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World Music CD Reviews, April 2006


Hazmat Modine: Bahamut
(Geckophonic / Zpsygoat)

artist site : buy CD/hear samples


Bahamut: This monstrous fish comes from Moslem traditions. The legend goes that it floats in a vast sea. A giant bull rides on its back and on the bull is a ruby mountain. There is an angel on the mountain over which are six hells, then the Earth, and then seven heavens. The bahamut is so huge and dazzling that human beings cannot look upon it.

While their own description of the creature on the title track reveals different details, dazzling also seems an appropriate adjective for this wildly eclectic NYC band. At first blush, Hazmat Modine is a blues band: harmonicas, resonator/slide guitars, drums, some horns. But then there's the throat singing (courtesy of Huun Huur Tu) and Alexander Fedoriouk's cimbalom.

A disorienting moment later, you settle into a mysterious undiscovered country, a crossroad where the collision of Tuvan, Roma, and Americana not only makes sense, it's inevitable. Imagine a plane carrying the Squrrel Nut Zippers and Bob Brozman crashing among a troupe of Roma encamped on the Tuvan steppe, and you'll start to get the idea. It's world music for blues/swing fans, Americana for world music junkies, and just damn good.

Hear several full songs from Bahamut at hazmatmodine.com

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Ugarte Anaiak: Ttakunetan

artist site : buy CD : hear samples

You've seen marimbas, right? So imagine something like that, only with thicker, less resonant boards, struck with a vertically held stick. Better yet, have a look (photo1, photo2). Buber.net helps us out with the rules:

The players, called TXALAPARTARIAK, use short wooden sticks about 10 inches long and an inch and a half in diameter to hit the boards following a set of rules for rythym. Each txalapartari has his or her own space of time that can't be invaded by the other txalapartari. This space of time can become longer or shorter during a session of playing and this respect for the other player's space is what keeps the rythym from breaking down.

And now you know about as much as do I about the music of Basque group Ugarte Anaiak. Except that I've heard it, and the amazingly intricate rhythms bring to mind African drum polyrhythms, or Indonesian gamelan, or Stomp at a construction site. End even with a limited melodic pallette of three or four tones, the music is, well, music -- not just percussion. This album begins with two purely txalaparta tracks, then other instruments (accordion, synthesizer, percussion) are layered in. Like Indian tabla, however, the txalaparta maintain a melody of their own even as they provide percussion for the larger group. For those who think they've heard it all, this little-known music will be a fascinating discovery.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Children of the Revolution: Life, Love, (and Guantanamo Bay)
Malaka Music

artist site : buy CD : hear samples

Since their eponymous debut album in 1999, Seattle's Children of the Revolution have pursued their musical dreams with unflagging energy. The fruits of these labors include six albums and a reputation, honed through worldwide touring, as a great live band. Putumayo, who included a COTR track on their compilation Greece: A Musical Odyssey, says they "represent the future of popular music." Not that the recipe of a multicultural band borrowing from many traditions hasn't been tried before (think Pink Martini, Mynta, Balkan Beat Box, Tabla Beat Science, Lo'Jo, or Bayuba Cante, just to name a few).

But these are rare success stories amid the ruins of failed musical experiments. And you well might wonder what keeps the wheels on the cart if you look at everything it's carrying: lyrics in English, Spanish, Greek, and a little French and Arabic; styles ranging from fiery Afro-Cuban to folk-pop ballads to political ska to violin/scat jazz; and along with 11 group members, guest artists including Reggie Watts, Ann Wilson, Yva Las Vegass, and Gina Sala.

So what holds it together? Eric Jaeger's guitar energy. Vassili's songwriting, singing, and strut. More than anything, a keen sense of storytelling. Hanging with COTR, you not only get great music, but also compelling tales of love ("Isla Margarita," "Liberation"), loss ("Keep Holding On," "Broken Pieces"), the ticking of time ("Depression Era Kid," "Jonathan"), living with HIV/AIDS ("Chapter One"), human rights ("Guantanamo Bay"), and life cut short ("Angeles de Bolivia"). By no stretch of imagination could this all be called "world music," yet it's deeply felt music telling powerful human stories rooted in the band's diverse experiences.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Cesaria Evora: Rogamar (RCA)
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More lush African island music from the musical queen of Cape Verde. On Rogamar (which translates as "praise/pray to the sea") The Barefoot Diva sings of the sea, love, and African unity. On "Africa Nossa," a duet with Ismael Lo, she sings "Africa and Senegal are not far apart / I can say that these two countries are as one / Sons of Africa, let us unite, hand in hand / for there's strength in unity." And there's much beauty in this sublime, richly orchestrated African music.

Various Artists: The Rough Guide to the Music of Tanzania (World Music Network)
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Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Flamenco Nuevo (World Music Network)
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The two newest Rough Guide compilations cover a world of ground, and show how contemporary music is emerging from traditional roots. Tanzania includes old-school big-band Afro-jazz by Vijana Jazz Band, sublime guitar work by Ndala Kasheba, and hip-hop sounds by the likes of X Plastaz and Dataz. It's a glimpse of a lesser-known nation that will leave you hungry for more.

Flamenco Nuevo puts a spotlight on new Andalucian sounds. Not since the Gypsy Kings emerged has such energy erupted from the region. The heart of this 14-song compilation is althletic singing and nimble guitar work, expressed in many styles. Included is a track from tradition-minded Son de la Frontera, who have just released a mostly instrumental self-titled album. Ojos de Brujo brings hip hop beats and political messages to their flamenco, while Jorge Pardo has a jazz touch on his "Mi Sueño." There's even a version of "Aserje" (aka "The Ketchup Song") in a serious vein by Diego Carrasco, and a chill-out track by Solar Sides. The latter is something of a mis-fit with the rest of the album, though thematically this Rough Guide is a marvelous glimpse of flamenco's future.

Kekele: Kinavana (Stern's Africa)
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It's African music gone full circle: from Congo to Cuba and back. And back again. When Cuban records hit Kinshasha in the 1930s, listeners were unfamiliar with the language and instruments, but as the liner notes point out "they immediately recognized the rhythms and the way singers called and choruses responded. Here was their old music, they marvelled, made new and given back to them as a novel product of the modern age." Of course, it didn't stop there; Congolese musicians re-formed this music anew, and the members Kekele were with some of the great groups. Kinawan is a tribute to Cuban guitarist/singer Guillermo Portabales, who may never have known how popular his records were in Africa. The 12 songs on this album were composed or recorded by Portabales, some of them given new lyrics and meanings: "BaKristo" denounces the efforts of evangelical churches in Africa to ban non-Christian music. Langorous and lovely, this gentle music travels beautifully in time and space, capturing something trully timeless.

Joshua Lebofsky: Play a Little Prayer (self-released)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples : hear full-length songs

Canadian singer/pianist Joshua Lebofsky apparently gets around. His first email arrived from Dubai. Then his album arrived, packing inspiration, he says, from "prayers both sacred and secular" from sources including West African, Native American, and Judeo-Christian traditions. It's a lot he has bitten off, but not too much to chew.

The opener, "Cecil's Psalm," give credit to Cameroon, and serves as a jazzy invocation: "Oh Lord, open up my lips / I'll sing thy praise." More obviously African is "The Briss" from Ivory Coast, with insistent djembes, vocal harmonies, and a sizzling trombone solo sneaking into the mix. The first real taste of Lebofsky's voice comes on his bold reinterpretation of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," which takes on a sparse soulfulness well suited to his gravely-but-crisp tones. Lots of other flavors too, from the jazz-funk of "Demon Dance" to the slow "Nearer My God to Thee," on which Lebofsky shows off the more flexible gospel side of his voice. "Funeral Song" claims Native American roots, but sounds rather more like not-so-mournful jazz.

If you think sacred equals stuffy (or preachy), Lebofsky's ability to transform sacred songs may give you second thoughts. Or no thoughts at all, if you just sit back and soak in the inspiration.

Sergio Mendes: Timeless (Concord)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Brazilians have long embraced elements of hip hop, but this is something new. Brazilian icon Sergio Mendes and Black Eyed Peacs (among others) get jiggy and out pops their full-grown love child, bopping to classic beats and cracking mad lyrics. The album sets a high bar for itself by opening with the war-horse "Mas Que Nada" on steroids. Then there's the dancehall blend of "Bananeira" with Mr. Vegas, and the soulful title track featuring India.Aire. Samba's got a brand new bag. It ain't subtle, but it sure is fun.

Samite: Embalasasa (Triloka)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Some African music is all drums and energy; Samite has never shied away from exploring softer music. Embalasasa (named for a poisonous lizard) is no exception. On opening title ballad, Samite calls on his grandfather to come with his walking stick and kill today's "embalasasa," AIDS, his voice kept company by guitars, piano, and soft djembes. Not until the album's third song does the pace pick up, with the original song "Nawe Okiwulira" about a departing lover ("After you leave me, you will realize what you let go / you are going to miss me and you will cry forever"). The rest of the album is varied, hinting toward jazz or dance music, often supported by Samite's bubbling kalimba. It's not a roller coaster of a car chase, but a walk along the river with your hand in another's and your heart full.

A portion of proceeds goes to Musicians for World Harmony.

Reem Kelani: Sprinting Gazelle (Fuse Records)
artist site : buy CD : hear samples

Palestine often evokes thoughts of political strife more than fantastic music, but anyone seeking respite from geopolitics would be well served to grab this album. Subtitled "Palestinain Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora," the album begins with a bold vocal statement on the opening track "As Nazarene Women Crossed the Meadow" featuring Kelani's solo voice over a vocal drone (a tribute to her fascination with Eastern Orthodox Christian chanting).

The UK-born Palestinan singer, who grew up in Kuwait, is considered one of the foremost researchers and performers of Palestian music. Jazz undertones, such as Idris Rahman's clarinet on "Galilean Lullaby," soften a style of singing that can sound harsh to uninitiated Western ears. That's not a criticism; just an acknowledgement of the region's sharply emotional, sometimes intricately adorned vocal style. In truth, Kelani has a voice of awesome strength and grace. She explores Palestinian music much as Eliseo Parra has done with Iberian music. And her gorgeous debut album will give any listener a richer appreciation of Palestinian culture. Highly recommended.

Chantal Chamandy: Love Needs You (ninemuse)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples

I want to like this album, I really do. It's got a lot going for it: ethnic instruments including tabla, dumbek, erhu, Arabic violins and keyboards; tight arrangements; and a gorgeous voice backed by a lovely face. Yet behind this is an album that, despite it all, is pure pop schmaltz. To be honest, if Chantal sung primarily in Arabic -- or even Spanish -- instead of the English that dominates this album, I'd probably like it better. But the songs are slick to the point of being overproduced, and the "baby, baby, baby" lyrics come off as intentionally crafted as potential pop hits, rather as messages from the heart. I can see this getting some mainstream pop/R&B radio airplay. But I can't see it getting much attention from world music fans.

Yeshe: World Citizen (Dog My Cat)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Yeshe's half-whispered vocals and liquid mbira dzavadzimu create an intimacy that makes you want to lean into the music. Combining his own Australian roots (Ganga Gigi contributes yidaki/didg to three tracks) with with the Zimbabwean roots of his primary instrument, Yeshe has uncovered the traditional music of a land that exists only in his mind. And I want badly to vacation there. Includes a cover of Marley's "No Woman No Cry." and eight other compelling tunes.

Naing Naing: Toothbrush Fever (Re-Aktion Records)
artist site

Not really "world music," but music very much music of the world, Toothbrush Fever is a blend of field recordings and manipulated sounds that defies description yet is strangely compelling. Is a Czech cement mixer more sonically pleasing than one from elsewhere? You may find out on "Le Coq Megalo," where it shares earspace with a "pretentious" rooster. Then there's the insectoid "Wasp Tabla," drippy "Ice Cube Music #2," and the hygienic title track "Brosse A Danse," or toothbrush dance music. Naing Naing (aka sound manipulator Francois L'Homer) really has something here. I'm just not sure what it is.

Listen to some complete songs:
" Brosse A Danse/Toothbrush Dance Music"
"Mi Ma La Bu / Generator Music"
read complete album tracknotes

Obrador with Fato Criminal: Para Los Niños (Goiter Muff)
artist site

The new album by Olympia-based Afro-Cuban ensemble Obrador isn't all that Afro-Cuban. . The rhythms are still there, sure but on Para Los Niños this well-established group collaborates with a different style of music: Brazilian rap. Ota, Killer, Grilo, and Berruga are the members of Fato Criminal, a group from the tough Guainazes neighborhood of Sao Paulo, where they have been working to promote social change through hip-hop. Fato Criminal came to the US in 2004, and this album is a live recording of their concert with Obrador at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, WA (with added backup vocals by Dennis Hastings and LaVon Hardison).

Four of the eight songs on Para Los Niños include rapping by Fato Criminal set to Obrador's polyrhythms and punctuated by their horn section. Lyrics span four languages (Portuguese, Spanish, French Creole and English) and styles range from Cuban to hip-hop to jazz to funk. This song (from the band's website) appears on the new album, but this mp3 is a version recorded live in Havana.

Check out obrador.org for more information on the band (which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year!), including audio and video samples and information on the nonprofits they support. You can buy the album directly from the band, and proceeds from album sales benefit the Guanabacoa Project and the Hip Hop Youth Center in Sao Paulo.

For more on Fato Criminal, check out this podcast of People's Tribune Radio, an episode entitled "Change Society Thru Hip-Hop I."

Various Artists: FromBakaBush (Stonetree Records)
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For 10 years, Stonetree Records has focused on the music of the Garifuna people of Central America's Atlantic coast. This celebration of that decade includes young and old Garifuna artists, and with its beautiful and informative packaging is a wonderful introduction to the music.

read the complete album notes.

Richard Bona: Tiki (Decca/Universal)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples

The bassist from Cameroon provides more catchy melodies on his latest dispatch of soft African jazz. Looking forward to digging more deeply into this album, which hits stores May 9.

Salif Keita: M'Bemba (Universal)
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The new album from "the golden voice of Africa" doesn't hit stores until June 20th, but a sneak preview shows Keita in fine form. The acoustic magic follows the pattern of his previous album Moffou. With a range and style not entirely unlike Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Keita has a voice that, the Washington Post gushed, "other mortals can only aspire to." Look for a US tour in summer 2006.

Gotan Project: Lunatica (XL Recordings)
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The tangotronica pioneers return with an album more "classically tango-oriented," to use their phrase. Still highly engaging for fans of a modern global mix, and less of a stretch for world music purists, Lunatico is sure to wind Gotan new fans following its April 11 release date.

Eyal Maoz: Edom (Tzadik)
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Guitarist/composer Eyal Maoz brings in John Medeski on Hammond B3. Together with bass and drums, they take you along on an exploration of new experimental Jewish jazz territory.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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