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Arhoolie Records' 50th anniversary

Desert Dancer 14 Feb 11 - 11:21 AM
Desert Dancer 14 Feb 11 - 11:30 AM
Desert Dancer 14 Feb 11 - 11:56 AM
Desert Dancer 17 Mar 13 - 12:54 PM
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Subject: Arhoolie Records' 50th anniversary
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 14 Feb 11 - 11:21 AM

Sounds Like America

New York Times
February 13, 2011

Berkeley, Calif.

The party space wasn't perfect. There were no wandering dogs or children, no grass or worn linoleum underfoot. Nobody had pushed benches to the walls to make room for dancing. Nobody was shoeless, shirtless or visibly intoxicated, though the man of honor did seem drunk with delight.

It should have been a backyard in the bayou or barrio. But a cozy theater was still a fine place to celebrate the last 50 years of Chris Strachwitz's life.

Mr. Strachwitz is the founder of Arhoolie Records, a little label in El Cerrito, just north of Berkeley, dedicated to America's roots: blues, bluegrass, Mexican, Tex-Mex, country, Cajun, zydeco, Hawaiian, gospel. If it was homegrown and honest Mr. Strachwitz found it, captured it and shared it.

Mr. Strachwitz, 79, left Germany at 13 and has been discovering America ever since. Arhoolie's 50th anniversary celebration this month went three nights, each one a tribute to his life's work, but also to the geniuses who made America an immigration nation.

The lineup told the story:

There was a Mexican-American from San Antonio, singing in Spanish with a squeezebox, an instrument brought by Germans and Poles to the Rio Grande borderlands and adapted by Mexicans there with wild abandon. And a white guitarist from Santa Monica who grew up idolizing old black bluesmen, playing a song about bagels, and also "Wooly Bully," accompanied by a thumping sousaphone and young Mexican-American women stomping out the beat on a wooden box.

A Mexican-roots band played in the son jarocho style, to the clacking rhythm of a quijada, a donkey's jawbone. A bluegrass musician channeled Bill Monroe. A Cajun guitarist did a riff on Hawaiian slack-key. An all-women's string band led the folkie-dokie singalong "Goodnight Irene," and ended everything with "I Bid You Goodnight," a lullaby from the guitarist Joseph Spence, of the Bahamas.

That was just the first night. Still to come were the jazz combo, the New Orleans brass band, the blues chanteuse and the long unanticipated reunion of The Goodtime Washboard 3.

Each night had a melancholy undercurrent. Roots music, uprooted, loses its essence. American regionalism has died out as strip malls have buried farms, ranches and dance halls. The fear that the people's music is doomed to end life as a PBS special, looped over and over, was the joke behind "A Mighty Wind" — a good one, because it's mostly true.

But not completely. Barbara Dane, a Bay Area blues singer since the early '60s, still has pipes of polished brass. Ry Cooder sang a new song about evil bankers and combined two old ones — "Vigilante Man" by Woody Guthrie and "Across the Borderline" — adding spy planes and Dodge Ram trucks, for a fresh commentary on today's immigration lunacy.

Mr. Strachwitz, who was due for hip replacement the minute the anniversary folderol was over, beamed from the edge of the stage, dancing, waving his cane and giving out hugs. He doesn't record anymore, but he's busy: he has the largest collection of Mexican-American border recordings anywhere, and is digitizing them all. The concerts were a fund-raiser to finish the project.

And there's still tomorrow to look to, thanks, as always, to new immigrants. It was the Mexicans — the people of the future, Mr. Cooder calls them — who supplied the most potent doses of immediacy and urgency. The youngest act by decades, Los Cenzontles, is based in an arts center in a strip mall in San Pablo, a gritty Bay Area town troubled by gangs and poverty but also energized by newcomers: Filipinos, Southeast Asians, Chinese.

The group's founder, Eugene Rodriguez, invited the audience to come up from Berkeley to visit, to discover an America still being reborn.

~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: Arhoolie Records' 50th anniversary
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 14 Feb 11 - 11:30 AM

This was at the Freight and Salvage, in Berkeley. Here's their page for it: clicky.

Arhoolie was founded in 1960, so by my calculation it's actually 51, but this was a fundraiser for Chris Strachwitz's latest project, digitizing "the largest collection of Mexican-American border recordings anywhere", so I guess their faulty arithmetic can be forgiven. :-)

~ Becky in Long Beach

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Subject: RE: Arhoolie Records' 50th anniversary
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 14 Feb 11 - 11:56 AM

Arhoolie Records

~ B in LB

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Subject: RE: Arhoolie Records' 50th anniversary
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 17 Mar 13 - 12:54 PM

It's still the 50th two years later? Anyway, still good stuff.

Arhoolie Records: 50 Years Of Digging For Down-Home Music on NPR -- a nice profile of Chris Strachwitz

~ Becky in Long Beach

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