The artists at Daptone, such as Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Antibalas, Charles Bradley, Menahan Street Band and The Sugarman 3, to name but a few, were at the tip of a steadily rising wave of a new generation of soul artists. The Dap-Kings even found themselves working for a time for the late Amy Winehouse. They recorded most of “Back to Black” with her and producer Mark Ronson in the studio and performed with her as her stage band on many occasions.
The stature of an artist like Winehouse coupled with the general misunderstanding of soul music as a product of a bygone era provided Lipsky with some challenges when she set out to write “It Ain’t Retro.” She initially wrote the book as a scene study of soul music but had a difficult time selling it to a publisher.
“After working on that for some time, it turns out it was too broad and too niche,” she explains by phone. “No one wanted to buy it and I had to pivot. A lot of the time, the people that are making these editorial decisions, be it in publishing or in journalism, this really isn’t their bag. Soul music is Motown and it’s oldies and that’s pretty much it. Then there was Amy Winehouse and that’s pretty much it. My experience was that a lot of folks didn’t really think that there is a market for telling these stories.”
My latest for KCET is my interview with a half-dozen artists who are part of a new wave of souldies artists. Souldies, a.k.a. Chicano Soul, has a distinct flair and sound that’s also connected to a specific cultural context, which I write briefly about in the story.
The familial connection to the music and the culture is one shared by nearly all the artists involved in this resurgence of oldies music. Samano recalls his parents putting artists such as The Delfonics and Brenton Wood on heavy rotation during his childhood. Lane grew up on gospel and studied “the pillars of northern soul” while studying music in college. Garcia’s father had a record collection that included Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells and Brenton Wood plus dozens of doo-wop artists.
The same goes for Vicky Tafoya, founder and singer of Vicky Tafoya and the Big Beat, who grew up surrounded by the sounds of doo-wop, big band and Motown. As the youngest of 12 children, she inherited the vinyl records that each one of her siblings left behind as they moved out. She became completely enamored with the music and had a life-changing experience in 1989 when she joined The Doo-Wop Society of Southern California. It was there that she would spend years watching and even performing acapella doo-wop on the same stage as the artists she listened to obsessively at home: Vernon Green and The Medallions, The Teenagers, The Six Teens, The Chantelles and many other legendary artists.
My latest piece for KCET Artbound is my interview with artist/activist Julio Salgado. His work took off nearly a decade ago when he created his series of portraits of queer, undocumented activists titled “Undocuqueer.”
The purpose behind the series is to remind people that the bulk of the work in pushing the national conversation on immigrants’ rights, in planning and executing protests and all the other unglamorous, behind-the-scenes work was done by UndocuQueers. It’s also to expand the conversation behind the perceptions of who these immigrants affected by these laws and policies are.
On multiple occasions, Salgado has had to educate numerous people about the diversity of people who identify/are labeled as undocumented. In one such instance, he and others traveled by bus from California to Washington D.C. for a massive march on the capitol.
“A lot of them were faith-based groups,” recalls Salgado. “There were some immigrants who were very homophobic that would say homophobic things and, like, how do you navigate those spaces? You have to educate people, which I don’t have a problem with that. Working in kitchens with a lot of immigrant men and their machismo, you learn how to use humor.”
“That’s why I started making those pieces,” he continues. “It was for our communities to understand that if we’re talking about accepting people or creating policy that doesn’t criminalize us, we can think about other folks who are also part of our communities.”
I have a new article up at KCET about a collaborative music project that I also partook in. The project by Joshua-Michéle Ross is titled The Adjacent Possible: An Evolving Communal Orchestra and is a collaborative work of art between anonymous collaborators that, as I explain in the story, is an “experience [that] feels like equal doses of guided meditation, creative collaboration and a space for introspection and relaxation.”
From my article:
The project’s name comes from the work of Stuart Kauffman, a doctor, theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher, who coined the phrase “adjacent possible” in 2002. His theory is based on his work in biological evolution and is concerned with how organisms and biological systems, which he also refers to as “autonomous agents,” evolve into larger, more complex systems/organisms by seeking out numerous possibilities within their environment. His theory has been adapted in other fields, including the arts.
For Ross, the theory describes “how human beings, as parts of a very creative universe, are always pushing at the boundaries of what’s possible and how the aggregate choices that we make from that creates the kind of world we live in. It’s kind of how the future gets made and the idea of how the small choices that we make and bring to things, despite constraints, how those choices add up the reality we live in.”
Ross brings this theory to life through a communal orchestra. Up to 20 people gather to perform at each event. Ross serves as the event guide and conductor, speaking slowly, softly and deliberately as he shifts everyone away from the Zoom call where everyone first gathers and onto a website designed specifically for the experience.
Next is my conversation with Adriana Astorga-Gainey and Jesenia Gardea of the Pacifico Dance Company. The Los Angeles-based non-profit company takes a serious approach to folklorico dance that centers on training professional dancers.