Paint Your Wagon
When Les Têtes Brulées took on SummerStage for Africa Fête on Sunday, it felt less like a muggy afternoon in the city than a beach party. Members of the five-man, one-woman band from Cameroon outfitted themselves in cutoffs with bright stripes and prints, and zinc oxide proved subtle in comparison to their body paint: dots and bars covering arms, swirling across faces, and through partially shaved heads (a play on Beti scarification rituals).
Les Têtes Brulées, which translates to “the burned heads” or “mind blown,” had not been in the U.S. since 1994. Nonetheless, journalist-turned-lead singer Jean-Marie Ahanda appeared at ease with the audience, his earthy vocals accentuated by a raspy quality around the edges. Although the set proved more conventional than the outerwear, bass and guitars improvised on bright, interlocking rhythms with deceptive ease. “We got it all in there,” boasted Ahanda about the distinctive rhythms of bikutsi, a genre that literally means “to beat the ground continuously.”
Rising Senegalese star Alioune Mbaye Nder drove Le Setsima Group through the concert’s highly charged second half. Although lyrics in his native Wolof tended to be lost on the crowd, Nder’s nuanced declamation and charismatic presence superseded all language barriers. The outdoors lessened the cutting power of the sabar drums, with which Mor Guèye Seck and Lamine Toure improvised visceral running commentary on the vocals. The tamas (talking drums) were also less prominent. If these were concessions to the perceived tastes of Western audiences, the newcomers should return with the music as they love to play it and we love to hear it. —Lara Pellegrinelli
“Old school, new school, no school rules/but other than that everything is cool,” Doug E. Fresh called out from Central Park’s SummerStage on July 4. He was being modest. Fresh and Busy Bee were the tag-team hosts of a hall-of-fame marathon featuring Whodini, Full Force, Kurtis Blow, DJ Hollywood, the bullet-shaped Biz Markie, and enough cameos for a decade’s worth of Mr. Magic shout-outs. The vibe was all sunshine and love, as ecstatic parents tried to get their kids to sing along to jammin’ oldies like “Freaks Come Out at Night” and “Roxanne, Roxanne.” The crowd even carried the eternally forgetful Biz after he blew his own mind (let’s just say “Blah Blah Blah” was more than the name of the inamorata in his biggest hit). “Some of ’em looked like they needed to practice more, and some of ’em looked like they were ready to roll,” said Fresh, laughing, after the show.
The SummerStage security operation—a joint effort with the NYPD and the Parks police—should also review its steps. Thousands of would-be attendees were stranded at the gates when the sole entrance line was cut off about an hour and a half into the program. Fans were not allowed to enter as others left, so by the time Fresh lit into “The Show,” NYC’s national anthem, the “World’s Greatest Entertainer” faced the less-than-triumphant scene of a few hundred stalwarts and an ocean of Astroturf.
SummerStage boss Erica Ruben called the snafu a “hiccup” relating to confusion about barricade placement, and said the queue had dispersed into an unmanageable mass once the problem was corrected. “The PD has always been very respectful of our hip-hop audiences,” she says. Ruben believes the 6000-capacity venue was full at the time the line was cut, given that she allows more space for older, picnicky crowds like the ones drawn by Fresh and his cronies.
“I was wondering where everybody went,” said Fresh after the show. “I got a lot of calls on my cell phone from friends and family trying to get in.” Of course, to Doug E., that group includes just about everyone. —Josh Goldfein
Some weeks ago, I realized that it had been over a year since I’d seen a new Baffler. Fearing that I had been expunged from the subscriber list during a purge of bourgeois sympathizers, I logged on to www.thebaffler.com. The good news was, I was still on the rolls; no. 14 had only just gone to the printer. The bad news was that immediately thereafter, The Baffler‘s Chicago offices were consumed in a blaze, and now the magazine wanted my donation.
So the Baffler crew hit the stumps. They brought the gospel to Tonic last Thursday, with readings by editor Tom Frank (a fire-and-brimstone sermon against the Antichrist known as the free market, which Frank calls “the god that sucks”) and Robert Nedelkoff (from a paranoia novel set in mid-century DeLillo-land). David Grubbs, adjunct professor of Guitar Studies at a major university, played a set of minimalist, decontextualized riffing. Admission went toward renting a construction trailer as temporary office space.
The Baffler had something of a limelight around 1997-98, when Frank and then contributing editor Tom Vanderbilt published well-noted analy-disses on the machinery of consumer culture. Then the solipsistic McSweeney’s took over as zine célèbre. But no. 14 proves that the crew—brainy, pugnacious Old Lefties who can actually write a sentence—haven’t lost their bite, bringing together foaming invective, engaged labor reporting, first-person anthropology on the society called capitalism, and engagingly bizarre literature. Often described as contrarian, The Baffler is far more honest and far less popular than that would imply (Limbaugh’s a contrarian); its union-social democratic line has been unhip, even on the left, since the ’70s. On the other hand, it’s still hipper than The Nation. —David Krasnow