Yes, 2020 was not a good year for anyone (unless you owned Amazon). I don’t want to lament on it much, so I’ll just go over a few garbage points.
The loss of so many people in the music world. With Tony Rice passing away on Christmas, that was a definite knife to the heart. I will definitely miss him, as I was hoping that by some miracle he would be able to get his strength back and play that D-28 on stage once again.
The COVID-19 pandemic screwing up the lives of so many people. I am on my ninth month of unemployment, and compensation ended last week, so I am turning in pop cans and beer bottles to supplement food costs. In the music world, especially in bluegrass, live shows took a dump. So many bluegrass musicians rely on those live shows, not only for the performance pay but for sales of merchandise. A few musicians that I know had to take on part- and full-time non-music jobs to get by. Others resorted to online concerts with tip jars, Zoom music lessons, and creative alternatives such as selling music-related gifts such as jewelry and pictures. I cannot imagine what the pandemic has done to the other music-related jobs such as studio musicians, audio engineers, and roadies. The year has been a big test for the “blue collar” music workers.
I won’t even get into how our political environment is so divisive.
My hope for 2021 is getting back some more live music (I do miss going to The Ark in Ann Arbor), I can secure a decent job, do more writing (both song and articles), and practice, practice, practice my guitar, bass, mandolin and fiddle. It is an enjoyment and therapy for me. Unfortunately, with spending hours on the computer looking for a job, taking care of my 88-year-old mother, and trying to stay healthy with no access to presecriptions, musical instrument practice falls lower on the list.
Enough griping! It’s New Year’s Eve. Be safe tonight, since the bars are closed, keep the home celebration respectable. With that, I leave you with a holiday message from the beautiful Russian ladies of Beloe Zlato! I love these girls!
Like I said before, not everything on the blog will be related to bluegrass music. While it is still my Number 1 passion in music, I still love to discover other forms and genres. I will always love most of the stuff lumped under Americana, but lately I have been getting into listening to Eastern European folk music, especially performed by female vocalists.
First, Let us look at Rokiczanka. They sing Polish folk songs with a small ensemble backing them up. They are a combination of male and female singers, but it is the two female lead singers that garner much of the attention from the audiences (at least from what one can tell by the videos). This is pure Polish folk music that has been polished up to be presentable live to all audiences. The whole group looks like they are having fun performing the music at concerts. I especially enjoy their interpretation of the folk song “Lipka.” Just an enjoyment to watch. The website is https://rokiczanka.pl/en/ .
About two years ago, I found Beloe Zlato on YouTube, and continue to be amazed by their harmonies. Over the years, the lineup has changed, but three of the ladies have been there for a long time keeping the group active (Daria Luneeva, Valeria Grigorieva, and Maria Baranenko). Besides being very easy on the eyes, they harmonize so well that it sounds more like a human pipe organ. This literally sounds angelic. If they ever were to come to the US, whatever city, I would make the trip just to hear these beautiful voices live. They almost do not seem real. They make videos singing around tourist spots in Moscow. Most of the early videos were a capella, but more recent ones include being accompanied by an accordion or balalaika. Sometimes they appear in traditional dress, sometimes in jeans and t-shirts. They are as addictive as potato chips. The website is https://beloezlato.ru/ . Be sure to check all of their YouTube videos!
While looking around for other Polish folk groups a few weeks ago, I came across Trio Mandili. Wow! They are actually from Georgia (the country in East Europe, NOT the southern US state), but sing Polish, Russian, and Turkish folk songs as well as Georgian. They are like a Cossack version of The Andrew Sisters! They have been around for about six years, but have only recently been putting out videos, which consist of the one original member, Tatuli Mgeladze, filming them with her iPhone. They walk around sites in Georgia singing, with one member, Mariam Qurasbedian, playing the three-stringed panduri (a cross between a dulcimer and a cigar-box guitar). The third member, Tako Tsiklauri, dances around in the background and is always smiling. The group came into notoriety when in 2014 they posted a video of them singing a folk song while walking down a dirt road. The harmonies were beautiful. The video has had over 6.5 million views on YouTube! About two years later, a punk metal trio added backing music to the video, and it came out sounding really cool! You have to check them all out! Their live shows are a bit tacky, with choreography that definitely looks Eastern European or Middle Eastern and not from New York, London, or Paris. I have seen a few other Georgian “Trio” groups on YouTube, but none compare to the originality of Trio Mandili. Unfortunately, the website is extremely slow to upload – I have yet to get it fully up to see anything. So trying to order a CD is impossible. Good luck at trying it yourself: http://triomandili.com/ .
Last on this list is not really a musical group, but a comedy troupe. I don’t know exactly how I came across Kabaret Hrabi, but I am glad that I did. Think of a Polish version of Saturday Night Live or Second City. The three gentlemen and one lady take on modern topics and satire them to the fullest. Yes, it is all in Polish, and I can only make out about 10 percent of what they are saying, but what I can make out is hilarious. If you do understand Polish, you will not be disappointed. The one skit that got me rolling on the floor crying from laughter was “Kultura Naradowa.” They recite old Polish folk songs as if they are seriously reading Shakespeare! Hearing “Miała Baba Koguta” (About a woman that puts a rooster into a boot. My father, God rest his soul, used to play a 78 of this all of the time!) read like a soliloquy just gets to me. The website is http://hrabi.pl/ .