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World Music CD Reviews, March 2009

Album of the Month

Oreka Tx: Nömadak Tx
World Village

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Some wag once defined "world music" as "other people's local music." So what happens when musicians take their local music and make it global, mixing their traditional sounds with the traditional sounds of others? This album is one answer to that question. Harkaitz Mtnez. de San Vicente and Igor Otxoa of the Basque txalaparta group Oreka Tx take their musical planks and sticks across India, Mongolia, Lapland, and the Sahara, recording the sounds of collaborations with local artists (and documenting the journey in an film also called Nömadak Tx -- see trailer).

This musical journey was inspired by a chance meeting, the txalapartari explain:

"This idea was revolving in our heads and we
thought about the idea of living as nomads in
order to go out to look for those sounds and
those experiences; then, one afternoon
something happened that gave life to this movie:
an Indian band of musicians and dancers was
touring in the Basque Country. Pablo Iraburu
was with them, he called us to meet them and
we got together to play. Pablo and Raul came
with us to take care of the camera and the
sound. Indian sounds and rhythms mixed with
the unusual Txalaparta and the result was
magical.

We laughed, we talked and we had a beautiful
afternoon creating, barely saying a word and
starting from cultures, traditions and customs
that are supposedly different. That afternoon,
the Txalaparta was the detonation, the catalyst,
and the gathering point among people and
feelings."

The resulting music is hypnotizing, the tlaxaparta accompanied by everything from throat-singing to Indian vocal percussion and tabla to oud. The txalapartari seem very respectful of the cultures they visit, frequently giving them the spotlight as their wooden percussion plays a supporting role. The whole experience may remind you of the 1 Giant Leap project, though the grounding sound of the txalaparta makes this even more of a cultural conversation, and not just a global collage of sounds. Highly recommended!

©2009 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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

 

various artists : Putumayo Presents India (Putumayo)
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If there's one word that reveals the tone of Putumayo's new India compilation, it's "gentle." As in "a captivating musical masala featuring mesmerizing vocals and gentle beats." No fiery ragas here, nor Bollywood crooning, nor Punjabi partying.

In truth, I did find this disc somewhat enticing...also puzzling. The music -- yes, the gentle music -- is all soft edges and cool vibes. With lot of atmospheric keyboard/electronics floating around behind the vocals, guitars, and tabla. And yes, the predominant strings are guitars; there's nary a sitar to be found here.

It's nice music, and much in line with the Putumayo Lounge series (which raises the question of why this CD isn't called Indian Lounge). But having just returned from Delhi, I'm puzzled about just whose India this music represents. I heard nothing like it in the taxis, in the stores, in the concerts I attended. Is India really India without the musical passion?

Perhaps the explanation is that a number of these artists live or were raised and educated outside of India -- in Canada, the USA, the UK. In any case, the music is likeable enough, but don't expect it to have the dramatic, emotional impact of a Ravi Shankar solo or the latest hit from Panjabi MC.

By the way, Putumayo is branching out into other media with this release, publishing a companion book called India: A Cultural Journey, which "combines photography, travelogue, and cultural exploration." Looks nice, from the sample pages. Nice and gentle.


Dengue Fever: Sleepwalking Through the Mekong (M80)
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In the US consciousness, Asia is a mix of mystery and factories and food. Japan is known for cars and sushi; China is known for cheap (sometimes tainted) products, action films, and rising global power; Korea's got kimchi; India has curries and call centers; Vietnam has in increasing tourist draw replacing the post-war jitters; Indonesia has orangutans, giant lizards, and great chicken satay. And Cambodia? The land once ravaged by the Khmer Rouge has yet to emerge as a global player with a distinct identity. But a band from California has been providing what could be the soundtrack to modern Cambodia, and their new film documenting a trip to Cambodia may help put a contemporary face on the nation.

Dengue Fever's Sleepwalking Through the Mekong (set for release on April 14) includes a audio soundtrack CD along with the DVD, containing the 67-minute film along with several bonus features on traditional Cambodian festivals, dance, and a short but fascinating segment on Cambodian master musicians. The trip coincided with Cambodia's 2005 Water Festival marking the end of the monsoon, and included the irony-laced phenomenon of a Western band playing rock and roll inspired by the classic 1960s and ‘70s Cambodian pop music that was nearly eradicated by the cultural purges of the 1970s. (The film is "dedicated to the singers and musicians who perished under the Pol Pot regime.")

At the start of the film, band interviews find the musicians open but questioning, wondering what Khmer audiences will make of their music. On their first day in Cambodia, the mood is caught by bassist Senon Williams, sitting in his hotel room: "I have no idea what's really going to happen, or how we're going to be received, or where we're going to play ... but we will figure it out."

They do figure it out -- sometimes in unexpected ways -- as they negotiate their way physically, culturally, and musically through this culture that has infused their music since the band was formed around the turn of the millennium.

The companion soundtrack disc includes songs by Dengue Fever (including the familiar "Tip My Canoe"), collaborations with master musicians Tep Mary and Kong Nai, and classic tracks by Khmer musicians Serey Sothea, Meas Samoun, and Sinn Sisamouth. Listen to Samoun's "Dondung Goan Gay" and you might swear it's a displaced brother of 1960s Ethiopian pop -- a style echoed in Dengue Fever's live "Ethanopium." Also included are two previously unreleased Dengue Fever instrumentals: the soundtracky "March of the Ballroom Animals" and a short sax solo called "Phnom Chisor Serenade."

It's refreshing that the film turns out to be about Cambodia more than about Dengue Fever, and that the band is so willing to let . More than a great musical film, this is a great cultural film. Dengue Fever may just turn out to be the cultural ambassadors the Khmer people need to usher in more understanding about their nation. eview


Dietrich: Evok (Home Records)
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I love receiving packages from Home Records in Belgium. The little label brings constant surprises, like the duo of Jeuc Dietrich and Anik Faniel. Dietrich is, I'm told, a composer, film director, and "probably one of the most skillful cellists in Belgium." Faniel is a Belgian composer, singer, and dancer. With two composers in the house, you can expect that their music is thoughtful and rich. It's also very engaging and uncategorizable. Gothic folk rock or Baroque world music might be appropriate descriptions, thought their combinations of percussion, hurdy-gurdy, and vocals also remind of sacred chant groups such as Vas. It's music to both enjoy and think about; I'll be doing both as I spend more time with this intriguing album.


©2009 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 

 



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