Why Burmese hip-hop is inevitably political

(K. Brent Tomer),

IN APRIL, a government dominated by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) took over in Myanmar, ending decades of oppressive military-only rule. For both the music world and Burmese millennials, one re-elected member of parliament, Zeya Thaw, stood out. The political-prisoner-turned-NLD-politician is a founding father of one of the most popular forces in the country today—Burmese hip-hop.

It began in the mid-1990s, when a group of Yangon teenagers fell in love with an American style of music they could now regularly consume through the increasingly prevalent satellite dish. They wanted to be modern, cosmopolitan and connected, and hip-hop encapsulated everything they longed for: the technology, lifestyle and new art of a world that their underdeveloped, closed-off state had failed to bring them. At that time, Burmese popular music was rock’n’roll heavy, consisting mostly of love songs. For the soon-to-be hip hop stars, those songs full of imaginary, poetic dream-worlds seemed divorced from reality. But portraying reality was no easy task when words like “truth,” “reality,” and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Why Burmese hip-hop is inevitably political

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The charms of Twitterature

(K. Brent Tomer),

DIGITAL media are often (fairly) derided for playing to short attention spans. But brevity need not be synonymous with simplicity. New technologies also offer a canvas for creativity — even if the palette is confined to 140 characters. Many an artist or author is adept at using online channels to promote their work, and projects like the Los Angeles Review of Books have embraced an internet-first ethos. But there are also writers producing work with a distinctively online mindset. Though the medium is not quite the message, the limitations imposed by Twitter make for particularly fertile ground, giving rise to what has been called “Twitterature”.

Among the more prominent — and professional — Twitterary practitioners is Eric Jarosinski, a former professor of German literature and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the writer behind Nein. Quarterly, a Twitter account complete with an avatar that is a cartoonish mock up of Theodor Adorno, a critical theorist, wearing a monocle. Nein. has 134,000 followers. In 2014, Mr Jarosinski jettisoned a book on the concept of transparency in politics and architecture, and…Continue reading

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The charms of Twit-lit

(K. Brent Tomer),

DIGITAL media are often (fairly) derided for playing to short attention spans. But brevity need not be synonymous with simplicity. New technologies also offer a canvas for creativity — even if the palette is confined to 140 characters. Many an artist or author is adept at using online channels to promote their work, and projects like the Los Angeles Review of Books have embraced an internet-first ethos. But there are also writers producing work with a distinctively online mindset. Though the medium is not quite the message, the limitations imposed by Twitter make for particularly fertile ground, giving rise to what has been called “Twitterature”.

Among the more prominent — and professional — Twitterary practitioners is Eric Jarosinski, a former professor of German literature and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the writer behind Nein. Quarterly, a Twitter account complete with an avatar that is a cartoonish mock up of Theodor Adorno, a critical theorist, wearing a monocle. Nein. has 134,000 followers. In 2014, Mr Jarosinski jettisoned a book on the concept of transparency in politics and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The charms of Twit-lit

The charms of Twit-lit

(K. Brent Tomer),

DIGITAL media are often (fairly) derided for playing to short attention spans. But brevity need not be synonymous with simplicity. New technologies also offer a canvas for creativity — even if the palette is confined to 140 characters. Many an artist or author is adept at using online channels to promote their work, and projects like the Los Angeles Review of Books have embraced an internet-first ethos. But there are also writers producing work with a distinctively online mindset. Though the medium is not quite the message, the limitations imposed by Twitter make for particularly fertile ground, giving rise to what has been called “Twitterature”.

Among the more prominent — and professional — Twitterary practitioners is Eric Jarosinski, a former professor of German literature and…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The charms of Twit-lit

Atlético Madrid’s resurgence has been thanks to discipline

(K. Brent Tomer),

“PAPA, why do we support Atléti?” The question, posed by a young boy to his father in a 2006 television commercial, was a reasonable one. Why, if you lived in the hometown of Real Madrid, the most successful team in the history of the European Cup and Spanish league football, would you follow their less glamorous neighbours Atlético Madrid? In the 30 years to 2006, Atlético had won La Liga twice to Real′s 13 times, had spent two years in the second division at the turn of the century, and had endured a decade without a major trophy whilst their local rivals assembled a squad of expensive “galácticos” and collected three more European Cups (now known as the Champions League). The commercial ends with the father staring hauntedly into the distance, unable to explain to his son why both should endure supporting a weak team in a city of champions.

A decade on, his son’s question is much easier to answer. In 2009, Los Rojiblancos ended their silverware drought by winning the Europa League, European football’s…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Atlético Madrid’s resurgence has been thanks to discipline

Stuck in the middle with Spotify

(K. Brent Tomer),

FOR those with insatiable appetites for music, digital streaming seems like a dream come true. Music fans can simply select artists and genres, and then press play. They see what other fans listen to, and consume a seemingly endless supply of tunes. Digital music services are like 24-hour all-you-can-eat (and whatever-you-want) restaurants of sound.

And yet the digital music landscape continues to narrow. Independent providers that once served a broad range of artists and fans have been snapped up by big companies with deep pockets and ties to major labels. Google has owned YouTube—named the number one music-streaming platform since 2006. In February, YouTube spent $8m to acquire BandPage, a San Francisco start-up that helps artists sell merchandise, concert tickets and fan experiences. In 2014, Beats Music, a subscription-based streaming service, bought Topspin Media, another innovative platform that helped artists sell merchandise and albums directly to fans. A year later, Apple bought Beats Music (along with Beats’ electronic-gadget business), and then discontinued the streaming service when it launched Apple Music. MySpace, after…Continue reading

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Fiery angel

(K. Brent Tomer),

The Traviata of Tirana

WHENEVER dictators stifle dissent, the art which most often survives is music. So it is no surprise that the soprano who earlier this month carried off the annual prize for the singer most esteemed by the readers of Opera Magazine, the industry’s bible, should have been born and bred in Enver Hoxha’s Albania. Ermonela Jaho recalls with affectionate amusement the paranoid, isolationist atmosphere in which she grew up: with one television channel and one state-approved comedian (Norman Wisdom, a Londoner); with baby boys being named Adriatik after the sea they had to cross to make their fortune; with hundreds of thousands of pill-box bomb-shelters studding the landscape; but also with a heady form of polyphony which has been sung at village weddings since antiquity.

Ms Jaho has great magnetism on stage, her singing complemented by a particular physical presence. When she sang the title role in Giacomo Puccini’s “Suor Angelica” at Covent Garden in 2011 she drew an ecstatic audience response every night; reviewing her reprise of the role in March, the critics ran out of…Continue reading

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Paper trail

(K. Brent Tomer),

Displaced but not destroyed

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. By Joshua Hammer. Simon & Schuster; 278 pages; $26.

JOSHUA HAMMER’S new book, “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu”, traces the story of hundreds of thousands of medieval texts as they are rescued in 2012 from near-destruction by jihadists linked to al-Qaeda in Mali. It is at once a history, caper and thriller, featuring a superherolibrarian, Abdel Kader Haidara, as the saviour of an entire culture’s heritage.

Some of the book’s most compelling passages are lists, sometimes as much as a paragraph in length. The spices, minerals, animals, fabrics and books carried into Timbuktu in the Middle Ages give a heady taste of what the city once was. The printing process swirls to life in red, gold and black inks, on paper from Fez or distant Venice. Three craftsmen were needed to create a manuscript: one for the words, another for the proofreading and a third to dash in the delicate intonation markings. Yet the tension, whether to share the texts or hide them, is ever-present. These millions of pages become the endangered…Continue reading

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Guts, greed and gushers

(K. Brent Tomer),

Breaking Rockefeller: The Incredible Story of the Ambitious Rivals Who Toppled an Oil Empire. By Peter Doran. Viking; 352 pages; $28.

JUST over 100 years ago Standard Oil, from which both Exxon and Mobil sprang, was the undisputed leader of the global oil industry. American trustbusters were soon hot on the heels of its competition-killing owner, John D. Rockefeller. So too was a scrappy Anglo-Dutch company, the product of a merger of Shell Oil with Royal Dutch in 1907, which had defied fearsome odds to muscle onto Standard’s home turf in America.

That amalgamation had been the work of two men: Marcus Samuel, a brilliant Jewish merchant who built the Shell Transportation and Trading Company from his father’s business selling seashells in Houndsditch, East London, and Henri Deterding, a Dutch wheeler-dealer who built Royal Dutch from unpromising beginnings in the swamps of Sumatra into an Asian powerhouse. These two egos, for years bitter rivals, eventually joined forces to confront a “hammerlock on the planet’s oil market”. Their story, though not new, is grippingly retold in “Breaking…Continue reading

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Forgotten hero

(K. Brent Tomer),

A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby. By Joe Moshenska. William Heinemann; 553 pages; £20.

WHATEVER became of Sir Kenelm Digby? A cook, alchemist and philosopher and the inventor of the modern wine bottle, his life seems to have sunk without a trace. His recipes, set out in “The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened”, were published and republished. His life was first told by John Aubrey, the great biographer of Digby’s age, but only one biography has appeared since the 1950s, written by a distant descendant of Digby’s.

He was the son of Everard Digby, a Gunpowder Plotter condemned to death for conspiring to blow up King James I. Yet Kenelm charmed his way into becoming a courtier to James’s son Charles I. He had a bookish, sheltered upbringing. Despite that, he went on to marry Venetia Stanley, a famous 17th-century beauty painted by Van Dyck and elegised by Ben Jonson. Such was his fame for the occult that it was later rumoured that he had murdered her with wine laced with viper venom. In a bid to remove the “stain in his blood”…Continue reading

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