to Palaceburn back in September via a Black Women Appreciation thread, because of vocalist Meredith Bell.

Bell's voice is certainly worth appreciating, but a desire to pursue music with others - rather than solo - led to the formation of Palaceburn, a Philadelphia-based rock band.

The music tends to be harder, brushing up against metal. Without being soft, the piercing clarity of Bell's singing adds an element that takes makes the overall sound more palatable than many metal bands.

I was particularly intrigued with some of the guitar and percussion details that add intricacy and interest to the sound. The intro to "Believe" makes me think of a zither at the same time that I am feeling like there is something futuristic about it. That's a pretty neat trick.

I was sad to see from the band's Facebook page that they are on an indefinite hiatus. I understand life's uncertainty (more and more all the time), but we may be at a point where burning the palace is more necessary than ever.

Best wishes for the band, and all of us.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Band Review: Delta Deep

I came to Delta Deep in a roundabout way.

Last June I went to see Tesla, Poison, and Def Leppard. One of my favorite songs from Tesla was "Save That Goodness". Its video featured not only Phil Collen, who wrote the song, but vocalist Debbi Blackwell-Cook. I wanted to hear more of her, as she had a fantastic presence.

Searches revealed that most of her work had been backup vocals, but that she was in a band, Delta Deep. Okay, I would review Delta Deep.

I liked the connections of Tesla and Def Leppard touring together, and sharing songs, but the connections go so much further with Delta Deep.

Blackwell-Cook is Collen's wife's godmother, and sang at his wedding. The three of them began writing songs together, and a band began to form. Blackwell-Cook and Collen were joined by Forrest Robinson on drums and Robert DeLeo on bass.

People jamming and finding that they want to record and tour is both special and common, but it is impressive to grasp the combined experience of this quartet. In addition to Def Leppard, Cullen was also in Man Raze with Simon Laffy (also of Girl) and Paul Cook (also of Sex Pistols), both of whom appear on the "Black Coffee" track.

Robert DeLeo has played in several bands, but most famously for Stone Temple Pilots. Forrest Robinson has drummed for TLC, Ray Parker Jr., Randy Crawford, and Engelbert Humperdink. As well as performing theatrically, Debbi Blackwell-Cook has sung backup for Michael Buble and Gregory Hines.

Putting all of that together -- the years of experience, and the range, and the connections -- it is no surprise to find featured appearances by Joe Elliot and David Coverdale. It shouldn't be a surprise to hear traces of root music and soul and lots of rock and so much blues.

One of my favorites was "Bang the Lid". The intro reminds me a little of "Ram Jam's "Black Betty", but it is its own song and it certainly doesn't sound like anything forty years old.

Delta Deep is their own band, and they are new, but they bring with them a rich musical tradition that they can pull from to build whatever they want.