paul winter, “earthbeat” (jazz and russian village music)

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Write a critical review of the recording in which you do the following: 1. Offer a concise description of the musical and aesthetic concept behind the recording, or answer the question, “What did the artists or producers set out to do?” 2. Discuss the way in which “roots” music is incorporated into the musical sound. 3. Discuss musical, aesthetics, and ethical issues that the recording raises, taking into account the list provided above. Think about the relationship between aesthetics (what is beauty?) and ethics (what is good?). You are welcome to consider issues on the list provided above as well as issues not on the list. 4. Offer your critical judgment about ways in which the project succeeds or fails as music and as an exercise in developing cross-cultural understanding and relationships. 

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Critical Review of “The Rhythm of the Saints” by Paul Simon with Latin Musicians

Critical Review of “The Rhythm of the Saints” by Paul Simon with Latin Musicians

Laurie Field

East Central University: World Music

Professor Woolley

April 3, 2021

“The Rhythm of the Saints” by Paul Simon took one million dollars and two years to complete (Holden, 1990). Simon aspired to further explore cross-cultural music after completing “Graceland”, which was a collaborate effort with African artists. “The Rhythm of the Saints” consists of ten tracks with traditional rhythms of Brazil and West Africa. Simon made four trips to Brazil to work with South American percussionists for the record. The heart of the album was inspired by a trip in which he heard Grupo Cultural Olodum, a ten-member drum unit, in the streets of Salvador. He recorded them on location (Holden, 1990). The Brazilian percussion flare was the roots in which Simon built the melodies and lyrics on. Simon stated, “Drums have their own tonality, and the more I listened, the more they suggested certain sounds and phrases” (Holden, 1990). It is interesting that he started with the drum rhythms and then created the melodies and lyrics at the end of the process. He also relied heavily on Derek Walcott, a noted poet from Boston University. He started with Walcott’s words, and he then gradually weaned away and substituted them for his own (Holden, 1990). This could be the reason for the noticeable poetic style in the tracks. Along with the Olodum, Simon implemented Brazilian drummer Dave Watt, Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, South African bassist Bakitho Cumalo, and American folk rocker J.J. Cale (Holden, 1990). Simon, with these artists, set out to produce a multi-sensory experience that meshed traditional Brazilian rhythms with American folk-pop.

Aesthetically, the tracks range from beautiful melodies to loud percussion pieces. Each song creates its’ own mood. The lyrics run parallel with the mood of the instrumentation and melodies. For example, “The Cool, Cool River”, which is said to be about urban violence, has sharp irregular beats; whereas, there is a calming effect with “The Coast”, which is about a family of musicians that took shelter for the night in a church of St. Cecilia (Holden, 1990). It is not clear if Simon got permission to record Grupo Cultural Olodum while they performed in the streets of Salvador. Since this was such a significant inspiration to the album, it is important to know if they felt exploited in any way.

Music can be a universal language that can bring cultures together, even if one does not know the words that they are hearing. This is accomplished through the moods that music can create through melodies and instrumentation. “The Rhythm of the Saints” succeeds as an exercise in developing cross-cultural understanding and relationship as it takes the listener on a roller coaster of emotions that are shared by humanity. The album starts with a vibe of elation and triumph in “The Obvious Child”, and it intertwines emotions such as anxiety that is heard in “Can’t Run But”, which speaks of a dream of Chernobyl nightmare in which one cannot get away (Holden, 1990). The music is very fast and fluttering, like the scattering of people. Furthermore, romance can be felt in the tracks “Further to Fly” and “She Moves On”. Simon ends the track with a spiritual tone in “Spirit Voices”. Simon successfully merged familiar subjects of life with the heart-pounding beats of Brazilian and South African music. The collaborative efforts can bring awareness to causes and needs of ending disparities of other cultures. For example, the group Olodum are activists for ending discrimination and defending the human rights of people in Brazil and Bahia (Band on the Wall, n.d). With Simon pairing up with this group, it put them in the spotlight in many countries worldwide, which in turn, possibly illuminated their cause to the world in a way that would not have been possible if their music had been limited to their own country. This type of album can promote understanding, empathy, and communication with other cultures, which is what makes cross-cultural music so important to humanity.


References

Band on the Wall. (n.d.) Olodum. https://bandonthewall.org/artist/olodum/.

Holden, S. (1990, October 4). POP; Paul Simon’s journey to Brazil and beyond. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1990/10/14/arts/pop-paul-simon-s-journey-to-brazil-and-beyond.html.

Watt, D. (1990, November 27). The rhythm of St. Paul: The Rhythm of the Saints. The Tech.

http://tech.mit.edu/V110/N53/simon.53a.html.

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