"Best I Can"
Radio is always something of a magic trick. What might sound like a spontaneous, free-flowing conversation has often been researched, workshopped and then stage-managed down to the minute. Listeners know this, just like a magician's audience knows the lady onstage hasn't really been sawed in half. The joy is in knowing you're being fooled, but not knowing how.
Working at WNYC, of course, has killed a little of that thrill by making me the magician. But every once in a while, I find myself back in the audience, wide-eyed and helpless to explain what my senses are telling me.
That's what happened when Blitz the Ambassador visited Soundcheck last month. There were plenty of sonic fireworks during the rapper's on-air set: He switched effortlessly between English and Twi (the Ghanaian language he grew up speaking, pronounced "trwee"), backed all the while by horn stabs and percussive rumbles from his six-piece band. But the real spectacle came when the show was over, and we asked the guys if they'd care to record one more song — for the archives. I'd never seen the instrument Blitz pulled out for this bonus track, "Dear Africa." Had I seen it in any other context, I might not have known it was an instrument.
Made from a pair of dried calabash attached by a thin cord, the koshka looks more like something you'd hang from your rear-view mirror. But as Blitz began to play, there was a collective gasp in the control room. No one could quite understand what they were seeing — all we could tell was that the gourds were swinging around his hands and smacking into each other like castanets, all in an incredibly precise six-eight rhythm. It was a humbling moment. When was the last time you got to see a roomful of magicians scratching their heads?