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World Music CD Reviews, August 2008

Album of the Month

Neco Novellas: New Dawn/ Ku Khata
Times Square

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I know what to expect from many global labels and artists, but once in a while a album appears that I know nothing about. And it floors me. New Dawn/Ku Khata is just such an album. Perhaps it's just as well that I'm writing this unconnected to the Internet. Instead of looking up biographical information on Neco Novellas, I have only my ears and scant liner notes to go by.

The album opens with the South African-style a capella vocals of the title track, sung in English and Chopi (Chopi? Where's my Google?). Then it's off to something sounding like Cameroonian- jazz-meets-Brazilian-samba on "Vermelha/Red" sung in Portuguese (Angola, perhaps, or Mozambique?).

It's a disservice to the music to focus on describing the details of the songs and languages used (also including Ronga, Hebrew, Xangana, Spanish, and French, by the way). Despite knowing nothing about the musicians and little about the songs, I find this immensely joyful music. What do I care that people around me may puzzle at the goofy smile that grows on my face as I play endless loops of this album on my headphones.

With its rich harmonies, fantastic arrangements, and global influences, this is the rare album that isn't clearly rooted in a specific location but nonetheless hits my heart in a very specific spot. Neco Novellas has crafted a sound that's inviting, genre-defying, and a great soundtrack for the global optimist.

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Delhi 2 Dublin: Delhi 2 Dublin (self-released)
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"We didn't set out to write fusion music," Delhi 2 Dublin explains in the liner notes to their 2007 self-titled album, "We just set out to have a good time!" And a good time it is, with a preference for mixing Irish fiddle with Bhangra beats and vocals. Imagine a Bhangra remix of the Afro-Celts, and you'll have a close idea. A great fresh addition to the growing genre of cross-cultural dance music.

Sidestepper: The Buena Vibra Sound System (Palm Pictures)
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Forget the price of gas -- you're going to need to cruise with this album. Sidestepper's fantasticly energetic music is what needs to be blasting from car windows all summer long, spilling a Latin dance party into the hot streets. Remixes often go overboard in their attempts to remodel (or, depending on who's opining, destroy) the original tune. But Columbian crew Sidestepper does it right, giving us 11 tracks (nine of them previously unreleased) of hot Latin sounds mixed with ragga-style toasting and booty-shaking beats. Crank it up, roll down the windows, and boogie like Bogota!

Various Artists: Big Blue Ball (Real World)
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Eager curiosity may be the best description of my feelings upon learning that Peter Gabriel had assembled into a new album a number of sessions taped in his Real World studios over the course of 18 years. The CD features the likes of Francis Bebey, Natacha Atlas, Jah Wobble, Justin Adams, Marta Sebestyen, Hossam Ramzy, Sevara Nazarkhan, and the late Hukwe Zawose, all great artists. Now, having listened to it, I wonder if maybe 18 years gave it not so much the taste of fine aged wine as a past-date loaf of bread.

Bookmarked by the bland pop of "Whole Thing" and "Big Blue Ball," the album does hit a few interesting points, particularly with Zawose's unique vocals in "Forest" and the unusual Malagasy rap of Rossy on "Jijy," paired with heavy programming and Jah Wobble bass lines. But alas, the whole album is over-produced (with the exception of "Rivers" featuring the marvelous vocals of Sebestyen), like the Afro-Celts run amok. A little more acoustic/vocal prominence (and less Gabriel) could have made this a remarkable album rather than a mediocre, mouldy mess. For a constructed-from-various-studio-tapes album done right, skip this big blue blob and get Onno Krijn's Don't Be A Stranger: One.

A Fula's Call: Mark Lotz Meets Omar Ka-Lingu (Lop Lop)
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Fantastic Fulani Fusion. From the banks of the Niger River, Senegaliese griot Omar Ka somehow found his way to the Netherlands, where he recorded this rollicking collection of 14 songs with German flautist Mark Alban Lotz, French guitarist Raphael Vanoli, and Iranian percussionist Afra Mussawisade. A hint of jazz infuses the music, as well as a touch of Indian tabla -- consider those the wings of a group whose musical roots are clearly in Africa. A stellar example of acoustic global fusion from artists at the top of their game.

DeLeon: DeLeon (JDub)
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Everything old is new again, they say. But "15th Century Spanish indie rock"? That billing for Brooklyn-based DeLeon is as accurate as it is odd. Singing in English and Ladino -- the traditional tongue of Sephardic Jews -- Daniel Saks and bandmates bring rock and pop influences to the mix and create of traditional folk tunes something familiar yet just exotic enough to make you perk up your ears like a puzzled pup. And before you know it, you're hearing niggun at the club and it all sounds normal. Why not?

Police in Dub: DubXanne (Echo Beach)
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The global influence of The Police may not rival that of, say, James Brown or The Beatles, but their early pop blend of ska and reggae beats with Sting's message-driven songs was a revelation to many. I've got a soft spot, particularly for their earlier, edgier work. This compilation of reggae reinterpretations of Police songs is somewhat uneven, with cheezy duds like "Can't Stand Losing Dub" brushing shoulders with the dreamy "The Bed's Too Big Without Dub."

The album includes covers of some more obscure Police tunes, such as "Once Upon a Daydream" and "Someone to Talk To", but most are the ones you'll know from the radio: "Message in a Bottle," "Walking on the Moon," "Spirits in a Material World." Remarkable to me is how even melodies and bass lines that are part of my very blood sound diluted, even simplistic when the punky spirit of the original is replaced with rather uninspired, ordinary reggae beats.

Police in Dub aren't going to find a regular place on my playlist; they're better suited to elevators. But I'm grateful for the prompt to pull out my Police albums for another listen of the original.

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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