Posts Tagged ‘photography’

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Tube update: Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park.

January 22, 2012

Today Toby and I went to meet Nana at the Hummingbird bakery on Portobello Road. I had never actually been inside a Hummingbird bakery or tried their cakes; I had a slice of vanilla cake and it was very nice! Nana and I had a good catch-up, despite the fact that in total the bakery has 6 available seats and so Toby had to stand up; very awkward when there is a long line of people (half of whom are taking pictures of the red velvet cupcake!). Once we had finished our food and coffees, we went for a walk along Portobello Road (the market part I don’t see very often because my office is based right near the beginning of the road) and in amongst the tourists, we found a handy craft shop!

It reminded me of the first time I went to Portobello Road with Toby and Said, and I had a bright idea to go to Golborne Road (which is quite a long walk from Notting Hill Gate!) to see what Little Morocco was like!  This time however, we didn’t venture that far but we did get to see Ladbroke Grove (which has a nice colourful part of the Westway bridge next to it!):

And on the way back, we stopped by Westbourne Park tube station too:

Toby directed me to get a better shot of the station extending up the street, rather than straight on (which omitted some of the building). 5 tube stations in one weekend is certainly not bad going!

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creative instincts.

November 2, 2011

So I have been a busy bee and I haven’t had much time to write on this blog. But moreover, I haven’t really had anything that has come to mind as really worth posting… I have been too busy living life and not insightful enough to be reflecting along the way. But through talking and thinking about things in interesting conversations with Toby and Nick, I have decided that now that I am settled in London (I have been here nearly 2 months, which I can’t believe – it’s flown by!!!), I am going to pursue some projects. Here is a list:

  • Music. I have recorded precisely one verse since I moved to London. I love the new music I have been making, but it has trailed off. Partly because in my current flat, the only place I really feel comfortable singing is in the kitchen, as it’s the only space that isn’t close to the corridor, or to my neighbour’s room. (I don’t want to deafen them, or get a bad rep!) But I realise I need to really get myself back in motion and finish this new album!!!! In addition, Nick has been telling me about the fabulous Open Mic nights at the Cellar Door near Covent Garden. So in order to prove to myself that I can still sing, perhaps I shall slowly gather courage to perform something. I am aware that the sheet music for the Burlesque soundtrack, and for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way are both available. So what do we reckon? “Something’s Got A Hold On Me”? “Yoü and I”? “Bound To You?” “Marry The Night / Americano / Judas” medley?!?! I have to do something to keep my musical proclivities going, and to keep my performance and vocal skills alive.
  • Swimming. I have been fairly good (if not exactly excellent) with my walking to work. But obviously, winter is fast approaching and I will be less inclined to walk in bad / ridiculously cold weather, in warm clothes. So Les Senteurs (where Nick works) is opening a new branch in Marble Arch (you should go and check it out – fabulous perfumes!) and there is reportedly a swimming pool nearby. I have swimshorts from when Toby and I went on holiday to Seville, so Nick and I are planning to do some exercise at the pool there after work. It sounds like a good plan – I want to slim down a little bit.
  • Drawing. Once upon a time, I used to be fairly good at drawing. And watching Toby knit and create things, I know that I am not really a very crafty person and into handicrafts and the like. However, I am an artistic and creative person, and I am not bad at Photoshop and digital designing (my fashionista and styling instincts are ever useful in this regard). But recently I have been tempted to take it back to basics and get back into drawing. I think I will start out slowly and simply, and get myself a sketch book and a nice pencil or two, and start off by drawing what is outside my window. And as I gain my skills back and become more confident, I will hopefully be able to draw more elaborate, complex and inspired/imaginative pieces.
  • Cooking. Again, Toby is a fabulous cook. I am not a bad cook, but I have never ever had remotely enough patience to be bothered with it, unless I am cooking for someone else (which happens literally once in a blue moon). I admire the way that Toby instinctively knows what flavours go together, when a meal is ready, how to improvise with ingredients and flavours. I have never ever had an instinct like that as far as food is concerned. To be quite truthful, food has been an enemy of mine ever since I can remember – even though I am now no longer going through the weight loss issues I did as a child. I don’t enjoy food the way that a lot of people seem to – I can appreciate when something tastes nice or is artfully made, but I don’t derive pleasure from every meal the way that some do. To illustrate this, I have exactly the same thing for lunch every day at work. And it doesn’t bother me, because I don’t cherish the meal or the food. All I cherish is the fact that I have conditioned myself to be satisfied with a small lunch, and that this is good because it’s not going to add weight to me. (Sadly, by the evenings I am often ravenous and therefore often overeat – putting me back to square one!) But, back on topic after that brief digression, I feel that while the balance that Toby and I have of “he cooks, I clean” is totally satisfactory for both of us, I would still like to cook a little bit more. Because a real man knows how to cook, right?
  • London underground photo project. This is the big one that I have been contemplating for a few weeks now. Toby took me on a couple of photo walks around London, but I didn’t particularly enjoy them beyond the fact that I went to places I wouldn’t normally go. I wasn’t doing any photographing – Toby has a super-duper camera and so took lots of pictures, but I can’t be bothered to lug that around! Plus, a lot of the other people on the photo walk were basically being offensively touristy and taking pictures of everything and everyone (often in swarms like paparazzi!!), swarming upon the landscape without any respect for the world and public around them. It’s hard to explain, but that sort of behaviour basically appears to me as a little undignified. But each to their own. However, I have had the idea of documenting my life in London by taking pictures outside the tube stations I end up near, and expanding this to collect them all. A bit like Pokémon – gotta catch ’em all! But it will also be a fun project and spur me to explore the city a bit more. So perhaps that is something I will start doing very soon! What do you reckon?
So there you have it – my personal and artistic aims for the next few months. Let’s see how I do! xx
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Shakira – She Wolf. (album review)

October 11, 2009

Shakira’s new album She Wolf is her first album in four years (since 2005’s Oral Fixation volumes 1 & 2, which represented her best work to date, especially on the Spanish-language vol. 1) and represents a similar transformation to Jewel’s 0304 – Shakira has made an almost-purely danceable, modern album.  Unlike Jewel’s efforts prior to 0304, Shakira has made addictive up-tempo music before: see “Whenever, Wherever”, “Objection (Tango)”, “La Tortura”, “Hips Don’t Lie”.  But never before has she devoted an entire album to the stuff; gone are the tender, thoughtful ballads such as “Underneath Your Clothes” or “Illegal”.  The question nevertheless remains – is Shakira, whose image is now more sexually potent than ever (straight blonde hair, dancing in a half-catsuit in her “She Wolf” video), cashing in, or does she still remain herself?

Mainly, I argue for the latter.  Once the initial shock of the dense production and pounding bass subsides, the melding of cultures and instruments that has always been evident in Shakira’s work is here too.  Listen to “Long Time”, and its reggae beat which gives way to an instrumental bridge that prominently features what sounds like a gypsy saxophone; “Mon Amour” employs a rocky half-time clap that is reminscent of Shakira’s spunkier moments such as Fijación Oral vol. 1‘s “Escondite Inglés”; the only semi-slow moment on the album is to be found in “Gypsy”, where Shakira employs an island feel with a plucked guitar, Caribbean-esque drums and Eastern-European string accents on the chorus.  Not to forget “Why Wait”, which is 2009’s update of “Ojos Así / Eyes Like Yours” with its Middle-East-meets-West instrumentation and production over a storming 4/4 bassline (which becomes positively incendiary in the bridge).  Musically, although it’s a little bit of a readjustment to our expectations of what Shakira’s music sounds like, it is still definitely her, and her claims of wanting to make a “bassy, beat-driven record that maintains experimentation with sounds from other parts of the world” ring true.

Shakira’s lyrics have always been put under a microscope – a fact that has irritated me immensely through the years.  Not only is Shakira an incredibly intelligent woman, but her lyrics are far and away of a much higher quality than those of the majority of traditional pop made by native-English-speaking artists.  The criticism she has gained from reviewers and comedy sketches alike (see MADTV’s parodies of “Whenever, Wherever” and “Objection (Tango)” on youtube – they’re funny, but they’re also unwarranted) is totally unfair and disrespectful of an artist who has mastered a complex language (once you get past the basics, English is a complicated language to speak fluently – I should know, since I have taught it) when I wager that the majority of these critics can’t speak more than a few basic sentences of phrase-book Spanish.  Because Shakira dared to say “Lucky that my breasts are small and humble” in her first English hit does not make her nonsensical.  Listen to “Octavo Día” and “Timor”, songs in both Spanish and English that express criticism with the way that the world is run and our own media-obsessed culture, and you’ll understand that Shakira is very well-aware of what she sings and what she has written.  On She Wolf, there is nothing as incisive as “Timor” or “How Do You Do” (both from Oral Fixation vol. 2) but its opening salvo of “A domesticated girl, that’s all you ask of me / Darling it is no joke, this is lycanthropy” is certainly more sophisticated than “I think you wanna come over, yeah I heard it through the grapevine / Are you drunk, are you sober? Think about it, doesn’t matter” from Madonna’s current hit “Celebration”.  “Mon Amour” delivers a fantastic kiss-off to a boyfriend who has gone to Paris with another woman, while “Men In This Town” ruminates on where are all the good men who can appreciate what Shakira has to offer?  (I feel her on that one.)

I suppose that a certain amount of lyrical straightforwardness is to be expected on an album which is almost purely uptempo and flirts specifically with the electro-pop genre – I can’t get too mad that some of Shakira’s more insightful and wittier metaphors have been sacrificed.  But the three Spanish tracks that round out the album – “Lo Hecho Está Hecho” (“Did It Again”), “Años Luz” (“Why Wait”) and “Loba” (“She Wolf”) – are lyrically superior to any of the album’s English tracks.  For example, “Años Luz”‘s “Esperar es un mar que aún no sé navegar / No te quedes años luz, ya estoy decidida y quiero saber si lo estás tú” translates as “Waiting is a sea that I don’t know how to navigate / You haven’t got light years, I’ve already made my mind up and I want to know whether you have too”.  The English version, “Why Wait”, says “One more night with you, I won’t think it through / Time’s money, but you knew / There’s nothing in the world you can think of that I won’t do to you”.  It’s the same thought, but in Spanish it just comes across as much more elegant and sophisticated.  Not to mention that “Loba” in particular seems to flow much more naturally in Spanish than in English, and the lyrics are perhaps more comprehensible.  In any case, the Spanish tracks add to the album, even though they are retakes of English songs from its first half – it serves to reinforce the fact that Shakira is a bilingual artist who refuses to neglect either her Spanish or English audiences, but instead (as on the Oral Fixation era) seeks to satisfy them both.  This is laudable, and I hope that Shakira comes out with a full Spanish album next year (as has been rumoured).

So it all sounds good so far.  Well, the album is a consistent listen, and its brevity means that each song gets you moving but doesn’t outstay its welcome.  The dense production, in the main courtesy of Pharrell and John Hill, flows throughout (except for the break provided by the relatively lightweight “Gypsy”).  Because of this, there are no really weak tracks, although surprisingly, the Wyclef Jean collaboration “Spy” seems the most rote and uninspired song on the set – its straightforward 4/4 beat has nothing extra to catch the listener’s ear, and sounds lazy compared to Pharrell’s musically adventurous soundscapes in “Why Wait” and “Long Time”.  “Gypsy” sounds like nothing else on the album, but its dip in tempo serves as a break which can sometimes be appreciated by the listener, but at other times seem like an interruption of the party, so depending on your mood, it could be a help or a hindrance.  Other than that, all the tracks are solid, but none of them are immediate standouts save the last track, “Mon Amour”.  With its decidedly rocky, guitar-led music and handclap-driven beat that intensify into a crunchy, heady chorus, it’s the kind of track that you can’t help but get wrapped up in.  Shakira’s vitriolic lyrics, snarling vocals and cutesy airline announcement closing out the song are the icing on the cake, and perfectly embody a girl’s anger with her straying lover’s neglect of her (perhaps similar to 2005’s “Don’t Bother”).  With repeated plays, the appeal of “Did It Again”, “Why Wait” and “Men In This Town” reveals itself, but the songs are certainly not immediate hits like “Hips Don’t Lie”, “La Tortura” or “Objection (Tango)”.

I therefore think that this is a solid Shakira album, and definitely stronger than her breakthrough Laundry Service which contained some fantastic songs but also some uninspired, pedestrian ones (here, the only track I recommend skipping is “Spy”).  However, for me it falls just short of Oral Fixation Vol. 2, because She Wolf is a tiny bit too one-note in its electro-pop approach, and slightly diminishes Shakira’s lyrical mastery in the process.  In terms of her entire catalogue, Dónde Están Los Ladrones? and particularly Fijación Oral Vol. 1 (the Freudian / Eve in the garden of Eden / Madonna and child symbolism were inspired and have yet to be matched in this album’s artwork and photography) are still Shakira’s crowning glories, but the Spanish-language tracks on She Wolf are lyrically more adept than their English counterparts and a worthy addition to both the album itself and to Shakira’s Spanish-music legacy as a whole.  In short, Shakira has far from sold out, and has made a pop album that other artists should be humbled by, such as it melds other cultures and quirky wordplay more than most radio-oriented pop.  And perhaps it is a compliment to Shakira herself that this album still falls somewhat short of her best work, and what I know she is capable of.