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World Music CD Reviews, May 2006


Word-Beat: The Soul Dances
T&T Music

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Recently, a certain radio host mistakenly called this group "world-beat" -- an understandable error not just because it's linguistically close, but because the duo of Tom Teasley and Charles Williams are looking to global traditions for their inspiration. The world plays a big part in this album, which features sacred music and rhythms from tradtions/countries including Judaism, Sufism, South Africa, African-American spirituals, Nigeria, and beyond.

Williams' penetrating vocals have no problem holding their own even when Teasley's rhythms and the horns of John Jensen, Bruce Swain, and Chris Battistone come on strong. Lovers of old gospel will revel in the new interpretations of "I Know I've Been Changed" and "Wade in the Water." And African music fans will dig "Balafon," "Shango," and the Angolan rowing song "Kamiole," which comes complete with water noises.

Williams and Teashley achieve something very different in setting the Egyptian Dervish song "La Ilaha Illallah (There Is no Deity but God)" alongside the Israeli folk song "Hevenu Shalom Alejchem (We Bring You Greetings of Peace)." This song, Williams says, "was our way of saying we hope that one day the different factions will live together in peace and harmony."

Such sentiments are backed by some of the best grooves you'll find on a spiritually minded (but not overtly religious) album. The sparse arrangements of percussion, voice, horns hit you gut-level, a combination of danceable modern rhythms with roots in ancient chants. Highly recommended.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Tyva Kyzy: Setkilimden Sergek Yr-Dyr (A Cheerful Song from My Soul)
The Tuva Trader

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The Tuvan women's ensemble that so captivated audiences last fall on their US tour has at last released their debut album, and it's a charmer. Recorded in Port Townsend, WA and Kyzyl, Tuva, the album includes throat-singing, of course, but also "normal" singing and traditional instruments including homus and cha-homus (Jew's harps*), byzaanchy and igil (fiddles), doshpuluur (a banjo cousin), and chadagan (dulcimer). The beautifully photographed and arranged booklet includes notes about the instruments, the group's history, the history of Tuvan women in throat-singing, and the individual songs.

Tuvans seem to have no end to their ability to sing the praises of their country. Appropriately, this album opens with such a song, "Bailak Churtum (My Treasured Homeland)," on which group leader Choduraa Tumat sings "My homeland, decorated like patterend silk / You fill my life, my love." Other songs are showcases for different instruments of vocal styles, or are dedicated to various aspects of life in Tuva. "Homuzum (My Homus)" sings the praises of the Tuvan Jew's harp. The dulcimer-infused "Ayak Shaiym (My Bowl of Tea)" is an ode to the hot drink, enjoyed after hard work. Sholbana Denzin shows off her throat-singing and igil skills on the solo piece "Bodum oorum kaiyn bilir? (How will my own friends know?)."

While this is the first-ever recording of women throat-singers, it's not just history, it's great music. From upbeat songs evoking the galloping of horses to quiet lullabies to virtuostic displays of their amazing throat-singing abilities, Tyva Kyzy proves with this album that they're not a novelty, but a hugely talented group of musicians out to win over new ears to the wonders of Tuvan music and culture. Better ambassadors you couldn't ask for. Nor a more engaging recording of traditional Tuvan music. Highly recommended.

* Fans of the Jew's harp should take special note of a new recording from the 4th International Jew's Harp Festival in Norway, which includes jaw-dropping audio and video of harps and playing styles from around the world, including Central Asia.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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

Natacha Atlas: Mish Maoul (Mantra)
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Belgium-born Middle Eastern pop diva Natacha Atlas continues her integration of Arabic and Western styles and her defiance of easy categorization on this latest album. Mish Maoul hearks back to Atlas's roots in a Moroccan suburb of Brussels, where she heard a mix of Western and North African music. In just the first two tracks, you get a taste of the artist's range. First is "Oully," a slow, lovely duet with distinctly modern rhythms, but a traditional feel and restrained vocals. The "Feen" kicks up the energy, with hip-hop beats and English-language rap. Still more unexpected influences come in "Ghanwa Bossanova" (Brazilians in Morocco? There's surely a good story here...). No covers of James Bond or James Brown songs this time around - just solid incursions into the future of Arabic pop.

Smadj: Take It And Drive (Most / Rasa Music)
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Great tunes and poor liner notes mark the latest offering from Tunesian-born, Paris-based world electronicist Jean-Pietro Smadja, aka Smadj. The album includes a raft of guest artists, including Malian singer-guitarist Rokia Traore, Talvin Singh, Ekova's Dierdre Dubois, even the Bushmen of Kalahari. The latter appear on "Meeting with the Bushmen," setting their vocal polyphonies against a backdrop of Smadj beats. Much more organic feeling than many world/electronica hybrids, this still isn't one for ethno-purists. The atrocious insert, 90% advertising, is not redeemed by Jane Cornwell's useful but brief essay on the artist and the music.

Turlu Tursu: Accordion 'n Drum 'n Bass (Home Records)
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The album title gives you a sense of the instrumentation; what's surprising is the fresh ways in which the players come together on songs from India, Eastern Europe, Turkey, and beyond.

Corou De Berra: Maschi Femmine & Cantanti (Fanzines)
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Gorgeous harmonies are the hallmark of this 6-voice traditional vocal ensemble from the Mediterranean Alps.

Gigi: Gold & Wax (Palm Pictures)
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Gigi is an Ethiopian singer, as Spin the Globe fans well know. But this is not an African album. It's clearly a global collaboration with an eye toward the club crowd. Big on bass and featuring thick arrangements with organ, guitars, electronics, and a tight horn section, the album features a familiar list of conspirators, including Bill Laswell, Karsh Kale, and MIDIval Punditz. Not that African-music fans won't enjoy it -- Gigi's vocals are strong and otherworldly, clearly grown from the Ethiopian soul roots captured the in the Ethiopiques series. But like Susheela Ramana and others, Gigi is making distinctly modern global music...and doing it beautifully.

Prince Diabate : Djerelon (Kora Company)
artist site : Buy CDs/Hear Samples : mp3 downloads

Guinea-born Prince Diabate has been known to experiment, including in his music strains of funk, reggae, rap, and blues. But Djerelon is a departure from his past forays into world fusion. Like other recent African albums, Djerelon hails back to the traditional roots ("djerelon" is Malinke for "remember your roots"). Kora, drums, and voice dominate, with some flute, bass, guitar, and balafon tossed in here and there to nice effect. The 11 tracks include four traditional songs with new arrangements by Kante Manfila. the rest are Prince Diabate originals, including my two current favorites, the upbeat "Herakoura" and "Djerelon." A sure winner for West African music fans.

Chirgilchin: Collectible (Pure Nature Music)
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The Tuvans keep coming! Chirgilchin is another group from the tiny Central Asian nation, featuring that famous Tuvan throat singing in many styles, accompanied by traditional instruments. More than other Tuvan groups, they seem to love harmonizing their throat singing, beautifully blending their voices and overtones as on the a capella lullaby "Duet." Chirgilchin are embarking on a US tour in summer 2006, so watch for them in your area.

Afrissippi: Fulani Journey (Electric Catfish)
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From Fulani Journey's first notes, you know you're in for a ride. An electric slide-guitar blues riff is punctuated by the voice of Guelel Kumba and that's no deep-south accent, my friend. Kumba moved from Senegal to Mississippi in 2001, where he met up with local blues musicians. This album tells his tale through music. And through one less successful piece (in my ears, anyway) featuring poet John Sinclair telling the history of the Fulani.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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