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Michal Shapiro

Every week Michal Shapiro reports on concerts, festivals and interviews with musicians, both international and local. Check out World Music for the latest on the video blog!

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Hafez meets ZZ Top at Asia Society

The press release I received referred to Mosehn Namjoo as the "Iranian Bob Dylan." Part of me reacted with "huh?" but after a bit of consideration, I read on, and decided to check him out. A few weeks later I found myself at the Asia Society concert space amongst an audience generously peppered with Iranian Americans of every stripe. Mr. Namjoo (who in profile almost does look like the iconic 1966 Milton Glaser poster of Dylan) introduced the songs in English, but most of the lyrics were in Farsi.


Hafez meets ZZ Top at Asia Society from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

So what did they mean by the "Iranian Bob Dylan?" Did it apply in any way? The answer is a qualified "yes." While Mr. Namjoo, as far as I know has not written the equivalent of "The Ballad of Medgar Evers" or "Masters of War" he has ventured into an eclecticism and irreverence that have landed him in hot waters in his homeland.

It is this eclecticism and his dogged demand for artistic freedom that relates to Dylan. While he is considered a respected renegade with a cult following here, the powers that be in Iran are less charitable. He was sentenced to five years in jail for a recording in which he set the words of the Koran to rock music. He was out of the country when he was sentenced; he has not returned to his native land since. Was his "transgression" an intentional blasphemy? I personally think not; to me it was a plainly risky decision, and an artistic venture; not disrespect.

Of the two songs I have chosen to present, the first demonstrates his vocal range, and his mastery of traditional forms. Namjoo has an impressive voice, and easily negotiates the ornamental ululations and heroic tenor tones of classic Iranian, Central Asian and in this case, Azeri, singing. He also has a strong lower register, making for very range-y interpretations of material. The second song demonstrates his unorthodox approach to orthodox material. In Iran, poetry, and particularly the poetry of Hafez is held in extremely high esteem. Settings of his poems to music abound, but are classical, and therefor to be performed strictly within a set of specific parameters. In my video, Mr. Namjoo has set the words of Hafez to a boogie beat (He references ZZ Top, but it could just as easily have been Wang Dang Doodle).

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A Devi Diva at the Highline Ballroom

I first heard Falu at a concert in a yoga studio, about 6 years ago. There was a buzz about her then, but her presentation was quite different. Falguni Shah (Falu) seemed bird-like, fragile and shy although her voice was strong and assured. Over time, I was sent a CD and I kept track of her in an oblique way, as her various publicists kept me informed. Everyone knew she was talented, but I personally never felt that the package was quite right. Now, with the release of the independently produced Foras Road, I think she has found a production sound that fits her artistic explorations, and is the right setting for her fine voice. Kudos to producer and bass player Danny Blume for that.


Not that Falu hasn't had her triumphs in the intervening years; she has done her share of high-profile gigs playing with her band for the Dalai Lama, President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. She has collaborated with the likes of A.R, Rahman and Yo-Yo Ma. She emerges now as a sleek, confident performer with a devoted following both within and outside of the Indian community.


Her sound, as you will hear, is a mix of different worlds. In this song "Ghumar," for example, a Dhol drum pounds out a bhangra beat, while a Givson (no that's not a misprint, it's not a Gibson) mandolin provides the textural ear candy as Falu's sinuous voice hovers and dips through complex, compelling melodies. The lady has chops, for sure, honed by a lifetime of rigorous study with various Indian vocal gurus.



The Highline Ballroom was packed, and this video was taken from the balcony, so I was thankful for the zoom on my camcorder. And besides "Ghumar" there were several real standouts from the show as well; "Savan" was a deeply sensuous song of longing accompanied by the versatile Mark Tewarson on dobro, injecting a languid, country blues feel. In "Eastbound," Falu utilized the taan technique, a kind of scatting, in a rapid-fire exchange with the tablas of Deep Singh. For "Bahaar" Falu brought out an actual string quartet to perform on stage with her, and it worked beautifully. The band itself was tight and spirited, rounded out by the excellent David Sharma on kit drums, Soumya Chatterjee on violin, and Gaurav Shah on harmonium and vocals.


I had invited my niece Rachel to the concert, whose ears are quite open, but whose contact with Indian vocal music has been minimal. On the way home she asked me "Why is it that when we hear a voice singing, we feel such a direct physical and emotional connection?" While the answer to this question may seem axiomatic, the fact that she raised this issue speaks volumes about the caliber of Falu's performance.


The performance at the Highline was co-sponsored by the Indo-American Arts Council, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 arts organization whose mission is to showcase and build an awareness for performing, visual and literary arts from/of/about the Indian subcontinent. 


For more information about Foras Road the CD, and Falu, visit:

For more information about the Indo-American Arts Council visit:

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Violeta Went to Heaven: The mother of Nueva Canción has a film at last

We can listen to a song and think we know the singer. And in the case of Violeta Parra (1917-1967) perhaps this is so.


She seems to spring fully formed at us, an autodidact revolutionary and creative to an impossible degree. She was the mother of the Nueva Canción movement, tirelessly researching the rich folkloric music of Chile, taking nourishment from it, and going on to create her own uncannily free, sophisticated yet utterly passionate songs. Her artworks were exhibited at the Louvre, and she single handedly legitimized her native culture in the eyes of the world. All this, in a country where women were first given the vote in 1952.

This is no news for Chileans. But perhaps it is news for you. Have I whetted your curiosity?



Violeta Went to Heaven, a film by Andres Wood, and starring Francisca Gavilán as Violeta Parra will be opened at New York's Lincoln Center Plaza Cinemas and Quad Cinema March 29. It may go on to play at a cinema near you -- or maybe by now you can rent it!


I am so glad that I was able to interview the director, because his film is an open-ended work of art in many ways. Wood has not attempted a documentary, nor for that matter, the kind of narrative style that might keep us in our comfort zone. He gives us Violeta's world, a world in which happiness is bliss and every sorrow is a mortal wound. It is a vivid cinematic improvisation, much as Violeta's life was an improvisation. Francisca Gavilán delivers a performance that is deep in its understanding of character, and faithful to Parra's soul and musicality. I must also commend the arrangement for "Arriba Quemando el Sol," which lifts the song out of its simpler (but powerful) harmonic folk base and onto another, higher plane that speaks to the kind of pivotal life change that the film's story requires of it.

Kino Lorber has kindly given me the music clips I requested which speak for themselves, (be sure to watch them!) and Andres Wood was eloquent in answering my questions. Here is my report.

If you love music, great acting and challenging cinematography, see this film.


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A Catalonian Feast-ival

Located about 50 kilometers from Barcelona, Manresa is a small, laid back Catalonian city. It has its picturesque Old Section as well as an impressive, well-appointed cathedral, and the famous monastery of Montserrat is perched on a nearby rocky mountaintop. But the Fira Mediterránia de Manresa, a four day celebration and Trade Fair going into its 16th year, stirs the place up and brings the population into the concert halls and out onto the streets to enjoy a meticulously programmed whirlwind of music, cinema, dance, theater and more. The joint gets jumpin'. If you’ve got a trip to Spain planned in November, make sure you include this festival in your itinerary.



Because the event takes place all over town, it was necessary to pick and choose my coverage and up front I'll tell you that what I have captured in my video is only a small slice of it. In particular, I did not cover the imported acts, because I was curious about the local Catalan culture specifically, and fine as these other artists were, I felt they would divert me from my focus. I'll always regret not catching Hermanos Cuberos, who according to the festival book combine music from the Alcarra region of Spain with bluegrass!


And I also have to say a word about the food. It was everywhere, and if you knew where to go, (and could deal with the siesta closings) it was excellent. I brought back 2 bags of little dried local mushrooms which I am using slowly, when the dish calls for their distinctive taste and texture. They are tiny treasures.


I was fortunate to be staying at the same hotel as Dave Ellwand who has researched and written about Catalan food, music and mores. Our conversations over breakfast were informative and tantalizing, so I simply had to include him at some point in the video; credit where credit is due. He has provided some links to further information and events below.


And because this video is just a quick survey, here are links to full songs.


To see the full song by Evo, go to:


To see a (different) full song by Els Berros de la Cort go to:


For full performance of "Waka Waka" by Els Laietans go to:


For more information about the festival visit:


For an archived radio programme about the previous year's festival:


Links to Catalan Music resources:


Government culture ministry sites: Catalan!Arts: traditional music cd (free)


And a free E Magazine:


An earlier edition about Roots music from the region:


CAT centre has an annual festival of Catalan/Valencian/Balearic/Basque performances from January to April as well as year round music teaching and summer schools.* Information about all festivals is easiest to get on


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Report from Chennai: Independent Music in India and Indian Ocean

I first became acquainted with Sonya Mazumdar as a voice at one end of a US-India Skype session about Link's licensing of "Laya Project" a dazzling musical journey around the areas devastated by the massive 2004 Tsunami. The newly formed Indian production company and record label EarthSync India had just released the film as its first endeavor. The haunting travelogue garnered honors over the intervening years, and when EarthSync launched its spinoff website IndiEarth Sonya contacted me again to see if I would allow their site to stream some of my relevant videoblogs. But of course I would!


Then, many months later (yet still rather suddenly) came an invitation from Sonya to attend the first IndiEarth XChange in Chennai. Rarely one to refuse an invitation to a new place, I found myself taking the long trip to Southeast India, to report on another maiden voyage from the young, pioneering Earthsync/IndiEarth. This time it was a meeting of international and local media, with film screenings and musical performances, along with panel discussions and networking to be held at the Park Chennai Hotel. It was an ambitious project (intended to be a prototype) requiring its own networking and funding, plus massive coordination. The aim was to lay the foundation for a network of dedicated professionals supporting independent music and cinema in India.



It was a hectic three days, and the large turnout participated in vigorous panels about the obstacles and opportunities for music and film in Southeast Asia and Oceania, as well as the remarkably varied musical fare. What made it exciting for me, was the un-Western media presence. Aside from Indian, there was a significant Australian media contingent. In particular, the magnificently feisty Kate Welsman an Australian Public Radio deejay was quick to point out that there was a noticeable shift in markets of all kinds from West to East, and music was a part of that market. It made sense. At the same time it was also made clear by both the musicians and film-makers, that the audience demographics for Southeast Asia needed to be cultivated, and weaned away from a straight diet of Bollywood, which still holds the business reins in a rigidly controlled grip.


For my part, I ran around taking as much video as I could, and focusing of course, on music. But I simply could not catch it all. So what you are seeing in my video is just a wee fraction of the music that was performed in the lobby, bar, main stage and other impromptu venues.


In all, I was very excited by the spirit of IndiEarth Exchange. The people who were gathered together were bright, creative, energetic and pro-active. I felt challenged and stimulated, as well as entertained. I believe something will come from this. It may not come immediately, but it will come.


For more information about EarthSync India, visit

For the complete performance of song by Parvathy and Lakshman Das Baul, click here.


For complete song by Karthick Iyer, click here.


For more of Michal's world music videos visit


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