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World Music CD Reviews, March 2007

Album of the Month

Fanfare Ciocarlia - Queens and Kings

Fanfare Ciocarlia: Queens and Kings
Asphalt Tango

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This aptly titled album heralds not only the return of one of our favorite brass bands, but also includes a welcome appearance of a great number of Roma musical royalty. The Romanians play host to Esma "Queen of the Gypsies" Redzepova on "Ibrahim" and "Nakelavishe," and elsewhere raise a wonderful ruckus with the likes of Ljiljana Butler, Ioan Ivancea, Jony Iliev, Mitsou, and Kaloome. The whole wonderful collaboration is dedicated to the vision of Ivancea, the band's clarinet-wielding patriarch, who passed on in October 2006. It's a fitting tribute, as well as a jolly good time for the listener.

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Autorickshaw: So The Journey Goes (self-released)
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autorickshaw - So the Journey Goes

Our favorite Canadian-Indian-fusion group returns with a third album following their delightful Four Higher in 2004. This one opens with the title track, in which a rippling, funky bass line from Rich Brown is soon followed by Suba Sankaran's confident voice. She sings "I'm looking at the people / Who stare back at me / About to start the journey / of self-discovery." Listening to this album is indeed to witness the group's self-discovery and evolution, from the strong title track right through to "Nalina Kanthi," a piece commissioned from the singer's father, percussionist Trichy Sankaran.

Along with original tunes, the album includes adaptations of Bengali and Tamil folk tunes, an effective 7-beat version of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire," and a Bollywood offering penned by the legendary RD Burman.

Concluding the album is something of an improvisation and editing experiment. A variety of guest artists were given "guide vocals," bass, and drums, and asked to play along. Sankaran and Ed hanley then spent a week weaving together the 64 raw tracks into the track "Heavy Traffic."

While a comparison to the recent work of Susheela Raman seems inevitable, the music of Autorickshaw maintains more Indian roots and makes fewer forays toward pop and rock idioms. So the Journey Goes takes the listener to a bustling global train station, where Autorickshaw can guide you through the jostling mayhem.

Eddi Reader: Peacetime (Rough Trade)
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Eddi Reader - Peacetime

Fresh off her foray into the music of Robert Burns (maybe she and Jim Malcolm should get together, eh?), Scottish chanteuse Eddi Reader pulls out a CD of 15 songs that straddle the rickety fence separating the green fields of folk and Celtic music. After discovering her voice on the luscious Lullabies from the Axis of Evil disc, we're delighted to hear more of her in these spacious musical pleas for peace.

Various Artists: Gypsy Groove (Putumayo)
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Cimbalom and violin meet sampler and synth on this latest offering from world compilation masters Putumayo. The 11 energetic tracks include offerings from the USA (Balkan Beat Box, Luminescent Orchestrii), the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Uzbekistan, Hungary, and Slovenia. Germany's Shantel contributes both an original track, and a trippy remix of Amsterdam Klezmer Band's "Sadagora Hot Dub" - one of our favorite songs on an overall strong album.

Tinariwen: Aman Iman / Water Is Life (World Village)
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Our favorite Tuareg desert rock/blues band is at it again. The songs on Aman Iman tell of the Tuaregs' struggle and exile, and the fierce resistance for which they've become known. Their raw guitar-led sound has earned them the admiration of some musical greats, including Carlos Santana, who last year invited Tinariwen to play at the Montreaux Jazz Festival and jammed with them onstage. With such crossover appeal, they're sure to earn new fans with this album, even if those fans are drawn more to the fantastic circular grooves more than the deep-rooted social commentary of the lyrics.

Enzo Avitabile: Sacro Sud (label)
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Enzo Avitabile - Sacro sud

After wowing us with his star-studded Save The World album, Italy's Enzo Avitabile returns with a far different album, this time highlighting what the label calls "an imaginary travel from Nazareth to Naples, to lay emphasis on the evils and the pain of our cities, of the many 'souths' of the world and of the suffering peoples." The listener's linguistic skills will determine how much you can glean from the lyrics and Italian-only liner notes, but even flying blind one will appreciate the depth and gorgeousness of the music.

Angelique Kidjo: Djin Djin (Razor & Tie / Starbucks)
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Angelique Kidjo's first recording in 1980 was an inauspicious beginning to what would become a stellar musical career. She recorded Pretty for release in Africa, but the co-producer absconded with the master tapes, claimed authorship of the songs, and never paid Kidjo a penny.

Fast forward to 2004's Oyaya (Joy), which found Kidjo at the top of her game as the third in a series of albums exploring the diaspora of African music. Following Oremi's focus on African music in the USA, and Black Ivory Soul's Brazilian flavor, Oyaya explored the roots and branches of Caribbean music.

Now Kidjo returns with an album of sparkling Afropop. "Senamou" features the blind Malian blues duo Amadou and Mariam, and while it's pretty clear that Kidjo could sing circles around Mariam, the deft arrangement puts their voices in a nice balance along with Amadou's guitar work. The CD features a host of other guest musicians, including Alicia Keys and Branford Marsalis on the title track, Joss Stone on "Gimme Shelter" (yes, the Stones song), Carlos Santana and Josh Groban on the poignant ballad "Pearls," and Ziggy Marley on "Sedjedo."

Speaking of Groban, Kidjo is currently on tour opening for him (right now they're on their way to North Carolina). Groban, though labeled by the New York Times as "Oprah Winfrey’s pet balladeer," is no stranger to African music, having also recorded with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

So can Kidjo find new fans in the legious of Grobanites? Who knows. What I can say for certain is that Djin Djin does not disappoint, providing not only Kidjo's trademark powerful vocals, but also a fair amount of probing into new territory. You've got the guest artists, the Stones cover, and the album's bold final track: a Kidjo-arranged version of Ravel's Bolero, entitled "Lonlon."

Finally, if you're feeling interactive, you can download and remix the track "Salala" (featuring Peter Gabriel) at realworldremixed.com

Ojos de Brujo: Techari (Six Degrees)
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Ojos de Brujo - Techarí

The top dogs of the increasingly popular neo-flamenco genre do it again with a hoppin' album of percussive guitar, rapid vocals, and a particularly killer horn section. The fuller sound still has roots firmly embedded in the musical roots of Spain, even as the addition of tabla (on "Todo Tiende") and Indian drum-language vocals (on "Feedback") make it clear that the band digs deep into the roots of the Roma for inspiration. Certainly one of the best modern global releases of this young year.

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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