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World Music CD Reviews, January 2006


The Refugee All Stars: Living Like a Refugee
Soda Soap Productions

artist site : buy CD/hear samples

On January 1, the last of the UN peacekeeping force left Sierra Leone, which suffered a brutal civil war between 1991 and 2000. (The UN mandate following the official end of the war in 2002 expired at the end of 2005.) The war saw the death of at least 50,000 people in this west African nation of 5 million, and the displacement of many more into refugee camps. Among those in the camps in neighboring Guinea were six musicians, who formed the Refugee All Stars band They toured other camps, and recorded an album that has just been released by Sodasoap Productions of San Francisco.

The album Living Like a Refugee includes one disc of raw field recordings from the refugee camps in Guinea, and one disc of studio recordings done in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The music -- African folk/pop with a strong reggae influence -- includes heartbreaking messages of peace and forgiveness, despite what the refugees have been through.

A film on the band recently won "Best Documentary" award at the American Film Institute's International Film Festival. Information on future film screenings and other band news is available at www.refugeeallstars.org

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Various Artists: Sound of the World

Charlie Gillett's site : buy CD/hear samples

We recently had the chance to speak with BBC radio host Charlie Gillett about his new 2-disc collection of global tunes, and he made a surprising admission: he likes the term "world music." He admits that it's vague, but he appreciates that it has given him a place to run amok for the past 20 years, exploring the sounds he loves. He's been doing this compilation thing for some time now (previous collections bore the dated titles "World 2004," "World 2003" etc.). This music isn't necessarily all new in the last year; it's what he's received or dug out of the CD piles in his office. His selections include some big names -- Amadou & Mariam, Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate, Mariza, Youssou N'Dour, Oliver Mtukudzi -- alongside less known artists including Volga, Dead Combo, Clotaire K, and Ivan Kupala. Included is a track from French singer Camille, whose album is his favorite of 2005, though he admits that it really isn't world music. Spin the Globe might have made some different choices (see our Favorite World Music of 2005), but Wrasse didn't offer us a compilation. This collection is an excellent base for further exploration, whether you're new to world music or looking for new music to expand your collection.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

THIS JUST IN! ... New World Music CD Releases

Lataye: Tou Manbre (Lataye)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Led by the founding members of the Grammy-nominated Boukman Eksperyans, Lataye blends Vodou and Haitian roots music with modern instruments and arrangements. The result is grounded but highly accessible and seriously catchy. The sound is more Afropop than Caribbean, with plenty of bass and styles ranging from a cappella ("Bonzanmi") to crackling dance tunes ("Djakout Sa") to reggae ("Rekomanse") to slow ballads ("Viv La Vi w"). Despite spots where the synth gets a little thick (think 80s Afropop), Lataye will certainly find receptive ears among the fans of Angelique Kidjo, Youssou N'Dour, and the like.

Enzo Favata: Ajo (Felmay)
CD info

Adventurous world jazz is the name of the game for Sardinian Enzo Favata and his quintet. For a bandleader, Favata plays a remarkably subtle role on this album, often leaving bandoneon maestro Dino Saluzzi to lead the melody. The wordless songs, Favata writes in the notes, are intended to tell the stories of Sardinian people, particularly those who left home for a new home in the America. "These are their stories, and the all have one thing in common: nostalgia. ... I tried to reconstruct a pathway through these memories...". He succeeds with Ajo, an album of sublime delights.

Hip Hop Hoodios: Agua Pa' La Gente (Jazzheads)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples : Buy mp3s

"The situation started in 1492
King Ferdinand gonna burn the Jews
Inquisition came and it hit the fan
Forget Espana, want New Amsterdam."

And it is New Amsterdam -- now New York of course -- from which the latest cultural result of the expulsion of the Jews bursts forth in the form of Hip Hop Hoodios -- a Latino-Jewish hip-hop group with a keen sense of humor.

The Hoodios (a name is derived from Judio, a Spanish term for Jew) first released their 5-song Raza Hoodia EP in 2002, and this year released a full CD by the name of Agua Pa' La Gente (both available in mp3 format at hiphophoodios.calabashmusic.com).
A blend of funk, hip-hop, rock, salsa, and klezmer touches play tag throughout the album. You've got your basic power-chord fueled Spanish-language Hanukkah rap in "Ocho Kandelikas." Then there's the sing-along-inspiring refrain of funk-pop-flavored "Nose Jobs" with its message of nasal ethnic pride. Klezmer clarinet is a sharp addition to the hip hop groove of "Kike on the Mic," but the boastful lyrics stumble into the banal. Really, I don't really care what color "honeys" you chase. And yes, dear, of course you're large and in charge.

While the positive cultural message makes a refreshing diversion from so much smarmy rap-pop, the Hoodios do sometimes trip into such traps of cliche as they balance between cultures and languages. I'll leave to your own imagination the maturity level of the song "Dicks and Noses," which is about what you think it might be about. And some songs are plain silly, like the country-kazoo stylings of "Toribio the Clown Gets His Groove Back." Not necessarily bad-silly, but the CD seems a bit disjointed with these next to the album's title track, a biting criticism of the privatization of water resources.

Perhaps the most compelling track is another serious one, "1492," from which lyrics were quoted above. The song includes some tasty trumpet work by Frank London and tells the story of the Jews' plight upon Spain's order to expel or convert the Jews. The diaspora of Jews into the Americas, along with the "conversion" of those remaining in Spain ("Christ or death, what would you choose?") means that "millions of Latinos they got Jewish blood." And now some of them are making music about it.

Hip Hop Hoodios show serious musical chops, and some promising songwriting. A little more maturity and a little less shallow self-parody could launch them into serious bandhood, and their cultural messages could get the attention they deserve (already they have been featured on one of our favorite radio shows, The World's Global Hit).

Oh, and the band offers a money-back guarantee on the album. So what do you have to lose?

Karen Matheson: Downriver (Compass)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Karen Matheson is the voice of Capercaillie, the Celtic supergroup that made it cool to sing ancient Gaelic songs. Her third solo album, Downriver, was released in Europe in November.
Matheson's solo work is quite different from the Capercaillie vibe. Downriver features simple, sparse, acoustic arrangements with Donald Shaw on piano, along with Donal Lunny (bouzouki & bodhran), James Grant (guitar), James Mackintosh (percussion), Ewan Vernal (bass), and the strings of the Scottish Ensemble. But the highlight is always Matheson's wonderful voice, controlled, refined, and sublime. Apart from two songs in English, it's all about the Gaelic songs she grew up with. A beautiful album, though it would it have killed Compass Records to include song notes/translations?

Afro-Fiesta: Afro-Fiesta (Vibrations)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Spin the Globe visitors are no strangers to Afro-Latin music. But a far different flavor than shimmering Congolese rumba is the Latin-Makossa-jazz sound of South-Africa-based Afro-Fiesta. Led by Congolese drummer Mermans Kenkosenki (who arrived in South Africa via Angola), the band maintains a distinctly African sound, though with unmistakable Latin influences. Get ready to dance!

Michael McGoldrick: Wired (Compass)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Michael McGoldrick is an under-appreciated world music pioneer. He's played with some big and growing Celtic outfits, including Capercaillie, Flook, Afro Celt Sound System, Lunasa, and Toss The Features, just to name a few. His previous solo album Fused (available as mp3s at michaelmcgoldrick.calabashmusic.com) contained some funky, bass-heavy Celtic fusion gems, paired with his fine flutes, whistles, and pipes. He continues his explorations in a more subdued way on Wired, kicking things off with the tabla-infused "The Buckfast 5 / Wired to the moon." While more traditional sounding than Fused, listen closely and you'll hear -- along with Parvinder Bharat's tabla -- horns, marimba, and more. A very enjoyable musical outing indeed.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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