Sunday, 27 February 2011

Fish and flowers

by Tamara Kulikova

Early to mid-noughties. Paper, watercolour.

More watercolours by Tamara Kulikova @ Shutterstock.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

On Black Sisters’ Street

by Chika Unigwe

This book traces the stories of four African prostitutes working in the Antwerp’s red light district. It has everything that Bonjour Tristesse does not: real women (that I end up liking, not just sympathising), real life, real sadness. (You understand, the only reason to oppose these two books here is that I happened to read one after another. Sorry, Ms. Sagan.) And, to quote the oldest of the “sisters”, Efe, ‘it make me tink’.

The three women laugh.

At the end of it a thoughtful silence swallows them up again. When it spits them out, it is to hear Efe say that she always wanted to be a writer.

‘It was my biggest dream. I was going to write books and become famous.’ She laughs. ‘At school na so so cram I dey cram my literature books.’ She stands up and begins to give a performance.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so.
‘I like the way incredulity and epoch dey drip commot from the mouth. I like the way things wey dey opposite, salt and pepper, dey side by side. Best of times. Worst of times. Light and Darkness. It make me tink. Tink say how dat for happen? And when I read am, I jus’ wan’ write like dat. Words wey fine so like butterfly, fine sotay person go wan’ read am again and again and again.’ Her voice dims and she sighs. ‘But dat one no go happen now.’

Friday, 25 February 2011

Bonjour Tristesse

by Françoise Sagan

The best thing about this book is its title. But then, it is a line from La vie immédiate by Paul Éluard. Great poem; so-so novel.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


by Northern Lights

One day, Timur asked what was the music played in the car. There was no easy answer to that because the car’s MP3 server was showing “Unknown Album by Unknown Artist”. Funnily enough, I knew what it was, who the musicians are and where exactly the CD is buried at home; and yet I couldn’t remember neither album’s title nor the name of the band.

Back home, I took the album out. Here it is. I say, what an utterly unremarkable name for a most remarkable collaboration: that of jazz trombonist Annie Whitehead and Alistair Anderson, the master of English concertina. Now says: “Northern Lights can refer to at least six different groups”, after which nine different bands are described, none of them refers to Whitehead—Anderson project. As for the title, just check how many albums are named Airplay and you’ll see what I mean.

I wish British jazz/folk/experimental music was better promoted. I’m sure the musicians can do that themselves. Is it that difficult to put a couple of (complete) tracks on MySpace? (That would really help me to illustrate why this is such a brilliant record, by the way.) But no. After searching the web for a good few hours, I give up. The only professional review of the album I could find was at All About Jazz Italia (in Italian; and by now it’s gone). No review at allmusic. Pathetic.

Oh well. I suppose you just have to trust me: it is wonderful. My favourite songs are In All Languages and Midnight Reel; Timur’s (so far) is Dark Blue.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Deportees

by Roddy Doyle
There’s a love story, a horror story, a sequel, sort of, to The Commitments. Almost all of them have one thing in common. Someone born in Ireland meets someone who has come to live here.

The thing about short story collections is that there always is a couple too many of them; one or two I’d happily live without; the literary equivalents of those orphan chocolates on the bottom of the box. Not here. Eight stories here are all in their places. The title story, a happy-ending remake of The Commitments, is almost as good as the original. Less believable, sure, but hey. I’ve always admired Jimmy Rabbite’s musical taste. Surely he deserves a great band to manage.

They were married nine years and in all that time she’d brought exactly six albums into the house, and that didn’t include Nick Cave’s Murder ballads, which he’d given her for their anniversary.
But it did include the Titanic soundtrack.
Jimmy had refused to file it in the Soundtrack section.
— Why not?
— I’m giving it a section of its own, he’d said. — Utter shite.
She’d laughed.
— You’re such an eejit.
And they’d made love on the kitchen table, while Celine Dion rode the vast Atlantic.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Fretless Jazz Bass

by Fender

I bought this bass one warm May Saturday in 2000, in Boston, MA. Or was it in Cambridge, MA? I can’t say for sure now. It was a second-hand music shop about to close in 30 minutes. It was a perfect timing and it looked like somebody left there a perfect instrument waiting for me. I think that, ten years later, I can repeat this: a perfect instrument.

The thing about Fender Jazz Bass is that there is nothing superfluous to start with. Fretless Fender JB has even less than that. And in this case, less definitely is more. My instrument (made in Japan) also feels significantly lighter than some of American Deluxe basses I was allowed to touch, even though I have no clue how much does it really weigh. I was using Rotosound Tru Bass black nylon strings until couple of years ago when I switched to Jazz Bass flatwounds. Both are excellent strings but I would like to go back to black nylons at some point.

More photos of fretless electric bass.

Friday, 4 February 2011


by Taj Mahal and The Culture Musical Club of Zanzibar

Howlin’ Wolf; Muddy Waters; Blind Somebody; Big Someone Else Entirely — that’s how the real bluesmen are named. Not Taj Mahal. Until a few years ago, I thought it to be too ridiculously ostentatious a name to give Mr Mahal a try. In fact, I still think it is ridiculously ostentatious. And I am glad that I’ve discovered his music.

Mkutano means “meeting” in Swahili. Simple as that. It is a meeting of friends, not a competition. Listen to Catfish Blues and hear for yourself: the taarab orchestra sounding as if it were the most natural accompaniment to Delta blues.

From this review, I learned something that was not in the album’s liner notes.

Some local heroes also took part. Female singer Bikidude is well into her nineties and a living legend — the most famous musical ambassador from Zanzibar. Next to her musical prowess, the myth of Bikidude is based on a number of real-life incidents. At the age of thirteen she fled from an enforced marriage into Tanzania, where she crossed the country barefoot. She left a second unhappy marriage and took a traditional dhow sailing-boat to Egypt. It was there she became a singer. She took off her veil and shaved her head. Thus, she created an alternative and somewhat provocative new role model for Islamic women in Zanzibar. Bikidude drank and smoked, she flirted and danced, she sang and played the drums. A major artist from Zanzibar still and singing on this album.
Enjoy the meeting.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

A History of the World in 10½ Chapters

by Julian Barnes
  1. The incredible (although more believable than the Bible’s version) testimony of a Noah’s Ark stowaway, Anobium domesticum.
  2. The uninvited visitors board the Mediterranean cruise ship, with shocking consequences.
  3. Hitherto unpublished bizarre 16th-century legal case of Mamirolle villagers vs the very same A. domesticum.
  4. Young woman survives the nuclear holocaust on board a boat somewhere off the Australian coast, in company of two cats.
  5. The story that inspired Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, followed by the story of Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa.
  6. In 1840, two Irish ladies undertake an expedition to Mount Ararat.
  7. Author’s encounters with Lawrence Beesley, a survivor of the sinking of the Titanic; the legend of James Bartley, 19th-century Jonah; the 1939 voyage of St. Louis.
  8. A film crew goes into the Venezuelan jungle to re-enact the adventures of two Jesuit priests there couple of centuries ago, with almost as disastrous a result.
    (A beautiful, rambling meditation on the nature of love.)
  1. An American astronaut takes a few steps on the moon and hears the voice of God instructing him, guess what, to find Noah’s Ark.
  2. The author wakes up and spends some years or millennia in paradise, polishing his golf skills.

I wouldn’t call it a novel; nor does it provide a history of the world. Who needs a history of the world anyway? A masterful book worthy of Borges and Lem, this one.

That was the grapefruit of my dreams, I don’t mind telling you.

Like an emperor, I pushed aside the gutted hull and lifted a silver dome from a crested plate. Of course I knew what would be underneath. Three sliced of grilled streaky bacon with the gristle and rind removed, the crispy fat all glowing like a bonfire. Two eggs, fried, the yolk looking milky because the fat had been properly spooned over it in the cooking, and the outer edges of the white trailing off into filigree gold braid. A grilled tomato I can only describe in terms of what it wasn’t. It wasn’t a collapsing cup of stalk, pips, fibre and red water, it was something compact, sliceable, cooked equally all the way through, and tasting — yes, this is the thing I remember — tasting of tomato. The sausage: again, not a tube of lukewarm horsemeat stuffed into a French letter, but dark umber and succulent . . . a . . . a sausage, that’s the only word for it. All the others, the ones I’d thought I’d enjoyed in my previous life, were merely practicing to be like this; they’d been auditioning — and they wouldn’t get the part, either.
A History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Drumming for LGBT History Month — again

Today — just like a year ago — Arco Iris (renamed “Arco samba band” by Cambridge City Council) were supporting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month by playing at the Market Square from 12:00 to 12:30. We had a good, tight (even if I say so myself) 20-strong band, and freshly painted over the weekend drums (some of them still wet). And this time, we were announcing the raising of the rainbow flag with a drum roll! During and after the gig, scores of local paparazzi were clicking away, so I expect at least some photos and movies in Cambridge News.