getatchew mekurya

A music recommendation: Ethiopiques Vol. 14: Negus of Ethiopian Sax by Getatchew Mekurya. (It’s on eMusic, although they spell his first name as “Getachew.”)
Mekurya is evidently the greatest saxophonist in Ethiopian history. In the ’50s, he adapted a traditional Ethiopian war chant to his instrument, creating a style based on lots of trilling, wild scale work, and a very Ornette Coleman-sounding free jazz style. The backing band isn’t amazing, but there’s a clear Miles fusion influence there. It sounds inspired, tense, druggy, and spooky all at the same time.
Picture a Quentin Tarantino movie whose climactic scene features John Travolta nervously making an opium deal in the back room of some Turkish bath. This would be the soundtrack. (“Akale Wube,” track 11, in particular.)
In any event, I just find it amazing that this man, completly cut off from the mainstream of the jazz world, could be doing something so innovative — with apparently no knowledge of what Coleman and his peers were doing in the U.S. and Europe.
This is what I miss about the old eMusic. Until October, it offered unlimited free downloads of its entire catalog, which was a terrific incentive to listen to an artist with whom you were completely unfamiliar. Would I have run across Getatchew Mekurya any other way, not being an exceptionally knowledgable fan of jazz or world music? Nope.
Getatchew must be getting up there in years, but he’s still playing, evidently.

txcn appearance

FYI, I just taped another TXCN appearance. It should play hourly through the day tomorrow — might start this evening, too.
Also, should have a front-page story in tomorrow’s paper. Many of my stories appeal to pretty narrow policy-wonk demographics, but I think this one should appeal to everyone. It’s about putting fish oil in school lunches.
I’m off to give a speech I’m utterly unprepared for. Education conference this weekend, so I’ll probably yack atcha in a few days.

new pew blogs debut

You may remember that I was a Pew Fellow in International Journalism last fall, which took me to Zambia for six weeks.
You may also remember that I kept a blog,, while I was overseas.
Assuming your medication is working, you may also remember that I set up blogs for several of my fellow Pew Fellows while they were off galavanting in the countries of their choice. (Jeremy Kahn in Ivory Coast; Noel Paul in Russia; Marcia Franklin in Iran; Jessie Deeter in Sierra Leone; Suzanne Marmion in Egypt; Antrim Caskey in Argentina.)
Well, one of the many things that have kept me busy of late has been setting up and hosting blogs for the next batch of Pew Fellows. I hereby present:
Recuerdos, a blog from Mexico by Molly Hennessy-Fiske of The (Raleigh) News & Observer.
Moscow to the End of the Line, a blog from (duh) Russia by Nathan Hodge of Defense Week.
Anatolian Diary, a blog from Turkey by Siobhan Roth of Legal Times.
Tales From Kenya, a blog from, um, Kenya by Sadie Babits of Arizona Public Radio.
They’ll all be well worth reading, not least because they’re all fabulous people who are working on terrific stories. So bookmark ’em today — they’ll all be in country for the next 5.5 weeks.

npr on cajuns

An update to that last Cajun post: Karen points out this piece from today’s Morning Edition on a related topic — the bizarre prism through which Cajuns are viewed in popular culture.
It’s an interview with Shane Bernard, a guy I’ve been meaning to have a beer with for about a decade now and the author of [the] The Cajuns: Americanization of a People. Shane hits the right points about how a variety of factors (World War II service, the rise of television) led to the loss of much of Cajun culture and how goofy movies like The Big Easy and Southern Comfort caricature Cajuns, generally in unflattering ways. (He didn’t even mention the abominable The Waterboy, a movie whose mere mention makes me angry. For what it’s worth, Passion Fish remains one of the few mainstream Hollywood movie I’ve seen that nailed my part of the country.)
He also hits on one of my pet peeves — those who confuse New Orleans (a fine, fine city in its own right) with Cajun country. Very different places, people. There are essentially no Cajuns in New Orleans, for starters. (There are many more Cajuns in Houston than in New Orleans.) If you see anything Cajun in New Orleans, there’s a 99 percent chance it’s been faked and imported by the tourism industry in the last 20 years. Cajun music, zydeco, boudin, swamps, boiled crawfish — not New Orleans. (And for that matter: jazz, beignets, voodoo, those epic Mardi Gras parades — not Cajun.)

cajun mardi gras

Happy Mardi Gras, everybody.
For those interested, the Louisiana Mardi Gras imagery you’re used to (boob flashing, bead wearing, drunken Kansans) is pretty much limited to New Orleans. In Cajun country, where I’m from, Mardi Gras is more rural and traditional. (And I’d say “better.”)
Mamou and Church Point host the ur-Cajun Mardi Gras. Mamou’s a cute little town, home of the legendary Fred’s Lounge, and home of Revon Reed and Paul Tate, two of the leading Cajun cultural activists of the ’50s and ’60s. (It’s not exaggerating much to say that without folks like Reed, Tate, Dewey Balfa, James Domengeaux, and Barry Ancelet working hard to preserve the traditions of the past, Cajun music would be just another dead regional music by now.)