You ever wonder who comes up with product names? I mean, are there actually people who spend their entire lives naming car brands and models (“Infiniti,” “Lucid,” “Explorer”), or rattletrap RVs made of welded tin cans ( “Bounder,” “King Aire,” “Cornerstone”), or – worst of all – paint colors… there is actually a shade of paint labelled “Putty.” Who in their ever-lovin mind would want a living room painted “Putty”?
Well, I thought this last category should be made more verbally and visually accessible, so here are some color entries I’ve come up with:
Fairly Pleasant Ochre
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Songs of the African Coast: Cafe Music of Liberia
Never heard of this CD? Not surprising; I hadn’t until a couple ago, when I came across it after years of wondering where Dave Van Ronk’s had picked up his charmingly weird tune, “Chicken Is Nice with Palm Butter and Rice.”
(By the way, what’s the most captivating piece Van Ronk ever recorded? See * below, attached. And what’s his most uproarious take on the absurdities so often entrenched in traditional tunes? See ** below.)
I don’t know what I’d assumed about “Chicken Is Nice,” but certainly not that it came out of a Liberian café recording from the late 1940s, featuring “Professor” Howard B. Hayes and the Greenwood Singers.
On first listen, this café set is disorienting, pitting the man-woman emotional trials of the songs themselves against the obvious joy that these particular men and women have from singing together.
The first tine I heard “All Fo’ You,” it scared the crap out of me. Here’s a woman singing she will put up with anything from her lover – including having her throat cut!
But you soon come to sense a galloping mix of satire, horsing around with stereotypical sexual complaints, and taking emotional entanglement to the extreme for black-comic effect. (And “All Fo’ You” is really in much the same uncomfortable vein as Billie Holiday’s take on “It Ain’t Nobody’s Business.”)
In the opposite direction – playing with gender differences through gentle nods and winks – the Greenwoods “Woman Sweeter Than Man” reminds me of Harry Belafonte’s “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” from his Calypso album. And who can fail to smile at “Marry Me and Close the Door”?
In “Bush Cow Milk,” the male singer is asked by his true love to milk a bush cow for her liquid enjoyment, leading him to list hilarious limiting conditions before he will comply. Milk a cow – how big a deal can that be? Then I looked up “bush cow”—it’s a fucking buffalo! I’d rather not, thank you.
Whether because Liberia was established as a home for freed American slaves, or as a consequence of the linguistic blending during World War II (likely both), many of the songs are sung in English. Still, it may seem surprising to hear this in a local hangout.
While in college around 1960, I was a delighted proponent of Olatunji’s Drums of Passion, seeing it as a stunning example of the best in then current African music. But one of the staffers on the Penn newspaper, who had spent time in West Africa, brushed it off: “That’s not what they actually listen to over there.”
Instead, he turned me on to an album then called Gold Coast Saturday Night (since reissued with other titles), featuring Saka Acquaye and His African Ensemble. It’s a whole different experience from Olatunji, partly in English and closer to the Liberian café, but all of these albums are equally engrossing: “world music” well before anyone coined the term.
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A few short bits
6’ 2”, blonde, elegant, walks with the confidence of a woman who could have whatever she wants but, instead, has the good sense to want what she has. She rides a Vespa.
Anastasia is our insurance agent. How do such things happen?
In our geometry class in my Catholic grade school, we pasted little stickers on outline maps to identify an area’s major products. No matter what sector of the world we were covering, there was always a sticker for “flax” to be glued somewhere (in Europe, it was slapped on Belgium).
The tiny black-and-white sketch suggested a bound bunch of upright plant stuff. I had no idea what flax was or what you could do with it, yet (presumably) it grew and was harvested all the hell over the place. Now, enlightened, I know that it is and was (with a great deal of hand labor in the olden days) converted into excellent linen dish towels.
Way to go, Flax!
Proper Recognition Department:
Remember, please, always to refer correctly to a certain pseudo-journalist as Fucker Carlson.