It was some time in 2001 when filmmaker and renegade ethnographic culture warrior Hisham Mayet started gathering with like-minded friends in Seattle to share experiments in gathering sights and sounds of faraway cultures. The result was a record label and indie film distro called Sublime Frequencies. We spoke about the label's origins on Monday, Sept. 12, the day after the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers.
"In essence Sublime Frequencies really came to fruition because of 9/11. That was the catalyst; no two bones about it," said Mayet, who was born in Africa but raised mostly in the U.S. At a time when fear and loathing of outsiders was running rampant and the whole country was shifting into us-versus-them mode, Sublime Frequencies was releasing records and films that showcased and honored deeply Muslim cultures.
"It was a reaction. We were disgusted by all of it. We still are," said Mayet. "Yesterday [9/11], I had a moratorium on any media. We don't believe in any of it, the line the government's telling us, the imperial retribution culture that's been ingrained in everyone for the last 10 years. We hope our label is the antidote against all that, to the malevolent forces, the military industrial complex, the media, the corporate oligarchy that make up this country.
"The thing is, there are human beings all over the planet creating the same kind of human art and communication. So, 9/11 was a huge thing, something that we felt we had to give a rebuttal to. We had already been recording this stuff prior, but the organization and the impetus to take it somewhere was in a large part a direct reaction to the propaganda coming out of the United States about 9/11."
Right now the most successful Sublime Frequencies artist is Omar Souleyman, a Syrian folk/pop singer who wears a kafiya, the traditional Arab checkered cloth headgear. "He played Bonnaroo last year; he's playing the Isle of Wight this week," said Mayet. "He travels all over the world and has thousands cheering and going crazy for his music, and he's the very image that the U.S. government and the military industrial complex have been trying to demonize for the last 10 years. We're showing people that, no, you can't fabricate evil from these iconic images... Music is the way."
When Mayet comes to the Arcata Theatre Lounge Thursday for the Sublime Frequencies African Film and Dance Night (including an all vinyl Afro-beat set by DJ Mantease Woida), he'll show and discuss a pair of movies. "Land of the Songhai is brand new. Songhai is a broad geographic region in West Africa encompassing western Niger and eastern Mali," explained Mayet. "It was shot over the course of two years on expeditions traveling down the Niger River, stopping off, exploring different tribes and areas. Like my other films, it's a musical performance collage with landscapes, architecture and just sort of weirdness. The other one, Musical Brotherhoods from the Trans-Saharan Highway, was shot in Marrakech, Morocco and includes some of the most stunning musical performances you're likely to ever hear."
His filmic style is not at all like other documentaries or travelogues you've seen. "I'm trying to show something Werner Herzog refers to as 'the ecstatic truth,' this kind of universal language, shown unfiltered in a way that can move you on a visceral level, without context or explanation. I think it's something people can plug into and come away totally inspired. Hopefully you'll be moved -- by the sonics, the passion, the unbridled human energy -- into a higher consciousness."
Thursday is one of those nights when there's just too much to do. In addition to the above, you have itinerant folky soul man JT Nero with a trio at the Arcata Playhouse. Up on the HSU campus chose among a CenterArts show with keyboard player, songwriter ("The Way It Is," etc.) and former sideman for The Grateful Dead, Bruce Hornsby and his band, The Noisemakers in the Van Duzer, and the opening of the new Redwood Jazz Alliance season with the Donny McCaslin Group in the KBR (more on that in the Calendar).
Meanwhile you have Paapa Wastik's Ghanaian reggae at the Red Fox with DJ Red Rasta. Sour Cream rocks Six Rivers and the "Drop The Beat 3" Tour hits the Jambalaya with X-Kid and Dank P, Mighty, Aiyasia Lyrics and C-Baker. Looking for trouble? The Trouble is out at Mad River Brewing that night.
Friday night you'll want to show some love for hometown funk kings (and queen) Bump Foundation at the Jambalaya where they're celebrating the release of a new CD full of funkadelic solid soul goodness.
The Pi Clowns return to Arcata Playhouse that night (and the next) with tons-o-fun, including eccentric dance and acrobatics, juggling, music, etc.
The Manila Community Center is throwing a benefit Barn Dance (for itself) with country dances led by Sue Moon with The Wild Rumpus Band providing the music.
And at the Arcata Veterans Hall, North Coast Environmental Center offers the All Species Ball, a North Country Fair prelude with dinner and music by The Sky Miller Quartet, The Singing Nettles and The Miracle Show.
The North Country Fair itself is all day Saturday and Sunday on the Arcata Plaza (again see Calendar for full details). As if that didn't offer enough musical choices, you also have something called Bowl to the Future Saturday at E&O Bowl (not far from Blue Lake), an all-day thing with Sunshine and Yellabird, Coastal Access, Spilling Nova, The Rezonators, The Trouble, DownLooksUp, The Smashed Glass, and our favorite Weezer cover band, Wepeel (in that order). Sounds like a benefit, but they don't say for what.
Two other big benefits that night: The Kinetic Universe folks host Kinetic Kouture: Fashion with a Re-Purpose, a "junque" fashion show at the Eagle House that will also include some sort of music for dancing.
Heartbeats and Helping Hands, the 11th annual fundraiser for the Humboldt Community Breast Health Project at the Arkley Center, mixes classical music and jazz with pianist Dr. Luther Cobb, soprano Elisabeth Harrington, The Heartbeat Chorale and jazz pianist Brian Post with Shao Way Wu. (Brian also plays Sunday at the Graves Museum for the Open Jam.)
For the polar opposite there's a Red Fox show with wild Joe Buck, bassist from Hank III's Damn Band, here with his guitar and his own band, Joe Buck Yourself. Gunsafe opens.
Jeff DeMark is working on his latest (musical) show, That Train Has Sailed, Saturday at Redwood Yogurt with The LaPatina Band.
Another weekend of tributes: Mirage (F-Mac) plays Friday at the Wave; Saturday Bonfire (AC/DC) is at the Blue Lake Casino for Unwind Your Mind, while Full Moon Fever (Petty) and Naïve Melodies (T-Heads) do a twofer at the Jambalaya, and Broken Wheel (Dead) plays at the Clam Beach Inn.
Also on Saturday, Delhi 2 Dublin, a Canadian band whose name sounds like a Putumayo comp, mixes Celtic and Indian Bhangra sounds at Humboldt Brews.
For more pure Celtic, there's Molly's Revenge Sunday at the Arcata Playhouse. This is the last tour for founding member/bouzouki player Pete Haworth, who is retiring after a decade with M.R.
The California Honey Drops got their start busking in Oakland BART stations playing gospel-tinged R&B and New Orleans second line blues. This year's East Bay Express reader's poll saw them take home five awards including "Best Band." Catch them at the Jambalaya Tuesday.
Same night at the Depot, singer/songwriter (and former journeyman electrician) Matt the Electrician plays his fine songs.
And speaking of the Depot, there are still a few tickets left for Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings. Don't miss the soul diva, there on Nov. 16.