Category Archives: Music

Book Review: Vortex

I just finished Vortex. I must say it was like hosting a neighborhood potluck with all your friends bringing their ‘A’ dishes. I certainly skipped all the starchy food so as to leave room for the very best. I was not disappointed. Vortex, an anthology of literary fiction, is edited by Grant P. Hudson and published by the independent Clarendon House Publishing, based in Sheffield, England but it features authors from around the world.


by Mark Kodama 

Content

I loved every story – the grand ideas and then execution of the grand ideas – the craftsmanship and beauty of the words. I think if a person only reads bestsellers and classic short story anthologies they are really missing out on a lot of great stories.

I had a favorite story in Vortex. It was “The Sins of the Father,” by David Bowmore. It was an absolute page turner and just a riveting story about a priest whose moral weaknesses were about to catch up with him.

Other jewels in this crown were: “The Vanishing of M. Renior,” by RLM Cooper, “Concrete,” by Bill Swiggs, “Burnt Candle,” by Marlon Hayes and “A Rock N’ Roll Song,” by Samantha Hamilton. The stories all had grand ideas, a great soul to them and the executions of their grand ideas were flawless.

“The Vanishing of M. Renior,” is about a young American Magazine reporter in Paris, just before World War II who meets a true Parisian gentlemen M. Renior who engages her periodically with conversation and they develop a friendship. Later, he pretends not to know her. The puzzled reporter must evacuate to London before the war begins. When she investigates a story about the child refugees fleeing to England, she discovers what a truly courageous gentlemen M. Renior is.

“Concrete,” is about an Australian farmer who disowns his son for volunteering for the Army to fight in the Vietnam War. The son is killed in action and wins a medal of valor. And still, the father cannot forgive until a surviving war buddy of his son who was saved by his son comes to the farm.

“Burned candles,” is about a close-knit African-American family in Chicago trying to heal from the memories of the violent shooting death of one son and the imprisonment of a second son for his revenge killing. What stands out most about this piece is the natural dialogue of the storyteller.

“Rock N’ Roll Song,” is a story told from the point of view of a Rock N’ Roll song about a young talented rock star from Iowa who is destroyed by the fast paced life of instantaneous success. It is heart wrenching but at the same time exhilarating and certainly artistically bold and creative.

The stories were great, no false notes and the endings were all strong. I think these five pieces would hold their own in any university anthology featuring the greats like Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen Crane, and Ernest Hemingway.

I thought “The Midas Agency,” by L.E. Lacaille to be an over-the-top quirky, humorous piece of work on karma, fame and success told tongue in cheek. I absolutely loved its dark, alternate world humor.

“Mops and Fairytales,” by Catherine A. McKenzie was a marvelously disturbing piece about a middle-aged woman unable to cope with life.

“A Taste of Friendship,” by Shawn Klimek was wonderfully neurotic about a lonely neighbor who unexpectedly receives a cupcake from an anonymous neighbor.

“The Taxi,” by Edward C. Hartshorn was funny.

I thought “Animal Pancakes,” by Traci Mullins and “The Blizzard,” by Copper Rose were wonderful pieces about the deaths of close, aged family members. It is always a shock to lose someone you assume would be around forever.

Mehreen Ahmed’s “At the Far End of the Alley,” was a nice meditation on love and the contrast between love within the bounds of society and adulterous love that ruins families told as if it was a Pakistani fairytale.

Conclusion

A lot of effort and talent went into all the stories in Vortex. If I did not mention a story, it is because I don’t think laundry lists are helpful. I honestly enjoyed every single story. They were all certainly well worth the read. Certainly the world of independent publishing houses are a source of great literary works for those who enjoy the refinement of a plate of Oysters Rockefeller to go with your homemade macaroni and cheese. Vortex is available here.

“This Is America”: A New Way of Celebrating 4th of July

by JT
Artwork: by JT

Donald Glover, an artist who once again, earned true respect from his work.

I’ve always thought Donald Glover/ Childish Gambino is a modern-day genius. Comedy, writing, acting, rapping, singing, directing, dancing…you name it. He is always the one with a different perspective, he has always rapped about content that is unique to him. I cannot compare Donald Glover with any other artist out there. He has always been delivering us amazing art, with real philosophical thought, within the midst of the American popular entertainment. He recently dropped a new hit song, This Is America, which started many discussions and inspirations.

‘This is America’s particular arranging style shows strong contrast, in the purpose of storytelling. The choice of the structure made the music stand out immensely. The Afro-folk inspired melody goes into a direct pivot of trap music. Not your traditional choice, but it enhances the plot, and confirms the theme. This song was written with thought, and the video, directed by Hiro Murai, brought the story into an even higher level, wonderfully showcasing beauty and the gruesomeness.

The Distractions

The line that got to me the most was:

“Look how I’m geeking out,

I’m so fitted,

I’m on Gucci,

I’m so pretty,”1

Along with the dance moves, and right after a shooting scene, these lines came out representing the distractions of popular social media. “Look How I’m geeking out”, referring to the uprising nerd culture, the increase fandom and popularity of DC, Marvel, and Anime, Gaming and such. “I’m so fitted”, the  work out and body obsession culture. “I’m on Gucci”, a reference in the big brand world, obsession in clothing and fashion. “I’m so pretty”, this is simple, but to me I thought of the “beauty face promotion campaign” on social media. It’s a made-up term by myself. Many Instagram models or just Instagram based famous people started this. They will post a picture of their face or their body, then talk about a random topic, the topic is sometimes serious, sometimes light, however, all completely unrelated to the nature of the picture. Pure showcase of the “pretty” but with no real content. All of these, are distracting the world from the violence, the racism, and the dysfunction in America.

The Dance

The choreography, coinciding with the story, stunned many viewers. As Aida Amoako stated from the article “Why the Dancing Makes ‘This Is America’ So Uncomfortable to Watch”:

“An internal struggle begins in the viewer’s body, which is pulled between joy and horror. Just as the video questions how we can dance when there is pandemonium all around, the audience struggles with whether to continue moving, too, after witnessing such brutality,”2

I agree with this quote, because that was exactly my reaction to the video. How can we dance? How can we enjoy? Many artists pander to their audience, but ‘This Is America’ is challenging us, making us think, research, and helping us form our voice

The SNL Debut

I first watched the debut of the song on SNL (Saturday Night Live, popular late-night variety show on NBC). Only two words came up in my mind- True Artist. My personal opinions on most SNL performances are usually negative. The mixing of the music are always off, and the performances usually have a lack of creativity. However, Donald Glover had real aesthetic consideration and artistic creativity for his performance. The lighting combined with his dance was surreal. It really brought the viewers to a perplexing beautiful visual. At the same time, the lights looked like chains, constraining him, befitting the story of the song. The performance delivered strong visual impact that I have not seen other artists do on SNL.

The Symbolization

Growing up in China, the summation of the image of America to us was: Everybody holding hands, smiling, and attending Harvard. But at the same time partying hard, enjoying freedom.

How surreal! Donald Glover teared this fake ideology apart, but also representing the face under the mask at the same time. Great art goes beyond dimensions.

With acknowledgement of many historical references and references of major events that had happened in the U.S., I also saw Childish Gambino representing the madness of America. Donald Glover’s portrayal of a man executing an innocent black man and a black choir, and the showcase of indifference throughout the song, are all different ways of symbolizing the madness of the United States. The end of the music video, Donald Glover running away from cops almost implies a sense, which the authorities are attempting to hide the true nature of The United States.

There are many people making brilliant analysis, from the Director of ‘Dear White People’, Justin Simien, to Jim Crow Historian, David Pilgrim. Pilgrim’s comment caught my eye, he called ‘This Is America’ a “Harsh indictment of indifference”3, how true. This is definitely a song with many layers and recommended to watch multiple times.

The Reason

At the 2018 Met Gala, reported from E! Live from the Red Carpet, Donald Glover gave the best and most accurate summation of the song, and why he made the song.

He said: “I just wanted to make a good song, something that people can play on 4th of July.”4

Digging through the ocean of analysis’, opinions, historical references, I find that the artist’s own simple words said it all. How funny, and direct, but truly gets to the point. This is the song that is really representing the true detachment of America, tearing apart the facade, challenging the image of America to the world. So of course, people should play it on 4th of July.

The Retirement

Although it’s sad that Donald Glover said Childish Gambino is retiring after the new album is out, but ‘This is America’ is definitely a shocking and brilliant start of his last album. Truly worth a listen and watch. I cannot wait for the complete album to come out.

 

 

Related Links:

  1. Amoako, Aida. “Why the Dancing Makes ‘This Is America’ So Uncomfortable to Watch.” The Atlantic, 8 May 2018,  http://theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/05/this-is-america-childish-gambino-donald-glover-kinesthetic-empathy-dance/559928/
  2. Childish Gambino, Lyrics to “This is America”, 2018
  3. Craven, Julia. “Donald Glover’s ‘This Is America,’ Through The Eyes Of A Jim Crow Historian.” The Huffington Post, 9 May 2018, http://huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-glover-this-is-america-jim-crow-history_us_5af31588e4b00a3224efcc40
  4. YouTube, YouTube, 7 May 2018, http://youtube.com/watch?v=P1IqMsPMcqM
  5. Original Blog Post: http://discoverwithjt.com/2018/05/13/this-is-america-a-new-way-of-celebrating-4th-of-july/

A Song of Seeking Within the Shadows, Discovering the True Shape of Vulnerability

Commentary of “The Vulnerables”
By: JT 

Very rarely can you come across a unique piece like “The Vulnerables”. The Rapper who goes by Lafu Maton brought us to a new level of a dark, soul-crunching experience, which truly showcases the level of beauty and capability of musical expression. A special take on poetry and hip-hop, “The Vulnerables” is a song that explores on music format, pushes boundaries with lyrical content and expresses creativity in production. 

Lafu Maton, a rapper originally from China, started the concept of this song by being inspired by a poem written by NiuMao. “I found her poem very attractive as it talks about violence, abuse and devils. Not that I like these topics, it’s just I find it mind blowing.” Said Lafu Maton. The song then got developed from a piece of poetry to a rap song after discussing with the producer, DJ Guuk Shaman, who remixed, remastered Lafu Maton’s original composition “Perfect pink pussy”, to construct the beat we are hearing in “The Vulnerables” today. 

“The Vulnerables” portrays a vulnerable teenager, digging into the most fragile and unspeakable part of him. Staring at memories he would not like to see, dealing with a reality that he would not like to face. 


“I’ve been having nightmares,

 Dreams of demons walking, talking, whispering,

In the center of the lake…” 2


Starting with a dream, and then delving deeper to the boy’s pain on the present. Gradually, we see the boy’s self-destruction, and in the end, we see his gruesome past. The lyrics are constructed with an intricate plot-developing format, but also cruelly and aesthetically presenting the ugliness deriving from the boy’s vulnerability. Though it seems the way of expression is too direct, and some may argue using taboo phrases and creating a gruesome visual might degrade the quality of the music. Nonetheless, “The Vulnerables” successfully represents the teenager’s heart and pain, and how teens react and feel when dealing with trauma. The song tells the story from within and without any filters. It presents us the honest voice of a wounded boy. Listening to the development of the song is like unraveling a yet to be bloomed flower. Layers behind layers, words after words, are a young boy’s doubt. Doubting how to become a person, doubting the idea of existence, and doubting the meaning of living. 

“I have the Vulnerability,

Fragility effeminacy, 

No one seek to feed my tread my areality”3Lafu Maton’s performance, with a hint of innocence and a full load of despair, hits listeners with an end game punch. The story would not have been told without the passion and dedication of the storyteller. Lafu Maton’s voice and skill connects the listener to the suicidal, confused, and fearful boy. The delicate performance completed the dramatic illustration of the boy’s voice, and made the angry and confused teenager come alive. 

The beat goes against traditional rhythmic expectations, and wraps itself around the story and the performance, shows structure, color, and thought. Every hit of the bass drum fits with the development of the story, and every time the piano lick comes in, it resonates. The producer, DJ Guuk Shaman, mixed Lafu Maton’s voice with primary focus on the high-end frequency, and made his voice slightly lower in the mix. Also he added a low-end double for the voice, which in combination with the deconstructed piano melody, enhanced Lafu Maton’s performance and helped the listeners engage with vulnerability, and sink in to the story.


“I am the Vulnerable, 

I am the honor of blunders

I have the hunger for dollars, 

But I am vulnerable, 

Behind my patience relations

And all that cadence complacence”4


A beautiful piece of art, “The Vulnerables” is a wonderful song that is the result of collaboration. The author is truly amazed and wishes to hear more from these talented individuals. “The Vulnerables” is now streaming on Sound Cloud. 


Related Links: 

The Vulnerables: https://soundcloud.com/user-971015676/the-vulnerables

Lafu Maton: https://soundcloud.com/lafu-maton

DJ Shaman Guuk: https://soundcloud.com/user-971015676

NiuMao: https://music.163.com/#/artist?id=12546277

JT’s blog: http://discoverwithjt.com


Citations: 

1. Tong, Julia G. (JT), The Shape of Vulnerability. 4.7.2018- Created with Pencil and Digital painting,  inspired by the song “The Vulnerables”

2. 3. 4. Lafu Maton feat. DJ Shaman Guuk, Lyrics to “The Vulnerables”, 2018