"They didn't do 'Magnolia Soul' ", L.N. said on the way back to the car. "It's a great song about what happened here during Katrina. I wonder why not," she mused, as this wasn't the first time she'd been to one of their shows.
Speculation later on leaned toward the fact that, as Jack Daniels was sponsoring the event we attended, perhaps the band had had to stick to their less controversial material, with one song sneaking under the radar, so to speak, due to its anti-gang message.
This apparently isn't the first time the band has had to juggle an image of protest with one of being a band that has to play high profile gigs to keep their thing going:
In their fourteen years together as a band, celebrated Los Angeles culture-mashers Ozomatli have gone from being hometown heroes to being named U.S. State Department Cultural Ambassadors....One hopes the Jack Daniels tour is giving Ozomatli enough money to continue the world outreach.
In 2007, the reach and power of that voice went to new global heights. The band had long been a favorite of international audiences-playing everywhere from Japan to North Africa and Australia-and their music had always been internationalist in its scope, seamlessly blending and transforming traditions from Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East (what other band could record a song once described as "Arabic jarocho dancehall"?), but last year, they entered the global arena in a different way.
They were invited by the U.S. State Department to serve as official Cultural Ambassadors on a series of government-sponsored international tours to Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East, tours that linked Ozomatli to a tradition of cultural diplomacy that also includes the esteemed likes of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong.
For those who wondered how a band known for its vigilant anti-war stance could become a partner with the very Bush administration they have so vocally critiqued in the past, the band was clear about their position: it was all about responding to a global "cry for change" by using music to promote messages of peace and understanding.
As (saxophonist and clarinetist Ulises) Bella told The Los Angeles Times during the band's visit to an orphanage in Cairo, "Our world standing has deteriorated. I'm totally willing and wanting to give a different image of America than America has given over the last five years."
In places like Tunisia, India, Jordan, and Nepal, Ozo didn't just play rousing free public concerts, but offered musical workshops and master classes and visited arts centers, summer camps, youth rehabilitation centers, and even a Palestinian refugee camp. They listened to performances by local musicians and often joined in for impromptu jam sessions with student bands and community musicians. Most shows ended up with kids dancing on stage and their new collaborators sitting in for a tabla solo or a run on the slide guitar.
Something slightly more contentious is highlighted in Michael Tisserand's item on Pete Seeger in the latest Offbeat magazine's "The Rest of the Fest" article:
When Pete Seeger appeared early Sunday morning on the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage, an audience member asked him about his January performance with Bruce Springsteen at the Lincoln Memorial inaugural concert for President Barack Obama. After a few kind words for Springsteen (he called him honest and well-organized), Seeger admitted he preferred smaller events. The intimate interview was likely Seeger’s favorite public event over his extended 90th birthday celebration, which also included an Acura Stage appearance on Saturday and concluded the following weekend with a million-dollar bash at Madison Square Garden. Seeger seemed more comfortable and confident, starting things off with a sing-along “Skip to My Lou” and plucking his banjo while recounting the story of running into an old House Un-American Activities Committee foe at a Louisiana party. Once branded and blacklisted as a radical, Seeger was more of a peacemaker when asked how he justified appearing at a festival sponsored by an oil company with a questionable human rights record. Seeger declined to engage the issue directly, saying instead that it was important to talk with people you disagree with.Outreach, everybody. It's all about outreach when you seem to be reneging on your statements. Better by far not to suffer at the hands of unsponsored art, unless...
Meanwhile, Dr. John had already clarified/retracted his controversial pre-Fest statements about Shell’s responsibilities to repair the wetlands, and he wasn’t about to stir it up any more during the festival.
...it's for the right reasons. Writer Thomas Swick seemed to think his firing was ultimately for the best in his article, entitled "Hard Times", in the latest Oxford American issue:
The day I walked out of the newsroom - July 29, 2008 - I felt like the happiest unemployed man in America. for nineteen years, I had put out the Sunday travel section, and for eighteen, I had filled it with stories from my journeys around the world, as well as stories from freelancers, and columns reflecting on - and often poking fun at - the changing state of that world and our attempts to get to know it. It was, as I wrote in the book that collected some of those pieces, "a charmed, unheralded life."All well and good, but the road of a freelancer is not (and never really has been) paved with gold for folks like Swick, who places a good chunk of blame for his freelancing frustrations on everybody's favorite bogeyman: emails and the internet:
The charm came to an end in 2007, when my newspaper began taking seriously its motto of "local and useful". While not particularly exciting for the rest of the paper - our erstwhile foreign correspondent wrote one story, titled "Cold War", about the excessive air conditioning of offices and malls in South Florida - it was disastrous for the Travel section. My budgets for trips and freelance stories were cut to the bone, and i was, for the first time really, given directives on how to run the section. This resulted in a dramatic increase in "weekend getaway" articlesand the addition of a wire column n theme parks. Travel, the one part of the paper that always offered a release from the familiar, an openness to the world, was turned into a provincial bore.
So when the first layoffs in the history of the paper took place, I was delighted to be one of the casualties.
The combination of waiting and rejection used to drive writers to drink: now it drives them to blog. The blogosphere is an editor-free zone, a lawless, all-embracing realm from which uncertainty, disappointment, and standards have been banished. Anything goes and everyone, it sometimes seems, is there, even the talented, which is proof of the painful universality of rejection. (We all need a place safe from putdowns.) The blogosphere is the hack's idea of heaven.Oy to the vey. Now I need a beer. AND, possibly, some time away from the internet, reading more of the Joan Didion tome I got last week. But before I go get said beer and book, I must say that not everybody on the Internet treats the written word as a frivolous thing.
Blogs unquestionably have their uses, but finding room for what John Cheever called "a page of good prose" isn't one of them. Andrew Sullivan's claims to the contrary, their rise would seem to put artful writing in jeopardy. For what use is nuance in the age of information? What hope has the poetic in a landscape of opinion? When so much is of the moment, is there still a place - and an audience - for the timeless? "I rewrite," Andre Gide is popularly quoted as saying,"in order to be reread." But who rereads on the Internet, that ever-changing screen?
The people who still care about the written word tend to become writers (MFA programs are thriving), which necessarily limits the number of disinterested readers. the practice of writing has always verged on folly, and in a world that craves images it has become more questionable and frustrating than ever. I'd give it up tomorrow if I could shed my unfashionable belief in its importance.