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World Music CD Reviews, September 2008

Album of the Month

Chiwoniso - Rebel Woman -  on SoundRoots.org

Chiwoniso: Rebel Woman

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Chiwoniso is a woman poised for success. The Zimbabwean singer has just released her third album, but it's far and away her most mature, engaging, appealing work to date. After two sparsely distributed albums (Ancient Voices and Timeless) and contributions to a number of compilations including the delightful Women CARE, Chiwoniso has hooked up with dynamic label Cumbancha for her latest, and also has rounded up a crack team of musicians including guitarist Louis Mhlanga and Oliver Mtukudzi drummer Sam Mataure.

The songs on Rebel Woman feel clearly rooted in Zimbabwean traditional music, partaking heavily of mbira riffs in particular, though all 12 tracks are originals. With the insistent rhythms created by a tight rhythm section of bass, drum kit, and rhythm guitar, this is clearly very modern Zimbabwean music. The touches of Chiwoniso's musical influences can be clearly inferred: Tuku on "Nguva Ye Kufara," Hugh Masekela on "Listen to the Breeze," and elsewhere Stella Chiweshe, Thomas Mapfumo, and others. There might be a bit of Angelique Kidjo in there as well, particularly on the near-Afrobeat drive of "Gomo"

Chiwoniso sings mostly in Shona, though a fair amount of English is also heard on the album. In an exclusive Spin the Globe interview, the singer dismisses critics of this choice, asserting that both languages are part of her identity, particularly since she was born in Olympia, Washington, and spent a good portion of her childhood there. (Her father, the esteemed mbira and marimba teacher-musician Dumisani Maraire, lived in the USA for a number of years, helping to create the culture that now results in the annual Zimfest.)

Deeply spiritual, Chiwoniso champions women's rights and anti-police-violence causes. That her songs include positive messages is just one more argument for Chiwoniso to finally get widespread recognition for her compelling music.

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Terne Chave: More, Love! (Indies Scope)
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Another shipment from my friends at Indies Scope again has me marveling at the diversity in the Czech music scene. A clear standout is the oddly titled disc from Terne Chavre. Distinctly Roma vocals ground the clever folk-rock arrangements of both originals and traditional songs, telling tales of love, lust, cats, beautiful girls, more love... There seems to be a theme here! That theme would explain the CD's title, ... if "More, Love!!" weren't actually Czech for "Money, Mate!" The boisterous title track has something to do with moneylending, but the English lyric translations can be nearly as baffling as the confusing order in which the lyrics are printed. But that's easily forgotten in the rich love of life (and music) so obvious in "Amara Chaja / Our Girls," "Aj Jaj Jaj," and pretty much all the rest of the album.

Tito Puente : The Complete 78s Vol. 1 1949-55 (Fania)
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Once in a while, amid the constant stream of modern global music with tablas and kora brushing up against electonic beats, it's balm for the soul to return to something simpler, if no less enthusiastic in prosyletizing for posterior-shaking. If you're in such a place, this is a perfect album to turn to. This double-CD set of the prolific bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Tito Puente is actully just the first of four such releases. This first volume covers the period 1949-1955, so expect some, um, historic sound quality on some of the early tracks here. But hey,the album includes 40 great songs by the late, very great Tito Puente. We can't wait for Volume 2.

DVD: Wijdan - The Mystery of Gnawa Trance Music
Possible Pictures / Mondomix

"This is a story... a story of two men who found each other like lost brothers, separated by time." That's the beginning narration of this engaging DVD that traces the connection between Sibiri Samaké -- an animist hunter from near Bamako, Mali -- and Maalem Brahim El Belkani -- a Muslim master musician from Marrakesh, Morocco. The film is simple, containing just the 52-minute feature with no special features. It's also deep, with intimate images and stories of the men's families and musical history. Widjan is Arabic for "ecstasy," perhaps the defining element of Gnawa music. While the DVD does include some of the history of the Gnawa, who were brought as slaves from West Africa to North Africa, bringing with them sacred healing practices that developed into the Gnawa healing ceremonies known as lila (or leela) the focus is on Gnawa music, tradition, and culture. A fascinating aspect is how these two men came to a similar place despite such differences. And the question of whether and how the Gnawa traditions will survive in the modern world.

Read more about Gnawa music at Wikipedia
See a clip from Widjan

BOOK+CD: Tango Voices: Songs from the soul of Bueno Aires & beyond
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Ask someone what tango is, and they're likely to describe dancing; the dramatic dance of tango is imprinted in popular culture through film (Scent of a Woman, Shall We Dance, Evita). In this rich new book compiled by Donald Cohen, however, the focus is on the song, tango canción. The book begins with a history of tango and a page on the bandoneón (also called el fueye or costilludos), the distinctive double-button accordion so crucial to the sound of traditional tango. After 23 pages of such history, you reach the heart of the book: pages of music for voice and guitar with lyrics, notes on song and singers, and historic photos. The 26-track companion CD is remarkable on its own, giving voice to the selected tangos and ranging from the sparse to the richly orchestrated. The recordings show the form's global appeal, ranging from tango's native Argentina to far-flung locales such as Finland, Denmark, and Algeria. Despite Cohen's caveat that this collection of music and essays is not intended to be a scholarly history of tango, it is a unique and valuable resource for anyone who loves or is even curious about the songs behind the popular dance.

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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