Category Archives: Arts

One Rhythm, One Planet: Music from the Banned Countries

February 9th, 2017

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I have always believed that music brings people together and bridges cultural divides. Music can connect us like no other arts, with its universal language of rhythm and melody. Maybe even more importantly, music—especially world music, helps us understand and appreciate other cultures and people. I have bonded instantly with immigrant taxi drivers from Nigeria, Cameroon, Armenia, Argentina, and other places simply by asking them about the music of their homelands.

This core belief in the binding power of music has underpinned my work over the past 30 years to popularize world music in Los Angeles and beyond. It’s been a joy to watch ecstatic crowds dancing to Pakistani qawwali (sufi gospel) music or Nigerian afrobeat and juju, to see people entranced by whirling dervishes from Turkey and Syria, and to swoon with others to achingly beautiful classical music from Iran. My life and personal horizons have been immeasurably enriched by these experiences. Sadly, some of these experiences may now be in peril due to the recently enacted immigration ban on seven predominately Muslim countries—Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya.

In this time of division and discord, it’s imperative to keep building bridges through music. With that in mind, I want to celebrate music that I’ve loved by artists from the seven countries targeted by the recent immigration ban. This sweeping ban will most certainly prevent artists from these countries from performing in the U.S., but we can still support their music and arts from afar—by continuing to share and learn about them through recordings and the vast resources of the internet.

We begin in SYRIA with the poet-musician Abed Azrie and his albums Lapis Lazuli and Aromates. Azrie was born in Aleppo but has been based in Paris for many years. Aromates was his first album released in the U.S., on Nonesuch. I put a beautiful cut, “Pareil à l’eau” (Like Water) from the album Lapis Lazuli on a compilation that I produced called Trance Planet Vol. 3. His poetry is as beautiful as his music.

IRAQ: Munir Bashir has been called the King of Oud and is credited by many as the greatest modern oud player. Algerian-born, French singer-songwriter Pierre Bensusan gave me my first Munir Bashir LP years ago. I immediately fell in love with his finely-filigreed music. Sadly, Bashir died at the age of 47 in an auto accident in Budapest. Here is a track from his album Mesopotamia:

I also want to mention an upcoming concert at the Getty Center by Iraqi-American oud musician Rahim AlHaj. His concerts take place on Saturday, February 18 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, February 19 at 4 p.m. Admission is free, but you must make a reservation. Click here for more information and reservations.

IRAN: Masters of Persian Music is a classical music ensemble formed in 2000 by true masters of Persian music. Iran has an amazing classical tradition, as complex and arabesque as any Mozart or Bach. Lyrics come from the classic poets and mystics: Hafez and Rumi, as well as more modern writers. The group once performed at the Hollywood Bowl with a live calligrapher rendering classical Persian poetry; it was one of the most stunning concerts ever to grace the Bowl’s celebrated stage. Here is a song from their album Hanan (Without You), featuring Hossein Alizadeh, Kayhan Kalhor, and Homayoun Shajarian. It is a gentle, passionate, and powerful love song.

YEMEN: When I think about Yemen, I immediately think of the late Yemenite Israeli singer Ofra Haza. Her parents moved from Yemen to Israel in 1950 in the airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet. She burst upon the scene in 1986 with her transcendent album Yemenite Songs. Many of the songs on the album were written by a 17th century rabbi. Her song “Im Nin’alu” topped the European charts, even rising to #1 in Germany. To me, her success was more convincing proof that music transcends language and builds bridges between cultures. Ofra once visited my UCLA World Music class—International Bandstand—and performed a Yemenite song, drumming a large oil can on her shoulder. It was a beautiful moment. Here is “Im Nin’alu“:

SUDAN: Sudanese music has incredible rhythms and deep groove. Crowds love it, though it’s featured more in big European summer festivals than in the U.S., especially after 9/11. Sudanese singer and oud player Abdel Aziz El Mubarak leads a large group, playing music that blends Arabic styles and Western forms. The great UK label Globe Style released his music back in the 1980’s, and I was listening.

SOMALIA: Somali poet, musician, and hip hop artist K’naan (born Keinan Abdi Warsame) was born in Mogadishu in 1978 and now resides in Canada. His hybrid sound draws from world music, hip hop, reggae, and of course, Somali music. He has collaborated with artists from the great Youssou N’Dour to Bono. Here is his song “Take a Minute.” Watch him as he walks by portraits of Gandhi, Mandela, Bob Marley, and Nina Simone:

LIBYA: We don’t hear too much from Libyan artists, especially here in the U.S., due in part to the country’s isolation under the four-decade long rule of Qaddafi. Ahmed Fakroun is a pioneer of modern Arabic pop music and one of the most popular Libyan artists, both in Tripoli as well as among Libyan expats. His crossover style blends Arabic instruments and lyrics with Western pop elements like synthesizers and electric bass. Here’s a track called “Ya Farhi’ Bik” from his 1983 album Mots D’Amour – it definitely has that 80’s pop sound but with an Arabic twist:

Finally, I want to mention the compilation album Lullabies from the Axis of Evil, released back in the days of the Bush 43 administration. It features music from all the countries above, as well as music from Afghanistan, North Korea, and other “evil” places.

I hope you enjoyed these tracks and will keep exploring musical riches from around the world.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Ranch of the Gathering Waters: The Other History of Beverly Hills

10/27/16

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I was amazed to discover that the first owner of what is now known as Beverly Hills was a Black Woman. I had grown up in Beverly Hills during a time when a lone black man walking down the street was enough to summon the magical appearance of the B.H.P.D. Her name was María Rita Quintero Valdés de Villa, the descendent of one of the original 44 Pobladores or settlers of the City of the Queen of Angels, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles Sobre El Rio de la Porciúncula), what we now know as Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, 26 of the original founding settlers were full-blooded Africans.

When colonial Spain got nervous about the encroaching presence of the Russians coming down the coast of Alta California from the Pacific Northwest, they decided to buttress their territory, Nuevo España, New Spain, securing the border by colonizing the lands in the north. In 1769, an expeditionary force led by Gaspar de Portola was sent out, and from the vantage point of what is now Elysian Park, spied an “advantageous” site, which was the Native American Tongvan village of Yangna.  El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles was founded on September 4, 1781, and according to Mexican laws and those of the Spanish Crown, each of Los Pobladores were awarded approximately 1 Sitio each, approximately 4,400 acres. Señor Juan Quintero Valdés, was one of the original expeditionary soldiers in the Portola Party, claimed his rightful plot, Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, Ranch of the Gathering Waters. It was named for the streams that emptied into the area from out of the canyons above; Cañada de las Aguas Frias (Glen of the Cold Waters, now Coldwater Canyon) and Cañada de los Encinos (Glen of the Green Oaks, now Benedict Canyon).

María Rita Quintero Valdés married Spanish soldier, Vicente Ferrer Villa and eventually built an adobe in present day Beverly Hills, approximately on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Alpine Drive. She received the Rancho title from the Mexican government in 1831.

Rancho Rodeo de los Aquas was a fruitful plain, fed by the waterfalls coming down the canyons and because of this, had an extremely unique micro climate where plants and livestock thrived. However, times were difficult and volatile. By 1844 the initial contact with the Spanish had virtually wiped out the Native populations of Tongvas and Gabrielinos due to repeated abuse and slavery both in and out of the Mission System, followed by a virulent smallpox epidemic. As their numbers alarmingly dwindled, the Native peoples routinely launched incursions into the fertile ranch lands for food and livestock. Then in 1846 President James K. Polk, launched el Guerra del 47 (The War of 1847), and a US Marine force led by military commander Archibald H. Gillespe invaded the Pueblo de Los Angeles. This sparked a popular uprising of the Californios, who launched a vaquero lancer force led by José Antonio Carrillo and Andrés Pico. Ultimately, the invaders were chased out of their occupied headquarters in The Plaza and fled to the hill overlooking the square (Fort Moore Hill) where they eventually surrendered, but not before the women of El Pueblo took their revenge. Native, Mexican and Californios, after having witnessed the degradation of their men and the rape of their daughters, decided on a final act of defiance and offered the departing Gillespie and his troops baskets of peaches which had been rolled in cactus needles.

Following the Euro-American victory, Mexico ceded a large portion of its northern lands, upon the conditions drawn up in the 1857 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which provided that all the original land grants be honored. As required by the Land Act of 1851, a claim for Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas was filed with the Public Land Commission in 1852, but it was not until 1871, that María Rita Quintero Valdés de Villa was finally awarded the grant. Prior to the invasion, María Rita had also built a home within the boundaries of El Pueblo on land she had to foresight to acquire, located on current day Main Street.  This would later become the well-known center of social and political life in El Pueblo, the Bella Union Hotel, the very one Commodore Robert Stockton “commandeered” as the American headquarters during the war.  In her haste to flee the pueblo, Maria Rita neglected to take the original papers of ownership issued by the Mexican government, and they were subsequently “lost.”  Sadly, this was a common story for many original rancho claimants from the Mexican era trying to retain their land, and many had to mortgage their properties trying to prove ownership title under the new American laws and “tax codes.” The land grab was on.

As part of the Public Land Commission rulings in 1852, Henry Hancock did a second survey of el Pueblo based on partitioning the vacant ejidos, or municipal lands into larger lots. These became known as “Donation Land.” One could acquire the land for a nominal fee of $10, along with property “improvements” of $200. One could either build a small adobe, or plant fruit trees or gardens or all of these. The land had to yield a value. Word had traveled across the country and wealthy eastern Euro-Americans began to flock to the land of sunshine and promise, grabbing as much land as they could. One of the ways this was accomplished was by marrying widowed California women, and thus cementing status and place in the growing town.

Henry Hancock, grew to know good land value when he drew up the second survey and thus,   along with his business partner Benjamin Wilson, eventually purchased Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas from María Rita. She knew a thing about land values herself, as the great drought of 1862-1865 hit and wiped out previously thriving cattle and agricultural businesses.

María Rita retired to her property in the center of el Pueblo, on La Plaza, and lived out her days amongst other California women and descendants. Sadly, the Native American women of the region had all but been wiped out, and those remaining, fled into the interior. The sacred and fertile Tongva site of the gathering waters had slowly all but dried up, and would take years to recover. To this day the only remaining nod to its former glory, is the fountain at the corner intersection of Wilshire (a former Indian Trail) and Santa Monica Boulevards, which features a loin-clothed Tongvan man kneeling as he offers his hands in a prayer of thanks for the abundant flowing waters. 

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Jeannie Winston is a frequent guest blogger for ACEI’s Academic Exchange.  Jeannie is an artist and writer living and working in Los Angeles, California. Jeannie completed undergraduate studies in Illustration at The Arts Center of Pasadena, California.   Her vast and intricate knowledge of Los Angeles and its cultural history bring a new perspective to our understanding of the City of Angels. She draws her inspiration from the natural and inhabited world around her. She is especially inspired by her observations of cultural fusions and how people strive to invoke spirit in daily life.

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Qawwali Music: The Mystical, Peaceful Side of Islam

September 30th, 2016

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I first heard the Sufi devotional music called qawwali around 1982 on a WOMAD (World of Music and Dance) album. WOMAD was Peter Gabriel’s world music label and brainchild. This was right about the time when a bunch of Brit record executives coined the term “world music” as a category for retail sales purposes. The five-minute excerpt I heard was powerful, enthralling. I was transfixed. I contacted WOMAD and asked them how long the original was. The answer? Two hours.

The music was that of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani devotional singer who died in 1997. His musical journey started with a dream he had of singing in Pakistan’s most famous mosque, and it was something he was able to realize before his untimely death at 49.

The word qawwali means “utterance” in Urdu, and Nusrat was and is the most famousqawwal. I first saw him perform at a fundraiser at the LAX Hilton on behalf of a cancer hospital in Lahore. The speaker was Pakistan’s #1 cricketeer, Imran Khan. My table was besieged by men asking us to raise $5,000, the amount assigned per table. Me and a bunch of music fans and public radio types? No way could we come up with that. Nusrat had food poisoning and looked green onstage. It was not easy for him.

The second time I saw him involved driving to Buena Park for an all-Pakistani show. I recall hundreds of Mercedes in the parking lot but no BMWs. Fans were crumpling up $10-20 bills and throwing them on stage in tribute to the great singer. His next show took him to the former Universal Amphitheater (now Gibson). I didn’t make it to that one.

One time I was playing Nusrat’s music on air when KCRW’s then General Manager Ruth Seymour got a call from her mother, who was put on phone hold while the music was playing. When Ruth picked up the phone, her mom said the music sounded like somebody getting their toenails pulled out. It’s a good thing that not all people hear Nusrat that way. Though often intense, his is a music of peace and love.

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Nusrat would try anything musically, which is one reason he became the most famousqawwal. There was the Massive Attack remix of “Mustt Mustt,” and also the fun, crazyBally Sagoo remixes. Don’t be fooled, however. Nusrat also performed powerful, rich devotional music and love songs with his group, as you’ll hear on the first cut by him of this show.

Abida Parveen is the most famous female qawwali vocalist, adored by fans all over the world. I heard her once in Orange County years ago. She has a big voice, perfect pitch, and a powerful, ecstatic delivery.  She will occasionally visit the U.S., but you will likely not know about it unless you read the local Pakistani newspapers.

In a 2013 article in the UK paper The Guardian, Parveen said, “My culture–our culture–is rich in spirituality and love. Sufism is not a switch, the music isn’t a show–it’s of life, it is religion. If I want to recognized for anything, if we should be recognized for anything, it’s the journey of the voice. And that voice is God’s.” Qawwali, like gospel music in the U.S., is a communal experience, a joy meant to be shared.

I did not include another famous qawwali group, the Sabri Brothers, because their tracks are super long. Sadly, I recently wrote a post about one of their founding memberswho was murdered by an Islamic extremist. Sufi gospel is a way of getting closer to the divine, both for listeners and performers.  Dictatorships and Islamist hardliners don’t like music, don’t trust it either. We’ve seen that in the Soviet Union, Chile, Argentina, Iran, and other places.

For those who don’t know about this powerful and ecstatic music, let it be a reminder that its message of peace and harmony is an antidote to the turmoil in Pakistan that we hear in the news.

Here is a video shot in Pakistan in 1993 of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan:

Rhythm Planet Playlist for 9/2/16:

  1. Abida Parveen / “Choonghat Ohle Na Luk Sajna” / Baba Bulleh Shah / Oreade Music
  2. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Allah Hoo Allah Hoo” / Devotional Songs / Real World
  3. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Mustt Mustt” / Mustt Mustt / Real World
  4. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan / “Kinna Sohna (Bally Sagoo Remix)” / Big Noise: A Mambo Inn Compilation / Hannibal

 

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Sister Deborah and Ghana Jollof: Tasty Rice

This is a culinary tale–or rather competition–West African style.

Last Sunday morning, I heard a story and song on NPR’s Weekend Edition about a rice rivalry in West Africa, particularly Ghana vs. Nigeria, surrounding a ubiquitous rice dish in the region (Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal) called Jollof. The tune’s nice grooves and rhymes caught my ear, as did the conversation between host Linda Wertheimer and Ofeibia Quist Arcton, the Ghanaian journalist and NPR reporter. (When in Senegal, Quist Arcton finishes her stories with a wonderful flourish: “Ofeibia Quist Arcton, Dahkaaaaaaaaaah.” I’ve always loved her style.)

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Ghanain restaurant menu. Photo by Rachel Strohm (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr

The song “Ghana Jollof” is sung by Sister Deborah (b. Deborah Owusu-Bonsu), a popular Ghanain TV host, model, and academic, who holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Arts, London. The lyrics were written by her brother, Wanlov (“one love?”) the Kubolor. The song basically postulates that the Ghanaian version of the rice dish is better than the Nigerian version. The basic ingredients include rice, tomatoes, onion, chili pepper, salt, pepper; Ghanaian and Nigerian versions add goat, lamb, or beef. The Senegalese version (not part of the culinary showdown) uses fish. Between Ghana and Nigeria it’s a competitive recipe, so think West African Top Chef.

Intrigued by the story, I searched for the video and found it online. It’s quirky and fun, and a little mysterious. Why are those guys dressed up as women? Folks are shown on the up-and-up, driving a 6-series BMW convertible.

I had fun with this, and I hope you do too. For those of you interested in trying the dish, here is the Ghanian vegetarian recipe. And the competing Nigerian version:

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Tijuana’s Youth Orchestra: Bach, Not Banda, Mahler, Not Mariachi

April, 7th 2016

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I know about El Sistema and the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra, where Gustavo Dudamel got his training. I also know about his work with YOLA, the Youth Orchestra of LA, something Dudamel was behind creating. Both El Sistema and YOLA give inner city kids a way off the streets into the world of classical music.

With Venezuela in turmoil,  the future of El Sistema, funded by oil revenue, may be jeopardized. It seems, however, that like a lesser-known youth orchestra in Tijuana may have a bright future. You don’t typically associate classical music with Tijuana, but the Tijuana Youth Orchestra gives the lie to that assumption.

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The story begins in January 1991, when the Soviet Union was breaking up. Eduardo Garcia Barrios was studying conducting in Moscow at the time. Barrios and his musician colleagues wanted to start a youth orchestra somewhere; that somewhere turned out to be a world away, in sunny Baja, Mexico. Barrios, along with a Russian harpist, Elena Mashkovtseva, moved across the globe from icy Russia to Baja, and founded the Baja California Orchestra for adults. The enterprising Barrios also founded REDES 2025, a program to train at-risk young people to become classical performers. In a Independent Producer’s Project feature, he told journalist Sam Quinones, “Music has this power. To play music you need discipline, to understand your body. It’s 120 kids doing one thing at the same time…it would be cheaper to make football teams, but music provides something different, spiritual order.”

Those words could have come from the much more famous Gustavo Dudamel. Both men, however, are doing the same thing: transforming young lives with the power of music.

Listen here to the NPR / KCRW feature. And watch a clip of the Tijuana Youth Orchestra — it’s a big orchestra, not as big as the Simón Bolivar, but big nevertheless. Have a look:

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

toms

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Musical DNA Goes Everywhere Today

February 25th, 2016

James Brown’s 1968 hit “Say it Out Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” not only became a #1 R&B hit, the anthem for the Black Power movement, but also inspired new pride among countless Africans in newly-independent nations that had just become free of colonial power.  Hits like this were heard via the Voice of America radio, which broadcast from Gibraltar throughout Africa with the great Cameroonian host Georges Collinet, now @ Afropop Worldwide.

With social media and the internet, music travels around the world even faster.  Here are two examples of hit songs reaching artists and audiences far away:   a reggae cover of Adele’s “Hello” from the Solomon Islands:  never mind the bad lip synching:

An even better version is by this Korean student, for whom English is a second language,  but it’s weird that the guitarist isn’t showing.  Nevertheless, she really must have studied hard because she nails it:

Finally, a Peruvian teenager sings Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” in the Quechua language of indigenous Peruvians:

Finally, an Arabic version of the Frank & Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid, by two Lebanese artists, Jean Marie Riachi and Abir Nehme, who sings the lyrics).

Although some might consider such covers to be English-language musical hegemony, I feel that such covers help spread musical DNA all over, revealing some amazing young talent as well.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Apollonian v. Dionysian Music Experience

January 28th, 2016

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The other day, while listening to KCRW’s weekday program, Morning Becomes Eclectic, I was listening to a new Coldplay song called “Major Minus”, a big and absorbing musical tapestry that you can get lost in. I also thought about the film premiere of the Electric Daisy Carnival on Hollywood Boulevard the other night, where Kaskade and Jason Bentley were deejaying and the crowd went over the edge.  Several people got hurt but most had a great time.

Then I saw a picture taken the other day at the El Rey performance of the punk rockers Pink Eyes, where the lead singer was handing the microphone over to an ecstatic fan held aloft  in the mosh pit.

It occurred to me that all three musical items, the Coldplay song, the Pink Eyes show, The Electric Daisy Carnival were modern day versions of the Dionysian concept from Greek mythology that was revived by Nietzsche’s book The Birth of Tragedy.

Let me explain: According to Greek mythology, both Dionysus and Apollo are songs of the über god Zeus. Dionysus is the god of wine, ecstasy, and intoxication. Dance.  Body. Music.

Apollo is cerebral: the god of the sun, reason, and dreams. Head music. Music to meditate or levitate by.

I listen to a lot of classical music and jazz. Bach, Beethoven, Ravel, Debussy, Coltrane, Miles Davis. Also tropical latin music by Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Celia Cruz, and others. I like dancing to Latin music, but have to remember various steps and combinations moves. And as listeners to my KCRW shows know, I love the Brazilians too: Jobim, Dori Caymmi, Gal Costa, and many others.

I guess my preferences run more to the Apollonian. I sit in my living room, enjoy a glass of wine, and focus my listening on these artists regularly. I sit still in the sweet spot, focus on the music, and absorb the beauty.

The Electric Daisy Carnival, Kaskade, electronic music, the Coldplay song, raves, mosh pits are a collective flight into ecstasy, where people happily leave their normal senses behind and become engulfed in music. Ecstasy, after all, means “out of body”. It can and does get wild. That’s the essence of the Dionysian experience.

Apollonian involves stillness and thinking. Dionysian involves movement, dancing, individual and collective trance and ecstasy. The later sufi works of John Coltrane are a combination of both—works like A Love Supreme and Ascension seek closer union with the Divine. Ditto for works of the late qawwali (qawwali=sufi music from Pakistan) singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

I guess I enjoy both musical experiences, but my musical lifestyle tends to be more Apollonian than Dionysian. Which one defines your musical preference?

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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