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World Music CD Reviews, June 2006


Sara Tavares - Balance

Sara Tavares: Balancé
Times Square Records

artist site : buy CD : mp3s

Winning two major musical prizes at age 16 might spoil some artists, but Sara Tavares took it all in stride. Her earlier music (including an album produced by Lokua Kanza) reportedly leaned toward gospel, soul, and funk. On the self-produced Balancé, Lisbon-based Tavares looks toward her family's roots in Cape Verde. Playing many of the instruments herself, she builds subtle, joyful songs that show how much of the island spirit still lives within her, assimilated through annual trips to Cape Verde.

Some songs are bittersweet, reflecting both her joy at life and a difficult childhood after being abandoned by her parents. On " Planeta Sukri (Sugar Planet)" Tavares blends reggae with coladeira (a Cape Verdean style made popular by Cesaria Evora). “The poem of this song can be seen as a love poem,” she Tavares. “I am saying ‘Take me to a sugar planet, take me to place where there is no sadness, no cries. And this place is inside of you and me and everyone.’ I mean it more in a spiritual way than a romantic way. The ballads are very much like little prayers.” Balancé includes a sparse duet with fado star Ana Moura ("De Nua"), and another with Boy Ge Mendes ("Planeta Sukri"). This beautiful, subtle album is easily among the best "world music" releases of 2006.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Tandava CD cover

Tandava: Tandava

artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Vancouver-based Tandava is essentially a world-fusion group, incorporating Chinese, Carnatic, Hindustani, and Western classical traditions. So seamlessly are these threads woven together, the listener might be excused for thinking this is the traditional music of, well, someplace -- maybe in South Asia or the Middle East. A land where the vocals of Bangladeshi Prashant John trade licks with the erhu of Lan Tung on "Dooarey," about the journey after death. Where Tung's erhu and Jonathan Bernard's marimba sing in tandem over Stafan Cihelka's tabla on the Taiwanese aboriginal melody "Dance of the Amis."

The self-titled album maintains its freshness throughout, though the energy seems to flag just a little on "Goyama." Fortunately, it's followed by what could be the group's theme song, "Common Ground," in which Tandava combines an African-sounding guitar line with tabla, erhu, balafon, and percussive vocals speaking of "unity in diversity."

Put simply, this is a gorgeous album by top-notch musicians. They blend their diverse talents into a unified whole, with results that will appeal to fans of Vas, or gnawa music, or.... The mind reels seeking some comparison, some other group that lopes from cyclical trance rhythms to melody and back again, that hooks you with simple melodic appeal and only slowly exposes its true face of harmonic/rhythmic complexity. Delicious, through and through.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Wa-Zimba: Mande Wazy (Tinder Records)
buy CD/hear samples

Named for the legendary first people of Madagascar, Wa-Zimba are a French-African trio who put a modern jazzy spin on Malagasy music. The group consists of French jazz-fusion guitarist Philippe Robert, Malagasy bassist and vocalist Julio Rakotonanahary, and French keyboardist Pierre Acourt. Together, they create modern arrangements that incorporate traditional instruments including flutes, percussino, and the tubular zither valiha. The result sounds like Te Vaka getting together with Tarika to play Afropop, with a touch of reggae and a big dose of island sunshine. Definitely recommended!

Various Artists: One World, One Kid (Putumayo)
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From Putumayo:
When his friend Eric was ill with cancer, 6-year-old Skyler Pia wanted to cheer him up. So he did what most kids his age only dream about: he went into his dad's studio and, off the top of his head, hosted a radio show. Skyler's charming world music show features international songs from live Putumayo Kids CDs and information about the artists and cultures.

Skyler's parents were so proud of his work that they shared his recording with everyone they knew, including Bonnie Raitt- a longtime fan of Putumayo World Music. She suggested they send the show to Putumayo founder Dan Storper, who loved it so much he decided to release it. The result is One World, One Kid, a benefit CD with all of Putumayo's proceeds going to Make-A-Wish Foundation. Skyler picked Make-A-Wish because they had helped his friend Erik and he wanted to make sure others benefited as well. read more...

Taximi: In the Northern Latitudes (Caprice)
artist site

Why Greeks would emigrate to Sweden is an open question. What's clear from this album is that Greek Swedes can hold their own playing rebetiko and smyrneiko, songs of life, love, death, even nuns. Taximi, formed by Greek immigrants in 1989, is joined on this effort by vocalist Roula Manissanou on six of the 13 tracks.

Stella Chiweshe: Double Check (Piranha)
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Zimbabwe's queen of the mbira is feted in this compilation, with one CD of "trance hits" recorded in July 2005, and a second of "classic hits" including her unity anthem "Chachimurenga" and other songs with her Earthquake band. As usual, Chiweshe provides a satisfying, spiritual blend highlighting mbira, drums, and voice. The album includes notes on each song and a list of her accomplishments, concluding with the most important one: Chiweshe has "healed countless troubled souls."

Trio Kavkasia: The Fox and the Lion: Georgian Vocal Music (Traditional Crossroads)
artist site : buy CD

Fans of Eastern-European vocal polyphonies, or simply of great singing, will rejoice in this rich recording of ancient Georgian songs. Trio Kavkasia are three Americans (Alan Gasser, Carl Linich, and Stuart Gelzer), who abandoned their university studies to pursue the traditional vocal music of Caucaus mountain farmers in Georgia. The songs tell of family, faith, weddings, with excellent notes detailing the histories of the songs. The three voices often sound like more -- maybe it's the reverb, or the unusual scales and dissonances. You won't need a scientific explanation to enjoy this exquisite music.

©2006 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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