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World Music CD Reviews, October 2009

Album of the Month

Christine Vaindirlis: Dance Mama!

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Christine Vaindirlis seems an unlikely ambassador of South African music. Born in London, the singer was trained in Milan and at Boston's Berklee College. As a youth, however, she lived and soaked up the culture of South Africa. And it's her time in Johannesburg and her more recent travels to Africa that underlies her energetic debut alum, Dance Mama!, which kicks off with the township beat of "Indaba (Meeting Place)" and includes a touching tribute to Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba, in the song "Dance Mama!" and its clever interweaving of her hits "Pata Pata" and "Mbube."

“My inspiration for the album was the concept of ubuntu: helpfulness, caring, trust, unselfishness, what one can do to improve the community, as well as oneself as an individual,” Vaindirlis explains. “‘This is my Place’ is a song of encouragement for the people of South Africa to work as one nation. There is so much ethnic diversity, and the whole blend is such an extraordinary fusion when everyone brings something to the table. I’m calling for us to embrace a new day, to work together for a wave of change and make South Africa, our home, an example”.

The album, like Vaindirlis' life, takes some side trips from Africa. A heady blend of funk, R&B, soul, and non-African jazz takes center stage on songs including "Call to Freedom," "Should I Make You Pay?" and "No More Drama." Vaindirlis' voice is remarkably powerful and flexible, reminding me of various other singers, but perhaps none so much as Laura Love. I'm struggling a bit with the 9+ minute "Tell Me," which begins as an R&B ballad, then curiously veers into experimental jazz-fusion instrumentals before returning home again. Yes, I like the African-flavored tracks better. Particularly the joyful remembrance to her late father "Down by the River." Dance Mama! is a joyful romp through many cultures by a powerful voice with the perfect credentials to make you dance.

©2009 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Omar Torrez : Corazon de Perro (Arteria)
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Guitar god-in-training Omar Torrez returns with another outstanding album, diverse in styles but held together by his stunning talent. There's a definite nod to Hendrix in the opener "Rich Man," but his playing is far deeper and more varied than you'd get from a Jimi cover band. Torrez isn't afraid to tackle pop sounds (in "A Beautiful Ride") back to back with his dark, sparse, Waitsian "Corazón De Perro," released in a quicker, thicker version as "Dog Heart" on the 2002 album La Danza en mi Corazon. "We Are" is Torrez's anthem of universal brotherhood -- sweet, but you hope you don't hear it on the radio too much or it could quickly ferment. Really, though, Torrez is at his best being attitudinal, as on "Mexican Home," or even on the instrumental "La Danza." Also included is a new version of his smoky version of the classic "Llorona." Torrez sounds more mature on this album, still willing to pull out the speed licks, but aware that playing fewer, deeper notes can be equally powerful. The 11 songs (and one video) on Corazon are tough to pigeonhole, and will be just at home in the collection of a blues or rock fan as in that of a world/Latin listener.

Manooghi Hi: Manooghi Hi (Sunny Park Productions)
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Maybe it's some sort of "six degrees of Indian fusion." But it was definitely more than coincidence that while I was hanging out after the Delhi 2 Dublin show at Bumbershoot, I got to talking with Ava Chakravarti. Ava, it turns out, is part of an unusual 7-member Seattle-based group whose music could be described as Indian fusion...sort of. In Manooghi Hi's modern global sound, rock, soul, and funk blend with traditional Indian rhythms and instruments and mixed Sanskrit and English lyrics. The music echoes the journey of lead singer Mehnaz, a Mumbai native now uprooted and living in the Pacific Northwest. Her formidable vocal chops are clear on "Duma Dum Mast Kalandar," a traditional devotional song that moves from calm to swirling ecstasy.

Mehnaz has been compared to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, which may be more accurate in style than in impact. But give her a few decades, and we'll see. For now, her dynamic voice is just one part of the sound of Manooghi Hi, along with great keyboard work by Mark Nichols and thick fuzzy guitar by Todd Fogelsonger. "Kismet" simply rocks, while the ballad "Bubbles" curiously steers clear of guitar and most percussion, a sweet respite from the band's take-no-prisoners energy. If the arrangements hit you like a monsoon, the songwriting lends a bit of playful Holi color. Amid the Psychedelia-turned-rock-anthem "Kali" comes the refrain "stick out your tongue / stick out your tongue." One of my favorite tracks is "Humm," with its clever rap and multilingual approach to global communication: "Are you speaking my language / or is this the right question?" Perhaps the right question is why it took this force of nature masquerading as a band to come to our attention. w

Hui Ward : The Way (Om Creation Studio)
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I can feel the muscles in my neck tense as this album plays. And this time, it's not because the cat is digging her claws into my thigh in a loving but misguided caress. It's the voice of Hui Ward. First, though, let me say that this album has a lot going for it, particularly in the instrumental department, which includes solid performances on bansuri, violin, and tabla. And while Hui Ward seems to have a pleasant, pitch-accurate voice, it's her stuttering, choppy singing style that has the same effect on my face as a cup of pure lemon juice. I am trying to be open minded, but she's now on the fifth track, "To Be," and it sounds like a mashup of spoken word poetry, Indian-influenced new age music, and an ill-conceived children's song about grief. I'm listening no farther, and this CD will be on the sidewalk in front of my house if anyone wants it.

Yeh Dede : Freedom (self-released)
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Their CDbaby "recommended if you like" list includes Ozomatli, Paul Simon, and Sweet Honey in the Rock. I'm not sure I get the first two, aside from the similarity of some Spanish songs and a leaning toward acoustic global roots music. if you're a fan of global women's harmony, Freedom is bang on. Singing songs from a variety of cultures (Brazil, Colombia, Ghana, Ladino Spain, and Israel) and in a variety of language, the six women of Yeh Dede weave sweet harmonies as they celebrate global consciousness and impel you to dance. Their rich songs suffer in parts from recording choices that put the instruments at a distance. That aside, Freedom is a solid offering with positive messages and spiritual oomph, and I look forward to hearing more from Yeh Dede.

Ziggy Marley: Family Time (Tuff Gong)
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It's not a lack of young children in my day that keeps me away from most kids' albums. It's that, you know, smarmy sheen that most of the albums give off. So these days I approach any children's CD with trepidation. Not only does Ziggy Marley's Family Time surpass my admittedly low expectations, it's truly a joy on the ears. While clearly intended for younger listeners with its simple melodies and clear, positive messages, Family Time is a wholesome dose of light reggae that won't offend older listeners. You may even find yourself singing along, as when Rita and Cedella Marley join Ziggy on "I Love You Too." Ziggy's "ABC" is the freshest alphabet song in ages, and the spoken-word recording of Jamie Lee Curtis' poem "Is There Really a Human Race" makes a powerful, positive (if oddly music-free) statement about humanity to close out this uplifting CD. Definitely recommended for young and youthful listeners.

©2009 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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