Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ivo Nakov Creates Bulgarian Funk
by Ramon Shiloh

The syncopated jabs and rhythmic punches break up the quiet evening air. In general, night life in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood is mild and sporadic. But, not at the Seamonster Lounge, where KA-POW has been blasting their own unique sound of Postmodern Transfunk every Wednesday night.
On stage are band leader and drummer, Ivo Nakov, organist Ty Bailey, Andy Coe is playing the guitar and Craig Flory is on the sax. The energy is hypnotic. Nakov, whose calculated drumming is inspiring, does not miss a beat as one song segues into the next.

As one fan puts it, “Their fusion of sound is what jazz musicians should be jealous of!”
KA-POW’s catalog covers all genres of music, breaking them down and funneling them through a flavorful, funky mesh that keeps moving and makes people feel good. The resulting sound is what Nakov describes as “Bulgarian Funk”.
Nakov exemplifies the persona of a true musician. Dedicated to the arts, he is diligent in his efforts to keep learning, producing and passing on his knowledge to help the next generation of musicians grow in their craft. When he’s not on stage, Nakov shares his experiences with budding percussionists enrolled at the Seattle Drum School of Music.
Nakov believes in elevating students’ confidence in their craft. As a result, his lessons not only teach the technical side of drumming, but he also tries to show students how to think for themselves, how to let go of their nervousness and how to take control in a creative element. Showing them how to connect to the music goes a long way in achieving these goals.

Early Life in Bulgaria
Like most children growing up, discovering new places and absorbing life’s complexities can be challenging if one is not prepared. In Nakov’s case, he quickly acknowledged his place in Bulgaria as a temporary refuge for bigger things to come.
“When I was 10 or 11, I remember my parents took my brother and me around town and showed us apartments and asked us which one we would want. Even though I was very young, they just wanted to know. I looked up at them and said, ‘I don’t want to live in this country.’ And my mother asked, ‘Well, where you want to live?’ So I said, ‘I want to go live in the States.’ Not that I knew at the time, where in the States, but it was setup in my mind. I wanted to leave.”
Yet, when asked about his upbringing, Nakov reflects with love and praise for his country. Sophia, Bulgaria, is one of the oldest cities in Europe and is a hot destination for globetrotters around the world. Nearly 7 million visitors each year flock to the region to sample the local food, scenery, history and culture.
Born in 1967, Nakov grew up in a much different Bulgaria - one that was controlled by Communism until 1990. At the age of seven, Nakov discovered his love for music. “I wanted to play the drums so bad that I played on the yellow pages for two years” he recalls. “I would literally drool when I saw pictures of drum sets.”
From then on, Nakov tapped out a beat on every surface he could get his hands on. His brother, who was “great at building things”, fashioned Nakov a drum set from old ice cream buckets and plywood to help him bring his music to life.

Nakov’s Musical Influences
Nakov’s romantic visions of the West were accentuated by the album collection his parents had at home. “Not only did we have six or seven guitars around the house, but my father also had a lot of Opera, Johnny Cash, Beatles, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Rush,” recalls Nakov.
When his mother finally realized the depth of her son’s passion, she guided him to a local youth center for lessons, where he spent the next few years honing his technique. While many teachers came and went, one instructor really took notice of Nakov’s talent. When the instructor suggested that he audition for the Philharmonic Pioneer Youth Orchestra, Nakov decided to see if he had the chops to play professionally.
“There was an audition, and from then on, I began to go to rehearsals, and it was difficult. Think about it, I’m 13 and playing some serious classical pieces,” Nakov explains of the competitive orchestra, which was led at the time by legendary conductor, Vladi Simeonov.
The orchestra’s primary goal, which features talented musicians between the ages of 4 and 19, is to not only teach classical music, but also to prepare young musicians for a broader audience in a concert hall. For the next six years, Nakov toured the world extensively, visiting places such as Brazil, Spain, Italy, France, Germany and Greece.
Nakov also gives credit to his years in the orchestra for shaping his musical style. “In the orchestra, especially percussion, you have a lot of rests in between other performers so you have a lot of time to observe and listen to all the people,” he explains. “You hear clarinets on the right, trumpets on the left, oboes, the flutes and wood instruments right in front of you. I mean, I’m literally learning parts of whole sections. So, when it comes down to writing music, I think about that influence.”
All of these experiences have fused into a style of music that Nakov labels Bulgarian Funk. “But,” he’s quick to point out, “it’s not just funk, it’s everything, such as, Bulgarian folk music, jazz, rock and classical music.”
“I’m very aware of how music influenced my life professionally. It’s like as if a seed was planted in my brain when I was young and it kept growing. Finally, I wake up 30 years later, realizing at that moment how it all began. It’s interesting to reflect on the origins of your life.”

Leaving Sofia
When Nakov ended his run with the Philharmonic at the age of 19 in 1986, he was whisked away to serve a two-year, mandatory stint in the military. After he had fulfilled his national duty, Nakov knew it was time to honor his childhood vow to leave for the States.
As an artist, Nakov believed he had accomplished everything he wanted to do musically in Bulgaria. “I didn’t want to be the first in the village and the last in the city, you know?” Nakov jokes before recalling some of the many musicians back home who are highly talented, but who are stuck or comfortable with no aspirations to move ahead.
“As great as they are, you need to travel. The information you get can be a vital step in transitioning your creative path for the better. Performing in Seattle is amazing. New York, Los Angeles, Boston or even Austin, Texas, are hot spots for growth if you want to be heard.”
When the Bulgarian Communist Party fell in 1990, the Anti-Communist Union of Democratic Forces privatized the land and industries, which resulted in unimaginable unemployment rates and left the country broke. At the age of 22, Nakov was among the thousands of Bulgarians who received political asylum in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada.
“I don’t know if you ever been there, but it’s frigging cold. Like, minus 40 degrees while the sun was out. As we were landing, I looked at my buddy next to me and said, ‘Where’s the airport, man?’ Everything was white,” Nakov recalls. “Usually you’d see some lights or something blinking. I was trying to find anything that might peek a little civilization, but it was just a white sheet of snow. For a moment, I thought the plane was going down.”
Like many refugees, Nakov arrived in Canada with no luggage, money or clothes. All he had left was $27 and his passion to make music. His journey eventually led him to the Pacific Northwest to find an old friend. He has since spent the past 14 years performing and teaching in Seattle.
Nakov’s life goal is to build a platform for children who want to learn. He has taught at the Seattle Drum School since 2002. His philosophy is simple: “Don’t waste my time.” And, his “with the whole body and not just the hands” teaching technique is why he’s so integral to both the Bulgarian and the Seattle music scene.”
In 2002, Nakov released “Like a Drop…EVO2″, a medley of trans-drum and bass grooves that shows off Nakov’s expertise and timing. On the funky beats from “Everstone: Wrongy Dong”, which was released in 2005, Nakov projects mad skills in his drumming. George Clinton would be proud of this album.

“Bulgarian music is in a league of its own. People love listening to it, but it’s very difficult for even seasoned musicians to play.” If you happen to find yourself at a venue where Nakov is performing, take notes because you’ll definitely be schooled.

© 12/8/2008

From Northern Exposure to No Exposure
by Ramon Shiloh

On a somber evening in February 2008, Native hearts stand still. Elaine Miles takes the microphone at The Daybreak Star Cultural Center near Seattle’s Magnolia Park and gently announces her respects to the forum of mourners. Just a few feet away, her mothers’ body lays wrapped in a star blanket, free from the pain that had ravaged her body for five years.
Described as the most visible Native American figure of the 1990s, Miles is best known for her memorable role as Marilyn on “Northern Exposure”. She has appeared in several films, as well, films, including Smoke Signals, Mad Love, Skins and Tortilla Heaven, as well as in Canada’s half-hour series “The Rez”.

At the height of her success, Miles never thought her life and working career would be challenged by sizable debt, emotional distress and, in the end, a massive struggle to resurrect her career in a seemingly more competitive environment. However, when the doctors discovered her mother had colon cancer, she knew it was time to stop working.
“I don’t know if people understand Native families, but the family is the number one thing in your life and being a single mom, my mom was a priority in my life,” Miles explains. “If it wasn’t my mom, it was my son. Losing my father in 1990, and now my mom living with cancer, there was no question as to what I should do. My priority was to get her well.”
Miles had to maneuver her priorities and make sizable sacrifices to accommodate her mother’s needs. Although she received many bookings for potential roles, she turned them all down to be by her mother’s side during the chemo and radiation treatments. While she was there to champion her mother’s optimism, she had no clue how her mom was going to win this fight.
“She started to get better, but her walking ability took longer than anticipated. Then she ended up in an accident and fell, breaking her hip,” Miles says. “The radiation and chemo took a toll on her bones, and because of her age and diabetes, her bones became brittle. From then on, things went downhill.”
Early Life without Debt
Miles was born on April 7, 1960, in Pendleton, Oregon. Although her mother, Armenia, was Cayuse and her father was Nez Perce, she rose as a member of the Umatilla. She learned many traditional skills in her youth, mastering beadwork, pottery and weaving at a young age. She is also a prize-winning traditional dancer.
However, although she grew up with the values of traditional life and understood her tribal sovereignty, her observations and love for reservation life became difficult as she got older.
“Culturally, I was brought up Native American, even though I was brought up in the city,” says Miles, whose mother settled in Seattle in 1962. “But, I’d go home for the summer and spend time with my grandma and grandpa and they would teach us our traditional ways, too.”
Miles’ grandfather was a tribal interpreter who often traveled to Washington, D.C. as a spokesperson for the tribe “In those days, our elders did not speak English. We just spoke our native language. My grandpa would always say, ‘One of these days, I want to see the President actually do something for our people’ and my grandma would say the same thing,” Miles recalls. “But, our family was really never hurting for money because my grandpa raised quarter horses and my dad’s father was the first farmer in Umatilla County to own a combine. Even white farmers would come by to borrow his combine. It’s not like we were hurting for money.”
“My mom would talk the same way. She would say, ‘One day, I want us to be so independent and all be rich.’ I would say to my mom, ‘I’m a Cayuse girl, so we’ll always be broke.’ She’d always laugh because it was a joke. But, I knew I wanted to be rich and famous on my own so I didn’t need to depend on the tribe.”
Miles would soon discover that those who leave their reservation to find a better way of life are barred from their enrollment rights. When her mother grew sick, she was told that if she went back to her reservation, she would get the help she needed. However, her mom chose to remain in Seattle, so medical help was refused, based on tribal by-laws.
“My mom said to me, ‘I might not make it with this cancer. If I don’t make it, I don’t want to go back to Pendleton. Seattle is my home.’ When my mother grew sick, the tribe wasn’t there for my mom. They’re not there for us. I feel the tribe’s number one priority is to keep people on the reservation.”
Miles believes her mother gave up on life because of the massive debt she accumulated. She says people failed to tell them how much treatment and prescriptions would cost.
“Mom paid what she could, but during the last of her treatments, she refused chemo because she couldn’t pay for it,” says Miles, who hopes to build a nonprofit organization that will provide health coverage and other subsidies for tribal members like her mom who decide to leave their reservation.
The Industry Today
Miles says she didn’t decide her acting career, it was decided for her. In 1990, her mother was initially asked to audition for the portrayal of Marilyn Whirlwind, a calm, non-aggressive assistant to Dr. Joel Fleischman’s neurotic behavior, played by Rob Morrow on “Northern Exposure”.
“It was a hot summer and we were on our way to a powwow in Canada. “We were just going to stop by [the audition] and then get up there,” recalls Miles. “My mom didn’t really want to be an actress, but she had a friend who knew the casting lady from “Northern Exposure”. This woman calls my mom and says, ‘Would you like to audition?’ and my mom was like, ‘Sh@t, whatever! Yeah, OK, some woman wants me to audition.’ I’m like, ‘What’s an audition?’ So, my mom agreed to do it.”
“It’s funny because as we were sitting around waiting, the casting director’s assistant came up to me and was like, ‘Is that your hair?’ and ‘Then he reached out for it and my mother stopped him and said, ‘You’re not allowed to touch her hair! Men aren’t supposed to touch a woman’s hair!’ He freaked out and yelled, ‘Oh my god, she’s got beautiful hair!’ then he invited me to audition for the part. My mother looked at me and said, ‘Read the part so we can get the hell out of here!’”
Miles’ subsequent career throughout the 1990s was truly inspiring within the Native American consciousness. Her roles quickly made her the most recognizable Cayuse/Nez Perce Indian woman of all time and earned her a Native American Woman of the Year award in 1993 and America’s Celebrity Indian of the Year in 1995. She is glad to see more Native faces on the television and big screen and is proud that she might have something to do with that.
“Native people today are being cast for different roles other than playing just Native roles. That’s a great thing! I wish I could get out of that,” Miles says. “When people find me, they want me to be that Marilyn character. I hope to see the day when we as Native people get our own TV channel.”
Miles also hopes all Native children will one day have the creative freedom to send their message loud and clear. “Our children are going to change our industry. I’m still struggling, but my hope is for the children to shine. Where we will have our own channel, our own awards shows, we will have our own talk shows with our Native talent on there. Just like black people, yellow people, brown and white. Even Arabic people have their own channel!”
“We are the First People of this nation. We shouldn’t be fighting with each other. The opportunities should be there for us. But, we need to make it happen. There is a dream within all of us that can be reached. That’s why I say our youth will succeed, because they’re still pure in thought and are very open minded about doing things together.”

© 12/1/2008

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Seattle Art Museum Honors Titus Kaphar

by Ramon Shiloh

By provocatively rearranging subject matter on canvas, Titus Kaphar is a young man who is reshaping traditional art with an unpredictable twist.
Tapped as the Seattle Art Museum’s inaugural Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence fellowship recipient, Kaphar was recently awarded $10,000 and the honor of being the first solo exhibitor in the newly created gallery. His contemporary artwork was showcased April 3 through September 6, 2009.
This honor will be awarded bi-annually to a Black artist who has been producing work for less than 10 years in order to help further the artist’s development.
Sandra Jackson-Dumont, who serves as the SAM’s Adjunct Curator for the Modern and Contemporary art department, says she is truly touched by this nod to Kaphar. “What’s powerful about Titus is he’s smart and a great artist. What we’re most proud of is that we can do this for him. What an incredible gesture and legacy it is for artists to give the gift of resources to help another artist manifest their vision. We can create an opportunity for him to leverage this moment so that he can continue doing what he’s been called to do.”
Kaphar laughs when asked about how he feels being the recipient of this new fellowship. “When I got the phone call, I was shocked. Sandra told me the news and I didn’t believe her at first, yet I was grinning ear to ear. I couldn’t believe it! It wasn’t something I had applied for. I didn’t even know the fellowship existed. I think that’s why I’m even more honored by it, because it wasn’t my pursuit. Somebody saw something in my work and thought it was valuable enough to honor. That’s amazing.”
Creating a New Historical Perspective
Kaphar’s creations on canvas are historically bold, providing an untold alternate ending to the stories typically written in the books. His works are an amalgamation of key historical and contemporary figures and moments that have been portrayed in European and American portraits from the 18th and 19th centuries.
He describes his work as “the first sentence in a longer story that the viewer completes.” By cutting and retooling the images, he is able to change the original meaning. For example, in one of his featured pieces, Conversation Between Paintings, Kaphar examines the relationship between a painting of a White soldier and a Black child off to the side, who looks on adoringly, with that of a Black soldier who stands alone.Video: Titus Kaphar discusses his upcoming exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum

Historically, the portraits reveal a time where obligatory images were set to influence Anglo prestige by sharing intellectual and moral rule. Kaphar says that in all his studies, he has never found a painting that features a Black child with a Black soldier in this way.
“I wanted to take the little boy out from the painting because I wanted to see how I would perceive that character in a different setting and if it would change the relationship between the two figures,” Kaphar explains.
The captured relationship is striking. The new image gives the impression of mentorship and counsel rather than master and servant. Kaphar adds that even though the painting is from the past, it still speaks to the social issues many people face today.
Kaphar reminds viewers that paintings are an evolution of sensations that still carries an impact on the emotional consciousness. Identifying the layers of Kaphar’s work offers an understanding of looking at a subject matter from every angle and then initiating an altered response.
“What happens is the historical content of a particular painting is just a way of shrouding contemporary content. Part of this project was taking those paintings that were presented to me as the most important and revaluating them, changing the context, mixing things up and presenting what I find in them,” he says.
Kaphar is a man destined to reshape the definition of art. “I am trying to create stuff that excites me. Every time I walk into the studio, I want to feel surprised. When I started painting, I had the naïve belief that painting can change the world. In my heart, I still truly believe that. I mean, if you can make something that would have such an impact on someone, which compels them to be the solution to things, the world will change for the better.”
Titus Accidentally Discovers His Artistic Potential
Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1976, Kaphar admits he was a terrible student. “My G.P.A. in high school literally started with a decimal point. I failed most classes. It wasn’t until the end of my junior year to the beginning of my senior year that I realized if I didn’t get my act together, I was going to be at school again.”
Thanks to rigorous morning and evening classes, Kaphar just made it through the graduating process. After high school, he took solace in playing music in Northern California’s Bay Area with his brother and best friend, opening for such notable bands as Incubus, Papa Roach and P.O.P., to name just a few.
“We were doing some awesome gigs and then I met this woman, who all of a sudden started asking me about school and what I thought about my future,” Kaphar recalls. Ultimately, his love interest became his hand in marriage and Kaphar found himself seriously questioning his future.
Reluctant to get back into the world of academics, Kaphar nevertheless found himself enrolled at DeAnza College in Cupertino, California, located 45 miles south of San Francisco. “I was really nervous, because I’ve known myself as an academic failure,” he says. “Since I had always dabbled in art here and there, I decided that I should take an art history class.”
From that moment on, Kaphar was hooked. Not only did he enjoy what was representative of the class he was taking, but for the first time in his life, he earned a B. “For someone who left high school with an embarrassing GPA, I was perplexed. But, it pushed me to follow my heart and try other courses I felt I could achieve,” Kaphar says proudly.
He enrolled in art and history courses side by side with his general requirements. When he had enough credits, Kaphar transferred to San Jose State University, where he began a rigorous cycle of proper art classes that would define his observations and develop his painting technique.
Kaphar earned a Bachelor in Fine Arts in painting and a minor in African American Studies from San Jose State University. His confidence high, he went on to earn an Masters in Fine Arts in painting from Yale University in 2006. The following year, he became an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem.
Kaphar is a versatile artist who has earned rave reviews at every showing. He has premiered exhibitions at the Yale University Art Gallery, Savannah College of Art and Design, Provisions Library in Washington, D.C., Anno Domini Gallery in San Jose and the San Jose State University Gallery. After he received the Lawrence Fellowship, Kaphar was tapped for Cuba’s Havana Biennial.
“I never expect to be in the same company with the name Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight. I mean, when I was first painting, he was one of the subjects I studied,” Kaphar recalls. “I mean, who else was painting people who look like me? He was painting people from the Harlem Renaissance, which I studied first. So, to have it come full circle in that way is pretty amazing.”
“This is what I love doing and it never occurred to me to stop doing it,” Kaphar adds. “It has never felt more right.”

© 3/30/2009