March 3, 2017
So much new music coming my way, so much happening in and around New York City, so little time. Henceforth, this section will keep you informed of new music and events. I’ll be adding and subtracting from the list in the days to come.
The cobalt blue electric harp startles the eye. Sophisticated melodies dance around time and rhythm. The music moves from Latin to the blues, the ache of a song to the unabashed joy of a tune. It’s not the kind of harping that people expect, but the unexpected is exactly what Amelia Romano delivers on her aptly-titled debut album, New Perspectives (released March 17, 2017).
“I like to use the harp to make a statement sonically, texturally, and visually,” Romano explains. “I love weaving strands of different cultures into my lyrics, compositions and arrangements as a response to experiences and people that inspire me. Part of the joy of playing is confounding the stereotype most people have of the harp as a very ethereal instrument,” says Romano.
Instead, there’s an honest and powerful energy to Amelia Romano’s music; the sheer joy of exploring the instrument’s limitless possibilities is at the core of her work. But the native San Franciscan has been in love with the instrument since she first heard it at a school assembly in third grade.
“A year later we had the chance to learn an instrument at school and I said the harp,” Romano recalls. “My parents bought a CD-ROM so we could listen to all the orchestral instruments, hoping to convince me to choose a lighter and less expensive one. At the end, when I still said harp, they gave in and rented one. Six months in, they knew I was serious and bought me my first harp.”
From the beginning of her studies, Romano was exposed to world music. She quickly fell in love with the music of Latin America.
“I love finding rhythms beyond the expected,” Romano says. “And Latin music does that. There’s a big tradition of harp music all across Latin America. What’s interesting is that there, it’s a man’s instrument.”
With pieces like ‘Joroportiz,’ Romano honors that long harp tradition. But one of the album’s biggest surprises is her version of the standard ‘Besame Mucho.’ She scrapes the cheese off a weary song and remakes it into a sparkling piece that brings out the innate romance that lives there.
“It’s the most-recorded song in Mexico. The melody is quite simple and I saw ways to refresh it. So there’s a tango bass line played on harp, a string section, and improvisation built between the romantic narrative.”
But it’s not the only left-field choice on New Perspectives. There’s also her take on the blues classic ‘I’d Rather Go Blind,’ which was inspired by her time as a volunteer teaching music in a South African township.
“I heard the song often over there,” Romano remembers. “It’s a blues tune with a painful message, but also a beautiful one, a story that seemed to reflect so much of the history I saw. And telling stories is really a way to communicate directly with the audience.”
Romano’s time in South Africa was also the catalyst for her own songwriting, beginning with ‘Salutations,’ her first composition with lyrics commemorating an important relationship that deeply shaped her time in Cape Town.
“I studied in Cape Town as part of my degree at U.C. Berkeley. During my stay I volunteered at the Ntonga Music School. When I returned to the United States, I applied to the Playing for Change Foundation to support my return. It was a remarkable experience, but I was in over my head, and the legacy of apartheid is complex and will change more slowly than I understood at the time. Upon my return in 2011, I began writing songs– ‘Salutations’ was just the first. ‘Receiver’ describes my experience calling Cape Town once back in the United States, while ‘Crazy Day’ was first written as a collaboration with an Afrikaans musician, and roommate, from South Africa.”
And the scope of the album itself came about more by serendipitous accident than design.
“It was quite unplanned,” Romano admits, “but it was built on my South African experience and the relationships I formed with musicians since my return. There are the cellist and percussionist from my trio, StringQuake, three different guitarists, a flautist, and the sax I knew I could hear in my mind for ‘I’d Rather Go Blind.’ I started with several solo harp compositions and a few arranged tunes. Fifteen months later, I had collaborated with over a dozen musicians to compile a 14-track album. ‘Defying Gravity’ found its way on by chance and track 15 was a jam captured live.”
But the results gloriously offer New Perspectives on the way the harp can work in music, a far cry from its usual twinkling classical or folk stance. The album also shows Romano’s many facets, as interpreter, composer, and singer-songwriter of the highest order. And she’s also very much a performer.
“I’ve been that way since I was a kid,” Romano laughs. “I’m always front and center in every home video. Now it’s time for that to take more of a stage form.”
A global soul with a cobalt blue electric harp. New Perspectives, indeed.
LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO AT B.B. KING’S BLUES CLUB
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 8, 2018
Internationally acclaimed a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo were nominated for a Grammy Award in the “Best World Music Album” category for their first studio recording in five years: Walking In The Footsteps of Our Fathers. The new collection of songs fifteen songs illuminates the group’s awe-inspiring talent as the world’s most beloved vocal ensemble. In celebration of the album’s release, Ladysmith Black Mambazo embarks on a forty-one city North American Tour and will perform at B.B. Kings Blues Club on Wednesday, March 8, 2017. http://bbkingblues.com
THE WORLD MUSIC INSTITUTE AND THE APOLLO THEATER PRESENT
Saturday, March 11, 2017 – 8pm
The Apollo Theater | 253 W 125th Street, NYC
This year’s concert, hosted by South African comedian Loyiso Gola, takes us on a musical trip across the continent from the Congo’s new generation of musicians who embody the concept of change with Mbongwana Star, to Mali’s Songhoy Blues blending traditional and modern, to the ethereal voice and masterful guitar of Mauritanian-born Daby Touré, Nigerian DJ Nenim, to the soulful punk rock of South African-born TUELO.