Hear the Brazilian Metal Band Singing in–and Trying to Save–Their Native Language of Tupi-Guarani

The indigenous languages spoken in Brazil number around 170, a testament to the survival of tribal communities nearly wiped out by colonialism and commerce. Yet 40 of those languages have fewer than 100 speakers, and many more are declining rapidly. For linguists, “it’s a fight against time,” Luisi Destri writes at Pesquisa. Researchers estimate most, if not all, of these languages could disappear within 50 to 100 years, and some believe 30 percent might fade in the next 15 years.

“Knowledge is passed down from generation to generation,” says Luciano Storto, professor of linguistics at the University of São Paulo, “mainly through narratives told by the oldest and most experienced to the community’s youngest members.” What happens when those younger generations are uprooted and leave home. When their elders die without passing on their knowledge? (What happens to language in general as the linguistic gene pool shrinks?) These questions weighed on Zhândio Aquino in 2004 when he founded Brazilian metal band Arandu Arakuaa.

Aquino has a degree in pedagogy and his band has been invited to play in schools and lecture at universities. But they do not use indigenous instrumentation and sing in an indigenous Tupi-Guarani language as a purely academic exercise. Raised in the northern state of Tocantins and descended from a Guarani-speaking tribe, the guitarist and singer says, “I [had] very close contact with indigenous culture because of my grandmother and classmates. When I [began] playing in bands, it just felt natural to put my background on it.”

When he moved to Brasilia in 2004, Aquino searched for like-minded musicians and formed what may be the country’s first folk metal band. While folk metal as a category is hardly new (metal has always incorporated elements of folk music, from its earliest incarnations in Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to the bleakest of Scandinavian black metal bands), most folk metal has been European (and Pagan or Viking or Pirate), and some of it has allied, sadly, with the same fascist movements that threaten indigenous existence.

While Arandu Arakuaa — the name translates to “cosmos knowledge” — may be one of the first folk metal bands in Brazil, it isn’t the only one. Along with bands like Aclla, Armahda, and Tamuya Thrash Tribe, the band is part of a movement called the Levante do Metal Nativo, or Native Metal Uprising, a collection of musicians using native instruments, themes, and languages — or all three in the case of Arandu Arakuaa, who incorporate maracas and the guitar-like viola caipira.

How do acoustic indigenous folk and the electric crunch and growl of metal come together? Hear for yourself in the videos here. Aquino knows Arandu Arakuaa doesn’t win everyone over at first. “People are not indifferent to our music,” he says. “They will love it or hate it. Most people think it’s strange at first and then we have to prove that we are good.”

While intelligible lyrics are hardly necessary in metal, the language barrier may turn some listeners away. But subtitled videos help. Arandu Arakuaa might seem to have a different focus than most metal bands, but in songs like “Red People,” we hear the rage and the resistance to war and depredation that bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Metallica — all influences on the Brazilian band –have channeled in their music:

Some of us ran away, we hide in the forest
We still fight
The red people still resisting, while there is land, while there is forest
Everything became different
Our spirits are called demons
Each day less trees, less animals, less histories, less songs…

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Superstar Violinist Nigel Kennedy Reinvents Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”: Watch Two Dynamic Performances

Violinists don’t often make the news these days, but when one does, you can be reasonably assured either that a musical controversy is afoot, or that the violinist in question is Nigel Kennedy. This time, both of those are the case: Kennedy, as The Guardian‘s Dalya Alberge reports, “has pulled out of a concert at the Royal Albert Hall with only days to go after accusing the radio station Classic FM of preventing him from performing a Jimi Hendrix tribute.” At issue is his intent to perform a version of Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” but even with its “Celtic-sounding melody,” that composition was ultimately deemed “not suitable” for the audience.

It seems that Classic FM’s management would have preferred Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, of which Kennedy recorded the world’s best-selling version in 1989. That a classical radio station famous for concentrating its programming on the “hits” and a classical performer famous for deliberately unorthodox musical turns would fail to see eye-to-eye should not, perhaps, come as a surprise.

But then, Kennedy has long displayed a keen instinct for publicity and a tendency to — well, one would say épater les bourgeois, were Hendrix not now regarded as so thoroughly respectable in his own right. As Kennedy sees it, he was “one of the foremost composers of the 20th century, along with Stravinsky and Duke Ellington.”

The guitarist’s exalted status rests, Kennedy argues, on his having “brought all types of music together.” Even in a song like “Purple Haze” — which you can see Kennedy reinterpret with the Polish Chamber Orchestra in 2005, and again at the 2015 Thanks Jim Festival in Wroclaw — musicologists hear traces of both the American blues and the Mixolydian mode, along with such unconventional-for-1967 touches as the diminished-fifth melodic interval, long known as the “diabolus in musica” and the E7♯9 chord, now known as the “Hendrix chord.” Much of the song only uses two other chords, making “Purple Haze” the rare three-chord, under-three-minute rock hit that contains more than enough substance to inspire an unconventionally minded classical musician. But then, try telling that to a program director.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Recording Secrets of Nirvana’s Nevermind Revealed by Producer Butch Vig

People figured out that I’d tapped into something in making that record; a lot of labels came calling because they wanted to see if I could bring that magic to whatever artists they had. But I found it sorta annoying in some ways, because people thought I had a formula, that I could take a folk artist or a blues guitarist and make them sound like Nirvana.

The pop cultural phenomenon of Nirvana’s Nevermind caught everyone involved by surprise — from the band, to the label, to Butch Vig, just then making a name for himself as a 90s alt-rock superproducer by releasing Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkin’s Gish the same year and helping define the sound of guitar rock for the 90s. “It was perfect timing coming out when there was a shift in music and it felt like a revolution,” Vig tells Spin. “Despite being a great record, it would not have the same cultural impact” if it were released today.

Vig offers a few reasons why it’s difficult for an album to have the same influence. “Everything is so instant that it’s hard to build up some mystique. When you really want something but can’t quite get your hands on it, that makes it all the more powerful.”

Fans could eventually get their hands on the album without much trouble in 1991. (Geffen originally shipped only 46,521 copies in the U.S. in anticipation of low sales); but they couldn’t get enough of Kurt Cobain, who became a commodity before social media turned everyone into an aspiring commodity, a role contemporary stars like Billie Eilish now talk about openly in terms of the toll it takes on mental health.

Revisiting Nevermind on its 30th anniversary offers an occasion to discuss what made the album, the band, and Cobain so majorly appealing at the time. It also gives us a chance to talk about what happens when media companies and record labels seize on a unique event and drive it right into the ground. These are worthwhile discussions, but if we’re talking to Butch Vig — superproducer and founder and drummer of 90s juggernaut Garbage — our time is better spent asking the question he’s best poised to answer: what, exactly, made Nevermind such a great album? What did Vig hear behind the mixing desk that has so captivated listeners for 30 years?

In the videos here, you can see Vig — with commentary from surviving Nirvana members Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl — demonstrate how several tracks came together, and how he enhanced and expanded the sound of the trio without needing to do much to make them sound absolutely huge. As he tells Kerrang in a recent interview, when the band first hired him:

A couple days later, a cassette showed up in the mail, with a handwritten letter, and I put it on and heard Kurt going, ​Hey Butch, it’s Kurt, we’re excited to come and rock out with you. We’re going to play a couple of new songs, and we’ve got Dave Grohl, and he’s the greatest drummer in the world.’ And then I hear the guitar intro to …Teen Spirit, and when Dave hit the drums, it just completely destroyed everything…. I thought, “Wow these songs are great,” even though the recording quality on that cassette was horrible.

The magic was always in the songs, whether captured on a boom box or the studio gear of Geffen records after the band left their indie label Sub Pop. (It’s worth listening to the Sub Pop founders tell their story on the How I Built This podcast.) Hear Vig talk about how he bottled it above, and see more of his Nevermind making-of production videos here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Strange Magic of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile”

Poor Polyphonic. He was just about to deliver another perfectly mixed treatise on a classic rock magnum opus when the YouTube algorithm and the Jimi Hendrix Estate stepped in to stop him before publishing. So while you can watch this real-time explication of Hendrix’s more-than-just-a-jam “Voodoo Chile” with just the the graphics and the narration, you should cue up the 15 minute track however you can (for example on Spotify), and then press play when when the video gives the signal. (This might be the first YouTube explainer video to ask for copyright-skirting help.)

And anyway, you should have a copy of Electric Ladyland, right? It’s the one where Hendrix and the Experience really push all the boundaries, taking rock, blues, jazz, psychedelia, sci-fi, everything…all out as far as possible in the studio. It’s the one that introduced future members of the Band of Gypsies. And it’s the one that hints of everything that might have been, if Hendrix hadn’t passed away soon after.

Now, classic rock radio usually plays the much shorter and less laid back “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” that closes the album. But this essay is about the longest track on Electric Ladyland, the one that ends side one. This is the track that Hendrix wanted to sound like a light night jam at New York club The Scene—and which he recorded after one particular night doing just that. He taped the audience effects soon after. Steve Winwood is on keyboards. Jack Casady from Jefferson Airplane plays bass. And Mitch Mitchell turns in one of his greatest performances and solos.

In the lyrics, Polyphonic notes, Hendrix connects the blues to his Cherokee heritage and to voodoo, to sex, and then beyond into science fiction landscapes. The song is a self-portrait, showing the past, the influence, the training, and then the potential that music, magic, and (let’s face it) LSD could bring. The band is vibing. Winwood drops riffs that are more British folk than Chicago blues. Hendrix strays far beyond the orbit of blues, swings past it one more time on his own slight return, and then explodes into stardust.

Polyphonic’s video also looks beautiful and perfectly intersperses his critique with the song’s main sections. It may have sounded like a jam, but Hendrix carefully designed it to flow the way it does. And Polyphonic follows suit. It is a highly enjoyable walk through a track (again find it on Spotify here) many already know, reawakening a sense of wonder about all its inherent, strange genius.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Zoom Into a Super High Resolution Photo of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night”

“Just as we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star,” Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother from Arles in the summer of 1888:

What’s certainly true in this argument is that while alive, we cannot go to a star, any more than once dead we’d be able to take the train.

The following summer, as a patient in the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole in Provence, he painted what would become his best known work — The Starry Night.

The summer after that, he was dead of a gunshot wound to the abdomen, commonly believed to be self-inflicted.

Judging from thoughts expressed in that same letter, Van Gogh may have conceived of such a death as a “celestial means of locomotion, just as steamboats, omnibuses and the railway are terrestrial ones”:

To die peacefully in old age would be to go there on foot.

Although his window at the asylum afforded him a sunrise view, and a private audience with the prominent morning star he mentioned in another letter to Theo, Starry Night’s vista is “both an exercise in observation and a clear departure from it,” according to 2019’s MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art:

The vision took place at night, yet the painting, among hundreds of artworks van Gogh made that year, was created in several sessions during the day, under entirely different atmospheric conditions. The picturesque village nestled below the hills was based on other views—it could not be seen from his window—and the cypress at left appears much closer than it was. And although certain features of the sky have been reconstructed as observed, the artist altered celestial shapes and added a sense of glow.

Those who can’t visit MoMA to see The Starry Night in person may enjoy getting up close and personal with Google Arts and Culture’s zoomable, high res digital reproduction. Keep clicking into the image to see the painting in greater detail.

Before or after formulating your own thoughts on The Starry Night and the emotional state that contributed to its execution, get the perspective of singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers in the below episode of Art Zoom, in which popular musicians share their thoughts while navigating around a famous canvas.

Bonus! Throw yourself into a free coloring page of The Starry Night here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Paul McCartney vs. Brian Wilson: A Rivalry That Inspired Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper, and Other Classic Albums

One could argue that the album as we know it didn’t exist before the mid-1960s. As a medium of recorded music, the “long-playing” 33 1⁄3 rpm record was introduced in 1948, and the market proved quick to take it up. A great many musicians recorded LPs over the following decade and a half, but these were produced and consumed primarily as bundles of individual songs. The heyday of radio, which lasted into the 1950s, imbued the single — especially the hit single — with enormous cultural power. Through that zeitgeist rose the Liverpudlian quartet known as the Beatles, the very band who would go promptly on to transcend it.

In this version of music history, the first true album was the Beatles’ Rubber Soul. When it came out in 1965, it introduced to a vast listening public the possibilities of the LP as a coherent art form in itself. At that point the Beatles had already been making hit records for a few years, as, on the other side of the pond, had a southern Californian singing group called the Beach Boys.

Given each act’s ever-growing prominence and the unprecedented internationalization of pop culture then underway, it was only a matter of time before their musical worlds would collide. Decades later, Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson would remember his first listen to Rubber Soul as follows: “It just totally took my mind away” — a sensation back then sought along many avenues, chemical as well as cultural.

Though Paul McCartney has credited the effervescence of the 1960s to “drugs, basically,” the music he and fellow Beatles made was also enhanced by friendly competition with the Beach Boys, as detailed in the Jeffrey Stillwell video essay above. To Rubber Soul the Beach Boys responded with Pet Sounds. “Oh dear me, this is the album of all time,” McCartney later recalled thinking upon hearing it. “What the hell are we going to do?” Their return volley took the form of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, which in turn sent Wilson into an Icarus-like flight toward the ill-fated Smile project. More than half a century later, some say we live in a post-album era. Even if so, the heights of ambition to which the Beatles and the Beach Boys put each other inspire artists still today — and their fruits will be listened to as long as recorded music exists in any form at all.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Prince Appear on the Muppets Tonight Show & Reveal His Humble, Down-to-Earth Side (1997)

From Frog to Prince: We will always love your music and you. Our hearts are yours. Thanks for being a friend.
 Kermit the Frog, April 21, 2016

There was a time when sharing the screen with the Muppets was the ultimate celebrity status symbol.

Prince never appeared on The Muppet Show — 1999, the 1982 album that made him a household name, was released the year after the series concluded its run – but he got his chance fifteen years later, with an appearance on the shorter lived Muppets Tonight.

In a tribute written shortly after Prince’s death, Muppets Tonight writer Kirk Thatcher recalled:

We were very excited that Prince had agreed to do our Muppet comedy and variety show but had been told by his managers and support staff before we met with him that we must never look at him directly or call him anything but, “The Artist” or just, “Artist”. As the writers of the show, we were wondering how we were going to work or collaborate with someone you can’t even look at, especially while trying to create comedy with puppets!

His staff sent an advance team to make sure the working environment would be to his liking, special food and drink was laid in at his request, and the scripts of sketches that had been written for him were sent ahead for his approval. 

The Muppets’ crew grew even more nervous when Prince asked for a meeting the night before the scheduled shoot day. Thatcher had “visions of him trashing everything and forcing us to start over,” adding that it would not have been the first time a guest star would have insisted on a total overhaul at zero hour.

Instead of the monster they’d been bracing for, Prince — who Thatcher described as “only half again bigger than most of the Muppets” —  proved a game if somewhat “bemused” and “quiet” collaborator:

He had fun additions and improvs and loved playing and ad-libbing with the puppets and was very easy to talk to and work with. The whole situation with his advance team and management reminded me of the relationship I had created between Kermit and Sam the Eagle in Muppet Treasure Island. Sam had convinced everyone that Kermit, playing Captain Smollet, was a furious and angry tyrant, beset by inner demons and outer tirades. But when we meet him, he was just good, old, sweet-natured Kermit the Frog… just in a captains outfit. The same for Prince. He was just a nice, fun, creative guy who had built this persona around himself, and had a team there to reinforce it, probably to protect his art, his personal life and even his sanity.

The episode riffed on his established image, shoehorning Muppets into a “leather and lace” look that Prince himself had moved on from, and cracking jokes related to the unpronounceable “Love Symbol” to which he’d changed his name four years earlier.

Naturally, they plumbed his catalogue for musical numbers, having particular fun with “Starfish and Coffee,” which features a proto-Prince Muppet and an alternate origin story.

(The actual origin story is pretty great, and provides another tiny glimpse of this mysterious artist’s true nature.)

The show also afforded Prince the opportunity to chart some unexpected territory with Hoo Haw, a spoof of the countrified TV variety show Hee Haw.

If you’ve ever wondered how The Purple One would look in overalls and a plaid button down, here’s your chance to find out.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Meet Brushy One String, the One String Guitar Player Who Will Blow Your Mind

When Jamaican musician Andrew Chin, better known as Brushy One String first told friends about his vision — “a dream in which he was told to play the one-string guitar” — they responded with mockery — all but one, who “insisted it was fate,” writes Playing for Change, “and that he had to make that dream come true.” So Brushy set out to do just that, playing on streetcorners and in the market, “in a big broad hat and sunglasses,” he says. The music came to him naturally. He is no ordinary street musician, however, and his one-string guitar is not a gimmick. Brushy is a talented singer-songwriter, with a powerful voice and a musical sensibility that transcends his bare-bones minimalism.

He doesn’t look particularly flashy, perched on the street with his beat-up guitar in the video at the top for “Chicken in the Corn.” Brushy came of age in a scene “where most performers long to be hip-hop MCs or dancehall style DJs.”

Brushy’s one-string technique reaches back to the origins of the blues in the Diddley Bow (from which Bo Diddley took his name), and even further back into musical history, recalling what musicologists would call a “monochord zither.” One-string players in history have included Mississippi bluesman Eddie “One String” Jones, Lonnie Pitchford, and Willie Joe Duncan, who invented the Unitar, an electrified one-string guitar and scored a hit in the 1950s.

Whether or not Brushy fits himself into this tradition, he “came by his musical abilities honestly,” playing a reggae infused soul-meets-Delta Blues inspired by his parents. His father was Jamaican soul singer Freddy McKay and his mother, Beverly Foster, toured as a backup singer with Tina Turner. Unfortunately, he was orphaned at a young age and unable to finish his education. He didn’t learn to read at all until he became an adult. Brushy tried to learn guitar, but “I didn’t really know how to play,” he says, “and I played so hard, all the strings broke. So the guitar went under the bed” until his one string epiphany. As he began to sing and play, his one, low-E string and the wooden body of his acoustic guitar became a rhythm section, his expansive voice rising up between beats, “a voice so rich and full,” NPR writes, “all it wants is a bit of rhythmic and melodic underpinning.”

Brushy names both soul legend Teddy Pendergrass and dancehall legend Shabba Ranks as influences, a key to the range of his songwriting, which comes “from the situations I’m in,” he says. “It’s like magic: From the situation, I don’t search for something, not in my head or nowhere else. The song just comes.” He had some early modest success, did a tour of Japan, then returned to his hometown of Ochoa Rios to kick around and play locally. It was then that filmmaker Luciano Blotta encountered him while finishing the 2007 Jamaican music documentary, Rise Up. “Chicken in the Corn” made the soundtrack, and it turned into Brushy’s big break.

He’s since played South by Southwest, New Orleans House of Blues, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, had a documentary made about him — The King of One String (2014) — and released three studio albums and a live album. It’s well deserved success for a musician who was ready to quit music until he had a dream — and who then found the courage (and the good luck) to make it real.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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