Thursday, January 24, 2008

Linking the world thru "The Tube"

Linking the world through sound and vision:
Marty Lipp turns on the tube

When I was growing up, you would never be caught dead listening to your parents' albums, but at least their music was recorded on the same medium as ours. Since then, the CD pushed out the LP and now the young'uns go for the new initials on the block - MP3 ­ at least for now.

Being an old, cranky techno-boob is no fun, but I am getting better. My latest foray ­ a bit late, but us oldsters move slow ­ is watching streaming videos a la YouTube. One night I started typing in the names of my favorite bands from around the world and was rewarded with a mix of live performances and art-directed music videos. I even caught Los Lobos playing an old Mexican tune on Sesame Street.

For those who complain about wanting to hear something new, try some of the best bands in the world: the medieval-metal of Sweden's Hedningarna (choreographed with a type of bellydancing on "Veli"); the agit-prop of Asian Dub Foundation, the art-school men of the people, Café Tacuba of Mexico ("Ingrata"); or the sophisticated updating of folk instruments by Galicia's Berrogüetto ("Xente"). Or check out Manu Chao's "Rainin' in Paradize," a faux-naif anti-war rocker animated with child-like drawings.

Hazmat Modine in Russia

As a forum for videos and music from around the world, YouTube is simply remarkable. Suddenly, some old concert from state-sponsored television in the former Soviet bloc is there, as if plucked from the ether.

One downside to skipping around YouTube is that the quality of the videos are wildly erratic. Another is that since you don't know what you don't know, you are essentially stumbling around in the dark.

There are, however, others who are handpicking videos for audiences. Link TV, which is on channel 375 on Direct TV and 9410 on The Dish Network, includes music videos with its mix of news and cultural programming from around the world. Recently, the nonprofit broadcaster, whose motto is "Television Without Borders," relaunched its website, offering streaming world-music videos. LinkTV also curated videos for National Geographic's new world-music web pages.

At Link TV there are 30-minute blocks with themes such as hip-hop, dance and performances. There are over 250 individual videos posted, with more going up regularly, searchable by region or genre. Hip-hop from around the world includes the poignant, compelling "Soobax" by K'Naan, a Somalian living in Canada, and songs from one of my favorite bands, the Barcelona-based collective called Ojos de Brujo who have some beautifully done videos illustrating their affecting mix of hip-hop, flamenco and other genres.

Michal Shapiro, LinkTV's assistant director of music programming, said the goal is to present high-quality videos ­ whether it's a performance clip that "captures the moment well" or a visualization that "enriches the song." Though you still watch a relatively small box, LinkTV's higher-quality videos are well-suited for quieter music, such as the exquisite Madredeus or the lambent "Corazón Loco" by Cuban pianist Bebo Valdez and flamenco singer El Cigala.

"There are some extraordinary collaborations that go on between artists and directors," said Steven Lawrence, LinkTV's director of music and cultural programming.

"We don't care if it costs a lot," said Shapiro. "The creativity factor is what we're looking for." On the other hand, she noted, that if a song itself is great and the video is of horrible quality, they do not air it. "That's the kind of thing that breaks our heart."

"Most people in the U.S.," said Lawrence, see a world that seems "constantly in crisis" because newscasts are usually dominated by wars and other catastrophes. The world music videos, he said, show how other countries are facing their challenges, but also show the "celebration of life going on."

"Not as concerned with ratings," said Lawrence. "We're concerned with our mission: connecting Americans to the world."

This is the time of year when everyone suggests things for you to buy. Here's some treats for yourself ­ no purchase necessary. - Marty Lipp

Link TV:

A few of the editor's choices on YouTube

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