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World Music CD Reviews, April 2007

Albums of the Month

Tu Connais Lo'jo? CD cover

Lo'Jo: Tu Connais Lo'Jo?

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I've loved the sound of Lo'Jo from the first time I laid ears on them. They're funky and danceable, though ominous clouds always lurk on their horizon. Their music blends the circus and the city, North Africa and Europe, village and nightclub. This generous 26-song best-of compilation includes cuts from last year's Bazar Savant all the way back to 1993's Fils de Zamal. The CD booklet is more full of dark, moody artwork than explanatory text, which works just fine for those of us with limited French language skills. Even if you can't tell what they're singing, you can appreciate Denis Péan's dark growl, the unique vocal harmonies of sisters yamina and Nadia Nid El Mourid, and the tight sound of Lo'Jo collective of musicians. Among the tracks are some of our favorites -- including "Senor Calice" and "Sin Acabar" -- along with some songs new to us, such as the reggae-tinged "Woman Intuition," which appeared on the 1994 Lo'Jo EP G7 of Destruction and Artisans of Peace. If you don't know Lo'Jo, this compilation will remedy that in short order. If you do, it's still a worthwhile addition to your collection. Get it direct from France if you have to, but by all means support this wonderful collective of musicians and the conscious global music they're creating!

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Taffetas: Fanta (Rasa)
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The unmistakable strains of the kora begin this enchanting album, followed by acoustic bass and guitar. The trio achieves a delicately woven balance of African-based sound, which takes on a whole new feeling when, on the fifth track, Italian vocalist Francesca Cassio brings her wordless vocal improvisations into the mix. Fanta is like being invited to a tight but relaxed summit of top global string players. Highly recommended.

Somi: Red Soil in My Eyes (World Village)
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This album took me by surprise. I have certain expectations from an artist whose roots lie in Rwanda and Uganda. Somi quickly dashed those expectations, surprising with a splash of fresh world jazz. The opening track "Ingele" prominently features talking drum, but the arrangement and Somi's African-language vocals tell a tale of jazz. As the album progresses, Somi sings more in English, reinforcing the jazz side of her lyrical music, though the African roots are never completely buried. As Somi says in the notes, "I wanted the organicism of my returning Home to be clearly placed in the sonic, visual, and emotional aesthetic of those memories. Red Soil in My Eyes is about looking Home for clarity, for grounding, for guidance." Think Gino Sitson and Richard Bona more than Fela, or just put Somi in the company of Cassandra Wilson, with whom Somi shared the Blue Note jazz club's stage in 2005. With this beautiful, genre-bending album, Somi is sure to win over many new fans who can see past narrow genre labels.

King Sunny Ade: Gems from the Classic Years (1967-1974) (Shanachie)
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Can't get enough Nigerian juju? Or perhaps you turn your nose up at the current artists injecting hip-hop into their version of juju? Then you're in luck with this latest compilation from Shanachie. A follow up to The Best of the Classic Years, this album draws form the twelve albums Ade recorded for the Nigerian label African Songs during this time span. The 16 tracks are raw and wonderful, with the vocals, percussion, and guitar that defined the juju sound. The track listing is a bit puzzling: The CD cover lists 16 tracks, breaking down the medleys into their specific songs, while the actual CD has only 16 tracks. Except for annoying DJs who don't have the leisure to air a full 17-minute track, this should be a minor distraction from a joyous addition to the library of historical African music.

IndiaLucia: IndiaLucia (Rasa)
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Indialucia stakes their cross-cultural claim from the first notes of their self-titled album, with the percussive stains of flamenco guitar joined by Indian percussion vocals. Flamenco and Indian music aren't different traditions, of course, the former having grown from the Roma diaspora, roaming from India across the world and creating new musical forms at every stop. The Indian-flamenco connection was also explored in the film When The Road Bends: Tales of a Gypsy Caravan. IndiaLucia brings to this cultural conversation a fluid virtuosity and energy to spare, and I'll be returning to this album again and again.

Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca: Isabela (Mopiato Music)
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"Cuba. Congo. The musical relationship between the two places goes back almost five centuries. It is made of iron." Thus begin the liner notes to the fifth album by African-born Ricardo Lemvo. It's spicy, danceable salsa throughout, with just touches of African roots. But what touches! Congolese guitar legend Papa Noel plays on four tunes. And Lemvo sings in Kikongo, Lingala, and Swahili as well as Spanish and Portuguese. He even learned to sing in Turkish for his version of the "Elbette" by Candan Ercetin, which Lemvo turns into a smoky bolero. For dancing or listening, Isabela delivers in style.

Céu: Céu (Six Degrees)
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The buzz about Céu reached me long before her music did. Often this is a bad sign, an indication of hype trying to overcome a mediocre product. Now that I've had a listen to her self-titled album, I'm inclined to jump on the effusive praise bandwagon. Céu has the funky sense of Daude with an added dollop of soul. Born Maria do Céu Whitaker Poças, the artist's shortened name means "heaven" or "sky," a fitting image for the clean, airy vocals she lays over a bed of rhythm with a touch of electronics. Céu avoids the pitfalls that doom so many attempts to blend roots music with electronica. Instead, she's got a great album that I'll put alongside Ojos de Brujo and Bole2Harlem in the category of great modern world music.

Ron Wiseman: Mystical Mood (Marshmellow Records)
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A Manitoba-born Jewish reggae singer? Well, yeah! Who says reggae can't include kickin' oud solos? Wiseman doesn't have the most powerful voice, but his conscious compositions are musically engaging and lyrically uplifting.

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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