The subject of today's Global Hit is a trio of women who
call themselves "Charming Hostess." The name summons up a particular
image -- proper, oh-so-refined, and careful not to ruffle any feathers.
That's not exactly the way you'd describe Charming Hostess. They're
sensual, they're smart, and they're radical. The music of Charming
Hostess touches bases from North Africa to Bulgaria to Bosnia. The
women themselves are based in San Francisco. Benjamin Temchine of
public radio station KALW prepared this report.
The critics have had a hard time categorizing the music of Charming
Hostess. Some have called it Klezmer. Founder and lead vocalist Jewlia
Eisenberg says those critics are just plain wrong.
Jewlia Eisenberg: "If they knew
anything about Jewish music, they would call it
nerdy-sexy-commie-girlie music, which is obviously the genre that it
Charming Hostess delivers a rare mix of southern
European harmonies, melodies from North African Jews, hip-hop out of
Brooklyn, and on their latest album, Balkan poetry.
The trio is very much a product of Jewlia Eisenberg's upbringing.
She was raised in a black-Jewish Marxist commune in East Brooklyn. Eissenberg says she was a true red diaper baby.
Jewlia Eisenberg: "My
parents, were very committed to us learning the people's music ... what
are people listening to in uprisings in Namibia. This! What are they
listening to in Peru? This!"
Eisenberg went on to study
music at the University of California in Berkeley. There she became
acquainted with the work of 20th century avant garde composers, like
Jewlia Eisenberg: "Meredith Monk is one... is one of the first people to use a full body palette for singing."
"It means developing the full range of the voice. So the sounds that
the body makes that are sometimes not always considered to be musical:
hand claps, heartbeats, sex breath, silence, vocal percussion."
And you can hear that technique in Charming Hostess's music today.
This track, 'The Tunnel' is featured on Charming Hostess' third album, Sarajevo Blues.
The album was inspired by a collection of poems and short essays by Bosnian poet Semezdin Mehmedinovic.
Jewlia Eisenberg: "The book is amazing the
minute I read it I knew I wanted to set it; The first several times I
read that book, and I read it through several times. Immediately.
Because you have this insight into what it means to be under siege, the
ways people resist war in very humane ways, with spirituality, and
humor and with erotic relationships ...all these different ways that
people were in resistance"
Eisenberg has traveled the world recording what she calls "the people's
music." During college she harvested the vegetables and the world songs
of Bulgaria, and later did a fellowship in East Africa. For Sarajevo
Blues, Eisenberg returned to the folk music traditions she studied. All
of those traditions, and the melodies of North African and Spanish
Jews, find their way into this song, Imam Bey's Mosque.
Imam Bey's Mosque is from a poem about a Muslim religious leader
in Sarajevo whose wife was killed just days before their children were
killed. In the poem, author Mehmedinovic meditates on what kind of a
strange mercy this was. Eisenberg says that when Bosnians see Charming
Hostess perform they often feel deeply moved.
Refugees, come up to us they say you understand us. and they
are crying. Now I don't understand these people. Because I have not
been where they are. but something musical understands them. the music
understands them ... there is something in the music that successfully
builds a bridge between experiences....
Using music to make connections between the people seen on
television in destroyed cities or in ruined refugee camps, and the
people who do the watching is central to Eisenberg.
Jewlia Eisenberg: "And that's part of Charming Hostess
ion general, but also specifically in Sarajevo blues. how can an
observer, be a participant in a helpful way. How can we participate in
the best way that we can participate? And that is what the album is
Eisenberg is an artist in residence at MIT this fall. On
Septemebr 18, Charming hostess is performing at the Bowery Poetry Club
in New York in a benefit for survivors of Srebrenica massacre.
For The World, I'm Ben Temchine in San Francisco.
Elsewhere on the Web:
• More World Music at BBC Music Online