;Last Thursday, recording industry visionary and co-founder of Atlantic Records Ahmet Ertegun died at the age of 83 due to complications from a fall at a Rolling Stones concert in New York. The thought of what the music industry at large has become tends to obscure the import of stories like his to most people. With all my ballyhooing (no pun intended, but sometimes these little pearls just write themselves) about the independent frontier, some may think I overlook the mainstream. But wherever you stand, greatness is greatness.

;;Some might venerate the man because, as the decades-long chairman, he successfully navigated the label through all the major cycles of modern music spanning many pivotal generations. But his true greatness lies in the fact that he was a key catalyst in making the black music tradition a definitive part of the popular music lexicon. This son of a Turkish ambassador was on it way before Motown Records was even born. That passion, ignited from his first taste of jazz in the '30s, would blossom and branch into rhythm & blues, pop and rock over the course of his life. These tributaries would eventually carve the topography of contemporary music. That, boys and girls, is why he's one of the cornerstone figures in modern music history and the first one ever honored with the Grammy Industry Icon Award.

;;No offense to white people — some of my best friends are white — but can you imagine what our musical landscape would be like if rhythm & blues hadn't entered the picture? That's right, gulp, rock & roll would never have come to be. Yeesh, my balls get sucked up into my asshole just thinking about it. In his career, Ertegun either signed, discovered or produced artists including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, John Coltrane, Roberta Flack, the Drifters, Cream, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees, the Rascals and even Tori Amos. So cheers, Ahmet, this one's for you.


;Keepin' it real 101

;;Speaking of soulfulness, I caught a bracing, homegrown bit of it last week at the Social. Hailing from the local spoken-word scene, Mama A.Free.Ka (née Veronica Smith) deals in poetry-driven conscious rap. With pointed intellect and raw emotion, she took all types of social ills to task with bullwhipping verses. In her commentary on contemporary hip-hop, for example, she coined phrases like "rap(e) music" and "platinum nooses." No shit, y'all, this chick — er, strong, independent woman — is serious as cancer. She is merciless in her point of view and her words can be so acute that you'll feel abysmally ashamed of yourself for one thing or another. If you believe that good art's supposed to challenge you, then look into Mama A.Free.Ka. She'll slap you around a bit.

;;Fortunately, the pang of guilt is always fleeting for me, so I was able to dig the moments of unadulterated soul that buttered all that heavy invective. Most of it came from Zulu Nation, her musical accompaniment made up, ironically, of … record scrrra-a-atch!… two Asian dudes. That's right, sucker, we can bring it too, y'know. This particular duo was comprised of beatboxer/pianist Rubox Cube and saxophonist/beatboxer Basil, whose cool jazz lines smoothed Mama A.Free.Ka's barbs and slashes. Like the similarly provocative and soulful Sol.illaquists of Sound, this is an act that should be prized in our scene even if it is under the radar for most. These are the artists who pierce the bubble of stasis.

;;Texas band Centro-matic delivered some of the good stuff themselves last week at AKA Lounge with an excellent set of their high-plains indie rock. Emotionally, their music is the sound of solitude, more of a self-communing thing than anything bleak. Their expression takes things normally felt on the inside, and alone, and brings them out in moving strokes that could fill a room without being maudlin or pretentious. That being the case, their performances can get away with being, and sometimes are, somewhat soft-spoken affairs. But this one was the most upbeat set I've ever heard from them and probably the finest I've seen to date because it highlighted some of their best songs and showed their ability to rock. In essence, it put on display everything that makes Centro-matic my favorite of all Will Johnson's lauded vehicles (South San Gabriel, solo).

;;But you wanna know why I really love Centro-matic? Because they are the very model of artistic purity. There's no sizzle, splash or bang in their bag. Just good, honest music. What makes them a freak of trend is that they became successful by doing everything right. Over the course of a decade, they've garnered mountains of attention and praise from the cognoscenti simply by being genuine. I mean, how often does THAT happen in real life? Exactly.

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