Lisa Smith, Pathways, SUPPER

Posted in Uncategorized on December 12th, 2007 by byronkho

The incredible Lisa Smith is back from Morocco, where she spent a back-breaking two years in the Peace Corps helping local artisans to increase their efficiency and market. I only got to see her for a few hours on one day (with a huge lunch at Moriarty’s) and a couple hours on the next with Stimulus Children’s Theater out at the Pathways School. She’s moving to Connecticut, where she will start at a job kind of similar to what she has been doing – helping artisans sell their goods to audiences far and wide. I still have the purse and wallet she sold to me back during our Mediterranean cruise last year. I found the wallet in a pocket of a jacket I hadn’t worn in a year… yeah.

Though that was my first time, Stimulus has taken their show on the road to Pathways several years running – the administrator’s daughter was a Stimulus alumni and he was very keen on the group… even if our routine was definitely not as good as it was last month. It was definitely a worthwhile trip, as I got to see what the facilities were like for students with neurological disorders (aka autism, Asperger’s, Down’s, etc.). As you may know, the government is obliged to provide all students with free public education until they graduate or until they turn 21. Unfortunately (or not, since I really have no idea if it is or isn’t), most of the students at Pathways stay there until they turn 21, which I assume is when they graduate. I’m not sure where they go after.

The administrator had a really interesting family history. He apparently got interested in helping children with neurological disorders because of an elder sister of his. She had some disorder that outwardly showed itself in increasingly violent seizures (probably epilepsy, but he didn’t say). At some point, the seizures would probably have killed her since the falls, injuries from flailing and breathing problems might have become intolerable. Living with such a sister meant having bells all around the house so that one family member could warn everyone else if a seizure was happening – whereby everyone would drop what they were doing and come to the rescue.

The most interesting part of this was the decision by his family to start with operations on the elder sister. These operations removed parts of her brain that were considered non-essential but which added to the seizures, the point being that if they were removed, they wouldn’t cause seizures AND the patient would stay alive. Since a lot of this was very experimental (it being the 1950s and all), they only figured out which areas to remove by wiring up the rest of the family to electrodes and seeing which areas in the brain fired up for certain activities, and then avoiding those parts. The family was the closest the doctors could get to a “baseline” for the sister, thus the choice. At final count, they removed an entire hemisphere of the girl’s head – and she survived! It was one of the first hemispherectomies performed with a surviving patient, who lived for decades afterward and held up a job at the state library (as proof of some mental function anyway, I don’t know how ‘with it’ she was).

Dinner with Caroline, Brian and Wendy (from Mayer) at Supper. Great place for dinner, and I loved the duck breast tartine. Caroline seemed to love the foie gras, so I assume it was quality ethically-challenged duck livers (she didn’t mind the unethical part of it, so long as it tasted good… cruel, we said). Wendy is looking well and working up at CHOP, eventually hoping to become a neonatal nurse practitioner (I think that’s what she said). I think that’s the last I’ll see of Caroline, Brian and Wendy for a while… at least until the next time I roll into Belgium (only Caroline) or Caroline rolls into Philly (which would mean I’d see all of them together at some point). I get along fine with Brian but I don’t think our interests overlap that much. And Wendy? Well, we got along like two peas in a pod at dinner but I have pretty much no excuse to hang out with her. I never knew her that well to begin with, and I guess I’m better for only seeing her once in a blue moon rather than not at all.

SFANW Official Announcement

Posted in Uncategorized on December 7th, 2007 by byronkho

Yes, I’m doing it. Coming your way April 19, 2008. Fair use.


Posted in Uncategorized on December 6th, 2007 by byronkho

Caroline is in town! I had a great lunch with her at Bliss the other day, and we caught up. She really frightens me sometimes. Like some other daring people I know, they go on great holidays by themselves to secluded or unorthodox places… just asking for trouble. Caroline apparently went backpacking in Cuba and Costa Rica for 3 months by herself. Smart idea! She also visited Colombia with her mom (who also was a daring adventuress in her own right, the nerves of steel must run in the family. As well as the Swiss passport, which affords more cultural protection than a US one.). She advised me to visit Cuba as well. I was like, sure, I’ll add it to the list. Never mind that trying to become a US citizen, the Cuban visa or entry stamp might just add stupid obstacles and invite suspicious questions at this point. SHe’s off to more school… all the best people keep deserting for this idea of ‘higher education.’ And then they go off and get $100k jobs at some international joint, aka joke’s on me.

When I was in Paris, I really wanted to stop by Brussels just for a day. Caro’s family really liked me when I was there, and I actually really liked all of them. I wouldn’t have minded stopping by, taking them out for a meal and leaving again (no need to intrude on hospitality so quickly), but alas, we had too little time to make a sudden side tour. They have this beatiful house out in the country next to a medieval village. I ate fresh fruits and vegetable from their garden every day while there and got crazy relaxed. When I am rich and lazy, I will get a similar setup. Man, it was ridiculously refreshing to just sit out in the country, do nothing and live simply for a while! Walking the dog through winding streets with large forests all around, fresh air, and all just a 20-minute train ride from town.

French music

Posted in Uncategorized on December 5th, 2007 by byronkho

If there’s one thing I learned in Europe, it’s that I forgot to pay attention to European music. Man, is there some good stuff out there. Brenna asked me to pick up some bad Dutch hiphop, so I was already looking out for some stuff… but I found it was very easy to get good stuff, about as easy as getting “bad” stuff. Most of it was shoved in my face on the music channels (no, not MTV, but their own versions). I noticed that the Dutch top 40 lists had a lot more American stuff, but the UK and French top 40 lists had a lot more of their own stuff. Perhaps it’s because of how big the music industries are in each respective country? I don’t know my music economics that well: would be interesting to know. Anyway, I put together some hot playlists from some of the stuff I could get. Man, it’s SO freakin hard to get the French and Dutch stuff. At least Virgin can cross-sell from its UK to its US versions, but FNAC, etc., don’t import. I found that I could get some of this stuff on Amazon UK but MAN the shipping is ridonculous. Besides, with the euro/pound being as they are, the price of the CD is out of this world. Hello, YouTube…

Jennifer Ayache from Superbus and “Bob Sinclar”. Fair use.

Girls Aloud, though extremely girly and teenyboppery in their original cuts, are great for remixing into club hits. While none of their songs are club anthem-worthy, they’re still pretty good as filler material. I include a cut of their cover of I Think We’re Alone Now, since they score big points on the “I remember that song, awww” factor. The other songs just make up some good club beats. I particularly like the ATB number since the one vocal line is just so great. Not super-catchy, but just strange enough to be so singable every time it comes around.

One note: there are a shitload of great French DJs spinning dance tracks over across the pond. Bob Sinclar is for some reason burning up the charts over there, and I can see why. Love Generation is my favorite of his tunes, and it does great… even with some of the crazy long remixes that are like 12 minutes long. He’s not Jamaican; he’s just some French DJ who dips into everything from Caribbean soul to acid jazz. David Guetta is a pretty awesome DJ. Not a lot of excessive buildup beats, concise mixing and good vocal lines make up a catchy song. Mondotek’s Alive just kills me – when it starts playing, I’m up there doing my 80s dance moves just because I can’t stop myself. Listen to it, it’s crazy.

A Dutch heavy mix, since there are a lot of really good Dutch MCs and rappers. Some of these guys do gangsta rap, but I really don’t believe that they’re anywhere near the gangsta scene. I mean, they may put a cap or two in a fella, but man… I can’t see Amsterdam as a crime capital. I mean, it could be, you never know, but… whatever, has nothing to do with the music. The sounds their producers like to cut into their numbers are kinda different than what we’re used to in the States, so the feel of some of the songs is a little different – though you can obviously tell what genre each song is in. They don’t stick to all the normal chords, and their riffs feel like they are pulled off of different scales. They even do sampling a little differently. I can’t even explain all the differences; they’re just there. Regardless… it’s all good stuff to listen to while sitting around with your homies.

Aussies Hilltop Hoods and UK rapper Kano. Fair use.

Sprawling over the world a little more… Australian hiphop has a lot of great artists, only a few of whom I’ve sampled here. Urthboy, in particular, is really good. He heads up a couple other hiphop ensembles but has some solo stuff too which I feel is much better than the ensemble stuff. There is some good South American rap and hiphop out there, but more often than not, it’s more reggaeton than anything else. I like reggaeton only sometimes, as I find the beats become VERY generic very fast. I’m sure a reggaeton fan could argue that it’s not, but I have my prejudices already :) Serbian hiphop is not too bad… if someone can intro me to some more good Serb/Bosnian MCs, I’d be grateful. Though there are a lot of German MCs, I find German doesn’t flow as easy as some other languages do in tight flows just because it’s a little heavier. This doesn’t mean there aren’t really skillful German rappers who “rise above”!

French rapper La Fouine. Fair use.

Here comes the first insertion of two big genres that we don’t see at all in the charts in the States. Since they’ve got a large Arabic and Afro population in Paris, the Arabic pop/hiphop and Afropop music should then be popular. Which they are. The last track is a particularly good example. Magic System is a big Afropop group that has all sorts of REALLY danceable hits in France, and boy, are they danceable. It’s immediately identifiable as Afropop (of which I formerly only heard in really dusty world music sections of US music stores, but which is way more catchy than any of the samples in those sections). Amine is an Arabic R&B superstar. He has a really girly-type voice, but his kind of voice modulations is heard a lot in Arabic music. He apparently can sing in both French and Arabic. In both this mix and the next, he does a duet with Leslie, a half-Vietnamese R&B hottie (kinda like a Kelly Rowland type… FYI, Kelly Rowland features Amine on the international release of her last CD). The song (Sobri) is a lot more Arabic sounding than, say, On Va Samize, but no less danceworthy with all the traits of a normal R&B/hiphop number. That’s another thing – the different international versions of CDs typically have remixes with artists more well known in their market. This may cover their hit single, or it may just be a bonus song thrown into the international version. It’s stuff like this (which may be basics for a record exec) that’s really interesting to pick up.

French R&B and Hiphop vixens. Fair use.

The amount of good female R&B and hiphop talent in France is pretty amazing. There’s a whole bunch, nto all of which I was able to get. In particular, I liked Koxie and Zaho. Koxie is not trying to do typical hiphop, seems like, since her songs are more intent on being cute and cool at the same time (as opposed to just cool). You’ll see what I’m talking about if you listen to some of her stuff. She is really good though! Zaho is more of a straightforward hiphop artist. She did a cover of that Timbaland and Nelly Furtado song with her own lyrics which is just amazing – and I can’t stop listening to Hey Papi. It’s awesome.

Akala and Kano are awesome Brit MCs. Just Jack is kinda hiphop, kinda space… don’t know quite where he’s at, but he makes some great songs. Catch his “Stars in Your Eyes” some time; that’s also just great as a chill tune.

I haven’t finished my Pop remix, but there’s a bunch of really great artists. There’s this one song from one of the former Sugababes (yeah, basically the Spice Girls after the Spice Girls disappeared, and speaking of Spice Girls, they have a reunion tour planned and have a new single out. Crazy!) that’s killer catchy. Some hip dance beats from Brit Sophie Ellis-Bextor, though a lot of the songs skitter over the edge into Kylie Minogue territory – which may be purposeful. There’s uber-trendy Kate Nash and Lily Allen of course, but I prefer Lily Allen. Her songs are WAY more catchy and not just weird. Lucie Silvas, Melissa M and Jenifer are also of the girl singer-songwriter bunch who have some good stuff. May be too indie-femme for some people, and too pop-slut for some (Jenifer can be accused of this), but they’ve got skills undoubtedly. Listen to some Emily Loizeau; she’s amazing. If very sad. Scouting for Girls is from the UK, and they’ve got some real hot powerpop. VanVelzen, similarly – they’re a Dutch band and totally sound like they could be a US band if you’re relying on accent alone. Tokio Hotel (whose lead singer may or may not be a real woman) has some good moody rock stuff. If you haven’t listened to Vanessa Paradis from the early 90s, you really should. She’s not just a hottie bimbo married to Johnny Depp; she has some good songs. My favorite is this 60s Temptations-like number called Be My Baby.