Two albums out this week: klezmer and hip hop

Our April releases play like a tongue-in-cheek testament to our vision of complete disregard for genre boundaries: we are proud present our first hip hop and first klezmer albums: CopperWire’s Earthbound and the gonifs’ self-titled debut. They share more than the record label – eclectic jazz trumpeter Darren Johnston plays on both.

the gonifs (click here to listen or purchase)

The gonifs (artists insist on lower case spelling) is one of the reasons Porto Franco came to be three years ago. The first San Francisco show I ever invited my parents to was Jeanette Lewicki’s klezmer brunch at Revolution Cafe with almost the same lineup: Peter Jaques on clarinet, Daniel Fabricant on bass, and Aaron Kierbel on drums. Jeanette’s interpretation of Yiddish music are very close to the sounds we heard on the rare klezmer records in the Soviet Union and Russia, and my parents immediately fell in love with the band. They soon moved to San Francisco and it wasn’t long before my father Sergei and I started this label.

A while after the Revolution Cafe brunches ended, my parents invited the gonifs to play a monthly brunch at Porto Franco Art Parlor. This time the band expanded to also feature jazz trumpeter Darren Johnston, who’s been cutting his Eastern European chops in Peter Jaques Balkan powerhouse Brass Menazeri. On occasion we also had the pleasure of hosting the world-renown trio Veretski Pass, whose members Cookie Segelstein, Joshua Horowitz and Stuart Brotman are featured on this record.

CopperWire (click here to listen or purchase)

CopperWire’s debut album Earthbound is more of a departure for us. For the first couple of years when people asked me what genres Porto Franco focused on, I joked “everything except hip hop and r&b”. It was never a decision to cut out these styles, we were just never part of that scene. Then in 2010 Meklit Hadero sent me a track she recorded with two emcees: her cousin Gabriel Teodros from Seattle, and Burntface from Oakland, and producer Chris Coniglio. The song sounded great, the artists’ energy and the sci-fi concept – an Ethiopian-American hip hop space opera – were contagious. The trio went to Ethiopia in May 2010, came back and cut the entire album in two weeks.

The trio named itself CopperWire, inspired the metaphor of electrical and creative conductivity. The other metaphor at the core of the project is aliens. All three are American artists of Ethiopian descent. They met through the Arba Minch collective – a group of Ethiopian-American artists, writers, musicians, film makers who make yearly trips to Ethiopia to connect with their roots, learn about their culture, and also to create art, perform and teach workshops. In a way they are between the two cultures, they’re at home here and in Ethiopia, but also they’re alien in both places. The song Phone Home is about that.

The other two songs with awesome concepts are “Karman Line” and “Mahalia Einstein”. As a winged aircraft climbs higher in the atmosphere, it needs to fly at a higher speed to generate lift using the wings because the air is thinner at high altitudes. There comes a point when the speed required to use the wings is so high that the aircraft becomes a satellite – it no longer needs lift to fly. That altitude is called Karman line, and it’s approximately 100km above sea level. “Mahalia Einstein” is inspired by the friendship between the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and physicist Albert Einstein. Before Princeton was desegregated, Mahalia Jackson was not allowed to stay on its premises when she was invited to perform. Einstein, who was a professor at Princeton, offered that she stay with him. The two became friends, and Jackson would be a guest at Einstein’s house every time she visited Princeton even after desegregation. The conversations must have been fascinating. The song imagines them.

CopperWire is also exploring interesting tech ideas. This month they released a free iPhone app that creates a unique remix of Phone Home based on your phone number or any other 10-digit sequence. That’s almost 2,000,000 remixes. The app allows you to play along with a remix using your phone. They are also creating an animation app that scans the hidden code on the back of the CD and displays a 3-D animated story of the stealing of their spaceship.

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