Sunday, September 2, 2012

the doctors

the doctors gathered around her
as she lay on the operation table
her flesh exposed.

they cut her open carefully
from the top of her ribcage
to her belly button.

the doctors peered inside.

one retched,
and forgot to retrieve his tools
thrown inside of her

one fell to the floor, sweating
trying desperately to do what it takes.

one’s face snarled
nose upturned
the corners of his mouth sagging
“This is not what we expected”, he said.

the doctors gathered themselves
and gathered their tools
and left, one by one
while she lay open on the table.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Comes After

Sunshine on white sheets
Cling lazily to dark
Limbs and torsos
Each covered with tiny beads of sweat
Evaporating with the summer heat.

One is asleep.
The other one wondering

If she should go


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Poem: Tangle/Untangle

Neither of us wanted to untangle
Untangling would mean looking at each other
Untangling would mean forcing meaning into a cavity of worthlessness
Untangling would mean reacting humanely
Untangling would be too much work for him.
Untangling would mean running the many-times rehearsed script
Untangling would mean I was just like all the others
Broken and hungry for answers.

So we stayed.


My heartbeat wild in comparison to his perservant one.
My breath harder to catch, untypical of the situation
My tears slowly rolling down, deciding reluctantly not to roll onto his shoulder
They instead opted to be discreetly wiped away with my hand
His shoulder would mean recognition, affirmation, humiliation
A desire for answers that were not coming.

I try to untangle.
He doesn’t let me.
He times it cleverly.
He lays me down
When the memory has been engraved
When the storm has passed
When it was safe.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

poem: the silence

the silence i practiced to quieten your thoughts
our world reduced to sensory stimulants, pulsating sounds
reclining lavishly.
physical warmth, your temporary sanctuary
my majesty, only now do i know 
the noise you suffered was indeed a travesty
all the traffic in your mind’s confines
i don’t need to know, although i wondered sometimes
if i could dance the dance of death between the cars and trams
or grounded malleable in the rush hour jam
does he taste the silence, i wonder anxiously
the silence i practice, almost obediently

              -- Nora Bakhsh

Saturday, March 31, 2012

My "Refresher" Singing Lesson

Music has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Although I have experimented with piano and guitar, my voice was the instrument I always felt like I could rely on, and could use based on feel rather than technique. Singing came quite naturally to me. I think it had to do with me bumpin' Destiny's Child and Aaliyah tapes and trying to copy their style :)

When I got to high-school I started performing and singing a lot more frequently and was commended for my abilities, but it wasn't until I got to university that I really learned that there is a whole world of knowledge on vocal technique beyond "sounding good".

I joined a vocal guild that focused on operatic singing. I love singing opera although that is not my favorite genre and where I see myself as an artist. However, learning opera has taught me a lot of things about vocal technique, as it is one of the most demanding genres for the voice.

I encourage all singers from all backgrounds and levels of experience to see a trusted vocal coach from time to time. Some people think it's more valuable to say that they learned singing "all on their own" without the help of any coach or training. However, singing is not just about sounding good and beautiful. It is also about creating the right habits that will protect your vocal cords from harm, using the right facial/throat muscles to maximize resonance and sound, the right posture and breathing technique, and getting a clearer sound. Think of it as personal training - anyone can benefit from personal training when it comes to fitness regardless of your fitness levels. An experienced and certified trainer can help you correct bad habits that you never thought might be harmful, and push you to greater heights that you never thought existed.

Yesterday I went for a "refresher" lesson after 2 years of no vocal coaching. I saw my old opera coach, Emily, who used to train me when I was in university. She is getting her PhD in voice! How awesome is that? It just goes to show that there is so much more to singing that meets the eye (or the ear, should I say!). She was very supportive and made me feel really good. She was happily surprised that my voice was still in shape and supple after 2 years of no training, and I told her that I still do vocal exercises as often as I can, sometimes everyday. She was happy because most people don't keep that up. Also, she finally identified my voice type: soprano dramatic coloratura. Sounds pretty dope, right? According to my teacher this is an extremely rare voice type, but its a very lucky one to have because I am able to hit very high notes (I can go up to a high F6) while still maintaining power (I'm still working on how to do this in 'real songs' rather than just in warm up exercises). So hopefully with continued practice I can maximize the potential of this voice type!

Some things we covered:

  • The right posture. This was the most difficult for me to master. I had to keep my head lifted so I don't stifle the vocal cords, but not too lifted. Stretching my neck and shoulders helped me be in a more relaxed position. One of the first things she mentioned was that I have a long neck which shows that I can sing high notes... and then she also mentioned that I also have a really wide neck which is where the power of the voice comes from (I felt a little bit self-conscious about my neck after that! LOL)
  • She told me that when I sing, the right facial structure matters. She told me to imagine a pencil between my teeth (keep a gap between my teeth), raise my cheeks as if I'm smiling, and keep my tongue flat. My top teeth should always be showing while I'm singing as if I'm "smiling", unless I'm singing an "o" or "oo" sound, then I have to kind of "raise the roof of my mouth" without really dropping my jaw open to do it. This position allows maximum resonance and the fullest/clearest sound as it creates more space inside your mouth. If you master the right singing positions/technique you don't even need a microphone if you sing in a relatively small venue. 
  • Eliminate any "hhhh" sound from my singing, as in any breathy-ness. So when I do my vocal exercises, instead of singing "ha ha ha" or "hee hee hee" it has to be just "aaa aaa aa" and "eee eee eee"
The first two points is what I really struggled with. I know she comes from a very operatic background so I was scared that these techniques are reserved for opera only, and wouldn't really work in contemporary styles, but thats when she explained to me that these exercises only strengthen the voice and then you can do whatever style you want. Right now I'm finding it hard -- I know this is the right technique but its really hard to apply this when it comes to R&B and contemporary singing, and realizing that I've been doing it wrong all these years! So I'm just trying to find a balance between the two, really. Sometimes too much perfect technique takes away from the character/persona of the song and singer... especially when it comes to soul music which has a lot to do with feel and sometimes I feel like technique gets in the way of that. I guess what I have to do is practice the technique until it becomes second nature to me and then introduce the whole feel aspect to it. I can apply these learnings much easier to opera singing than contemporary, so I need to get my "contemporary" singing levels up to par with my opera singing levels. 

Next week I have my 2nd refresher lesson so we'll see how that goes :) Meanwhile I will keep practicing. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Howard Zinn's Excerpt on Lupe Fiasco's "Introduction"

As a graduate of an International Relations major and a lover of music, I get so excited when the two merge in a moving way.
I love how Lupe Fiasco used an audio excerpt from a speech by historian Howard Zinn in the intro track his latest mixtape, Friend of The People.

So simply beautiful, honest and moving. Thank you Howard Zinn and Lupe Fiasco.


[Howard Zinn]
We have to stop wars, we have to stop this war
And we have to get out the habit of war
It's more than a habit, it's an addiction
We have to get out of thinking that we must be a military superpower

We must get out of thinking that we must have military bases, as we have in a hundred countries
Is it possible that having military bases in a hundred countries arouses a lot of antagonism?
Is it possible that it promotes terrorism when your soldiers and your sailors are all over the world, occupying this country and that? Is it possible?

Why do we have to be a military superpower?
Why can't we be a humanitarian superpower?
Instead of sending planes with bombs
Why don't we send planes with food and medicine?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Don't Hate, Participate!

It is no secret that the music scene in Dubai is still in its growth stages. Whilst some artists may be a lot more experienced than others, there are still not enough artists out here to create that extremely competitive environment where artists feed off each others' energy, striving to stand out. Aspiring record labels in the region don't really have much choice in what artists to work with when the quantity and supply of artists is low. So what ends up happening? Either a) they pick whoever has the right criteria in terms of money-making prospects or b) they don't partner up with any artists because their quality of work is not up to par yet.

A lot of new artists have been coming out of Dubai lately, and almost every time a new artist releases material, a surge of negative comments and criticisms follow -- no support or feedback is given (and by the way, the two are not mutually exclusive). Sometimes its not even about the music as much as which social clique this artist belongs to.

I believe there is a much better way to stimulate the growth and improvement of our community's music and arts scene, much better than just complaining about how horrible the scene is. It involves responsibility from both the artist as well as the community.

The Community

  • Realize that no artist is ever born great. Even if that artist has talent, he/she still needs to go a long way to find the right "sound" for them which often takes years and years. So before you immediately label an artist as "crap" and never listen to music again, keep that in mind. Artists grow with time, experience and hard work. 
  • As an artist myself, I can tell you that whenever an artist releases new material, no matter how "finished" they feel the product is, they're still going to be nervous as fuck about how its going to be received and will probably hesitate a hundred times before releasing the product to the public ear, constantly thinking how it could be improved. But, if an artist always has that mentality, the artist will never actually release anything. Sometimes you gotta take a leap of faith, knowing that you gave it your 100% even if you can still think of improvements here and there, and wait for people's reactions. Its a very brave step, so before you think about trashing someone's work, think about that for a second. They could have chosen to practice music in secret forever, waiting and waiting for that day they consider themselves "good enough" (which will never come -- an artist should know that he/she will ALWAYS have room for improvement) and not release anything, but they took that courageous step and did.
  • There is a middle way between blindly praising and dogmatic hating. The crazy idea that you can give an artist feedback on their work, while supporting them and having faith that they can get better. Mention the positive things as well as the things that could use improvement... come on, I'm sure you can at least find 2-3 positive things that you can mention. Give encouraging, not destructive advice. Do your research about the art form you're about to criticize (whether its rap, singing, etc.) learn about what elements are important to that art form and what the skills required are. Provide helpful suggestions about how the artist can improve, and give references if possible. It's easier than ever today to contact an artist from your local community even if you don't know him/her that well, through Twitter, Facebook or email. Be courteous; congratulate them on their release and then ask if he/she would like to hear your feedback (the artist really should agree, but if they don't, it really is their loss) and then give them your feedback, publicly or privately!
The Artist
  • All the points cannot be executed if the artist doesn't hold up his/her part of the bargain as well. Talent is just a spark, but willingness to improve, open-mindedness and hard work are what make true artists. They should be open to feedback instead of stubborn and defensive. It is sometimes difficult to receive harsh feedback, but it is an essential part of growing as an artist! 
  • Don't just wait for feedback, ask for it. Tweet it, Facebook it, YouTube it.
  • That being said, don't take everything everyone says to heart -- choose a few trusted people that you can always rely on for good feedback and constructive criticism, but be open to others too. Don't get discouraged by negative comments from random people or people who haven't done their research/aren't familiar with the art form whatsoever (as a listener or a creator). A lot of people don't know anything about the art form you're practicing and have nothing to say except unhelpful negative comments or blinded praise. That's why I think its also important for the critic to know what they're talking about.
I'm going to start trying some of these things I wrote about, because I believe both the artist and the community have a responsibility to improve the quality of art in their community.  So don't hate, participate!


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Re-Arrange Me 'Til I'm Sane

Yesterday I made a big decision that I hope is going to affect my life for the better. I decided to quit my capoeira training. It feels like a break up. One that ended on good terms, but still sad.

Capoeira is an ancient Brazilian martial arts that I started practicing 6 months ago. I love it because its not only a martial art, it also combines elements of singing, dancing, acrobatics and martial discipline/culture -- and has an extremely rich history as well. It was used by slaves in Brazil under colonial times to defend themselves once they managed to escape from their masters. They were not allowed to practice martial arts so they disguised it as a dance activity, which is why capoeira looks so fluid and graceful.

Pretty much from the first moment I started capoeira I was tempted to quit. It was extremely demanding, physically, and at that time I was not exercising regularly. You need a massive amount of upper body strength (actually, all over strength but especially upper body) to do most of the moves, not to mention an unimaginable amount of flexibility, also in every part of your body. But I wanted to challenge myself not to be such a weakling and quit so fast, and wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of sticking to something and getting better at it even if:

  • I had to deal with the fact that I was the most unfit and out-of-shape person in class, and it REALLY showed as I lagged behind on everything,
  • I am the most clumsy and ungraceful person ever, and any coordinated physical activity is so not my forte (I made myself feel better by thinking, 'at least I can sing!')
  • My memory is so bad, so its really hard for me to memorize moves, even if they are extremely simple
  • I was really slow in class, and needed the teacher to explain something to me a billion times over several sessions,
  • The people I joined with progressed much faster than me, and I was progressing at snail pace rate.

It really was a personal challenge and a test to my personality. I didn't want to give up, even if I felt so awkward, out of place, and like the biggest failure in the world. I literally felt like I went to a random country, like Hungary or something, and everyone around me was speaking Hungarian, ignoring me, and I had absolutely no idea what's going on (weird simile, I know, but I swear it becomes relevant later). And believe me, my motivation was sometimes -5000 but I still didn't want to quit. Sometimes I wouldn't go to class most of the week because I felt so discouraged, and I used those breaks to glue back my shattered self-esteem and drag my ass to training, and I would keep marching on trying to prove to myself that I can do it. 

Eventually, little by little, I got better and progressed a LOT. I proved to myself that I could do something I never thought I could do :) I guess, I finally picked up some "Hungarian" words and was even starting to put together some sentences and have a comprehendible conversation. I could maybe kick someone's ass (and by someone I mean like, maybe a 10 year old kid, or something. I'm still a beginner!). I got a lot more flexible and built up my upper body strength (I used to be able to do 0 pushups and now I can do a few). I learned to play the instruments of capoeira, the berimbau (weird wooden instrument that looks like some kind of ancient fishing spear) and atabaque (drum) without shattering someone's eardrum. I had fun when fighting with my team-mates instead of just awkwardly standing there not knowing what to do (by the way, we don't make contact in training). 

However, the more I felt I was progressing, the more I felt like I was spreading myself thin. I was not focused on music anymore. Most of my day I'm at work, that's already 9 hours gone. I almost never had alone time because training took a lot of my time (it's only 2 hours three times a week, but trust me, every hour counts!). I had social commitments and I began to not enjoy them as much as I used to because I viewed them as obligations that cut into my personal "alone" time and my "music" time. My life was limited to work, capoeira, and like 3 people that are very close and important to me. I had no space for anything else, really. And trust me, things come up! Random errands, taking my cat to the vet, needing to pay bills, going to the bank, seeing family or friends that are coming from out of town... Life is all about the unexpected, and I had set up my life in a way where I had absolutely no room for that, my life was so routine and rigid. And the worst part of it all was that I wasn't working at all on my music and songwriting.

This crazy race against time was driving me insane from day 1 but I thought I would get used to it, or maybe I just need to organize my time better... but I realized that I'm not superwoman and I can't do it all, so I decided to quit because at the end of the day, my music is more important to me than anything, and that is my number one hobby, and I don't have space for another hobby right now. There are so many things we all wish we could do in our lives, but I guess we have to prioritize what is important to us given the free time we have. For me its the people that are close to me and my music.

It makes me really sad that I have to give up, but at least I'm not giving up because I feel like I suck at it. I at least discovered something about myself with capoeira, is that I can do anything I want if I keep sticking to it and trying hard enough! And I think that was a lesson that I really needed to learn. Maybe I'll have time for it in the future when songwriting becomes easier to me and I don't have to spend so much time writing a quarter of a line. Or if my job magically decides we should have 6 hour work days instead of 9 :) Also, I'm going to continue practicing what I know maintaining my fitness level that I acquired so far and improving it through running and body weight exercises, which are much more time efficient than training capoeira. And hopefully one day I will be able to train again, with improved fitness level so that I don't look like the silly and awkward one in class :)

I'll show you guys a video of capoeira. It's not the best representative of how group capoeira is, but at least it has the capoeira music and moves :) 


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What Nicki Minaj Represents To Me

**WARNING: Please keep an open mind with this post. It is likely to offend some Nicki Minaj/Young Money fans :) **

I've always had a weird thing about Nicki Minaj. When she first came out with her feature on "Bed Rock", I got so excited that there was a female rapper on the scene. I instantly googled her and listened to tracks from her old, unreleased mixtapes. Although the subject matter was pretty much self-praise (which is a very popular topic in hiphop, and artists use these songs to show off their wordplay skills) I was relatively impressed with her flow, her lyrics and her unique sound. I was looking forward to hearing more from her.

I wasn't really impressed with what she came up with afterwards, except for her song "Moment 4 Life" with Drake, which I actually liked. I was also impressed that in her video with Mariah Carey "Up Out Of My Face", she looked cute and even sported a little belly and was still sexy with it. I was hoping she would be a celebrity who advocated a natural body image. But the more and more she blew up, the more and more my weird feelings about her intensified.

To me, good music is good music whether it's commercial or not. I never really understood why people complain about "commercial music" and about how music is gone to hell these days... until I noticed Nicki Minaj's path, and I realized, she is the embodiment of ALL of that is wrong with "commercial" music.

I must make a distinction though, that I'm not against "commercial music". Commercial just means you're making money out of your music. But someone like Nicki Minaj does not only make "commercial" music, she makes mass-populated, reach-to-everyone's-ear-whether-they-like-it-or-not kind of commercial music. Everyone knew who she was, from that little girl who copied her on YouTube to your grandma. And that's kind of the problem.

My friend @kilmastudios who owns the UAE-based record label Kilma Studios, has argued with me on this very same topic before, and he said "Artists should have the freedom to be creative, its not their responsibility what kind of effect their music has on others". Though he has a strong point, I disagreed with him. I think that if you are that famous, you have a responsibility on the impact your music has on the huge chunk of society that is listening to your music and watching your videos. And you shouldn't rap about how everyone wants to lick your pu**y (reference to the lyrics/video of Big Sean's song Dance A$$ ft. Nicki Minaj), because the fact of the matter is, that shit is gonna be played everywhere whether we like it or not, and all kinds of people will hear it -- including children. We are no longer in an age where we can truly expect parents to filter out what their kids are listening to, even the "best" of parents. Because the fact is, this music is played everywhere.

I have no problem with offensive music, but I do have a problem with it when its forced down everybody's throat -- on the radio, TV, in stores, everywhere! Believe it or not, the music we hear does affect us, at least I believe so. When T-Pain's "Buy You A Drank" came out, everyone started saying "drank" instead of "drink". Lots of people started hash-tagging #IDoIt to their tweets after Big Sean's song. And how many people smoke a blunt in Snoop Dogg's name every single day around the world? How many people started saying "no I'm not lucky, I'm blessed" after Minaj and Drake's song "Moment 4 Life"? And these are fun, small, harmless things.

Imagine if The Weeknd's music was put on blast everywhere. The Weeknd is an independent artist who got everyone hooked on his atmospheric beautiful music. His songs glamorize the fact that he is a heartbreaker who gets drunk, stoned, laid, and high on cocaine every day of the week. Didn't it make you wonder what his lifestyle might be like? I know I did. If you had kids or teenagers, would you want them to listen to that? I don't think I would.

Lots of mainstream rappers talk about how much money they have and how they spend it, and the end result, is sadly, we begin to think that this is cool. We start caring about what car we drive, how many designer clothes we're wearing, and how many champagne bottles we're washing our hands with. No really, this shit really does get to people's heads, and if you don’t believe me, check out this Facebook group. It’s called "TheMoney Killers" and its members live in Dubai and talk about how they spend their money, post pictures of flashy things, and put links and references to "hiphop" songs that are all about that! I'm not saying everyone is like that, but I am saying that lyrics definitely influence us, some more than others.

I recently saw an interview done with Minaj on YouTube.
The interviewer asked her "Why do you think there aren't many female rappers?" These were her comments:
o   "Females don't make it because they don’t understand that its’ a 'business'. They don’t put their business first".
o   "I attack this game from all aspects. And that's what a lot of girls can't do".

 My interpretation? It’s not that a lot of girls CAN’T do it, it’s that a lot of girls WON’T do it. Plus, she doesn't even really answer the question. Is she implying that men do "business" better than woman? How so? She doesn't explain.

I just feel like its a guise for saying, if you really want to make it big as a female, you got to understand that you need to sell more than just your music – that’s where the 'business' part comes in. You need to sell your image, your body, and your dignity. She straight up compares marketing music to marketing clothes, saying that big boobs would catch your eye in a fashion advertisement, which will lead you to go to that store. She acknowledges the fact that she is not a mere rapper; she says, "I'm an entertainer". Yes, that is exactly what she is... an entertainer. It’s not just her music that pleases people, it’s her image, her sexuality, her body, her radical personality.

The weird thing is, she says "I want to explore the business and take it where the guys took it as a businesswoman". But how I see it, is that she is not a businesswoman at all. She is a product. Think about it. They got this girl who knows how to rap and is relatively good looking, and thought "Hey! That's new in the music market... a female rapper!" She even says it herself in the interview: "you have to do your homework on the market". A female rapper is what was lacking in the music industry (demand) and she provided it (supply)... and they did the "market research" on where to put her music on the map... just like a product, like tuna or toothpaste or something.

If you work in the marketing industry like I do you'll know exactly what I mean. We hear these terms on a daily basis. Product positioning. Target Market. Supply and Demand.

Except in this case, its on a very wide scale and the product is a human, and their dignity, sexuality and image is 90% of what makes up the product. When people get bored of the available music and image of the artists they follow, record labels recognize that. So boundaries need to be pushed in order to keep their audiences stimulated – and for females, that often, unfortunately, means sexual boundaries.

There are so many female artists and female rappers that made it big without having to go down that path, like Lauryn Hill or Norah Jones. They were sexy, they were pretty, they were "commercial", they made money from their music, but they did not sell everything they had. And probably didn’t make as much money as Minaj either.

I guess its not Nicki Minaj herself that I'm mad at, I'm just mad that a shocking sexual image is a must if a female is to excel in the music business. I'm mad at radio stations, because record labels work to get their acceptance to play their artists' songs. I'm mad that "consumers" subconciously do have these demands on female artists -- after all, consumers are the stakeholders. And I'm mad that everyone, even small children, is hearing this kind of music. To me, she is just the representation of all that. The same goes for Rihanna and other celebrity figures that push sexual and moral boundaries with every song and video they make. Honestly, I was quite shocked at Rihanna's video "We Found Love" and thought it was completely inappropriate to be played on TV where anyone can watch it (I did enjoy the song though).

I wish I could talk to some of these celebrities. I would ask Nicki if she really thinks she is talented, if she really feels like she's being herself, and why doesn't she advocate at least ONE positive thing in her music instead of rapping about how great her pu**y tastes. Minaj always jokes around that she is bisexual or bi-curious (she never confirms it, I think), why doesn't she do a song condemning everyday violence that gays and lesbians are subjected to just because of their sexuality, for example, as suggested by spoken word poet Jasmine Mans in her spoken word piece "Nicki Minaj"?

I just feel sad to see that this is commercialized hiphop. Granted, hiphop has never been perfect but I do believe it has great potential as it is found in every country in the word and it is a word-based art form which allows a lot of information and knowledge sharing. But I still believe in it, because people all around the world keep it alive, we just have to search for it!

Seeking Out Music

I'm not the biggest fan of most mass-popularized commercial music (and no, I'm not one of those people that hate anything mainstream, I give credit where credit is due whether music is commercial or underground. I will write more on this topic another time). I also get bored of my music library quite fast, especially because I pretty much keep every single song I've liked since grade 6. Since I don't really like listening to anything on the radio or on TV, I've gotten pretty creative with the ways I get new music to listen to.

  • When I first started getting into hip-hop, I really wanted to find new music but I didn't really know where to start without reading an entire anthology on hip-hop's greatest and their history. So I found a friend who was already familiar with the genre, and he generously offered to share some of his music library with me and gave me a huge chunk of songs with some of hip-hop's greatest. He had so many albums -- from Common, Talib,  ATCQ, Mos, Nas... to collection albums of notable songs in hip-hop. I put all of these songs into my iPod and my iTunes and slowly over time, I listened to most of them and remembered which ones I liked. I still owe my friend big time for that one, thanks @OT_Productions :)
  • Another thing I do is listen to mixes by DJ's who had interesting song choices, and who highlighted songs that were not that well-known or not in the mainstream. One such DJ I really enjoyed listening to was @RONEJAXX because he would choose smooth and chill oldskool R&B tracks. Some of them were not that well known, and some of them I didn't listen to in 10 years. He's definetly the DJ to listen to if you want R&B smooth grooves. A great site to find DJ mixes is MixCloud, where you can choose DJ mixes and sets by genre/tags.
  • YouTube is another great source for finding music. A lot of people curate playlists with a specific theme that you can listen to. So let's say I want to find new music by different female rappers that I might not have heard of before, I would do a YouTube search for "female rappers" or a name of a female rapper, and will find that at the bottom of the search results, there will be playlists that might show you what you are looking for. Bahamadia or Jean Grae might be included in playlists such as "My Favorite Hip Hop" or "Female Rappers". Then you can just click on the Female MC's playlist and play everything there until you find stuff that you like. One playlist I'm exploring these days is called Eargasm, you can listen to it here.
  • Music blogs around the world give you access to music that you probably would never stumble upon. I follow a few music blogs that always give good recommendations. I've found random and great music on these kind of blogs; from interesting covers, to great live performances by artists, to just new stuff you never heard of before. It's even more interesting when you follow a blog that focuses on the music scene of another country (this is especially true for hip-hop which has a community, no doubt, in every corner of the globe). One blog that I really enjoy following is Soul11Music, they always recommend nice soulful tracks and R&B joints.
So that's how I find most of my music, really. Of course there are other useful ways like asking friends, listening to something someone recommended on their Twitter or Facebook page, or looking up the source of a sample. However, I find the ways I listed above to be more proactive in finding new music rather than letting it just come to you. Like I said, I get bored really fast with my music library so I have to actively go search for music!

I would love to hear how you find new and interesting music, so share your thoughts in the comments or on my Twitter page.

I'll leave you a song that I randomly found on Youtube the other day. Levitation (Ver 2.0) by Grooveman Spot which has some English rap and rap from a foreign language, I'm not really sure which. The beat is sooo relaxing!

My Challenge With Songwriting

I've never wanted to be just a singer.
I feel like I have so much more to give than just sing other people's song or be a performance artist only. I've always had the vision that I would one day create my own music. Little did I know it was going to be so difficult!
In my past I tried to focus on which instrument was best for me and to master that instrument until I felt comfortable enough to move on to creating music. As I experimented with different instruments (guitar, piano, and voice) I decided that singing was the best one for me.

The reason why I chose singing is because it came pretty naturally to me. Although I studied music theory for many years in school as well as on my own, the mathematical nature of it never really made sense to me outside of the textbook I was studying from. I understood it, but I didn't understand how to apply it. I still feel this to a certain extent, today. A big part of music theory is telling you what music sounds "good" - as in, arranging musical notes into patterns like chords, scales, and chord progressions. Music theory kind of tells you which notes go with which chords... and even when it encourages you to be experimental with your chord progressions, it always puts a label on it: "diminished chords", "augmented chords", "diatonic chords". It really never clicked in my brain in terms of application -- too many words, terms, definitions... and at the end of the day, music was just about feel for me.

For example, in music theory we have "scales" or a collection/pattern of notes that make a certain sound. There is a Blues' scale which makes songs more blue-sy. There is a minor blues' scale, which allows you to make music that sounds like sad blues.

When you play piano or guitar, you need to actually locate these notes on the keyboard/strings. For some people, this comes naturally (as in they don't even need to learn music theory) or they learn it really easily. Not for me, though. No matter how much music theory I learned and tried to apply go guitar/piano, I couldn't do it without feeling so mathematical and systematic about it. End result? I couldn't enjoy myself, feel the music or master the instrument.

However, I (and most singers) was fortunate enough with singing that I never had to memorize different scales or chords... It always came naturally to me. If I wanted to improvise and sing to any chord progression, I can do that pretty easily -- it might not sound like a catchy melody, but it would be at least something like scatting or a not-so-catchy melody. I can also harmonize melodies very easily (in fact I think that is one of my biggest strengths) which makes it easy for me to double vocals on a chorus or do background vocals. I thought it would be easy for me to write melodies, lyrics and songs -- especially that I also write not entirely terrible poetry.

I was so wrong!

  • Making a melody is easy, but making a catchy melody is not easy. Sometimes I have to improvise for hours and over several sessions to come up with something semi-acceptable... and I always end up being unsatisfied with it anyway
  • Even if you DO make a catchy melody, putting words to it is sooo difficult. If you already have words written down, it's going to be really hard to force them into a melody that you like. Sometimes people come up with melodies and then write the lyrics, which I've tried, but I feel like it decreases the quality of my lyrics as I know I could have written something much more interesting/better/complex.
  • Sometimes I just get thunderstruck with inspiration and confidence and I write the best song/hook and I love it! But at the times I really need to write (when other people are depending on me or waiting to collaborate with me, or if I'm just trying to push myself to write something new) almost nothing ever comes out :( I know there is a creative process for stimulating and channeling inspiration at any given time, but I have not figured that out yet.
  • The worst part is that I'm so shy to even show anyone songs that I've written because I feel like everything I write is shit! I feel like I can't really show anyone because its not "acceptable" yet. I can only show someone a song I've written if its has the "semi-acceptable-for-humanity's-listening" stamp... and getting there is a very frustrating concept.
I really hope that I find my own personal formula for managing creativity in songwriting because I really want to release a free mixtape or something by the end of this year -- some songs with my own beats, some songs with other people's beats, but all original songwriting and arrangement. 

If you have any comments/questions/advice, make sure you comment on this entry, or share your thoughts on my Twitter page! :)