Music

Think of One: Tráfico

Musical collectives are often hit and miss, but Think of One hits far more often than it misses.


Think of One

Tráfico

Label: Crammed Discs
US Release Date: 2006-05-23
UK Release Date: 2006-05-01
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I wasn't sure that I was going to like this CD. I'd heard Think of One twice before on Charlie Gillett's 2004 and 2005 world music compilations -- the songs he included were "Grito Grande", from Chuva Em Po, and "Moana", from Marrakesh Emballages Ensemble 2 -- and they hadn't felt like anything special. I liked Dona Cila do Côco's singing on "Grito Grande", and that was it.

Descriptions of the band made them sound like something a marketer had invented with one eye on everyone who had ever turned up at WOMAD wearing a tie-dyed bandana. The description goes like this: Think of One is a collective of Belgian squatters and gypsies who travel to different places and make wild collaborative music with the people it finds there. For Chuva Em Po and Tráfico the group visited Brazil. Marrakesh Emballages Ensemble 2 came out after they had spent time in Morocco. Fame and brand recognition aren't important to the collective: they sometimes release albums under aliases. The group travels the world, singing and blowing horns and making a joyful noise. They win awards and everyone loves them.

I was suspicious. The idea of a freewheeling, friendly collective sounded too perfect to be true and I think I was resentful, to tell you the truth -- hell, I'd like to be a carefree musical Belgian too. (Just to cap it off, I think they're Walloons. Who wouldn't want the pleasure of walking up to strangers and introducing yourself as a Walloon? It's a wonderful word.) I didn't want to give them the time of day.

That stubbornness lasted some way into Tráfico. I was stubborn through track one, and scornful of track two, and indifferent to track three, and at track four I shrugged, but track five -- oh, they got me on track five. It's called "Tahina", and it is, in the words of band member David Bovée, "a family story about a beautiful girl dancing around." "Tahina" starts with a snifty drum and a bwooming noise. Brazilian women arrive, singing quickly in chorus, coming down heavily when they reach the last syllable of the title. "Tahina, tahina, tahina-a-a. Tahiinaa-aa-aa." Then their cavalho marinho rhythm gets taken over by what I'm going to describe inadequately as a punk band crossed with a mob of Roma horns. Everything crashes. The imaginary beautiful girl spins out of control and begins to thrash her arms. Her hair is sticking to her eyes. She's no longer a folk music girl in a dress. Her black shirt is ripped all to hell and the crowd is getting out of her way.

The next song is smooth as butter, and in French, and features whistling. They won me with the crashing horns and convinced me with the whistling. The press says that Bovée hasn't lived in a house for nine years... well, whether that's true or not, whether they really are free spirits or not, it doesn't matter. Musical collectives are often hit and miss, but Think of One hits far more often than it misses. They're talented collaborators. They were right to pick Dona Cila do Côco. She sounds firm and old. She's a carnival. She grounds them. Her voice has got dirt on its feet. You can get away with anything with her on your side.

Their weakest tracks are the ones that seem anonymous. "Samba Belga" is the kind of Brazilian dance mix that you've heard a dozen times before. It's not that Think of One's version is shabby, but the song could have come from anyone else and we wouldn't have noticed the difference. They're at their best when they're bringing an unexpected sound into a tune that seemed to be getting along well without it. Not only does the new sound fit, it makes the song better. The buttery French number would have been nice even if they hadn't added the whistling, but the whistle elevates it beyond niceness. After it's over, the whistle is the part you remember. It becomes, "The Whistle Song". (Its real name is "Aai".)

So there, I've learnt something, namely that it is not always clever or right to judge a band from two songs on Charlie Gillett compilations. Am I inspired to go out and buy Chuva Em Po and Marrakesh Emballages Ensemble 2? No, not quite. Tráfico is enough for now. It was nice to discover that I liked them, though. It's good to have surprises like this.

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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