African American folk singer Rhiannon Giddens, new album


This music video from the USA says about itself:

Americana Music Festival 2015 | Rhiannon Giddens “Waterboy”

Rhiannon Giddens performs at the 2015 Americana Music Festival in Nashville.

By Hiram Lee in the USA:

On the Freedom Highway with Rhiannon Giddens

15 April 2017

There are few singers today as powerful as Rhiannon Giddens, and fewer still with so commanding a stage presence. Born February 21, 1977 in Greensboro, North Carolina, Giddens first made a name for herself as a member of the folk revival group Carolina Chocolate Drops. In addition to her singing, Giddens is an accomplished violinist and banjoist.

Giddens’ 2015 solo album Tomorrow is My Turn was among the best of that year and featured a striking version of the traditional folk song “Waterboy,” often associated with the late folksinger Odetta (1930-2008). Her latest album, Freedom Highway, will almost certainly be counted among the best of this year.

Giddens wrote nine of Freedom Highway’s 12 songs. In these, she reveals a deep feeling for her fellow human beings, as well as a seriousness about history. Moreover, there is nothing, not one note, on this album that feels self-involved or trivial. That, alone, is something remarkable given the current state of both popular and “indie” or “alternative” music.

Accompanying Giddens’ originals are strong versions of “The Angels Laid Him Away,” by blues singer Mississippi John Hurt, and two songs associated with the Civil Rights movement: “Freedom Highway” by the Staples Singers, and “Birmingham Sunday” by Richard Fariña. The latter concerns the 1963 bombing by the Ku Klux Klan of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama which left four little girls dead.

Perhaps the most haunting of the many haunting songs on Freedom Highway is “At the Purchaser’s Option.”

This music video is called At The Purchaser’s Option – Rhiannon Giddens at Augusta Vocal Week 2016.

It was inspired by Giddens’ discovery of an advertisement from the 1830s announcing the sale of a young female slave. The ad mentions, in passing, that the woman has a nine-month-old child who is also available “at the purchaser’s option.” Giddens’ puts herself in the woman’s shoes and sings movingly of her suffering: “Day by day I work the line/Every minute overtime/Fingers nimble, fingers quick/My fingers bleed to make you rich”.

Returning to modern day, “Better Get It Right The First Time,” sees Giddens turn her attention to police killings of innocent youth. She sings: “Young man was a good man/Did you stand your ground/Young man was a good man/Is that why they took you down/Young man was a good man/Or did you run that day/Young man was a good man/Baby, they shot you anyway”.

The instrumentation and arrangements employed by Giddens throughout seamlessly blend a wide variety of influences. On many songs, the grooves of R&B meld with the growling, muted trumpets of 1920s jazz, while old-time Appalachian banjos thump out their always-mournful melodies.

Giddens’ banjo playing has none of the biting twang commonly associated with the instrument today. It has a thick, full sound. She uses slides to great effect in her phrasing. It’s perfect for the flirtatious “Hey Bébé” which resides somewhere between jazz, folk and blues music.

This 2017 music video is called Rhiannon Giddens – Hey Bébé. It says about itself:

“This song was inspired by listening to a whole lot of early Creole music star Amédé Ardoin. I only had one verse when I went to record Freedom Highway with Dirk Powell down in Louisiana — he helped me finish the lyrics and here we are! The bass, drums, and stand-up bass were recorded all in one room … and Alphonso Horne added his genius trumpet to it all, as well as Desireé Champagne on rubboard. Dedicated to the Zydeco dance at O’Darby’s pub in Carencro, LA, and Leroy Thomas and his band.” — Rhiannon

The Hiram Lee article continues:

Freedom Highway and Tomorrow is My Turn before it are a step forward for Giddens. They are superior to her work with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, however interesting that effort was at times.

Folk music is easy to do wrong. A dull, pedagogical tone creeps into the work of many revivalists. The importance of certain songs is explained and then they are performed in such a way that one never feels this importance in the music itself. They become museum pieces. This is often combined with a silly sentimentality for the “simple lives” of “pure” folk. Period dress and exaggerated “folk” accents are adopted and exploited. It feels like acting, and bad acting at that.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops were by no means the worst offenders in this regard, but neither were they entirely immune to it. Giddens appears to have broken free of many of these limitations. She retains her folk roots while singing and performing in a way that feels very much alive and relevant, both traditional and modern.

Unlike many folk revivalists (and occasionally her bandmates) Giddens does not pretend to be less sophisticated than she is. And why should she?

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Pine marten in Sweden, video


This May 2007 video shows a pine marten in Sweden.

Pine marten in Dutch Groningen province: here.

Rembrandt exhibition on film


This video from Britain says about itself:

4 November 2014

Watch the new Rembrandt from the National Gallery, London and Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam cinema trailer, part of EXHIBITION ON SCREEN – your front row seat to the world’s greatest art.

Every Rembrandt exhibition is eagerly anticipated but this major new show, focused on the final years of his life and hosted by London’s National Gallery and Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum is the biggest in many years. Given exclusive & privileged access by both galleries, the film documents this extraordinary show and interweaves Rembrandt’s life story with the behind the scenes preparations at both institutions. For many, this is the greatest artist that ever lived – this film will take a close look at the man behind such acclaim.

On 15 April 2017, I went to see this Rembrandt exhibition film. Another film in the Exhibition on Screen series was about Hieronymus Bosch.

The theme of the exhibition is Rembrandt’s later years, 1651-1669. Usually, art historians take 1651 as a starting point, as Rembrandt then changed technically, using broader brush strokes in his paintings.

During the preparations for the exhibition, people discovered that Rembrandt had made changes compared to the earliest versions of his works of art. In one case, Rembrandt had done quite some work on a painting, but did not finish it, and later made another painting on that canvas.

The film names four influences on Rembrandt: Caravaggio; Rubens; Lucas van Leyden, from the same Leiden city as Rembrandt; and Pieter Lastman, who taught the young Rembrandt. Lastman inspired Rembrandt to make paintings about biblical history, antique history and mythology. Yet, if we (not the film) compare what Rembrandt painted about and what his older contemporary and inspiration Rubens painted about, then we see a striking difference. 75% of Rubens’ work had religious or antique historical and mythological subjects. With Rembrandt, only 25% of his work fitted into these categories. While 70% of Rembrandt’s work were portraits, including self-portraits. Only 15% of Rubens’ work were portraits; 0% self-portraits.

In this, Rembrandt went against the traditional view of which visual art categories were supposedly superior and which were supposedly inferior. Traditionally, painting Christian religious or antique historical or mythological scenes was seen as more ‘noble’ than painting portraits. However, the seventeenth century Dutch republic was different in this, the film remarks. In other European countries, painters worked for the Roman Catholic church (or for princely or other noble courts, the film makers might have added). In the Netherlands, the urban bourgeois, recently victorious in the revolt against the monarchy of Spain and its aristocratic old order, wanted portraits of themselves. And Rembrandt and others painted them. While in Rubens’ southern Low Countries (roughly what later became Belgium) the Spanish armies had managed to suppress the revolt and save the old social and religious order. The film, describing the revolt against the Spanish kings in Dutch national terms, does not use words like ‘bourgeois’ or ‘class’; but studying the context of Rembrandt’s and Rubens’s works suggests them.

There were not only painters inspiring Rembrandt. Rembrandt himself inspired many later painters. Including Francisco Goya. Goya said: ‘I had three teachers: nature, Velazquez, and Rembrandt’.

One can speculate whether Rembrandt was also an inspiration for Goya in depicting monarchs’ relatives unflatteringly. Rembrandt got one commission from the princely court in Holland (princely, as the Stadhouders in the Low Countries were also absolute monarchs in the tiny statelet of Orange in southern France). But when his portrait of Princess Amalia von Solms turned out to be not flattering enough, he never got a commission from that court again. Maybe a bit in the vein of Goya a century and half later, who is said to have mocked the Spanish royal family in his portrait painting of them.

Talking about Rembrandt and princely families: he twice made a painting about Lucretia, a woman from ancient Roman historical tradition. According to that tradition, in 509 BC the son of the king of Rome, Sextus Tarquinius, raped Lucretia. Sextus Tarquinius thought he could commit that crime with impunity, as he was a man, Lucretia a woman; he was a prince, Lucretia a subject. Like in 2015 a scion of the Saudi royal family harassed women sexually in the USA, saying: ‘I am a prince and I do what I want. You are nobody!’ Sextus Tarquinius told Lucretia that if she would not submit to being raped, then he would kill both her and one of her slaves, place their bodies together, and claim he had defended her husband’s honour when he caught her having adulterous sex. In despair, after the rape Lucretia then committed suicide.

The film points out that Rembrandt’s first Lucretia painting shows the subject (in seventeenth century rather than Roman antiquity clothes) on the verge of killing herself with a dagger, still a bit uncertain whether she would do it.

Rembrandt, Lucretia preparing to stab herself

While the second painting shows Lucretia just after she had become sure about her decision, having inflicted a lethal wound in her breast, and ringing an alarm, summoning witnesses to tell them Prince Sextus Tarquinius had raped her, as her last words before dying.

Rembrandt, Lucretia after stabbing herself

Anger in Rome about the rape and suicide of Lucretia led to a revolt in which the royal family was deposed and replaced by the Roman republic.

That Roman republic became an inspiration for later revolutions in which monarchs were overthrown and replaced by republics. Like the eighteenth century American revolution against King George III of Britain, in which the first president of the USA, George Washington, was compared to Roman republican statesman Cincinnatus. During the French revolution against King Louis XVI revolutionary painter David painted scenes from Roman republican history.

Earlier, during Rembrandt’s lifetime, the Roman republic had been an inspiration for English revolutionaries who deposed and beheaded King Charles I and made England a republic.

The film is quite elaborate on how Rembrandt painted Lucretia’s clothes, her blood and her facial expressions telling about her inner feelings. However, the film does not ask why Rembrandt considered Lucretia a worthy subject. According to ancient Roman historiography, Sextus Tarquinius’ royal dynasty were tyrants, killing people and taxing the people heavily. They were also Etruscans. These Etruscan royals did not speak their Roman subjects’ Latin, but a very different language as their mother tongue. Like taxation and bloodshed had been causes of the Etruscan-Roman royals’ downfall, Spanish royal taxes and the Spanish inquisition burning Protestants at the stake had also been factors in the Dutch revolt. May Rembrandt not have seen a parallel between the royal dynasty of Rome and King Philip II and his successors in Spain; and between the successful republican revolt in Rome, and the succesful (at least in the northern Low Countries) Dutch revolt against the monarchy?

I don’t know any writings by Rembrandt confirming that; so, for the moment this is just speculation by me.

In the film, there is another speculation: that the exiled French philosopher Descartes and Rembrandt knew each other and influenced each other. Again, as far as I know, neither in writings by Descartes nor in writings by Rembrandt there is proof of that.

Finally, the film mentioned and illustrated that Rembrandt was an important innovator in art techniques. In painting, and also in etching.