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World Music CD Reviews, November 2008

Album of the Month

Tomer Yosef: Laughing Underground

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I'm usually the first one to jump on an artist who ignores the obvious: I rail against West African musicians who eschew their fantastic drumming tradition in favor of machine-made beats, or for that matter, most anyone who embraces electronics at the expense of the wonderful acoustic traditions of their culture. I thought about mounting such complaints against Tomer Yosef's latest offering until I was swept up in the flood of infectious rhythms and I no longer cared about such petty complaints.

Yosef (also of Balkan Beat Box) has made perhaps the ultimate Middle Eastern party album, fusing ethnic motifs with deep booming bass, high-velocity rap with dancehall rhythms. The album defies categorization, drawing from rock, dub, rai, dancehall, pop, hip hop, Gypsy, folk, and who knows what else. Bubbling with borderless energy, the resulting global cocktail may be sung in Hebrew, but it's intended for the healing (and dancing) of nations.

More Tomer Yosef:

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Lani Singers: Ninalik Ndawi (Dancing Turtle Records)
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You might call it Stone Age pop. The music of the Lain Singers -- Benny and Maria Wenda -- is rooted in cultural traditions of West Papua that have, the album's notes assert, changed little in thousands of years. Well, except for being colonized by the Dutch, invaded by the Indonesians, and generally having their rich resources being exploited by outsiders as the West Papua natives have been oppressed and thousands killed in what some have termed genocide.

While that dire reality deserves more attention, our focus here is on the rare chance to hear the music of West Papua. Relatively little has been recorded (with the exception of several other Dancing Turtle releases), though the listener will certainly recognize some familiar strains in the Melanesian roots of the music -- harmonic patterns shared with Hawaiian and other Pacific island styles. The album starts out with two guitar and vocal pieces that share nearly identical music, an odd choice considering the diversity that appears shortly thereafter in the hypnotic chant of "Waiyaowa" and the cyclical harmonies of "Umameke Dearowakod."

As the group's name suggests, this is essentially vocal music with the stringed instruments (guitar, bass, ukulele) playing a supporting role. The voices are loud and sharp, presumably a style required unamplified performance (and sounding to my ears not unlike shapenote [http://fasola.org/introduction/] vocals). The album was recorded in British studios rather than in the field, so the sound quality is top-notch, but the singing style may grate on the uninitiated listener's ears after a few songs. So take this in bite-size pieces if you must, but do check it out.

More resources on West Papua:

Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat: I Am Eve (KKV)
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Iran's Vahdat sisters scored a hit with their live concert recording Songs from a Persian Garden in 2007. Now they're back, sans Norwegian collaborators, with the distinctly more meditative, more traditional-feeling I Am Eve. With lyrics written by contemporary and classic poets (yes, including Rumi), the sisters team up with a crack group of Iranian musicians on 10 songs about love and joy and sorrow -- often intermingled. Subtly powerful vocals crest and ebb atop Atabak Elyasi's sparse compositions, a haunting combination that digs deep even if the lyrics pass your conscious mind by.

More Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat:

Figli Di Madre Ignota: Fez Club (EastBlok)
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Italy: Home of spaghetti, monotonous defensive soccer, and Balkan dance music. Okay...none of these may be exclusively Italian, but the new album from Milano-based Figli Di Madre Ignota makes a strong argument for the last item on that list. The Balkans arguably lie across the Adriatic Sea, but some musical seed must have floated west across the waters, or become lodged in the tire of a truck hauling cabbages from Zagreb. And what grew from that seed, once nestled in the warm soil of Northern Italy, is a tireless party music replete with blasting horns, lilting accordion, past-midnight vocals, and a spirit that's every bit as Balkan as Shantel or Slavic Soul Party. Seattle assemblage Circus Contraption makes an appearance on "Sadoman," a manic track that, we're pretty sure, features a kitchen sink. Fantastic music for people more interested in dancing than in having their papers ready at the border.

More Figli Di Madre Ignota:

Tara Linda & Luna Nueva: New Moon (self-released)
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You have to be intrigued by a musician who cites as influences PJ Harvey, Danny Elfman, Lydia Mendoza, The Pixies, and Edith Piaf. Who evolved from punk drumming to singing torch songs and rancheras. And who performs with a group called The Blue Fur Monkeys in addition to the Tex-Mex group Luna Nueva heard on this album. The adventurous tracklist begins with a spoken word story reminiscent of the film El Mariachi (if you substitute an accordion case for the guitar case), and proceeds through the sounds of the border, from boleros and cumbias to an accordion-led version of Johnny Cash's classic "Fulsom Prison Blues." The latter is among several songs that feel a little too loose, the productions feeling a little too rushed or perhaps too casual for the album's otherwise promising straddling-the-Rio-Grande feel. A little unevenness doesn't shake the appeal of other songs, such as the sparse mystery of "El Diablito y Su Accordeon," or the traditional cancion "Las Gaviotas."

More Tara Linda & Luna Nueva:

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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