Sunday, 30 November 2014

Quote of the Week

The above statement should be unnecessary.

The fact that is so very necessary says that we have a lot of work to do.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Bringing the Magic

by E. Amato

Mike Nichols' passing made me unduly weepy. Of course, he was an idol, of course,  The effing Graduate, of course, Virginia Woolf.  The Real Thing.

The Real Thing. That text. That intimacy of Close and Irons. The grace of the vehicle. I thought it was Stoppard. I thought it was the actors. And in many ways, it was. Great plays allow great productions. Great actors allow themselves to be in service to these.

And yet, I saw a revival  on Broadway with actors Jennifer Ehle and Stephen Dillane - I mean, I practically tumbled over myself to get tickets to it - and what I remember most about it is that I stood on a street corner in the rain waiting to cross the street next to Dillane afterward. I don't even remember who directed it.

Where was the magic?

Mike Nichols brought the magic. That's what he did. He allowed the magic to happen. He breathed into the works. He created an environment of openness for things to happen. He did not impose ideas on the text, he uncovered them. He let them float up to the top and just be there. In a recent Hollywood Reporter article, Glenn Close recalls her experience doing The Real Thing:
"...He gave Jeremy and me a wonderful direction: 'If you ever get lost, just drown in each other's eyes' …"
There's such a lightness to that direction, but one that allows intensity to flourish. Even Woolf, one of the heaviest texts in twentieth century theatre (alongside all things O'Neill), doesn't have an external heaviness to it. It's an internal percolation Nichols achieves, a combustibility we are witness to, but never asked to carry. There is no "Mike Nichols film" - there are films by Mike Nichols. Texts, actors, and shotmaking in service to the themes of the work itself. The Mike Nichols psyche is not in evidence. I cannot create a character profile of Nichols without looking at interviews with him and those who knew them. The movies do not tell me who he was; they tell me who we are.

This is what I was taught to do as a director: respect and elevate the text. Get out of the way. I try to do this with my own writing and performance as well - get out of the way and let the audience in. This is what I love to do - unearth the meaning and put it into human form.

The work is about the audience, not the author, director, or even the actors. It is about our experience of it and relevance to our lives. Nichols created life-changing moments that still resonate. Seeing The Graduate was a clear warning of the awful direction I was headed in life. As they sat in the back of that bus, I knew that I, too, would change my trajectory and err on the side of personal truth rather than the expectations of others.

When I watch films now, which is becoming infrequent,  I am overloaded by the personality of the director in a way that makes me feel the auteur theory has gone much too far and is in need of massive course correction. Watching a Darren Aronofsky film, I feel as though I am sitting with him, as if he is watching me watch the film and telling me how to watch it. Paul Thomas Anderson movies do the same for me. The first one or two had freshness and poise, but at some point personal style and bias overtake the material and that becomes tedious. As much as I love Wes Anderson's films, I can see why some people don't. There is a constant wink and a feeling of "see how I did that?" about the movies.

These films do not let you in unless you are already in. And that in, although it is still the dominant culture of white masculinity of a certain age, is shifting. When artists step out of the way of the texts and the work, anybody can get in; when they step in front of them, it is at best an attempt at relevance instead of actual relevance and at worst, an attention grab.

In the midst of my weepiness, I was taken to see the production of Wedding Band at the Antaeus.  I came to see the wonderful Mma-Syrai, but was immediately taken in by the play, the actors, the experience. Wedding Band is a bit of a revelation; a play by the accomplished Alice Childress written in 1966, set in 1918 and barely ever produced. It has clearly been lying in wait for a production like this and its central story of a condemned interracial relationship is sadly as relevant today as when Childress wrote it and when she set it. The text is open, honest, and subtle. There are no histrionics; this is not a melodrama. It's a poignant slice of life with some serious musings on race and love, punctuated with the small moments of simple joy amidst the devastations of grief.

Its subjects and frankness are clearly things no one wanted to tackle for many decades. The courageous New York Shakespeare Festival produced it six years after it was written, but very few have touched the material since then. It is a shame. This play deserves recognition and we deserve this play. We deserve this level of dialogue on these issues, in fact, we should demand it. That the Antaeus has undertaken the text and given us this resonant production is a blessing. That the discussion post-show was of the issues themselves, the emotions they brought about and the relevance to contemporary society is a clear indicator of the high level of the work by all involved in this production. The actors allow themselves to live in these characters words, bodies and times. The set feels like their home. You can imagine them washing these clothes and hanging them on the line we see at the beginning of the play. Gregg T. Daniel's direction is the best kind - it's invisible. He has let the actors set sail to the text; he has trusted his partnerships and the material as far as he might in order to fulfill them.

The Antaeus has done some heavy lifting here to give new life to Wedding Band and they should be rewarded. They may not be, but they should be. The calibre of the work here, and the actors, perfectly illustrate what routinely goes missing in LA theatre; the large institutions focus on imported productions and the smaller ones focus on actor vehicles. The idea of an LA theatre gets lost somewhere in there, but Antaeus has clearly defined it with this production - quality, professional realizations of challenging texts. It should not be that difficult to achieve in a town teeming with high level creative professionals, but it is still a rarity.

I saw this production last week, while heavy in thought about Nichols, the meaning of theatre, or film, for audiences, and if it was still necessary for us to have these kinds of experiences. I write this now amidst the feelings left by the Ferguson Grand Jury decision, and know that Childress' text clearly speaks to this rift:  between acceptance and justice; between right and law. Whatever happens next week, I've no doubt Wedding Band will have thoughts to share on that, as well.

There are still opportunities to see this show and I hope all the seats will be filled. Go if you can -- bringing the magic is no fun without an audience ready to receive it.

Zestyverse Editor/Publisher E. Amato has woven a creative life that moves fluidly between words, stages, film, and practical activism. She was a member of the 2011 Los Angeles Slam Team and has competed at Poetry Slam Nationals and WOWps. In 2010, Zesty Pubs released her first collection, Swimming Through Amber, her Kindle book 5 in 2012, and her second poetry collection, Will Travel, in 2013. In 2007 and 2008 Down Home traveled to the Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, garnering 5-star reviews consecutive years – a rare honour. She recently produced Homeless in H

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

What I Learned from Downton Abbey

by E. Amato

As Downton Abbey enters season 5, I am thinking of all the reasons I love it. The lush production design and lavishly detailed authentic to period costumes. The clearly defined roles and rules that make life possibly dull, but never too dramatic. The ability of the Dowager to say absolutely anything that pops in her head no matter how ill-advised or delectably inappropriate.

And the fact that it empowers contemporary women.

Wait – what? A show about women who dress for dinner and have ladies’ maids and who aspire to throwing the perfect party is empowering for contemporary women?


Lots of women I know have multiple degrees, careers, children, and homes. They have partners and sometimes pets. What they do not have are ladies’ maids, cooks, assistant cooks, groundskeepers, household managers, butlers and service staff. Some of them have nannies, part time, and maybe a cleaner every other week. There might be a gardenerfor upkeep, but no one to tend or nurture the plants.

Often these women work more than 40 hours a week, usually at high-pressure jobs. They get their kids up and dressed and fed before school. They make lunches. They shuttle children back and forth to school and activities. They clean their homes, food shop, prepare dinner, make doctors' appointments for the family, travel plans and play dates for children, drop off and pick up dry cleaning, take care of appliance repairs and schedule service people. It's an endless list, and they are rarely seen seated.

To be equitable, sometimes gender roles are reversed, and there are those rare true partnerships where work is shared well. Yet still, it seems impossible to run a household and family and career with only one or two people shouldering all the work without creating a huge amount of stress and an even bigger sleep deficit. People are exhausted, sleeping only about the same amount as the servants at Downton. No one imagines asking for help. 

I want them to watch Downton Abbey and dream of help. Dream it to the point of asking for it. Maybe not a staff of people living in your house, under and above ground toiling in obscurity for a pittance, but an online personal assistant to handle some of the administrative tasks, a cleaner who will do laundry, a shopping service to deliver the groceries.

Time is precious. Life energy is precious. I see people grinding themselves into the ground to maintain their lives, inviting anxiety and depression, and that feeling of never being good enough, when they are actually quite fantastic. 

Returning to the lifestyle of a rigid class structure is certainly not the answer. But learning from it is possible. Watching Downton it’s simple to see the incredible amount of work it takes to run a household and a family. Imagine Cora and Robert suddenly relocated to 2014, trying to run the house and grounds, take care of the children, grandchildren, and civic concerns without staff and it becomes obvious that we are doing too much, trying far too hard and not getting anywhere.  

Maybe it's time to learn to let go of this idea of perfect, get cosy with good enough and actually enjoy our days.

Zestyverse Editor/Publisher E. Amato has woven a creative life that moves fluidly between words, stages, film, and practical activism. She was a member of the 2011 Los Angeles Slam Team and has competed at Poetry Slam Nationals and WOWps. In 2010, Zesty Pubs released her first collection, Swimming Through Amber, her Kindle book 5 in 2012, and her second poetry collection, Will Travel, in 2013. In 2007 and 2008 Down Home traveled to the Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, garnering 5-star reviews consecutive years – a rare honour. She recently produced Homeless in H

Monday, 24 November 2014

Groove Theories: 9 Rap Albums From 1994 Better Than Illmatic

By Sean Morris

Growing up in Northern California in the early 1990s, I was constantly exposed to superior rap talents regardless of region. My personal barometer for a rap album’s success was the Top 25 sales rankings at my neighborhood Tower Records in the Stonestown Galleria. Illmatic was in the store’s Top 10 the week it came out, then subsequently lurked around the bottom of their charts. Shitty automobiles with top shelf sound systems rarely if ever pulled up to San Francisco traffic signals bumping “N.Y. State of Mind.” When I first heard “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” I thought, “why is Nas rapping over the same Michael Jackson sample SWV used for the "Right Here" Remix from the Free Willy soundtrack?” I did not buy the album until three months after its release, when Yo! MTV Raps finally put the stark “The World is Yours” video in quasi-regular rotation. Never underestimate the power of a Pete Rock beat.

Nas' acclaimed freshman effort just barely made my top ten albums of 1994 listNew Yorkers of a certain age deservedly placed Illmatic on a pedestal when it first came out, most notably former hip-hop bible The Source. But the very same publication that declared the recording a masterpiece utterly ignored it at its own awards ceremony. 1995 Source Award winners included The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop (then Doggy) Dogg, OutKast, and Craig Mack. Craig. Mack. “Flava in Ya Ear” and “Get Down” were hot singles for sure, but come on. In a 2011 Pitchfork interview?uestlove gave us his account of the proceedings, seated three rows back from the man who would be Escobar: 

“Nas' body language that day told the whole story of where we were about to go. The more he got ignored for Illmatic, I literally saw his body melt in his seat. Almost like he was ashamed. He just looked so defeated. I was like, ‘Yo, he's not gonna be the same after this shit.’”

The Source’s anointing and subsequent snubbing of Illmatic must have made it easier for Nas to stomach ideas like radio-friendly singles and first person crime narratives. Six months after Illmatic finally went gold, It Was Written was the number one album in the United States, and remains Nas’ best-selling release (I would argue best, but so would Lupe Fiasco, and I don’t want to associate with anyone who refuses to listen to Midnight Marauders). In 1998, The Source published their 100th issue and declared Illmaticthe most underrated hip-hop album in history,” giving birth to the mutant myth as we know it today. 

1994 was the dawn of rap’s mass commercialization, particularly of the gangsta derivation. Somewhere on my time travel wish list, I have “find authors of Illmatic 20th anniversary think pieces as teenagers and catch them listening to Coolio, Da Brat, and Warren G more.” All of these artists and more went gold or platinum before the end of 1994. llmatic did not go platinum until 2001, the year Nas dropped Stillmatic. Sales figures are by no means an adequate gauge of any album’s quality, yet comparable albums of the era that sold even less than Illmatic have never had “slept-on masterpiece” statuses bestowed upon them. Only one of the so-called “think pieces” I have read this year provided an honest glimpse of the state of hip-hop in 1994, and Illmatics place in it: an album whose acclaim was inversely related to its cultural impact.

These are the nine albums that I prefer:

Between September 1993 and October 1994, Hieroglyphics released Souls of Mischief’s 93 ’Til Infinity, Del tha Funkee Homosapien’s No Need for Alarm, Extra Prolific’s Like It Should Be, and this. It wasn’t nearly as triumphant as Wu-Tang Clan’s 1995 domination, but the Oakland-based collective’s release schedule was nearly as rewarding. Fear Itself is my favorite due to a gloomier take on the jazz sampling trend prevalent at the time, and Casual’s leisurely yet potent delivery, allowing his punchlines to land with blunter force. Saafir’s freestyle on “That Bullshit” is also one for the history books.

Even I kinda slept on this when it first came out. Overshadowed by Death Row’s juggernaut Murder Was the Case Soundtrack and (if you lived in the Bay Area) Spice 1’s Amerikkka’s Nightmare, Resurrection didn’t get as much play in my Walkman as it should have. One of my high school classmates used to enter the cafeteria tossing off quotables like “I see low, I see high, Hi-C I’m free at last,” and “Another Wasted Nite With…” is widely regarded by those in the know as one of the funniest hip-hop skits of all time. No I.D.’s dynamic beats and Common’s playful, scat-like experiments with grammar and cadence shine brighter with every passing year.

The first Horrorcore act featured on MTV News were just joking around. Prince Paul, RZA, Fruitkwan, and Too Poetic saw the genre’s growing obsession with mortality and took it to the extreme. But 6 Feet Deep was not all about cups of blood and serial killer testimonials. Gravediggaz balanced their concept with grim storytelling and honest rumination. They knew that the New York neighborhoods they called home could and should be seen as zones of torture and calamity. Plus, with Prince Paul and RZA producing together, importance easily trumps “in poor taste.”

Place The Sun Rises in the East side by side with Illmatic, and it’s a jump ball. Both are loaded with knowing poetry, memorable stories, and sizzling boom bap. I give Jeru’s debut the edge because of a more diverse array of lyric topics and the fact that DJ Premier produced the entire thing. The Shelly Manne balaphone sample alone on “Come Clean” is nothing short of iconic. The original Kendrick (Davis, that is) was just as spectacular employing his large vocabulary in boasts as he was in other battles, be they real (the controversial “Da Bichez”) or imaginary (Mr. Ignorance in “You Can’t Stop the Prophet”). This and 1996’s Wrath of the Math represent, in my humble opinion, both of these artists’ best work.

In the immortal words of 1994 poet laureate Rayanne Graf, “duh squared.” However, in keeping with my own “don’t pretend you were listening to Illmatic when it first came out if you weren’t” philosophy, I admit that I did not listen to Ready to Die until a year after it was released. The reason: “Juicy” and “Big Poppa.” In an era when sampling was still an art form, calling those beats lazy in comparison is an understatement. When I finally copped the “One More Chance” cassingle the following summer, I heard “The What” and realized I had been missing out on one of the most singular voices in the genre. Discovering that the rest of the album was nothing like those chintzy radio hits was revelatory. No other MC at the time had such a mastery of drawing you into a fatalistic fantasy world.

They didn’t win Best New Artist at the ’95 Source Awards for nothing. Brilliant from day one, Big Boi and Andre pre-3000 did on their first album what most rappers take multiple albums to do: they matured. The first half of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is Atlanta’s answer to the Death Side of Ice Cube’s Death Certificate: a parade of vengeful pimps pressing .357s Magnums against foreheads before celebrating Christmas in a haze of weed smoke. A sextended R&B interlude was straight out of the N.W.A./Too $hort playbook. Without warning “Git Up, Git Out” and “Crumblin’ Erb” reveal a pair of apathetic 18 year-old souls craving direction. We know they would soon find it, and then some. Organized Noize’s homemade funk was an anomaly at the time, deservedly becoming the norm in the Dirty South by decade’s end.

It is hard to find champions of Public Enemy’s massively ignored fifth album. Released in the midst of “music to drive by to” season (MC Eiht’s We Come Strapped had debuted in the Billboard Top 5 a month earlier), critics and listeners alike rejected any form of social commentary denigrating the influence of gangsta rap. In this age of superstar MCs in their mid-40s, it is funny to remember that Chuck D was dismissed as “over the hill” at age 34. In actuality, he was as wise as ever, and saw the writing on the wall. The balance of power was about to become an imbalance of power, and the days of political and criminal rap albums getting equal face time on even BET’s Rap City were numbered. But Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age was more than just an anti-crime rhyme screed. Terminator X’s trademark screech was bolstered by a live band, Chuck D raged about pre-programmed patriotism in schools and a broken health care system, and Flavor Flav covered The Last Poets. An unjustly forgotten classic.

Reclaiming the funkadelic samples that EPMD had flipped long before The Chronic, Redman and Erick Sermon took stoner musings to hell, outer space, and everywhere in between. Turning on a dime from comic to horrific, Dare Iz A Darkside undoubtedly fathered Slim Shady, Ludacris, and more. Alongside his usual rowdy rabble-rousing (“Can’t Wait,” “Winicumaround”), Redman portrayed multiple characters (“Green Island”) and conjured up a ghastly vision of erotic fan fiction (“Soopaman Luva II”). Endlessly creative and marginally successful but largely unsung in the ensuing years, Redman never made another album that sounded anything like Dare Iz A Darkside. Bad news for rap fans, good news for Red’s mental health. 

Scarface always had a flair for morbid narration, but on “I Seen A Man Die” (aka “I Never Seen A Man Cry”) he chillingly reimagined the grim reaper as a sunglasses as night wearing, black rose toting mob boss. The Diary also presents Brad Jordan as outlaw (“Jesse James”), Lothario (“Goin’ Down”), and ambassador (“Hand of the Dead Body,” featuring one of Ice Cube’s last noteworthy verses before receding into caricature). N.O. Joe and Mike Dean, like Organized Noize, favored live instrumentation, further solidifying southern hip-hop as a force to be reckoned with. Death Row and Bad Boy ruled the roost at the time, but The Diary’s pathos and introspection have stood the test of time. Mike Judge also helped out a little.

Cases could also be made for many other landmark recordings from 1994: Digable Planets’ Blowout Comb, Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication, Thug Life: Volume 1, Method Man’s Tical. The diverse sounds of one of 90’s hip-hop’s greatest years are being drowned out by the deafening over-praise of one debut album.

Zestyverse's resident Music Geek Sean Morris is an SF Bay Area native with a photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture. He is a graduate of UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television, a former Los Angeles Slam Team member, part of the collective Art 4 A Democratic Society, and a music blogger for The Owl Mag. Find him on TwitterSoundCloud, and YouTube.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Quote of the Week - Beres

"Our triggers do not magically disappear. We are just able to slow down the time between action and reaction, much like Neo in The Matrix observing bullets in slow motion. At such a speed, we have the ability to decide how to react, instead of feeling the fight and flight reaction rise in a split second. Over time, this changes not only our reactions, but our actions as well. That’s when our world really has an opportunity to change for the better."

Oh, triggers. How they abound.  FB feels like nothing more than a trigger factory to me. Every other post sets off a different trigger from a different angle and they all seem to demand response right now.

But there are so many better things to do with time than respond with a quick hip draw to a poorly-reasoned status update. There is real work to do that not only eliminate the triggers from inside, but also helps to eradicate them in society.  Staying focused on that in a social media barrage is not easy.

It's Monday. This week's quote is inviting you to find the mechanism that slows down events between response and reaction, offering the opportunity to change the reaction altogether into something more peaceful and productive.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Not Ready for Hillary

by E. Amato

I was so ready for Hillary in 2008. I was thrilled to be able to vote for the one person I believed could create effective solutions to health care in this country; whose very presence would stand up for women's equality; someone who had experience on the world stage, and reach.

I was totally ready to voter for her in the primary.

Then she dropped out before I could.

And now the world is different. I'm different. Everyone I know is different.

Yet somehow, government has remained the same.

I truly thought I was ready for Hillary 2016. But I've had to check in with myself politically in the past few weeks, and the truth is, I'm not.

The Hillary I'm ready for was here twenty years ago. Bad*ss Hillary who took on health care and crammed a thousand-page report down Congress' collective throat. Who got it fed back to her in defeat, but who stuck to her guns, her intel, her analysis, and most of all - her commitment to create change.

Cut down by misogyny, fear, and the ever-present profit-motive slithering through government, that Hillary regrouped, learned power games and D.C. players. She learned side-deals and polite smiles in public. She learned handshakes and the game of owing favors. She rose and rose by playing the game she stepped into better than many of the lifetime players. She gave up on changing the game. She did the calculation that so many do - perceived future effectiveness and gain, weighed against clarity, directness, and meaningful change. She played it safe to stay in the lineup. But by doing so, she perpetuated a game that needed ending. One that needed courageous people like her on the field.

Obama has clearly learned from the Clintons' first two years. Despite early declarations, his main goal seems to be to stay safe in office. For me, he's erred on the side of offending everyone by offending no one. I'm not ready for the remaining two years of those policies.

I'm not ready for 2016 Hillary.

I'm ready for Elizabeth Warren.

I'm ready for someone who gets where we are going and is not beholden to where we've been. Someone who thinks freely and believes problem-solving is done from the ground up and not from the top down.

After serving as Secretary of State under Obama, I find it impossible to know who Hillary Clinton is anymore. Is it a credit to her service that we are still in every military action Obama inherited plus a few more? How will we ever now where she stood on those policies?

Clinton is certainly qualified. She's smart, presidential, accomplished. She knows how to be diplomatic and she knows how to get tough. These are all good things if you look at the role of president as we have been looking at it since 1789.

Perhaps it's time to look at it differently. Warren is different. She's combined understanding of issues with  analytical finesse. She's compassionate. She's a solid and clear communicator. And she does not believe the citizenry should be pawns for a military-industrial complex fueled by lobbyists and dirty cash.

There are policy decisions in play at this time that will affect quality of life for centuries - privatization of water, fracking, privacy to name a few. These are not policies that will see-saw from administration to administration. The choices in front of us are the kinds that there is no turning back from; I don't want someone in the driver's seat who makes policy choices based on expedient relationships rather than core values.

The Clintons have done amazing things in the private sector, where they have the freedom to affect non-legislative change through the Clinton Foundation. Hillary may be most effective there, pushing forward the agenda already in place. In Washington she has a role to play, part-inherited, part-earned, but one she must fulfill if she is to get anything accomplished. It's a role I am tired of our leaders playing. It's a role that does not address or meet the challenges we are currently facing.

Zestyverse Editor/Publisher E. Amato has woven a creative life that moves fluidly between words, stages, film, and practical activism. She was a member of the 2011 Los Angeles Slam Team and has competed at Poetry Slam Nationals and WOWps. In 2010, Zesty Pubs released her first collection, Swimming Through Amber, her Kindle book 5 in 2012, and her second poetry collection, Will Travel, in 2013. In 2007 and 2008 Down Home traveled to the Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, garnering 5-star reviews consecutive years – a rare honour. She recently produced Homeless in Homeland, Saria Idana’s solo piece, which received 4 stars at the Brighton Fringe 2013.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

How to Have a Conflict-Free Computer

by Bunmi Hazzan

When I first started taking ethical issues in the electronics industry seriously, it was easy to say I was boycotting certain brands because, well, I already had a laptop. And not just any laptop mind you, I was running 8 Gigabytes of RAM and a dual core i7, so even at two years old it held its own pretty well against the new kids on the block.

But then, as it turns out, laptops that fall from bed height don't work too well after the impact, and just like that, I needed a new computer.

Let's go back in time, I've been a computer geek since the Middle Ages, I remember “Social Networks” when they were called Newsgroups, and I have indeed started a few flame wars, filed under ‘Things I'm not Proud of.’ Anyway, the point is, when I'm buying a new anything, especially a computer I'm looking for the best I can afford to get. It needs to be able to handle video editing, music production, a few games here and there and many hours of late night writing sessions.

Whereas before I would buy whichever I deemed the most suitable, now I’m considering their stance on ethical issues, such as conflict minerals out of the DRC and involvement with the Israeli Defense Force.  Choosing ethical computers shouldn’t have to mean sacrificing quality, but it just might.

So, I do my research, and I find that by now, most, if not all, electronic and computer manufacturers have a “Corporate Social Responsibility” page somewhere on their website. This is where they tell the world how much they love the environment, the planet, and the people in it, by not using, supporting or otherwise endorsing [insert environmentally damaging substance and/or corrupt regime here]. In particular; they all say they don't use minerals procured from conflict zones. It’s great that it's being acknowledged of course, if only it were that simple.

Information on these pages varies greatly. Some companies offer a plethora of information and details about what exactly it is they're doing about the issue; others just put up a few sentences. That being said, the amount of information doesn't really help one decode if they're lying or not. Many are not backed up by third party reports, and to make matters worse, many third party reports are at least two years old.

So who do I believe? Is it enough to say, ‘Well, if they're lying, it's on them?" I would like to give people (even big corporate juggernauts) the benefit of the doubt, but in this case that involves people’s lives; I need to be a little more sure. As much as they all profess to not using conflict minerals, none of them state officially how involved they are with the IDF. Yet, there are much more recent third party reports available suggesting at least a few of the big players are snuggled up close with them.

While I’m trying to avoid all of these, I find that although some manufactures might have a pretty good ethical stance, they’re using parts by manufactures that don’t. And when these parts inside are found in the vast majority of computers being sold today, it cuts my options down immensely. The only computers I could find that were, as far as I can tell, completely ethical, weren't up to the tasks I’d require, maybe if all you do is update Facebook, but that would not suffice for this old time traveller. Now, my choices are: learn to make do with an underpowered POS, or not have a computer at all.

The thing about choices, there’s always at least one other option that maybe isn't as obvious, but every bit as viable.

The other option:

Self-Built PC

BH the Uncivilised, some call me Bunmi Hazzan, but a time traveller has many names. I've existed for over 10,000 years and lived over 9000 lives. Travelling through time, space and multiple dimensions and writing about my experiences and observations. Or, in other words, I analyse art, and create art. The driving license I hold in this realm claims I have residence in London, England. The truth is I spend most of my time in upper regions of my cerebral cortex. I am, that poet.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Groove Theories: Elevaters / Come Alive

Elevaters | Come Alive

Come Alive
by Sean Morris

Back in 2007, when Daft Punk seemed like they were well on their way to being electronica’s Peter Frampton (i.e. best known for a live album), Los Angeles’ Elevaters had already begun pulling disco’s name out of the mud. Fusing funk rock, pop, and hip hop, Rising was unmistakably ahead of the curve. Seven years and one successful crowdfunding campaign later, Elevaters have not moved beyond the ground floor of modern dance and soul trends. Despite many strong moments, overall Come Alive is the sound of playing catch up. 

There is a solid seven-song EP amongst these thirteen tracks. “Calling You” juxtaposes verses listing “all of this mundane shit” with robust electro-funk escapism and an infectious chorus. “Fela/De La” is one of the many grin-inducing rhymes on “MSG,” as in “Madison Square Garden,” not the non-essential amino acid. If the Random Access Memories arena tour had been more than just a fantasy, Elevaters would have been a fine choice for opening act. “Want You to Want Me” works as soft core slow jam, though the use of the “pray/prey” homonym in the breakdown walks a fine line between snuggling and stalking.

The band’s key players are vocalists Sam Golzari and Ben Hall, producer/multi-instrumentalist David Noily, and emcee Miles Gregley. Their synergy is undeniable, yet on Come Alive, the end results rarely generate much of an emotional response beyond polite affability. The harmonizing on heavy-eyed ballads “Do It for Love” and “Come Home” are less soul and more SoulDecision. Now I have a soft spot for “Ooh It’s Kinda Crazy,” but reminding listeners of early 2000s TRL also-rans isn’t exactly going to set the world on fire.

Any time they yank their lyrics out of the syrup, Elevaters show us their full capabilities. Writing life affirming and politically minded songs without being cloying or combative is no easy feat, and in this respect, “Marathon Man” and “Work to Do” succeed admirably. The latter trades in “Calling You”s mundane shit list for a rundown of social issues as the arrangement gently swells into a stirring call to arms. Unabashedly inspirational moments such as these are much more prevalent on Rising, while Come Alive treats them like brief distractions from the dancing and romancing.

Production-wise, Elevaters’ first album kept us on our toes by alternating between the sensual and the gritty. Their second doggedly adheres to jovial yet predictable R&B/disco templates. Thankfully, nothing here approaches the torturous tedium of Timbaland and Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience Part 2, but the CliffsNotes Quincy Jones chord progressions eventually wear out their welcome. Gregley’s bars appear like clockwork after the second verse/chorus, and the most memorable lines are either sturdily constructed platitudes (“a renegade been persuaded to behave a particular way”) or innocuous references (“I need your help walking down the green mile”). There’s that SoulDecision connection again.

Listeners unfamiliar with Elevaters will incorrectly assume that Come Alive is merely jumping onto the 70's nostalgia bandwagon. The “Get Lucky” and “Mirrors” tidal waves probably inspired the band’s Kickstarter to help finish Come Alive, but not the project itself. “Tonight”s vocoder-drenched groove hop was originally released via Bandcamp in 2010, and “Work to Do” has been on Noily’s Soundcloud page since the conclusion of 2012’s Maybe We Can re-election campaign. While it's great that these songs finally got a proper release, the fact that they've been part of their repertoire for years lends to the less than fresh feeling that permeates. The group does innovative better than they do "more of the same." Elevaters may not be ahead of the curve this year, but that does not mean that they deserve to fall off of it completely. Hopefully “Vamanos,” the "Work to Do" reprise that closes Come Alive, isn't an indefinite coda. 

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Zestyverse's resident Music Geek Sean Morris is an SF Bay Area native with a photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture. He is a graduate of UCLA's School of Theater, Film, and Television, a former Los Angeles Slam Team member, part of the collective Art 4 A Democratic Society, and a music blogger for The Owl Mag. Find him on TwitterSoundCloud, and YouTube.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Quote of the Week - Saki

"Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things."
~ Saki
The theme of this week seems to be stories. Finding voice, telling our stories - the cues are coming from all over. This quote seems to have the best of all things - tea, good company and stories.

I hope your week is filled with all three!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Quote of the Week - Nichols

“A movie is like a person. Either you trust it or you don’t.”
~ Mike Nichols
And how could anyone not trust a Mike Nichol's film

Yet, we are in a sea of popular culture of questionable motivations, portrayals and representations. How do we know what to trust? 

It's hard to let things inspire and entertain when they seem to have dubious origins.

What we keep missing is context. We are global, permeable, and our reach is ever-expanding. Our understanding lags behind, as we do not always have the ability anymore to identify the source. One day it's everyone posting a video that is supposed to be feminist and empowering towards women, and two days later everyone is posting articles about the inherent racism in that video.

Who to trust?

We are sadly in need of context. Thankfully, Jon Stewart is on hand to give us some.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Quote of the Week - Kluckman

"In this short life there is too little time to spend such precious currency on fruitless pursuits. Don't chase those who don't want to be caught. Don't open the door to those who track mud into your home. Learn to say no. But love without limits. Find the dream you were born to dress yourself in and wear it every day. There will be split tongues and false faces. You will falter and stumble but those who walk with you will know you by your journey. Speak love and you speak every tongue."
~Zachary Kluckman

At Zesty, we LOVE having real quotes from real live people! This is from Zachary Kluckman's FB page (used with permission of course). He's a real live writer, poet, community arts organizer and curator based in Albuquerque.

Any one of these sentences is a great reminder - and we all need reminders. But taken together they are a wisdom. Wisdom is rare - don't pass it up when it comes around.

Always loved this image of Bob Dylan and Suzy Rotolo; somehow two happy artists walking through snowy lower Manhattan seems a good accompaniment to this quote.