Losing the stability of a good paying job you have held for 19 years is enough to give anyone the blues. However, sometimes the blues forces you to examine your life giving you the ambition to live your dreams. Such was the case for Mako Funasaka. Just over 2 years ago, Mako was introduced to the blues via B.B. King's Louis Jordan tribute album. Impressed with what he had heard, Mako decided to attend the annual Toronto Harbourfront blues festival. He read about one of the festival's featured artists, John Jackson, and decided to try to get an interview with him. Somehow the determined, blues-smitten, Funasaka, managed to get the interview. From that point, Mako decided he would try documenting the blues with the ultimate goal to create a blues television series. Although, he knew nothing about the blues or the television industry, he threw caution to the wind and set out to achieve his goal. Since then, the Montreal-born filmmaker has spent an exhaustive amount of hours single-handedly documenting the music and the charismatic artists involved. He now has well over 120 interviews to pool from and his dream of a blues TV show has become a reality. TaLkin' bLuEs has its Canadian television premiere on November 12, 2002 on Bravo! NewStyleArtsChannel.
Funasaka insists the show is unlike the traditional documentary because it is a continual work in progress. Having previewed the 6 show series, I must admit it is completely refreshing. Most popular music programs like VH1's Behind The Music are too routine resulting in mundane programs and bored viewers. Mako has stated, "I see documentaries as something with a beginning, middle and end. My series documents the blues but not in terms of a specific time line because I wanted to demonstrate the various aspects of the blues… the first six shows are just the beginning, there's so much more to tell, I have only skimmed the surface." The series will educate viewers about the genre through the eyes of those who play it, produce it, promote it or just plain listen to it. "I want the focus to be the blues musicians and their words and not what I can do with an edit."
Having witnessed Mako interviewing artists backstage at this year's Ottawa Bluesfest, I'd say he has found his calling. He has a genuine thirst for blues knowledge and this comes over strongly with the people he interviews. The result is the interviewee has no need to hold back. Funasaka has a unique gift to make artists relax and openly tell it like it is. How ideal for a genre deeply rooted in the truth.
Funasaka's programs are loaded with tidbits of information about the music and the artists that you will not have known no matter how long you have followed the blues. Here is a brief sampling:
- most artists just want to perform, they don't care about the money
- artists should not try to be greater than the music
- can white man play the blues?
- why African-Americans do not support the blues
- drumming techniques used in the blues
- Snooky Pryor warmly revealing (just like a grandfather) that, "there is a type of blues for just about everyone but there is a real blues from captivity"
- Philip Walker stating, "the blues came with the world"
- the near 90 year old son of a Baptist preacher, Pinetop Perkins, saying he learned deep down blues from Muddy Waters
- Coco Montoya remembering how Albert Collins would frequently say, "I hear they call my blues simple music - sometimes the simplest music is the hardest to play"
Like a finely produced CD, the show has a flow and structure to it. Each week the series features one or more blues artists, a topic of discussion with a collection of answers from notable blues musicians, and a music video. The first episode is entitled "The Blues is…" and it begins with a collage that will surely attract the attention of channel surfers. The many interview segments clarify what the blues is (a feel) and isn't (depressing). The audio portion of the interviews smoothly segues from one to the next. However the video portion does not. It breaks from the current interview to the name of the next artist and then to the interview of that artist. I found that distracting and disruptive to the natural flow. The debut show features interviews with: Gary Kendall, Sugar Ray Norcia, B.B. King, Snooky Pryor, John Hammond, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Big Joe Maher, Eddy Shaw, Gaye Adegbalola, Paul Reddick, Duke Robillard, Enrico Crivellaro, Byther Smith, Coco Montoya, Marcia Ball, Tom Lavin, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Phillip Walker and Pinetop Perkins. Some interviews were shot in widescreen and others were not. Some viewers may find this distracting while others will appreciate the different formats. Still others may take no notice.
The feature on Sonny Rhodes will have emotions running high. Here, Mako magnifies the sentiments by exposing Rhodes through interview and live performance filmed at Toronto's Silver Dollar. Sonny reveals how he got his first guitar and how he was told "this is a white man's instrument" when he first encountered lap steel guitar. He sums things up with this statement, he is "Mr nobody that somebody loves". The featured video is "King Of The Blues" from Jack de Keyzer. He is also responsible for the catchy tune that plays during the opening collage. Here, Mako gets a chance to exhibit his greater video talents. The video was filmed live and then matched as closely as possible to audio from a studio recording. The out of synchronization audio/video timing is noticeable but by no means ruins the experience. Viewers will be impressed how most of this is masked. Jack's guitar playing is precisely-timed and expressive while his voice is as versatile as his musicianship.
Television is a medium that doesn't give much coverage to the blues. Networks like Bravo! are the exception and should be commended for supporting this artform. Their popular Café Campus Blues show is still in reruns proving their is a demand for blues TV. Unlike that live concert show, this one tells the history of the blues and gives a glimpse into its future. TaLkin' bLuEs ain't reality TV, it is TV about reality.
Look for reviews of the next 5 episodes to be added over the next few weeks. Special thanks to Mako Funasaka and Laura Aylon-Regu for their assistance with this feature.
For further information, contact: www.talkinblues.com
"TaLkin' bLuEs" TV Series - Episode 1 (this page)
"TaLkin' bLuEs" TV Series - Episode 2
"TaLkin' bLuEs" TV Series - Episode 3
"TaLkin' bLuEs" TV Series - Episode 4
"TaLkin' bLuEs" TV Series - Episode 5
"TaLkin' bLuEs" TV Series - Episode 6
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This feature is copyright © 2002 by Tim Holek, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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