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World Music CD Reviews, July 2007

Albums of the Month

Jose Conde y Ola Fresca-Revolucion

Jose Conde y Ola Fresca: Revolución
Pipiki / Mr Bongo

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This album's title seems to have thrown a monkeywrench into some music stores' labeling, but whether you call it (R)Evolución or Revolucion or Evolucion, Jose Conde is onto something marvelous. What it is exactly is hard to say, but his blend of traditional Afro-Cuban music with a bit of this and that makes for a modern sound with deep roots. Flawless rhythms and tight arrangements follow the tracks from the son-flavored funk of "Ritmo y Sabor" to the catchy Haitian/son closer "Pititi Y Titi" (which appears in both French and Spanish).

Conde's parents fled Cuba following the rise of Castro, raising Jose in Miami. "I feel en Cubano and I think en Americano," Conde says. "That's the core. Growing up in south Florida, I came into daily contact with the mix of sounds: son, funk, rock, rumba, Haitian compas, cumbia, guaracha. And to me, it's all one thing and can be intermixed at will and with taste."

(R)Evolución is Conde's third release, following two albums of more traditional Cuban tunes, Esencia in 2001 and Ay! Que Rico in 2004.

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Various Artists: Healing the Divide (Anti)
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"With the purchase of this CD you have provided one year of urgently needed health insurance to a Tibetan monk or nun living in exile."

Recorded live at New York's Lincoln Center, Healing the Divide is not only funding a good cause (channeled through Richard Gere's organization of the same name), it also features some top notch performances by the likes of Foday Musa Suso & Philip Glass, Anoushka Shankar, Nawang Khechog, R. Carlos Nakai, and the Gyoto Tantric Choir. It all starts with words from the Dalai Lama, and ends with four growly, cynical tracks by Tom Waits and the Kronos Quartet. The collection of artists may be puzzling (and remains unexplained in the liner notes) but individually the tracks are fairly engaging.

Pharaoh's Daughter: Haran (oy!hoo)
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Haran is " a musical journey from Hasidic Brooklyn to ’70s psychedelia, from an Israeli seminary to smoky bars in Turkey, and street scenes in Morocco and Zambia. Band leader and vocalist Basya Schechter has invented her own identity, still rooted in the words, sounds, and experiences of her childhood, but using her global curiosity to launch a reformulation of Judaic musicality. Haran marries the Hebraic and Biblical texts that orthodox children memorize with a modern, globally-informed Jewish sound." band website: pharaohsdaughter.com

Kenge Kenge: Introducing Kenge Kenge (World Music Network)
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We're truly living in golden age for "world music." Where the 1980s and 1990s saw bad synthesizers and over-reaching cultural mashups, the new century is awash with acoustic roots music. Kenge Kenge is one such band. the group's Luo name translates, I'm told, as "fusion of small, exhilarating instruments." The Luo language is truly concise, no? And the music -- Kenyan benga -- is real dance music, with a driving beat, powerful vocals, cyclical patterns by the orutu (one-stringed fiddle, which at times sounds like a Brazilian cuica), and assorted other instruments. Don't expect Afro-pop, but do expect another fine introduction to a musical tradition you might not have known about.

Pape Armand Boye: Xareba (IaROmusic)
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Senegal-rooted acoustic soul/hip-hop/pop music? Labels fail to capture the contemporary sound of Pape Armand Boye, whose CD Xareba (The Struggle) reflects his African roots and his bouncing between Germany, Paris, and the USA. The sound often is more like Cameroonian Afro-jazz (Gino Sitson, Richard Bona) than other Senegalese music. Then there's the rap by Mojo the Cinematic on the title track, and the reggae beat of "Innocent Blood," further mixing things up. The keyboards sound a little cheesy here and there, as on "Yayoo," which manages to be both wandering and brief. My favorite so far is "Li nga Wessu," the lone live recording on the album, which features some very tasty flute playing and more energy than the studio recordings. An ambitious release from a promising artist.

Hugh Masekela: Live at the Market Theater (Times Square)
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Johannesburg's Market Theater has its roots in liberation theater, and from its stage have come many of South Africa's great musicians, playwrights, and actors. Hugh Masekela's Sarafina began there, and for the theater's 30th anniversary party, the world-renowned vocalist-fluglehornist graced the stage with a performance that is preserved on this two-CD set. Masekela performs some of his best-loved and most powerful pieces, including "Stimela," "Mandela," "and "Up Township." Anyone who's seen Masekela live knows how he can relax into a piece, and here you get him unabridged, stretching some songs to 15 minutes or more. From his laid-back love song "Market Place" (including a bad joke about the South African space program) to his cover of Fela Kuti's "Lady," Masekela is in top form on this album.

Papa Noel: Cafe Noir (Tumi)
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The influences ping-pong across the oceans: music from Africans formed the roots of Cuban music, which returned to central Africa in the 1930s and caught fire. Papa Noel was born amid this Afro-Cuban musical movement, on Christmas Day in 1940 (thus his stage moniker). A veteran of this golden age of Congolese music, he's been giving the world Afro-Cuban musical gifts ever since. For this album went back to the New-World roots: Cuba. Recording with Cuban musicians in Havana, Noel still injects clear African influences into the music, from the African-pride message of "Africa Mokili Mobimba" to the saxophone of African great Manu Dibango on two cuts. Simply delicious.

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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