Thursday, May 28, 2009

Misc. 4.765: North African Autotune. Graffitti on the Wall. Gaida

1. Jace Clayton has penned a nice piece on Autotune for Frieze. I have noticed of late that all contemporary rai vocals coming out of Algeria seems to be 'autotuned.' It drove me crazy, but more recently, and thanks largely to Clayton, I now see the virtue of its uses. Clayton discusses Autotune as a global phenom, and discusses its ubiquity in North African pop. Here are some excerpts--but I urge you read the entire article.
The most important piece of musical equipment of the last 10 years is not an instrument or a physical object. It’s called Auto-Tune and is used on roughly 90 per cent of all pop songs...Auto-Tune bends off-key notes into pitch perfection...
After joking about vocalists who ask him to ‘make their voice robotic’, Moroccan producer Wary says: ‘Sometimes you have great singers who don’t know how to use Auto-Tune and it sounds really bad.’ Traditional singing chops aren’t so useful in Auto-Tune’s world. It’s neither a fight with technology nor love of it; it’s more like glossy coexistence, a strange new dance of give-and-take.
T-Pain’s R&B isn’t the only example highlighting the ‘impassioned melismas’ that Rosen says ‘powered black popular singing’ before Auto-Tune messed everything up. Melisma is equally if not more prevalent in Maghrebi music. This explains the plug-in’s mind-boggling success across North Africa. Contemporary raï and Berber music embrace Auto-Tune so heartily precisely because glissandos are a central part of vocal performance (you can’t be a good singer unless your voice can flutter around those notes): sliding pitches sound startling through it. A weird electronic warble embeds itself in rich, throaty glissandos. The struggle of human nuance versus digital correction is made audible, dramatized. Quite literally this is the sound of voice and machine intermodulating...
At his home studio in the Parisian suburbs, Wary explained that Auto-Tune hit the Arab world with a single in 2000 by Algerian Chaba Djenet (below). Since the start of this decade, it’s been hard to find an album of North African Berber pop where the Tamazight dialect vocals don’t have full synthy Auto-Tune (it’s surprising how much a female voice can sound like a violin on these recordings)...

From the US to Mexico, Jamaica, Africa, and beyond – Auto-Tune usage has splintered, with different approaches from scene to scene and artist to artist. (It remains the most sonically extreme in Berber Morocco.)...Rather than novelty or some warped mimetic response to computers, Auto-Tune is a contemporary strategy for intimacy with the digital. As such, it becomes quite humanizing.

The Chaba Djenet youtube video for "Gwit Galbi Wahdi" is a must-see, because it features the music of Chaba Djenet over a video of Lebanese "pop tart" sensation Haifa Wehbe singing. Hilarious!

2. Courtesy Time magazine, an interesting piece on the latest iteration of graffiti on the apartheid wall. (Thanks, Daniel)

Thanks to a group of Dutch and Palestinian activists, people can now immortalize their words on the wall without a passport or a can of Krylon. For $40, you can compose a message at, and a trio of Palestinian graffiti artists will spray your words on the wall and e-mail you a photo as proof. The only restriction: no messages of hate or anti-Semitism...

So far, the group has written 850 messages, ranging from the quirky (a falafel recipe) to the anarcho-romantic (JOIN THE RESISTANCE: FALL IN LOVE) to the sardonic (ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IS NO MATCH FOR NATURAL STUPIDITY). But most are mushy love notes (M.L. LOVES HER FUNKY D). So one of the organizers, Dutch theater director Justus van Oel, decided to up the ante. He commissioned Farid Esack, a South African religious scholar and former antiapartheid activist, to write a 1,998-word letter, in English, to Palestinians urging nonviolent resistance to the Israelis. The work is now being painted in 2-ft.-high letters along a 1.6-mile stretch of wall near Ramallah. The writing will consume more than 400 cans of spray paint and has been paid for by private donations. The South African was chosen, says Van Oel, because "Esack gets beyond the anger. He is a reconciler." The letter, in part, reads: "Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? In your land, we are seeing something far more brutal, relentless and inhuman than what we have ever seen under apartheid."

3. Check out Syrian-American vocalist Gaida on her myspace page.

"Gaida’s forthcoming CD, Levantine Indulgence, a song sequence of alluring beauty, is steeped in the traditional music of her Syrian heritage, but also shows the eclectic worldview of a New York singer-songwriter," writes David R. Adler, in Timeout New York. I have to say I prefer the "traditional" songs to the more updated material--but check it out for yourself.

4. Finally, the new Narcisyst CD, P.H.A.T.W.A. is now available.

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