Unreal drops by to chat with Bob Schneider; we visit Africa and the Old School

Bob Schneider

Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, 6504 Delmar Boulevard, University City.

Doors open at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 12. Billy Harvey, Bob's guitar maestro, opens. Tickets are $15; call 314-727-4444 for more information.

Recently, Viacom announced plans for an MTV Africa channel, which -- like its European counterpart, and unlike its American parent -- will actually play music videos.

What took them so long?

Having just returned from a month's vacation in East Africa, I can personally attest to the presence of numerous music-video outlets throughout the region, on cable networks like EATV (East African music and culture), ETV (Ethiopian programming) and Z Music (Indian music videos and Bollywood movies).

Ever paid attention to how Western music sounds in foreign countries? Watching kids in a park listening to Jadakiss' "Why?" and Mariah Carey's "It's Like That" takes on a different significance when that park is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital. And Phil Collins' faux-Motown shtick demands to be seen in a new, respectable light when it comes on out of the blue at a café there. On the other hand, German techno (as heard at the Addis Sheraton's in-house club) still sucks.

Then there's the matter of how local music sounds to a foreigner. Traditional Ethiopian sounds -- heard live in a tiny nightclub in Bahar Dar, blaring from a tape stand somewhere in Addis or wafting from a group of chanting monks in a remote Lalibela monastery -- seem strangely compelling and slightly mystical despite, or perhaps because of, the language barrier.

Meanwhile, African rap has absorbed some of the clichés of its American counterpart, in particular an identification with the word "gangsta" and all that implies. However, from a musical standpoint, there's much more innovation happening in Africa, whose new-school griots are equally influenced by traditional tribal culture and urban street life. In both West and East African hip-hop styles, there's more melody, more polyphony and a wider variety of instrumentation than in most American hip-hop. Also, many of the hallmarks associated with hip-hop and rap -- such as the call-and-response and the emphasis on the drum -- have African origins, so it seems natural that young African artists identify with the genre.

Hip-hop may well represent the future of African music, but right now, reggae seems more ubiquitous -- you hear it more places, at least in East Africa. Traveling south down the Rift Valley region to the Swahili coast, you'll find that traditional music, called taraab -- itself a mixture of Indian, Arabian and African influences -- has evolved into a hip-hop- and reggae-inflected genre called "bongo flava."

To date, much more West African than East African hip-hop has made its way across the Atlantic to our ears. However, the bongo-flava movement appears to be just as talent-laden as what has emerged from the Francophone African countries. And unlike Amharic reggae, the scene is already well represented by full-length recordings. In the duty-free shop at the Dar Es Salaam airport, I splurged on a stack of CDs. Back home after a tedious 24-hour flight, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the music sounded as fresh and interesting in my living room as it did in its native land -- even without MTV's blessing. -- Eric K. Arnold

Play "Free Bird"!
Bob Schneider concerts remind Unreal of the all-you-can-eat roadside smorgasbord where we stopped after a daylong field trip in the fourth grade. You paid, like, $2.75, then packed your piehole till you were pretty sure you were gonna yak. Our friend Jon H., who was even more of a narrow-ass than Unreal, managed to put away 27 pieces of fried chicken.

You grow up, and the lost smorgasbords of your youth leave a void. So you fill that abyss with the live sounds of peerless Austin-based rocker Bob Schneider, whose two-hour-and-then-some sets careen from sing-along jams pioneered by Schneider's raunchy alter-ego band the Scabs to unreleased material that might or might not appear on an upcoming album (tentatively titled Fuck All You Motherfuckers) to songwritery ballads that make the college chicks go all weak-kneed.

And then, boys and girls, there's our topic for today: the covers.

Along with the vast catalog of originals, Bob and the band have a penchant for dipping into others' oeuvres, typically the territory classic rockers like to call Deep Cuts -- from Grandmaster Flash to the Climax Blues Band, Violent Femmes to Kansas, "Hooked on a Feeling" to "The Weight."

With this in mind, Unreal sat down with a pitcher of margaritas and downloaded a CD full of rawk. Then we phoned Schneider on the road. While he watched the miles roll by, we played him our CD, requesting that he rate the songs on the Bob-O-Meter for cover consideration. The annotated results (* = already covered):

1 Schneid
"All Right Now" (Free)
At one point when I was in high school, that was my favorite song. But no.

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"(Don't Fear) the Reaper" (Blue Öyster Cult)* We did a recording of it that I submitted to the folks at Six Feet Under. They passed on it.

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)" (The Hollies) A definite maybe.

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" (Looking Glass) Not sure I could do it justice. You know who would? Big Head Todd.

1 Schneid
"Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" (The Rolling Stones) It's like going to a radio station and somebody gives you a bunch of CDs -- "I'll take all these CDs." And then you never listen to them.

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"Take It Easy" (Jackson Browne)*

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"Crazy On You" (Heart)

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"Turn the Page" (Bob Seger) Someone sent me a Bob Seger record cover where I look exactly like Bob Seger at a certain age. I might consider doing that one with the Scabs, but with Bob Schneider I'd do one that didn't have any sax. I'd probably do "Like a Rock."

1 Schneid
"Spanish Moon" (Little Feat)

1 Schneid
"Can't You See" (The Marshall Tucker Band)

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" (Bachman-Turner Overdrive) A definite-for-sure yes.

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"Games People Play" (Joe South)

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"Tuesday's Gone" (Lynyrd Skynyrd) We do "Sweet Home Alabama." Sometimes people request "Free Bird," and they're joking. We play it anyway.

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"La Grange" (ZZ Top)* May do it again.

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"Free Ride" (The Edgar Winter Group) For the Scabs, definitely.

1 Schneid 1 Schneid 1 Schneid
"Midnight Rider" (The Allman Brothers Band) That's a hard one. You playing me that song may have been the key to unlocking what's wrong with me. Because half of me is saying absolutely not, and the other half is saying fuckin' cool!

1 Schneid
"One Toke Over the Line" (Brewer & Shipley) I want you to send me the CD just so I can have a copy of that song. But no -- I don't like to have too much fun at the expense of Jesus. -- Unreal

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