From the soundtrack of an Apple commercial to the stage at GAMH


When Steve Jobs calls, you answer. This was certainly the case for songstress, Yael Naim, whose folk ditty “New Soul” was handpicked by Jobs to soundtrack a landmark commercial for Apple’s first generation MacBook Air in 2007. As the company demonstrated the laptop’s sleek and simple design, Naim’s lyrics took the spotlight. “I’m a new soul / I came to this strange world / Hoping I could learn a bit ’bout how to give and take,” she sang over a bright and bubbling melody, before breaking into a catchy chorus of la la las. The world was hooked.

Naim went from virtually unknown to global sensation in a matter of days, as “New Soul” rocketed to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The self-titled album from whence it came received critical acclaim across the continents, hitting #11 in France and charming listeners with its sweetly bilingual discography, including a uniquely pared-down version of Britney Spears’ hit single, “Toxic.”

Born in France in 1978 to Jewish Tunisian parents, Naim has long heralded a diverse array of inspirations. After moving to Israel at age four, she became enamored of pop music upon discovering the Beatles and soon fell in love with Aretha Franklin and Joni Mitchell as well. She cites all these artists as some of her earliest and strongest influences.

Before long, young Naim was performing with Winton Marsalis and backing musicians in the vibrant city of Tel Aviv. She started her first band, The Anti-Collision, while fulfilling her required military service for Israel, returned to Paris at age 21 to pursue a career in music, and soon snagged a record deal with EMI. Her first album, released simply under the name Yael, debuted in 2001, but it wasn’t until 2007 that Naim got her big break.

Naïm attributes much of her success to a very strong creative and romantic partnership with West Indian musician and producer David Donatien, who has collaborated with her on her past three albums. “When the Steve Jobs thing happened, it was amazing because we didn’t imagine this kind of impact,” Naim has said. “We were still sitting in my little apartment in Paris. We didn’t have any money, anything. It was a homemade album.”

READ MORE ON SFGATE

Artist Spotlight: C.W. Stoneking


C.W. Stoneking is a born entertainer. Dressed in all white, he emerges onstage in a black polka-dot bowtie with slicked-back hair, looking like a blonde Pee Wee Herman with hand tattoos. Surrounded by a full band complete with a horn section and sexy backup singers in spangly outfits, Stoneking flashes one of his signature showstopping smiles and grabs the mic. He talks and laughs and jokes with the audience, telling tales of voodoo and vaudeville, African tribal mythology and the history of yodeling, in his strange Australian/American drawl.

The showmanship is disarming, but when he starts to sing, Stoneking’s voice is nothing like anyone could have expected. It is low and scratchy and woeful. It is Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Bukka White, Big Bill Broonzy. It is the blues, as if packed into a time capsule and siphoned all the way here to 2016.

CW-STONEKING
Click the poster for show info

Born and raised in Australia’s remote Northern Territory, Stoneking learned to love music from a very young age, thanks to his American schoolteacher father, a fan of 1920s and 1930s blues. The genre provided a welcome alternative to the ’80s pop music that dominated radios at the time, and young Christopher (as Stoneking is known to family and friends) consumed it voraciously and from every angle: gospel and ragtime, calypso and hillbilly, boogie woogie and hokum, Chicago and Memphis and Mississippi Delta. By the time he entered adolescence, Stoneking had taught himself to play the banjo, the guitar, and a prized vintage dobro from 1931—the same instrument that classic blues legends of that era used to play.

By 13 he was performing with local bands and busking around town, developing his skills as both a serious musician and a lighthearted performer. In 1998, after moving to Melbourne, he privately released a self-titled album of covers and started a band called C.W. Stoneking & the Blue Tits. The band broke up less than two years later after the death of mandolin player Charlie Bostock, but Stoneking soon went back to playing solo, doubling down on his classic early blues sound.

READ MORE ON SF GATE

 

Robert Ellis brings experimentation blended with a knowledge of what works


Born and raised in Houston, Texas, a town steeped in classic country music and the culture that surrounds it, Robert Ellis has been performing since his teens. Now at the ripe old age of 27, the singer/songwriter and guitarist can look back at a career that already spans over a decade, starting out in 2005 under the moniker Eyes Like Lions. In many ways, Ellis’ musical journey is a classic tale of growth, of experimentation, of creating and dismantling the various identities that we all create and dismantle as we mature.

But one thing is clear: Ellis is better now than he’s ever been. His latest album, the boldly eponymous Robert Ellis, is a clear indication of a young musician coming fully into his own, finding a solid sense of identity and basking within it, allowing for all the discordant parts of himself to float and settle. The self-produced record is number four for Ellis, one that critics have called “his finest work to date.” With the help of his trusty lead guitarist, Kelly Doyle, who has been recording with Ellis since 2011’s breakout LP Photographs, and a variety of other musical collaborators, the album incorporates Ellis’s signature country-folk sound with a wide variety of instrumental experimentation, from MIDI keyboards and ambient noise to synths and string sections.

Read More on SF Gate

ROBERT-ELLIS

An Evening of Immersive Audio-Visual Entertainment with Stellamara


And now for something completely different! Get ready, San Francisco, for an evening of immersive audio-visual entertainment with internationally acclaimed electro-acoustic music ensemble Stellamara, belly dancer extraordinaire Zoe Jakes, and avant-pop mastermind SORNE. All on their way to perform at this year’s Lighting in a Bottle festival at the end of May, these three one-of-a-kind acts will team up at the Great American Music Hall on May 22nd for a performance guaranteed to stimulate all the senses.

After over a decade of recording and performing an elegant blend of folk and classical music borrowing from a diverse range of traditions, Stellamara stands at the forefront of modern world music. Led by vocalist, composer, producer, and percussionist Sonja Drakulich, the group seamlessly blends the modern with the medieval. Drakulich’s haunting vocals evoke mist rising over the verdant plains of Westeros, bolstered by a profusion of rare instrumentals from bandmates Gari Hegedus, Evan Fraser, Sean Tergis, and Dan Cantrell. From the mandocello to the jaw harp to the n’goni to the oud, Stellamara’s musical artillery is one of the most impressive you’ll see on a single stage.

Born of Serbian and Hungarian heritage and raised in Los Angeles, the ethereal Drakulich found her passion early in life when she began studying classic Eastern European and Balkan singing as a child.

READ MORE ON SFGATE

Imarhan brings a new sound that is funky in all the right ways


The Tuareg people live across the hot sands of the vast Saharan desert, in a land many might deem unlivable. A subset of the North African Berber ethnic group, the Tuareg are a nomadic pastoralist community known for moving constantly across national borders in Niger, Mali, and Algeria.

While much of the Tuareg music that reached Western audiences in the past tended to follow certain patterns, a new wave of Saharan musicians are dedicated to dismantling any preconceived notions one might have about the genre. The distinctive vocal distortions popularized by bands like Mdou Moctar or Group Inerane are gone, replaced by a new sound suffused with tranquility and passion, complex of composition and funky in all the right ways.

Imarhan, which means “the ones I care about” in the Tuareg language of Kamashek, embraces this new sound. Band members Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane, a.k.a. Sadam; Tahar Khaldi; Hicham Bouhasse; Haiballah Akhamouk; and Abdelkader Ourzig grew up together in Tamanrasset, Southern Algeria, in a Tuareg community of Northern Malian descent. Today, the five friends are poised to begin a world tour, ready to share their deep-rooted yet hip-shakingly modern desert rock from California to Copenhagen. They’ve held on tight to the deep bonds connecting them as band members and lifelong friends.

READ MORE

The Bay Beat vol. 7: Kahlee, Uptown Swuite, Kamaiyah, Mr. Lif


“Might not be there when you want me but I’m on time.” – Kanye West.
Not that I really want to compare myself to ‘Ye nor am I THAT late. I do have some great new music from the Bay Area. I always place link my personal twitter on here but I will direct y’all to @DaWhat where I host ticket giveaways for great shows! – Benjamin Cohn


 

Kahlee – For My People (Remix) ft. Uptown Swuite & Odessa Kane

With clips of protests, wars, corrupt politicians, state sanctioned violence and other impactful images spliced into the video, Vallejo’s Uptown Swuite joins Kahlee and Odessa Kane on a new people’s anthem. If you’re looking for music with a message, look no farther and stand with indigenous peoples around the world.


 

Kamaiyah – A Good Night in the Ghetto

I have been talking about this for a while but the noise has gotten a lot louder as of late. I haven’t read any negative reviews of the mixtape; I am pretty impressed with the debut as a whole and believe that it shows a lot of potential. Some of my initial favorites are “I’m On,” “Ain’t Goin Home Tonight” and “One Love” but nothing really touches her breakthrough single “How Does it Feel.”


 

Mr. Lif – World Renown ft. Del the Funky Homosapien Produced by Pas Doo

This busy, enticing beat is courtesy of Pas Doo, an Oakland emcee and producer that is also an integral part of Today’s Future Sounds (whom I’ve mentioned before). For most, this would be a very challenging instrumental to find a pocket but two veterans like Mr. Lif and Del somehow make it seem easy. In the words of Mellow Music Group, the song’s home, Don’t Look Down, “mirrors this personal descent and rebirth, a hero’s journey worthy of Joseph Campbell.” This track specifically will help fill the middle portion of the character arc, “the central character creates his own world, barricading himself from the ills of society.”

Artist Spotlight: Pat Martino Trio


When Pat Martino woke up from brain surgery after a near-fatal aneurysm in 1980, he remembered almost nothing. He barely recognized his parents, had difficulty recalling his own name, and could no longer remember how to play the guitar. Considering the fact that Martino was one of the world’s foremost jazz guitarists, this was a serious problem.
Born and raised Pat Azzara in Philadelphia in the mid-1940s, Martino’s early exposure to jazz music came from his father, Carmen “Mickey” Azzara, who once studied with Eddie Lang, the so-called “Father of Jazz Guitar.” An avid member of the city’s music scene and a singer at local clubs, Mickey took young Pat to all the local hotspots, introducing him to jazz legends such as Wes Montgomery and John Coltrane. To this day, Martino cites his father as one of his greatest influences and inspirations, and credits him for the decision to pursue a serious career in music.

Martino began playing guitar at age 12, dropping out of high school as a sophomore to focus on his craft full-time, and became deeply involved in Philadelphia’s growing rock scene alongside early luminaries such as Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, and Bobby Darin. He toured with jazz organist Charles Earland and gigged with Lloyd Price, Slide Hampton and Red Holloway before deciding to relocate to Harlem to immerse himself in the vibrant hard bop and soul jazz movement that was forming there.

Read more on SFGate

Artist Spotlight: Monophonics / People’s Blues of Richmond


When Al Bell, co-owner of the legendary record label Stax, calls your band “one of the best live soul bands I have ever seen,” you know you’ve gotten something right. This is the reality for Monophonics, a sextet of San Franciscans who have been playing together for over a decade now.With a sound they describe as “psychedelic soul” and an energetic live show, Monophonics has been cultivating a fan base that spans the globe, from London to Istanbul and back home to the Bay.
Despite starting their career as an all-instrumental band, Monophonics added keyboardist and vocalist Kelly Finnigan to the mix in 2010, bringing a notable dose of soulful grit to their classic grooves. Over the years, they’ve performed with a wide range of music legends, from Al Green to Karl Denson to folk musician Rodriguez. They’ve toured music festivals and venues around the world, known for their superb musicianship and uncanny ability to make an audience get up and dance.

Read more on SFGate