Shannon McNally On Her Way To Madison

Grammy nominee Shannon McNally’s live music career began on the jam band circuit of the 1990s with bands like (friend of the program) The Derek Trucks Band & Railroad Earth. Since then, her catalog has grown to span the whole of the Americana music spectrum, both writing original songs as well as interpreting the songs of others. She brings a soul-stirring musicality to her craft. Her honest and, at times, completely elegant voice immediately grabs you by the heartstrings and unclouds some vivid memories. She also plays a mean guitar, as she mentions she will tell herself heading daily deeper into 2024. Shannon has more than a couple of hands-full of albums to her name and a string of single self-releases on her personal label, Queen Maeve Records. Her latest album, Live At Dee’s, is a career retrospective song list captured over 4 nights in September of 2022 with a revolving band of amazing Nashville musicians. Showcasing her wonderful storytelling & sense of wry humor, the eighteen-song album captures her at her most relaxed in her natural habitat of neighborhood Honky Tonk. As a listener, to me, this is such a great way to be checking into her catalog – the personality of it all really shines through. Anyone that has paid attention to her twenty-plus-year career, the thing that sticks with listeners the most about her is the timeless effortlessness she brings to all she does. With an impressive catalog and extensive list of collaborators with whom she has written, recorded, & toured; Shannon continues to turn out great music across wide-flung ends of the spectrum, defying genre-fication. At home on any stage, from Lincoln Center to the juke joints of Mississippi—she always brings the house down.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Shannon before she makes a trip up to Madison for her April 11th gig with special guest Beth Bombara at The Bur Oak. We get into what that night should bring attendees, including learning that they two will do a few things toGether, even! We dive deep into her most recent release “Live At Dee’s'”, from how do you decide what tunes to pick after a four day residency, a rotation of musicians and such a library of material to choose from. She also shares the news of a brand new single that dropped as we were speaking, find that here. I bring up working with our pal Neal Casal, and we end up getting into how certain people (and she sure has worked with many of these people) shed alight on you, and if your there, you’ll get/feel/learn from them and be able to apply it not only to your music, but your life. Of course, Shannon builds a setlist that would have people beggin’ for more, as I kinda expected.

Sonny Landreth Brings Louisiana Calling Out To Play

Friend of the proGram, Sonny Landreth has been called “the King of Slydeco” and plays with a strong zydeco influence. World-recognized guitarist Eric Clapton has said that Sonny Landreth is one of the most advanced guitarists in the world and one of the most under-appreciated. Sonny is famously known for his slide guitar playing, having developed a technique where he also frets notes and plays chords & chord fragments by fretting behind the slide while he’s playing. He also somehow plays with the slide on his little finger, so that his other fingers have more room to fret behind the slide. He is also known for his right-hand technique, which involves tapping, slapping, & picking strings, using all of the fingers on his right hand. He wears a special thumb pick/flat pick hybrid on his thumb so that he can bear down on a pick while simultaneously using his finger-style technique for slide. This is the kind of singularity I hear as I tune into Sonny’s work. He first played in Clifton Chenier’s Red Hot Louisiana Band, as the only white member of the band. In 1981, he released his first record, Blues Attack, which also featured C.J. Chenier on saxophone and Mel Melton on harmonica. In 1982, Landreth and Melton formed the band Bayou Rhythm, and eventually added C.J. Chenier to the lineup. The band recorded Way Down in Louisiana in 1985 [9] Landreth also frequently played in John Hiatt’s band, and with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. The number of people and albums he has participated with and on is lengthy and wide, with awards and achievements to his name, Sonny keeps on keepin’ on bringing a sense of that good Louisiana lifestylin’ with him wherever he spreads that singular sound.

The deep roots tag team of Cajun slide guitar phenom Sonny Landreth & legendary New Orleans Latin-Americana rockers the Iguanas presents a mind-blowing musical trip through the scenic soundscape of the bayou. Still wet from crawling out of the swamps, this cross-pollinated confection will be both savory and sweet. Louisiana’s calling—here’s your chance to answer at the Stoughton Opera House on Saturday, April 6th. I had the true pleasure of catching up with Sonny once again, as he is very easy to talk to. This time we talk about the diversity of the sets both his band will bring (Acoustic vs. Electric) and well, all that different rhythms & grooves the Iguanas always fill a set with. We talk gumbo, introducing people to that Louisiana feelin’ and what album he’d bring to the studio if I invited him in but forgot all my records. While the entire talk was a treat, getting into how the music find him and how his guitars flow with so much newness, songwriting vs. songwriters and techniques, riffs & grooves. S’cool.

A Quick Hang With Oliver Wood

For the better part of 2 decades, The Wood Brothers have learned to trust their hearts. The Grammy-nominated leaders of American roots music have cemented their reputation as freethinking songwriters, road warriors, & community builders, while creating a catalog of diverse music and a loyal audience who’ve grown alongside them through the years. Dubbed “masters of soulful folk” by Paste, The Wood Brothers formed after brothers Chris & Oliver Wood pursued separate musical careers for fifteen years. Chris already had legions of devoted fans for his incomparable work as one-third of Medeski Martin & Wood, while Oliver toured with friend of the proGram Tinsley Ellis before releasing a half-dozen albums with his band King Johnson. Drummer Jano Rix was soon added as a permanent third member. This is a trio of artists that wants to continue to grow as people and artists and that evolution continues with Heart is the Hero, the band’s 8th studio album. Recorded analog to 16-track tape, this latest effort finds its three creators embracing the chemistry of their acclaimed live shows by capturing their performances in real-time direct from the studio floor with nary a computer in sight. An acoustic-driven album that electrifies, Heart is the Hero is filled up with songs that target not only the heart, but the head a& hips, too. A continued sense of exploration pumps its way through Heart is the Hero like lifeblood. Arriving on the heels of 2019’s Live at The Fillmore, 2020’s Kingdom In My Mind, and Oliver Wood’s solo album Always Smilin’, all of which were released on Honey Jar Records, the band’s independent label, Heart is the Hero is bold, bright, & singularly creative, a fully realized collective effort ultimately greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps that’s to be expected from a group whose willingness to experiment has earned acclaim from Rolling Stone & NPR, as well as an annual touring schedule of sold-out music halls and theaters on both sides of the Atlantic. Ask The Wood Brothers, though, and they’ll tell you to keep expecting the unexpected.

I had a chance to do my yearly check in with Oliver Wood ahead of us getting to spend time with The Wood Brothers, who will perform at the Orpheum Theater in Madison, WI on Sunday, April 7 in support of this brilliant new album. Oliver and I get into trying to define what a Wood Brothers show is like in less than two sentences. Not easy. We dive into the creation of Heart Is A Hero and how the ear is really the gut during this process, and we get into the inner working of the title track. I am always happy when the time of year rolls around to talk a little music wit Oliver, but I also remember that these 3 are not afraid of the give-back and I wanted to make sure to give Oliver a little time to talk about some of the who, what and how around a couple recent ways they are doing their part. I type this with a smile as preparing to see Oliver, Chis & Jano live gets me deep into the ‘ear’ of things on my end also.

Photo by: by Shervin Lainez

Ben Majeska of Armchair Boogie

Jamgrass, newgrass, funkgrass, whatever you want to call it, Madison’s own Armchair Boogie is rapidly becoming one of those bands people are chiming in on. With an unbounded sound, this Wisconsin-based quartet is known for their powerful harmonies, timeless originals, & super choice covers, along with unforgettable live performances. Armchair Boogie is Augie Dougherty on banjo with Ben Majeska acoustic & electric guitars backed by tight, driving rhythms of Eli Frieders on electric bass and Denzel Connor on drums. This unconventional lineup enhances their lightning-fast bluegrass, allowing them to freely venture into the realms of funk or country. They truly feel like a band on the verge of really exploding, if all the satisfied festival goers are any indication Armchair Boogie is excited to independently release their 4th studio recording, Hard Times & Deadlines, on March 15. Composing these songs around the beginning of the pandemic, Majeska & Dougherty, who sing lead on the respective songs they wrote, were experiencing the stresses of entering their late 20s.

I had the chance to quickly chat with Ben Majeska ahead of the March 16th show at the Stoughton Opera House where the band will be celebrating the release of their ew record, ‘Hard Times & Deadlines. Ben and I get into what folks can expect for this live event, and why this venue was specifically chosen as a place to share moments within. We then go seed to flower on this new record and get a little in=sight into how the songwriting goes and how that banjo is such a versatile instrument. This group is well known for choosing and making ‘cover tunes’ a part of their show, so we discuss a little about how they chose which ones to give a little Armchair Boogieness to, and Ben makes a little setlist.

Lessons from Seth James

Texas Bluesman Seth James and his All-Star Grammy ® winning Band celebrate the great American Roots Music of Delbert McClinton. He gathers up eleven “deep cuts” and major hits by the artist Rolling Stone named the “founding father” of Americana Music, and got the band cookin’ just right and you can feel the respect pouring out of the speakers on “Lessons”, out now on Qualified Records. James found Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins––then Booker T. & the MGs, NRBQ, Delbert McClinton, and ultimately, a sound entirely his own. A couple of decades ago, he emerged with an easy voice that can croon and soul-shout, campfire storytelling chops, and moody, virtuosic electric guitar playing capable of blistering rides, New Orleans drama, and roadhouse funk. He ended up really studying Delbert McClinton’s sound and style and songwriting, ended up touring with him and got his blessing on a track for an earlier album, so this was bound to happen…and thankfully, the time was now.

I had a really nice time talking with Seth about the new album, “Lessons”, an album that clearly emphasizes his admiration for and the importance of Delbert McClinton in his desire to be a modern day songwriter, with his own sound. From the get go, we talk about the importance of the eleven songs chosen and the time, you you know, that one time when he sat in front of Mr. McClinton with some raw beGinnings…ya, that time. Seth explains the timing, and how he put aside something he was nearly through to bring this project a heartbeat. And beat it really does. There is a fresh life to these tracks that really lifts the album into a must listen to, there are new old friends, or old new friends definitely hanging out within them. Of course, Seth builds a nice setlist that makes me think he and I should hang out under a tree one day with our collections and trade off.

Eddie 9V To Charge Up Madison

All his life, Eddie 9V has been acting on instinct. Aged just 15, this old-soul artist turned away from the path of college & jobs to burst all guns blazing onto the roots & blues club circuit of his native Atlanta, Georgia. Eddie 9V specializes in the sounds of the 1960s: he punctuates this sound with live shows that keep people talking. A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Eddie 9V (born Brooks Mason in 1996) started playing local blues clubs when he was just 15 years old. Drawn to older blues & soul records, along with such Atlanta players as Mr. Sean Costello, he found a musical partner in his brother Lane Kelly. The pair played a lot of music toGether, especially focused in the blues. After some of these early projects wound down and looking for a place to channel his love for the blues and soul music, Brooks Mason reinvented himself as Eddie 9V, playing most of the instruments on Left My Soul in Memphis, a 2019 debut album recorded in large part in Lane’s bedroom. Within time, Eddie 9V caught the attention of Ruf Records and that contract gave the singer/guitarist the opportunity to hire local blues musicians for ‘Little Black Flies’, which the label released in 2021; the record was produced by Lane Kelly. Eddie 9V headed to the famed Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia to cut his next album. The aptly titled ‘Capricorn’, which was again produced by Kelly, which dropped in early 2023.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Eddie 9V ahead of his February 18th event at The Bur Oak here in Madison. After digging into his catalog over the years, what I always thouGht was ‘this kid has it’, and I’d bet his live shows are something else. The chance in Madison to be proven correct is here and Eddie and I get into what a live event is like once that first note is struck. We dive into the seed to flower of his latest release on Ruf Records, ‘Capricorn’ and how to me sounds like a dream come true time in Macon, GA pitting it together. Eddie and I have more than one person in common when it comes to some of our earlier years of ears, Mr. Sean Costello is one of them so we get into what it is about Sean that we both sorta felt. Before I let Eddie go, he choose one track (same track I’d have chosen) from ‘Capricorn’ and builds a sweet set list. You can thank me later after you catch this cat and his band out in the world live, it’s one of the somethings you are probably looking for.

Texas Scratch

Blues-rock band Texas Scratch released its new self-titled album on Quarto Valley Records. Texas Scratch is made up of three born-and-bred Texas guitarists, Jim Suhler from Dallas, Buddy Whittington from Fort Worth & Vince Converse from Houston. This mighty threesome of big dog guitar slingers takes no prisoners when it comes to red-hot guitar performances, both live and in-studio. This trio of six-string guitar beasts are accompanied on the album by drummer Jeff Simon and bassist Nathaniel Peterson. Their combined efforts have resulted in a debut album consisting of fiery, passionate guitar licks everywhere you turn, soaked in the blues and kicked in the ass by the blues-rock they all love to play. Some of the song titles on the album alone lets the listener know what they are in for – What the Devil Loves, Trip Hammer, Showdown and Louisiana Cock Fight – give a few clues as to what to expect musically. But the album is far from just a six-string shootout or shredding contest between top gun guitarists; the 9 total songs on the album feature 7 original songs written by a combination of Suhler, Whittington & Converse with killer arrangements, passionate vocals, tight ensemble playing, & clever lyrics. Suhler’s & Simon’s day jobs are longtime members of George Thorogood and the Destroyers,in fact, Mr. Simon is an original member of The Destroyers (he co-founded the band with Thorogood in 1973) and Suhler has been a Destroyer since 1999. Suhler is also a founding member of the band Monkey Beat since 1991. Whittington recorded/toured with blues legend John Mayall for 15 years before heading off to an acclaimed solo recording/touring career in 2008 that continues to this day. Converse made his bones with heavy blues-rock power trio Sunset Heights, touring with acts like Johnny Winter, Peter Green, Fats Domino, & Kenny Wayne Shepherd. A devoted blues musician, he now kicks ass with his band, Vince Converse and Big Brother. And Nathaniel Peterson was a member of Savoy Brown. For one reason or another through the years this HOTT blues album never got to see the light of day. That didn’t stop the stories from spreading throughout the music world about what a tremendous album it was. Recorded in October 2009, the album’s release took 14 long years to finally see the light of day as the musicians initially got together in New Jersey to jam and lay down each other’s tracks at the legendary Showplace Studios in Dover, NJ. The album was recorded in four days and produced by the late, great Ben Elliott.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Jim Suhler to get down and dirty into the new self titled album from Texas Scratch. We talk about songwriting and songs, dissect a couple of tracks including ‘I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Good, which he co-wrote with Tom Hambridge. We discussed the choices of stretching out tunes in a live setting and sometimes not. It is clear where some of the influences of this music seem to come from, we do mention some of the pivotal music that helped shape Texas Scratch and most obviously, ZZ Top. Jim even shares an incredible tale of how Billy F. Gibbons officiated his wedding! By the end of the chat, I was very interested to hear what tune from the new record he would chose to build a setlist around and what other tunes/artists he’d combine to build that set. Always insightful and this was no less. At the time of this call, the Dallas Cowboys & Green Bay Packers had yet to play their playoff game, we share a quick ‘good luck’ to each other, and he once again, has a story of meeting some leGends of the game down in big D.

The Fighter By J.Wilms

GA based multi-instrumentalist J. Wilms is releasing his 3rd album as a singer/songwriter. ‘The Fighter was recorded, mixed, and mastered summer of 2023 by Kyle Spence at RJS in Athens, GA, produced by Wilms & Spence and will be released on 12” LP vinyl, as a digital download via Bandcamp and through streaming platforms from Cart/Horse Records on December 8th. After years as a much in-demand session musician in New York, Wilms stepped away from the grind of the city in 2020 during the beginning of the COVID lockdown and moved back to his hometown of Atlanta. There he returned his focus to stripped-down, honest playing & singing, writing songs that conveyed plainspoken but eloquent stories. J. was joined in Athens, GA’s RJS studios with by Nick Robbins bass & Bo Bedingfield drums, Guest musicians included Julia Haltigan on vocals on “Born to Die,” “I’ll Start Tomorrow,” & “Stopping on a Dime” and David “Smoota” Smith on trombone on “Props”. Jeremy “J” Wilms has had a long and varied career. He received his Bachelor of Music from Georgia State University and his Master of Music from CUNY Queens College, NYC. Jeremy’s jammed with Ornette Coleman at his loft and played Broadway revues at retirement communities in New Jersey (sometimes over the same weekend!) He was briefly in Chico Hamilton’s band playing guitar and played bass on Broadway in the musical Fela!. During the tour for Fela!, Wilms performed with Patti LaBelle and played with Fela Kuti’s son Femi at venues around the world including the Shrine in Lagos. He’s recorded with artists as diverse as Bebel Gilberto, Beyoncé, TV On The Radio, and many others. He has been a guitarist in the orchestra for MacArthur Fellowship winner Taylor Mac’s 24 Decade History Of Popular Music as well as the bassist on ABC Network’s The Gong Show. He was the arranger and musical director for The Heathens and other acts based at the fabled McKittrick Hotel in Manhattan, home of “Sleep No More” immersive show. Wilms arranged strings and brass for songs on Run the Jewels’ RTJ 4 and Tim Fojahn’s I Dreamed a Dream. Jeremy is still busy working as a sideman in both NYC and ATL, scoring for film and other media, and teaching. Wilms also releases instrumental music as Jeremy Wilms and is the leader of the metal/prog band NOMOTO.

I want to thank Jeremy for finding some time to chat. We went through the part of life that brought the songs of “The Fighter” to life. Seed to flower was only a part of that discussion. We get into the who and the path of a few wheres and the challenges of a time of biG change. The reflection I hear on these songs has my face staring back at me in the ponds on the walk. We find out how our friend Smoota becomes a part of J.’s life and he shares a little bit about several key moments in his career – and there are some interesting words shared, especially when talking about the time shared with Mr. Chico Hamilton. We get into a nice discussion about how he is able to play so well in all kinds of sandboxes of sound and how that led him to folks like Smoota, Kendra Morris and Rev. Vince as well as the amazing names mentioned above.

Meeting At The Four Directions With Dirtwire

Dirtwire stands poised between ancient Mother Earth and modern technology, a blend of ethnomusicology and the psychedelic trance state, gut-bucket delta blues and what the band variously dubs “back-porch space cowboy blues, swamptronica, & electro-twang.” It’s a sound informed by Dirtwire’s travels & performances around the globe, where East meets West and North joins South. From the favelas in Brazil, Femi Kuti’s Shrine in Lagos, Tokyo’s bluegrass clubs, Ayahuasca ceremonies in Central America, Gamelan performances in Bali, desert festivals in the Australian Outback, and the 20th anniversary of Kazakhstan’s modernized new capital Astana, the band spreads its message by building bridges across musical cultures in their own unique way. Dirtwire plays an array of instruments both ancient and modern, including West African kamale ngonis, jaw harps, space fiddles, whamola basses, Rickenbacher electric 12 string guitars, bowed Banjos and mouth harps from around the globe, all interwoven into modern laptop beat creation. Hailing from the underground west coast electronic bass music scene Dirtwire finds itself at the forefront of experimental electronic music production mixing in their wide array of world instruments with sampled beats & 808’s. Dirtwire’s live shows are a communal psychedelic journey, ranging from down home boot stomping get downs, to bass & blues electronic mashups, to ethereal cinematic beat driven soundscapes. Woven into each is the exploration of where live instruments meet computer production, and where tradition meets experimentation. This is the spot within thin spaces we seek sometimes.

I had the pleasure to share some energy with Evan Fraser & Mark Reveley of Dirtwire ahead of the November 17trh event in Madison at the High Noon Saloon as part of their The Four Directions tour. We talk about what the soup of a live Dirtwire event will be like in 2023. They set some goals for their live events and we discuss what those look and sound like as well as where they stretch during a set while fitting in some of the new tunes and how they have been exploring the journey of a continuous show, while dynamically moving through spaces. Those spaces are enhanced with the assistances of the global instrumentation and Americana folk world “swamptroinca’ elements that are combined. The new EP “The Four Directions” will be out November 10th and we get into the new grooves, we get deeper into the new track “Wanderer”and talk about both the visual side (David Satori’s Mind) and the musical bits as well. These artists are combining the world of then and there with the future of technology and the redefining the limits of where we are going and how we can get there. The key is they are building a foundation of all us us being invited to do it toGether. They tease all of our senses with many a surprise – keep your eyes and minds open for some Dirtwire in your world.

Where We Are Gathered by Opium Moon

Twice-nominated Grammy winners Opium Moon create sensuous, enchanting soundscapes that evoke ancient worlds while remaining thoroughly contemporary. Elegant yet deeply emotional, their distinctive sound draws upon the diverse backgrounds of its members: Iranian santoor master Hamid Saeidi, innovative Israeli bassist Itai Disraeli, sought-after American percussionist M.B. Gordy, & virtuosic Canadian-American violinist Lili Haydn. With original compositions that meld sacred/classical traditions of East & West with trance-inducing grooves, the result is at times both stately & rapturous, a sultry & passionate music that seems to emanate from a deep wellspring.

Toronto-born violinist Lili Haydn‘s 6 solo albums have been NPR favorites (“Heifetz meets Hendrix”), and her collaborations with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Sting, Roger Waters, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, George Clinton’s P-Funk Allstars, Hans Zimmer, and the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan are legendary, including performances at Carnegie Hall, the Vienna Opera House, and the Hollywood Bowl. She is also a distinguished film/TV composer with 18 feature films, Netflix’s hit show Ginny & Georgia, and various awards to her credit. Her work has been featured in more than 50 films. A dedicated social activist with a political science degree from Brown University, Lili has done 4 TED presentations, including one with Opium Moon in Mumbai, India, and performs regularly at benefits for such organizations as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, & The Feminist Majority.

Tehran native Hamid Saeidi studied santoor in the Radiff system of Persian classical music with Iran’s famous teacher Madjid Kiani, then attended The Iranian Academy of the Arts, studying composition under the music masters Farhad Fakhredini & Vartan Sahakian. Hamid has been acclaimed for his performances around the world, including his productions at Royce Hall and the Kodak Theatre.
He has scored over 30 films, TV programs, dance and theatrical presentations, receiving awards at the Beirut Film Festival in 2002, the Iran TV festival in 2002, 2004 and 2007, and at Iran’s Society of Critics of Theatre in 2005. In recognition of his work, The Farhang Foundation has commissioned his original compositions for their Nowruz celebrations.

Itai Disraeli was raised in one of Israel’s oldest kibbutz communities, the Mishmar-Ha’Emeq near Nazareth, co-founded by his grandfather in the 1920s. It was among the utopian social experiments that fostered a just, peaceful life of sharing and tolerance, but in his youth Itai lived under the constant specter of war; it was during the Yom Kippur war that he taught himself to play bass in a bomb shelter. An acclaimed, virtuosic bassist & composer, he co-founded the genre-bending band Maetar and has played with Jackson Browne, Larry Coryell, & Nishat Khan, among others. He founded and runs the acclaimed music program at Wildwood School. His music has been licensed for TV & film, and he is active with humanitarian and peace organizations, believing that music has the power to heal & connect.

Percussionist M.B. Gordy has played with such diverse artists as Beck, Frank Zappa, Michael Buble, Green Day, The Doobie Brothers, Josh Groban, Bill Withers, Guns and Roses, Neil Diamond, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, & The National Symphony, as well as his recent work for Adele, Childish Gambino, The Who, & Juanes. With an M.A. from California Institute of the Arts and intensive study of ethnic percussion, he has worked with producers Peter Asher, Don Was, & Rob Cavallo, to name a few. His groove has been heard in over 300 top box office films, including the Harry Potter series, Frozen, Batman, Superman, American Sniper, Transformers, & the X-Men series. His work is also ubiquitous on television, including Mad Men, The Mentalist, The Tonight Show, Battlestar Galactica, Good Morning America, and much more.

I had the chance to catch up with Lili, Itai & M.B. of Opium Moon to dive deep into the new album “Where We Are Gathered”. As in above, each discusses their feeling about the album, the feelings it brings out and was brought to the collection of grooves. I too share some of my thouGhts as I spent a whole lot of time letting these tracks wash over me and do their thang. This record bursts with energy and passion, the pieces to this whole excel and shine like a light unknown and as another step into the future, there are collaborations and other voices added into the worldly mosaic. Our mutual sound grabber, Ramin Sakurai of my guilty pleasure, Supreme Beings of Leisure is one we highlight, as I can happily feel the complement he adds. This album is a healer, a uniter and hopefully more than a dream-like feeling, but a movement forward, together, as only music can do.

Ed Durocher Of Apollo Suns

Founded by Ed Durocher, Apollo Suns is a 9-piece instrumental collective from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The band fuses the influence of jazz, rock & psychedelic music, to create their own unique sounds with a full dancefloor in mind. They have self-released three EPs: ‘Each Day a Different Sun’ (2017), ‘Dawn Offerings’ (2019), ‘A Relationship of Force’ (Color Red, 2021), and were awarded “Instrumental Artist of the Year” at Western Canadian Music Awards in both 2018/2020. In 2022, Apollo Suns returned to the studio with Juno award-winning producer Ben Kaplan (Five Alarm Funk, Mother Mother, The Rare Americans) to record their latest album, ‘Departures’. The band is signed to the Canadian label Do Right Music, home to such soul-filled groovy artists: The Souljazz Orchestra, Soul Motivators, & Luvmenauts. Developed over many tours trying out different arrangements & grooves, their new single ‘Pluto’ became a fan favourite at live shows due to those heavy-ass horns, dynamic groove, & catchy melody. This band is definitely best known for their high-octane live shows, they have captivated audiences at Winnipeg Jazz Festival, Big Fun Festival, Vermont Jazz Fest, & Calgary Stampede. Some of their most notable shows include support slots for The Comet is Coming, Makaya McCraven, Anomalie, The Brooks, and Five Alarm Funk. The core group includes Ed Durocher (Guitar), Tim Iskierski (Drums), Erika Einarson (Percussion), Bryn Herperger (Bass), Garrett Malenko (Trumpet), Benjamin James Hill (Trombone), Aaron Bartel (Bari Sax) and Anatol Rennie (Keyboards/Synths).

I had the chance to catch-up with Ed from the van out on the road, as Apollo Suns will be making their way to Madison on November 5th to funk up The North Street Cabaret. We get into just what the scene will be like when this nine piece gives an evening’s worth of good times out into the Madison. There’s a new album, their first fill lenGth and it does not disappoint. Ed and I get into the roots and fruits of that labor – dissecting the process, the building of tunes and the evolution that will be on display in a primed up condition by the time they get into town. They have a brand new opportunity to grow within the roster of Do Right Music!, and it does seem like this band is ready to explode. At the end of the chat, Ed (and I) create a little setlist, and that too would have you up and having FUN!!!

The Unique Fingerstylings of Adrian Legg

Globally acclaimed by critics & fans alike for his unique acoustic & electric fingerstyle guitar playing, Mr. Adrian Legg masterfully blends diverse musical styles, influences & inspirations to create a distinctive sound all his own. With multiple awards and accolades spanning 4 decades, he has been heralded as a “guitarist of astonishing virtuosity, (whose) imagination and melodic invention seem unbounded,” (Q magazine); “ridiculously talented,” (Music Week) and “simply the best acoustic guitar player I’ve ever heard.”(guitar icon Joe Satriani). But there’s even more to Adrian Legg’s draw as an engaging, one-of-a-kind performer. Described by Audio Magazine as a “kind of cross between Robert Fripp & Garrison Keillor,” Legg is more fully characterized as a “genuine entertainer who excels at not only painting pictures, if not frescoes, and telling stories with music— but also wittily regaling his audiences with tales from his life and travels and his cogent and often oblique yet thought-provoking observations on a spectrum of topics. It’s all part of his dedication to making his performances a full- blooded emotional experience.” Over his career, he has released over a dozen recordings of his original compositions, which are consistently described as “thrilling, engaging, emotionally compelling and evocative.”, while encapsulates his own music by saying, “I’m a collision between European classicism and the American guitar.” Loyal fans around the globe enthusiastically appreciate Legg’s witty, entertaining stories, often shared in between songs onstage and on his live albums. As noted by popular BBC radio personality Andy Kershaw, “Quite simply, there is no one else like him,” citing Legg’s “dazzling technique and equally large dollops of spirit, humor, passion, eclecticism and spontaneity.” The essence of his creativity is in live performance. “Playing live is the whole point,” he stresses. “Everyone makes a journey, an effort; we all come together — me, the audience, the people who run the venue — to share this wonderful, universal, human emotional interaction. This is where music lives; it has a huge social value which I think is very important.” When it comes to musical technique, he plays fingerstyle guitar, mixing an alternating-bass style with harmonics, banjo-peg retuning and single or double string bending. Often, he plays a piece entirely in arpeggios (similar to a classical guitar style) and extensively uses altered tunings and capos to create his signature sound. In addition to his well-honed gifts as a performer, Mr. Legg is an innovator in guitar design & amplification technology, an instructor, photographer, writer, author, and an at-large commentator for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” which still regularly uses many of his varied guitar interpretations of its theme music. So it’s no wonder that What’s Up magazine hails London-born Legg as “the greatest British import since Newcastle Brown Ale.”

I had the chance to catch up with Mr. Adrian Legg ahead of his October 17th event here in Madison at The Bur Oak. We got into talking a little bit about what it is people can expect when he heads this way to play live…and….with a Shel Silverstein quote at the ready, you may have to head out to the event to really get the full picture. When we stated to talk about his ‘signature sound and how that was developed and even if it is a real thing, the time got very interesting for me. When the sounds are there, go find a way to make them happen the way you hear & feel them. I do actually want to see if each one of his finGers has a little face and brain of it’s own while he is playing. More reasons to get there and see him. Just like his commentary – he is brilliantly witty and I did get a little more insight into a possibly way that trickled into the way he puts on an event. We close out by talking aboyut how Mr. Legg refreshes his mind and finds inspiration when he isn’t working on his musical endeavors. The history is real and I can even picture the trail his bike is taking passing the timelines of the past as he pedals. Oh and when you go check him out live, don’t be fooled by one man sitting with a weird looking guitar, the outside of this book is much different when it sits on the table then when you open it up (and fingerstyle through).

A Human Reaction with Mike Baggetta Of mssv

mssv is releasing their second studio album ‘Human Reaction’ in their typical style: with a 58-show tour in the U.S. & parts of Canada. The band, composed of guitarist Mike Baggetta, Stephen Hodges on drums & mike watt on bass, creates music that is a hybrid of a punk power-trio and a dreamy experimental rock band, though they prefer the term “post-genre.” ‘Human Reaction’ was released on BIG EGO Records as a digital download, 12” LP vinyl, and via streaming platforms on September 1st. This brand new full length album finds the oddly memorable hooks of their noir-tinged adventure music with a lot more vocals from the Main Steam Stop Valve leader Baggetta, adding more personality than ever before, alongside his bandmates, Hodges & watt, who also share in the vocal duties throughout the album. Recorded mostly on May Day immediately following that last tour, ‘Human Reaction’ passes through a deeply broad sonic landscape, as expected from this nearly unclassifiable group, though with some even deeper twists & turns. With inventively churning drum textures from Hodges (an instantly identifiable sound honed in his days with Tom Waits & David Lynch) and the full-steam-ahead all-in attitude from watt, (as he’s displayed throughout his storied career with MINUTEMEN, fIREHOSE, & The Stooges), you can feel the steam being converted into an electrical energy. It’s real! Also evident is the more fearless exploring that comes from a band that has spent a lot of time together crafting their vision, as well as making room for guests like J Mascis, Petra Haden and Nels Cline on some of their previous releases. Mike Baggetta has had the pleasure to work all over the world with a wide range of visionary musicians across many generations including David Torn, Jim Keltner, Psychic Temple, Jeff Coffin, Henry Kaiser, Rev. Fred Lane, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Joseph C. Philips’ Numinous with Imani Uzuri, Viktor Krauss, Jerome Harris, David Wax Museum, Jon Irabagon, Eivind Opsvik and Ruth Brown among many others. Even though Mr. Baggetta wrote all the songs specifically for these bandmates to play, there’s no telling which way the band will turn at any given moment, a proposition that becomes a promise when they break down and reassemble these songs live, with an instinct for restraint and an openness to a little anarchy.

I had the complete pleasure of catching up with Mike before the road warrior type monster stretch of a 58 day/58 show tour (Aki Tour), and when mssv makes their way to Madison on October 1st at the High Noon Saloon. Mike introduces the band to us to get any folks unfamiliar into the scen and we get into about how they go about their business of playing the new tunes and then recording an album, giving them time to form and shape into themselves and he evens shares the expectations for those in attendance to prepare for a taste of the past, future and present of a live show musically. This lead right into a deep dive into the seed to flower of this brilliantly unique sounding new release ‘Human Reaction’, including the how/why/when he started taking on a little more of that singer aspect of the instrumentation (including a tale from little Mike days). This leads us down into a conversation about different layers added to make that trio feel like more people, like more beings being and doing. It is alwsays fun to talk about visions people may have when inviting others to collaboration with other people. We get into that a bit to see how Mike tries to keep his way of approaching music and taking on that conversation by being himself. The facts is that this group is a young, ever-evolving, take your chances kid type of situation, wrapped in some dynamic layers within that/this moment improvisation preparing themselves and listeners alike on a unique journey toGether. That’s what it’s all about and mssv, the people, the artists, the sonic sculptors of then and now take the influences of everything and here’s our adventure. It just so happened that Mike was right there with his turntable and we learned exactly what he is/was listening to recently. It would make a great greenarrowradio set.

mssv by Devin O’Brien

Jane Lee Hooker Back In Madison

Jane Lee Hooker exploded out of New York City in 2015, with members having spent time playing in Nashville Pussy, Bad Wizard, Helldorado, Lez Zeppelin, NYC punk rockers The Wives & Plasmatics offshoot New Hope. The band released a revved up album of Blues covers titled ‘No B!’ in 2016, and were immediately signed to legendary German Blues label Ruf Records. ‘Spiritus’ followed in 2017 and found Jane Lee Hooker touring extensively in support of these records – performing to packed houses across the US and Europe including Germany, France, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic & Luxembourg. While Jane Lee Hooker’s blend of rock, blues, punk, R&B & soul pays respect to the greats of the past, this is a band that lives fiercely in the present tense. JLH’s fiery performances have made them a must-see live act, and feature the dynamically muscular lead guitars of Tracy ‘Hightop’ & Tina ‘T-Bone’ Gorin, the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Mary Z and drummer Lightnin’ Ron Salvo and the full ranged, soul-scorching lead vocals courtesy of Dana “Danger” Athens. In a world full of manufactured bands and live shows backed up by hard-drives, Jane Lee Hooker play rock ‘n’ roll the way it’s meant to be played – loud and with uncompromised passion. You can easily feel that Jane Lee Hooker loves to play live and share their music with their fans around the globe.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Hightop ahead of Jane Lee Hooker’s upcoming set at Atwoodfest 2023 on July 30th as they help close the party out. It has been too long since JLH has been to Madison and Hightop misses this place as much as we miss them. The love of how they feel when they rock with us is shared and highly reciprocated, and now they’ll be back where it all beGan. Since it has been a bit since they last rawwwkkkked with us, we talk about what songs (especially the newer ones) we can expect to blow us away live in Madison, and how the ‘tune up’ went as they just got back from a wild time in Europe. I have no doubt if the first time you catch Jane Lee Hooker is when they hit Atwoodfest 2023, you will walk away, maybe head bangin’ away with a feeling of some new rockin’ friends coming into your lives.

Photo By: Rob Carter

Fareed Haque Group Brings Casseus To Madison

A modern guitar virtuoso and friend of the proGram, Fareed Haque, is steeped in classical & jazz traditions. His unique command of the guitar and different musical styles inspire his musical ventures with tradition & fearless innovation. Fareed’s been busy performing & recording with his trio featuring legendary B3 virtuoso, Tony Monaco, his own trio and jazz quartet, as well as his larger world music group, the Flat Earth Ensemble ands so many other projects that slide under the radar. In 2009 he was voted ‘Best World Guitarist’ by Guitar Player Magazine’s Readers’ poll. His acclaimed 2009 release, Flat Planet, was twice #1 on the World Jazz Radio charts. After 10 years of over 2000 dates with Garaj Mahal, his interest in electronic music and the Moog Guitar spurred him to leave Garaj Mahal and form Fareed Haque’s MathGames featuring bassist, Alex Austin, and drummer, Greg Fundis. “New Latin American Music for Guitar and String Quartet,” was picked by Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune as one of the top releases of 2018. In addition, the release was chosen as Downbeat Magazine Editor’s Pick in 2018. The critically acclaimed “Out of Nowhere” featuring drummer, Billy Hart, and bassist, George Mraz, The Flat Earth Ensemble’s latest release, Trance Hypothesis, and The Tony Monaco/Fareed Haque release, Furry Slippers, reached the top 10 in Jazz Radio Airplay. Some more recent projects include artistic directorship of numerous jazz festivals, performances with Tony Monaco, Paquito D’Rivera, Vijay Iyer, pundit Vikku Vinacrayam, long-anticipated reunion concerts with Garaj Mahal, concerts in India, a return to Java Jazz, concerts, and teaching in China. 2019 was a busy year, as Haque retired from 30 years at Northern Illinois University to accommodate extended tours with Cobham, Goran Ivanovic, and his own groups. Highlights included The Montreux Jazz Festival with Cobham, and appearances with his own groups at The Bluenote Beijing, Louisville, & Minneapolis Guitar Festivals, among others. New recordings with his own group and with Goran Ivanovic are scheduled to release soon under the legendary Delmark Label. Fareed continues to record and tour extensively along with documenting his unique teaching methods in a series of best selling interactive video courses through TrueFire. It goes on! Here we are in 2023 after some weird times, and Fareed Haque and his group have something new and exciting for us to bring with us throughout of journey. CASSEUS!.

I had the chance to catch up with Fareed ahead of the June 30th show at The North Street Cabaret. We got into the scene that is going to unfold as we join in toGether to share in this special vinyl record release party and show for this exiting new release – CASSEUS!. Just listening to Fareed describe the liner notes and foreword as well as the art of the album cover and all that physical holdings stuff was thrilling. We spoke about how he got to know Frantz Casseus‘ music through Marc Ribot, who studied under Frantz Casseus and also has a project of his music. Mr. Casseus, perhaps best known for work he did with the legend, Harry Belafonte, like ‘Day-O’ & ‘Merci Bon Dieu’, certainly had his own feel for his sounds. Fareed gleefully talks about how soaking this music in took his mind to just how he and the group could become the orchestra behind a new sound of this music and some of the feelings it created within him. There is no way to talk about this album (and the original music) without mentioning the rhythms and grooves and just how that has already been digested in a live setting at Millennium Park in Chicago, and how people were able to get their ‘thang’ on with what could be considered more of cerebral music(?). It was fascinating to hear mention of Fareed’s style and guitars – a little about his kids hearing the Haitian grooves for the first time and how they responded – that personal touch is what makes your radio a true friend. Speaking of that, we did make mention of our mutual pal UGOCHI, who makes an appearance on Casseus on the beautiful & challenging track, ‘Fi Nan Bois’, which aptly closes the album out. She is a member of a group Fareed leads known as Chicago Immigrant Orchestra. Hope to see you on the 30th for some body opening music to free your minds and spirt. (oh and there will be vinyl to get autographed, too)

Between Thoughts With Gabriela Quintero

Grammy Award winning duo Rodrigo y Gabriela grew up on an eclectic mix of classic rock, heavy metal & flamenco, a rare alchemy of influences that still informs their work today. Not long after the dissolution of their first band, the two musicians set off with their acoustic guitars and ended up in Ireland, where they soon ran out of money and began busking on Dublin’s Grafton Street — a turn of events that led to their crossing paths with Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice, who then asked them to open for him at an early headline show. As they developed their distinct breed of guitar music, Rodrigo y Gabriela quickly gained recognition for their extraordinary live show and made their full-length debut with 2002’s ‘re-Foc’. Along with turning out eight additional acclaimed & kaleidoscopic albums over the years: including Area 52 (a 2012 effort made with a Cuban orchestra), 9 Dead Alive (a 2014 release that spotlighted their more rock leaning sensibilities) and the 2020 Grammy winning Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, ‘Mettavolution’, the duo has cemented their status as a globally renowned live act. Among their many successes: performing at The White House for the President and First Lady of Mexico at a 2010 event hosted by Barack Obama; headlining the Jazz World stage at Glastonbury; selling out major venues like the Hollywood Bowl, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, London’s Royal Albert Hall, Radio City Music Hall, and the Sydney Opera House; and performing to massive crowds in such far-flung cities as Tokyo & Paris. 2023 sees the release of their most ambitious project yet, ‘In Between Thoughts…A New World’, which features their signature dual guitar attack augmented by a full orchestra, and a corresponding world tour. This eagerly awaited and first full-length collection in four years, “In Between Thoughts…A New World” arrives as one of the duo’s most revelatory offerings yet, a spontaneously composed unified work primed to bring about the same expansion of consciousness that inspired its creation. Self-produced at their studio in Ixtapa, Mexico, the album includes such singles as “The Eye That Catches The Dream,” “Egoland,” & “Descending To Nowhere,” the latter joined by an official music video, directed by acclaimed Mexican filmmaker/broadcaster Olallo Rubio. A 2,000 unit limited edition custom color deluxe 2xLP vinyl edition is available exclusively at shop.rodgab.com featuring a translucent “Galaxy” custom colored LP alongside a bonus LP collecting all nine tracks from last year’s deeply metaphysical Stages project on opaque “Galaxy” custom colored vinyl in a gatefold package. Some things are born for vinyl.

I had the amazing opportunity to have a conversation with Gabriela Quintero ahead of the June 14th Rodrigo y Gabriela event here in Madison at The Orpheum Theater. We started out by giving major props ot the entire crew on this tour for being able to put forth a most elaborate stage setting, that follows the story of the album and the music. Then we dive into what the show will feel like for those in attendance to go with those visuals and the story. Now, I will always say “Don’t miss when Rodrigo y Gabriela are in town, you’ll be blown away by the entire package of the event, but this one, based on the drive of this new record, the stage scenes and the artists, will take a new piece of cake for our enjoyment. We spend a good amount of time discussing the new record. it is not every day an artist tells you they didn’t really consider what fans/others will think of the music since the end of the world was coming. That was part of the approach on some, let’s call it research and development that went on with this album. The went electric at times, even!! We talk about the making of the ‘Descending To Nowhere’ video and the meaning, and energy that went into its creation and the practice of traditional Eastern spiritual meditation as a tool in the toolbox as artists, world travelers and people of plantet Earth. I waiting a long time to finally catch up with one of these two great people and it certainly did not disappoint and with this new album, I think the timing for me was perfect.

Joe Marcinek’s Dead Funk Summit

Featuring two of Joe’s musical heroes, bassist George Porter Jr. (The Meters) and keyboardist Melvin Seals (Jerry Garcia Band), ‘Dead Funk Summit’ is the 7th album of original music by JOE MARCINEK BAND and is available through the label, Vintage League Music. Although the JMB studio albums have focused more on jazz and rock, Joe is also known for his “Dead Funk Summit” concerts, which mash-up influences from Funk and the Grateful Dead. According to Marcinek, “The concept started at a show we did together in 2018. Since then the ‘Dead Funk Summit’ has become much more as I’ve used the name to throw some crazy lineups together. Naturally, that lead to me wanting to do an album of original music with Melvin and George. So I wrote the songs on our new release with them in mind, trying to honor the spirits of those two musical worlds while bringing my own vision into the equation.” In February of 2022, Joe traveled to New Orleans to record with George Porter Jr. and his trio of Michael Lemmler (keys) and Terrence Houston (drums). Melvin Seals recorded his parts in San Francisco, and vocals (and a horn section) were added by Tony Hall. The mixing, mastering & artwork were all handled by friend of the proGram, Alan Evans (Eric Krasno, Soulive, The Motet).

Joe and I go way back now, and so it is always a pleasure to catch up with him on his latest accomplishments, but this one is something I personally have been rooting for. Joe’s unique way of getting people together has been something I admire as a person who diggs into the spontaneous nature of things, so I really couldn’t wrap my head around how it must ‘feel’ now that this music is out there. We get in there about how this whole process sorta went down – from live shows and relationship building to writing tunes for these two leGends. The music only tells part of the story so it is really exciting to share in the obvious glow of Joe as this album just dropped for all to share in. You can hear in his voice the thrill of this entire chapter of his life, and well, that shows in the sounds captured on the album – just imagine working with and in the service of two of your ‘idols’. The dreams are real!

To celebrate the album’s release, Joe threw a special album release party down in New Orleans on May 2, featuring another all- star cast of musical characters including: George Porter Jr., Dennis Chambers, Tony Hall, Jennifer Hartswick, Nikki Glaspie, & others.

Dead Funk Summit Musicians (Album)
Joe Marcinek – Guitar
George Porter Jr – Bass
Melvin Seals – Hammond Organ
Terrence Houston – Drums
Michael Lemmler – Keys
Tony Hall – Vocals on Tracks 1-2
Taylor Galbraith – Drums on Track 7
Ashley Galbraith – Bass on Track 7

Jeff Pevar With The Gilmour Project

Jeff Pevar is a guitarist, composer, producer, performer & multi-instrumentalist who has brought his unique style on stage and/or in the studio to such world renowned artists as Ray Charles, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bette Midler, Joe Cocker, James Taylor, Jimmy Webb, Carly Simon, Kenny Loggins, Jefferson Starship, Phil Lesh and Friends, Marc Cohn, Jennifer Warnes, Laura Nyro, David Foster, Rickie Lee Jones, Jazz Is Dead, CPR (w/ David Crosby & James Raymond) and so many others. Jeff is a sought after session musician who composes movie scores, music for television shows and advertisements, in addition to composing original music for his own releases. This legendary name in the business has co-written many songs that have appeared on recordings of David Crosby, Graham Nash and other artists. He is heading to Madison this time around as part of The Gilmour Project. ‘T.G.P.’ is Jeff Pevar (guitar); Prairie Prince (co founder of The Tubes, & drums with Todd Rundgren, Jefferson Starship, Phil Lesh); Kasim Sulton (bass with Utopia, Meatloaf & Blue Oyster Cult): Mark Karan (guitar with Bob Weir/Ratdog, The Other Ones, Phil Lesh) & Scott Guberman (keyboards with Phil Lesh). These cats come together for this heavy, psychedelic lift of audacious & beloved ‘Gilmour-centric’ Pink Floyd songs & rarities from David’s solo catalogue.

On May 18th at The Barrymore Theatre, The Gilmour Project will be celebrating the 50th (that’s riGht 50) anniversary of the iconic “Dark Side Of The Moon” album. I had the pleasure of getting together with Mr. Jeff Pevar to talk about just what could be going on at The Barrymore. We talk about the music, the space for exploring the places within the music as ‘T.G.P.’ does, how different the same can/will be on a nightly basis. Sure left me wondering about the specialness about to happen inside the Barrymore’s walls. We spoke about one of my old memory places for cutting teeth with names and faces of music, a one and only place, The Shaboo Inn and how it fits into the pages of Jeff’s history. There’s great moments in this talk, what Ray Charles called out to him in rehearsal and what he thinks it is about him that people are possibly drawn to for the many projects he’s serviced. Of course, I give him a chance to talk about his recently departed buddy, David Crosby, and the impact there is clear. WOW!

A Little Time With Sona Jobarteh

Sona Jobarteh is the first professional female Kora virtuoso to come from any of the West African Griot dynasties. Her lineage carries a formidable reputation for renowned Kora masters, most notable amongst these are her grandfather Amadu Bansang Jobarteh and her cousin, the legendary Toumani Diabaté. Sona is reputed for her skill as an instrumentalist, her distinctive voice, infectious melodies and her grace onstage, and she has rapidly achieved international success as a top class performer. The demand for her live performances has rocket in recent years, and 2019 saw her perform at some of the world’s most renowned festivals & venues such as the Hollywood Bowl in LA, WOMAD in Australia & New Zealand and Symphony Space in New York City. Sona has the unique ability to touch audiences globally and from all backgrounds & cultures, while also commanding the attention of sitting presidents & royalty alike. Her captivating stage show has proved to be popular everywhere, and with a repertoire that exudes accessible sophistication, her audience demographic is constantly expanding. Sona’s dedication to spreading powerful humanitarian messages through her songs and her stage performances makes her much more than a regular musician; she is in fact a compelling social activist, speaker, & change-maker who believes in leading by example. Her achievements in setting up a pioneering Academy in The Gambia, alongside her dedication to social change has gained her invitations to deliver speeches at high profile events around the world, including summits for the UN & the World Trade Organization. Sona founded the Gambia Academy in 2015. This pioneering institution is dedicated to achieving her mission of educational reform across the continent Africa. According to Sona, Africa faces the crucial & urgent challenge of addressing its education systems. Children who are fortunate enough to be able to attend school spend most of their waking hours in school, however in most cases the environment, culture, approach & curricula content within these schools are invariably oriented around a post-colonial value system and subsequently a foreign perspective. For Sona, it is detrimental for future generations of the continent whose values and concepts are shaped during their school years, to continue to be trained within a system where African culture, African history, African traditions and their intrinsic values are either non-existent, or at best relegated to the position of extra-curricular ‘activities’. This Academy is therefore the first of its kind in The Gambia to deliver a mainstream academic curriculum at a high level, while also bringing the culture, traditions and history that belong to students, to the front and center of their everyday education.

I had the honor of catching up with Sona ahead of her March 21st event in Madison at the Garver Atrium. Fresh off her 60 Minutes interview that certainly opened more doors and windows to what she has been doing and where she is heading, Sona and I discuss a little about what a newer person to her music can expect at a live event such as the one here in Madison. We learn about some of the music we may here from here latest release, “Badenyaa Kumoo” and how she feels while presenting the music live – the conversation. I could not spend time with Sona without touching on the powerful work she has dedicated as her purpose in life, The Gambia Acadamy. We touch briefly on a few aspects of the what that is happening to help achieve a new model of education in Africa and try and find the middle points in her life’s Venn diagram to see how/where/if/when the two marry. I am honored to have had this opportunity to discuss only a few aspects of what makes Sona go…and go she does, as you can tell by her answer to the final question about where she Goes to find a little ‘Sona time”. Do yourself a favor and find a way to start a conversation of your own by listening to her music, supporting her missions and or both, as forward is the way she is heading.

More Times With Stephane Wrembel

Stephane Wrembel is easily one of the most highly regarded guitarists in the world specializing in the style of legendary composer/guitarist Django Reinhardt. Born in Fontainebleau, France, He learned his craft traveling the French countryside before graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has had a remarkable career, touring the world, while releasing 16 albums under his name and the nom de plume, The Django Experiment. His original compositions have been featured in Midnight in Paris (“Bistro Fada”), Vicki Cristina Barcelona “Big Brother”) and Rifkin’s Festival (original score). Midnight in Paris received the Grammy Award® for “Best Compilation Soundtrack.” Stephane was selected by award-winning composer/producer Hans Zimmer to perform at the 2012 Academy Awards® as part of his “All Star Band” which also included Esperanza Spalding, Pharrell, and Shelia E. Stephane recorded Gypsy Rumble and toured nationally with famed mandolinist/composer David Grisman. He has opened or performed with Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, The Roots, Medeski Martin & Wood, Me’shell Ndegeocello, John Scofield, Larry Keel, Stochelo Rosenberg, Sam Bush and the amzing and diverse list goes on. In 2019, Stephane released the highly regarded “Django L’Impressionniste”, featuring seventeen of Reinhardt’s preludes for solo guitar, followed by a book of his transcriptions in 2021. He is currently the only guitarist in the world to perform these seventeen preludes in their entirety. Ever since 2003, he has produced the Django-a-Gogo Festival, bringing together some of the finest musicians in the world to celebrate the Sinti guitar style to perform in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and The Town Hall.

I had the chance to get back on a call with Stephane to talk about the upcoming event back here in Madison at Cafe Coda on April 2nd. Stephane’s world-class band includes: Josh Kaye on guitar; Ari Folman-Cohen on bass; and Nick Anderson on drums. We get into a deep space about the feelings, creation and moments within the shared event such as the one upcoming in the MadCity. The music definitely acts as a vessel for me and many I witness in the crowd as the strings vibrate and the grooves form. Over the years, I have watched the Django A Gogo Festival event go from there to here and this year’s here is an amazing array of talent: playing, teaching and sharing. So, we stay on this topic for a bit and it is always special to hear someone like Stephane dish out proper praise of/to others. We also discuss what is this gypsy jazz thing?!. Within the deep, there are hints of ideas about new music coming this Fall, an upcoming trip to Switzerland and Billy Strings. This is always a ride worth taking.

Photo By: Irene Ypenburg