START OF THE (2014) SUMMER

Bad news first: I’m not going to be able to do the conventional Summer Songs series this summer. I was too busy to get it organized in time to invite guests and handle all the logistics for it.

Good news: now that I have a radio show, I’m going to use it to invite people to come thru and do summer song sets instead!

We can start with my own contribution to kick off the start of what feels like summer (at least here in L.A.!)

Shades of Soul: EP 2.9: Start of Summer by Oliver Wang on Mixcloud

REQUIEM FOR SUMMER

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Summer, technically, ended a week or so ago but I bet you, like me, didn’t even notice. Blame it on Labor Day. Blame it on the fact that summer ends in a thousand moments – going back to school, your last field trip, the oncoming coolness of the evening, people already putting up Halloween decorations, et. al. And that’s fine: not every end has to be commemorated or marked with solemnity.

But for me, the end of summer is always a transition – ’tis the nature of being a teacher – and often a jarring one, where the memories of summer are quickly dashed under the millstone of shit-that-has-to-be-done-yesterday. As such, I wanted to at least mark summer’s end with a look back on the tunes that kept me company for the season.

Album of the Summer: Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris

I find that Odd Future’s music tends to be made for a listener that’s “not me.” Which is fine…I’m probably twice as old as their target demo and I’m not salty about that. But while Tyler’s stuff has rarely made much of an impression on me, I’m absolutely loving Earl’s album. Maybe it’s because he reminds me of a younger MF Doom or that he uses the same loops as the Wu. But it goes beyond whatever throwback appeal he has. Dude can spit, he expresses vulnerabilities without getting all Drake-y about it, he’s the kind of MC that, if I were 18, would be godly to me. Actually, as a 41 year old, he still seems pretty godly.

Song of the Summer #1: The Manhattans’ “Follow Your Heart” (Carnival, 1965).

What, you thought I was going to pick “Blurred Lines” or something? In terms of the song that got the most rotations from me the last three months, almost nothing is touching “Follow Your Heart.” Such an amazing song on so many levels but just start with how it opens with those vibes. “Sublime” is too soft a term. And then throw in the perfect interplay between lead George Smith and the back-up singers. And just ponder how strange a line like “it’s a puzzling thing” must be to sing yet how natural it comes off in here. And cap that with how the group sings, “follow your heart” and try not to raise your hands and swing them in rhythm to the line.[1. The fact that you can buy this, original stock, mint, for $10, is such a ridiculous steal.]

Song of the Summer #2: J. Cole’s “Cole Summer

This song got me to resurrect the Summer Song series after two years off so I gotta show it love. It’s like when Jay-Z dropped “Dear Summer” over that Weldon Irvine loop. I can’t get enough of a vibe like this (even if it is J. Cole).

Honorable Mention: The De Vons’ “Someone To Treat Me (The Way You Do)” (King, 1969)

I picked this up at the Groove Merchant earlier in the late spring and it’s easily become my favorite Northern track in current rotation. Supposedly a James Brown production which is impressive since this sounds outside his normal style but he was a many o’ many talents. Love the sweet swing on this one and (once again), great use of back-up singing to bring all this together. I dare you not to dance during the chorus. Double dare you.

Favorite Live Moment: Hard to beat seeing Merry Clayton, the Waters and Judith Hill performing live at Oscars Outdoors, after the screening of 20 Feet From Stardom. Here’s Judith:

PICK SIX: SUMMERTIME

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How have I never done this before? “Summertime,” originally composed by George Gershwin and written by DuBose Hayward, has become one of those rare American pop standards that has fans across many different genres and eras. “Haunting” seems too tame a term to describe it but if we have associations between summer time and a sense of deep melancholy and wistful nostalgia, I’d suggest that the song, “Summertime” has done much to shape that perception.

As we’re nearing the end of summer, I decided to pull out a pick six of different versions of the song.[1. Big shout out to Soulstrut. I had a few of these already, especially the jazz versions, but this thread turned me onto some of the other ones, including Nick Drake's.] These aren’t necessarily my absolute personal favorites but I wanted to show some breadth in the choices and showcases the various stylistic approaches that artists have taken to it. Let’s begin with a stone-cold (but overlooked, to me) classic:

Sam Cooke: Summertime
From 7″ (Keen, 1957). Also on the Best of Sam Cooke

Everyone remembers the A-side of this single: “You Send Me,” one of Cooke’s first major hits. But *whistle* this flip is gorgeous, especially with that eerie back-up vocal that drifts and echoes in the background. It’s safe to say that Cooke sounds incredible (was this ever not the case) but he brings a special gravitas to the performance and smartly, the accompaniment leans towards the sparse as not to compete with the golden throat.

Salena Jones: Summertime
From This N’ That (RCA Victor, 1974)

A little over 15 years later and jazz singer Salena Jones adds her soulful take to the plate. I like how the song splits the difference between a funkier intro which then effortlessly glides into a more conventional torch song arrangement.

Nick Drake: Summertime
From The Complete Home Recordings (Boyds, recorded 1967/8)

Sure, it’s pathetically lo-fi and recorded on amateur equipment but the fact that this is still mesmerizing speaks to both the strength of Gershwin/Hayward’s genius and Drake’s somber approach.

Klaus Wunderlich: Summertime
From Hammond Fur Millionen (Telefunken, 1971)

Walter Bishop Jr’s 4th Cycle: Summertime
From Keeper of My Soul (Black Jazz, 1973)

These would have been in my heavy rotation back in ’99: funky funky funky. The Wunderlich has that signature organ feel and approach – lively and playful but anchored in a steady backbeat that gives the song some bump. But if you want to talk about gravity, it gets no heavier than Bishop’s version, from his sole Black Jazz album. Those opening organ chords build such anticipation over 8 bars that when the beat finally drops, your whole body’s on edge.

Booker T and the MGs: Summertime
From And Now! (Stax, 1966)

To close out, I had to go with something that chills everything down. This isn’t the 3pm during summer time. It’s definitely not the 8pm festive hour. This is round midnight, lights turned down low, early September, as the tendrils of autumn begin to creep into the evening air. If you don’t know what I mean, just give it a few weeks and you will. You will.

IS THERE THE SONG OF THE SUMMER?

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I recently participated in a lil online debate over the notion of there being the song of the summer, i.e. “one song to rule them all.”

This stemmed from a piece by Slate’s Chris Molanphy and that turned into a Facebook discussion which then turned into another Molanphy piece, which you can read here.

The gist of his argument is that most summers, there is one dominant summer hit that ends up becoming “the song of the summer,” and this raises at least two important questions:
1) What is the criteria/methodology being used to arrive at such a conclusion?
2) Even if one could make a convincing, quantifiable case…does that jibe with our collective memories of how summer songs work?

I think readers of my site will know where I lean on the second question; summer songs are not even about songs released in the summer, let alone objectively successful songs that happen to peak, chart-wise, between June-August. Summer songs are ultimately about the attachments between music and memory, regardless of their release date. [1. Example: "Nuthin But a 'G' Thing" came out in November of 1992 but convince anyone in L.A. that this isn't a quintessential song of the summer.]

However, being a social scientist, I thought question #1 was also interesting to probe and I appreciate Molanphy’s jump into the archives of journalism to track when/where this “the song of the summer” meme originally began. To be sure, the notion of a summer anthem is (relatively speaking) ancient but the desire to declare one song – and one song only – a “winner” of the season seems more contemporary. And this is genuinely fascinating to me because it calls into question what’s at stake with this particular (shoe-horned) narrative. Do we need to declare a song of the summer? And if so, why?

I stand by my belief that summer songs only become meaningful with some degree of hindsight. So, for example, Molanphy argues:

I guess it’s just hard to let go of the ideal of the commanding summer hit, the way you remember it in your youth. I turned 13 in 1984, and in my memory, that year will always be about Bruce and Madonna and Cyndi and Tina and the Durans and heck, John Waite. But by my recollection—and Billboard backs me up—Prince crushed ’em all [with "When Doves Cry"]

I can’t argue with the objective evidence here (though of course, Billboard charting is one measurement of populist sentiment but hardly the only one). But I remember the summer of 1984 with enough clarity to know that if you presented me with an unordered list of the “top songs of 1984,” and asked me to pick out which I thought were the songs of the summer, it wouldn’t ever be “When Doves Cry.” Instead, it’d be the raucous, let-your-head-bang release of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” Or maybe “Footloose,” or “Jump” or “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

Some of those songs probably had nothing – temporally – to do with summer but so what? Summer itself is never what it actually is/was either. It’s what we make of it in our memory, trying to recall a season of idyllic idling or letting loose while punching a higher floor.


By the way, if I had to pick a song of the summer for, personally? I’d still have to go with the very first song I mentioned in relation to the summer of 2014:

(Lauryn Hill + D’Angelo loop = eternally summery)

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MORGAN RHODES

Dangelo

(Editor’s Note: I met Morgan Rhodes when we both came in to record a Tuesday music segment for KPCC’s Take Two.[1. Morgan is the one who introduced me to Laura Mvula so I knew, right away, she had exquisitely good taste.] Among other things, Morgan has been the music supervisor for Ava Duvernay‘s Middle of Nowhere and The Door. She also hosts both The Listening Station on KPFK and Wonderground on WURD (Philly, holler!). –O.W.)


D’Angelo: Jonz in My Bonz
From Brown Sugar (Virgin/EMI, 1995)

Just like I had been in the three summers before and the eight summers after, I was in love that summer, the summer of 1995. I was giddy, devoted and spellbound. And as was my steez, I was heavily invested in music supervising the experience – a song for the chase, and the catch and the fall.

On one of the hottest days that summer, my brother and I made plans to hang out. We always hung out. We always hung out because he was cool. After picking up a friend, we were headed to Melrose to shop and people watch because in those days nothing was better than Melrose on an L.A. Sunday. My brother was pushing a tricked out Volkswagen GTI, black on black with a slight smoke tint, sitting on pristine Fittipaldis, with the requisite west coast accessories (Stussy and Local Motion stickers on the back window)

The journey from his friends’ house to our destination saw us making a left – Crenshaw onto Wilshire then after a short while, a right – Wilshire onto LaBrea. At some point my brother’s friend pulled a CD out of his bag – D’Angelo “Brown Sugar”. He had a favorite song so he skipped to it first. This was all I heard before I dissolved into a D’Angelo coma: (courtesy of the Alpine speakers embedded into the panels on either side of me)

said i got a Jonz in my Bonz
said this feeling that I got won’t leave me ‘lone
I said I got a Jonz in my Bonz
I said this feeling that I got, goes on and on

He moaned between verses; it was sensual and engaging but unfamiliar to me presented that way: falsetto sexiness layered over what sounded like church organ playing. Wait was that a Hammond B3? Enjoying it was carnal maybe, and I felt a bit guilty for enjoying it, like the time our youth musician snuck “gin and juice” into his worship medley. In 1995 liner notes were a manifesto. A place for lyrics and shoutouts, the place where i found out that Angie Stone (credited as Angela Stone) had co-written this track and Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Raphael Saadiq had run the point on the album alongside Kedar Massenburg who would, a few years later, introduce the world to Erykah Badu.

all my natural life I’ve been waiting
I’ve been holding on to everything that belongs to me
fooled misled by every possibility
what I wouldn’t do to get next to the things that are meant for me

Five minutes and fifty six seconds seemed like it went on for forever but forever wasn’t long enough. Heretefore my brother and I had had an unspoken music rule for our excursions: compelling songs could be repeated. Repeatedly. We played the song again. And again.

on and on, on and on, on and on and on

I head nodded past LaBrea and 3rd, beyond LaBrea and Beverly, and through the tears that fell unexpectedly all the way to Melrose Avenue.

I didn’t know then what ne0-soul was and that D’Angelo and this album would be credited as one of the architects of this brand new genre. I didn’t know that it would be five more years until this voice would sing on another studio album. I didn’t know that the wait after that album would be endless, and excruciating.

Just like I had been in the three summers before and the eight summers after, I was in love that summer, the summer of 1995. I was giddy, devoted and spellbound. A trip down LaBrea to Melrose with my brother and his friend gave me a soundtrack for my infatuation, a new musical hero and figuratively speaking, a jonz in my bonz.

–by Morgan Rhodes

MICHAEL GONZALES

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(Soul man Michael A. Gonzales has written about music, film and art for Wax Poetics, New York, XXL and HYCIDE. A prolific short story writer, his latest “Jaguar and the Jungleland Boogie” appears in Black Pulp (Pro Se Press). He blogs at Blackadelicpop.blogspot.com and lives in Brooklyn.)


Prince: When Doves Cry
From Purple Rain (Warner Bros., 1984)

It was Orwellian summer of 1984 and big brother Ronny Raygun was in the White House cutting social programs and replacing them with crack. I was living in Harlem with my grandmother and trying to figure out where life was taking my bohemian b-boy/new wave wannabe writer ass.

A few weeks before my twenty-first birthday, school was out and I’d gotten a job as a midtown messenger. Zooming down the sidewalk with my Sony Walkman attached to my ears, I delivered documents to various creative folks including graphic designer Mitch Glazer, photographer Richard Avadon and fashion designer Calvin Klein. From the doorway of her upper west side apartment, actress Patti Lapone once tipped me a dollar.
After work, I hung-out with my friend Jerry Rodriguez, an aspiring filmmaker and playwright who was also a messenger. Both of us dressed entirely in black, rebels just because, and spent many nights at our favorite lower East Side club the Ritz. A former USO dancehall that today calls itself Webster Hall, the medium sized venue was known for their great live shows at affordable prices and thirty-foot screen where videos were projected.

It was at the Ritz that I saw, amongst others, Level 42, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, the Replacements, Andre Cymone, Fishbone and Adrian Sherwood’s Tackhead. In addition, since it was impossible to get MTV uptown in those golden years, it was at the Ritz where I viewed clips by Culture Club, Duran Duran and Michael Jackson as the music blared. Yet, it wasn’t until May of 1984 when Prince’s new video “When Doves Cry,” the first single from Purple Rain, debuted at the Ritz and became my soundtrack for the rest of the summer.

Standing on the dance floor, I stared in awe as futuristic imagery of the video, combined with the blackadelic guitar intro of the song, pulled me into a strange world of sight and sound.

With its reflective lyrics and melancholy romanticism, “When Doves Cry” was a delirious blend of synthpop, electric guitars and, despite not having a bass guitar in the mix, funk. Seconds after the song faded from the speakers and the massive screen, I excitedly grabbed Jerry and screamed, “That was the shit! Oh my God, that was wonderful.”

Buying the seven-inch single the following day, I was hyped by the spectacle of the packaging: a purple disc inside of a glossy jacket that featured a photo of strange flowers. The b-side was a fly track called “17 Days,” which, along with “Erotic City,” became my other favorite summer songs that year.

Even after buying the Purple Rain album a few weeks later, I still played “When Doves Cry” so much that my grandmother began singing the hypnotic song at random moments. One afternoon, while riding in a cab to Aunt Lillian’s apartment building near the Polo Grounds, grandma leaned back in the leather seat and out of nowhere sang, “Maybe I’m just too demanding, maybe I’m just like my father…”

Pausing for a moment, she glanced at me and we both exclaimed, “Too bold!” Like mischievous kids, we both laughed. Twenty-nine summers after the release of “When Doves Cry,” I can still hear grandma’s laughter whenever that (still) amazing song is played.

–By Michael Gonzales

EOTHEN “EGON” ALAPATT

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(Editor’s Note: How is it possible I hadn’t had Egon on to do this before? I’ve known E going back to the late ’90s, when he was still an undergraduate at Vanderbilt and I was still living in Oakland – shout out to Byze One, who connected us. Since then, I’ve followed his career to become one of the biggest forces in soul/funk/psych record rediscoveries, first at Stones Throw, now at Now-Again. And heck, we live only 15 minutes away from one another so we’re practically neighbors. For his summer songs contribution, E takes us back to the days of public access television and a song that had haunted him for years. -O.W.)


Donovan: Get Thy Bearings
From Hurdy Gurdy Man (Pye/Epic, 1968)

Back when I started to collect records in earnest – around 1996, my freshman year in college, when I was freed from the constrained and often overpriced bins of the Tri-State and surrounded by dozens of interesting record crawls in Nashville – I found my first copy of Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man LP in the Great Escape’s Broadway location. It was a beat stereo copy on the yellow-label American Epic, but it was such a joyous day. It was a dollar, so I still had enough money to buy a hamburger at the Wendy’s up the street before heading off to class, and it contained one of my most wanted songs at the time: “Get Thy Bearings.”

I’d first heard that song a few years back, on New Haven record collector Dooley O’s public access channel’s Graffiti TV. The scene: a couple of New Haven graff legends walking around, bombing a then-desolate downtown, as Donovan’s great song provided a melancholic soundtrack. The film was gritty, black and white VHS. The feeling was indescribable, like being whirled around in hip hop’s vortex, seeing these lawbreakers creating something that I wanted to defend as art, but which, in this case, even then, seemed suspiciously more like the vandalism it was condemned as, and hearing this late 60s psychedelic music that was supposedly of my parents’ generation but sounded damn fine in this context.

I spent the summer of 1997 listening to that album, but most specifically, listening to “Get Thy Bearings” on repeat. In the years to follow, when I would take a trip “back East” to visit the folks, usually on a humid, summer evening, as my remaining family and I sat around the dinner table, eating and talking and thinking and often times drinking a bracing riesling or another appropriate summer wine, I would reach for this album and play this familiar song for us all.

Written by Eothen “Egon” Alapatt
(Top photo by Eilon Paz for dustandgrooves.com.)

JOAN MORGAN

Joan Morgan

(Editor’s Note: I first “met” Joan Morgan through her writing. It’s no exaggeration to say that she’s been one of the most important and formative music critics out there, part of the golden era of the Village Voice’s hip-hop squad. She’s also author of the groundbreaking work of hip-hop feminism, When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost. And most recently, she’s decided to enter the world of academia and should be within a few years of adding the title “Dr.” along her other honorifics. Mostly though, Joan kicks ass as one of the smartest, most thoughtful, insightful and deeply kind people I know; the times I’ve got to roll with her for Rap Sessions have always been a highlight. For her summer songs post, she goes for the short but sweet route with a series of hits from childhood. –O.W.)

Seals & Croft: Summer Breeze
From Summer Breeze (Warner Bros., 1972)

Isley Bros: Summer Breeze
From 3+3 (T-Neck, 1973)

Frankie Beverly and Maze: Joy and Pain
From Joy and Pain (Capitol, 1980)

These two versions of “Summer Breeze” pretty much sum up my teen cultural schizophrenia as a South Bronx residing Fieldstonite. And nothing but nothing says black folks, BBQ and family than Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “Joy and Pain.” As a Jamaican-American, prep-school attending, South Bronx living, hip-hop/Marley/Simon & Garfunkel loving and kid that sat perpetually outside so many late 70′s – 80′s frames, there was something about that song was incredibly anchoring for me. Still is.

Written by Joan Morgan

CHOIMATIC

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(Editor’s note: It’s time to bring back the Summer Songs after two seasons off. Our first guest is Moe Choi aka DJ Choimatic. I’ve known Moe for years, back when he was a big presence in the NY hip-hop club scene but in more recent years, Moe has branched out into everything from swanked-out weddings to Fashion Week runway shows to, you know, DJing parities on the roof of The Met. He’s got Billy Danze’s number on speed dial and the inside lane on YSL couture; that’s how he rolls. For his summer song post, Moe takes it back to ’90 and the era of the Wu-Tang Super Models. –O.W.)

George Michael: Freedom 90
From Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 (Columbia/Epic, 1990)

I lived with cousins for a summer when I was a kid. I credit a lot of my musical taste and knowledge to my cousin Eugene, who is 4 years older then me. He was up on The Smiths, Prince, Lightning Seeds, New Order, George Michael etc. and as a kid, I gravitated to his tastes on some “cooler, older lord” tip and that included “Freedom 90.”

I watched this video over and over as a kid especially since it set off my Linda Evangelista obsession. This was the era of the super models clique…Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, and Cindy Crawford, aka the “we don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day” crew. To have all these breezys at the top of their game, in the same video, was some next level ish: they were the Wu-Tang Clan of the Model Game (with Linda as GZA. To this day, she is still my favorite model). I discovered “sexy” in music for the first time through “Freedom 90.” Fast forward to 2013, it still holds the weight. It’s aged magnificently.

It’s also my all-time favorite flip of “Funky Drummer” (sorry hip-hop purists).[1. I'm also not mad at "Mantronix's "Fresh is the Word"."] Sonically, the way the piano glides atop the drum loop is some amazing shit.

Also, as a working DJ, this is one of those cuts that I can play at almost any gig. It’s safe enough to run at a corporate function and sexy enough for a fashion event. You can easily drop this in a club setting or a secret, after-hours loft party. The build-up and chorus is epic to run as the last song at a wedding yet it’s not overplayed like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” Black people, white people, Asian people, straights, gays, bisexuals, asexuals…everyone seems to melt when I throw this on. The energy, vibe, nostalgia this song invokes is magic. In other words, it’s the perfect summer song.

Big shout to Lauren Stout, Jenny Mac, Ise White, Nuna Kim, Natalie Blacker, Courtney Warco, Madonna, The Statue of Liberty & all the other fly womens in my life. Y’all form my super model clique. [insert jukebox explosion scene here]

P.S. I got 3 of them t-shirts.

Written by Moe Choi

BARDO MARTINEZ: BAREFEET FOR LOVE


Andres Landero: Perdi Las Abarcas
From Con Las Mejores Cumbias). Also available on Historia Musical de Andres Landero

(Editor’s Note: Bardo Martinez is one-third of Chicano Batman, a great local L.A. group I “discovered” when Sonido Franko sent me their new EP earlier in the summer. Among their other strengths, the group really has a sense of what a good summer song sounds like so I reached out to Bardo for a post and he didn’t just lace us with a really cool cumbia, he provided a huge historical back story behind it. Bueno! He also gets much deeper on this same story, here. –O.W.)

    “Perdi Las Abarcas,” written by the Colombian accordion player/singer/songwriter Andres Landero (1931-2001) and recorded several times in the 60’s and 70’s takes me the to plastic tables and concrete floors of a San Jacinto cantina, where aguardiente (fermented sugar cane) is spilled by the inebriated men and women dancing cumbia on an ardient summer night near the equatorial line.
    Musically, this song is a standard example of Landero’s cumbia. It is masterfully articulated in minor tonalities by Landero’s voice, accordian playing, and the electric bass. The rhythm is carried by a wooden guacharaca that makes the rasping chucuchuck sound, a conga or a llamador that marks the & “up beat” in a 4/4 measure (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &), a caja vallenata as the soloing drum, and a block as well as cowbell sparingly playing the downbeat through out the song.

    Andres Landero, is to me, the most outstanding Colombian juglar (accordian player/singer/ songwriter) of all the juglares that created the wide Diaspora of Colombian accordion music most commonly known as Vallenato, popularized by the accordion players from the city of Valledupar. His musical singularity is due to the legacy of his hometown of San Jacinto (that sits at the foot of a Mountain range known as Los Montes De Maria), that has nurtured the creation of musical instruments, hammocks, of cumbia and a wealth of rhythms such as the puya played by gaitas (flutes made of the inner core of the cactus) by rural campesinos. As a campesino deeply steeped in his cultural heritage, Landero played the accordion as if it was a gaita, bending and twisting minor melodies and hearts since the 1940’s with cumbias such as “Perdi Las Abarcas.”

    Abarcas are sandals. In this song, Landero recounts a true story about how he pawned his abarcas, and his sombrero vueltao (the quintessential symbol of manhood in rural villages within the Colombian coastal region) in order to please a girl he desired. According to Miguel Hernandez, son of Juan “Chuchita” Hernandez (one of the oldest members of the Grammy winning Gaiteros de San Jacinto), Landero gave them up so he could buy food and drink for the father and the family of this girl. Miguel said that this story surrounded Landero with much laughter and celebration whenever it was mentioned.

    Just like this song, every one of Landero’s songs are musical representations of not only his own reality; but the mundane, social, and political realities of his town San Jacinto and the Colombian savanna. Landero’s music is truly amazing, inspiring, and a true spiritual embodiment and reflection of the human experience. It is not just “for beginners” newly interested in Colombian music, it gets the core and to the root of Colombian musical and historical reality, that would provide lessons of all kinds to the youngest to the oldest most initiated listener or player of music anywhere.

    “oba!”
    Bardo Martinez