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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bassekou Kouyate Live In Los Angeles

Earlier this month I was practically apologizing for writing about my favorite new restaurant in L.A. here because... well because it's in L.A. and so am I and I just have to drive 15 minutes to get there. And here I am back with the L.A. stuff again. Kind of. It's L.A. via Mali.

If you follow this travel blog at all, you may recall that a couple years ago I was wandering around Mali and Senegal. While waiting for my friend Roland to arrive so we could head out to the world's biggest mud mosque in Djenne and then on to the unpaved wilds of Dogon Country, I somehow wound up in Ali Farka Toure's recording studio watching Bassekou Kouyate complete I Speak Fula, the follow up to Segu Blue, his widely acclaimed 2007 international debut album.

In the way of context, let me tell you I've been very lucky with music in my life. Even before becoming president of Reprise Records, I had always had good music juju. I was knee-high to spit when I snuck off to the Brooklyn Paramount Theater to catch Maxine Brown. Not only did she sing my favorite song, Oh No, Not My Baby, but she came out the stage door afterwards and gave me a big kiss and an autograph that I treasured until I went to Afghanistan 5 years later. In the interim I booked concerts at my school by Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Temptations, The Fugs, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Pink Floyd, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, The Byrds, the Dead... all the regular stuff we used to dance around to in college back then. And I was a dj and so on. Even when my music juju screwed up, it didn't screw up too bad. I once drove all the way to some village near Lyallpur in Pakistan, the familial home of the famous Ali Brothers (of my most enjoyable acid trips) only to find the Ali Brothers, Nazakat and Salamat, the world's greatest Qawwali singers, away on a concert tour. Years later I was working in a meditation center in Amsterdam and someone persuaded me to go upstairs to hear some "trippy Indian music" and it was... Nazakat and Salamat Ali Khan. Point: I've seen everyone (except The Beatles, all of whom I've seen individually). And the further point, when I saw Bassekou is the Jimi Hendrix of the ngoni, a description that is now widely used, and that the concert I saw him play at the French Cultural Center in Bamako was one of the greatest and most inspired live shows I've ever seen in my life... well, it's not like some kid telling you about the first live music he's ever seen. I knew Jimi Hendrix when he was the lead guitarist for the Night Hawks fronting John Hammond. He did his first American concert after he became the Jimi Hendrix Experience for me and that night I watched incredulously as he and my mother smoked a joint. I hung out with him in Essaouira and saw him play at the Isle of Wight Festival before he died and I went off in search of the Alis.

That said, Bassekou is not just playing in L.A. tomorrow (Sunday), he's playing a free show-- at Amoeba Records on Sunset, around the corner from that favorite L.A. restaurant I was talking about! If you're in the L.A. area-- unless you're lucky enough to have tickets for one of the shows at the Getty Center-- don't miss this chance.

Bassekou plays ngoni on President Obama's favorite record, Kulanjan but he's not well know in the U.S. yet, although he's a superstar in Africa and on his way to being one in Europe. This is what I wrote after seeing him play in Bamako:
I don't know how to describe the concert without losing the essence of what the music did for everyone involved-- both on and off the stage. Let me tell you, though, as magnificent as the recorded versions of his songs are, the live show is what makes it so amazing. The concert defined hot. When those syncopated rhythms get going, there is no resisting their power. Mali is the birthplace of the blues-- and the blues is still very much alive and vibrant here-- and it is the ancestral home of rock'n'roll in every imaginable way. Bassekou has that coursing through his blood and he knows exactly how to convey it to the audience.

And the dancing was as good as the music! Absolutely breathtaking! Truthfully, I can't remember the last time music compelled me to jump out of my seat and dance in the aisle. Last night it did.

I found this video on YouTube-- Bassekou at the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC a couple weeks ago. I wonder if Heath Shuler made it to the show. Bassekou will be in Savannah on April 2nd and I'll definitely tell Regina Thomas to check it out; it's right up her alley.  In this clip it looks like a local banjo player found his way onto the stage; you can tell who he is because he's the one with the store-bought instrument. If you're in L.A., hasta mañana. Otherwise, Bassekou's U.S. tour schedule is here. Wow! 4 nights in Minneapolis and three in Lafayette, Louisiana!

Saturday, March 06, 2010

L.A.'s Best New Restaurant: Lifefood Organic

I don't write much about restaurants and hotels or any kind of attractions in Los Angeles, not because it's an unworthy of tourist attention, but because I live here. But it dawned on me the other day that with so many tourists flocking to L.A. I should point out my newest favorite restaurant. Sort of restaurant... most exclusive restaurant in town (only 6 seats)! I want to back track first.

A few weeks ago I was with some friends celebrating my birthday at an old L.A. favorite, A.O.C. Our regular wonderful waitress Suzanne (from Sweden) wasn't there and we got stuck with someone who would rather be an asshole than be helpful. So when I asked for the sublime Brussels sprouts in parsnip purée dish I had had earlier in the week to be brought with no bits of pork or ham or whatever pig flesh they use to screw it up with, she said it wasn't possible. But it was possible. Suzanne had gotten it for us a few days previous and I had been dreaming about it since. In fact, it's why I picked A.O.C. for the celebration. She said I was mistaken. I ordered the broccoli with garlic and chili instead and the meal was very good. Everyone loved everything they ate. Afterwards a cook came over to say happy birthday and discuss the Brussels sprouts problem. Turned out her name is Suzanne too-- Suzanne Goin.

I don't watch cooking shows on TV and I don't follow chef celebrity but my friend Heather was kvelling. Turns out Suzanne Goin is the chef-- and one of the most renowned in the chef celebrity circuit. She was very sweet too. Heather mentioned she's also the chef at Lucques, where I hadn't been since I turned in my company credit card. But Suzanne sure knows how to cook up some good food-- and Lucques is a lot closer than A.O.C. to my home so... a few nights later Roland and I tried to get into our favorite local raw vegan joint, Cru and, as happens more and more frequently these days, it was too crowded and we had to walk away. On the spur on the moment we decided to go "someplace different" and I called Lucques and they said, "Come on down." We did. Of course it was delicious. But I had a realization while I was eating. It was heavy-- really heavy. Everything was cooked in sticks of butter. And when I chatted with the waiter about... the Brussels sprouts, well... they were cooked in veal stock. The food tasted good but was clearly deadly healthwise and very, very expensive. Why bother? How had I drifted so far away from raw vegan to find myself, at least once or twice a week, in places like A.O.C. and Lucques?

The next day, I met up with Roland for dinner again and he basically had had the same thoughts. "Let's eat someplace simpler. Lucques was too heavy." I said "OK, I have just the place!"

Livefood Organic at 1507 Cahuenga in Hollywood, just a few feet from the corner of Sunset Blvd-- and very conveniently located to ArcLight and Amoeba, isn't really a restaurant. It's a raw, vegan take-out place. But there's a nice communal table in the window with 6 stools. It's only been open a few weeks and so far there's always been a little room at the table.

First of all, every single thing they prepare is absolutely delicious, healthy and incredibly inexpensive. And... you can order stuff to go with dignity. I mean that's what it's all about-- that and the healthy eating thing. My mouth is starting to water as I write because I'm thinking of the delicious lasagna I have in my fridge right now that I'll be eating when I'm done writing. Lasagna and blueberry cobbler. Eating at Lifefood Organic isn't about making any compromises with taste. Their food is unquestionably more delicious-- not to mention nutritious-- than the "same" dishes you'll find in conventional restaurants, including-- if not especially in the A.O.C.s and Lucques of the world. If you're a raw foodie, think about this-- their dishes are as good as anything you'll find at Pure Food and Wine in New York City! I've been all over Italy and-- more to the point-- I grew up in NYC and I've never tasted better tiramisu than at Lifefood!

Click on the menu so you can read it-- and a warning: they usually only have a few things on any one day-- but they're ALL yummy