The Beat Goes On: Melody Gardot in smoky jazz duo; a hot slate at the Drake, and more

The Beat Goes On: Melody Gardot in smoky jazz duo; a hot slate at the Drake, and more<br />

  • Singer Melody Garot teamed with pianist Phillipe Powell on “Entre Eux Deux.” She’s at the Academy of Music Sept. 11. CONTRIBUTED/MELODY GARDOT

  • Jazz drummer and composer Jonathan Barber and his ensemble Vision Ahead play the Drake in Amherst Sept. 8. COURTEST JONATHAN BARBER

  • Named for a glen in western Ireland, The Alt bring their unique Irish music to the Drake on Sept. 9. PHOTO BY DOUGLAS ROBERTSON

  • Matt Lorenz brings his one-man band The Suitcase Junket to the Drake in Amherst Sept. 10. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Jam band L’Eclair, from Switzerland, brings its deep instrumental grooves to the Drake Sept. 11. COURTESY L’ECLAIR

  • Tall Heights, the Boston duo of guitarist Tim Harrington and cellist Paul Wright, combine their tight vocals in a Sept. 7 show at Race Street Live in Holyoke. CONTRIBUTED/DSP SHOWS

  • Amherst native Mtali Shaka Banda and his ensemble bring a mix of funk, jazz, soul and more to Millpond Live in Easthampton on Sept. 9. Millpond Live website

Staff Writer

Monday, September 12, 2022

In the musical world, it’s now a classic comeback story: how jazz singer Melody Gardot, then 19 years old, was struck by a car while bicycling in her native Philadelphia in 2003 and suffered serious head and spinal injuries, a broken pelvis, and neurological damage that affected her movement and memory.

She was also left with hypersensitivity to light and sound and had to learn to walk again once she finally rose from her hospital bed.

But Gardot, who comes to the Academy of Music in Northampton on Sept. 11 at 8 p.m., spent part of her recovery time writing songs, learning how to play guitar while lying on her back, and in general drawing on music as a vital part of therapy. In nearly two decades since her accident, she’s released six albums and earned legions of fans — notably in Europe — who are drawn to her smoky jazz/blues voice, piano playing and songwriting.

Gardot, who speaks fluent French and knows other languages, too, has traveled and performed extensively in Europe; she calls herself a “citizen of the world.” As such she’s soaked up a lot of influences, and on her newest album, “Entre Eux Deux” (Between Us Two), released in May, she’s distilled some of those down to a spare soundscape of her vocals alongside piano accompaniment by French-Brazilian keyboardist Philippe Powell — the first time she hasn’t played piano on one of her albums.

“If I had to sum up the record in a few words,” Gardot said in an interview earlier this year, “I’d say it’s a dance between two people who love and value the same things: deep poetry and solid melodies … it’s a peek into the world of two artists who just really dig each other.”

The album’s 10 songs, which Gardot sings in English and French, came out of an intense two-week workshop the two friends held in Gardot’s Paris apartment, with a view of the Eiffel Tower, at which they wrote and shared lyrics, melodies and ideas. In that sense it’s really a duo album, with Powell singing harmony on a few tracks and the two sharing songwriting credits on a number of the tunes.

It’s music for late, quiet nights and contemplative moments, with a few covers as well, including “Plus Fort que Nous” from the classic French film “Un Homme et Une Femme.” Jazzwise calls the album “good stuff, the best album Gardot has yet made. Give it a try, you might like it; and if you’re a fan of brooding torch songs, you’ll probably love it.”

French/American Jazz singer Laura Anglade, who’s drawn comparisons to Anita O’Day, Shirley Horn and Blossom Dearie, opens the show.

Since opening this spring, the Drake in Amherst has built a reputation for putting together a wide-ranging, eclectic lineup, and this weekend over four consecutive nights the downtown club hosts a jazz drummer, traditional Irish music, a one-man folk-rock band, and two rock bands with unique sounds — in that order.

Red-hot jazz drummer Jonathan Barber, voted the top up-and-coming drummer of 2018 by the readers of Modern Drummer, started things off Thursday.

On Friday at 7 p.m., The Alt — Irish musicians John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy, and Eamon O’Leary — come to the Drake to offer instrumental interplay that Acoustic Guitar Magazine calls “telepathic and miraculous.” Combining on guitar, bouzouki, flute, and vocals, the three musicians are all notable folk performers in their own right but together create a sound that “is really a celebration of friendship and song,” as they put it.

Then on Saturday, at 8 p.m., the Drake welcomes Valley favorite The Suitcase Junket, aka Matt Lorenz, who specializes in playing guitar and singing while playing a homemade drum kit with his feet. He’s also been known to play the cymbals while holding a drumstick in the same hand he’s using to strum his guitar. He’s a versatile man.

Finally, the Swiss instrumental ensemble L’Eclair, which offers the kind of danceable grooves alternately called “expansive” and “spacey” — SPIN describes the band as “jamming their way to instrumental bliss” — will be at the Drake Sunday at 8 p.m. Valley rockers Carinae open the show.

If you’re looking for more musical variety, you can likely find it at Millpond Live, the free (donations encouraged) outdoor concert series that takes place at Easthampton’s Millside Park, which this year begins on Friday and Saturday with six bands playing everything from electronic fusion and R&B to Latin American rhythms to a variety of jazz. (Additional shows take place Sept. 16 and 17.)

Of particular note at the Friday concert, which runs from 6 to 10 p.m., is Mtali Shaka Banda and his ensemble. Banda, a saxophonist, is an Amherst native and the son of a Malawian refugee father and an African American mother. Growing up he also spent several years in Wisconsin and Georgia, then was back in Massachusetts in Brockton, followed by a move to Israel when he was 18.

Now living in Massachusetts again, Banda has absorbed numerous influences during his journeys — jazz, funk, soul, folk, R&B and hip hop — and his music also contains elements of travelogue, memoir and family history. One thing he doesn’t play, he says, is classical: “I have too much backbeat in me.”

Visit to see a list of other performers at the festival. 

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at For more Beat Goes On news about musical happenings around the Valley, check out the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

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Multi-Faith Team Urges Repeal of Blasphemy Laws– in the Name of Religious Freedom

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Global, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations


Independent UN human rights experts condemned the death sentence of a university lecturer charged with blasphemy in Pakistan, calling the ruling “a travesty of justice”. December 2019. Credit: UNICEF/Josh Estey

NEW YORK, Sep 12 2022 (IPS) – In nations lacking certain religious freedoms, the bold multi-faith membership of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable’s Campaign to Eliminate Apostasy and Blasphemy Laws, would be forbidden.

This archaic, and at times, violent fact is driving a biblical justice authority, an international activist and a team of culturally and religiously diverse advocates to raise their voices with member states, just before world leaders arrive for the high-level segment of the 77th UN General Assembly session which commences in New York City September 20.

The trip will highlight the twelve nations currently imposing the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy charges, calling for its immediate repeal.

Freedom of religion or belief is universally regarded as fundamental human right and is protected by international covenants and national constitutions alike.

However, courts continue to mete out unjustifiably long prison sentences and even death sentences to individuals for non-violent, victimless conduct such as committing blasphemy or apostasy.

Recently, Nigerian humanist Mubarak Bala was sentenced to an unimaginable 24 years’ imprisonment for an allegedly blasphemous Facebook post he made expressing his disbelief in an afterlife.

Though the death penalty is not actually imposed upon a convicted individual in a vast majority of cases, the sentence itself relegates convicts to years and decades of prolonged imprisonment on death row, denial of medical care while in prison, withholding of legal counsel, and endless interrogation.

Pakistanis rally in support of Mumtaz Qadri who was convicted and executed for a blasphemy-motivated killing of a former governor, in Lahore, Pakistan, Feb. 2016. Credit: Voice of America

Previously, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman, languished on death row for eight years on charges of blasphemy simply for drinking water from a canteen while picking berries with a group of Muslim women.

After her release and acquittal in 2019, Asia was forced to flee her home country in fear of reprisal attacks by radical Islamists.

In 2014, a pregnant Sudanese woman Mariam Ibrahim – who was imprisoned on apostasy charges for her marriage to a Christian man, and as a woman born to a Muslim father – was forced to give birth to her second child while her legs remained shackled to the cell floor.

As a Christ follower, I am reminded of times when God revealed his heart for justice through stories like that of Esther, whom was strengthened to boldly intercede for an oppressed group of religious minorities.

The time is now for United Nations Member States to do the same, through their set own of convictions, in an effort to create communities of human flourishing and safety for those who are persecuted for freedom of religion or belief.

Speaking on Islam’s position on blasphemy, there is much evidence that Prophet Muhammad pardoned his worst critics. Blasphemy laws and inhumane punishments for blasphemy have no legitimacy in the Quran.

The Quran does not command Muslims to kill blasphemers.
Surah (verse) 4:140 of the Quran states – “If you hear people denying and ridiculing God’s revelation, do not sit with them unless they start to talk of other things…”

There is no reference to killing and or issuing fatwas.

Even where moratoriums on the death penalty exist, faith minorities and individuals who express views and perspectives deviating from those prescribed by the majority religion can be in tremendous danger.

Mauritania, which has upheld a moratorium on the death sentence since 1987, convicted blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir of apostasy and sentenced him to death as recently as 2014 for an article he wrote criticizing the use of Islam to justify the caste system in his country. Fortunately, Mkhaitir was released from prison in 2019.

In Pakistan, where the death sentence is often issued to perceived blasphemers – most often Christian and Ahmadi Muslim minorities – but not carried out– laws criminalizing apostasy and blasphemy embolden state and non-state actors alike to commit acts of violence against innocent civilians.

In July 2021, a police constable slashed and killed a man named Muhammad Waqas who had been previously acquitted of blasphemy charges; the perpetrator explicitly stated perceived blasphemy as the crimes’ impetus.

A few months later, in December 2021, a Sri Lankan national Priyantha Kumara was lynched by a mob and had his body burned by an angry mob in the Pakistani city of Sialkot.

Kumara was a garment factory manager who had been accused of committing blasphemy after removing an Islamic poster from the factory’s walls to prepare for a renovation project.

These non-state actors, fortified by lackluster laws, pose a serious obstacle to human rights, free speech and dignity, creating a system where sometimes even state supported religious leaders call for the death penalty and other inhumane punishments.

A more recent and equally horrific incident occurred in Sokoto Nigeria, when young Christian college student Deborah Samuel Yakubu was stoned to death and set on fire by her very own Muslim classmates.

Days prior, Yakubu had angered the perpetrators by questioning why her school course’s WhatsApp chat was being used to discuss contentious religious affairs rather than focusing on academic issues.

Currently, twelve nations that maintain the death penalty for apostasy, blasphemy, or both; these include Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. * [New Penal Code implemented in 2022 in UAE removes hudud punishments – including apostasy from the penal code]

Additionally, approximately 40% of UN Member States – some of them holding seats in the Human Rights Council – criminalize apostasy and blasphemy, despite their lack of the death sentence for such ‘crimes’.

However, it is not without criticism and attention by human rights and religious freedom activists and even representatives of the United Nations who have emphasized the inhumanity of apostasy and blasphemy laws and called for their repeal.

This includes the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, and the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion or belief, and on extrajudicial killings, respectively.

Now, civil society is taking matters into its own hands.

Efforts to work toward the abolition of the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy have been a bottom-up grassroots approach. Next week, a delegation of human rights and religious freedom advocates will travel to the United Nations to meet with representatives from the missions of numerous UN Member States, including Luxembourg, Canada, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Niger, and Australia.

Their goal is to increase support among UN Member States for the insertion of language in the UNGA Resolution on Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions stating that “the death penalty should never be imposed as a sanction for apostasy, blasphemy, or other perceived religious offense.

As a capstone to the multifaith, multicultural and multidisciplinary United Nations advocacy fly-in, the group will host an issue briefing pointing to the critical proposed resolution language, calling for the immediate repeal of the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy charges.

The briefing, which is open to the press, will spotlight survivors in their own voice. The development of pluralistic resilient communities which uphold basic human rights and allow for human flourishing amongst inevitable interdependent globalized societies depend on the undaunted actions those in power.

We call upon all Member States to join us in this fight toward international religious freedom by supporting the IRF Campaign’s resolution language today.” More info here.

Dr. Christine M. Sequenzia, MDiv. is Co-Chair, International Religious Freedom Roundtable Campaign to Eliminate Blasphemy and Apostasy Laws

Soraya Marikar Deen, is a Lawyer, Community Organizer, International Activist; HumanRights & Gender Equity Advocate. She is also Co-chair Women’s Working Group @ Int. Religious Freedom Roundtable and Founder MuslimWomenSpeakers

IPS UN Bureau