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World Music CD Reviews, February 2008

Album of the Month

Cheb i Sabbah: Devotion
Six Degrees

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Maybe it's the anticipation of the upcoming World Sacred Music Festival that has me so juiced about this new offering. Maybe it's the way Sabbah manages to blend South Asian devotional music with compelling beats -- using mostly acoustic instruments. Embracing three sacred traditions - Hinduism, Sufi Islam, and Sikhism -- the album's eight tracks are essentially a prayer to devotion itself, in whatever form it manifests.

"Koi Bole Ram Ram" is backed by rhythms familiar to bhangra fans, though here they are slowed down and form the foundation for the qawwali-esque voice of Sikh gurbani singer Rana Singh floating aloft like a dove made of sound. Kirtan singer Anup Jalota gives voice to the spacious "Jai Bhavani," an ode to Bhavani (another form of the Hindu deity Durga).

Sabbah maintains a consistent feel as the songs drift among singers (including Punjabi Master Saleem, Pakistani Riffat Sultana, and Indian classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal) and spiritual paths. The longest on an album of long tracks, the 10-minute dub-driven "Haun Vaari Haun Varaney" suggests further sacred branching from India to Jamaica -- rasta-bhakti, anyone?

The magic of Sabbah is in his ability to create forward-looking music that is deeply rooted in tradition. No track illustrates this better than "Kinna Sohna (How Beautiful Did God Make You?)", a Sufi tune written by the Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the late qawwali singer and one of the greatest voices the world has ever heard.

Whether you're listening for the messages of devotion, or just for the enveloping sounds that Sabbah weaves, Devotion is is one of the most consistently compelling releases of this young year.

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Think of One: Camping Shaabi (Crammed)
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Antwerp-based Think of One are consummate musical explorers. On their last outing, Trafico, they coaxed the sounds of Brazil through their globalizing filters. This time around it's the strains of Moroccan Shaabi that feed their sound. This Berber wedding music may be less well known than Algerian Rai, but it's just as full of compelling rhythms and melodies. And Think of One's version of Shaabi is a right sturdy kick in the backside. Bits of dub, electronica, rock, and hip hop compel unconscious head-nodding or outright booty shaking in even the most collected listeners.

Saba: Jidka / The Line (Riverboat)
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Born in her mother's Somali, Saba has spent most of her life in her father's Italy. She tells her conflicted, multicultural tale on her debut CD, Jidka (The Line), itself a multicultural construction that features artists from Cameroon, Senegal, and Gabon. But don't start thinking that this is an African album. It's not...well, not really. It's more pop with African roots, sung in Somali because "The Somali language gives me great satisfaction for the musical and expressionistic sound of the words, but, more than anything else, for the value this reunion represents in my human growth. It feels like I'm moving closer to a part of me that lives in the woman that gave me life: my mother."

Famoro Dioubate's Kakande: Dununya (Jumbie)
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Between West African and New York City lies a bit of ocean. But judging by the health of the African music scene in the USA, that's a minor obstacle. Back in 2002, Smithsonian Folkways released a compilation called Badenya: Manden Jaliya in New York City. Among the artists featured on that disc are some names that should now be familiar to Spin The Globe listeners, among them Malian kora virtuoso Mamadou Diabate and Fulani flute master Bailo Bah. With this strong debut album, Famoro Dioubate and his group Kakande are likely to be the latest additions to that list.

Born into a griot family in Guinea, Dioubate is also known for his work (along with Bah) in the group Fula Flute. Kakande combines a couple of players from that group (bassist Peter Fand, tambin flute player Sylvain Leroux), with Avram Fefer (sax), Raul Rothblatt (cello), Mamady Kouyate (electric guitar), and percussionists Brian Glashow and Reuven Weizburg.

Despite the multicultural makeup of the band and the instrumentation, I hear deep traditional roots in the music, in which the balafon is most often central and other instruments play supporting (often circular) lines. It's the simple yet sophisticated music I imagine hearing in a West African village after the sun has gone down and the day's work is done. Okay, it happens to be a village with a well-rehearsed group of tight professional musicians, but you know what I'm saying.

The meanings of the eleven tracks, sung in Susu and Malinke, are briefly described in the liner notes: praise songs, love songs, even a tale of love between a girl and a magical hippopotamus ("Mali Sadjo")! Magic or not, this music is much easier to love than a hippo. And far better for dancing.

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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