Hey, I’m Poinciana.
I’ll go by this name here because Poinciana is a great standard and anonymity adds instant enigma. I stumbled upon this blog through JQBX very recently and in this one week, I have felt an immediate slavish devotion to this magical
cult community (edited by shroomie) of musically inclined humans around the globe. I fell down this rabbit hole on April 20th during the Crisis-that-shall-not-be-named, and I think I might just pitch a tent and live in this musical world now, where the tunes are good and the floots are plenty.
In my other life, I read, write and teach sociology. I am researching music and its relationship to social inequality and urban life in India, and this allows me to meet and speak to musicians and music connoisseurs, read a lot about music and see it performed live. While I’ve been in India now for some months to finish my research, I have called Chicago home for some years now. In Chicago, I live a few blocks from a compact and cozy record store with great discards in the dollar bins and some finds that have made their way from the older residents of the neighborhood onto my turntable. The collection is still very modest, but I have some gems that I treasure for the memories of when I got and enjoyed them by myself and with friends and snacks.
I love to experience music live, and I think that witnessing music with other people who feel as deeply and passionately about it as me is a true privilege and joy. I am particularly interested in jazz, hip hop, soul, funk, RnB, traditional sounds, particularly from West Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Sharing music that makes me feel moved gives me abundant happiness, and I am equally curious to know what others are listening to. It is my good fortune, then, that I have chanced upon some comrades that care as deeply.
Silk Road Sessions (April 24th, 2020)
In an odd burst of confidence last Thursday night, I volunteered to DJ a set for an hour when Matt pioneered the concept and led the charge. I started playing the first thing on my queue, with little foresight or agenda about where it could go. But lately, I’ve been listening to music that comes from traditions with instrumentation I adore: violin, tabla, erhu, darbuka, and kora. Drawing on hazy memories of ninth grade history lessons, I quickly came up with a half-assed idea that seemed somehow to pan out. I would play tunes from cultures along the Silk Road and hope that this group of people would pardon my egregious geographical and historical lapses in knowledge.
The Silk Road was crucial to the development of civilizations along its route, all across Asia, Africa, and what we now call the “Middle East”. These trade routes first developed as long back as 2nd century BCE, and travelers along these paths would exchange spices and Chinese silk and other goods, but they also shared cultural knowledge, technology, philosophy, and sometimes even diseases, like the plague. This set pays homage to the connections (but not the plague) across these places that stretch back in time and into the present, so you will hear music from important nodes of the trade like India and Pakistan, China, Turkey, and Egypt. You’ll also notice the songs don’t follow a strict chronology, they certainly don’t stretch back in time as far as 2nd century BCE, and I may have also sneaked some tunes in from West Africa. The silk routes never really included these parts, but I took copious creative and aesthetic liberties.
We start in southern India, the peninsula that was once indispensable to global trade because, well, it sort of juts out into the sea/ocean and there was no way to avoid it if you were taking a little boat ride around Asia. In the southern peninsula, Carnatic music emerged maybe 200 years ago but has a longer history that from the sounds and musical practices that arose at the intersection of colonial rule, religious music, and royal patronage. The violin became central to Carnatic music as a result of these interactions, and the first couple of songs are by contemporary musicians offering modern avatars of this music with violin, and the two-headed southern Indian drum known as the mridangam. We then hear the efforts of collaborations between folk singers from the western parts of India and western musicians like Laura Marling and Matthias Duplessy, who were most definitely never on a Silk Road geographically or historically. But it’s pretty nevertheless, especially with the soaring vocals and the perfect musical storm that staves off any semblance of clamor with clever arrangement and soulful melodies.
We then find at ourselves at the crossroads between India (V.M. Bhatt on slide guitar) and China (Jie-Bieng Chen on erhu) as well as another interloper by way of banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck, who somehow made a business of hopping around the world to birth magical musical collaborations. Another tune comes from another musical genius, Yo-Yo Ma, who is not strictly Chinese, but I took some liberties since the diaspora often does very cool and interesting things with music from their home countries. The same goes for Ina Mina Dika by Goldspot, New York-based Indian American band – an unlikely pick but another example of diasporic covers that slap. The original is also fun, from Bollywood of the late 1950s, and its combination of nonsense words together works in the most satisfying way possible.
We take this disco/pop vibe to Egypt with Ayonha from Hamid Al-Shaeri’s album in 1970s Cairo, and see it turn jazzy with NES’s Ahlam. Dexter Story puts a distinct spin on the Arab sound, if there is such a thing at all, and we find that we’re trundling along a metaphorical road west after all. More road sounds feature in Chassol’s Din a Din and even Praveen Sparsh’s Savari earlier – a deliberate reference to Asia’s bustling roads – which in this eerily silent phase of the pandemic appears to be from Very Long Ago. I hope these songs take you where you want to go, bon voyage! Put on your seatbelts, and don’t touch your face.