Are we a Cover Band?

One of my band mates in Federator N*1 recently asked me “are we a cover band?”, which I thought was a very interesting question. That immediatly spun me into tons more questions. To whit:

What is a cover band? Were the big bands of the 1930s-60s cover bands? Would they ever describe themselves as such? Does simply playing repetoire that was originally written by other people qualify a band as a cover band? Do artists who play songs written for them qualify as cover bands?

After a while, I reframed the question as something that I wanted to answer (old politician’s trick), which was “What kind of band are we?”

To which, I had the answer!

We are a dance band. That’s our primary goal. We are a political band. That’s our secondary goal. And we are a band where the priority on internal experience is one of brotherhood and enjoyment (which one may argue is tied to the second part – enjoying one’s activities certainly can be seen as a political act*).

As a dance band, our goal is to get people on the dance floor, keep them there, and engage them with love, light, joy, and awesome music. If that music is written by a band member – fantastic. If the music is written by someone else, great. If we’re playing a tune in a similar vein as someone else – great. If we bring our own spin to the tune – that’s to be expected.  So we play a variety of tunes to make that happen. Some tunes have hooks or whole sections that are familiar to people and known to get them moving. Other tunes have rhythms and melodies that we’re pretty sure will get people moving.

The second part of my thoughts had to do with remix culture. In a world in which new things are often not new – but rather new creations based on old material. Mixed with other old material. Mixed with new ideas. So DJs now get to do some really innovate stuff putting disparate ideas together into one coherent whole. Why can’t bands do the same? And if they do, are they a cover band? I have no interest in putting together a band that does only “faithful” interpretations of other songs. I have lots of interest in creating our own versions of awesome songs written by people outside of the band. Shoot, if we could afrobeat Drake of Kelly Clarkson, I’d be totally stoked. And what happens if we did a modern afrobeat cover of an Adele song? What does that mean? We’re covering a young white british woman’s faithful interpretation of a style created in the 1970s by black american artists, and our cover is done in a style created in the 1970’s by black african artists…

This bandmate, he had other questions too, which are very interesting:

if it is a cover band, what are purpose are we serving for whom?
for me a cover band is best suited for fun local gigs ideally a weekly gig would be the best or a money gig ie function gigs.
the incentive for the musicians in a cover gig has to be clear.
i don’t feel tremendously concerned about following and building an audience.
i feel a little bit more interested in the the vibe of the band itself.
the hang is really fun.
the song choices are interesting.

I’ll be coming back to these questions in other posts, and in other thoughts. For the moment though, I’m happy I could answer 1 question – “What kind of band are we?”

*I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t work with people I didn’t enjoy as people. That holds true in the music/art side of things as it does in the business world. Is that a political decision? A political act?




Fascinated by the negotiation of public space.

Great article on the 1 problem –

Also I’m somewhat happy to see the tent-cities go – this can’t become just about the ability to occupy public space – it has to be more than a debate about land-use.

Devotion of resources – $1M+ in police overtime and $40-60k of park “damage” – this is investment the city made – why can’t we occupy hot spots in dorchester and force the cops to hang out there and effectuate their strategy of “trust building“?

First Mali Pix

I’ve got the first bunch of photos from our trip to Mali during the summer of 2011 up on flickr.

More to come… sorting through 1800 photos, and picking the best ones.

Here is one of my absolute favorites. A portrait of a friend of Sharon & Alex’s (and now ours), Issiaka Kane, aka Siakaba:


The Costs (and Economic Benefits) of Throwing Parties/Concerts/Festivals

I just read a fascinating quick take on finances of a festival written by Patrick Jarenwattananon over on great NPR blog ‘A Blog Supreme’ (full text of the article below the fold). This is especially interesting to me as we evaluate the financial aspects of throwing our JUMP! parties. We’re currently losing money on each party, but are self-financing the party. Obviously, sponsorship would be a great way to bring in some money and break even (even just 30% of our costs as in the article).

For the economic benefit piece – we’re employing around 8-10 people at the venue for one night, as well as a band, our DJ/VJ/percussion crew, and giving some serious business to a local restaurant. So our parties drive money to somewhere between 10-25 people. Pretty nice for a one-night show. But the losses add up, so even though the losses mean some tax write-offs, they certainly aren’t sustainable.

Anyway, I’m fascinated by the numbers on these things and finding balance. I’m of course trying to figure out how to maximize profit (to keep the parties going), maximize artist payments (something I hold near & dear to my heart), and minimize my own financial risk (or loss), keep prices as low as possible (to keep parties accessible to the most number of people), and maximize the cultural experience and the fun factor.

The full article:

Published: December 22, 2010

by Patrick Jarenwattananon

Ever wondered how much money actually gets thrown around at a major jazz festival? The French festival Jazz in Marciac recently divulged some financial data from its 2010 edition, and Frédéric Noiret of the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi recently reported on it. If my Google Translate + cognate recognition are correct, here are some highlights:

Jazz in Marciac generated over 7 million Euros’ worth of economic benefit for the Marciac region.

The festival’s overall budget is 3,455,000 Euro. Public financing makes up 421,000 Euro, while private sponsorship provides 354,000 Euro. Thus, the festival is 72.1 percent self-financed, accounting for additional revenue.

225,000 people came for the festival (up 2.3 percent), and 66,500 tickets (up 8.46 percent) for paid shows were sold.

The festival depended on its 800 volunteers. They would have cost 950,000 Euro to employ at minimum wage alone. However, the festival did host 400 of those volunteers on site for a total of 6,000 person-nights.

17,500 meals were served in all, including musicians, technical crew, staff and volunteers. The volunteers accounted for 11,190 meals alone.

Currently, one Euro is worth around 1.31 U.S. dollars, which is about the exchange rate at the time of the festival this past summer.

I’ve never studied the accounting sheets in depth for other festivals, but one element looks to me to be rather extraordinary. For a festival of such magnitude to generate 72.1% of its revenue by itself — largely in ticket sales, one imagines, though “l’autofinancement” isn’t exactly defined — is a serious achievement. Even Jazz in Marciac says that 2010 was a banner year (an “année record”) for them.

But it isn’t shocking that these sorts of things bring in so much money for their communities. The arts seem to require a lot of money, especially when you bring in Wynton Marsalis, Diana Krall, Chick Corea, Jamie Cullum, Chucho Valdes, Ahmad Jamal and Esperanza Spalding, plus tons of other artists. (That was just in 2010.) But the arts can also be even more massive economic engines; in this case, the economic benefit to the area far outstrips taxpayer cost. Plus, how do you put a value on human creativity? [La Dépêche du Midi: Festival Jazz in Marciac tient la forme (French) / Jazz in Marciac festival takes shape (automated English translation)]

P.S. A nice English-language article profiles the Marciac festival, a gigantic production which takes over a tiny rural town for two weeks every year. [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]

Grow JUMP! Together

Hello world . . .

This has been a huge day for me. First, and most important – my dear little sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy (William Milton). You can bet there will be pictures soon. 🙂 Check my flickr page for updates soon….

On this auspicious day, the stars also aligned to let us launch our Kickstarter campaign to build JUMP!

Let me break this down a little bit – JUMP! is the monthly party that I started in the spring of this year with Adam Gibbons. Adam is a DJ, producer, artist, visionary – and I am blessed to say – now is a dear friend. He and I had this crazy idea that we could combine his successful Uhuru Afrika monthly parties (which feature deep soulful afro-centric house music) with my passion for live music and together we could create some amazing dance parties. Well, over the past year, we’ve taken this idea from dream to reality – throwing 5 amazing parties at a fantastic space in Harvard Square called Oberon. This is where Kickstarter comes in.

Kickstarter is a new way to fund creative ideas and ambitious endeavors. Basically it allows creators to reach out to fans, friends, family, and the whole wide world and gather a tremendous source of money and encouragement to further creative goals.

We are seeking to raise $3,000 through our current campaign (which ends December 17, 2010). You can read a little more about why we need to finance this party on our Kickstarter page. Additionally, I’ll tell you that we’ve been building this party off personal investments from Adam and myself. We need to expand our efforts a bit – do more and better promotion and press outreach, provide higher guarantees to bands (for a couple reasons I’ll dive into below), ensure we can cover other expenses for bands (hotels, backline (drums, amps, etc), food), and then start to do the other things we’re dreaming of to fully transform Oberon into our vision of a modern urban african club.

We think that with $3,000 we can do all these things, and get the party to a sustainable level pretty quickly. We’ve been pulling in between 150-200 people to each party thus far, and think that once we’re up in the 200-300 range coming through the door on a nightly basis, we’ll be in a really good and sustainable place.

If you can assist in any way in this effort, I will be humbly grateful. You can assist by spreading the word and pointing folks to our Kickstarter campaign (links below). You can assist by coming out to our next party (Thursday, December 16th featuring Kaleta & Zozo Afrobeat). You can assist by contributing to the campaign, in any amount. Really. $1 is appreciated. $100 is appreciated. And $1,000 is appreciated.

Whatever you feel like contributing to our efforts to build the party. Besides some pretty awesome rewards, we promise to continue throwing the best dance parties you’ve ever been to in Boston (or anywhere else!).

If you have questions about this campaign, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to address them.

Now, enough reading – please help us spread the word and fund this party!

Links below.

With humility, love, respect, and thankfulness.



Boston MoGlo Music Calendar

I’m trying to find ways of better exposing this  calendar of musical happenings in and around Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville that I think are interesting. I like the term “Modern Global” to describe the music I’m interested in – thanks to Darek Mazzone @ KEXP for pushing this term. To me – it describes a music aware of a wider global context, contemporary, and if I have a choice – fun and danceable. 🙂 So, not all the great music happening around me makes this list, but I think the stuff on here is good – you’ll have a great time if you go to any of these shows – I guarantee. Note that I *do* include stuff I create/promote (Uhuru Afrika + JUMP! for example) on this list – so it is not un-biased.

Click this link to display the calendar.

If you want to share this with folks, please do. Use this short link for ease…

Erich Ludwig on Greater Somerville

Last Thursday, I went on Greater Somerville with the neighborhood activist and local media personality Joe Lynch and co-host KyAnn Anderson. It was a fun time, but you can judge for yourself below. Some links below the video (which should appear below, but if not you can go here to watch :: Also, go to the Greater Somerville page and leave a comment. 🙂

Also – one correction – this year is the 50 year anniversary of Mali’s Independence (not 40 as I said on the air – oops, bad math!)!!

LINKS: (Basically, my references for everything I said during the 28 minutes….)

Local artists mentioned in piece:

Local folks who have built the path on the ground on which I walk with my musical work:

Uhuru Afrika’s JUMP! – my newest venture takes place at Oberon ( in Harvard Square, and has featured the following acts so far:

Stay tuned for future JUMP! parties, and much more. Thank YOU for all of your support.

Greater Somerville

Thanks to all those who watched me, Joe, and KyAnn on Greater Somerville last night. I’ll be putting up a proper post soon with links and references to the people, places, websites, etc that I mentioned on air.

Thanks again!

Original Music

“Original Music” – a much better title than “World Music” for the wide variety of music from around the world imho at first blush.

I come to this term through the news that a pioneering scholar has passed – John Storm Roberts.

The NYTimes had a nice obituary/write-up (full text below) with this awesome quote:

“I don’t care how esoteric it is, but it’s got to be terrific,” he said. “Not this ‘you-can’t-hear-it-and-it’s-terribly-performed-but-it’s-really-very-interesting-because-it’s-the-only-winkle-gathering-song-to-come-out-of-southeastern-Sussex’ attitude.”

Awesome. I concur – bring out the terrific music now please! And if it’s original, so much the better.

John Storm Roberts, World-Music Scholar, Dies at 73
Published: December 10, 2009

John Storm Roberts, an English-born writer, record producer and independent scholar whose work explored the rich, varied and often surprising ways in which the popular music of Africa and Latin America informed that of the United States, died on Nov. 29 in Kingston, N.Y. He was 73 and lived in Kingston.

The cause was complications of a blood clot, his wife, Anne Needham, said.

Long before the term was bandied about, Mr. Roberts was listening to, seeking out and reporting on what is now called world music. He wrote several seminal books on the subject for a general readership, most notably “Black Music of Two Worlds” (Praeger, 1972) and “The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States” (Oxford University, 1979).

“Black Music of Two Worlds” examines the cross-pollination — in both directions — between Africa and the Americas, from the influence of African music on jazz, blues, salsa and samba to the popularity in Nigeria and Zaire of American artists like James Brown and Jimi Hendrix.

In writing the book, Mr. Roberts sought to connect a diffuse web of existing studies by ethnomusicologists. The studies typically appraised local musical traditions while ignoring the reach of Africa as a whole.

“It was like a landscape with a large number of artesian wells, and nothing linking them,” he told The New York Times in 1992. “And I conceived of ‘Black Music of Two Worlds’ being more like canals joining.”

“The Latin Tinge,” Mr. Roberts trained his ear on the influence of musical forms like tango, rumba, mambo and salsa on a wide range of American pop styles, among them ragtime, Tin Pan Alley, rhythm and blues, jazz, country and rock.

Reviewing the book in The New York Times Book Review, Robert Palmer called it a “painstaking, pioneering” work, adding: “ ‘The Latin Tinge’ is an important addition to the literature of American music.”

John Anthony Storm Roberts was born in London on Feb. 24, 1936. His father, an accountant who often traveled abroad on business, brought him records that were then scarcely available in England: jazz and blues from the United States, Brazilian music by way of Portugal and much else. By the time he was in his early teens, John was irretrievably mesmerized by the sounds that leapt from his turntable.

A polyglot who came to speak more than half a dozen languages, including Swahili, Mr. Roberts received a bachelor’s degree in modern languages from Oxford University. In the mid-1960s he spent several years in Kenya as a reporter and editor on The East African Standard, a regional newspaper. Returning to London, he was a radio producer with the BBC World Service.

Mr. Roberts moved to the United States in 1970, becoming an editor on the periodical Africa Report. He was later a freelance journalist, contributing articles on world music to The Village Voice and other publications.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Roberts and Ms. Needham started Original Music, a mail-order company that distributed world-music books and records. In those pre-Internet days, Americans outside big cities found these almost as hard to come by as young Mr. Roberts had in postwar England.

In business for nearly two decades, Original Music also released many well-received albums of its own. Among them are “The Sound of Kinshasa,” featuring Zairian guitar music; “Africa Dances,” an anthology of music from more than a dozen countries; and “Songs the Swahili Sing,” devoted to the music of Kenya, an aural kaleidoscope of African, Arab and Indian sounds.

Mr. Roberts’s first marriage, to Jane Lloyd, ended in divorce. Besides Ms. Needham, whom he married in 1981, he is survived by two children from his first marriage, Stephen and Alice Roberts; three stepchildren, Melissa, Elizabeth and Stephen Keiper; two grandchildren; and three step-grandchildren.

His other books include “Latin Jazz: The First of the Fusions, 1880s to Today” (Schirmer, 1999) and “A Land Full of People: Life in Kenya Today” (Praeger, 1968).

In choosing what to release on the Original Music label, Mr. Roberts did not disdain modern, popular numbers: by his lights, a song simply had to be good. This distinguished him from musicological purists who, in ceaseless quest for the authentic, recorded only material seemingly untouched by modernity.

In an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1987, Mr. Roberts illuminated his selection process.

“I don’t care how esoteric it is, but it’s got to be terrific,” he said. “Not this ‘you-can’t-hear-it-and-it’s-terribly-performed-but-it’s-really-very-interesting-because-it’s-the-only-winkle-gathering-song-to-come-out-of-southeastern-Sussex’ attitude.”

Lady Gaga – Brilliant

Which road leads to Lady Gaga?


Road A) Wierd Al Yankovic, Ali G/Borat/Bruno

Road B) Boy George, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna

Road C) All of the Above

Road D) None, She’s Totally Original!

I’m tempted to say mostly Choice A via Choice B, but of course, since it’s Lady Gaga, it’s with a twist. And of course, this is heavily based on my own biases and ideas. For Lady Gaga , despite all her amazingly amazing outfits, is really a blank canvas onto which we project our own ideas.

So those who want to see a brand new amazing pop star are seeing just that. Those who want to see an intelligent, sophisticated, and sneaky critique of pop music and pop stars are seeing just that. Those who want to see a musician being a fashionista are seeing just that.

And this is the true genius of Lady Gaga.

But her videos and outfits are also truly genius. If you haven’t seen any of them please watch them. After seeing them, you’ll really wonder “WTF did I just watch?” and then you’ll go back and watch them again. And again. Just as Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, Lady Gaga is bringing the Music Video back.

Exhibit A – Bad Romance

Exhibit B: Her MTV VMA 2009 Fashion Choices (Slideshow)

Exhibit C: Lady Gaga performing Paparazzi @ said MTV awards ceremony

And just in case I wasn’t clear earlier – I think she is totally taking the piss out of all of us – ala “old-school” Sasha Baron Cohen (aka Ali G/Borat/Bruno). It’s pretty amazing to watch her work over a whole scene. Kind of like watching those old Ali G episodes from “before he was discovered”. Just wonderful comedy, genius timing, and certainly a sense that it is possible to lose oneself in the world of the character. For just as Lady Gaga won’t appear “out of character” anymore, and the lines begin to blur (is she Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, or Lady Gaga?), it becomes both more difficult to take her seriously and also to doubt her.

I just hope she’s able to keep it going for a while – certainly she has injected a certain energy into pop which is positive, disruptive, and sorely needed.

You can listen to her music for free (just register, it’s easy) by going to Lala. And for more videos, check these out. . . (cause I know you’re not satisfied yet)