Hungary For A Little East-EuroPop?

April 9, 2010 at 8:20 am | Posted in Europe, Hungary | 3 Comments
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by Tripatini staff

Meet Gabriella, Ádám, and Zsolt, Budapest thirtysomethings who formed the electro-pop group Unique in 1997 — and who’ve been music-obsessed ever since they were mini-Madyars. Blonde Gabi, for example, made a splash way back in ’92 when she walked away with “best solo singer” on the Hungarian TV show Teenage Star Search. With her on vocals and her pair of wingmen on keyboards, the trio persevered finally hitting the big time in 2001, when a Unique tune was picked as the theme for the country’s first reality show and they released their first recorded single. Now five albums and various singles and remixes later, they’re a fixture in the top tier of Hungary’s pop music scene, and here’s their latest hit single, Hiszed vagy sem. Its music eminently danceable (as usual), in this video Gabriella dons racoon makeup and a shimmery dress and swans around a dark, glistening pool of water while crooning about a girl dreaming of her departed significant other. We’re told there’s an English-language version of this, with the ungrammatical, slightly garbled title “Unhappy Ending Dream,” but the actual translation of the Hungarian original is “believe it or not.” Confusing? Well, whatever — it’s the most kick-butt boo-hoo we’ve seen in a while, that’s for damn sure…

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Kansas City Jazz Still A Hot Ticket

April 5, 2010 at 8:30 am | Posted in culture and museums, Kansas, Missouri, music, United States | 1 Comment
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by Diana Lambdin Meyer

Jazz in the Blue Room at the Jazz Museum, Kansas CityJazz in Kansas City is not like jazz in New Orleans or in any other great American music city. It’s a little more bluesy, a little heavier on the keyboards and bass, not so bold with the brass. They call it “cool jazz” here, jazz that’s a little gentler on the spirit.

In case you didn’t know, Kansas City is where jazz grew up. After its birth in the Big Easy, the music migrated to KC and became a smart-aleck teenager, with attitude and a vision for the future. That’s what they say in the clubs, anyway. They also tell a good story about how it got here. Anybody who’s lived in this town for very long — and I’ve been here more than 25 years — has heard about Tom Pendergast. He was our Al Capone, our Bugsy Malone — our crime boss back when crime still paid (or maybe it’s just that America’s big-time crooks today are on Wall Street instead of the Mob).

Not a lot got in Tom Pendergast’s way. Certainly not a little thing like Prohibition, that “Noble Experiment” from 1920 to 1933, when alcohol consumption in the United States was illegal. Prohibition just wasn’t a big deal in Kansas City, so when the juke joints elsewhere shut down, when there was no more booze — an integral ingredient of a good night of jazz — the great musicians ended up here. Louis Armstrong. Charlie “Bird” Parker. Ella Fitzgerald. Jay McShann. Duke Ellington. Count Basie. That’s when the local music scene erupted. At one point, more than 200 juke joints operated 24 hours a day.

A Kansas City Jazz Tour
The city, in the heart of America’s Midwest, is bisected north and south by the Missouri River, and east and west by the Missouri/Kansas state line. Many popular attractions, such as the 18th and Vine Historic District, the high-end and high-rise Country Club Plaza, several museums, the former warehouse district that’s now the Crossroads Arts  District, are on the Missouri side of town. Funky little neighborhoods in between these major districts provide an alternative to the ever-expanding suburbs on the Kansas side.

The Blue Room, American Jazz Museum, Kansas CitySome 40 jazz clubs once thrived in the 18th and Vine neighborhood. Today, this district struggles to regain its vibrancy, but come the evening hours, especially on weekends, the vibe changes as music pours out onto the street from joints like the Blue Room, part of the American Jazz Museum. Opened in 1997 in conjunction with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (see below), the jazz museum tells the tale I just told, only in greater detail. It also allows you to become a part of the music — to sit in on keyboards in a jam session or choose the rhythm or chords of a particular piece via various listening stations and composition rooms. It’s a place where you come to understand jazz terminology and, in particular, the feel of Kansas City jazz.

During museum hours, the Blue Room (at top and left) is another exhibit, its walls, bar, and cocktail tables trimmed with old playbills and album covers. But at night, the entrance through the museum is closed, and access to the Blue Room opens from 18th Street. Considered one of Kansas City’s earthier jazz joints, it charges no admission Monday and Thursday nights, and on Friday and Saturday nights the cover is just US$10.*

Across the street is the historic Gem Theatre, where a number of music events are held, including the “Jammin’ at the Gem” jazz masters’ concert series. And just around the corner, the Mutual Musician’s Foundation, part union hall, rehearsal hall, and jazz joint, really gets hopping in the wee hours of the weekends. On Saturdays at midnight, it’s also the site of a live jazz radio show.

One of the edgier clubs in town is Jardine’s on Main Street near the Country Club Plaza; it’s a little louder, a little hipper than other jazz venues. Two of the classics (and my favorites) include the on West 8th Street and the nearby Phoenix Jazz ClubMajestic Restaurant over on Broadway. For an overview of who’s playing at these and other clubs, visit the Web site of the nonprofit group Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors.

Hotels From Hilton to Bargain
Many legends — Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra — have played the Drum Room at the recently renovated Hilton President Kansas City. This hotel is right in the center of everything, and rooms begin at $175.

A nice independent property is the Southmoreland Bed and Breakfast on Country Club Plaza, with 12 rooms named and decorated in honor of local historic figures (from about $130). Or if you’re really on a budget, try the Best Western Inn on Southwest Boulevard, where you’ll pay less than $75. That leaves you plenty of money for barbecue, steak, some Boulevard beer, and other soulful flavors of Kansas City.

More Kansas City Sights
Skyline & Union Station, Kansas City, MissouriThere’s plenty else worth coming to town for these days. A downtown redevelopment effort has created a sports arena and performing arts center to rival any in the U.S. The once-abandoned warehouses of the Crossroads Art District are now home to one of the largest First Friday art walks in the country, and the recently expanded Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art dazzles with its Chinese art, American Indian gallery, and Hallmark photo collection.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum tells of the time when baseball was a segregated sport, and how some of the game’s best players came up through the Negro Leagues. The College Basketball Experience, which isn’t really a museum, celebrates history, too. The men’s NCAA basketball tournament was founded in Kansas City, and 11 Final Fours have been held here.

Containing the most comprehensive collection of World War I artifacts in the world, the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial honors veterans and General John Pershing, a Missouri native who was head of U.S. forces. Exhibits include uniforms, weapons, other gear, a bombed-out French farmhouse, and a hand-dug 90-foot trench. Finally, don’t miss the Arabia Steamboat Museum. In 1856 the grand Arabia riverboat hit a snag in the Missouri River and sank. The boat and its treasures are now displayed in the River Market area — on dry land.

*To convert this and other U.S. dollar amounts to other currencies, see Tripatini’s Currency Desk.

photos: 1-2 Bruce N. Meyer. 3 iStockphoto

We Don’t Need Another Hero — Unless of Course It’s From Japan’s Funky Monkey Babys

March 12, 2010 at 9:20 am | Posted in Asia, Japan, music | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

Adopted as the theme song for the Japanese TV show Zoom In! since its late 2009 release, “Hero” (ヒーロー in Japanese, pronounced “hiiroo”) is the latest single from a trio from a Tokyo suburb called Hachioji, formed as a duo in 2004. Also known to their fans as “Fanmon,” and headed by 31-year-old lead singer Katou Shunsuke (stage name “Funky Katō” ), they’re an undeniably high-energy bunch of dudes who’ve been all over Japan’s media and have managed to corral other celebs into appearing on their albums and videos. “Hero” is an actually rather sweet parable set in the high-octane world of TV news, with an anchorman who learns to make time for wifey and their adoring but neglected-feeling young son. Perhaps the most bemusing thing about Funky Monkey Babys is that they’re considered a “hip-hop” act. By Japanese standards maybe, but these guys come across about as gangsta as Hannah Montana — in our book, file this tune, at least, under “sugar-pop.”

Pop Goes the Traditional Filipino Nipa Hut

February 5, 2010 at 11:26 am | Posted in music, Philippines | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

This time we’re off to the Pearl of the Orient, the Philippines, where a late-2009 hit from the popular band Hale celebrates nostalgia for this sprawling archipelago’s countryside whence most Filipinos come, at least within a generation or two. Bahay Kubo is the sweet, laid-back lead single from this four-year-old band’s latest and fourth album, Kundiman. It’s a bit of a departure for this foursome — their first entirely in Tagalog and focusing on purely Pinoy themes. With a simple story line starring lead linger Champ Lui-Pio and actress Heart Evangelista, the song takes its name from a popular old children’s folk song about a little thatched country house with its little garden (lots of description of produce). The imagery in this song and video is also bucolic, if a bit slicker (but hey, what’s up with that chick wandering around the wilderness in an evening gown?), and its theme involves searching for the one you love and finding shelter in a bahay kubo (played here by a thatch hammock rather than an actual hut).

A Sentimental 80’s Oldie from Hawaii Revived: “Waialua Sky”

January 30, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Posted in Hawaii, Pacific Islands, United States | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

Founded in 1978, the Krush started out as an act performing at weddings and such, graduated to various Waikiki venues, and became something of a Hawaiian musical phenomenon, with a sweet mellow sound typified by one of their biggest hits, Waialua Sky. Fast-forward to three years ago, when Japanese-American singer-songwriter Rob Yamanoha, from Haleiwa, on Oahu’s north shore, releases his album Better, which helped him win in the “best adult contemporary” category at the 2008 Hawaii Music Awards. One of the album’s outstanding tracks was Yamanoha’s cover of this iconic classic, in which ukulele accompaniment and beautifully bucolic video images make the most of the nostalgic feel.

Keepin’ It Musically Real in San Juan’s Barrio

January 15, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Posted in Caribbean/Bahamas/Bermuda, Puerto Rico | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

This past fall, the Latin Grammys were swept by a boricua duo of stepbrothers; tattooed René Pérez (aka “Residente”) and bearded Eduardo Cabra (“Visitante”) were nominated for and walked away with five awards including best urban album and recording of the year. Their act named after their family’s street in the Hato Rey section of Puerto Rico’s capital, the pair started getting major play on island radio in 2005 with a mix of hip-hop, reggaetón, and cumbia; they’ve also become known for their lefty, pro-independence politics. La Perla, winner of best short-form video, was filmed in the eponymous slum alongside Old San Juan and features an appearance by Panamanian salsa legend Rubén Blades. In it, Residente boasts, “I’ve had attitude since I was five,” and “I’m the black sheep of the entire flock.” Yo, yo, no kidding — but clearly, these dudes’
work has struck a nerve, and it’ll be interesting to see if they cross over like other less gritty Puerto Rican acts such as Marc Antony and Ricky Martin.

For Africa’s Largest Country, “The Nation’s Mom” Is A Sassy Chanteuse

January 8, 2010 at 9:21 am | Posted in Africa, Congo, music | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

The above tune, Mbombo, is a typically bouncy, colorful, shimmying piece of ear candy from a woman who’s been one of Africa’s most popular and iconic singers of the last quarter-century. Hailing from Congo, the enormous Central African country reflagged as Zaire for three decades under dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, 51-year-old Elizabeth Tshala Muana is widely known as “Mamu Nationale” (Mom of the Nation), and has even served as an adviser to the country’s current ruler, Laurent Kabila. On the music front, this grandmother of six is also dubbed the “Queen of Mutuashi” (mutuashi is Congo’s Afro-Cuban-influenced dance music), but after more than 30 years in the biz she’s toned it down considerably from the days when on stage she’d throw in generous dollops of “almost half naked” writhing, as one Ugandan newspaper put it. Sure, Mamu’s been at it a while, but she’s obviously still got it…you go, girl!

A New Year’s Eve Blast From the Past: “Another Year” from Spain’s Mecano

December 31, 2009 at 10:00 am | Posted in Europe, festivals/celebrations, music, Spain | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

An oldie but goodie from one of the seminal Spanish pop groups of the 1980’s and 1990’s, newly reunited just this November. Two brothers, Nacho and José María Cano wrote and played the tunes and Ana Torroja sang ’em, and many were quirky doozies — I Can’t Get Up Today, This Isn’t a Serious Cemetery, I Crashed a Party, Stereosexual. This one, from the 1987 album Descanso dominical (Sunday Break) describes the annual New Year’s Eve revelry in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol plaza — “sailors, soldiers, singles, marrieds, lovers, strollers, even the occasional confused priest / Amid shouts and whistles, Spaniards big and small for once do something at the same time.” But the video pulls in imagery from NYE throughout the world as well as movies and TV sources as varied as The Simpsons and the original Poseidon Adventure. Because nothing says “Happy New Year!” like a sinking ship.

Panama Celebs Give Navidad the “We Are The World” Treatment

December 25, 2009 at 9:38 am | Posted in music, Panama | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

Navidad de color (A Colorful Christmas) is a simple yet slick, formulaic yet moving singalong from 2008, sponsored by outgoing (as in, leaving office) first lady Vivián Fernández de Torrijos. Singer/songwriter/producer Alfredo Matheus Diez and actor Fernando Carrillo, both Venezuelan, crammed the Teatro Nacional (National Theater) in Panama City’s beautiful colonial quarter with several dozen local celebs (Matheus is the dude in the red shirt, BTW). Stars from the music scene naturally predominate — such as Erika Ender, Ricardo and Alberto Gaitán, Iván Barrios, Flex, Sandra Sandóval, and the inevitable Rubén Blades — sprinkled with a few actors and pro jocks. Complete with the obligatory children’s chorus and the more recently obligatory hip-hop riff, it’s uplifting and catchy, the title and refrain referring to the kind of Yule experienced by most Latin Americans — not white, but green and all the other colors of nature. “White Christmas or colorful Christmas, whether it’s cold or warm, you’ve got to open up your heart.” Well, who could argue with that?

German Popster Peter Fox Goes Ape in Berlin

December 11, 2009 at 9:38 am | Posted in Europe, Germany, music | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

Germany’s hottest pop star of 2009, the bearded 38-year-old Berliner (né Pierre Baigorry) is a member of the dancehall/reggae band Seeed. Last year he released his first solo album, Stadtaffe (“City Ape”), from which this hit single “Alles neu” is taken (and the simian theme is carried amply into the video, as you can see). The album’s been a Euro-blockbuster, and the song’s striking visuals are matched by provocative lyrics such as, “My head explodes, everything has to change,” and “I burn my studio, sniff the ashes like cocaine, I strike dead my goldfish, bury it in the yard.” Good times…

BTW, another popular song from the same album, “Haus am see (House on the Lake)” was a little more sedate, to say the least — just as well, ’cause after all this strenuous monkeying around, we need a breather.

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