Thursday, November 20, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Reggae, hip hop and pop musicians record benefit performances in West Africa, UK to benefit Ebola treatment

While this week's star-studded Live Aid recording session in London hopes to raise money in the developed nations to combat the spread of the Ebola virus, West African artists have been joining forces in local and regional supergroups since the outbreak of the disease several months ago. Some of the music is quite stunning.

Live Aid is a British and Irish charity supergroup organized by Sir Bob Gendolf, of the Irish rock band Boomtown Rats. First recruited in 1984 to record a song called "Do They Know It's Christmas?" to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia, Gendolf has updated the lyrics to reflect the Ebola crisis and plans to have the new video ready for purchase in time for the holiday season.

(Click here to see some of the celebrity coverage of this week's recording session.)

In the meantime, a group of 12 musicians from Guinea and Senegal has recorded a song "Africa Stop Ebola." It is getting airplay in the French-speaking West African nations, and its promoters say proceeds from sales in the developed world will go to Médecins Sans Frontières. And it isn't the only musical Ebola initiative in West Africa.

A couple of YouTube clips, first the "Africa Stop Ebola" video and second Tiken Jah Fakoly explaining his hopes for airing it in the affected nations:

Africa Stop Ebola. Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare, Kandia Kora, Mory Kante, Sia Tolno, Barbara Kanam and rappers Didier Awadi, Marcus (from the band Banlieuz'Arts) and Mokobe. Click on "CC" logo for English subtitles.

Message from Tiken Jah Fakoly to #Liberia and #SierraLeone. Fakoly, a reggae artist of Ivory Coast who enlisted the other musicians for the project, explains his hope that the music will help educate West Africans about the disease and help bring hope that its ravages can be overcome.

Recorded and produced over a period of several weeks this fall, "Africa Stop Ebola" will be sold by iTunes and other online vendors, reports Linda Poon for National Public Radio. "Profits will go to the international health group Doctors Without Borders, which has been on the ground in the hardest-hit countries since the spring," she adds. Her report gives the necessary background for American listeners:

The reggae song is called "Africa Stop Ebola" and features legendary West African musicians like Tiken Jah Fakoly and Kandia Kora from Guinea, along with influential rappers like Didier Awadi from Senegal. The French company 3D Family produced the song.

Kora and fellow musician Sekou Kouyate, also from Guinea, wrote the song. Fakoly began to recruit West African artists to lend their voices. Most came to Paris to record; a few sang from their countries. The song took about a month to assemble.

In French and in local African languages, the supergroup sings about an "invisible enemy" that can be defeated. They sing of the need to "have confidence in doctors" and to rid Ebola victims of the stigma they face. The track has been getting airplay in West Africa since its release last month.

On Nov. 2 BBC News aired a report quoting Carlos Chirinos of London University, an expert in communications in the developing nations and one of the video's producers. "We need a lot of support [for efforts to contain the disease in West Africa]," and we need to build on the popularity of music," he said. Musicians can have a measure of credibility that official spokesmen lack, he said, and one of the goals of airing the song is to restore trust in the medical community in the affected nations.

In the meantime, on Friday Great Britain's Channel 4 news aired a report on "catchy educational tunes" used to fight the disease in West Africa. Riffing off of the celebrity involvement in the new BandAid recording session and titled "Does Bob Geldof know Africa's Ebola aid songs?," it features audio and video clips of several West African songs. Especially powerful, both musically and in terms of its production values as a video, is one put together and narrated by rapper Jimmy B of Sierra Leone:

EBOLA 4 GO - Paradise Film. Sierra Leone. Uploaded Oct. 22 by the Sierra Network.
Song Title: "Ebola 4 Go"
Artist: Jimmy B, Wahid, Camouflage & Cee Jay
Produced By: Paradise Film

Background on Jimmy B, more formally known as Jimmy Yeanie Bangura, the "God-father" of Sierra Leone's music industry, in the newspaper Awoko at

This is not the first time that the musician turn filmmaker has done songs about development and national issues. He was at the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS and his contribution towards bringing peace to Sierra Leone was even more well documented.

About the outbreak of the virus which has led to the death of about 110 people [as of Juy 15] in Sierra Leone, Jimmy described the outbreak as “the biggest calamity that has befallen Sierra Leone after the war”. He added: “we need to come together and fight together.” ‘The Ebola Song features veteran musician Steady Bongo and singing sensation Heyden Adama.

Jimmy B said he produced the song from his little resources and thanked Steady Bongo and Heyden Adama for their parts in it. “I am giving this song out free of charge and I want the Ministry of Health to help distribute it far and wide.”

He said the song is self-explanatory and it is aimed at raising awarenss about the deadly virus that is spreading fast in the country.

Jimmy B maintained that he has rapport and access to the masses and through his song he believes the masses will understand and learn about the dangers of Ebola as it is a gift to the people of Sierra Leone.

Jimmy B hopes the ‘the Ebola Song’ [EBOLA 4 GO] will go a long way to help sensitize people on this latest trying times in the country’s life. “We need more information about the dangers of this disease and ‘the Ebola Song’ will serve as a useful tool to help sensitize others. Music reaches a wider audience and I am sure the message will reach the people through this song,” he said.

He added that most time people tend to listen to their [cultural] icons than politicians and therefore urged the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to work with artists. “We have been very consistent and society also tends to trust and listen to us.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Cat Hair on the Fretboard" -- a Knoxville-area dulcimer novelty song to the tune of "I Been a Swede from North Dakota"

This year's Smoky Mountain Dulcimer Retreat in Townsend, Tenn., featured a variety of good music, ranging from a haunting a cappella folk hymn sung by Anne Lough and her husband Rob, to a soprano saxophone solo by Guy George and a demonstration of bottleneck-style blues on a diddley bow by Seane Crews, who also led a workshop on how to make a diddley bow out of a cigar box and a length of broom handle. The retreat is sponsored by the Knoxville Area Dulcimer Club, and there were more dulcimers there, both mountain and hammered, than you could shake a diddley bow at.

Meals were prepared by the Townsend Church of God, which provides the venue for the KADC's fall retreat, and the food was all that an expatriate Southerner could wish for. Saturday night I was able to choose ham, green beans and a bowl of ham and soup beans. The whole weekend was small-town East Tennessee as I remember it at its best.

But of all the good times we had and all the good tunes I heard, my favorite was a novelty song by T.N.T., a mountain dulcimer trio from Knoxville, called "Cat Hair on the Fretboard."

We have longhaired cats at home in Illinois, and let's say I could relate.

Picture at right shows Champaign, a rescue cat named for the city in Illinois, demonstrating how to make a fur-lined dulcimer case. He also sheds cat hair on our instruments.

If you want a fur-lined dulcimer case all your very own, consider adopting from your local animal shelter.

T.N.T. is made up of KADC members Ginny Cliett, Linda Smith and Deby Libby. They have been writing and playing ensemble arrangements for mountain dulcimer since 2006, according to their website at, and their repertory ranges from meditative finger-picking arrangements of ballads like "Shenandoah" and "The Water is Wide" to up-tempo fiddle tunes like "Cumberland Mountain Deer Chase."

And then there's "Cat Hair on the Fretboard."

I noticed the title when I was browsing through CDs, and I was intrigued. So I bought it and took it out to the car where I could put it on the CD changer. And I loved it. (There's a 30-second sound clip on T.N.T.'s website.) So I asked Deby Libby about it.

Like so many ensemble arrangements, "Cat Hair" grew out of an off-hand remark and took on a life of its own as members of T.N.T. riffed on the remark and by bits and pieces it grew into a song. It was well received when they played it at a local festival -- acted out with great abandon -- and it's been part of their repertory ever since.

The verses are kind of a talking blues about "dust balls big as tumbleweeds" and other challenges of a musician who lets the housework go while she's playing the dulcimer. And the chorus, to the tune of "Reuben, Reuben I've been thinking," ends like this:

I've got cat hair on my fretboard, and a mess in this old place,
Got those cat hairs on my fretboard, and a big smile on my face.
It was another one of those moments that sometimes come to an expat, when things from very different parts of your life fit together in unexpected ways.

While the melody has been around for years as a children's song, I know it best as a novelty number about Swedish-Americans in the Midwest where I live now and spend a lot of time these days researching the music of Scandinavian immigrants (click here, here and here). Mudcat Cafe has several versions:

I bin a Swede from Nort' Dakota
Work on farmstead 'bout two year
Tink I go to Minnesota
Yust to look at the big state fair.

One version has the Swede turn down an opportunity to "work for Yesus" when he learns the Salvation Army doesn't pay its volunteers. In others, he gets drunk and spends 10 days in jail.

The tune is best known today as the children's song "Reuben and Rachel," also known by its first line, "Reuben, Reuben, I've been thinking …" It's a composed song, published in Boston in 1871, with words by Harry Birch and music by William Gooch. It went into the oral tradition at least a hundred years ago, and it's been parodied frequently. (Seems like I remember singing, "Reuben, Reuben, I've been thinking / Why your feet are always stinking" when I was in junior high, but I don't remember the rest. Which is probably a good thing.) Mudcat Cafe also has several versions of "Reuben and Rachel," including those of the original sheet music in the Levy collection at Johns Hopkins.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

"You Ain't Nothing But a Lap Cat"

Inadvertently surfed into tonight, while I was looking for arrangements (see post below) of "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" for an upcoming Christmas program …

OK, that doesn't make any sense at all, does it? Let's back up a little.

So I'm watching a very nice arrangement of the Christmas carol on YouTube, and I read, "Ah que le chat est beau!" Well, OK, it fits the meter of the song. But what, I wonder, does a cat have to do with the Christ child in the manger at Bethlehem? So I follow the link to the YouTube user's channel, and I see she's a music teacher and a cat person -- not necessarily in that order of importance.

And there among her videos is this:

Lap Cat, blues for harp. Uploaded June 2, 2012, by Freb Hunt-Bull. "Lap Cat gives new meaning to blues harp. Freb Hunt-Bull's parody of Hound Dog is played entirely on harp. Like it, then go adopt a cat."

"Freb is a harpist and music teacher in New Hampshire," according to her YouTube channel. "She loves alternative, folk, jazz, and so much more music."

And now she's inspired me to write a song about our cats to the tune of "Old Dog Blue," something I've long wanted to do. Maybe:

Had an ol' cat and his eyes were green
Prettiest cat you ever seen …

And now I've got to turn off the computer and go do something constructive!

It's beginning to look a little bit like Christmas, at least for Prairieland Strings -- link here for videos of "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" ** UPDATE x1 ** w/ December schedule

UPDATE FROM BLAST EMAIL, NOV. 16: Our next session of the Prairieland Strings is from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson, Spfld. We'll be practicing for our annual "sing/play for our supper" performance at the Advent soup supper on Wednesday, Dec. 10. The way Thanksgiving, Christmas and Advent fall this year, we won't have as much time to practice as we have in the past. But we got started earlier this year than we usually do, so we'll work out just fine!

Our schedule for the rest of November and December, which I will copy to the Hogfiddle blog, is as follows:

-- Thursday, Nov. 20, 7-9 p.m., "third Thursday" at Atonement -- rehearsal for soup supper.
-- Tuesday, Dec. 2, 7-9 p.m., "first Tuesday" at Atonement -- rehearsal.
-- Saturday, Dec. 6, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Clayville Historic Site, Ill. 125, Pleasant Plains. Christmas party.
-- Wednesday, Dec. 10. ca. 6 p.m. Advent soup supper at Atonement. Eat at 5:45, play at 6:20.

Our playlist, as it stands now, is:

-- Joy to the World
-- The First Noel
-- Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella
-- Carol of the Bells
-- Silent Night

We made a lot of headway in Saturday morning's jam session at Clayville Historic Site, getting holiday music ready for for Clayville's Dec. 6 Christmas party and our annual Wednesday night Advent soup supper gig at Springfield's Atonement Lutheran Church at a time to be announced.

Our next session is from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson in Springfield. Since Atonement is a precinct polling place, we'll meet in the education room or narthex (the lobby next to the sanctuary on the opposite end of the building from our usual meeting space). Come in the usual door and turn right through the double doors into the education room.

One of our songs is "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella," and as we got into it, we started realizing there's more to it than meets the eye. The melody is an old French dance tune, originally in 3/8 time (our arrangement is in 3/4 and I've also seen it in 6/8 time), but the words, as printed in Wikipedia, ask the singers ("Jeanette, Isabella") to run to a village manger scene and gather around the sleeping Christ child. There's more history in a thread on Mudcat Cafe, along with alternative lyrics. I didn't realize, till we started practicing it this morning, what a complex, interesting piece of music it is!

So what we've got is a lively dance tune that conveys both the excitement of a village celebration ("Bring a torch, to the stable run") and the delicacy of a lullaby ("Hush, hush, see how the Child is sleeping") at the same time.

Neat trick if you can do it! But lots of musicians manage to do it very well. That complexity is what makes it fun.

YouTube performances

Here are some people playing the song. I haven't tried to link to the best performances here, but rather to musicians -- mostly amateurs or people offering instruction for amateurs -- that we can learn from.

You can find others, ranging from Tennessee Ernie Ford to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, by going to YouTube and entering the titles "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" in English and "Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle" in French in the search engine.

Take a look at the videos below, see whether you like the tempo, dynamics, the interplay of different parts of the tune. I'm posting a combination of small-group choral and instrumental. What do you see that we might borrow for the Advent soup supper? What should we stay away from? What ideas might we adapt for our group?

An arrangement for harp and voice. The tempo is a little slower than we're used to hearing, but effective. Notice how she gets a "lilt" by hitting the downbeat. If she didn't, the melody would die at that tempo.

"Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle" on harp. Old French carol played on harp and sung by Freb Hunt-Bull. "Ah que le chat est beau!" [I'm not sure what a cat is doing here, but click here, or scroll up to the next post, to see my theory.]

High school madrigal singers in south suburban New Lenox, Ill. -- listen for their dynamics. "Soft … soft …" Listen to the words -- it's a lullaby!

BRING A TORCH, JEANETTE, ISABELLA. Uploaded on May 29, 2009. Lincoln-Way Central's 2006 Madrigal Singers

A nice arrangement for guitar …

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella. This is an easy classical guitar arrangement by Douglas Niedt. You can get the arrangement free by subscribing to Doug's technique tips at

Another version, more freely arranged …

Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella - arranged by Allan Alexander. Cynthia Underwood Guitar. Classical guitar solo arranged by Allan Alexander from his book An International Christmas for Guitar.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Profile of Bishop Hill psalmodikon workshop in Swedish newsletter

My writeup of my Aug. 2 workshop on the psalmodikon at Bishop Hill is in the current issue of Psalmodika (Vol. 20, Nr. 2), the newsletter of the Nordiska Psalmodikonförbundet [trans. the nordic psalmodikon club] in Sweden. A psalmodikon, (pronounced sal-MOW-di-kon), is a one-stringed box zither used by 19th-century pastors in Sweden and Norway to teach four-part harmony singing to rural congregations using a system of tablature called siffernoter [numerical notation].

Background, in Swedish, is available at on the club's website (click on the button that says Kontaka oss [contact us] for a pulldown directory and on Öpna [open] to open an item in the directory). Even if you don't read Swedish, you can find some cool pictures by scrolling down to Bilder [pictures] and clicking on the Öpna button.

A mostly Norwegian-American group in Minnesota, called the Nordic Psalmodikonforbundet (no umlaut in Norwegian), has a wealth of information in English at

Article in Psalmodika (click on picture to enlarge)

Here's what I wrote, translated into Swedish and (since I can't find my original draft anymore) translated back into English:

The Profile

On 2 August, I led a workshop on the psalmodikon for the Bishop Hill Heritage Association in the old Swedish colony of Bishop Hill in Illinois. There were 21 persons. When I in the beginning of my appearance asked if they knew of the instrument Psalmodikon it was only two or three people who raised their hands.

I have a copy of an instrument made ​​in Bishop Hill in 1870 and I showed how to play on it and got them to sing " A Mighty Fortress is our God" by numerical scores [the siffernoter] so they would understand how the numbers relate to the notes in the scale. It was great fun and I think the audience appreciated it.

MORE ON THE PSALMODIKON: In April I will be presenting a workshop, "Pastor Esbjörn's Singing School," at the Augustana Founder's Day Renuion in Andover:

On Saturday, April 25, there will be interest groups during the day, with a noon lunch and an evening smorgasbord. The evening will close with a hymn sing and brief Vesper service.

On Sunday, April 26, there will be a morning worship service, followed by a noon lunch. The Augustana College Choir will give a special concert from 2:30 - 3:30 pm. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton will be the preacher at the 4:00 pm Founders Day Service. The Reunion will end with an evening dinner.

This special event celebrates the 155th anniversary of the Augustana Synod and the 165th anniversary of the Andover congregation. …

My workshop will be one of the breakout sessions for interest groups on Saturday. The Rev. Lars Paul Esbjörn was the first pastor at Andover's Jenny Lind Chapel/Augustana Lutheran Church and one of the founders of the old Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Synod, and I have been learning tunes from a handwritten booklet of his siffernoter tablature in the Special Collections at Augustana College's Tredway Library.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Carol of the Bells" -- links to sheet music and videos to inspire us for Clayville's Christmas party and our Advent soup supper gig ** UPDATE x1 ** w/ December schedule

UPDATE FROM BLAST EMAIL, NOV. 16: Our next session of the Prairieland Strings is from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 20, at Atonement Lutheran Church, 2800 West Jefferson, Spfld. We'll be practicing for our annual "sing/play for our supper" performance at the Advent soup supper on Wednesday, Dec. 10. The way Thanksgiving, Christmas and Advent fall this year, we won't have as much time to practice as we have in the past. But we got started earlier this year than we usually do, so we'll work out just fine!

Our schedule for the rest of November and December, which I will copy to the Hogfiddle blog, is as follows:

-- Thursday, Nov. 20, 7-9 p.m., "third Thursday" at Atonement -- rehearsal for soup supper.
-- Tuesday, Dec. 2, 7-9 p.m., "first Tuesday" at Atonement -- rehearsal.
-- Saturday, Dec. 6, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Clayville Historic Site, Ill. 125, Pleasant Plains. Christmas party.
-- Wednesday, Dec. 10. ca. 6 p.m. Advent soup supper at Atonement. Eat at 5:45, play at 6:20.

Our playlist, as it stands now, is:

-- Joy to the World
-- The First Noel
-- Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella
-- Carol of the Bells
-- Silent Night

Blast email sent out tonight last night and corrected today to include the link to this blog post, to my Clayville and Prairieland Strings lists.

We have two sessions of the Clayville Pioneer Academy of Music and the Prairieland Strings coming up in the next week or so. At our last meeting, we made a good start on Christmas music, and we'll devote at least part of both sessions to getting ready for the annual Christmas party at Clayville Historic Site and our annual Advent soup supper performance in December at Atonement Lutheran Church in Springfield.

We've chosen the following songs for the Advent supper, which is our chance to say thanks to the Atonement congregation for hosting our Springfield meetings:

Carol of the Bells --

Silent Night --

Bring a Torch Jeanette, Isabella --

The First Noel --

Joy to the World --

For "Carol of the Bells," we will essentially be making our own arrangement. I think we're ready for that, we went through it at the last meeting and we think it's going to sound pretty good. To inspire us, I am posting several YouTube clips to Hogfiddle at" that show different arrangements with various stringed instruments. Give 'em a listen, and see if you hear any ideas we can borrow.

And, for further inspiration, I'm posting the link I sent out earlier of Darth Vader directing an a cappella flash mob in the library at Algonquin College in Ontario:

See if that doesn't get you in the spirit of the season!

Here are the videos I mentioned in the email above:

Carol of the Bells - Steve and Ruth Smith - Hammered Dulcimer. This song is from Steve and Ruth's new Christmas/winter CD "An Appalachian Winter." They even bring in a riff or two from other songs.

Carol of the Bells - Hammered Dulcimer & Cello. Hammered dulcimer by National Champion Joshua Messick and cello by Max Dyer.

Guitar Duet - Carol of the Bells cover. My bud Evan came over and we decided to make two videos, this first one being Carol of the Bells. The backing track got a little off sync at the breakdown and a few other parts, I dunno why. Enjoy!

Carol of the Bells: On Mandolins. YouTube user MandolinMan93 writes, "IT'S DONE!!! I have been working on this for some time now and I am very proud of it. The way i did this is i went into GarageBand and recorded myself three different times.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Ballad of Bruce Rauner": Shakin' up down Springfield and bringing' back Illinois, one plutocrat at a time ** UPDATED x1 **

Judging by the way the polls are trending, it looks like hedge fund manager Bruce Rauner is about to buy up another distressed asset. The last three surveys show Republican gubernatorial candidate Rauner leading incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn by as much as 3.8 percent, and I'm starting to look for "Don't Blame Me -- I Voted for Quinn" bumper stickers.

So a new Johnny Cash-style talking blues titled "Plutocrat: The Ballad of Bruce Rauner" was -- literally -- music to my ears:

Lyrics at

Written by a Chicago lawyer named Matt Farmer who fronts a band called the Blue State Cowboys ("Chicago's Most Litigious Band"), the song went up Thursday. I saw it on Fred Klonsky's school "reform" blog, and a little while later a link appeared on the Capitol Fax political blog. (CapFax crashed that night, and Thursday's posts are no longer available, but blog administrator Rich Miller blames technical issues rather than Rauner, or Rauner-inspired hackers, for that.) The song hits all the campaign themes -- from the way Rauner clouted his suburban daughter into an elite Chicago magnet school to the the negligence and wrongful death litigation that has dogged Rauner's nursing homes.

The chorus:

So, Springfield, get out the welcome mat
What this state needs is a plutocrat
A slashin’, burnin’, union-bustin’ guy

I’ll hammer and shake that capitol dome
Like it’s a grandma stuck in a nursing home
Hey, grandma, it’s time to say goodbye

I could say more, but I probably shouldn't.

LATER: Ben Joravsky, education (and Chicago city politics) reporter at The Chicago Reader, has linked to Farmer's video. "Hey, Matt," Joravsky writes, presumably with tongue firmly planted in cheek, "have you considered the witness protection program?"

What is it about Rauner that makes so many people think, even in a joking way, he's out for retribution?

Could it be the way, in Joravsky's words, that "Rauner blew his stack when former Sun-Times reporter Dave McKinney cowrote a mildly critical article about something someone said about him many years ago?" McKinney resigned last week after Sun-Times owner (and Rauner pal) Michael Ferro blew his stack and pulled him off the Statehouse beat, and Farmer did dedicate the song to McKinney. But, gee whiz, it couldn't be that.

Whatever. At any rate, Joravsky put in a good word for the singer-songwriter:

OK look, Mr. Rauner, please allow me to make an appeal on Matt's behalf.

He's a nice guy. A lawyer by day. On nights and weekends, he frequently plays guitar and sings old rock, blues, or country songs at bars around town.

He's made a bunch of satiric country-western videos, including one about Blago. You'd like that -— right?

That song about Blagojevich is a classic, by the way. It's titled ""Pay to Play (But Keep Love in Your Heart)," and it's available on YouTube at