Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jackson’

The first-ever disco song, the one that spawned the entire American craze, made its debut in the Top 40 this week in 1973.  Only, back then, it wasn’t yet disco.  In fact, it wasn’t even American.

The song was “Soul Makossa,” and most music historians credit its popularity with disco’s inception.  It comes from the afrobeat record of the same name by Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango.

[YouTube= http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmWTLDlj6SQ%5D

“Soul Makossa” may not instantly ring a bell, but I promise that you’ve heard it a million times.  The iconic chant “Mama-ko Mama-sa Mama-ko-sa” has been quoted by artists like Michael Jackson, A Tribe Called Quest, and even Rihanna.

The 1970s might have sounded very different had DJ David Mancuso not stumbled upon the track in a Brooklyn music shop in 1973.  Mancuso torched dance floors with every spin of the record, and its popularity in night clubs caused the rare disc to sell out across New York City.  Thus, disco was born.

And it’s easy to hear the roots of disco in Dibango’s song: dense percussion, thick bass, incessant groove, it’s all there.  And as someone who wasn’t alive to enjoy the 1970s firsthand, it totally explains the origins of the genre to me.  Disco always felt like an alien artifact that came out of nowhere – there always seemed to be a break between the more raw rock and soul of the ’60s and the lush dance ornamentation of the ’70s which time and Gloria Gaynor didn’t explain.  Apparently the answer, as with most questions of origin in American pop music, is that we took our cues from Africa.

Last week on Studio 360, Kurt and Alice Echols dissected disco and its impact on American culture – from the modern gay rights movement to Lady Gaga:

[AUDIO= http://audio.wnyc.org/studio/studio071610e.mp3%5D

-Stephen Reader

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This week New York welcomes “Performa ’09“, the third biennial of performance art to hit the city. The event features more than 150 artists over three weeks, and one of whom has me very excited.

I was lucky enough to experience South African artist Candice Breitz’s video installation “Legend” a few years ago, and have been a devoted fan ever since. “Legend” is an homage to Bob Marley using 30 of his fans. She had each of them wear headphones in a simple studio setting, and then individually recorded them singing the entire album. The effect is stunning: the videos are synced so it appears that all 30 participants are singing together a cappella (imagine grooving to your favorite song when you think you are alone):

There’s an even better quality version of the video on Breitz’s website, along with similar homages to John Lennon, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.

Breitz’s usual media are video and photography. For “Performa ’09” she is directing her first live performance, “New York, New York.” She’s working with four sets of twins: each set will work with her to develop a single character. Then the twins will be separated into two groups, who will do independent, improvised performances based on their characters. As with much of her work, “New York, New York” is meant to address the complexity of individuality. This work may raise more questions than it answers, but promises to be fun while doing so.

New York New York Performa

– Susie Karlowski

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Seniority rules at Yale, but not entirely.  The Whiffenpoofs are the century-old men’s a cappella ensemble, limited to 14 vocalists from each year’s senior class – you’ll hear them on this week’s show.  But there’s a noteworthy junior who’s hot on their heels.

Tenor Sam Tsui is a featured soloist with the Duke’s Men of Yale.  And he fronts another a cappella group on the side that might be even more exclusive than the Whiffs.  That’s because there’s only one member of his collective.  Sam’s six-part-harmony tribute to the late great Michael Jackson has been seen 1.7 million times and counting on YouTube.  The performance is produced by Kurt Schneider, Sam’s Yale classmate and neighbor from his Pennsylvania hometown.  If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s incredible.  That’s Sam at center stage singing the hook from “Thriller.”  And that’s him in the red shirt singing about the kid not being his son – and in the other red shirt also.

We’ve got another dazzling Jackson interpretation on the show this weekend.  The L.A.-based indie-a-cappella group Sonos visit Studio 360 to perform a classic by the Jackson 5.

– Jordan Sayle

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What happens when you mix the King of Pop with the King of Pop Art? The answer is Andy Warhol’s 1984 portrait of Michael Jackson, which will hit the New York auction block later this month. The bidding will start at $840,000, but since both Jackson and Warhol are dead, the piece is expected to sell for much, much more. “We estimate this painting, created in 1984, will sell for $1 million to $10 million,” said Ruth Vered, owner of the Vered Gallery, which will be selling the portrait.

How much do you think it’s worth?

Andy Warhol's 26-by-30-inch painting of Michael Jackson, now at a gallery in The Hamptons, celebrates the success of "Thriller"

Time Magazine commissioned Warhol to do the painting after the record-breaking sales of Jackson’s album Thriller.

Studio 360’s most recent episode explores the life and work of Warhol. You can hear all about Warhol’s relationship with The Velvet Underground and more rock stars, past and present.

-Kelly Sullan

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This is amazing. Especially a few minutes in when they bring out the banner with a giant Christ-like image of Michael. (See also my earlier post with their original “Thriller” performance from ’07.) Thanks to Jocelyn Gonzales for this link.

-Leital Molad

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This video of Filipino inmates performing a mass-ensemble dance to “Thriller” was circulating around the web a year or so ago. Given today’s news, we thought it was worth another look. Jackson’s death adds a dose of poignancy to the bizarre spectacle.

– Leital Molad

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