Thursday, July 28, 2011

Laos -- Country Music from Thailand

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

A radio station is going to be beaming country music into Laos from Thailand in order to boost business and adverting, according to an article in the Thai newspaper/web site The Nation.

R Siam, RS's country-music subsidiary, will use Sabaidee TV to penetrate Laos to boost advertisers' confidence to spend more money on its satellite channel as well as to seek business partners to provide music-download services. "Laos has high potential for the Thai country-music business because its people understand Thai culture and language, while most of them are able to access both free and satellite television services from Thailand," said Soopachai Nillawan, managing director of R Siam. A survey by the company found that Sabaidee TV was the most popular satellite channel in Laos.[...] Soopachai said the overall country-music market in Thailand was worth about Bt1.5 billion annually, of which R Siam accounted for 45 per cent.

I don't know anything about the country music scene in Thailand, but I've written on this blog about the general wild west scene in Thailand, including at least one wild west theme park.  Erik Cohen, an emeritus professor of anthropology (and expert on tourism studies) at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who lives in Thailand  has included a lengthy -- and fascinating -- description and analysis of "Thai Cowboys" in his book Explorations in Thai Tourism, published in 2008 by Emerald, Bingley

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

American Indian Workshop -- Call for Papers

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The 33rd American Indian Workshop conference will take place in Zurich next April. A website has been set up and a call for papers has gone out, with the deadline for submissions Oct. 31. The topic will be "Presentation and Representation Revisited: Places, Media, Disciplines."

The American Indian Workshop started in 1980 and has become the most important scholarly platform for European researchers into issues related to the Native Peoples of North America. Since the beginning this experience has been shared with colleagues from North America. By now the American Indian Workshop is the most important international conference on American Indian and Inuit Studies in the world.

The 33rd American Indian Workshop "Presentation and Representation Revisited: Media, Places, Disciplines" held in Zurich from April 12 – 15, 2012 will be organized by the following two institutions:
The Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich

The Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich / Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich, formerly the “Ethnographic Collections / Sammlung für Völkerkunde”, was renamed in 1971, when it also became part of the School of Humanities. In close cooperation with the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, it supports research and teaching, and puts up special exhibitions with emphasis on aspects of ethnoreligion, cultural history, art history and technology.
The North America Native Museum (NONAM)

The Nordamerika Native Museum (NONAM) developed out of a private collection acquired by the Education Department of the City of Zurich in 1963. The collection is strictly limited to objects from the USA and Canada. Under the name of “Indianer- museum” it served for four decades primarily to instruct schoolchildren about Native America. After its relocation and enlargement in 2003 the museum changed its name to NONAM. Since then it has played an increasingly important and visible role, both nationally and internationally, as one of the few European museums devoted solely to the Native Peoples of North America.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Czech Republic -- In the Studio with Druha Trava

In the studio. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
By Ruth Ellen Gruber

In mid-July I spent two days in a Prague studio helping record the vocal tracks for a new CD by the Czech country/bluegrass/fusion group Druha Trava. Founded 20 years ago, in 1991, DT and its various members have brought out more than a score of albums, including several in English -- see a history of the group by Lilly Pavlak, posted on the European Bluegrass Blog by clicking HERE

But the new Druha Trava CD  -- tentatively titled "Shuttle to Bethlehem" after one of the songs (the inspiration was Bethlehem PA, not the "other" one) is the first that will primarily feature English-language versions of singer-songwriter Robert Krestan’s distinctive original songs.

I made the translations, and the studio session was the culmination of a collaborative project that had taken more than five years to come to fruition.
During the recording session, we were joined in the studio by Lee Bidgood -- a wonderful musician who did his PhD on Czech bluegrass and now teaches at East Tennessee State University, which has a  Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Studies program -- and his colleague from ETSU, the documentary filmmaker Shara Lange, who are making a documentary on Czech bluegrass. They filmed the session and also interviewed Robert, banjoist Lubos Malina and me.
Lee and me when we met in 2004

Lee is one of the first people I got to know what I was starting to follow the Czech bluegrass scene -- we met at the Caslav bluegrass festival in 2004 and I recall how wonderful it was to talk to someone who also was looking at the scene and the music from the "outside" and considering the same questions that I was.

While he was doing research in CZ a few years ago, Lee kept a wonderful blog  in which he described music and musicians and reflected on the history and trajectory of the music in the Czech Republic. He hasn't posted anything lately, but it is a terrific resource.

I wrote about the Prague recording session this week in a post on the Arty Semite blog of the Forward, describing a bit of the complex process of translation. I started translating Krestan's songs into English in 2006 and continued working on them as one facet of the "Sauerkraut Cowboys/Indian Dreams" project for which I had  a Guggenheim Fellowship and NEH summer grant.
My first goal was basic: I loved the Czech originals, but I wanted to know what they meant. As I started working, though, it seemed much more logical — and in fact, even easier — to put them in a rhyming form that could be sung. The process was surprisingly straightforward.

A young student in Prague, David Kraus, supplied me with word-for-word equivalents. David’s father Tomas is an old friend, the secretary of the Federation of Czech Jewish Communities, but he also knows a lot about the Czech country music scene. In Communist times Tomas’s late brother [Ronald Kraus] produced, wrote and translated songs for several key Czech tramp and country-style groups [including the iconic band KTO]..

I took the words that David gave me, compared them to the rhythm of the original Czech lyrics, and listened over and over to the original songs in order to capture their meaning and rhyme structure as well as to fit them to the melodies.

Czech is a more bristly language than English, with quite different sounds and cadences, and Krestan uses words for their tonality as well as meaning. But remarkably, my lyrics got to a point where they seemed to click into place. Later, Krestan and I spent a couple of sessions together tweaking the English to improve both nuance and “singability.”

In the studio, as Krestan sang into the microphone, I stood in the sound booth with DT’s banjo player Lubos Malina, who is co-producing the CD with Nashville-based Steve Walsh. Five years on, it was the first time I heard the songs sung in their final form. (Walsh oversaw the recording of the instrumentals in Nashville last spring.) They sounded, well, right. I focused on recording levels and intonation, but I couldn’t keep a goofy smile off my face.
Read more:
Here's a brief video clip I took of one of the recording session takes of the song "Before We Say Good-Bye".

And here's the original Czech version, sung by the band performing outside Prague castle in 2009, when President Obama was there meeting with Czech leaders.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Spain -- Almeria Western Film Festival Coming Up

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Heads up for the Almeria Western Film Festival, the first European festival dedicated exclusively to the Western genre, coming up at Almeria on the south coast of Spain Sept. 8-11. It will be showing recent Westerns from a vareity of countries as well as a retropsective dedicated to the Spaghetti Western, which will be accompanied by panel discussions.

You can see trailers for the films to be shown on the web site.

Some of the festival events will be taking place in Fort Bravo -- a wild west theme parkin the desert, 25 kms from Almeria, that encompasses various stage sets used in the filming of European-made westerns.

FORT BRAVO is a place of dreams, the movie set of hundreds and hundreds of films produced by people from all over the five continents. The movie studios of Texas Hollywood in Tabernas are like a Mecca for film fans; located in the only desert in Europe, reality and fantasy intermingle, creating a unique, unforgettable and inimitable atmosphere.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Australia -- Dale Watson's airline woes spark a song

Dale Watson signs autographs at the Interlaken Trucker and Country Festival, 2004. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

American star Dale Watson's woes traveling on Tiger Airlines in Australia have prompted him to write a song about the experience. The singer, who has a loyal following the Europe and Australia as well as North America -- I saw him perform at the Trucker and Country Music festival in Interlaken, Switzerland a few years back -- was charged a hefty excess baggage fee for a case of CDs, and then the case got lost in transit.

This is how the Sydney Morning Herald quotes the song:

There goes Tiger Airways and their we don't care-ways
You got a complaint, well stand in line
You got a problem, well that's your problem...

They charged me 500 dollars in extra baggage fees
My hands were tied
I had to pay their price

The song goes on:
But now I'm back in Texas and like a Tiger Airways rep said
They ain't gonna help me if they could.

His name was Timothy Archer
He worked public relations along with Simon Murphy
They made the calls
When all was said was done, nothing was said and done
Which seems to be their motto after all.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Autry Museum's New Installation on early 20th Century Images of the West
"Chavez Ravine" by Misha Askenazy, one of the new canvases in the Romance gallery (Photo: Autry curatorial staff)

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Autry National Center has announced the opening of a new and fascinating installation as part of its "Romance" of the West exhibit. It is An Unspoiled Space: The West in the Eyes of Early 20th-Century Artists and it deals in part with how idealization and longing/desire influenced how artists saw -- and painted -- landscapes and cityscapes in the West.

Focused on the unique, regional landscapes of the desert Southwest and coastal California, this installation explores the people and places that artists were drawn to as they sought to redefine the West by looking at who, what, and where artists chose to paint following the close of the historical frontier.

Artists often saw life in the West in terms of its differences from the Eastern cities where they had previously lived. Whereas city life often left a person—as D. H. Lawrence put it—feeling “dead, dark, and buried,” the Southwest seemed to possess an uplifting visual aesthetic that enhanced daily living. Many believed that Pueblo Indian culture was driven by an innate artistic spirit, and their paintings of Native people reflect this belief. While Indian life preoccupied many artists in New Mexico, blossoming resort communities from Santa Fe to Southern California also became subjects. In Southern California, some artists documented the burgeoning social scene of Los Angeles, from the docks of San Pedro to the downtown plaza, whereas others celebrated the unspoiled beauty of the coast. As they created images that touted the visual landscapes and cultural life of these Western destinations, they promoted ideas about place that remain embedded within their modern identity.

In addition to the landscape of the West, artists were fascinated by its people. The Pueblo Indians and Hispanic families of Northern New Mexico were represented in individual portraits as the visual personification of their respective geographical settings. By focusing on Native and Hispanic cultures as immersed in traditions of craftsmanship, artists believed they were capturing values lost in the quest for industrial progress. The quest for a life spent in harmony with nature also fueled creative production across Southern California, where artists’ groups from La Jolla to the Bay Area created a supportive environment for art. Unlike their counterparts in New Mexico, however, California painters often overlooked the Native population in favor of a more exclusive focus on the private gardens and ocean resorts in works of landscapes and leisure that conveyed the relaxed, stylish qualities that California continues to export to the world.

The Autry blog has a very interesting discussion with Amy Scott, the Autry’s Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross Curator of Visual Art.

“This is about how artists are orienting themselves within a changing West, settling into certain communities, working with the landscape and its native, sometimes its Hispanic, residents to develop visual ideas about place,” Scott said. “Not only did they settle there permanently, but often they brought their families, they raised their kids there, they developed local artists’ organizations to exhibit and promote their work. So they’re really embedded within these communities in a directed and organized way.”

As these painters looked to express their vision amid the ferment of the times — this was the time of World War I, the Roaring 20s and then the Depression — they moved out West, or at least spent significant periods here, in search of a more “authentic experience.” The result was colorful canvases that used the blocky, pared-down visuals of modernism, cubism, surrealism, and impressionism, but applied to the austere landscapes and the indigenous people of the West, like the Navajo (Diné) and the Hopi.

“In the twentieth century, part of the allure of places like Santa Fe and Taos, or Los Angeles and La Jolla, is the fact that they seem to be separate or operate differently from the modern, industrial centers of New York and D.C. and Philadelphia, which sort of form the bedrock of American modernism,” Scott said. “Many of the artists, particularly those who settle in Taos in the early twentieth century, like Blumenschein, are in search of a distinctly American art and distinctly American subjects by which to distinguish their work from the more Europeanized abstraction that is coming out of the East Coast.”

Of course, authenticity is a loaded concept. The artists sought honest representations of American life, and they believed they found them in images of Indigenous people and Southwest desert landscapes.

But some might argue that is still a view from the outside, because the Indigenous people in the paintings were still merely subjects, not necessarily collaborators in the forging of their images. This even though the artists considered the Pueblo Indians they were painting highly artistic, integrating art into their everyday objects and leading lives that had been essentially unchanged for hundreds of years.

“Not only are the Pueblos considered to be inherently creative and artistically gifted people,” Scott said, “but they are one of the few groups of Native people who are seen to be — and of course this is all the perception of Anglo and European artists coming from the East Coast — they’re perceived to be living in manners that are relatively straightforward and consistent with the way they’ve always done. They are not tainted or corrupted too much.”

Eventually, even maverick artists like Blumenschein and Sloan would themselves become the establishment, and they would inspire a reaction in another direction from their successors in the 1940s and 1950s, like Georgia O’Keefe. But at least at the dawn of the century, they and their colleagues formed part of an effort — cyclical in art — to both appropriate new influences and return to “genuine” images and concepts.

“The longing to experience the West as it truly is and as it truly was is part of what (was) pushing these artists into these places,” Scott said. “It’s part of a longing for a more straightforward, what they considered to be more honest representation of American landscapes and American life.”
"Iesaka Waken," by Maynard Dixon, one of the new 20th-century works in the Autry's Romance gallery (Photo: Autry Collections)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rehearsing for new DT CD

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

For the past couple of days I have been in the rural Czech Republic, helping the Czech singer songwriter Robert Krestan of the Czechgrass group Druha Trava rehearse the English language versions of some of his songs for a new, all English language CD -- today we go in to the studio in Prague to begin cutting the tracks. I've never been in a studio for a recording, so it should be an interesting experience..... I did the translations of the songs, and I have to say, they sound good!

Here are the lyrics for the ones that will be on the CD:

Tanecnice (Dancer)

An upturned chair shows the hour has passed
In a night club at the end of care.
The one last dancer in the corner stands
Brushing glitter from her long dark hair.

I'm the last guest, the last glass in my hand;
I'm the last one in this place.
I push back my hat and I look at her,
How she fools the world, with all her paint

Josephina, dance for me, dance the dawning sky
For this undrunk, unfinished night
Ah, dance for me good-bye

She takes her bag, my ballerina;
Just a key and a bottle of beer.
She straightens the chairs and kills the light,
She smiles as she gets out of here.

I open the door, it's early dawn
It leads me down the path outside
Where heaven's morning stars await
The one who has refused to hide.

The north wind’s casting its magic spells
On my beachhead by the sea
When all at once my heart reveals
A naked fantasy

Somewhere in my dream a dancer whirls
Too daring maybe for my soul
I set sail toward the open waves
Just call me Ishmael 
Josephina, dance for me, dance the dawning sky
For this undrunk, unfinished night
Ah, dance for me good-bye


Feathers in your touch
Dying, by your side
A hundred times, as much.
A tyrant takes my soul
I'm locked in God's embrace
The Devil calls my name
Eternal sacrifice
Morning, I set sail
From the waters of Cartegena
From the infernal gates of Hell
Grateful, at peace, I come
Morning, I sail away
In darkness diminished to dawn
Oh, beautiful, faithless one,

Weren't we maybe so
Lost in our own world
Countless times and more?
Pure in innocence
Damned in our desire
Gods in nakedness
Human in envy's fire?

Morning, I set sail
From the waters of Cartegena
From the infernal gates of Hell
Grateful, at peace, I come.
Morning, I sail away
In darkness diminished to dawn
Oh, beautiful, faithless one,

Shuttle to Bethlehem (Pendl do Betlema)

I hear nothing, just a barking and a seagull's cry.
Bells are wailing, friars humming, and the crows whiz by
The whistle's sizzling, even kissing you sounds like a slap
Dies irae, and all around the shrieks of pelicans.


But before I disappear, my dumb love,
Let me hitchhike for you while I can.
Today I'm gone, on the shuttle train to Bethl'em,
Maybe soon, a taxi to the promised land.

Your eyes tell me, you got everything you ever asked.
You're driven crazy, by my fear, my nakedness.
My heart is bleeding, the priest slashes with a knife of stone;
Just like you, dear, just like you and you and you alone.

But before I disappear, my dumb love,
Let me hitchhike for you while I can.
Today I'm gone, on the shuttle train to Bethl'em,
Maybe soon, a taxi to the promised land.
When I Take Off My Shoes (Az si jednou sund�m boty)

When you tell me to stop
And then when I take my shoes off
When the smile of the rails
Tells me jump, now, my friend

When my hand becomes hard
As a tile of terracotta
When I sit by my door
Just don't ask to what end.

When the dust from my roads
Cleans the scars upon my forehead
When I learn about things
That are best not to know

When the last of my rhymes
Become idle in my song book
It may well be too late,
The last time, maybe so.

Then when the wind and the rain
Wash the traces from Golgotha
When the smoke from the pyres
In the end fades away

When I take off my belt
And then when I take my shoes off
Nothing's left for me, now
And for you, now, who's to say.
When Death Does Us Apart (Az Nas Smrt Rozdeli)

When horses fly away
To the night, to the gates
Of Jericho
When our embrace dissolves
in the fog, on the shore
When those lips of yours are double-locked
As if I tried to kiss the Gates of Troy
I'm just an outcast soul without a name
Undrunk, unloved, unfull of joy.

When shots of firearms
quiet down
on the streets
down by the bay
When death does us apart
along its blue
When the reek of booze clears this nest of doves
And the fortune teller does the same
It’s the end of song, end of love
End of war, end of game.

The Last of the Galleons (Za Posledni Lodi)

The last of the galleons had sunk into the sea
The last of the soldiers had heard his death knell
And a desolate chant from within a stone cloister
Was like one of us bidding farewell

The last of the galleons had sunk into the sea
And like night-flying bats the wind ruffled the shore
And a brave young musician chimed chords on an organ,
Jeremiah's his name evermore

The last ship had sunk, and I rushed to a place
Where the turning flood tide left me armor from Spain,
A sack of pesetas, some yellowing letters;
Stark memories and, unfathomed pain

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Royals go western!

 By Ruth Ellen Gruber

I know, I know. It was pre-ordained, de rigeur and all that. But William and Kate did don cowboy hats in Calgary....

The Washington Post runs a lot of pictures of the great event and reports that:
Apparently there was some hubbub surrounding the wearing of the traditional hats. When William and Kate arrived at Calgary’s airport, Mayor Naheed Menshi presented the royal couple with the white hats, which they apparently didn’t try on because it was windy. People were outraged! But their spokesperson told the Associated Press, “In no way are they snubbing what is a very honored gifts.”
They more than made up for the perceived snub by dressing like classy cowboys later that day.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cowboy Action Shooting in Serbia!

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

As a proud member of Italy's Cowboy Action Shooting group, the Old West Shooting Society (OWSS) -- the Italian branch of SASS (Single Action Shooting Society) -- I was interested to see that there is a group in Serbia...the Union of Western Shooters. The Associated Press had a story about it by Jovana Gec. The person she quotes, Milorad Sudar, sounds like many of the hobbyists and fans I have talked to all over Europe.
BELGRADE, Serbia — He lives in a country bombed by the United States only a few years ago and where anti-American sentiments still run high, but Milorad Sudar says he'd like nothing more than to be a cowboy like those in Western movies, riding off into the sunset.

"It is all there, in that one scene: adventure, freedom, justice," the 62-year-old Serbian economist explains. "Freedom to go wherever you want."

Gec writes that Serbia's cowboys have faced a number of difficulties — from financial to political. For one thing,  the replica 19th century weapons used in the sport can be very expensive for a Serb.
Since registering in 2007, the Serb shooters have taken part in three international competitions — in Italy, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — but have lacked funds to participate the past two years. They have no support from the state or wealthy sponsors and say many here view their sport "American propaganda."