Al-Andalus Playlist

One of my loves is flamenco music, and along with it, all music of North Africa and the Middle East — especially music that harkens back to the era when Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together in southern Spain.

Here’s a sampling of some great music of the Al-Andalus diaspora.

The first is a clip of a movie called “Ladino: 500 Years Young.” Ladino is the language that Jews spoke in Spain, and when they left for North Africa, Mexico, and other places, they took their language and their songs with them. The film follows Yasmin Levy, an Israeli singer who breathes new life into old Sephardic songs.

The second is a wonderful excerpt from an all-female concert in Morocco. The music blends flamenco, Sephardic songs, Arab music, and other music as well. It’s an incredible back-and-forth that always gives me chills when I watch it.

Here’s a song called Wahashtini, recently sung by an American who shocked everyone by placing 3rd in “Arab’s Got Talent:”

And finally, two songs from the very old Spanish song collection, “Cancionero de Palacios.” This song is called Tres Morillas. The first line goes, “I fell in love with three Moorish girls in Jaen: Axa, Fatima, and Marien…”

This last one is called Pase el Agua. It’s in old Catalan, I think:

Go Where You’re the Only One

I’ve been reading a lot about marketing and promotion lately. So, here’s my first marketing post, about my personal experience in the world of music promotion.

Before my Lyme-tastic hiatus, as a singer-songwriter I frequently attended music conferences like SXSW and Folk Alliance.  Every March during SXSW, all of the musicians schlepped all their gear around Austin, trying to get heard over the din of 1,000 other bands, and hoping against hope that “somebody” would make it to their showcase. I found experiences like this very frustrating; the headache and expense of attending the conference was high, the ratio of musicians to industry folks was 10 to 1, and most industry folks already had a list of bands they wanted to see. The chances that your music would be “discovered” were really quite tiny.

If I’d been smart, I would’ve avoided the music conferences completely. Instead, I would have gone to the SXSW Interactive conference, where hundreds of bloggers and technorati all assemble, hungry for new content. One tweet or mention from a well-known blogger could easily be worth the price of admission in terms of web traffic and promotion. And there’s much less competition to hand your CD to a blogger than there is to hand it to a DJ.

So, one trick in marketing and promotion is to approach your target audience using a method where there’s much less competition. For example:

  • A musician at a tech blogger’s conference.
  • An artist who creates space-themed art at an astrophysics conference. Wear a t-shirt of your own design to the conference, and when every astrophysict says, “Wow, that’s a great design! Where did you get that?” you tell them it’s your own design. Orders will come pouring in…and it’s way less competitive than an art show.
  • A writer with a PhD, writing for Oprah Magazine. A layman-level article about important scientific findings in Oprah Magazine, Parade, or another “déclassé” publication would reach millions of readers and further the public discussion more than another dry academic journal article.
  • A scientist at a Science Fiction writer’s convention. You could collaborate with one of the writers by providing them with the nuts-and-bolts science to back up their futuristic story.

So, in sum:

Go where you’re the only writer, artist, musician, quilter, massage therapist in that space.

Go where they need you.

Go where there’s not a lot of you.

Go where you’re the only one.


OMG! So excited to see that Take 6 is coming to Austin! These guys have such tight vocal harmonies that it defies description.

I’m psyched they’re still touring . . . and after all this time, they’re still Take 6, and they haven’t downsized to Take 5 or Take 4 or Take 3 1/2 or Take Pi.

Cause “Take 3.14126535897” just doesn’t have the same ring.

Here’s Goldmine, just one of their awesome songs.

Dark Matter: Tips for Musicians

If any of y’all play guitar and are interested in learning to play Dark Matter, here are some tips.

The fun thing about playing this song is that while the guitar part sounds hard, it’s not! (Hooray for lazy musicians!)

Actually the hardest part is retuning the guitar to this funky tuning:

C# C# C# C# G# C#

Note: This tuning is never going to be 100% in tune, so just give it your best shot. The strings stay in tune better after about half an hour at this tension.

The first chord you hear on the song is open, in other words:

C# C# C# C# G# C#  == 0 0 0 0 0 0

Then I slide two fingers up and down the neck, so for example:

0 0 0 9 0 9 –> 0 0 0 10 0 10

0 0 0 9 0 9 –> 0 0 0 10 0 10

0 0 0 9 0 9 –> 0 0 0 10 0 10

0 0 0 9 0 9 –> 0 0 0 10 0 10

0 0 0 9 0 9 –> 0 0 0 10 0 10 –> 0 0 0 12 0 12

etc. on down the neck

Hope this gives you the tools to start!


Fun Music Nerd Facts: 

This is the tuning used on Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” — which is where I learned it —  and CSN’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” among others.

Apparently, Dark Matter is in Dorian mode. Who knew? I only figured that out last night, years after writing the song. (Actually, it’s in C# Dorian – which is slightly perverse but there it is).

Also, if you’re not a music nerd, don’t worry if you don’t know about things like modes. Reading music, knowing music theory and all that stuff is helpful for some, completely irrelevant for others. This guy only recently learned how to read music, and he’s . . . oh . . . just the best guitarist in the world.

An Even Higher Level of Nerdvana

I am honored to say that my song “Dark Matter” has been featured on another episode of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Star Talk Radio. My geek cred has just gone up exponentially.**

The new episode is Cosmic Queries: Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Full of all sorts of geeky goodness, including Dr. Who references, and Neil explaining why Dark Matter should really be called “Fred.”


** So exponentially, I want to write a function for the increasing slope of my geek cred.

I Have Reached Nerdvana

Geeks! Do you know who Neil Degrasse Tyson is?

Well, you should! He’s a badass astrophysicist. Head of the Hayden Planetarium. Frequent guest on The Daily Show. And host of an all-things-science-and-geeky podcast called Star Talk Radio.

(How geeky is the podcast? He interviewed Whoopi Goldberg about her role as Guinan on Star Trek. Yesssss! So Awesome!)

Aaaaaaand (drumroll please): My song Dark Matter was featured in a short clip at the top of his latest podcast!

I am such a geek! I have achieved Nerdvana!

I will now sit atop my Geek Mountain while other acolytes come to me, seeking to attain GeekLightenment.

Burt Bacharach’s Music is What They Play on the Elevator Going to Hell*

One Sunday morning, while listening to NPR, I heard a piece on Burt Bacharach. It listed some of his classics — Walk on By, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head, What’s New, Pussycat, etc.

“That is amazing!” I thought. “That’s truly extraordinary!”

“Why, I hate all of these songs!”

Yes, apparently there was an unseen force in the universe, tying all smarmy music together, and that force was Burt Bacharach. Who knew? I was fascinated — how can One Man write so many songs that make me immediately want to take a shower?

I tried to be open-minded. Everyone says he’s a genius, and who am I? Just a weirdo with a dream.** Nevertheless, though I haven’t yet known “success” or “acclaim” from music, and Burt Bacharach is “rich,” I still have my opinions!

I really wanted to feel differently about him. I even watched documentaries about Burt Bacharach and the Brill building. But no dice. He still creeped me out.

As he spoke in his fuzzy powder-blue turtleneck, I had a vision in my head. It’s the 1970’s, and pretty naive Californian housewife Rhonda is visited by her husband’s sleazy friend when her husband’s away.

“Oh Rhonda, let’s go for a ride, it’s a nice day.”

“Oh Burt, gosh I don’t know. I don’t know if I should. Larry might not like it.”

“It’s just a ride, right? Besides, some fresh air might do you good.”

They stop to have lunch, and it just so happens that the restaurant is in the lobby of a hotel. After dinner, wouldn’t you know it? The manager is a friend of Burt’s, and he always makes a room available, just for an hour or two, when his good friend Burt is in town. Burt sure is tired, he’d like to lie down and have some shut-eye for 45 minutes before hitting the road again. Rhonda wouldn’t want him to be an unsafe driver, now would she? And maybe she can have a nap, too! It’ll be so European.

After getting her into the hotel room, Burt says that Rhonda looks “tense” and she needs to “relax more.” After giving her a massage, he starts to kiss her, and when she pulls away, he says how this is a “new time” and “bourgeoise ideas about ‘ownership’ don’t apply to modern people like us” and “grownups make their own choices in the world.”***

Rhonda is hopelessly confused. She’s always been a good girl, but Burt is saying that being a good girl is really being a bad girl. Oh, but what about Larry? He’d be so upset. He wouldn’t understand all that stuff about being modern and grownup, he’d just be mad.

Rhonda pulls away, at which point Burt becomes enraged, “So that’s it, huh? You’re just like all the others. A tease and a bitch. You’re a cold bitch who lures me up here and then turns on me. I’ll never forgive you for this, never!

“What? I…what?”

“You’re just heartless. You don’t care for me at all.”

“No! That’s not true! I do care for you!”

And so on. At last, by a combination of smooth talking and bullying, our friend Burt sleeps with Rhonda. Afterwards, she’s completely baffled by what has occurred, but falls into a regular affair with Burt because “after all, you seemed to like it the first time” and “your husband isn’t as enlightened as we are — I’d hate to see him find out.” Maybe she even leaves her husband for Burt in the end.

And all the while, he’s wearing that same powder blue turtleneck! When she visits him, she’s not allowed to drive his car, touch his stereo, or pick out any records herself from his meticulously-arranged record collection. And of course, she needs to leave after they have sex. “I need to get my sleep, babe.”

That scenario is what I think of whenever I hear the music of Burt Bacharach. 


* The main downside to writing this piece is that I now have Burt Bacharach songs stuck in my head. The things I do for you people.

** Or a muppet who somehow took human form. You decide.

***He might also bring up something about yoga and EST and wanting to help her “open up her chakras.” It depends on which flavor of sleazy 70’s guy he is.