it sounds like a movie script. A group of paraplegic
street musicians who play near the zoo in Kinshasa,
Congo, catch the ear of well-place westerners (including
Damon Albarn, members of Massive Attack, and filmmakers
Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye. The latter
have been documenting the group since 2005. And
Staff Benda Bilili's debut album has now been released,
produced by none other than Crammed's Vincent Kenis
(who also brought us Konono No1, Kasai Allstars,
and the Congotronics series). If you're familiar
with those outings, you won't be surprised to learn
about the group's homemade instruments (many solos
are played on a one-stringed tin-can lute/guitar).
group's story is more unusual than its music, which
isn't too far from the Afro-Cuban blend of many
other Congolese groups. But their unique story,
instruments, and obstacles to success make this
an album well worth checking out. Marvel at their
resilience, read how their lyrics influenced the
last Congolese election, and move to the languorous
Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media
Hop Hoodios: Carne Masada-Quite Possibly the
Very Best of Hip-Hop Hoodios (Jazzheads)
new/old album by Hip Hop Hoodios (out May 12) provides
a chance to revisit some of our favorite guilty
pleasures from the world's premier Jewish-Latino
hip-hop outfit. Funny as hell, the Hoodios are nonstop
funny, frequently crude, and always entertaining.
The humor starts with the album's title; as the
second (or, if you count the Raza Hoodio EP, second-and-a-half)
album, it seems a little early for a "Best
Of" -- but if you're new to the band or willing
to duplicate some of the songs you already own,
go ahead and nab this one. From the sopomoric ("Dicks
and Noses") to the politically savvy ("Agua
pa' la Gente"), this is an exercise in nonstop
energy, odd cross-cultural lyrical and melodic lines,
and simply the best musical narrative of the cross-pollination
of Jews and Latinos you're willing to find anywhere
this side of southern Spain. Listen to the end for
the laugh-out-loud cover of...well, why should I
tell you when you can hear it here?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDohR2r9Zlc
artists : ¡Salsa! (Putumayo)
honestly I don't know much about salsa. So a new
compilation of danceable Afro-Latin tunes is a chance
not only to enjoy the music, but to learn a little
more about the style. As a musical style, salsa
has been around for at least half a century in various
incarnations, often flavored by claves, timbales,
piano, and tight horn arrangements. It's a worldwide
phenomenon, and artists on this album hail from
Cuba, the USA, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia, even
the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some of the
names here are legendary (Poncho Sanchez, Eddie
Palmieri), others may be less familiar. All of the
artists on this solid (if short at 46 minutes) compilation
deliver tasty tunes that will get your hips moving.
Read the liner notes and learn something, or just
let your hips sway.
Etkin: Kelenia (Motema)
is a Bambara word for "the love of people who
are different from each other." It's also the
perfect title for this album, a stunning collaboration
between an Israeli-born New York reed player and
his Malian-American band. Oran Etkin bridges the
span between Africa and America by building on his
jazz and Jewish roots, integrating his clarinet
and saxes seamlessly with the balafon of Balla Kouyate,
the calabash percussion of Makane Kouyate, and the
bass of Joe Sanders. He also brings to the album's
mix the talents of Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke
and other guests. The album's opening track, "Yekeke,"
sets a high standard with Etkin's clarinet and Kouyate's
balafon soaring like birds playing in a spring breeze.
The rest of the album varies, sounding here like
improvisational jazz with unusual instrumentation,
and there like traditional West African tunes subtly
updated. And then there's Etkin's unique Africanized
version of Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing."
I'm still marveling at the naturalness of this album,
and how beautifully in sync the musicians are in
integrating their diverse backgrounds into a seamless
whole. Might as well just stick this in the CD player
and leave it on "repeat" for the next
month or two. It's that enjoyable.
and The Tribe: Wha (Black Pearl)
her debut recording in 2002, Moana Maniapoto has
been merging Maori traditions with popular music
elements. Rap, soul, dance, and spoken-word blend
with haka and traditional instruments and percussion.
And there's usually a powerful cultural message
within the song, about the importance of ancestors,
the history of treaties, the tradition of moko,
or some such.
messages continue on Wha, though the music
is markedly different than previous offerings, owing
less to pop music as Moana shows a more mature side
to her songwriting. There's the rich orchestration
on "Pae O Riri" ("heat of the battle"),
the brief instrumental title track featuring the
glass harmonium, and the subdued power of the peace
piece "Rangikane Ana." These tracks are
generally quieter than Moana's previous work to
be sure, but no less stirring.
resilience of Maori culture still rings through.
The words of the reggae/dub track "Whaura"
concern Pacific nations' continuing struggles with
sovereignty and independence. And the famous Maori
haka makes several virile appearances, most notably
on "Te Apo," which addresses the greed
at the heart of many global trade agreements and
includes sounds from the street protests at the
2006 WTO conference in Hong Kong. (Find more song
details and lyrics here.)
Wha is a mature, engaging album from of
today's best conscious global outfits.
artists : The Revolution Present Revolution
as the Obama administration shows (long-overdue)
signs of warming towards Cuba, there's still a cultural
chasm with the island nation. Think about it. The
Buena Vista Social Club thing was back in the late
1990s (album, 1997; film, 1999). Hip-hop group Orisha's
groundbreaking debut A Lo Cubano album came out
in 2000. And since then?
have been musical releases from Cubans in the last
decade (among them, Ska Cubano, Telmary, Yusa, and
Juan-Carlos Formell), but none with such a broad
impact. Where are the next generation of Cuban superstars?
Why don't we know about them?
producer Zack Winfield and his colleague Ado Yoshizaki,
together with producer-manager Tim Hole, dreamt
up the idea of marrying the extraordinary skills
and talent of the cream of Cuba's young musicians
with the know-how and worldly perspective of cutting
edge producers from the UK and the US. It’s
from this idea that Revolution was born.
Revolution presents Revolution features some
high-profile US and UK producers paired with an
array of young Cuban musicians. The album opens
with Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim) with someone
named Lateef The Truth Speaker doing a track called
"Shelter," which though terribly catchy
disctinctly lacks any elements that scream CUBA!
This is immediately followed by two killer bilingual
dance tracks by Bjork's Guy Sigsworth: the manic
"Crazy Love" and the UFO-obsessed "Cuba
Boom." Other songs -- including the dreary
"Lies" and the indie-angst of the final
track "In Time" -- leave me less enthused.
Fortunately, between those two are four more spicy
offerings, "14Me" by Poet Name Life with
Orishas. This is not the Buena Vista Social Club
and the album is uneven in parts, but it's a tall
quenching drink for anyone thirsty for new Cuban
sounds, and a glimpse of where the island might
be headed post-embargo.
Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media