Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Get Down Review by Daniel Jaramillo

Its 1977 in New York City, there is corruption in the city council, greedy developers are intent on gentrifying the poor neighborhoods and politicians struggle to keep graffiti off subway trains and abandoned buildings. Disco is at its peak, with countless, infamous nightclubs where celebrities, drug dealers, pimps and gangsters indulge in all manner of extravagances, whilst in the rubble-strewn sprawl of the South Bronx an underground music culture is rising that will not only take over the city but the entire globe, It’s the birth of hip-hop music.
In the next 40 years hip-hop became a billion dollar industry and disco was practically forgotten unless you happen to share Baz Luhrmann’s nostalgic inclinations and wish Studio 54 re-opened its doors; but for now let’s leave that in the dust pans of history.

Watching the Netflix series The Get Down, you can’t deny the small screen’s power to re-interpret a forgotten musical trend through the eyes of shady characters and introduce it to a new generation of music fans who did not grow up dancing to its soul-influenced, melodic rhythms. The Get Down takes audiences back to an era where young people struggled through the week and had the time of their lives every weekend. Already in its 2nd season the drama is fastidiously well researched re-telling in gritty details the origins of hip-hop with DJ Cool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa making cameos throughout the series. Disco provides a counterweight to the story clearly showing the fall of the phenomenon as all kinds of sleaze from record label executives to film directors sift through human misery searching for the next Donna Summer.

This musical period-drama was created by Baz Luhrmann and produced by music journalist Nelson George. The main protagonists are Ezekiel Figueroa a young black Puerto Rican teenager who is a talented poet, wordsmith and promising student but he gets involved with a young man from the streets named Shaolin Fantastic, an apprentice DJ under the wing of Grandmaster Flash who is trying to start a hip-hop group called the Get Down brothers and completely revolutionize popular music by sampling, cutting and scratching disco records whilst his 3 MC’s rap over the music. The term Get Down means taking a 10 second drumbeat on a record and manually editing it from one drum solo to the next extending the beat so MC’s can rap over it,  a technique invented by Grandmaster Flash in the mid 70’s.

The main female protagonist Mylene Cruz is an attractive young woman who has dreams of becoming a disco singer but whose father a devoted Catholic wishes his daughter to only sing hymns about God in his church. Of course Mylene and Eze kiel are also in love and they come into conflict over his dreams of music stardom in the Bronx instead of going to University and trying to find a real job. Other revolving characters are Papa Fuerte (played by Jimmy Smits) a businessman working with politicians and other business leaders to deliver housing, healthcare and jobs to his community. A friend of Mylene’s family Papa Fuerte encourages her to start considering a career in singing seriously and introduces her to record executive Roy Asheton owner of disco label Marrakech Star, the label that turned Donna Summer and the fictional character of Misty Holloway into super stars.

Hip-hop star Nas executive produced and wrote the rhymes that narrate the story; each episode begins with him rapping as if he was the adult Ezekiel. There are notable villains in this series too; one being Cadillac a gangster and drug dealer who loves disco and hates hip-hop with a vengeance wishing death upon all of the Get Down brothers. Cadillac is the son of Fat Annie a wicked woman running the notorious Les Inferno club in the Bronx who lures Shoaling Fantastic to help her push drugs and in return offers the Get Down brothers a record contract and allows them to play a show at her club.

The first season of the Get Down was more concerned with character development and the flamboyance of the period with the drama revolving around the conflict between the popularity of Disco and the rise of hip-hop. Season 2 however really kicks the plot line into overdrive with many twists and turns in the narrative not to mention outrageous sub-plots making it a really entertaining story that keeps you wondering what more trouble these people will find themselves in.

The cast does a great job in portraying their characters and the trade mark of Luhrmann’s art direction from the costumes and fashion accessories to the flashy sets are spot on and really do stand out. The superb soundtrack includes all the popular black 70’s music from funk, Jazz, RnB and classic Disco hits such as Got to be Real by Cheryl Lynn and hip-hop anthems like Rappers Delight by Sugarhill Gang.  In fact all the elements of hip-hop culture are heavily featured from MCing, breakdancing and graffiti to Dj’ing embracing a real lesson of what shaped this culture in its early heyday.

Luhrmann also adds his other magical touches like stylistic editing, colorful lighting and amazing cinematography, particularly with musical performances as he’s done in his previous films really making the story come to life.

As comic books and graphic novels were also highly popular in the late 70’s season 2 introduces a stylistic departure via a comic book format telling parts of the story in a cartoon configuration. However I found it didn’t add to the enhancement of the story and felt unnecessary.

On the other hand an interesting subplot is when Ezekiel takes on an internship with a business firm that mainly employs white middle class students and he’s the exception to the rule. The boss of the company likes Ezekiel and his daughter also fancies him; keeping to the contrasts of the period she tries introducing him to The Ramones and other punk music of the time.

With all the cultural references this really is a hybrid of real events cleverly combined with fictitious characters and incidents tailored specifically for young people who might not know the history of the origins of hip-hop and the glamourous decadence of disco, The Get Down is a trip down memory lane and all the artists who once carved the way for a generation of hip-hop stars to come to the forefront. The HBO series Vinyl attempted something similar with rock music and also had a great cast but failed to get a 2nd series.  The Get Down has exceeded all expectations and there could be the possibility of a third one in the works.

Overall The Get Down is a breakthrough original production for Netflix having premiered both series in 190 countries and receiving great reviews. Regardless if you’re into hip-hop or disco The Get Down ties drama, romance and music in a very satisfying package that makes for exceptional viewing.

Four and a half stars out of five!

Monday, 3 October 2016

L-FRESH The LION Concert Review by Daniel Jaramillo

Over the years I’ve been to many of L-FRESH The LIONs a.k.a. Sukhdeep Singh concerts and his shows are always uplifting and packed with people ready to have a good time. The music is hip-hop that you can dance to but it also contains a message of growing up in Australia and resisting the labels that are put onto you. Living in Australia can be a privilege but also for many people there is an ongoing struggle to be treated as equals and to feel included rather than discriminated because of differences in cultural heritage, economic opportunities or religious beliefs. These are some of the issues in L-FRESHs music however he is also a guy who knows how to rock a crowd and entertain you with his skills on the mic and his back up band is always keeping a tight groove behind him with a highly energized hype MC in Mirrah. I attended L-FRESH The LIONs sold out show at the Newtown Social Club and this was my take on it.

The supporting acts of the show started with Sukhjit a Sikh
poet/story teller who made the audience laugh on several occasions as she told us several anecdotes from dealing with men who perceive her in a certain way to growing up in white Australia. As she was the only non musical act it was a good warm up to start exercising some dialogue with the audience and make everyone feel right at home which is exactly what she did.

The next act to arrive on the stage was renowned poet/hip hop artist Omar Musa. Musa’s performances are always passionate and come from a place of sticking up for the underdog and revealing uncomfortable truths. His set list mainly comprised of songs from his recent Dead Centre E.P which I found had some of Musa’s most cleverly thought out poetry to date, an example is on the song The Razers Edge where Musa says“They stroked Surveillance cameras between their legs”. Joining him on stage was Australian veteran MC Hau who performed alongside Musa on the last song of his set.

It was time for L-FRESH The LION to step on stage and Mirrah got the crowd all pumped and ready to party. L-FRESH was joined by his live band and performed new and old songs. There were some songs which L-FRESH had never performed before which revealed a more personal and vulnerable side to his songwriting.  His performances are always about making people feel hopeful and encouraged to make change in their personal lives and in the world at large. However it wasn’t all-serious as he also played songs which got me and the wrest of the crowd jumping and clapping their hands like Get Mine and 1 in a 100,000 always give the crowd something to get their bodies moving to. L-FRESH also gave tribute to his ancestors on the song Never Alone and gave special praise to his mother. He thanked the audience for their support and brought back Omar Musa and Sukhjit to the stage again with Hau and they all performed together before saying farewell. 

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Music in Film and Television
by Daniel Jaramillo

Ever since MTV was brought to the masses music has been a visual medium as well as auditory. Movies have been made about great musicians and TV series have tried to re-create historic periods in music culture. Documentaries are also very useful in getting the real participants involved in discussing and arguing what happened historically and what it was like to be a participant. In 2016 music has been documented, gone to hollywood and arrived on HBO and Netflix.

Earlier this year the music documentary Soundbreaking was premiered on Channel 9 in Australia and on NBC in the U.S. Soundbreaking is an 8 part series that explores the art of popular music recordings. It starts by investigating the early records of the 60’s and 70 interviewing legendary producers such as George Martin (The Beatles’ Producer) and getting the opinions of music journalists and artists themselves. The series then proceeds to talk about the new innovative technologies used by musicians and music producers such as the synthesizer, the drum machine and what hybrids in music came as a result of these new technologies. There is also an entire episode on how sound and vision become one and finally it reveals how the digital age of downloading and streaming music overtook records, cassettes and CD’s. Soundbreaking is the first documentary to analyze popular music in a critical and historical way, which in my opinion no series has yet explored in so much detail. It also isn’t limited to one type of music genre as it brings the producers of Hip-Hop, Jazz, Funk, R’N’B, Rock, Pop and EDM to discuss and analyze the music that we all grew up on.

HBO is also responsible for premiering the series Vinyl, the first period drama about the music industry of New York in the year 1973. Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger were the executive producers and with those two household names it was only natural that it was highly anticipated by many music fans. The series reveals just how corrupt the music industry was back in the 70’s but it also brings to light the birth of the punk movement in New York. The characters are full of flaws and that’s what makes them very real, from the head of American Century Records Richie Finestra to Kip Stevens the singer of the Nasty Bits (played by Mick Jaggers son, James Jagger) a punk band that has signed a deal with American Century. There are also cameo interpretations of rock stars of the time such as Robert Plant, Alice Cooper and David Bowie. After the series ended the critical reception was divided and HBO was originally planning to make a 2nd series but pulled the plug after some believed the series had not been a big enough success. Despite the negative reaction to Vinyl it still showed the willingness and desire to tell an audience about music culture from another period and showed that great bands live on after they are done.

When Hollywood tries to do biopics of legendary artists it usually is felt with disappointment in its portrayal and historical relevance yet some biopics have proven to gross very high such as last years box office hit Straight Outta Compton. However when you have a Hollywood actor who is willing to make a film about a musician he is a lifelong fan of and is willing to direct and fund the movie himself you know it is going to be authentic. Don Cheadle did just that with his portrayal of the late Miles Davis in the film Miles Ahead. The Davis’s family gave Cheadle the permission to make this film the way he envisioned it to be. It was not suppose to be a documentary about Miles Davis rather it was a fictional story with some real events in Davis’s professional and personal life. The movie has car chases, gun violence and drug-induced parties. Davis did indulge in cocaine in real life but the movie also shows us flashbacks of when miles was a young man with a suit and tie recording Kind of Blue. Miles Davis of the late 50’s and early 60’s is a very different musician to the mid 70’s and 80’s. By this later stage he had become a Jazz superstar and he was also experimenting with electric guitars and keyboards, being heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix and James Brown. Another important character in the movie is a young music journalist by the name of Dave Braden played by Ewan McGregor who follows Davis around town and goes along to all his house parties providing he can lead Davis to where there is cocaine. Cheadle studied Davis very carefully and showed his temperament and character flaws but also his more vulnerable side and the love he had for his music. This film did get a worldwide release in movie theatres and film festivals and most critics including myself think it is one of Cheadle’s finest performances to date.

The last music show to come out this year is a brand new series that was premiered on Netflix called The Get Down. The series is all about Hip-Hop and Disco and takes place in 1977 in the Bronx - the birthplace of Hip-Hop. The main character is Ezekiel a young man who is an inspiring wordsmith and meets a young street man of the name Shaolin Fantastic who is an inspiring DJ; they both dream of starting their own hip-hop shows and crews. Ezekiel is also talented at school but is afraid to show off his talents in front of his classmates, it is his friends on the streets who introduce him to the underground parties where DJ’s such as Grandmaster Flash are scratching records and rocking crowds in abandoned buildings. The other main character is Mylene a young woman who has dreams of being the next Donna Summer but is not supported by her religious father who wants her to be a good Catholic girl and sing religious hymns. Mylene’s uncle Francisco ‘papa fuerte’ Cruz is a hustler and a political boss who has ties to New York’s big business firms and the owners of the major record labels. Francisco makes Mylenes dream come true by getting her Jackie Moreno (a big time disco producer) to record her in a professional studio and to help her get a hit record by his songwriting and signing her to a record label. Baz Luhrmann who is known for his musical films created the series spending over ten years developing the concept and executively producing The Get Down with the help of Nas who co-produced. The series also does a great job in showing us the Bronx in the late 70’s and how an entire youth culture was emerging in the cities corruption and crime. Will Smiths son Jaden Smith also makes an appearance as one of the graffiti artists and it is very apparent the series showcases the art of rhyming, scratching records, tagging on trains and tunnels and breakdancing crews. A second series is expected early next year and there is no reason why it won’t go ahead as this first 6 episodes series has been a success as a Netflix production.  

In conclusion the film and television industry has been trying to find new audiences to keep itself afloat. The success of long form television has made big time film directors like Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann become interested in producing and creating television series. As with movies, actors are interested in playing real life characters that people know well and can relate to. Musicians are people that are fascinating for us because they inspire creativity and show us how to be individuals. Documentaries are also still great at educating us about any topical issue especially when it comes to historical events like the recording of a classic album or how artist’s ideas can change the world.  

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Kamasi Washington and his band blow the house down.

By Daniel Jaramillo

In the world of contemporary Jazz the name Kamasi Washington has been mentioned in high praise. The young 34-year-old saxophonist distinguished himself a great deal by working as a session musician with heavyweight hip-hop artists and producers such as Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Lauryn Hill and Flying lotus. Washington also released a triple disc album titled “The Epic” that was 173 minutes worth of music released in 2015 on the Brainfeeder label. The title is well suited as the music is performed and recorded by a 10-piece jazz band, a 32-piece orchestra and a 20-person choir. It received great acclaim and fans and critiques were excited to hear jazz that was reminiscent of John Coltrane. Whilst Coltrane's playing and improvisation influenced Washington, he has developed his own style of jazz that is influenced by other genres such as Hip-Hop, Classical music and Gospel. 

Washington grew up in Los Angeles and many of his peers were into Gangster Rap, which Washington embraced as a teenager and brought the attitude of Gangster Rap into his style of Jazz music. He went on to study music at the prestigious Hamilton High School of music. Hailed as “the King of L.A Jazz” Washington has been touring in Australia as part of the Byron Bay Blues festival and has just played two sideshows in Melbourne and Sydney. 

The Sydney gig was at the Metro Theatre and the crowd was quite diverse ranging from older jazz heads to younger fans that probably heard of Washington through his collaborations with the various hip hop artists he has worked with. The opening act was Lewis Butle a DJ spinning classic jazz tracks from the 40’s and 50’s but he also dropped in a few more recent Hip-Hop and RnB tunes. By 9:30pm The crowd finally got to see the bigger than life figure of Kamasi Washington and his band take the stage to perform Jazz at an “epic” level, the musicians were all very accomplished and really put everything into their performance, the dual drummers gave the band the power of a steam train at full throttle 

Washington greeted the crowd with a few funny stories about how he met some of his band mates and the crowd responded well to his lighthearted humor. He then brought his father who is an accomplished flute player as a special guest to join his band on stage, and together they paid tribute to Malcolm X with a track called “Malcolm’s Theme” from the “The Epic” album. 

Washington's playing was really energetic at times blowing his saxophone furiously like a hurricane and other times he would play a calmer tune that was like listening to water streaming down the river to even out the performance. The set list of the night comprised of songs from his debut album “The Epic” but there were also a few new songs that the audience had not heard before, perhaps a teaser from Washington’s next studio offering or maybe he was testing out some new compositions. Either way the promise of another great album was evident throughout the night. 

Halfway through the gig Washington took a break from blowing his saxophone and gave the spotlight to his two drummers who both took their solo’s to the next level and showed the audience just what drummers are humanly capable of. The band featured female vocalist Patrice Quinn who also gave the music another dynamic and showed us that Jazz is as diverse as the people who make it. The audience left the venue with a good feeling, content that they had just witness a truly special band, and because jazz is normally more intimate played in small clubs and cafe's, to see a performance of this level on a much bigger stage like a rock concert was something to cherish for any fan of jazz or fusion music.


Two Veteran MC’s join forces for one special tour

Common + Talib Kweli at The Enmore Theatre 


By Daniel Jaramillo

Common is no doubt a veteran MC and has had his fair share of battles with the likes of Ice Cube and Drake but he is also considered a conscientious hip hop artist which is why he has kept relevant in the rap game for so long and his acting career has elevated him to the status of a great artist.

Common played a headline show with friend and fellow rapper Talib Kweli at the Enmore Theatre on a Monday night. As the people started arriving at the theatre to see this stellar hip hop line up, the first act to jump on stage was Sarah Conner a young female Australian MC who got the crowd warmed up straight away. Only a quarter of the theatre was full but Conner was showing her talent to the early comers and the crowd was getting right into it. Her performance showed her confidence and what skills she had on the mic as she definitely owned the stage and got the crowd to participate in the music alongside DJ Platterpush. She also gave a passionate speech about the lockout laws and why it is a bigger issue that violates our civil rights rather that just our right to go out and drink where we want. This of course was leading to a new song about the issue from her upcoming album, for this Conner brought out some guests including vocalist Natalie Slade. The crowds reception was positive as MC Losty and MC Big Red Cap also came on stage during her show; Big Red Cap is originally from Brighton, England and reminded me of Dizzee Rascal and some of the other grime rappers from the U.K. By the end of Conner’s set the house was full and we were ready for Talib Kweli.

When Talib Kweli entered the stage there was a great crowd reception, the girl next to me was screaming out in utter fanaticism, his DJ showed off some of his turntable skills as Kweli played a bunch of old and new songs, some were crowd favourites others more obscure. As the crowd waved their hands side to side Kweli instructed the lighting guy to dim down the lights so we could all appreciate the sea of cigarette lighters and phone screens from his loving audience. This lead to a tribute to Prince as Kweli told the crowd to “keep on dancing” and “clap your hands to the beat”. Kweli also paid homage to Paul McCartney by playing Eleanor Rigby and proceed to rap over the song.

The fans of Blackstar (Kweli’s group with Mos Def) also got a chance to hear him perform Definition which he finished with an RIP to Phife Dawg (The late rapper of A Tribe Called Quest). Kweli also spoke to the crowd about standing up for oppressed people around the world and how race and class should not divide us. He closed his set with Get By, which is well known for its Nina Simone sample, the beat has a clapping rhythm that made the audience join in, the atmosphere was buzzing! It was now the time everyone had come for and it did not disappoint as Common came running on to the stage. His energy was there for all to see as he opened with “The People” a song that Common wrote about how he identifies with ordinary people like us. Backing him was his live band consisting of a drummer, keyboardist, DJ and Female vocalist, together they lifted the atmosphere to yet another level giving Commons music a special quality.

Common acknowledged his Sydney fans by saying that he loves coming to visit our city. In a career that has lasted over 20 years, he is still hungry and he told us that he is working on brand new music. He also mentioned his love for hip-hop culture and listed his entire album catalog, which certainly has a special place in my collection.
Commons music often touches on injustices particular towards African Americans. He specifically mentioned police murdering unarmed black youth and the disproportionate amount of black men and women being incarcerated by the criminal justice system in his home country, he encouraged us to stand up against racism here particularly towards Aboriginal people. But it was not all serious, he also picked a young girl from the front row, asked her up on stage and sat her down on a stool, handed her a towel so she could wipe of the sweat dripping down his face whilst the other women in the audience went crazy as he started to free style about the girl on stage and then performed his love song Come Close To Me.

Common proved that he can be a ladies man but also a man who reminds us that we all have the power to change the world and it starts by being kind to one another. Common invited Talib Kweli back on the stage to perform another Blackstar song titled Respirations taking us back to the first recording they ever did together. Of course a Common show wouldn’t be complete without a tribute to the late J Dilla who produced several of his classic songs including The Light, which concluded his set. The crowd was shouting for more and he came back for an encore and performed a tribute to Nas. Both Nas and Common have worked together in the past and it was an appropriate salute to another legendary rapper who also came out of the hip-hop scene of the early 90’s. As Common and his band said goodbye, we were left in a positive mood having witnessed a hip-hop artist who has kept the spirit of the music alive. Not only did Common give us an outstanding performance covering his entire music catalogue, he also gave us some important ideas to think about in our own lives.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Sleepmakeswaves Review

by Daniel Jaramillo

Instrumental rock bands have hardly ever caught the attention of mainstream media or have received any air time on commercial radio stations, in Sydney however there is an emerging scene of bands who love to play long pieces of music that take the listener on a journey. This music is heavily inspired by Progressive rock/metal and Post Punk bands. 

Sleepmakeswaves is at the forefront of this movement and are gaining more fans every time they announce a headline show or when they open up for bands like Opeth, Cog, Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus and Bosnian Rainbows.  They also have been nominated for an ARIA and have toured in Europe, Asia, UK and New Zealand. I was at their headline show in Sydney at the Metro Theatre and joining them was Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, The Contortionist, and Dumbsaint.

When you arrive at a concert you normally don’t see all the punters outside of the venue but when I arrived to the Metro Theatre I saw every one outside and I was later informed that a fire alarm had gone off in the venue making everyone exit the building. It only turned out to be a false alarm and after that ordeal everyone came back into the venue and were ready to see Sleepmakeswaves. When they came on stage a loud applause was heard and the band was ready to get the audience straight back into the show. They told the audience that they were happy to see everyone come back inside and that they would give us a 110% performance. That was exactly what they did from the opening song To You They Are Birds, To Me They Are Voices In the Forest and then with other standout tracks from their catalogue. Their stage presence was infectious and they made the crowd get right into their long instrumental passages. The audience did not need to start mosh pitting as they were simply standing or sitting, admiring the music.

Sleepmakeswaves create some amazing melodies and they mix in electronic soundscapes into the heavy rock riffs which makes the music sound contemporary and fresh. Their repertoire comprised of new and old songs and many of their fans could instantly recognize nearly every song they played. Dumbsaint was the other instrumental band of the night but Sleepmakeswaves deserved their spot as the headliner and although I only caught the end of Tangled Thoughts of Leaving they certainly were menacing and put a lot of effort into their performance.

Sleepmakeswaves is a band that is waving the flag for exciting new music in Australia that is authentic and sophisticated for an audience that listens to a wide range of bands.