Lorraine Ali

Stories by Lorraine Ali

  • The Tunes You Can't Refuse

    It's just past midnight, the mafia feast is in full swing and I'm playing a game in my head called Who's the Boss? It's not easy to focus while distracted by the smell of roast sausages, the taste of sweet white wine and the sight of a portly man in a tweed cap busting out the accordion. There are 35 guests to choose from at this gathering in the rugged Aspromonte range of southern Italy. They've come to celebrate one of three possible things: someone sprung from jail, a newly "made" man or the end of a longstanding vendetta. Then again, it could be a mock feast thrown for journalists in town to report on malavita music: mafia folk tunes written by jailed "family" members, played during traditional feasts--and taboo throughout the rest of Italy. My guide, Francesco Sbano--a native Calabrian, "family" friend and coproducer of a new malavita CD, "La Musica della Mafia"--never explains which joyous event we're celebrating, nor does he identify the other people seated at the long wood...
  • Daybreak In A Concrete Sky

    You might expect Beth Orton to be quiet, withdrawn, maybe even a little spacey in person. Her new album, "Daybreaker," is full of beautiful washes of melancholy, blue vocals and simple lyrics that convey the most abstract of emotions. The electronic effects are subtle and muted. But no. Bounding into a Manhattan juice bar comes a six-foot-tall gal in a bright red vintage sweater, her hair a mess, doing Britney impressions. "I've always been a big fat showoff," says Orton, 31. "I'm not Mrs. Humble Pie. 'Hi! It's Me! Britney Orton!' " She gives a perfect teen-queen head snap.Orton didn't plan on taking off as a singer-songwriter, let alone becoming a critics' fave. After all, her 1996 debut, "Trailer Park," appealed to an audience that no one knew existed. Her fans were a fusion of rave kid and '60s folk revivalist--they listened both to Prodigy and to Joni Mitchell. "I used to think I was going to be a comedian, but I ended up being this miserablist," says the British-born Orton,...
  • It Looks Marvelous

    You knew it had to happen: the kitschy-cool '70s revival is finally... well, history. Now peg-leg jeans and pre-ripped T shirts are making their way up from ultrahip clubs in New York City to malls near you, and so is the new-wave music and old-school hip-hop behind the look. Madonna, Moby and No Doubt incorporated the early synthesized sounds of the '80s on their last albums--Madonna actually remembers the '80s--and new bands like OK Go have debut CDs steeped in the sounds of the Reagan years.Most telling of all, Rhino Records has just released "Like Omigod! The 80's Pop Culture Box (Totally)": seven CDs packaged in black vinyl with Day-Glo lettering. Not just such songs as "Bette Davis Eyes," "Valley Girl" and "White Lines," but bits of aural memorabilia--the "Hill Street Blues" theme, Billy Crystal's "You look marvelous" routine, a dismal speech on trickle-down economics by the Gipper himself. And a how-to chart of '80s club moves, from the King Tut ("hands in, knees out") to the...
  • Lazy-Hazy-Jay-Z Days Of Summer

    It's hot, it's muggy and you feel fat in a bathing suit. Yes, summer is here and with it comes the onslaught of bad sunburns and bands on tour. While the former can be easily dealt with by slathering oneself in aloe vera, the latter is a different story.Picking the right shows on which to spend hard-earned cash takes careful consideration. Our hip, vigilant NEWSWEEK summer interns, Curtis Harris and Vanessa Juares, compiled a quick list of approximately 50 pop, rap and rock tours that have just hit the road-or will do so this summer. The names range from Ja Rule to Jewel, Mark Anthony to Aerosmith, Alicia Keys to Elvis Costello.I combed through the dense list, asking myself the following questions: Is this show worth the humiliation of having your Diesel jeans/cargo shorts/leisure suit (I love Neil Diamond) patted down during security checks at the door? Would I brave jammed parking lots and sweaty packs of woo-hooing college dudes (yes, Dave Matthews Band is touring this summer)...
  • A Magazine Of Their Own

    It was easy to spot Tayyibah Taylor at a recent journalism conference in Chicago. A gorgeous woman in a silky headwrap, she was clutching a copy of Azizah magazine to her chest like a guard concealing jewels from marauding thieves. "I don't want to give it up," joked Taylor, the magazine's publisher, financier and editor in chief. "I brought over 100 copies and this is all I have left."There is growing curiosity around Azizah (meaning "dear, strong and noble"), the first and only American magazine for Muslim women. The glossy quarterly caters to a multiethnic readership--Taylor is an African-American from Trinidad; the creative director Marlina Soerakoesoemah is Indonesian; writers are of all nationalities--and offers smart stories on everything from birth control to surviving 9-11 backlash. Azizah also features profiles on professional Muslim women and tips on fashion, recipes ("There's Nothing Quite Like Rice") and gardening. "For centuries Muslim women have been defined by Muslim...
  • Wilco: The Little Band That Could

    Wilco is one of those bands that major labels refer to as a "credibility act." As in, they're respected by serious artists and discerning listeners, but too complex musically to make money for the record company. But now that the music business is run by five conglomerates and credibility is no longer in demand, acts like Wilco have become financial soft spots rather than tokens of cool cachet.What a surprise it must have been to the band's former label, Reprise, when the Wilco album it rejected, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," broke into Billboard's top 15 last week. The Chicago band is now enjoying its highest chart debut ever. "There's a bit of a rock-and-roll swindle going on," says Wilco's singer and guitarist Jeff Tweedy, 34, who's been called the best songwriter of his generation. His band is now signed to Nonesuch, which, like Reprise, is owned by AOL Time Warner. "The parent company paid for a record, gave it away, then bought it back again. Maybe I shouldn't draw attention to that...
  • Where There's A Wilco

    Wilco's had a wild year. First, the Chicago band finished what they felt was their best record yet--only to have it rejected by their record label.Then the group left the label, Reprise, and published "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," their fourth CD, on their own Web site. A few months later, the group signed to Nonesuch Records, which put the record in stores. Then, despite the fact that the CD already had been available on the Web, it still hit No. 13 on the Billboard 200 last week, making it Wilco's most commercially successful album ever.Up until now, the band's always flown under the radar, rarely getting radio play and certainly never appearing on MTV. But Wilco and its core songwriter, Jeff Tweedy, have been heroes of the independent rock world since the college radio boom of the 1990s, which gave the band a loyal underground following. Critics stuck with them even after they morphed from an alternative country band in the vein of Gram Parsons to an experimental pop group a la Brian...
  • Music: Singing Outside The Box

    Danielle Howle is a singer-songwriter for those who cringe at the thought of listening to one more doe-eyed gal (or guy) with a guitar. The South Carolinian, a lean and wiry guitarist who often sports ratty pigtails onstage, free-associates between songs in one of those impossible Southern drawls you'd attribute to a Eudora Welty character: "I had two '70s Camaros. They was sweet--eight cylinders. Those things can git up and stomp!" On her new record, "Skorborealis," she's just as entertaining when singing about "Big Puffy Girl Handwriting" or "Karaoke": "It brought us together, and now it's tearing us apart/ I've always loved you sugar, but that machine has got your heart."The 33-year-old is a respected oddball on the folk and punk fringe and a celebrated curiosity in the world beyond. Howle's received accolades in The New York Times, opened for Bob Dylan and been called a "melodic, nimble being" by Ani DiFranco. But the eccentric singer still prefers to fly under the radar. She's...
  • Newsmakers

    Bill Clinton wants to be the next Oprah? When it comes to our 42d president, almost anything seems plausible. Just not this. It's time to separate fact from fiction about Clinton's meeting last week with NBC. Fact: Clinton did meet with NBC top dogs Andrew Lack and Jeff Zucker. He also met previously with CBS's Leslie Moonves and, Newsmakers has learned, with Disney/ABC's Michael Eisner. But all that stuff about a daytime talk show is nonsense. Clinton would be interested, says a close associate, only in a serious, "Charlie Rose"-style show or a handful of prime-time specials--and even those options seem unlikely to pan out. Also false: the $50 million price tag Clinton supposedly dangled for his services. Money was never discussed, says the associate. (Not like the guy needs it: as NEWSWEEK reported in its April 8 issue, Clinton's annual speaking income is $10 million to $15 million, and he's received $100 million in promotional and TV offers since leaving office.) Here's the...
  • Great White Male

    It's 9 a.m.--an ungodly hour for pop stars--but Moby's been up for ages. He's padding around his spare, downtown Manhattan loft, throwing out junk mail, cleaning perishables out of the fridge, bagging up the trash and readying for a promotional tour for his new album. Moby's last outing, "Play," was an international smash, but Moby has not exactly mastered the role of pop royalty. His luggage for the next three months is a measly daypack, the kind school kids use to stuff their PE shoes in while Mom is yelling at them to hurry. He has no team of handlers in the loft to, well, handle things. Instead, he's so jittery and distracted he can't even finish his bowl of bran flakes. When a car finally pulls up outside to take him to his first radio interview, Moby slings the bag earnestly over one shoulder, adjusts his thick-rimmed glasses and tromps out the door with trash bag in hand: "Okey-dokey, let's go."Exactly how an awkward little man like Moby (a.k.a. Richard Melville Hall, a true...
  • About A (Brilliant) Boy

    "About a Boy" is a film based on a Nick Hornby book about the unlikely bond between a cranky bachelor and, of course, a boy. It's witty, great in spots, and stars Hugh Grant. Or so I've heard. I haven't actually seen the film.I've so fallen in love with "About a Boy's" original soundtrack that I'm afraid to see a press screening of the movie, which will hit theaters May 17. I fear that the film may have the same effect a so-so video has on a brilliant song. You know how it goes. You form an intimate bond with a piece of music, only to have it squashed by absurd images that torment you like a reoccurring rash each time you hear the song. (Think of Wayne, Garth & Co. singing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" in a Pacer.)The beauty of "About a Boy's" original soundtrack is that the listener does not have to see the film to become totally engrossed in the music. The score's style is somewhere between that of Burt Bacharach and Fatboy Slim, and strung together with quirk and flare. It's...
  • Laughter's New Profile

    Profiling. Detainment. Hate crimes. It's no fun being an Arab-American now--unless you also happen to be a comedian. "I went to the airport check-in counter," says Egyptian-American comic Ahmed Ahmed to a packed room at L.A.'s Comedy Store. "The lady behind the counter asked if I packed my bags myself. I said yes--and they arrested me." The audience titters nervously. But by the time he gets to his first Osama joke--"The only virgin he'll get in the afterlife is Janet Reno"--they're giving up the big laughs. For the next two hours at the Sun-set Strip club, Palestinian-American Aron Kader, Iranian-American Maz Jobrani and Armenian-American Sam Tripoli riff on their cultures while the mainly white and Hispanic crowd eats it up. Ahmed says they couldn't get arrested before 9-11. To which Jobrani jokes, "It's easy now."The Western and the Muslim worlds may seem more alienated than ever, but there's a growing demand for humor that bridges the gap. The Comedy Store's "Arabian Knights"...
  • Newsmakers

    A Star's Fall From Grace ...
  • The Crow Must Go On

    Sheryl Crow doesn't seem to mind talking about her recent meltdown, or even joking that she wasn't far behind Mariah Carey when she snapped during the making of her new album, "C'mon, C'mon." The reasons, she says between bites of toast at a cafe in Manhattan, were numerous: a relationship gone bust, the worry of fitting her organic rock into an increasingly commodified pop scene, the fear of turning 40 in a business where the Backstreet Boys are considered, like, totally old."This record just beat me up so badly," says Crow, who hardly looks worse for the wear. She appears rested, even happy, kicking back in a gauzy embroidered shirt that should smell of patchouli but doesn't, and faded bell-bottoms with leather laces crisscrossing up the side seams. "The two years before 40 were a total crash and burn--I was trying to make everything fit together. Things have changed a lot in music. The advice I was getting was, 'Rock is dead, incorporate beats into the record.' So when I write,...
  • Norah Jones Jazzes Things Up

    Just for the record, Alicia Keys is not the only artist of her generation who can play a piano. Twenty-two-year-old Norah Jones may not be winning any Grammys yet, but her Blue Note debut, "Come Away With Me," lifts the talent bar yet another notch for young artists.Her sultry voice glides through a spare rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You," a sweet take of Hank Williams's "Cold Cold Heart" and the songs she writes herself: from country-tinged numbers to surreal, low-fi pop.Thanks to Jones's unique blend, there's now a big buzz around her otherwise humble record. "I don't think this album sounds like a lot of things out there," says Jones, who went from playing tiny clubs last year to Leno this month. "It's simple, and that appeals to people. That's what I like about it anyway."Jones, who grew up in Dallas, has played piano since she was 7. Her father is renowned sitar player Ravi Shankar, but Jones was estranged from him for most of her childhood. She attrib-utes...
  • REVENGE OF THE NERDS

    They put the resounding thump in Britney's "I'm a Slave 4 U," the bounce in Jay-Z's "I Just Wanna Love U" and the only interesting bits in 'N Sync's "Girlfriend." If there's been a new beat or rhythm stuck in your head lately, it's most likely a tune produced, written or tweaked by the Neptunes. Last week five songs by the production duo were simultaneously on Billboard's Hot 100.Their attention-grabbing sound--inspired as much by bleeping videogames as the wall-shaking bass of a house party or the heavy breathing of a prank phone call--has turned former studio dorks Chad (Chase) Hugo and Pharrell Williams into producers du jour. They now work with a roster of artists so diverse it looks like a star-studded Benetton ad: Janet Jackson, No Doubt, Busta Rhymes, Sugar Ray..."We never want to be those people who specialize in a certain style, because once that dies, so do you," says Williams, who started the Neptunes with partner Hugo in the mid-'90s. Williams is on the run, as usual,...
  • Goin? Grammy

    I know I should be more grateful about being invited to the Grammys. There’s thousands of people who’d kill to be in my uncomfortable, four-inch heels with the torturous ankle straps. ...
  • Jackson In The Driver's Seat

    The singer takes the stage at New York's legendary punk club CBGB against a backdrop of graffitied walls and shredded fliers for obscure, long-gone bands. A tattooed, dreadlocked bouncer gets ready, folding his arms forebodingly over a faded T shirt that reads MONEY + DRUGS = WOMEN. But as he turns to face the crowd, it's apparent there'll be no slamming tonight. Instead, men in cowboy hats, women with sprayed, crunchy hairdos and even a few hotties in made in America sweaters raise their Buds in the air and salute Nashville superstar Alan Jackson with a cacophony of farmhand-style shouts. The bouncer rolls his eyes. ...
  • Newsmakers

    Chelsea Goes StraightWhat's Eating Iron Mikeplease'Fear' and Loathing
  • Ballad For Mariah

    She has had more No. 1 songs than any artist working today. In the history of pop music, she's outranked only by Elvis Presley and the Beatles in that category. Her albums have sold 8 million copies each on average. But in today's frenetically paced, financially troubled music business, all Mariah Carey had to do was make one bum CD and those past achievements were easily overlooked. ...
  • A Passage For India

    When you ask the neo-soulstress India.Arie how she feels about her recent seven Grammy nominations, she just breaks up laughing. "It's beyond cool that I even produced a blip on their radar," says the 26-year-old, who a mere year ago was still playing clubs in her hometown of Savannah, Ga. Arie is among a small pack of underdogs, including the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" soundtrack and eccentric rappers OutKast, who were surprise contenders for the Grammy's prestigious album-of-the-year award. The newcomer's chances may be slim--she's also up against Bob Dylan and U2--but Arie is still floored by her good fortune. ...
  • Newsmakers

    The Kindest CutJustin vs. Jar JarSlow Hand's Fast Oneand
  • A Record Year

    What will make you watch the Grammys this year? After all, it wasn't a particularly crazy or revolutionary 12 months of music. ...
  • Music: Ten Cds You Need To Own

    No Doubt"Rock Steady" (Interscope)Before you shy away in fear of another goofy ska album, consider that most of this CD is driven by much cooler and palatable dancehall beats, hip-hop rhythms and linear, simple '80s pop. The change of pace, coupled with some of the best production around (they teamed up with everyone from Prince to the Neptunes), makes "Rock Steady" the band's best album to date. The songs are strong and focused yet the band still manages to have fun. My prediction--it will remain one of the freshest albums of 2002.Lina"Stranger on Earth" (Atlantic)It's unfortunate that this up-and-coming singer's debut dropped around September 11. Lina would never have eclipsed the superstar likes of Christina or Beyonce, and that's fine with her. She exists in an entirely different league--as a welcome alternative to the paint-by-numbers R&B crooners. She alternates seamlessly between Billie Holiday-style jazz, operatic arias and edgy street slang while the music keeps in step...
  • Far Beyond A Shadow Of No Doubt

    When No Doubt's bouncy ska hit "Just a Girl" popped up like a big yellow daisy on the otherwise gloomy grunge landscape of 1995, it seemed the band would be as short-lived as a mall fad. The Anaheim, Calif., quartet--who grew up in the shadow of Disneyland and named its breakthrough album "Tragic Kingdom"--was goofy, colorful and cartoonish. In short, No Doubt was a quintessential one-hit wonder. But two multiplatinum records later, the frenetic suburban band has outlived its most respected chart-topping peers and sold more than 18 million albums. Now it's on the verge of releasing its best record yet, "Rock Steady.""I didn't even think we'd make it this far," admits Stefani, who is sitting in the living room of her Hollywood Hills home with bassist and former boyfriend Tony Kanal. Her other bandmates, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young, are driving back to their homes in Orange County after a daylong photo session. "We surprised everyone, including ourselves."Thanks to...
  • Hello Again

    Sometime during the past 10 years, Neil Diamond went from being the leather-clad heartthrob your mother loved to a crooning favorite of the post-Nirvana generation.Consider the massively successful reinterpretations of his songs in films such as "Pulp Fiction" (Urge Overkill's "Girl You'll be a Woman Soon") and "Shrek" (Smash Mouth's "I'm a Believer"). Decades after career highs like "Sweet Caroline" and the 1980 movie "The Jazz Singer," twentysomethings still make up half his concert audience (he just completed the longest tour of his life). Earlier this year, his album "Three Chord Opera" made Billboard's top 15. And most telling of all, he's been widely parodied by comic Will Ferrell, who's impersonated the brooding singer-songwriter not just on "Saturday Night Live" but also in a recent Gap ad.Diamond's lasting impact is no accident. The 60-year-old began carving out his niche as a sensitive yet gravelly voiced entertainer in the mid-1960s, and his unique sound has kept him...
  • The Fella From Astoria

    Tony Bennett is one of the few singers around who still show up for work in a suit and tie. Always the cool professional, he dropped into a recent recording session for his new album "Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues" spot on time, popped a catered strawberry into his mouth and formally addressed his band: "Hey, guys, what's up?" Pulling a stool in front of the mike, Bennett began snapping his fingers and announced, "Let's roll." And with that the 75-year-old cut a swinging track with guitarist B. B. King in less than 20 minutes.After 50 years in the business, Bennett doesn't need to try, but lucky for us, he still does. Rather than live off his catalog of 90-plus albums, he returned to the scene in 1986 with "The Art of Excellence," and later charmed a whole new generation of fans with his 1994 Grammy-winning album of the year, "MTV Unplugged." Now he's back with a smooth and entertaining CD of spruced-up blues standards that finds him harmonizing with some unlikely...
  • Princess Of Soul

    Angie Stone has always been slightly ahead of the curve. In the 1980s, when many Americans were still grooving to the Gap band, the singer formed an all-girl hip-hop trio. By the time Lil' Kim was busting her first rhymes, Stone was mixing vintage soul with rap. She paved the way for chart-topping neo-soul artists such as Alicia Keyes with her highly regarded 1999 debut "Black Diamond," and even discovered R&B hunk D'Angelo was hot before the rest of us did--he's the father of her 4-year-old son.Now Stone's new album "Mahogany Soul" has critics calling the thirtysomething (she won't be more specific) singer the "princess of soul," and the only candidate worthy of Aretha's throne. "A lot of people follow trends, and will do whatever it takes to become a star: 'OK, I'll give you any-thing you want, even if it means faking the funk'," says the New York-based Stone. "A lot of those artists are miserable. They may be large, but they're spiritually broke."Not that the gospel-trained...
  • Off The Wall

    When Michael Jackson's luster began to fade in the early '90s, he buffed his image by becoming the self-proclaimed King of Pop. Now, as the 43-year-old makes his comeback following a decadelong absence, Jackson's decided that he--and his new album--are "Invincible." Given all the baggage in tow, it's not going to be a moonwalk. When he sings songs on the record about "The touch of your body next to mine" and "making love all through the night," or brags to comedian Chris Tucker about his ability to snag a "bangin' girl" on the new single "Rock My World," it's not only unbelievable, it's downright creepy. The artist and his freak-show life have collided, and it's now impossible to separate them. Sexy and fun songs just aren't as fun and sexy when there are germ-repelling face masks, disfiguring surgeries and, worst of all, child-molestation allegations in the mix.Still, Jackson the Entertainer soldiers on. "Invincible" reportedly took six years and $30 million dollars to make, is...
  • Something To Sing About

    "The Long Road to Freedom: A Black Anthology of Music," comes with a long history of its own. The new five-CD box set lovingly put together by Harry Belafonte features 20th-century musicians resurrecting African-American music from the late 17th century all the way up to the advent of recording. But it was cut over 30 years ago and sat forgotten in RCA's vaults due to the vagaries of record-industry bureaucracy."I must admit I thought it would come to fruition much sooner," says Belafonte. "But like so many other things in this country that I thought would have happened by now, it never seemed to come into being."Yet the civil-rights activist, actor and "King of Calypso" says he never lost hope the recordings would be released. A few years ago, RCA's archival sub-label Buddha Records rediscovered them. Executives there were floored by the sounds of late singer Bessie Jones and a tribe from Ghana (RCA had flown them in for the session) performing the songs of early African slaves,...
  • Muslim Warriors--For America

    Suheira hadn't cried in public until that moment. The New York-based writer had steeled herself when she got the news that acquaintances had been killed in the World Trade Center attacks. She had remained strong for her immigrant parents, who, after 10 years on Staten Island, were being shunned by neighbors because of their Arab ethnicity. But as she walked by a newsstand and saw a front-page photo of an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Indian Ocean, her emotions rushed to the surface. Her brother Ahmed, 24, joined the Navy four years ago. The family had been worried about a possible war somewhere in the Arab world; now it had come. A kind passerby offered her a hug, and she broke down. "My brother's in the Navy. And we're Palestinians. Muslims," Suheira said, sobbing. The stranger's response was sympathetic but blunt: "Oh, honey, you got double trouble." Little comfort there.Ahmed's family is concerned that he may be "racially" profiled within the military, just as other Arab...