Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: January 2009 (page 1 of 6)


I’m a geek in many ways, but in particular, I am a music geek.  I was raised on it: My dad was a full-time professional musician (drums, bass, guitar, and vocals) until I was in my teens, and my mother plays flute and sings recreationally.  As most kids were sung to sleep with lullabies, I was sung Rocky Raccoon.  And at the age of eight, the choice wasn’t between playing an instrument or doing something else: the choice was which instrument to play.  I remember arguing over it with my dad; he told me not to waste their money on drum lessons because he would teach me anyway, and his opinion on trombone was that it would brand me a nerd forever.  Eventually, I settled on alto sax, moving up to tenor by sixth grade (I later spent a year on baritone in high school, and to this day own a lovely 1940 Martin soprano).

Although I haven’t played sax in an organized manner since 2002, I still sing, and I am still totally obsessed with music.  I choose it over TV.  I listen to it all day at work.  I even buy it from iTunes (I know, I know, I’m so DRM-y even though I try not to be – it’s just the album covers look so nice on my iPod Touch ;).  Some people go buy themselves new clothes or treat themselves to a meal or a drink when they’re down…I buy music.  A lot of obscure music, too.

And so today, I thought I’d bestow upon you ten of my favorite lesser-known artists.  I’m not sure there’s that much I can do to get you their songs for free online (though I’m linking you to last.fm, where most of them have at least one track for full free play), but if you e-mail me or comment, I’m happy to send it along privately.

1. Hollie Smith – This New Zealander came out with her first album at the age of 16; she has quite possibly the most ethereal voice I’ve ever heard and has enchanted me ever since.  Her style ranges from traditional Celtic music to jazz.

2. Me and Heath – Okay, so I went to high school with one of the guys from the band (Samerai the 7th), which was the reason I bought the album…but I’ve kept listening because it is quite possibly one of the most eclectic-sounding groups I’ve ever heard.  They’re due to release their first full-length soon.

3. Code Anchor – In this case the lead singer is a college friend (Dan Keller), but I think you will agree that his voice is universally kickass.  Code Anchor also promotes a particularly eclectic sound.

4. Gilberto Gil – Possibly the most famous on this list, I’m including Gil for my American readers who may not have heard of him.  His music spans a wide range of genres (he even covers Bill Marley on one album, Kaya N’Gan Daya).  Also, he spent a period as Brazil’s minister of culture.

5. Maria Mena – Another famous singer (of the pop variety) who is little-known in the States.  Maria Mena is a Nicaraguan-Norwegian pop artist who deserves to make it big here.

6. Soulfege – Bringing Afropolitanism to the table.  I became Twitter-friends with band member Derrick Ashong, who recommended the album (among other albums by other groups!) to me.  I’ve been listening to it ever since.

7. Raccoon – I have no idea how well-known they are, but their song “Love You More” gets me every single time.

8. Anberlin – Semi-typical “alt-rock” but super-catchy and with a fantastic, fantastic vocalist.

9. Olu Dara…has been around for no less than forever, yet somehow manages to get overlooked by all sorts.  He’s an immensely talented jazz singer, trumpeter, and recaller of African musical tradition.  Fun fact?  He’s also rapper Nas’s father.

10. Afu-Ra – Since I listen to hip hop more than any other genre, it was pretty difficult to throw together this list without including at least one rapper (granted, Me & Heath’s Samerai also falls into that category).  I discovered Afu-Ra sometime in 2004, and am still surprised he hasn’t found his way to the mainstream (though I’m pretty sure that’s because his lyrics are pretty damn dirty).  In addition to being an excellent rapper, he’s also a martial arts master and expert chess player.  Awesome.

Size Matters

I know this is an awfully silly post to kick off my new blog design.  I can’t help it.  /explanation.

Last weekend Yazan chatted me up with a fun fact: Marlboros in Japan are nearly 20% shorter than those back in his home country of Syria.  His question: “Do you think Marlboro Japan is being racist?”  While we, of course, proceeded to make all kinds of cracks (about height, you cheeky monkeys!), the fact of the matter is, it’s true: Japanese Marlboros are indeed 20% shorter than Syrian ones.


Then it occurred to both of us that, without a frame of reference, we couldn’t actually prove that the Japanese smokes were the different ones.  So I dug into my own pack, pulled up my trusty iRuler (which is awesome because no, I don’t actually have a ruler in my house), and lo and behold – American Marlboros are equal to Japanese ones.  There goes that racism theory!

And with the determination that Syrian cigarettes are, in fact, the longer ones, you would think my friend would have some great innuendo; but alas, no: “You bastards, you are literally trying to kill us.”

Photo Credit: The inimitable Yazan

BBC: “Just trying to stay neutral”

The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those
who in time of great moral crises maintain their neutrality
– Dante

Last week, the BBC made the decision not to air an appeal on behalf of the Disasters Emergency Committee for Gaza on the basis that “the BBC’s impartiality was in danger of being damaged.” The BBC’s COO, Caroline Thomson, asked “Could the BBC be sure that money raised for this cause would find its way to the right people?”

Tim Llewellyn, former BBC correspondent in the Middle East, immediately questioned the decision, asking:

How is the BBC’s impartiality to be prejudiced by asking others to raise money for the victims of an act of war by a recognised state, an ally of Britain, using the most lethal armaments it can against a defenceless population? What sly little trigger went off in her head when Thomson questioned whether the aid would reach the right people? What right people? Hamas, the elected representatives of the Palestinian people? The hospitals and clinics run by private charities and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency? The mosques? The citizens of Gaza, persecuted beyond measure not only by their Israeli enemies but by the western powers who arm and sustain Israel and defy the democratic vote of the Palestinian people?

Llewellyn’s comments made it immediately clear that Thomson’s views weren’t representative of the majority of the BBC. And then the venerable Tony Benn managed to get on air and ask for aid anyway:

“I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t think we should give aid to Gaza,” says Benn.

The anchor speaking with Benn repeatedly voices concern that funds could go to Hamas, then asks if Benn thinks the appeal will lose money based on the BBC’s decision. Benn’s answer?
“People will die because of the BBC decision – let me be clear about that. And I started my life 60 years ago as a BBC producer, I love the BBC, I support it. But it has capitulated to Israeli pressure. That’s the truth, I have to tell you.”

If only everyone had so much courage. But perhaps the BBC’s poor judgement will indeed improve the campaign’s reach? As Diana from KABOBfest points out:

It is great that they took the decision not to air it; the lines are becoming clear and the backlash they are getting shows the anger at the lobby. BBC employees don’t want to be accused of caving to the lobby (even though they cave every day). Brits are now refusing to pay their mandatory license fee and BBC is feeling the heat for once.

It’s clear to me that the BBC’s decision is morally wrong and unjustifiable, however, Diana has a point. The BBC has long kowtowed to pressure; As Nigel Fountain points out in an otherwise unintelligible Guardian op-ed, the BBC has been here before. Fountain reminds us of a 1974 airing of a South African apartheid propaganda film on the BBC.

Fundamentally, the problem here is the BBC’s impression that their desire is to remain “neutral.” By implying that they must ignore the humanitarian crisis and the victims in Gaza in order to err on the side of neutrality in fact implies that not offending Israel is more important than helping the over 5,000 injured, and countless who have lost homes or livelihood thanks to Israel’s massacre.

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