Ugh. It’s not just Monday, but a rainy, gloomy Monday. So I turned to one of my favorite feel better albums, Orchestre Baobab’s “Pirate’s Choice.” A fantastic album, it’s dignified and danceable at the same time.
But wait! There’s a new album! It came out at the beginning of the year, and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s a track from “Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng.”
My Monday just got infinitely better. Here’s hoping yours does, too.
Image by Jimmy Huang. Creative Commons license 2.0.
Have you seen the Carioca? It’s not a foxtrot or a polka.
It’s a song, it’s a dance, it will be stuck in your head all day. I was listening to the Fireballs’ version this morning:
What do I love about it? The riff, of course. And the fact that it’s in a minor key, which adds a little mystery to it. Plus the song’s rhythm is unusual and fun to dance to. Play it when you’re alone in the house – I dare you not to dance along.
“Carioca” is a word used to describes things having to do with Rio de Janiero. The song first appeared in the 1933 movie “Flying Down to Rio,” and was sung by Etta Moten Barnett:
The thirties were a very difficult time economically. People were unemployed and hungry, and their only recourse was to perform highly choreographed dance numbers on top of airplanes.
Besides the irresistably catchy “Carioca,” the movie features Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing together on film for the first time. I am a huge fan of Fred and Ginger, and heard the song for the first time while watching this movie.
The song has been covered frequently over the years – here are the Andrews Sisters doing it:
And here’s my personal favorite version, by Caetano Veloso. It’s haunting, like someone reminiscing about a very good time long ago.
Tomorrow the United States will be electing its next president. This is one where the stakes are really up for grabs; we could wind up in an awful, awful place for real if this goes the wrong way.
As a momentary distraction, here’s some dancing that reminds me of American things. A bluegrass jam and clog dancing. A family (or group of friends) enjoying themselves together. I’ll bet you there’s a pot of coffee on the stove and something good in the oven. Nothing too fancy, and a lot of fun.
I sometimes work as a dance class accompanist, and have spent a certain amount of time hanging around ballerinas.
First of all, I want to point out how much respect I have gained for dancers through this job. Dance requires the strength and coordination of an athlete, extraordinary self-control, and dedication to the craft. If you don’t believe me, go take a class. You will be lying on the floor weeping in pain within the first eight minutes. I know I would.
It also appear that everyone who studies western classical dance for a while will have to learn some version of “Four Little Swans,” from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”
I was goofing around on the piano one day between classes, and began to play the music to this. Immediately, a row of dance teachers came through the door in perfect formation. I laughed so hard I had to stop playing.
Ballet Fun Fact: The technical term for four people dancing together is “pas de quatre.”
Here’s an interesting interpretation of the piece. The swans have become frogs, and the choreography reflects that. It’s a lot of fun.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
If you’re on the East Coast, it’s pushing 3PM right now. Which means it’s just about time for some B-52’s.
See if you can get a conga line going around the office.
And BTW, the whole album is great. Treat yourself to a copy for the next time it’s 3PM and you need a conga line.
Image: JD Hancock. Creative Commons License 2.0
Here is a group from Cuba called Obini Bata. They play a drum called the bata, which is traditionally forbidden to women in the religion of Santeria. And they make wonderful music.
Guaranteed to get you up and moving before the boss notices you’re late (Actually, it’s 11:00 AM my time right now, so I think that ship has sailed).
Chris Kenner wrote “I Like It Like That,” and while both versions are great, Kenner’s version charted higher on Billboard’s Hot 100 than the Dave Clark Five’s 1965 cover version did (#2 vs #7).
Now you go on and dance until you lose your shoes.
Image courtesy of the British Library.
Seems like it’s one of those Mondays when your eyes don’t want to open and all the coffee in the world won’t help.
But you know what does help? Ricky Martin …
…. And Lou Bega. Try to listen to just the bass line in this one, it really makes the song. Simple, and perfect.
… and Outkast.
You see that bass “Possum Jenkins” is playing? That’s the kind of bass I play. It’s either a Rickenbacker 4001 or 4003; I play a 4001.
One of the things that makes this song sound so cool is the phrasing. A phrase is a certain number of measures that repeat throughout the song. In pop music, a phrase is usually four measures long, and in 4/4 time.
In this song, the phrase is six bars long, and the fifth measure is only two beats. It’s just different enough to sound distinctive, but it’s still highly danceable.
So let’s dance!
Now you’ve done it. You’ve got me started on the Nicholas Brothers. Harold and Fayard. Genuises.
Fred Astaire told the brothers that this sequence (from the movie “Stormy Weather”) was the greatest movie musical number he’d ever seen. The virtuosity of their moves is just stunning.
And yes, that is Cab Calloway leading the orchestra.
Harold and Fayard’s parents were musicians who performed at a theater in Philadelphia. Because of this, they were able to observe the top African-American dancers of the day, and learned to dance by copying their moves. While still in their teens (actually, Harold was 11), they were performing at the Cotton Club.
Here’s a clip from 1936; Fayard would have been 21 or 22, and Harold would be about 15.
And here they dance with Gene Kelly in “The Pirate,” their last film. Both Kelly and co-star Judy Garland had to fight to get the brothers into the movie, and this sequence was cut from the film for many theaters in the South.
Okay, just one more. This is from the movie “Orchestra Wives,” and that’s Glenn Miller on the trombone.
Photo by Miika Silfverberg. Creative Commons License 2.0
Sometime after my third cup of coffee, I said to myself, “Why not play some ukrabilly?”
I saw this for the first time on Facebook. Facebook’s translations can be pretty rough, but thanks to one of the comments, I was able to find out that this is a Ukranian band called OT VINTA.
Check out this one; it’s even sillier:
OT VINTA’s website is http://ot-vinta.com. They have other songs posted that are more serious, and feature more of a traditional rock setup. But these are great – how can you feel sad when you’re dancing in a washtub?