Category Archives: Media

JJ Smith, the Balladeer

I naturally met JJ Smith at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola a couple years back.  Kilted in the tartan of the Lamont clan, JJ runs a show that is not just a folk music performance but a bit comedic shtick as well.  His crowd-interactions make for some of the evening’s high points.

JJ’s style stands out from the majority of the singers I’ve met on the Irish pub tour in several ways.  To begin with, his personalized renditions of the classics reveal significant blues, and American country music influences, which bring the Celtic style home to the American South.  Live, JJ makes use of a lot of bass runs on his guitar which often helps to add a subtlety and a sense of motion outside of the songs’ basic chord structures.

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JJ hails from Stonehaven, near Aberdeen, Scotland, but has resided in St. Petersburg, Florida for the past several years.  While in the States, he has steadily toured the southeast and managed to produce two album releases: Druid Roots Going Home, and his solo album JJ The Balladeer.  They’re both great and very distinct from each other.

         

Druid Roots was a trio JJ was a part of, a rather eclectic mix of folksy styles.  The album projects a heavy Celtic theme with very noticeable elements of East-Indian drumming, country-western music, and a hint of rock and roll.   My favorite track is Stonehaven Waltz, a traditional sounding Celtic ballad, but the whole album is worth the listen.

The Balladeer contains 15 tracks of excellently produced Celtic ballads.  JJ’s resounding baritone voice coupled with the full and sometimes booming open strings of his guitar create layers of richness within each song.  The songs are mostly mellow, somewhat nostalgic pieces.  The highlights include Galway Shawl (my personal favorite); a cover of the classic U2 hit I Still Haven’t Found what I’m looking For; and Whiskey on a Sunday.


Ishmael, An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit: Book Review

Quinn, Daniel (1992) Ishmael, An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, New York: Bantam/Turner Books

Daniel Quinn’s award winning novel Ishmael is a compelling exposition of the author’s social and political perspective through the eyes of a gorilla.  The essential theme upon which the book is written is one that lays the blame of all our modern political and environmental perils squarely on the shoulders of the Neolithic agricultural revolution. The author’s reasoning is that agriculture is the beginning of human exploitation of the earth, other species and cultures.  Quinn further asserts that the world’s modern industrial agricultural society is unsustainable and destined to disaster. With these two premises established Quinn’s argument next follows that if the human race and the earth are to survive for much longer, industrial society will have to transform itself into a less exploitative culture. Ishmael­ has inspired an entire cult following of neotribalists desirous of bringing Quinn’s vision of a post-industrial society established on low impact kin based communities to life.

From its very first page Ishmael swiftly moves forward with a sense of purpose and profundity. As the story opens Quinn describes the unnamed narrator’s disgust at reading an ad in the personals section of the newspaper: “TEACHER seeks student. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” The narrator expresses his sense of disillusionment at this presumptuous author whom he figures is just another charlatan marketing a worn out fashion statement as a social and spiritual revolution. This opening acts as a hook that catches the reader by the sensation of a social revolutionary disillusioned from the experiences of one flaccid effort after another, never truly offering or accomplishing anything substantially alternative to the status quo. Although skeptical of this self-appointed guru, our unnamed narrator still decides to investigate the charlatan he’s sure he’ll meet.  Surprisingly, the guru is not a man at all, but a gorilla named Ishmael capable of deep philosophical thought and communication. The lesson he seeks to impart is an accounting of the collision course upon which he sees the human race and that which he believes is the remedy for it.

The blurring of reality and absurdity is implicit in the author’s narrative bringing to life the remarkably believable character of Ishmael. The author’s deep use of metaphor begins at the title of the book and the gorilla’s name.  Ishmael stands as a representative, a spokesman of sorts for the natural order of the earth, flora and fauna.  While the gorilla had lived in a menagerie he began to became self aware and learned to recognize a certain sound as referring to him; Goliath.  The name is strongly indicative of the manner in which gorillas, great apes, wild animals and the natural world is typically viewed by modern humans; a degraded, threatening, crude philistine to be conquered by our heroic civilization. But when Mr. Sokolow upon encountering the animal announces to him “You are not Goliath,” he is making a profound statement about his rejecting the greater society’s perception of the world.  This statement is further expounded by the name which Mr. Sokolow instead chooses to bestow upon him. Transformed from the image of the hulk which tormented the Israelites Goliath is renamed Ishmael; the disinherited son of Abraham who through no fault of his own was cast out from the Israelite race, deemed as little more than “a wild ass of a man.”

        

Ishmael explains that all of the modern nations of the world whether England, Russia or China are descendants of these exploitative agriculturalists whom he designates Takers. Takers are acting out a myth that places them at the top of creation as the owners of the earth.  A different myth is being acted out by the few societies who exist in distant tribes and bands still living similarly to the pre-agricultural Mesolithic hunters and gatherers whom he designates Leavers.  Leavers do not see themselves as the masters of the earth, but as part of it. A society is always governed by a mythic theme and the difference between these two myths could not be more different.  The reason Ishmael says that all our social and political revolutions have failed to stop our eventual demise is because they have all failed to reject the Taker myth and simultaneously embrace the Leaver myth.

Ishmael explains that Nazi Germany was the inevitable result of the Taker’s myth being acted out and that this myth is still being acted out through the entire civilized world’s perception of, and behavior toward the natural environment. With the gorilla as instructor we are taught that the human race broke away from a sort of mystical interspecies ecological brotherhood, setting their selves and the world on a collision course to destruction by setting themselves up as gods who know the difference between good and evil, with the power to decide who should live and who should die.  Ishmael, the gorilla even uses the Genesis creation story as an example of a misinterpreted and incorrectly practiced narrative that has served to misalign the human race with the earth. The biblical fall in the garden, according to our gorilla mentor is really a story by which our pre-agricultural pastoralist contemporaries illustrated this severing from the natural order.  Once humans settled down and cultivated enough food to support a growing population they became warlike and expansive.

While generally well thought out and reasonable in his approach, there are several points in Ishmael’s interpretation of events that must be questioned.  He characterizes the farmers as the culture that victimizes the herding people’s and extinguishes all the other species, including the predators in their environment while completely exonerating herders for the destruction they also cause in the world.  Many forests have also been destroyed in order to create pasture land to feed the herds.  And there is after all a reason western folklore has always depicted the wolf as the antagonist of the shepherd.  Aside from this and a few other bits of artistic license taken by the author, Ishmael is a engaging book that stimulates deep reflection on our relationship with the earth now and throughout history.  To describe the course of our eventual demise Ishmael uses the image of a primitive, non-aerodynamic plane on its test flight plummeting toward the earth while the pilot looks down at the ground rushing up at him and says “well, it’s gotten me this far, no sense abandoning it now.”

Though classified as a novel, the majority of Ishmael takes the form of a dialogue between the unnamed narrator and the gorilla guru.  The message Ishmael hopes to impart to the world is that the human race’s only hope in continuing to survive lies in rejecting the myth of the Takers and embracing the myth of the Leavers.  The novel ends on somber tone, but one that imparts a motivating hopefulness and a sense of urgency.  Ishmael is an excellent book which should be read by everyone looking for real alternatives to the modern political and ecological turmoil engulfing the world.  We’re an inventive species.  It’s time to invent.


Larry Kernagis: Nashville’s Chief Leprechaun

Larry Kernagis is distinguished as the Chief Leprechaun of the Nashville based Celtic band cleverly named Def Leprechaun.  With a full repertoire of classic Irish folk and drinking songs, Larry also tours as a solo act.  I was fortunate enough to meet Larry at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida during this summer.

As a skilled performer, Larry’s rich personality shines through his stage show.  He’s friendly and personable, and interacts with the crowd brilliantly, accepting requests or limericks from the audience, bringing them into the show rather than keeping them as simple observers. I’ve even been fortunate enough to sit in with him on a couple different occasions.

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Moody View author Lojah with Larry Kernagis at McGuire’s Irish Pub

Since many newcomers to the Irish music scene may not be familiar with the well known or regionally adapted responses to the classic ballads, Larry often takes a moment to bring them up to speed, making the evening a truly interactive experience. He also brings with him a set of “The Viking Pirate Captain’s DL Songbooks,” with the lyrics to over 100 of the world’s favorite Irish pub songs for use by the audience.
                 

Larry is fluent on both banjo and guitar, switching between the two instruments frequently throughout the night, adding to the diversity of his style.  He plays to his crowd, and as the night progresses Larry might incorporate other well known American classics in the spirit of Jimmy Buffet and Elvis Presley, but he otherwise keeps the set tight with Irish tunes.

Larry Kernagis is originally from Chicago, but relocated to Nashville, Tennessee where he formed his band Def Leprechaun.  His performances make for an evening of ruckus and revelry.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to think of him not only as a great performer, but as a friend.

Don’t miss Larry Kernagis, whether he is in Pensacola, Nashville, or Las Vegas.  If you’re a little Irish or even just a fan, you’ll love Larry’s show.

Check out Larry’s band Def Leprechaun at their website here!


Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto: A Review

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1964 (orig. 1884), Washington Square Press, New York

Marxism is the bedrock and foundation of communism.  This tyrannical philosophy did not meet its end with the demise of the Soviet Union.  It is still very much an active threat to liberty today.  Proponents of Marxism seek to undermine capitalism at all points and they have learned to use the political system expertly to achieve their aims. What are those aims?  To centralize all authority over your life and finances in the hands of an all-powerful and uncompromising state, seeking global domination.

Marxism and the theory of communism are rooted in the essay Bourgeoisie and Proletarians by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, found in the Communist Manifesto, first published in 1884.

Class Warfare

The primary theme of Marxism is class warfare.  Marx opens his essay with the bold and all-encompassing  statement that the entire history of “all hitherto existing society” [later revised to exclude traditional “native” societies] is characterized by class struggles.  In short, there is always, in all situations class antagonism between an oppressor and an oppressed.  Modern “capitalist” society, he says is no different from medieval society. Instead of titles like “lord” and “serf,” we now have a dichotomous class distinction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.  The only solution, Marx says is open and “violentrevolution.

bourgeoisie

The bourgeoisie is initially defined as “the class of modern capitalists, owners of means of social production and employers of wage-labor” (57), but is eventually revealed to also include the middle class property owner. The bourgeoisie are driven by economic and technological development.  The historical development in these areas created “industrial millionaires”—the bourgeoisie, successful business people responsible for toppling Feudalism and creating a society where technology and education are available to all. Instead of creating a more liberated society however, Marx claims the bourgeoisie have only created “new forms of oppression.”  Marx believed that Representative government only serves to manage the affairs of the bourgeoisie.

                

proletariat

The proletariat is defined as “the class of modern wage-laborers who, having no means of their own, are reduced to selling their labor in order to live” (57).  Marx presents the idea of an isolated working class, a people without hope of improving their lives.  Marx argues that workers are enslaved by the bourgeoisie, most especially the manufacturer.  Once the worker has been paid by his employer, “he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.” (70).

The proletariat is supposed to represent the “immense majority” who own no property and supposedly have no power or control over their lives.  Their mission in life is to enviously destroy the property and wealth of those who do.  Marx explains that as wealth becomes concentrated in fewer hands, the bourgeoisie is shrinking in number.  Those who washout of the bourgeoisie, become proletarians (since Marxist theory only allows for these two “classes”).  These washouts “boost the intellectual acumen” of the proletariat.  Marx also recognizes that the “social scum” may be absorbed into the movement as a “bribed tool.”

Luddism

The bourgeoisie constantly strive for progress, causing older, less efficient methods of production to be replaced by newer, more advance technologies. Marx denigrates this, claiming that the economic value of labor is decreased because technological advancement makes jobs easier to perform.  Marx complains that this has caused women’s labor in bourgeois society to be worth as much or more than a man’s. He decries the fact that industrialism has put people on equal economic footing despite age or sex.  He also complains that technology has caused the world to become more integrated with disparate countries now sharing in each other’s cultures.

Modern industry offers commodities at such inexpensive prices that demand is created by the people’s  desire to obtain these inexpensive goods.  With the increase in industry, the proletariat grows and becomes concentrated in greater numbers.  Due to competition in the workforce, wages fluctuate, requiring worker’s unions to develop in order to keep wages at a fixed minimum.  On occasion riots are necessary to further the proletarian cause.

Technological advancement in the traffic of information has allowed the proletariat to interact to the degree that they can now more quickly and efficiently organize themselves into a political party.  Since the bourgeoisie has created an environment in which technology and education are available to all, the proletariat must now use those benefits against them to destroy the very source of those benefits.

Violent Revolution

The ultimate goal of Marxism is violent communist revolution.  The first goal of the proletariat is to stage a successful revolution in their own countries, and then unite throughout the world in order to create a communist world order.  Marx explained that the score can only be settled when “that war breaks out into open revolution and where that violent  overthrow or the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat ” (p 77).  To accomplish this, the proletariat must first organize themselves into a class and “wrest all capital, by degrees, from the bourgeoisie,” and “centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state” (p 93, emphasis added).

Statism

In order to support and maintain this statism, Marx planned to destroy the family by replacing home education with social education (p 89), and abolishing all personal property and inheritance.  He also planned to abolish countries,  nationality and all “eternal truths,” all religion, and all morality including Freedom and Justice (p 92, emphasis added).  In order to accomplish this goal: “Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things” (p 116).

Conclusion

This is Marxism at its core: class warfare based on the politics of envy.  It looks toward an omnipotent state to manage the affairs of the people.  Marxism’s long-term goal is global communism, and the abolition of national identity.  It is anti-freedom and scoffs at ideas like justice, and  morality.  It views technological advancement as a detriment to society and ignores any concept of personal responsibility for the proletariat. This ideology is covertly and sometimes naively promoted under various liberal pseudonyms, often uncited in order to avoid the stigma of the word “Marxist.”  It is quite possibly the most dangerous philosophy at work in society today, especially for people who value freedom, independence, and justice.

The Communist Manifesto ends with these words: “Working men of all countries unite!”

Rich McDuff: Pioneer of the McGuire’s Music Scene

Rich McDuff is Northwest Florida’s most popular Irish folk music performer.  With a loyal and regular fan base, Rich helped build and define the music scene at McGuire’s Irish Pub while performing there for more than twenty years.

Although the moose-kissing tradition at McGuire’s predates Rich’s arrival on scene, he is responsible for writing the accompanying, and now entrenched “Kiss the Moose” song.  He explains “When I began playing here, asking a first-time patron of McGuire’s to kiss the moose might be met with a bit of confusion and resistance.  The traditional aspect was lost on them.  I figured if there was a song to go along with it, it would give the tradition a bit more validity for first-time visitors to the pub.  And it has worked out pretty well.”  Now every act that performs at McGuire’s plays this song, and the moose-kissing tradition has expanded to include not only the moose but a couple other McGuire’s fixtures as well.

Rich is also known or pushing the bounds of the debauchery which is naturally as part of McGuire’s slogan.  His “Dirty Limerick” song, played to the classic mariachi tune of “Cielito Lindo” contains rhymes that could even surprise a hip-hop fan.  Many of Rich’s regulars eagerly look forward to this point in the evening, awaiting their opportunity to share the stage with him and recite their own limerick specially prepared just for this song.  The best and most classic limericks are written on a scroll and tucked away in the secret archives, only to be taken out upon the performance of this tune.

Even more entertaining, energetic, and amusing is Rich’s version of “Seven Drunken Nights,” with extended responses – a wee bit too naughty to be written down here.  This point of the night is when you are likely to see the most crowd participation.  This rendition of the classic Irish song is memorable, if not for the increasingly lengthy responses, but the reactions and looks on the faces of new comers to the McGuire’s scene.

         

Crowd interaction is a major part of Rich’s act.  You never know just where the night will lead or how ridiculous the antics are likely to become.

Rich’s set also contains a set of American country, and acoustically played classic rock songs familiar to everyone.  As a classically trained guitarist, Rich McDuff’s musical talent becomes most apparent when he plays a traditional jig or reel or the occasional classical guitar piece.

Rich’s revolving schedule alternates between the pubs in both Pensacola and Destin, Florida.  While he is away, his regulars in Pensacola always look forward to his return.  Some will even make the drive to Destin to see him when he is performing there.


Rabbi Daniel Lapin and the Secret to Jewish Success

Lapin, Rabbi Daniel (2010) Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money, Second Edition, Hoboken, John Wiley and Sons Inc.

LapinThou Shall Prosper is a fascinating exploration into wealth creation among Jews and the values within Jewish communities that encourage financial success.  It is organized into 10 separate chapters, titled commandments in imitation of the Laws given to Moses.  Written by Daniel Lapin, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi motivated by a desire to research and catalog the cultural traits that have contributed to this, making them available to all people.  The book promotes what Rabbi Lapin calls Ethical Capitalism.

I have always been fascinated by the subject of Jewish success.  It only takes a little attention to notice that Jews are disproportionately successful in business and finance than any other ethnic group in the United States, if not the world.  As Rabbi Lapin explains, this is not to suggest that there are no poor Jews.  But as the most consistently oppressed people throughout 3,000 years of history, the Jewish people could easily have been expected to cease existing altogether.  But they haven’t, and wherever Jews are afforded the slightest opportunity they tend to thrive.

Rabbi Lapin points out that Jews represent less than 2% of the American population, but in any given year may represent as much as 25% of the names on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans.  Jewish households are also twice as likely to be wealthy as those of non-Jews.  This is a remarkable phenomenon that deserves to be explored and hopefully explained.

Anti-Semitic conspiracy enthusiasts might see all this as evidence of Jewish misdeed in acquiring wealth.* However, genuine social scientists understand that a better explanation lays in some set of cultural values being perpetuated within Jewish communities.  Personally, I have always seen this as admirable, like a mystery to be unraveled.  That’s why, when I found this book on the shelf, I didn’t have to think very long before I happily handed the clerk $24.95 (plus tax) and walked out the door with the book under my arm, ready to read.

Foreseeing the anti-Semitic arguments, early in the introduction Rabbi Lapin debunks the idea of Jews operating jointly as some sort of cabal, plotting their dominance over society.  In fact, Rabbi Lapin explains that Jewish communities are typically just as dysfunctional and full of conflict as most others.

Rabbi Lapin makes many points along the way regarding wealth, Jews, and the world, all of which are worth some serious consideration.

Education is Key

Lapin illustrates early on that education is very important to being successful in business and finance.  Jews, though not necessarily any “smarter” naturally than non-Jews tend to place a lot of value on literacy and a love of books.  Conversely however, Rabbi Lapin suggests that people holding advanced degrees are not necessarily more likely to achieve wealth.  They tend to do poorly with money, and often seek employment at universities rather than focusing on financial independence.

Popular Culture Promotes Poverty

Rabbi Lapin tackles the fallacy embraced by so many in society that business, business people, and money are somehow bad.  He illustrates how “movies and television conspire to make you poor,” showing that since the 1970s, business people are portrayed as villains twice as often as any other demographic.  The constant pushing of this message has effectively brainwashed the viewing public into accepting the narrative.  He confronts this fallacy by explaining that most wealthy business professionals have actually made their wealth by enhancing the lives of consumers.

Lapin also explains that popular culture vilifies wealth, but admires immoral behavior.  He illustrates this last point by showing that many of People magazine’s “Greatest Love Stories of the Century” were in fact cases of marital infidelity.

You Are Already in Business

Perhaps the most valuable lesson in Thou Shall Prosper, is one that is also asserted by many other successful people: the importance of understanding that we are already in business.  By virtue of being alive and independent, our lives are our businesses, whether we realize it or not.  We may even have a board of directors, such as our friends or family whom we ask for advice or guidance in financial matters.  Moving forward with this logic, I suppose we can count our spouses, children, or other dependants as our shareholders so to speak.  By illustrating this, Rabbi Lapin further explains the importance of not being a wage slave.

                   

Make Friends and Contribute to Charity

Wealth is created through human interaction.  In order to be successful in business it is imperative that one have a large network of friends that can help encourage you on your path to prosperity.  Rabbi Lapin does not suggest you should attend business oriented breakfasts and luncheons to make these acquaintances.  Such gatherings, he says are too full of self interest, yours as well as the other attendants.  Instead he recommends joining civic service organizations like the Rotary club.  He also recommends donating heavily to charity.  This sort of contribution raises your consciousness, and may contribute to a karmic increase in our own wealth.

Value the Wisdom of the Ancestors and Ancients

It is important to value ancient literature and history.  This helps you to see patterns in time and human nature, and to gauge the future in order to set goals.  This is not just a Jewish trait.  Many Asian businessmen also apply lessons learned from ancient Taoist, and Buddhist literature to their financial plans and aspirations.

Meditation and Reflection

Regularly disconnecting yourself from daily distractions like television, radio, and other external influences is imperative.  This allows you to clear your head and take notice of things that you might have otherwise overlooked or ignored.  These may be useful thoughts and fully formed ideas.  These are all things that can help you more accurately foretell and plan for the future.  Set aside a regular time and day for such activities during which you can be alone, away from distractions in order to do nothing but reflect on trends, ideas, and set goals.

These are only a few examples of the remarkable lessons that can be found in this profound book, but it only scratches the surface.

Thou Shall Prosper by Rabbi Daniel Lapin is not a typical book on business.  It’s much more than that.  This is a book of finance, philosophy, religion, history, sociology, and self-improvement.  Much like any classic work of philosophy, and like the Torah by which much of this book is inspired, Thou Shall Prosper is not just a one time read.  It’s the type of book that needs to be read, reread, thumbed through, and meditated upon multiple times over in order to get the fullest use out of it.  I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to improve their life financially and spiritually.

* It is unfortunate that I or Rabbi Lapin would even feel a need to mention this, but due to the nature of the real world (and anyone who has spent any time on the internet will know), it must be addressed.


The Pine Hill Haints – Ghost Music in a Punk Scene

The Pine Hill Haints

The Pine Hill Haints are a bit of a modern rockabilly jug-band mixed with a punk rock spirit.  Though singer and primary songwriter, Jamie Barrier might call it “The Spirit of 1812.”

I first saw the Haints at Sluggo’s a few years back, and they have been all over the world and accrued quite a following since their 2000 debut.  Such an innovative musical concoction as the Haints has an appeal much broader than the “folk-punk” category they are often associated with.

The Haints describe their sound as “Alabama Ghost Music.”  It’s a mixed assortment of southern roots music from bluegrass, to ragtime, rockabilly and honky-tonk, upbeat and with eerie and supernatural themes. Named after the Pine Hill Cemetery, the Haints are inspired by local Alabama legends and ghost stories. A haint is after all a particularly deep southern term for a ghost or haunt.

But the Haints aren’t dreary and gothic.  To me, they have a sound that seems to just emanate from the ground of the American South, like the past 250 years of Southern history and culture has taken the form of band.  With songs like “Whisper in the Dark,” and “Tennessee River Rambler” you get a real sense of backwoods punkabilly that would make Buddy Holly proud, while tunes like “Bordello Blackwidow” and “Walking Talking Dead Man” could be Calypso numbers straight from the repertoire of the Mighty Sparrow.

A PHH show is a hootenanny, rowdy and with an anachronistic flair, with lead singer and guitarist Jamie Barrier energetically jumping and jiving behind a handmade wooden mic stand reminiscent of the Grand Ole Opry.

           

The whole show is reminiscent to a bygone era with an unmistakably modern twist. The sound texture developed by the hodgepodge of Jamie’s guitar, Matt Bakula’s washtub bass and banjo, Ben Rhyne’s snare drum, Katie Barrier’s mandolin and washboard can’t help but make you feel like you’re witnessing an old rock and roll show just upon the invention of electric amplification.

The Haints are a band to see, and hear with wide appeal and a timeless sound that can be appreciated by punk rockers and hillbillies alike, between the ages of 5 and 105.  They are one of those few musical acts that can truly bring different genres, generations and social groups together.


Shadowyze, Native America’s Hip-Hop Activist, Advocate

Shadowyze is not the typical Grammy-nominated hip-hop celebrity. Though his dress may be in the current urban fashion his attitudes certainly are not. Upon first meeting him, many hip-hop officiandos take immediate note of his lack of gold. In fact he has been accosted for not sporting more ‘bling.’

“Some people just want to challenge your hip-hop credentials” Shadowyze explains; “for not being absurdly materialistic or boastful. But I want my listeners to be inspired to do more than just be showy and greedy. I mean, financial success is a good thing, but with the more bling you can afford, I think the more you should be focused on making your community better. Besides, gold really bothers me. I relate so much negative history to it regarding conquistadors pillaging Indian communities for gold throughout the Americas. That’s what greed does to people and I don’t want to encourage that.”

From a background of Muskogee Creek and Scots-Irish heritage, as a writer and producer Shadowyze represents in many ways an atypical strain within an extremely active and empowering social dynamic called hip-hop. Not only does he produce bumping’ tracks and deliver catchy hooks’ but he also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of West Florida. His lyrics are woven within a fabric of insight and social awareness.

shadowyze

Shadowyze was born in San Antonio, Texas as Alvin Shawn Enfinger and relocated with his family to Pensacola, Fla. at the age of eight. He began rapping as a means to express his ideas on the many issues he witnessed growing up. “My mother was really poor and as a kid a lot of times we weren’t sure if we could afford enough to eat. We were always about one paycheck away from living under a bridge. Some days I’d see cops abusing suspects and on others I’d see street criminals shooting at cops. Through rap I found a way to express my views on these things.”

When he was eighteen, Shadowyze launched his hip-hop career in 1989 when his group, Posse In Effect, released the official theme song “Knock em out the Ring Roy” recorded for then Olympic boxing Silver Medalist Roy Jones Jr. This song received strong support on regional radio as well as NBC Sportsworld. But the big turning point in his career came after spending ten weeks in Central and South America and Mexico in 1998 where Shadowyze witnessed the cruelty of the “low intensity war,” military oppression and poverty imposed upon the Mayan Indian population in Chiapas, Mexico. This life lesson inspired him to speak out and compose his 1999 multi-single Murder in Our Backyard which received a lot of media attention and an endorsement from Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams of Ireland.

In addition to the music Shadowyze delivered on this subject, he also involved himself directly by assisting Ricky Long with his Mayan Indian Relief Fund, taking supplies of clothing, books and medicines to the Indians in Chiapas Mexico where Shadowyze was called Corazon de los Zapatistas or Zapatista’s Heart.

Many publications vigorously supported Shadowyze during this point in his career by running stories on his causes and endeavors. By 1999 Shadowyze was featured in such international Native American Centered periodicals as Native Peoples, Aboriginal Voices, Whispering Wind, News from Indian Country and Talking Stick as well as magazines focused in the musical world such as the underground hip-hop magazine; Insomniac, Word Up and Trace.

In the United States Shadowyze has spoken on Native American issues and performed his music on many reservations including Poarch Creek in Alabama, Big Cypress Seminole Res. in Florida, Shennicock in Long Island, The Pueblos of New Mexico and others. But his experience is by no means limited to domestic affairs. As a performer Shadowyze has appeared in Germany and at the Montrose Jazz Fest in Switzerland and his anthropological callings have led him to visit several different Indian communities in Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Belize and Guatemala.

Shadowyze sums up his experiences with this description; “Even though there is a lot of poverty and despair in some of the areas I’ve been to, it never brings me down. I see a lot of great accomplishments made by Natives throughout the world. It’s really very inspiring to see how many of the communities have adapted to their current surroundings often for the betterment of their societies. And far back in the jungles I’ve gained a lot of insight from experiencing their ancient ways of life. It’s like seeing how my own people lived just a few centuries ago.”

          

Since his musical career has taken off with Murder In Our Backyard, Shadowyze has appeared on over a dozen compilations and released three full length albums; Spirit Warrior (2001), World of Illusions (2003), and his current 2005 release; the self-titled Shadowyze. This newest album features such respectable names in the music business as platinum Latino recording artist Baby Bash, and the production wizardry of Nashville’s DJ Dev of Devastating Music; production engineer of the triple platinum selling album 400 degrees by Juvenile.

2005 was a good year for the 33-year-old artist. Shadowyze won both the Native American Music Awards and the Pensacola, Florida Music Awards for best hip-hop and has been the focus of several stories appearing in Rolling Stone, Vibe, XXL, Billboard, New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Through Backbone, Records; Shadowyze’s personally owned and operated record company he also released Guerillas in the Mixx, a compilation in cooperation with Big Lo featuring Public Enemy, The Coup, Michael Franti, Spearhead, Afrika and Litefoot. For 2006, there are plans for the production of several compilations including Dirty South Radio and The Best of Florida Hip Hop vol. 1 that promise to be more insightful glimpses of a mixture of funk-driven rhythms and enlightening lyricism.

Though Shadowyze is always the musical businessman, his humanitarian side is never stifled. Recently Shadowyze has attracted national attention once again by helping to organize and coordinate a Hurricane Katrina relief effort delivering several thousands of dollars worth of supplies to the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi. This reservation was ravaged by the great storm and the people have gone mostly unnoticed by the media. Shadowyze explained the frustrations he felt that encouraged him to organize this effort; “While there were TV commercials asking for relief efforts to go to the abandoned house pets in New Orleans, the Choctaws in Mississippi were going hungry.” In fact the load of supplies personally delivered by Shadowyze was the first, large, independent delivery the Choctaws of Philadelphia received.

Shadowyze is not the typical Grammy-nominated hip-hop celebrity. With one foot in the music industry and the other in indigenous socio-political activism, Shadowyze has established himself in a world much richer than the standard glamorization of sex, drugs and violence. Not only does he orate on the social issues he is impassioned to inform the public of, but he has also been a first hand witness to many of them. Well traveled, well rounded and gifted with the ability to poeticize nearly any idea that comes to his mind, Shadowyze is quite animate and enthusiastic when he describes his thoughts. As a spokesman for unity, Native American identity and environmental respect, Shadowyze and the subjects he brings to the table have caught the attention of countless fans seeking music with a message even-deeper than the bass that bumps in their rides.

The Selfish Gene, Book Review


Dawkins, Richard (2006) The Selfish Gene, 30th Anniversary edition, New York: Oxford University Press

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins is a remarkable and engaging journey through evolutionary theory.  Dawkins’ “selfish gene theory” challenges what he considers common and incorrect notions that the “important thing in evolution is the good of the species.”  Dawkins asserts that evolution is in fact a survival and replication strategy of the gene.  Written most especially for the layperson, Dawkins’ prose abandons much of the technical jargon of science and replaces it with an informal and metaphorical language designed to be read with the same enthusiasm and comfort as science-fiction.

Setting the backdrop for the “selfish gene” theory, the first four chapters cover basic molecular and biological science as Dawkins postulates the possible chemical origins of life and the gene.  Once the gene-centered concept of evolution is thoroughly introduced, Dawkins changes gears and begins to discuss the influence natural selection may have on animal behavior.  This is the basis for the selfish gene theory in which he asserts that the pressures of natural selection which favor the most survivable genes are a catalyst for the evolution of the selfish gene which in turn produces certain behaviors in the individual.  Dawkins says that the individual body of an organism is a “survival machine” created by its genes throughout millions of often violent evolutionary years.  The primary purpose of this survival machine is to provide a protective environment where genes can more efficiently survive and replicate themselves.  Dawkins argues that because these survival machines are essentially programmed with the information carried in their genes, the drive to survive and replicate is thus manifest in a myriad of selfish behavioral characteristics.  In short, the theory states that genes and therefore the species in which they reside evolve behaviors that cause them to act selfishly for their own benefit.  Natural selection favors selfishness.

Altruism represents a possible contradiction to the selfish gene theory, so Dawkins spends much of the early portion of the book addressing this idea. Altruism is a behavior in which an individual acts in a manner that benefits its kin group at the possible expense or sacrifice of its own life.  An example of altruistic behavior in the animal world is when a certain bird gives an alarm call, warning those animals nearby of an approaching predator and thereby drawing attention to itself and exposing itself to a higher degree of danger. Dawkins explains that altruism may actually have a selfish component on the genetic level in its evolutionary function.  If evolution is about “the good of the gene” it is therefore beneficial to sacrifice an individual life in order to protect those same genes existing within the kin group.

Dawkins’ language is constantly peppered with analogies and metaphors which assign many conscious attributes to the genes as they interact with the world.  Such examples are indicative of the title itself; the “selfish” gene.  Dawkins acknowledges that experts in the biological fields are likely to be displeased with his informal, non-technical, and anthropomorphic literary style but he assures us that he speaks only figuratively, that these terms are not meant to convey any truly subjective or moral qualities upon genes or natural selection.  Metaphor is merely his tool in translating scientific jargon and complex equations into the language of the layman.
         

In the second portion of the book, Dawkins stretches his metaphorical translation to include a cultural concept he calls a meme, from the Greek root mimeme.  He describes the meme as “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.”  It is essentially a segment of idea and it functions on a cerebral level, replicating, gene-like as it passes from mind to mind. The uniqueness of the gene and therefore life itself is in their functions as replicators. Dawkins argues that memes are also significant in their function of replicating themselves through culture. Memes, Dawkins asserts, should be regarded as just as much alive as genes.  He seems to use this theory as a means to challenge not only the established perspective on evolution but certainly to challenge the more religiously minded reader with an often fiercely combative tone regarding the “god meme.”

The meme theory or memetics is a very interesting idea on a philosophical level, but at this point the book almost seems as if it has crossed over from science to fiction or perhaps some form of religious atheism.  The analogy breaks down under more empirical scrutiny, but Dawkins speaks about the subject as if he is presenting more than just a metaphor. Comparing memetics to genetics, though entertaining in an analogous context is not a very practical or empirically oriented theory.  The concrete existence of a gene makes for a much more scientifically sound study than the esoteric nature of a thought.

The Selfish Gene is a thought-provoking book, relevant beyond the fields of zoology, and biology.  Students of psychology, sociology, and philosophy would also find this book of interest.  Dawkins’ flowing prose is engrossing and it does in fact read more like good fiction than dry science.  Many of Dawkins’ points are openly intended to challenge people of faith.  This is especially remarkable due to the manner in which he uses metaphor to symbolize complex theory, attributing conscious strategies, personalities and plans to genes.  This technique is ironically reminiscent of the esoteric and hermetic symbolism found in the world’s religions which use similar techniques to symbolize philosophical ideals and translate often ancient esoteric information into popular language and culture.  In doing this I think Dawkins may have found a way to speak the same or a similar language to that of the religious whom he intends to confront and educate.

Dun Aengus: Irish Music and Revelry

The first time I ran into the Irish music duo Dun Aengus was at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida in March 2010.  It was the last night of the Renaissance Faire and a handful of us met up at the pub for a drink.  They were a great band that night, playing a lot of the classic Irish drinking songs I’ve known and loved.  I would have gone up to the pub to see them again but they were on tour and leaving for south Florida the next day.

I caught up with them again the following St. Patrick’s Day, once again at McGuire’s.  They were rocking the house with popular Irish and Scottish tunes and a few popular American classics for good measure.  Just like last year, Dun Aengus had the crowd enraptured, gathered on the floor in front of the stage dancing with wild abandon to these classic sing-alongs.  The Irish was certainly high that night.

Jay_Dun_Aengus2011
Lojah performing with Dun Aengus at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Destin, FL.

Hailing from Sweden, Dun Aengus consists of Peter Andersson on banjo and vocals, and Martin Rahmberg on acoustic guitar and vocals.  Martin’s gruff singing style contributes a real rootsy “beer and tobacco” quality while Peter’s smoother harmonies and verses compliment and broaden the sound.  Peter’s banjo leads also carry the melodies that distinctly bring out the Celtic quality of the music.  Their repertoire includes such classics as “Whiskey in the Jar,” “The Wild Rover,” and “All For Me Grog,” and a full night’s compliment of others.

Dun Aengus is an excellent Irish music duo worthy of some support.  I’ll be keeping track of them so I can catch them again next time they‘re in town.

This is a video of Martin and Peter of Dun Aengus, with their other band King Laoghaire, performing “A Place in the Choir,” a really catchy tune which is also available for download on CDbaby.