LA’s Queen of Love Songs, Irene Diaz, came back from touring and recording in Mexico with a new band, a fistful of new songs and a new musical attitude that filled the HiHat club in Highland park with wall-to-wall adoring fans. This was her first performance of the new year; she has been recording in Mexico City with Carla Morrison and producers Jando and Nyote, so there was a pent up demand from fans to see her live back home. She met that demand by headlining a show at the newly opened and refurbished Hi Hat (formerly Highland Park Billiards) with Cesar Saez and El Haru Kuoi. As is the always the case for an Irene Diaz concert, it was a two-way love fest.
Sitting center stage in front of her familiar electric piano with her partner and accompanist Carolynn Cardoza on bass and ukulele off to one side and Diaz was flanked by guitarist Greg Gillis and drummer Seung Park. She opened with a very personal greeting - the same warm, approachable shyness her fans love. But it was obvious from the first notes that she was there with a new confidence. She was home with her adoring fans.
Instead of launching immediately into a fast tempo favorite, as is the custom with many acts to grab an audience’s attention, Diaz quieted the room with the dreamy “Untitled Love Song”. Having mesmerized the audience with her hypnotic voice, she upped the tempo with “You”, bringing in the band – muted in the opening song but ow in full measure. Her voice seemed smoother than last year’s live performances, if that is possible. Her range also sounded even wider and the songs deeper and more dimensional. . “Let Me Go”, “Lovers/Friends” and Lost” followed “You”, each with new twists, rhythms and beats. The result was not only a crowd-pleaser, but more commercial than her earlier work, a good thing given that her commercial success has not caught up with her enormous talent, critical acclaim and legions of dedicated fans.
But most of all, Diaz was having fun – lots of it. Bouncing up and down on the piano bench, flashing her incandescent smile at the audience between verses, kicking back and rocking to guitar solos. This is the most engaged, most fun loving and most exciting Irene Diaz I have seen in at least a dozen performers. When she finally gave the audience what they desperately wanted, “Crazy Love”, the cheers rang out.
New songs like “Push” and “Ghosting Song” wrapped up the night, each a magical blend of her sophisticated writing, heart-piercing singing and the first class playing of the band. I assume she was road testing these songs for the forthcoming album that she worked on in Mexico City. If so, she will have commercial hits on her hands. But that was not top of mind for her. She was making magic and the crowd wanted more – “otra”. And she gave it to them, with the ultimate crowd-pleasing love song, “Anything for You”, leading them in song in final chorus. “Anything” pretty well sums up what her fans will do for her, they love her so much. If the forthcoming debut full-length album is anything like the concert at the Hi Hat, many, many more people will love her.
Blues-rock artist Drew Southern can't make it this Friday, but we are delighted to instead, give you our interview with Manlio Celotti, Celotti, CEO of the huge European Music conglomerate, Membran. Manlio had two artists at the Grammys this Sunday and one took home two statues. He is in LA at least 4 times a year and develops talent from around the world. Our second guest if the polar opposite of global music executive suites. He brings his yoga mastery and virtuoso guitar skill to music that soothes. Shambhu is from northern California and will make your day perfect.
Music Friday Live team is back from its music trek through Cuba and we will be rolling out our goodies starting next week. We met with bands and producers and dancers and promoters and had a great time. Cuba is buzzing - both economically and musically. The USA may be embargoing it, but the rest of the world is there with bells on. And music is everywhere - good music! We brought some back and may be able to bring an artist or two to the US. stay tuned.
Listening to Athena’s new album, Ready for the Sun is a mind and heart meld. The beauty of her voice, of her lyrics – of her very soul - submerge you in the deepest of emotion. She sings to you. From the stage or from the studio, Athena connects to those who hear her so closely, so tightly, that every song on Ready for the Sun is an intensely intimate experience. You know this woman when you hear her sing. She is authentic, sincere, close -- and you want to listen to her over and over again.
Athena, an Greek-English singer (and environmental and children’s champion) combines, honesty, vulnerability and confidence in every note, singing about experiences and emotions that are simultaneously personal and universal. Her voice whispers, soothes, and flies with a malleability rare even in the most talented singers. But through every song – whether it is about her breaking heart in “Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye” or about the sparking magic of love at first sight in “You Bring Me Luck”, the intimacy is always there. Every song is a song for you from a magical musical angel who releases emotion like endorphins and delivers them with a crystalline voice. There is simply no one like Athena, nor as good. Which is why she collaborated with Leonard Cohen on his album You Want it Darker, recording her haunting song “Traveling Light” for what was to be his final work.
Produced by Ethan Allen (Sheryl Crow, Gram Rabbit, The Cult) at Santa Monica’s legendary Village Studios, Ready for the Sun introduces this English and Greek star to American audiences with 13 carefully chosen and crafted songs that are the result of over 2 years of writing, recording, critical listening sessions, and road testing in live venues. The work paid off.
Athena opens Ready with the lilting and hooky “You Bring Me Luck”, proclaiming that you are so natural/so magical, a good description for her uncanny ability to expand her voice from a beaming smile to a soaring shout of joy. She flows on to “Everything to me”, her voice sailing high as if driven by a solar wind. You are pulled along with her through it and then into “Where the Wildflowers Grow”, slowing down, letting the notes stretch and glide as she asks How to make it easy/to start again, a question we have all asked at some point.
The title song, “Ready for the Sun” announces that Athena is now in the present, in Los Angeles, in the American sun (as opposed to London gloom). With a banjo-driven fast tempo she becomes a California girl – which, given her lithe body, welcoming bright smile and cascade of long blonde hair – seems as natural as the lyrics in “You Bring Me Luck”. This is the point: a music that is transformative and transportable. The emotions she releases in her music are universal. The musical and lyrical messages of love and life in songs like “All of You”, “Good to be Alive” and “Autopilot” – complete with her whistling – create the heart meld, regardless of language or culture.
But another message permeates the album: “Stronger”, where Athena can shoot for the stars as a lover lit up the night. Not only is it a poignant chapter of Athena’s story of strength and determination, deftly shaped by Allen’s production, but it lays down her philosophy – we complete each other. You feel this through the entire album: not only are we stronger in love, but in everything from saving relationships to saving the planet. It chronicles Athena’s fundamental emotional generosity – the magic that enables her to connect so deeply, even though earbuds.
Ready for the Sun turns to heartbreak in the intensely powerful “I don’t Know How to Say Goodbye”, to happy anticipation of “Don’t Forget to Sing”, and even to a bit of whimsy in “Asleep at the Wheel” and “Everybody Knows My Name”. But this is only after Athena transfixes you with her cover of the Beatles “Imagine”. Breathy, honest, nostalgic and new at the same time, Athena brings back the hope of the original as she lays before us the vision of a world without hate or borders or war – her own vision. Of all the covers I have heard of this song, this is the most powerful and the most full of possibility.
Athena’s past albums, both in English and Greek, have showcased her voice and her sharp songwriting, but in Ready for the Sun she took time to do it right, including assembling a stellar band: Deron Johnson (Miles Davis), Jimmy Paxson (Stevie Nicks), Michael Ward (Ben Harper) and Jonathan Flaugher (Ryan Adams) which takes it to another level. Her experience in sold out European tours, performances at Royal Festival Hall, Glastonbury, TEDx and SXSW and composing for film and TV have all also been concentrated into her debut American release.
Ready for the Sun will captivate American audiences, as I have been captivated, with her ability to create not just music, but an intimate relationship with those who hear her. She is indeed, ready for the sun, and America is ready to be there with her.
Ready for the Sun will be released Feb. 3, 2017
Pre orders, memorabilia and passes at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/athenaandreadis
Album launch parties in California at Hotel Café 1/31/2017 www.hotelcafe.com/tickets
and in New York 2/3/17 at Rockwood Music Hall http://ticketf.ly/2iRnYMw
Athena will release her first US-produced album, "Ready for the Sun" on 2/3/17. She was collaborating with Leonard Cohen before his death and is on his last album. You can pre-order "Ready for the Sun" on Pledge Music at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/athenaandreadis. I got an early look at the pre-release EP. You can see my review of the EP at http://bit.ly/1Tkj9YU. I'll review the full album next week.
Shelby Lanterman is unstoppable – self-taught guitar, learned Garage Band, a degree in audio engineering, writes, sings, produces. And plays in venues like the Roxy and the BottleRock Festival. We are so proud to have you on the air today.
Natalie Gelman joins us this week, the second time she has been on Music Friday Live!. I have never been able to see her live - schedules never quite crossed - but I intend to even if I have to drive to the next country to do it, which in LA is a very big deal. Her music has always been addictive, boosted by her stunning natural beauty and right to the point powerful lyrics. As a solo songwriter, she has picked a tough life, but she does it superbly, singing in major concert halls and subway platforms, where she started. And she has an intelect to match, as she demonstrated in a Ted Talk in Portland. Her newest release, "The Lion" and the video that goes with in pulls no punches. Take a look at it at The Lion. You will see that the lion - or actually the lioness - has been awakened and watch out America.
We are off for the holidays until 1/6/17, but I want to share my favorite Music Friday Live programs and my top 10+1 songs for 2016. Why +1? Because there were more than 10!
The top 10+1 are ( not in order of preference - depends on my mood):
Blue by Polaris Rose
Katarina by Mitre
La Bamba Rebelde by Las Cafeteras
My Sweetest Sin by Irene Diaz
Nothing at All by Halo Circus
Pergunto by Sin Color
Smile by Maggie Szabo
Spin the World by Eric Zayne
The Overload by King Washington
You Bring Me Luck, by Athena
Vamos a Gozar by Buyepongo
My favorite shows of the year were:
Check them out and happy new year
Music FridayLive! is on vacation until next year, but you can still hear Patrick on our bilingual program MusicaFusionLA this Wednesday. Tune in at www.blogtalkradio.com at 1 pm, or download the podcast at Blogtralkradio.com or on iTunes.
Don’t call Las Cafeteras a band. Call them a constructive political movement disguised as a musical theater with a history lesson attached. That was very much evident in their spectacular performance Friday night at the beautiful Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University Northridge. The eight band members, guest singer Maria del Pilar, two dance groups, a choreographer, several costume changes a multi-media projector and a rapper/comedian, together put on a bilingual tour de force of music, dancing, history, film, photography, poetry, spoken word and advocacy centered around the concept of “Beyond La Bamba”. Regardless of what language you speak or where you were born, Las Cafeteras spoke to you Friday night with words of love, ancestry and community.
Beyond la Bamba started with “La Bamba”. Standing alone, center stage in a spotlight with a muted beat emanating from the shadowed musicians behind him, Ritchie Valens spoke to us in the form of an actor dressed liked the Latin-American pop star who died with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper at the age of 17 in 1959. Valens – whose real name was Valenzuela – took us through his history of growing up in Lynwood, CA, working in the fields until his hands hurt, living with discrimination against Latinos who were in California generations before it was California, changing his name because he couldn’t get a record contract with a Latino name. He left us with Valens’ own words: “I wasn’t trying to change the world, I just wanted to be me….but to know who you are, you need to know who you were.”
The giant screen behind him, which has been showing black and white pictures of 1920’s farm workers, run down housing and “No Mexicans or Negros” signs exploded into color with film of Mexican dancers in the plaza while the full band strode on stage and let loose with “El Siquisiri”, the traditional fandango from Veracruz. The traveling musical theater-cum- history-lesson was off and running – or more to the point, dancing. Within seconds, Las Cafeteras’s tag-team front persons Hector Flores and Denise Carlos had the near- capacity crowd up on their feet and clapping to the ribald “El Chuchumbre” as the giant screen images gave way to the Las Cafeteras’ humming bird logo. The clapping continued as Hector mounted the Tarima and danced the zapateado – a tap-like dance on a wooden platform used to amplify the percussion in the Veracruz-based son jarocho music that is central to Las Cafeteras.
The personal connection with the audience thick and authentic. From Hector’s Flores’ introducing a song by telling us about his past and how it reminded him of his deceased father, to the Ballet Folklorico dancing in the aisles with the audience, there was seldom a fourth wall. The performance was truly community. This is the essence of Las Cafeteras, an extended community, playing the indigenous son jarocho music – with rock and rap and pop thrown in – using the traditional instruments like jarana’s, requinto, a donkey jawbone, a West African bass instrument called the Marimbol, the seated box drum the cajón, and the Tarima combined with guitars and drum kits and even a cello for a unique East LA sound. Like their message, Yo No Creo Fronteras, their music knows no borders.
Las Cafeteras rapidly moved on to “Café Con Pan” and “Colas” and were joined onstage by the Ballet Folklorico of Los Angeles and the multi-lingual LA-based Contra-Tiempo Dance group, all choreographed by Marina Magalhães, winner of La Weekly’s Theater Award for Best Choreography. The dancing, accompanied by slides on the movie screen to establish the location – a plaza, downtown Los Angeles, East LA – was expertly woven into the music and the flowing narrative behind the music, as was the migration story/poetry/rap of Indian-born poet/rapper SETI X who joined the group and finished the first set with activist artist Damon Turner and the band performing “Trabajadora”.
For two hours Las Cafeteras played, danced, talked, told stories, clapped and sang with the audience, danced the zapateado – including to the song “El Zapateado”, and turned the magnificent Valley Performing Center alternately into old Mexico, Los Angeles of the past and future, a classroom and a theater-scale art gallery. This was their home turf; stories, music, dance and history. Las Cafeteras are the children of immigrants who came together on the streets of Los Angles to remix roots music and modern day stories in a mashup of son jarocho, hip hop, punk, rock and cumbia. They met while taking classes at the Eastside Café, a Zapatista-inspired community space in East LA where they learned the music and culture of son jarcho. (Many band members went on to obtain Bachelors, Masters and PhD degrees). Their debut album, It’s Time, has garnered rave reviews and netted them features on the BBC, NPR, and in the LA Times.
This eclectic combination of music forms and narratives was especially evident in their performance of Woody Guthrie’s iconic “This Land is Your Land” in the second set, started in American style by Maria Del Pilar and then transformed into Mexican dance with the arrival of Ballet Folklorico in western garb – checked skirts, boots, jeans, cowboy hats – framed by an image of the native Americas who lived here before the Spanish arrived. As the dancers spun and do-si-doed in a American barn dance, Denise Carlos – glowing in bright red hair and red white and blue shorts and top, danced and sang with cowboys and proclaimed “This Land was meant for you and me”.
Las Cafeteras performed 20 songs in two acts and an encore, with multiple costume changes, films, slides and dance numbers, each with a message and a story. Some were in Spanish, some in English; most of the narrative and poetry was in English, which worked well with the mostly Latino bilingual audience that filled the theater. Highlights are too many to list, but a few include a call-answer duet by Maria del Pilar and Denise Carlos supporting a sensuous traditional dance by Contra-Tiempo group, duel zapateado dancing by Hector and Denise, Johnny Cash’s famous “Ring of Fire” by Maria del Pilar, an apropos Presidente”, the playful and hooky “Luna Lovers”, the moving spoken word “Brown” by Hector Flores, and 1700 people on their feet singing “La Bamba Rebelde” during the finale with everyone on stage.
In a time when some are trying to use walls, hate and stereotypes to destroy the “E Pluribus Unum” that built this nation, Las Cafeteras are using music and dancing and joy and history to make the “Unum” stronger. America’s strength has always been the constant flow of new people, new ideas, new energy that comes from immigration. Las Cafeteras are both an example of that new energy and its best proponent. Once you see them, you will understand that Las Cafeteras are not only an LA icon, they are a national treasure.