ROGUE SOUNDS: Peia’s ‘Beauty Thunders’ is Lovely and Infuriating
As a critic, I’m rarely shy about my predispositions. I like my music loud, underground, and firmly rooted in modernity. Tradition is well and good in a general sense, but as life reflects art, musical pinings for the days of segregation, feudalism, rampant polio and 35-year-average lifespans are far less to me appealing than crafting new traditions of your own—creating culture, rather than having it imposed upon you like prison bars. To borrow from that old axiom, studying musical history is essential, but mostly to avoid being doomed to repeat it, sonically, and culturally.
That made this week’s review, Beauty Thunders, by mostly-local world musician, Peia (Jessyka Luzzi), a tough one to approach.
I’ll let her bio explain.
“As a song preserver Peia has gathered songs from ancient traditions that span across the globe, from the mountains of Bulgaria to the shores of Ireland, touching upon the wisdom and trials of the Native peoples of North and South America and preserving the enchantment of medieval chant and Indian Raga.”
About the only thing I’m pre-disposed to dislike more than choosing to glorify and perpetuate the culture of arcane barbarians IRL instead of just in history books is when it comes in the form of an album-length manifestation of white savior complex. A girl from Connecticut casting herself as the savior of traditional Indian Raga music is a bit south of credible for a list of reasons that would stretch to the moon.
But while I know what I don’t like, I am also glad to put it aside to acknowledge the immense talent on display. Peia’s opera training is evident, and the production quality is stellar. Even the worldly elements are delivered with stylistic panache and follow-through, leaving only her bio to betray her stateside origins.
The title track, “Beauty Thunders,” begins with the sound of water, and the soft plink of a ukulele with a rumbling cello beneath. Her voice comes in vamping a melody, with a punchy horn-like melody with themes borrowed from Chinese opera. When a drum beat enters the song about halfway through, it means business.
The third tune, “Ciamar A Ni Mi,” is a Celtic standard, “How Can I.” From the droning bass, to the rolling percussion, it’s a pitch-perfect offering—though like a great deal of Celtic folk, a bit forgettable for anyone not already interested in the style.
The album closes with “We Will Rise Again,” a ukulele based ballad that showcases the softer range of Peia’s voice as well.
Peia is obscenely talented. And as an academic exercise, seeking out folk tunes and preserving them is a worthy endeavor. We only have rock-and-roll because the song-preservation work of folklorist Alan Lomax who found the recordings of legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson, whose style and myth helped birth The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and so so so many more. But Lomax collected recordings to be preserved in the Library of Congress, not to slap his name on them like a Trump joint. Oral tradition is like a game of telephone, a light, but steady dillution and mutation of the message until nothing remains of the original source material, other than the sincere but mistaken belief that it is the genuine article. In the words of Indiana Jones: “It [preserved cultural artifacts] belongs in a museum.” What belongs on your album is your own music, your own culture, something new you added to the world that will one day itself be worthy of preservation. That’s my six to eight cents.
But song choices aside, she’s got serious pipes, and if it were Opposite Day, or some sort of Star Trek mirror-mirror universe in which my preferences were switched, I’d eat this album up from the magnitude of talent on display.
Beauty Thunders is available as a paid download on Bandcamp.
To the Editor:
I am absolutely appalled that Rogue Valley Messenger would publish a blatantly mean spirited “review” of a local artist’s work that is clearly written by someone who lacks any musical understanding or education and apparently has a distaste for all traditional music. Furthermore, since the writer could not find fault with my actual musical work, he chose to go after me personally, by twisting my words and going so far as to publicly defame me by making false statements and the absurd the claim that I have “a white savior complex” for doing the work of song preservation. Let me be very clear here, Nowhere in my bio do I claim to be the authority on any of the traditions which I perform. My bio lists the many traditions from which I have studied, many of them for over 10 years – Indian Classical Rag being one of them, but no where do I claim to be “the savior of traditional Indian Classical Raga.” These statements are absolutely absurd, untrue and damaging to me both personally and professionally.
As for the insulting “white savior complex” remark, this also completely misses the point of my work and the aim of this album. I come from Irish and Scottish ancestry and I’m very upfront about the fact the I was born in the USA. The whole point of this album was to re-trace my family heritage back through time with song. With the exception of one song from Peru, all of the songs on this album come from white Europe or are my own originals. I don’t know who the writer thinks I’m trying to save other than myself, my heritage and what little I can find left from my own ancestral culture.
Yet another false claim here is that the title track has “themes borrowed from Chinese opera.” Are you really insinuating that my original song writing is plagiarized, seriously? I realize some of my songwriting and vocal sounds are unusual, but just because you’ve never heard anything like it, or the only thing you could think to compare it to is Chinese opera does not make it ok to state that I’ve “borrowed from Chinese opera” as if it’s a fact.
Furthermore, the writer clearly needs an education in basic instrument identification, There is no “Ukulele” anywhere on this album. I play an instrument called the Charangon, which comes from the Andes mountains (hence my choice to include a single Peruvian song on the album.) And likewise, there is no cello anywhere on the album, there is however a double bass.
I strongly urge Rogue Valley Messenger to reconsider this man’s roll as a music critic. Sure, maybe he knows something about basement indie rock, but he clearly was in over his head here, and the statements he has made about me leave me know choice but to demand a publicized apology and correction of this review or take legal action. I work incredibly hard to make a living as an independent musician and to do what little I can through my musical platform to give back to our indigenous communities and the earth, not because I’m trying to save anyone, but because it’s the only reasonable and responsible thing to do given the state of the world. With any platform, be it the stage or a magazine column, comes both privilege and great responsibility. I only wish your writer Josh Gross understood seriousness of that responsibility and respected that privilege.
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