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World Music CD Reviews, July 2008

Album of the Month

Mounira Mitchala: Talou Lena

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No nation is completely without music, but there are a few borders over which few sounds escape. Chad is one of those. Though MC Solaar's parents were from Chad, he was born in Senegal. Ganga Clamoungou of the group Kalass is actually from Chad, but he now lives in Seattle. So the exceptional debut album from Chadian singiner Mounira Mitchala is very welcome, even if she recorded it in France.

Mitchala's powerful voice is given free reign as she sings 12 original songs with a lyricism that belies her youth. They songs are so engaging you might never know she's singing about forced marriages, postwar reconciliation, desertification, poverty, and Chad's sacred hadjilidjai tree. Standout tracks include the uplifting call for Chadian unity "Talou Lena," the anti-war song "Darfour," and the rhythmic "Annaloule," inspired by a traditional women's millet-pounding song.

The albums acoustic sound is fueled largely by guitar and bass, along with relatively light percussion. African music fans should be thrilled with this emerging talent, particularly if your other favorites include artists such as Richard Bona, Rokia Traore, and Oumou Sangare.

Watch a video of Mitchala performing "Darfour"

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Sa Dingding: Alive (Wrasse/Universal)
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I was a bit resistent to give this CD a listen, not least because it seems to be burdened with an excess of hype (the Asian Bjork! the next Enya!). Sa Dingding is a pop star in Asia, having sold more than two million albums. Her emergence and signing to major label Universal just before the China-hosted Olympics may be a coincidence. Or maybe not. And early promotion seems to be based on her Chineseness and the gorgeous photo shoot that adorns the album's artwork as much as on her remarkable voice.

In any case, she's carefully straddling rickety fence between art and politics in a year where China is under intense scrutiny. She reportedly said she supports China's tough policies toward Tibet; she also has a song on this album in Tibetan, and says she promotes Tibetan culture as well as that of the little known Lagu minority in China. And her musical embrace of Buddhism and her heritage (she was born in Inner Mongolia to a Mongolian mother and Chinese father) may make her a less than ideal Communist Party mouthpiece.

Adding to the puzzle is the complete lack of liner notes or song lyrics. Sure, they mention that she's singing in Chinese, Tibetan, a self-created language, or Sancrit (sic), but what's she actually saying in those lushly orchestrated pieces? No idea. Still, the music is engaging, if a bit overproduced (think PBS concert fundraiser) and it'll be interesting to see if Sa Dingding can appeal to a wider audience than, say, the 12 Girls Band.

Beata Soderberg & Justango: Bailata (World Village)
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Of all the boats in the world, one I previously had not cruised on is the steamship Swedish tango. But if this wonderful release is any indication, I've been missing out. This is the third such cruise for Swedish cellist Soderberg and her talented Argentine crew, and these sparkling originals show that even Northern Europeans can have a South American soul.

Pistolera: En Este Camino (Luchadora)
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Latin alt-folk group Pistolera returns with a sophomore album full of songs both topical and fiesta-inducing. Dance along as Sandra Lilia Velasquez, Maria Elena, Ani Cordero, and (token male?) Inca Satz update the sound of the ranchera, telling accordion-driven tales both urgent and timeless.

various artists: The Rough Guide to the Music of Romanian Gypsies (World Music Network)
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A steamy 20-track introduction to the diverse music of Romania, from the string sounds of Taraf De Haidouks to the brass blast of Fanfare Ciocarlia. Features the greats -- check out the cimbalom work on "Cantec Si Breaza Ca La Fantanele" to understand why Toni Iordache is musically revered -- to the updated sounds of Mahala Rai Banda vs Shante. A brilliantly collected assortment of deserving sounds that will have you dancing, crying, and running to the record store for more.

various artists: Desert Blues 3 (Network)
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Between the rich, extensive liner notes and the generous 28 tracks of music shoehorned onto this double-disc set, you can hardly go wrong. Included are prime tracks from loved desert musicians Tinariwen, Djelimady Tounkara, Boubacar traoer, Ali Farka Toure, and others. From West Africa (Habib Koite, Oumou Sangare, Amadou & Mariam) to North Africa (Khaled, Souad Massi, Malouma), to Ethiopia (Gigi, Getatchew Mekurya) and even the USA (Fula Flute, Markus James), this broad-ranging collection is a delight for your ears, and you won't even get sand in your shoes.

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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