Category Archives: Music

MVP, Still a ‘Baadasssss’

Melvin Van Peebles is cooler than your grandfather.

Case in point, the controversial 78 year old singer/director/actor/writer still regularly performs with his band, cheekily named Laxative (because, according to their Facebook page, “they’re a crew of musicians who make sh** happen and get sh** done”).

The show opened with a masterful  jazz-funk cover of the song “Won’t Bleed Me” from Van Peebles’ notable 1971 Blaxploitation film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.  Armed with a large book, literally of Biblical proportions, Van Peebles took the stage.

Laxative provided smooth (pun slightly intended) background music complimentary to Van Peebles’ contrasting raspy vocals. Using a sprechgesang style of performing, each song was like an intimate storytelling session with a respected elder.

Encouraging audience participation and often referring to his band members as “brothers and sisters,” Van Peebles created a sense of community while sharing songs about relatable struggles such as heartbreak and financial hardships. The venue, Zebulon, instantly transformed from a standard Williamsburg bar into what felt like an intimate gathering in someone’s living room.

Though Earth, Wind, and Fire famously performed the soundtrack for Sweetback, Laxative does not possess their same finesse. While including a similar fusion of funk, soul, and blues, the band is more subtle and consists of a calculated roughness.

Performing regularly at local venues such as Zebulon, Laxative also plays internationally, having recently done a show in Paris in February. The audience consisted  mostly of 30-somethings and hipsters who just happened to stroll into the bar.

During intermission, Van Peebles mingled with members of the audience and his girlfriend, who, he joked on stage, was not his niece, but his “squeeze”.

A true character, Melvin Van Peebles himself is almost more entertaining than the band’s music.

During one of the songs, the band crooned, “We’re all just actors in life’s play” and going to see Laxative is like being a part of an underrated off-Broadway play- unexpectedly fun and entertaining.


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Tengo hambre, dame Quimbombo

Normally, I’d say Quimbombó tastes great but in this particular case, I say Quimbombó sounds wonderful. The former Quimbombó is a Latino gumbo, the latter a Cuban musical group specializing in Son Cubano. This group performed at the BAMCafé in my borough of Brooklyn to celebrate the citywide ¡Si Cuba! Festival.

The inside of BAMCafé is a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare. Every square inch of the already cozy space was occupied by a body. The air is dense as dozens of people patiently draw their breaths in anticipation for the performance. Downstairs the situation was even worse. Scores of poor, unfortunate souls waited there as if trapped in purgatory, unable to ascend the café’s escalator into its crowded heaven.

Though I’ve never had the pleasure of listening to this group perform before, when they hit the stage I was greeted by very familiar sounds. Son Cubano is a relative to Salsa, a musical style I’m quite familiar with. When they played, percussion of African origins filled the air. It resonated throughout the walls and into the body like a stylishly rhythmic heartbeat. This clearly African beat melds with the Spanish guitar and lyrics reflecting a society established by Spaniards centuries ago; a meeting of two very different cultures that invigorates. You needn’t take my word for it; one glance at the audience would tell you all you need to know. Excitement and passion replaces the discomfort. Hips undulate rhythmically, feet shift side to side despite the lack of space and even those who don’t know how to move like a Latino, move their bodies to the beat anyway. Yes, this is Son Cubano. All it needed was some more brass and it would be just like the very same music I grew up listening to. Of course, this doesn’t surprise me, both Cubans and Puerto Ricans are the result of the melding of Spaniard, Taíno and African peoples.

The excitement and desperation to see this band perform is well deserved.

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The Little Band That Could…

The number one rule for a free concert by a band that you barely know anything about is to not arrive a few minutes before the concert starts. You could be in for an unexpected surprise.

As we walked up the escalators into the dimly lit, intimate BAMcafe, the place was already packed at least an hour before the show. The tables in the front were filled, those who could not get seats stood in groups at the sides or in the back around the bar and others who were just coming in tried to squeeze themselves into whatever space was available. By the time the main attraction arrived, the room was at full capacity with a long line of people waiting downstairs hoping someone would leave so they could enter.

Inside Bamcafe

Then Quimbombó hit the stage for their second appearance at BAM, and the discomfort of the crowd slowly faded away. The Afro-Cuban band, which actually has eight members, only had five Friday night: two Conga drummers, two guitarists and a trumpeter. However, the size of the band did not stop them from filling the entire cafe with excitement, laughter and joy with its smooth, lyrical melodies and lively, danceable rhythms.

As part of the ¡Si Cuba! Festival, a New York celebration of Cuban arts and culture from March to June, the legendary band, whose name is Spanish for “okra” or “gumbo,” specializes in the Afro-Cuban style of Son. The genre of Son, which Black Cubans developed in the early 20th century, mixes together the guitars from Spanish culture and the percussion, and vocal and musical rhythms (ex. call-and-response, syncopation) from African culture.


The freedom and sensuality with which the band plays and sings stems not only from that mixture, but also the history of the genre, which was illegal in Cuba before 1925 in an effort to suppress black culture. Quimbombó definitely follows in the tradition of other Son bands, like the innovators, the Sexteto Tipico Habanero band from the 1920s, and stands with the genre’s derivative, Salsa, including musicians like Tito Puente and Celia Cruz.

Audience members, some from the Brooklyn area and others who traveled from as far as Cuba to see the band, could not resist the band’s grooves, especially in songs like “Con El Trapo Rojo.” Couples found whatever space they could to dance with each other. One man loosely glided across the floor, embarrassing his friend, who eventually got up to move herself. Two old ladies joined in on the fun and shook their hips. Even the rhythmically-challenged could not help but bop their heads.

Quimbombó played an acoustic set with the guitars playing sweetly and softly against the slightly forceful pulsating drums, and although the trumpeter only had a few parts, his sound added flavor to the other instruments by giving the band a bigger and fuller sound. The singers flowed with the instruments, falling somewhere between rhythmic rapping and singing with their call-and-response technique.

Since the band’s formation in 1995, Quimbombó has released two albums, Quimbombó (2004) and Conga Electrica (2008), both of which received critical acclaim. Currently they are touring the city, playing at various venues and answering booking requests.

Which brings us to rule number two: have a party coming up, book this band!

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Now back when I was young and dumb but thought of myself as the sharpest tool in the shed, I had a deep seated hatred of reggaeton. It was the new music genre of my people and although many will argue that originated elsewhere, it was undoubtedly popularized by Puerto Ricans. Yet, I hated it. The lyrics were dumb, every song used the same beat and it was only about one thing: sex. Oh how I would berate those who danced to it, those poor morons with terrible taste in music. These teenagers, these children, these peers of mine, how could they possibly enjoy that rubbish? And the dancing! How could my friends possibly enjoy having girls grinding on them…wait.

Well fortunately I grew up and saw the error of my ways. There is really good reason for why the music became so popular and why you can still hear it played in Latino-centric dance clubs and on Spanish radio stations. It’s the raw sexuality it exudes that gives it the appeal and raw sexuality is what many of us Latinos excel at for whatever reason (I blame the Spaniards). When I came to finally accept my fate as a papi chulo, as a Don Juan (you see the Spaniard connection?), as a vessel for the steamy Latin passion my culture and stereotypes in the media say that I possess, I found myself falling in love with reggaeton. No, it isn’t intellectually stimulating like say classical music nor does it require the technical skill of heavy metal and it certainly isn’t about real life issues like old school rap. It isn’t even as sentimental as more traditional Latino music but it does excel at one thing that no other genre can even come close to. Reggaeton makes both genders go into heat like horny dogs. It’s a primal return to our roots. Through reggaeton, you can become closer to our animal brethren. You can make like a bonobo [CAUTION: THIS LINK IS VERY EDUCATIONAL] and bump your sexy bits. The only real reason I hated it was because I thought the hypersexualization was immature and uncivilized.

Well, whether or not reggaeton appeals to you really depends on how conservative you are. As for me, I learned that being civilized is overrated.

Dame lo que quiero.

Posted in Music, Music Rant/ love song | 1 Comment

A cup of coffee and live music soothes the soul

When under-the-radar, folk and pop artist Brooke Campbell took her corner of the modern art deco 92YTribeca Café to perform a free show,  I didn’t know what to expect. Listening to a few of her tracks online didn’t prepare enough for the mesmerizing performance I later heard in person.

Artist Brooke Campbell belts out a soulful lyric.

Settled with a coffee at my own high chair corner beside glass windows overlooking Hudson street, I was mere feet from the performer and instantly taken by both what I saw and heard. Performing with only a dark mahogany varnished guitar accompanying her soothing vocals, Campbell’s voice was nearly bare but beautiful. The singer opened her set to an audience of barely ten with a few soft words and soulful music and lyrics that had me moments from slipping into a dream and focused on the reality outside my window.

Hailing from the small coastal town of Whiteville, North Carolina, Campbell’s soft, southern drawl and clear folk music influences peeked out from below her voice. Her folksy yet jazzy and soulful pieces were laced with melancholy lyrics and breathless vocals reciting the trials of life and love. More than once, her crooning made me turn to look at the nighttime view outside and reflect on my own trials as the day looped to her soundtrack.

That soundtrack included tracks like “Sugar Spoon,” “Why,” and “Please Go,” off of her second, most recent release, Sugar Spoon, songs from her first album, Better, and covers of a few unknown folk songs. (Here’s a listen- Stretched Towards You)

One was based on a poem about Civil War soldiers returning to the women who had been doing their jobs in the mens’ absence.  Mentioning that she liked singing this especially because her brother had just safely returned from the war, Cambell allowed me to see a genuine personality to match her almost vulnerable voice.

With a sound similar to pre-pop Jewel and Ingrid Michaelson’s, Campbell voice was easily likable and her set pleasing to the ear. My only gripe might be that her music lacked variety. Theresa Roca related to this.

“Although Campbell clearly possesses the qualities of passion and talent, when on stage, she sings in the same quiet tone, lacking energy.” Roca said.

Campbell’s songs differed mainly in range. Some, she sang in a consistently mellow tone. On others, she reached for especially high notes that sounded a depth of feeling from more than her diaphragm. It was easily visible that these songs were being delivered from the heart from the way Campbell closed her eyes in intense focus on her vocals and guitar strumming. Similarly critically acclaimed by bloggers like The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout, and playing a constantly changing calendar of live shows at similar venues, Campbell did her reputation and her music justice.

Share the love for a Better, Sugar Spoon

Those as captivated as I was by this promising artist could purchase either of her albums for $10 at the cafe. Diners I bumped into by the milk and sugar generously shared their positive critiques and I was positive Campbell had made such an impression that these might sell quick. It was a short and sweet performance for nothing but a coffee.

A sentimental and cautious musician with a well of emotion seeping through her words and vocal chords just like the lyrics to “Sugar Spoon” suggests; “Never felt more happy, or in control/ bouncing off the wall and into a dark hole,” Brooke Cambell is definitely an artist with great potential. With a little word of mouth, I think it’s only a matter of time until this artist gets a taste of her sugar spoon.

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Brooke Campbell proves to be a quiet storm at 92Y Tribeca’s Cafe Series

In a near empty room at the 92Y Tribeca cafe, there she stood calmly, clasping onto her guitar as if it was her shelter, eyes closed as if she was escaped, and voice soothing the air softly yet distinctly. As Brooke Campbell ended her first number, and from every number then on, she would say “Thank you very much,” in an unmistakable southern accent. Comforting the quiet room with a soft smile, she poured herself into another song, once again, escaping into a place where no one else was present. The world consisted of she and her guitar, and the crowd willingly watched her live in it.

Campbell defines herself as a folk-pop singer. Yet, her quiet, feather like tone rides the edge of soft blues, while drops of country itch out without knowing. It is a beautiful combination, paired with her guitar and innocent nature. She sings as if music is all she has left, sounding almost weak from her past endeavors. Blending in perfectly with her essence was the environment: the dim, red-lighted setting combined with the small yet homey art space of the café invited her voice right in. If a crowd member closed their eyes, they might just get lost in a world of their own.

Her music is somewhat on the sad end, a pro or a con depending on one’s mood. Singing lines such as, “Soon I’ll be just another girl. Soon it won’t matter that we loved,” her voice screamed of helplessness, while barely being loud of enough to catch the words.

Campbell performing at 92Y Tribeca.

After singing a few songs from her latest album, Sugar Spoon, such as Why?, Sugar Spoon, and Please Go, she sang covers of other artists, such as Willie Nelson’s Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. If unfamiliar with Nelson’s music, the song could be mistaken for one of her own. Her distinctive nature is present in every song she sings—she simply does not try. It is who she is.

After her hour-long performance, her genuineness shined as she came and shook the hand and spoke to everyone in the crowd. Stating she originally is from North Carolina, her welcoming personality is now understood. She is a Southern belle at heart, and it shows throughout her music.

With the natural talent she holds, it is disheartening to see such a few number of people in the crowd, especially at a free event; there were no more than 15 people present. But like many other musicians, Campbell is working to make a name for herself. She has had three albums, the latest being Sugar Spoon which was released in 2009. She has gotten some attention from press, including the Arts Journal, but beyond that, she has a long road to travel before she claims any true acclaim.
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Nonetheless, regardless of anonymity or fame, Campbell is a talented musician who’s voice provides emotional relief from current troubles. If her next performance costs, it would be well worth the pay.

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And You Call Yourself a Singer?

What I’ve noticed lately, is that every day there are more people popping up and calling themselves “singers” when they’re really entertainers. Some of them aren’t even talented, but become famous because they put on a good show.

Ke$ha rocking the uncombed hair look

Ke$ha is a perfect example of this. Her lyrics are funny, she makes noises and growls in her songs, and her hair normally has an uncombed look to it. Although this all makes her great to watch, her actual voice is high-pitched and irritating. She can’t compare to someone with real talent, like Madonna, and yet she’s famous because we all want to see what she does next.

The same goes for Lady Gaga, who rose to fame by making a spectacle of herself. Her ridiculous outfits and crazy persona overshadow her music. She uses blood and makeup and hairpieces in her performances.

Eric Rachmany, lead singer of Rebelution

Now, I like a good show as much as the next person, but I’d much rather go to a concert and hear REAL music, a concert where the focus is the talent, rather than the costumes and props. I recently saw Rebelution perform at Irving Plaza and I thought to myself, this is what music is all about. The concert focused solely on the band’s talent.

The lead singer was passionate and sang in tune the entire time. You could tell he was feeling the song and he prolonged stares with audience members to make sure they were feeling the same as he was. That’s what I call a real musician. I’d like to think one day entertainers will stop calling themselves musicians and leave the singing to people who are actually talented.

Posted in Music Rant/ love song | 4 Comments

Noize Brought Little Webster to Life

The streets were cluttered and the lights shined bright red, indicating to all that a huge event was underway. The loud sounds of bass could be heard from outside, reaching the ears of eager listeners, antsy to dance and party to the main event. As the doors opened and techno lovers began piling into the hall, it was obvious the main objective was to be captivated by the astonishing digital sounds of Boyz Noize.

“Do you guys know what time Boyz Noize performs,” said one excited man as he hurried up the steps and toward the bar to consume more of the alcohol that could be smelled on his breath.

The streets filled with comers and goers as people took pictures, passed out fliers, smoked cigarettes and attempted to hold their liquor down, as they waited to enter Webster Hall, located on 125 east 11th street. By the sight of the sidewalk being packed with people patiently waiting to hear the electronic sounds of the gifted DJ, it became no shock that this night in Webster would be one to remember.

When looking at Webster Hall, the small house like appearance can be deceiving, until you enter and find three floors, each with wide open dancing space, capable of holding large crowds. Certain areas of the floor were carpeted and black light shined in various places throughout the club, even the bathrooms in the lower levels.

The floors vibrated and the walls shook as the sounds penetrated each corner of the fog filled hall. Groups gathered around each of the three bars located on every floor with bartenders’ running back and forth making sure to get everyone’s order.

When the clock finally hit 1 am, fans charged upstairs to hear what they all paid for, Boyz Noize, and he didn’t disappoint. The German DJ took control of the masses with quick, pulsating synthesized beats that literally could be felt through the body like an additional pulse. Spectators jumped to the sounds that shot from the advanced computerized equipment as DJ Alexander Ridha mixed and scratched.

Beginning in 2004, Ridha or as known by his stage name, Boyz Noize has received a number of awards including the 2010 Independent Music Award as well as Best Electronic Artist on Beatport for three years straight. These achievements are among a few that have earned the title as one of the most valuable electronic artists.

Ridha has worked on multiple albums such as “Death Suite” and “Lemonade,” collaborating with a number of artists. He has also remixed and worked on various songs with such artists and music talents as The Chemical Brothers, N.E.R.D, Snoop Dogg and the Black Eyed Peas.

Without a doubt, Boyz Noize has a knack for stealing the show with his bright, multicolored strobe lights and multiple screened monitors flashing his name, as well as lights, further amazing the audience.

Though, he mysteriously appeared out of nowhere without being announced, once the beats exploded from his turntables and computers through the large speakers upstairs, crowds throughout the club, on each floor, rushed to the stage. The night was of epic proportion as people seemingly worshipped his feet as his synthesized music penetrated the ears and gave Webster Hall a unique heartbeat.

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Hip Hop and Ya Dont Stop…or Do You?

Please and Thank You

Imagine it is the early 90’s, Gameboy colors and Macintosh computers were all the rage, girls were shamelessly wearing mom jeans and keds and boys had colorful windbreakers and were bumping music through stereos they’d carry around on the street. Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills 90210 were some of the popular shows of the time and Hip Hop music was breaking through onto mainstream music.

Dj Kool Herc

Hip Hop first originated through DJ Kool Herc, a native New Yorker who collaborated music and soulful lyrics together and inspired many rappers to do the same.  Artists such as Jay Z, Nas, The Notorious BIG, 2pac, Mobb Deep, Run DMC, Dr. Dre, Pete Rock, A Tribe Called Quest and countless others started breaking onto the airwaves and set impeccably high standards for the definition of hip hop.

As years have passed, I (along with I’m sure everyone else in the world) have come to realize that this beautiful and once respected genre of music has sadly taken some crazy out-of-control turn into what I can’t even begin to claim is hip hop anymore. Newest artists on the rise include Waka Flocka Flame,  Wiz Khalifa, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj (Team Lil Kim forever) and others have turned Hip Hop into some kind of joke. An example of this can be seen in a new song by YG (I know…who?) called “Toot it and Boot it.” These are the disgraces that are being played on the radio and that oddly enough the younger generation seems to enjoy.

Oh really?

Even the OG’s of hip hop have sold their soul and have began to demean their talents just to get played on the radio. (like hello… Snoop Dogg is featured on every track ever made) This leaves me to wonder… what is going on here? Why is it that great rappers like Jay Z and Dr. Dre feel the need to turn their talents and make them “pop”ish just to get fans to like them? You could blame it on the kids but I’m sure if rappers just stuck to their roots and produced the once amazing tracks there once were there wouldn’t be such controversy.

This also brings on the scary thought that maybe all the good hip hop has just simply died out. Maybe, every amazing track has already been made and after a while it could simply just get repetitive? I’m not one to be pessimistic, so I will say that there are definitely new artists who are trying to bring back the true meaning of hip hop. If you want to check them out you can click here but in the meantime I guess we all just have to hope for the best and listen to old school hip hop to remind ourselves it was once amazing.

Posted in Music Rant/ love song | 7 Comments

Oh Pandora, you dirty slut.

“He’s not free at that time.. he has an availability at 4 o’clock though..” I repeated robotically into the phone, for the second time, to the absent-minded client. Around me blow dryers were whirring loudly and my coworkers at the receptionist desk where I work were all yelling behind me. At least it felt like yelling to me with all these different noises to process, my mind was working double time on trying to decipher what the client on the phone was trying to explain to me. “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” I practically shouted on the phone. “I SAID I’ll take the four o’clock appointment,” the client repeated loudly and very slowly as if just because I hadn’t heard her the first time I had suddenly become not only deaf but stupid as well.

Yelling on the phone and asking clients to repeat themselves is a normal daily occurrence at my job at a hair salon, where we cater to around 300 demanding clients a day. The noise level can get pretty unbearable at times, with not only blow dryers going full speed all day but clients chattering and stylists gossiping. My ears’ one solace during the work day, is the radio, which we play to keep us in good spirits; Pandora to be exact, which we stream off of the internet.

On the lucky days that I get to choose which Pandora station we will be listening to, I am ecstatic. What’s better than being at work, but getting to hear music you like (aside from the Christmas season, when nothing but cringe-worthy Christmas music is played for 2 months straight)? Nothing, except possibly being at home and listening to music you like.

So, I’m booking the client’s appointment, and mid-keystroke I hear an unfamiliar voice booming from above, Charlie Brown’s teacher style. All I managed to catch was, “book your trip now!” along with some awfully catchy jingle. Wait, what?

I finally managed to get the client off the phone with a nice fake cheery “Have a great day!” before turning to my coworker, Kristy, in horror. “Did Pandora really just play a commercial on air?” She nodded in agreement and confirmed my worst nightmare: radio commercials.

Now I understand that Pandora needs to make money somehow, but I was really disappointed when I found out they were playing commercials on air. The main reason why we were using Pandora (besides the best feature being that they are free) is because unlike the radio they don’t play commercials on air.

My love affair with Pandora has been tainted ever since. Its commercial betrayal hit me hard, it was almost as if I’d come home and found Pandora in bed with the hot gardener. My brief love affair with Pandora was quick but heartbreaking. Aren’t the best romances always? Don’t worry, Pandora,I’ve learned my lesson.. you won’t ever fool me again.



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