Rock News: Music's high and low notes

JOHN SWENSON, United Press International


Taj Mahal, who has been on every edition of the Ultimate Rhythm and Blues Cruise, is once again the star of this year's edition. Taj was everywhere you looked on the cruiser Melody, chatting with various cruisers, selling custom designed Hawaiian shirts and giving an entertaining lecture/concert on the blues. He also led two dramatically different groups, a Piedmont blues revue showcasing several southeastern guitarists, and a Hawaiian band featuring a three-piece ukulele section. Taj was at his best in his lecture/demonstration on blues history, tracing the music back to the oral tradition of the African griots, which is handed down from generation to generation. He demonstrated how a griot's tale sounded, then explained how Africans brought to the United States as slaves translated the pace of this music to the cadence of a man walking behind a mule "trying to dodge the mule drafts." In his summary, Taj Mahal emphasized the enduring popularity of the blues ultimately comes down to music's central role in human expression: "Why all of us can feel this is that we're all part of a bigger family."




Rapper Busta Rhymes reveals how he got his nickname in the March issue of Vibe. In 1986 Public Enemy's Chuck D checked out Trevor Smith and dubbed him "Busta Rhymes" after a player on the Minnesota Vikings.

"When he saw me, he said 'You perform like you're one of them aggressive linemen. You kind of remind me of Buster Rhymes.'" Before that Smith was calling himself "Chill-O-Ski," based on Kool Rock-ski from the Fat Boys and Kool Moe Dee from the Treacherous Three. Smith also talked about how Jay-Z got the best of him in a rap battle when they were in high school together.

"Jay-Z was a senior and I was a sophomore," he said. "He did that speed rap... They hollered louder for him, and that was it."


It isn't easy being a gansta-rap legend, a cartoon character, a peewee-football coach and a porn mogul. Snoop Dogg's completed his sixth album, and Vital Toys is developing a line of Snoop-related action figures -- Snoop in dreads, Snoop as an NBA star, etc. Of course transitioning from hoodfella to kid-friendly action figure is a tricky proposition. Snoop's criminal past includes a murder charge, of which he was acquitted in 1996, and a legendary feud with his old colleague Suge Knight.


"I was actually abusing drugs," Snoop said in the March issue of Spin magazine. "So I just wanted to step back and take a different look at life, you know? And if I choose to get high, it's because I want to get high. It's no longer gonna be me smoking $3,000 or $4,000 worth of weed a day."

Snoop also tells Spin he may be looking for some film roles. "I'd like to do the Miles Davis story," he says. "And the Bob Marley story. You know, deep roles where I can really show my skills."


Grammy nominated Sin Bandera, whose name, "without Flag" is derived from the fact one of the duo is from Mexico and the other from Argentina, heads into the studio this week to record "Amor Real," the first song for the next album, the follow-up to the multi-platinum self-titled debut. When Televisa executives heard a demo of the song, they liked it so much they decide to use it for their next prime time novella, and renamed the novella "Amor Real." Fans can expect the new album to be released later this year. "Amor Real" the novella will debut March l7 on Televisa in Mexico and 20 other countries. Noel Schajris, from Argentina and Leonel García from México formed Sin Bandera less than two years ago. They write all their own songs, weaving piano, guitar and jazz, Latin and R&B influences into their music. Their debut album is nominated for Best Latin Pop Album. It won a Latin Grammy in 2002 for Best Pop Album by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The group also won an MTV Video Music Award.


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