Candice Hoyes Sings Blackness, Womanhood And History On Her New Jazz Album

Candice Hoyes uses her surrounding for inspiration — and New York City has no shortage of interesting sights.

Candice Hoyes uses her surrounding for inspiration — and New York City has no shortage of interesting sights. Jessie Obialor hide caption

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When Candice Hoyes sings, she’s channeling a legacy of black women like Eartha Kitt, Nancy Wilson, and Lena Horne, all of whom helped shape the modern musician-cum-activist role. Hoyes knows that tradition well; for her, becoming an artist meant working to understand the fraught, complex history of jazz in the United States, and how it relates to race, identity, and womanhood.

Her debut album, On a Turquoise Cloud, showcases Hoyes’ operatic voice and soulful style. It also celebrates the genre’s roots.

On a Turquoise Cloud is a compilation of relatively unknown Duke Ellington songs that took intense research, arranging, and collaboration to produce. Hoyes, who grew up in Boca Raton, Fla., and now lives in New York, trolled the Smithsonian National Archives for months looking for the perfect songs, many of which hadn’t been recorded since the early twentieth century, when Ellington himself performed them. Each song Hoyes chose presented unique challenges — “Single Petal of a Rose,” for example, had never been recorded as a vocal track before, so Hoyes had to write her own lyrics.

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Those lyrics take on the unique challenges, particularly for black women, of being a working mom.

I asked Hoyes how she makes music that’s almost a century old feel relevant to audiences today. It’s something she thinks about a lot, she says, and as a black woman artist, she’s intentional about making music that reflects the world she lives in as well as “sounding great and grooving.”

One way she does that is by peeking out at the crowd before all of her shows. It’s a technique that both calms her nerves and reminds her that audience members are real people, with their own hopes and worries. When the occasion calls for it, Hoyes can then customize her performance a little. She sings “Come Sunday” pretty regularly — it’s a song Duke Ellington wrote in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Hoyes sometimes adds a verse of her own to make the song even more immediate: “Children being gunned down the same place they used to play…”

Improvisation is part of what drew Hoyes to jazz in the first place. She says jazz is compelling because it’s “completely about individual expression and freedom. So depending on the moment, no rendition of any song is the same.” Hoyes says she’s able to create a space within jazz to fit whatever emotion she’s feeling:

“If I don’t think a song exists or I haven’t encountered it, then I have to write it. And sometimes the reason is because I’m a black woman. And sometimes the reason is I think that something has been explored but not pushed far enough into a critical point where people might change their minds. And so I need to write that song. Or I need to write those lyrics and put that on the music. And that’s one of the huge and humbling gifts of jazz as an art form, is that that’s welcome. That’s what it was made for. Jazz was created by people, Americans, black Americans, who needed a channel of expression. So that’s one of the fundamentals of the expression to begin with.”

Embracing jazz’s cultural heritage is very important to Hoyes. She says other musical genres — particularly classical — are sometimes portrayed as being culturally or ethnically neutral (Hoyes began her career singing opera). But those genres “come out of a culture” too, which has implications for how both producers and consumers interact with the music:

“I think that there are a lot of general presumptions about who has ownership of the tradition in certain genres…There’s a pretty well-documented history of, you know, at the times when our country was not progressive, are the times when that was reflected in who had the privilege to make a statement as an artist in the classical genre. It was exclusionary of black artists in many ways.

So that’s always been something that I understand and something that I struggled with. I think for me it’s really important and most authentic to draw from my various influences and to find music that communicates what I have to say, rather than ever feeling like I need to try to assimilate into something else.

And that doesn’t mean by any stretch that I’m not delving into really any composer or written work that I want to, it just means that it’s a consciousness. It’s a consciousness I have about belonging and about where I need to mark my own claim. Whether it means creating my own work or kind of understanding the terrain that I’m entering. But I think that’s one of the things that for me makes jazz quite liberating.”

Hoyes embraces jazz as a primary style, but a real mix of influences affects the way she performs, from the piano lessons that started at six, her mezzo soprano church cantor growing up, or “Sister Trio,” a group that Hoyes performed in with her sister and cousin in the family living room. And there’s more:

“Then of course, you live life, and music kind of permeates all aspects of your life. So whatever was in the car was a part of it too, just like anyone else. And then, I think as a performing artist, as someone who’s always challenging myself as far as what can I say as an individual, and so those things have to come together. There’s some point where a Tribe Called Quest will come in and Donny Hathaway will come in, and Nat King Cole will come in, because those are things that I carry with me. I carry in my ear, and I carry in my spirit, so I think that it kind of comes to bear in a blend.”

This summer, Hoyes will continue to perform songs from On a Turquoise Cloud in jazz clubs and concert halls across the United States. But the venue she’s most excited about? Colleges and conservatories. For Hoyes, an essential part of being a jazz musician is participating in the culture of using black music as a means of activism and community building. She wants to engage with students by sharing her music and talking about the politics, culture, and history of jazz.

Later on, she’ll be performing a run of concerts at North Carolina Opera during their 2017 season. Her performances will feature Chris Pattishall, a pianist and North Carolina native, as well as alumni from the jazz department of North Carolina Central University, a public historically black college.

For more from Candice Hoyes, follow her on Twitter and Instagram or check out her website.

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Anohni's 'Hopelessness' And The Power Of Speaking Out

Hopelessness is Anohni's first solo album. It combines dance beats with a hard look at global issues.

Hopelessness is Anohni’s first solo album. It combines dance beats with a hard look at global issues. Alice O’Malley/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Alice O’Malley/Courtesy of the artist

The musician Anohni — formerly known as Antony Hegarty, of Antony And The Johnsons — is known for her melodic, piano-driven music and her unique, beautiful voice. On her new album, the first solo record she’s recorded as Anohni, she uses that voice in a different way.

“I was beginning to feel like my work was too passive and my participation was too passive,” she says. “I wanted to raise my voice. Because I feel like raising your voice is the antidote to a sense of powerlessness. I mean, hopelessness is a feeling, not a fact.”

In fact, the album is called Hopelessness. And it’s a protest record, about disappearing forests, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the use of drones and global warming. Anohni recently spoke with NPR’s Kelly McEvers about the shift to writing explicitly political songs, and how she makes protest sound so beautiful. You can hear their conversation at the audio link, or read an edited version below.

Kelly McEvers: I want to talk about your voice. It is this beautiful, melodic voice. When you hear a song, you feel like you’re in a warm pool somewhere, and safe and peaceful. And then you’re talking about the burning of the forests, and you’re saying “I don’t want your future.” It’s this really interesting contradiction, where the words do not make me feel safe. They make me feel very worried about the future.

Anohni: Yeah, but it’s not my words that are worrying you; it’s the reality of what we’re facing, you know? And that’s what I’m trying to hold space for. I’m trying to open my heart to hold space for reality as it stands today; to try to understand what’s going on, what’s really happening, what’s my relationship to it.

Do you worry about being so overtly political in your music, and that there could be backlash?

Do you think I should be worried?

[Laughs.]

You know, I’m really more thinking about this in terms of participation. These are issues that are in everyone’s mind. Everyone can feel that the climate is changing. Everyone knows that this nuclear thing is way out of control. Everyone knows that species are perishing, that income disparity has reached a breaking point. And, honestly, we have such a clear choice: We can either sit back and let this play out and let the story be written in the stones, or we can try. We can try again.

But it’s interesting: What you’re saying is that it’s one thing to have a protest slogan or to be a talking head on the cable news, and it’s another thing to take those ideas and turn them on their head a little bit.

You know, people trust my voice. And my expertise, honestly, is not political science; it’s emotion and expression and presence. If I let my guard down, this is the space; this is the world that I inhabit.

I want to talk about one more song on this album, “4 Degrees.” This is a song that I would totally dance to, but it’s about global warming. So I can imagine being on a dance floor with abandon, but this is really provocative, right? You’re putting the person who would be singing along with you in the position of singing, “I want to see the world boil, it’s only four degrees, it’s fine — global warming? No big deal!”

You know, the idea was to give voice to the narrative that underscores the reality of my behavior, rather than my intention. My behavior is as a participant in this culture, and as someone who enjoys fossil fuels, comforts. So I’m not being ironic when I sing this; I’m actually singing the song of my body, as opposed to the song of my intention.

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Wow. So you’re calling yourself out.

This is my song. This is our song. This is what we actually think. None of us want this to be happening, but we’re all doing it. On this record, I’m trying to crack my own denial. Because if I could get a clear sense of who I actually was in relationship to the world around me, I finally would be forced to change.

I read somewhere that you were scared to sing some of these lyrics. Why?

Well, because, as you said: People trust my voice. The timbre of my voice as a singer has been a source of comfort for people, and these songs aren’t comforting in theme. They end up leaving you, as you said, feeling disquieted. And the truth is: That is how I feel, too. For me right now, I’m not looking for music that makes me feel better so I can go to sleep at night.

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Building An Antibiotic To Kill Bad Microbes While Sparing Good Ones

What if a drug could knock out Staphylococcus aureus bacteria like these without disturbing the bacteria that help make you health?

What if a drug could knock out Staphylococcus aureus bacteria like these without disturbing the bacteria that help make you health? NIAID/Flickr hide caption

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Antibiotics can save lives, but sometimes they can work too well.

Most antibiotics can’t tell the difference between good and bad bacteria. That means the medicines kill helpful bacteria in your gut while they’re obliterating the bacteria making you sick.

The helpful bacteria make up what’s known as your microbiome. Damaging the microbiome can cause a number of health problems, including making people more vulnerable to infections from other bacteria such as Clostridium difficile, which can cause debilitating diarrhea and can be difficult to treat.

Researchers are working on an antibiotic that targets specific, harmful bacteria while sparing the microbiome.

A group from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., is testing an experimental drug, Debio 1452, that targets the bacteria that cause staph infections. Staph bacteria include dangerous strains of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, common causes of skin infections and can spread in hospitals. The study was published online by Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in early May.

Historically, antibiotics were designed to kill as many bacteria as possible. But not this one. “The idea was to develop a drug against staph, not against anything else,” said the leader of the study who works in the infectious disease department at St. Jude’s. “This type of approach to antibiotic discovery and development is not very common.”

The antibiotic targeting a protein that is common to all staph bacteria. This protein, called FabI, isn’t found in many other types of bacteria. When FabI is disrupted by Debio 1452, the structure of the bacterial cell is compromised.

The scientists working on the drug compared the microbiomes of mice treated with Debio 1452 or commonly used antibiotics, such as clindamycin and amoxicillin. The microbiomes in mice that received Debio 1452 didn’t change much. In contrast, the microbiomes of mice treated with the other antibiotics were significantly depleted.

Once the mice were taken off antibiotics, their microbiomes began to return to normal. After two days, the microbiomes of the mice that were treated with Debio 1452 bounced back almost completely. The populations of good bacteria in the mice on the other antibiotics took up to a week to recover. It took even longer, up to 20 days, for the diversity of bacteria to return to normal.

The quick return in the variety of gut bacteria after Debio 1452 is important, the scientists say, because their diversity could be as important or more than their total number.

“All in all I am very enthusiastic about this,” says Michael Gilmore, the Sir William Osler professor of ophthalmology, and microbiology and immunobiology at Harvard Medical School. “Staph is a good target because it is so common and the treatment will usually be right.”

But, Gilmore says, better ways are needed to diagnose patients to make sure a targeted antibiotic is the right choice.

The latest results, of course, apply only to mice. Although Debio 1452, being developed by Swiss drugmaker Debiopharm Group, has completed preliminary safety and effectiveness testing in human, the drug would have to successfully pass larger clinical trials in humans and be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before doctors could prescribe it. Even if all the studies go perfectly, a drug wouldn’t reach the market for years.

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Inventing A Machine That Spits Out Drugs In A Whole New Way

This prototype built by MIT researchers can be reconfigured to manufacture different types of pharmaceuticals.

This prototype built by MIT researchers can be reconfigured to manufacture different types of pharmaceuticals. Courtesy of the Allan Myerson lab hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the Allan Myerson lab

In a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all the work that happens in a vast pharmaceutical manufacturing plant happens in a device the size of your kitchen refrigerator.

And it’s fast. This prototype machine produces 1,000 pills in 24 hours, faster than it can take to produce some batches in a factory. Allan Myerson, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT and a leader of the effort, says it could become eventually an option for anyone who makes medications, which typically require a lengthy and complex process of crystallization.

“We’re giving them an alternative to traditional plants and we’re reducing the time it takes to manufacturer a drug,” he says.

The Defense Department is funding this project because the devices could go to field hospitals for troops, hard-to-reach areas to help combat a disease outbreak, or be dropped at strategic spots across the U.S.

“If there was an emergency you could have these little plants located all over. You just turn them on and you start turning out different pharmaceuticals that are needed,” Myerson says.

Sounds simple? It’s not. This mini drug plant represents a sea change in how medications have been made for a long time.

“For roughly two centuries, to be honest,” says Tim Jamison, a professor of chemistry at MIT and one of Myerson’s partners, along with Klavs Jensen, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT. “The way that we tend to do chemistry is in flasks and beakers and that sort of thing, and we call that batch chemistry — one batch at a time,” he says.

That’s the way virtually all pharmaceuticals are made. Big batches of chemicals are synthesized, then they have to cool down, then are synthesized again to create new compounds. Then those compounds have to crystallize, filter and dry. Powders are added to make a tablet or capsule. These steps that can take months. This new device, says Jamison, produces medicine in one fast continuous process.

“We had to figure out new ways to make molecules, new ways to think about making molecules but from my perspective that has also provided us with a lot of opportunities that are very powerful,” says Jamison. His lab and Myerson’s also are collaborating with the Novartis- MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing, which is funded by the pharmaceutical company Novartis.

The prototype raises the possibility that hospitals and pharmacies could make their own pills as needed, says James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research.

“If it can done at lower cost, here’s one way at least that we could reduce the exorbitant cost of medications and that could a social good as well as an economic good,” McQuivey says.

Most of the cost of an expensive drug is not the materials or manufacturing or transportation says McQuivey; it’s in the drug makers’ monopoly control. So, he says, “If we can distribute the manufacturing of anything, pharmaceuticals included, so that more people have the opportunity to manufacture it, now there will be competition among those manufacturers.”

Drug makers have at least two big concerns about the widespread use of this device, says Dr. Paul Beninger, who oversees pharmaceutical safety at manufacturer Genzyme Sanofi. He said first and foremost, the drug industry worries about intellectual property rights.

Drug manufacturers own exclusive rights to produce the drugs they develop for a period of time, typically three to five years depending on how much is new in the drug. His other worry is safety, including monitoring of machines to ensure quality and safety.

“There are some really significant issues that this MIT project has to deal with if they’re going to try and make this a successful venture,” he says.

MIT researchers say continuous monitoring would be built into the continuous production process. The Food and Drug Administration is working on how to oversee this type of process.

On the patent concern, MIT developers say the device is being tested to make generic drugs for now, but that pharmacies or hospitals might someday license the right to produce drugs that have just been approved, not existing ones.

For now, their focus is on making an even smaller more portable unit, producing more and more complex drugs and seeking FDA approval for the device.

This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, WBUR and Kaiser Health News.

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Metropolis: 5/21/16

This week’s episode of Metropolis opens with Sofi Tukker’s “Matadora [Medina Remix].” Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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This Week’s Playlist
  • Sofi Tukker, “Matadora [Medina Remix]” (Sofi Tukker, LLC)
  • Paradis, “Instantane [Instrumental]” (Beats In Space)
  • Classixx, “Faraway Reach” (Innovative Leisure)
  • Kauf, “A Ruin” (One Half)
  • Ry X, “Deliverance [Fort Romeau Mix]” (Loma Vista)
  • Hundred Waters, “Show Me Love [Big Wild Remix]” (Atlantic/WEA)
  • Classixx, “A Mountain With No Ending” (Innovative Leisure)
  • Leigh Morgan, “Dilly Of A Pickle” (Fancy Human)
  • Betoko & Teenage Mutants, “Muerte” (Bunny Tiger Dubs)
  • Claude VonStroke, “Who’s Afraid Of Detroit [Marc Houle Remix]” (Dirtybird)
  • Gorgon City, “Blue Parrot” (Virgin/EMI)
  • Robin S., “Show Me Love” (Atlantic/WEA)
  • Tee Mango, “Throw” (Millionhands)
  • Earth People, “Dance” (Cabaret)
  • Underworld, “Low Burn” (Ume)
  • Kaytranada, “Drive Me Crazy (feat. Vic Mensa)” (XL)
  • James Blake, “Timeless” (Republic)
  • Anohni, “Drone Bomb Me” (Secretly Canadian)
  • Jonas Rathsman, “Complex”
  • Public Service Broadcasting, “Sputnik [Peter Dundov Remix]” (Test Card)
  • Gorgon City, “Doubts” (Virgin/EMI)
  • Offaiah, “Trouble” (White Label)
  • Subb-An, “What I Do [Burnski’s Tulum Remix]” (Hed Kandi)
  • Tourist, “Run” (Monday)
  • Tom Middleton, “Heva [Vincenzo Remix]” (Anjunadeep)
  • Cut Snake, “Time” (Warner Bros.)
  • Latroit, “Origami” (House Of Latroit)

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Your New Robot Overlord Turns Out To Be A Pretty Good Marimba Player

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Looking for a musically sensitive, responsive bandmate? Maybe you should try out Shimon.

Shimon is a jazz-playing robot created by Gil Weinberg and his team at the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology. Shimon was debuted seven years ago, but the robot gave a performance alongside a human collaborator yestererday at Moogfest in Durham, N.C., a festival concentrating on the intersection of music and technology. The video was captured by Quartz reporter Mike Murphy, who has written about Shimon.

This four-handed robot was designed not just to play music, but to listen and improvise alongside a human — each pushing each other to new creative ideas. In the video, you see the robot responding with something of a human’s sense of pacing and phrasing, changing tempos appropriately and seeming to take in his human colleague’s material and riffing on it in a way that makes harmonic sense.

In the performance, Shimon’s head bobs along with the groove. That particular anthropomorphic touch isn’t just for novelty’s sake. According to the description of Shimon on the Georgia Tech website, “An embodied anthropomorphic robot can create familiar, acoustically rich, and visual interactions with humans … the visual connection between sound and motion can allow humans to anticipate, coordinate and synchronize their gestures with the robot.” That is, Shimon’s head motions are supposed to help the human anticipate the robot’s next moves.

Back when Shimon made his debut in 2009, Weinberg said in an interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel on All Things Considered, “The whole idea is to use computer algorithms to create music in ways that humans will never create,” Weinberg said. “Our motto is, ‘Listen like a human, but improvise like a machine.'”

When you close your eyes and listen to them perform together, it feels quite organic, like two human percussionists working together. (Or really three, considering Shimon’s extra arms, which the robot starts employing around 2:32.) But visually, the spectacle of human and robot responding to each other’s playing is quite marvelous.

Shimon isn’t the only music-minded machine that has come out of this Georgia Tech group. Their other creations include Travis, a smart phone-enabled speaker system/”music companion” who responds to the music you play, including swiveling its built-in speakers towards you as you dance around and making new music recommendations.

Another is a robotic drumming arm developed for amputees. Working with a drummer named Jason Barnes, Weinberg and his team built a drumming prosthesis that includes motors and two drumsticks. One stick is controlled by the musician’s bicep muscles and electromyography (EMG) muscle sensors; the other stick “listens” and improvises. And as you can see and hear, it can zip right along.

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Left-Leaning Candidate Wins Austria's Presidential Election — Barely

Alexander Van der Bellen, who was backed by the Green Party, celebrates during an election party Sunday in Vienna.

Alexander Van der Bellen, who was backed by the Green Party, celebrates during an election party Sunday in Vienna. Roland Schlager/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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A left-leaning, Green Party-backed candidate has won Austria’s presidential election, edging out an anti-immigrant populist by just 0.6 percent of the vote.

Alexander Van der Bellen, a retired economics professor, had 50.3 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press. His rival, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party, had 49.7 percent.

A mere 31,000 votes — out of more than 4.6 million — separated the two candidates.

Joanna Kakissis, reporting for NPR from Vienna, described der Bellen as a 72-year-old, chain-smoking economist.

The man he defeated, 45-year-old Hofer, is a polarizing figure, as Joanna explains:

“Hofer, who trained as an airplane mechanic, talked tough on migrants — especially Muslims. His party’s anti-migrant message struck a chord with Austrians.

“Many are concerned that this small country of fewer than 9 million cannot support the 90,000 asylum-seekers who arrived last year.

“Had Hofer won, he would have been the first elected head of state from a far-right party in the European Union.”

Even though Hofer lost, the narrow margin was, for many, a sign of the popularity of far-right movements in Europe.

Hofer looked ahead in a Facebook post thanking his supporters.

He said their work during the campaign was “not lost but an investment in the future,” according to a translation by The Associated Press.

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What $62 Billion In Cash Could Buy You: Monsanto

A farmer holding Monsanto's Roundup Ready Soy Bean seeds at his family farm in Bunceton, Mo. Monsanto has been both celebrated and reviled for its genetically altered seed business.

A farmer holding Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Soy Bean seeds at his family farm in Bunceton, Mo. Monsanto has been both celebrated and reviled for its genetically altered seed business. Dan Gill/AP hide caption

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Pharmaceutical giant Bayer has launched a $62 billion bid for seed seller Monsanto in what some news reports say would be the largest-ever German takeover of a foreign company.

Bayer’s all-cash offer is 37 percent higher than Monsanto’s stock price before news broke about the possible deal.

Bayer has been selling aspirin for more than 100 years. A researcher at the company discovered aspirin's active ingredient, acetylsalicylic acid, in 1897.

Bayer has been selling aspirin for more than 100 years. A researcher at the company discovered aspirin’s active ingredient, acetylsalicylic acid, in 1897. MIKE DERER/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

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“This transaction represents a compelling opportunity for Monsanto’s shareholders,” Bayer CEO Werner Baumann told reporters on a conference call Monday.

St. Louis-based Monsanto said in a statement that its board is reviewing the offer but will make no further comment until it’s completed the review.

Many people might know Bayer best for its bottles of the old-school pain reliever Bayer aspirin on drugstore shelves. But the company is a German pharmaceutical and chemical powerhouse with 102,000 employees and $41 billion in revenues last year. Like Monsanto, it sells agricultural products such as seeds and pesticides. That’s in addition to a plastics business, diagnostic imaging products, health products for animals, and a biotech division.

If Bayer buys Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of genetically modified crops, its reputation in Europe could take a hit since there’s been strong resistance to the use of GMO crops in farming.

The deal would be part of a wave of consolidation across the agrichemical industry — in part due to increased pressure on profits from lower commodity prices around the world. For example, ChemChina is close to buying Switzerland’s Syngenta for $43 billion. Dow Chemical and DuPont also are looking to merge.

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