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World Music CD Reviews, March 2008

Album of the Month

Umalali- the Garifuna Women's Project

Umalali: the Garifuna Women's Project

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The momentum of the Garifuna resurgence took a hit with the untimely death of cultural ambassador Andy Palacio in January 2008. Now the movement is continuing without him...and because of him. As important as Palacio was in spreading a knowledge of the rich music and culture of his people, many lesser-known artists are now stepping into the voice. Aurelio Martinez is among them, as are members of Palacio's Garifuna Collective and the women of the Garifuna Women's Project.

Along with that tour is this new album, blending traditional Garifuna songs with modern arrangements. Behind the project is producer Ivan Duran, who also heads Stonetree Records, the Belize-based label behind much of the Garifuna musical revival.

"The project was always about the stories, about the lives of these women, about capturing the essence of their voices and putting them in a modern context," Duran says. "I was looking for songs that people everywhere could enjoy for their musicality and melodies, not just on a purely intellectual level." Much like the music of Andy Palacio, seems to me.

The liner notes tell an elaborate story and provide translations of the lyrics. For example, my favorite track, "Mérua," was recorded following a recording session by Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), who was adding Garifuna drums to some of his songs. Diran, along wth singers Chella Torres and Desere Diego, cranked out this funky version of an old Garifuna work song, to which a sax line and guitars were later added.

My only complaint -- which may be too strong a term -- is that the lead vocals are not prominent enough to really convey the personality of each singer. Granted, this compilation is not about personalities so much as the promotion of Garifuna music in general, but I want to hear a little more of each woman's voice, I want to hear the distinguishing elements that make them stand out in the world of Garifuna singing.

Perhaps the best song in this regard is "Tuguchili Elia," sung by Elodia Nolberto. Backed by a punta rhythm, she sings in her reedy voice about a letter written to a husband who was traveling a long distance away.

Umalali proves that Garifuna music is alive and well, perhaps the best tribute to the life of Andy Palacio and a boon to everyone with adventurous ears.

Umalali preview on YouTube

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Rosapaeda: Mater (Dunya)
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Talk about uncategorizable music! Rosapaeda used to head a reggae band called Different Stylee. Now on her third CD under her own name, she delves into a variety of Mediterranean styles, and some distinctly non-Mediterranean ones, including some reggae holdover and two fairly convincing dance remixes. Her arrangements make prominent use of Indian and Middle Eastern instruments (tabla, darbuka, bendir, tar) that give the music a global feel, even as the songs are rooted in Italian folk, including some traditional tunes and a couple of children's rhymes.

Think of a slightly more pop version of Savina Yannatou, or perhaps Fiamma Fumana with some of the electronics stripped away. And along with the engaging musical arrangements, one very powerful voice. I haven't heard either of her previous albums, though I feel I've known this music before. And I know I like it now.

Ashraf Hakim: Sunrise (self-released)

Ashraf Hakim is an Egyptian cellist now based in the Seattle area. He's done the classical thing, playing with the Cairo Opera House, the Arabic Symphony Orchestra, and the Egyptian National Cultural Theater. He was born in Cairo to a French-Turkish mother and Egyptian father, and from his multicultural roots he's followed a path to multicultural music.

I first caught up to him a couple years ago when he was playing with the world-fusion band Hejira. Now he's apparently doing more solo gigs regionally, and I recently ran into him at a booking conference where he handed me a copy of his new CD, Sunrise.

His jaw-dropping abilities are on display throughout this CD, even though some of the song selections on it are perhaps chosen for their familiarity more than their cohesiveness in building an album with a theme. The CD includes, for example, Beethoven's 9th (almost 10 minutes long - see video), the jazz standard "Misty," the iconic "Asho's Tango," and Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik." Really, he's simply showing off his range and ability.

And Hakim is not all technique and no heart. I caught him jamming with a conga player and a pan steel player, an odd but fascinating trio (see photo) that, against all odds, worked. It worked primarily because all three were listening so intently to each other -- a mark of great musicians. Hakim is definitely an artist to watch, for both his remarkable ability and his musical curiosity, which may lead him deeper into the territory of new globalized music.

The Shin: Many Timer

Not to be confused with The Shins, the group The Shin is a trio of Georgians living in Germany. "Shin" is Georgian for "The Way Home," though it's not a strictly traditional path they take to get there.

Zaza Miminoshvili (guitars, panduri), Zurab J. Gagnidze (electric and acoustic bass, vocals), and Mamuka Gaganidze (vocals, percussion) are stellar musicians who play the way stellar musicians do: with confidence and daring. They take bits of Georgian vocal polyphonies and traditional instruments and mix them up with jazz and long guitar jams and other unexpected flavors.

The music is desperately difficult to categorize, but easy to enjoy whether you're coming at it from a world music angle or a prog-rock background. Honestly, it's that interesting. Check out their sounds at myspace.com/shinthe

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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