PREVIEW: Horse Feathers at the Blind Pig

Horse Feathers

Who: Horse Feathers will be performing a concert at the Blind Pig with opening band, River Whyless
What: Horse Feathers is a band from Portland who play indie folk music.
When: Wednesday, April 1, doors at 8:00pm
Where: The Blind Pig, 208 S. First Street, Ann Arbor, MI
Why: For some comforting folksy tunes

Price for tickets is $15

REVIEW: Saki Mafundikwa

Saki Mafundikwa at TED talks February 2013

As a part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series, this past Thursday featured Saki Mafundikwa.  Mafundikwa, originally from Zimbabwe, came to the U.S. to study and after establishing himself as a graphic designer, he returned to his home country of Zimbabwe to create the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA).

The talk began as an introduction of his own personal history and proceeded to discuss his journey to becoming a graphic designer.  He used to draw while he was younger, helping his mother with embroidery designs and assisting his father with the mechanical aspects of his watch repair business.  After seeking asylum from Zimbabwe during the rough political years, he received the opportunity to study in the U.S. during the early 80s.  During his time as an undergrad he found himself creating covers for campus journals and designing texts and typography for those who request it of him.  He also talked about how this hobby was fleshed out from taking drawing classes.  From life drawing, to still life, to practicing self-portraits, Saki emphasized the impact that repeated drawing and practice of making forms was important to his growth in the graphic design world.  He was accepted into the MFA program at Yale and continued to take electives in drawing while focusing on graphic design.  During his interview for the MFA program, he was asked if he had ever investigated African alphabets.  Saki realized that no, he had not.  He had only known the Latin-alphabet of his language.  This question lead to the direction and development of his studies in graduate school.  He focused on studying different African alphabets and what the symbols represented.  Not only did this process result in a thesis, but it also lead to his desire to write a book on African alphabets later on.

After graduating with an MFA from Yale, Saki began working as both a freelance graphic designer as well as for Random House designing book covers.  He found that he was often being called upon to design covers for books on African Americans.  While he enjoyed the work, it also made him question his relationship with his home country of Africa and what that meant to him now that he had spent so much time in America.  After taking up teaching positions at different Universities, Saki made the move to Zimbabwe to establish what he found his calling to be, creating a school of graphic design.  He wanted to bring the opportunity to people who had talent but did not have the money or other means to attend art school.  Saki has since successfully established a small school of graphic design students, with some of his alumni going on to graduate school in the United States as well, even his alma mater.  I think the most rewarding part of hearing his story was how he was bringing skills and the necessary education to his home country and how he was the cause of enabling more success stories such as his own in others.

Link to Saki’s TED talk:

REVIEW: Craft Spells w/The Bilinda Butchers and Gosh Pith


Craft Spells (above).  Photo credit: Daniel Dorsa.

The show last Wednesday night at the Blind Pig featured the bands Craft Spells, and had two bands opening for them: The Bilinda Butchers and Gosh Pith.  Initially, the venue was pretty empty.  The first band was one I had not heard of, and apparently it was not too well known around Ann Arbor either.  It turns out the first band, Gosh Pith, is based in Detroit.  I found it interesting looking up their bio later that the two member band had formed by happen-chance somehow in Paris, and while the story was interesting, the music itself was not.  I found it hard to enjoy the electronic beats and intermittent vocals, which probably would have been better if not for the technical problems they experienced trying to find a balance between the different sounds.

The next band to play was The Bilinda Butchers.  They come from San Francisco, and got a lot more enthusiasm from the audience when they stepped up.   Their songs were familiar and the more upbeat dream pop songs were more popular.  Unfortunately, the sound technology was still malfunctioning and though the band attempted to fix the sound problem between songs, they were never able to quite get it.  The Bilinda Butchers feature a delicate, more ethereal vocal lead and though it was audible, it was drowned out by the percussion at times.  It was nice to see that some of the members of the next band, Craft Spells, were standing at the front of the stage swaying along with the music and cheering them on.

Finally Craft Spells came on stage and by this time the main floor was pretty packed.  The band set up immediately and started playing some of their more popular songs like “After the Moment” and “Nausea”.  Their songs are a lot less poppy than The Bilinda Butchers, but they have a fuller sound with more waves of electronic and synth.  It was pretty to listen to and as the final band to play, it was a nice way to enjoy and wind down.  Overall, it was one of the more patchy performances I’ve seen at The Blind Pig, but I found that the sounds of the bands complimented each other nicely.

PREVIEW: Saki Mafundikwa (Stamps Speaker Series)

“Graphic designer, educator, author, filmmaker and farmer Saki Mafundikwa is a visionary who left a successful design career in New York to return to his native Zimbabwe and open that country’s first school of graphic design and new media. The author of Afrikan Alphabets, a comprehensive review of African writing systems, Mafundikwa has participated in exhibitions and workshops around the world, contributed to a variety of publications and lectured about the globalization of design and the African aesthetic. Mafundikwa says, “As a designer, I really believe that Africa can change the design landscape. There is enough stimuli in Africa to inspire young designers of all kinds — from graphics to architecture, furniture, fashion, product, interior and other forms of design.” Description taken from the Michigan Theater website. As part of the Stamps Speaker Series, this week artist Saki Mafundikwa will be talking about the African alphabet and the emergence of African art in contemporary design.

When: March 19, 5:10pm
Where: Michigan Theater
Admission price: Free

Link to more information provided by the venue:

Link to more information about the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series:

REVIEW: Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra

What most interested me about seeing this performance was first of all the fact that this orchestra was from abroad, and that they would come all the way to Ann Arbor to perform. I have experienced orchestral and piano performances abroad as well and found that a lot of the charm of the event is in how it is presented and the social ritual attached to seeing a concert and how it varies in different parts of the world.

The first piece the Rotterdam Philharmonic performed was Maurice Ravel’s Suite from ‘Ma Mere l’Oye’ (Mother Goose). I had never encountered the piece previous to that night and I found myself surprised by the modernity of it. Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was a French composer who was prominent during the early part of the twentieth century. Listening to this I was reminded of a time in elementary school when I was taught the different instruments and sections in the orchestra, and how each instrument was often used in plays or ballets to represent animals. I found this sentiment to be delightfully expressed in this piece by Ravel. He plays with the tempo and dynamic of the woodwinds such that they invoke images of fluttering birds or scurrying animals. This, in combination with the strings, brings a very full and vibrant environment to life and I think Ravel is very successful in this. As I have not seen this piece performed elsewhere, I find it hard to make comparisons or critiques of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance to others. I think that this piece was at least, in relation to the other pieces that the orchestra performed, the most successful and seemed like the most enjoyable to play.

Another aspect of this event that I enjoyed was the concert pianist, Hélène Grimaud. I studied the very basics of piano growing up, so watching her play and her fingers effortlessly and accurately play was quite enchanting for me personally. The way that the conductor and pianist take the center of the orchestra and both share in a leading role in directing the orchestra is an entrancing scene. The only point of critique for me was the way the pianist played was very humble and sometimes it felt like the orchestra overshadowed her presence in the some of the pieces played of Tchaikovsky. Besides that, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and all of the new sensory experiences it brought to life.

The highlight of this evening was the Ravel pieces for me. Besides the Suite, the orchestra also performed a piano Concerto in G Major. It was easy to distinguish the story-like performance of the Suite from the concerto. I found the concerto to be excellent because of it’s experimentalist and innovate style. The tone was very reminiscent of jazz and that whole era and the culture of the time, it did not surprise me to discover afterwards that Ravel was heavily inspired by the rise of jazz during this time. I did find it surprising how the concerto was able to inspire that style while also maintaining some more classical orchestral moments in it as well. It thought it was a highly stylized piece with that always seemed to be dancing and changing and never losing interest with itself, and that was what I think kept me as well as much of the audience engrossed in the piece.

Overall, I found the experience to be a fall into a space of beauty and of listening. As a student, it was a welcome exclusion of words in favor of sounds. As an event to appreciate music, I found myself surprised and grateful to have experienced the sounds of an orchestra from so far away performing pieces of the not so distant past, but which do not occur as often as I think they should in the repertoire of contemporary music exposure.