Evan Gabriel

Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

TRAVEL: In the Medina

In Anywhere But Here on June 28, 2013 at 2:08 am

Under the sunshine, under the mosque’s minarets, under the rising engine fumes, another world exists. In the old towns, sheet metal covers slender walkways of pisé mud brick walls, giving home to the collections of merchants stalls known in the Middle East and Northern Africa as medinas, or souks.

Souk in Tangiers

Souk in Tangiers

These tunnels of commerce have thrived for centuries. Obscured, often dim alleys await the visitor with a stark change of pace from newly developed Ville Nouvelles. In Morocco’s large cities, causeways of shops run for miles and add to the mystique of places like Tangier—what Paul Bowles called the “classical dream equipment of tunnels, ramparts, ruins, dungeons, and cliffs.”

Abruptly in Fez’s Medina, I realize I can barely breath. Unlike Marrakech’s open J’emma El Fna, Fez’s old townhas no opening. Just continuously cramped passageways. Every side has options to browse. Soon it is clear the lanes do not deposit me at a destination, like stairs to a room. The stairs simply continue. I keep a pace of intent as to repel hustlers. Though starting to feel the pressure build. No air and narrow walls. Mounting paranoia. Quickly, I duck into a café where I huddle down, order my food, and eat in peace.

The Medina offers a crossover into the ancient world. Merchants still sell spices of saffron and cumin, along with salts, and dried bodies of chicken and sheep that hang upside down with bellies like fleece. The maâlems, or master artisans, chat in front of their shops. Change is easily made with neighbors. The shab al A’hwa greets a boy arriving to the café with the morning’s supply of mint leaves on the back of his bike. Visiting friends drop in on to clear or collect debts. Walking past, one hears hammering and live crafting of copper or silver tea trays. Dyes from Saharan oils and minerals find their way into the symmetrical sewing of rugs, creams contrast dark-blue backdrops and form matrices in each. Textiles of crimsons, green, and purple are tucked away in shelves, awaiting the grasps of customers. Shop’s corners are stacked with felt hats, gold-dyed cowhide slippers, and almond or wine-dark leather jackets. Old men with shaky eyes eek along in long djellaba coverings, holding canes. Youngsters swipe passed on mopeds but despite their beeping, banter prevails on the cobblestone streets. Like the ancient Agora in Athens, the medina remains a place to meet, to gossip, and argue politics over lunch before heading back to the job. Most of all, the medina is the theater of barter for goods.

Life in the souk is slow paced. It is disrespectful for travelers to rush deals. Although disputes over prices may appear unorthodox to the Westerner, it is a part of cultural tradition. As Akbar Ahmed points out, the Islamic tradition is “rooted in thought and debate, a tradition going back to the prophet himself. The history of Islam is the history of ideas and their power to affect people’s actions.”Due to the charismatic nature of the maâlems, simply making it out of the customer/artisan role-play without overspending is a battle.

At the Hotel Central Palis in Marrakech, Nathan and I overlook the Jaamah El fna. Even from our roof, the buzzing square of flickering lights and wafts of meat smoke is intimidating. Yet we decide to enter for a late dinner. With noise on all sides, I feel lightheaded as if floating. Everything moves in the slow pace of desert life. We keep in single file to avoid clipping heals. As drums beat nearby, I spot a group of older woman, all covered in hijabs and reading the palms of their daughters while waiting for customers.

“Are you scared of snakes?” I hear from behind.

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Eagle Eyes

Easily enough, one can become overwhelmed in any medina. Small charges often get hairy. In Fez, Francois and I explore the old town’s famous tanneries. A guide shows us up to a roof where we see cow skins soaking in stone baths of deep red dye. He hands us mint leaves to block the powerful stench. After leaving the rooftop, our guide disappears. I assume he is attending to other business in his leather shop. We head out, but while slinking our way through a tunnel, he remerges to demand a tip, looking disgusted that we left.

“Dh1000,” he insists.

“Too much,” I respond, stone faced in sunglasses.

When we settle on Dh500, his tone changes and we shake hands professionally, the dank tunnel having become a negotiation room.

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Solitary Travelers: On the Town With Allan Kingdom & Franklin

In INTERVIEW on June 20, 2013 at 4:02 pm

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On an overcast afternoon in Minneapolis, Allan and Franklin sit attentively in the back of an uptown coffee shop, both artists giving off an air of stoicism, and for good reason.

Following the release of their debut collaborative project, “Allan & Franklin’s Night Out On The Town EP,” these two have not only been putting in more work than many of their peers, but the majority of artists these days. Both tackle the roles that most record execs do (or promise to do) on their own, including writing, producing and marketing their music, shooting and editing music videos and more recently, moving into multimedia performance art.

Allan, whose mother is from Tanzania and father is from South Africa, was born in Winnipeg.

“When I moved to the U.S. people were like, ‘you aren’t really American, but you aren’t really African, but you aren’t really black.’ So from never really being at home, that’s just how I approached music now,” Allan says.

I ask how geography affects the work an artist creates.

“I would say that I’m always in a state of ‘I’m not really from here.’ No matter where I’ve lived I don’t feel like I’m from that place, so there’s really no boundaries,” Allan says, referring to his music.

Franklin, 24, shares this notion of displacement.

“I’m from Florida–Jacksonville and Miami,” he says. “For me, it just makes me think like a traveler. My eyes are always wide open, taking in details. A lot of times you can be somewhere and won’t even realize what color the walls are. But I always notice, I’m always paying attention to the color of the walls.”

Franklin first caught the attention of Allan through his production.

“He [Allan] already had this cult following here, but he came to me because he liked my production. It inspired me to write,” Franklin says.

Allan, 19, studied at Saint Paul Tech and IPR where he made his 2011 album, “Trucker Music.”

“He’s been making great music for a while now, he’s got some hits, well,” Franklin catches himself, “I don’t know if I should say hits, but music that’s really been catching people’s ears.”

Although first-listeners may deem “Night Out” as a Hip Hop EP, Allan and Franklin’s sound is less boom-bap and more Frank Ocean-modern R&B suave-style, amassed with electronically influenced composition. While creative input was equal on both parts, Franklin spent most of his time in the studio grinding out the production side of songs in addition to live instrumentation from Allan’s band, Remember The Planets.

Coincidentally, the one song that Allan produced on Night Out was the very one I had trouble with.

“What’s ‘the GOAT?’” I ask, referencing a line from the fourth track of the EP.

“Greatest of all time!” Allan laughs. “It’s basically about everyone being capable of this, you know this new generation here is capable of doing everything and that’s why I have that line: ‘I defend my side,’ because I’m biased and saying we’re the best.”

As for placing pen to pad, each artist has his own process.

“Right now I’m trying to train myself to write all day,” Franklin remarks. “While I’m walking, at the gym. When it comes down to it, all the writing really goes down in my room. It’s very personal.”

I look to Allan, who seems to be imagining his methods from a removed perspective.

“Throughout the day,” he answers with ease. “I usually come up with concepts as I’m doing things, concepts for songs or hooks. Sometimes I share them with other people, but then when I’m home and in my room I sit down alone and carve it out exactly how I want it.”

The Twin Cities locals have been building momentum to move into a wider realm of expression, shedding light on their shared notion of no boundaries.

“We want to be bigger than just music, that’s why we started Friends Only,” Allan explains.

Friends Only Records is a close collective that includes everyone from rappers to models looking for exposure, not to mention a female singer.

“We have a fashion guy, that’s just his forte,” Allan says. “Everyone is talented, and these were all the people we were working with anyway. Other people kept asking us, ‘what are you guys?’ ‘what’s the name of this?’ so we said, ‘lets just put a name to what we’ve already been doing.’”

“My goal is to tour with the theater show,” Allan continues, referring to the multimedia experience that was performed at the historic Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul. “Doing that by myself is hard,” he grins.

The theater show includes choreographed dancing followed by a 25-minute movie that was put together by the Friends Only collective. Segments from “Night Out” serve as the film’s score.

There are no signs of stagnation for these dynamic individuals. Franklin is working on a new project that he coolly attributes to being about women, but quickly pulls back.

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“If I say that, people will jump on it. So I’ll just say it’s still in progress,” he smiles.

Allan has just shot a video for “Achilles,” a cut from his new album, “Talk To Strangers.” He adjusts his cap in excitement, describing his first time  working with an outside production team, who he describes as “amazing editors.”

“There’s no reason to give anybody a cut who doesn’t deserve it,” Franklin speaks up, describing the hangers-on that gravitate toward young artists like vines to a porch. “We’re on it, all ourselves. I know it’s going to work,” Franklin airs optimistically, breaking to take a sip from his sweet tea.

“The biggest struggle for people is knowing what you need,” Allan points out. “Most people go out and chase something that’s not going help them, something that they want. We know what we need. We have all the pieces, it’s only a matter of fitting them together just right.”

AUDIBLE: Brock Berrigan Slaying Dragons

In Audible on June 12, 2013 at 10:02 pm

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I have been a fan of sir Brock since getting a hold of his 2011 Beat Tape and I must say, his knack for eloquently weaving samples and sound bites throughout his tracks is both revitalizing and inspirational. Since 2011, the beat maker has let little stand in his way, as he has released a score of new projects.

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Get familiar with one of my favorite audible hors d’oeuvres and picture Bill Peet’s illustrative genius.

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