Spin the Globe World Music

Google Groups
Subscribe to
Spin The Globe's
weekly news
Visit this group 

heard only on...

earball visions' Music & Dance photoset
selections from earball visions' Music & Dance photoset


















eXTReMe Tracker




World Music CD Reviews, November 2009

Album of the Month

Mahala Rai Banda: Ghetto Blasters
Asphalt Tango

buy CD/hear samples

Their name literally means "Noble Band from the Ghetto," but their ghetto music isn't like our ghetto music. Sure their high-energy music has great beats and impels people to dance, but this isn't hip-hop, it's gypsy brass. The members of Mahala Rai Banda hail from two of the most musically famous villages in Romania: Clejani (home to Taraf de Haidouks) and Zece Prajini (upon whose muddy roads you'll find Fanfare Ciocarlia). While this album is clearly less traditional than the work of those two bands, all the hallmarks of gypsy culture are included, from nimble-fingered brass players to cimbalom to rapid-fire vocals. For the latter, look no farther than "Nu Mai Beau," which kicks off with a blistering pace and never lets up. They slow down a bit for the swinging "Zabrakadabra," but get truly mellow only on "Balada." Yes, that's a ballad, sung with great pathos, though what he's balladeering about, I have no idea since the album comes with no track notes or translations. Still, you'll hardly notice that having been driven into an ecstatic paroxysm of dance by the frenzied sounds of these gypsy sonic alchemists. One of my favorite albums of the year, hands down.

©2009 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Mulatu Astatke: New York - Addis - London: The story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975 (Strut)
buy CD/hear samples

If you were there, if you saw Mulatu Astatke live 40 years ago when his Ethiopian jazz first slithered into the unsuspecting ears of Americans and Europeans, why are you reading this? I'm a latecomer to the wonders of Ethiopian music, enticed by the Ethiopiques series and the more contemporary work of Gigi, Bole 2 Harlem, and the like. This music is a product of contradictions: there's influence from the trade routes from Asia and Arabia, though the landlocked country is relatively isolated on an elevated plateau. The artists who developed Ethiopian jazz and pop clearly were listening to Western music, but used traditional melodies and chords to such an extent that the result sounds like a completely new genre. Like they'd hiked along the jazz river through the funk forest on the way to psychedelia mountain, but got bored with that and took off through the bush, forging their own path.

However it happend, Ethiopia developed a modern sound that's unique in the world and far removed from the musics of its neighbors in North Africa, Arabia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Mulatu Astatke is one of the pioneers of this music, and has been featured in the Ethiopiques recordings. This recording is, we're told, "the definitive Mulatu career retrospective." Astatke has a fascinating history as a traveling musician, teacher, even radio broadcaster. But you don't need to know any of that to know that his music is golden.

Whether he's playing keyboards or vibraphone or just leading the band, Astatke's music was funky and innovative. Take the 1969 tune "Yegelle Tezeta / My Own Memory," which was featured in the Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers. It sounds like Dengue Fever doing Afrobeat with its thick organ lead and tight horn lines. A couple songs later, you're transported a different part of the world with the Afro-Caribbean feel of "Asiyo Bellema," complete with conga and steel pan. Every bit as funky as any New York boogaloo being released at the time. My early favorite, though, is the track "Mulatu," which was the opening song on his 1972 LP Mulatu of Ethiopia. Funk guitar and staccato horns provide the rhythm as Astatke's vibes shimmer above, alternating with sax and flute. It's the kind of song that sounds ridiculous when described, but is nothing short of delicious when heard. That's the magic of Ethio jazz, and particularly of the astonishing Mulatu Astatke.

Fela Kuti : The Best of the Black President (Knitting Factory)
buy CD/hear samples

Forget the flavor-of-the-month pop stars; the biggest name in global music, the biggest enduring name with lasting impact, may well be the sax-playing son of a Nigerian feminist and a Protestant minister. Fela Anikulapo Kuti, or simply Fela, went through a lot of music and a lot of politics in his life, and 12 years after his death his influence only seems to be growing. Bands playing Afropop, the funky, political big-band music he pioneered, seem to be popping up everywhere from New York to London, from Lagos to the Netherlands, from Ghana to Germany.

A decade ago, MCA Records re-released a number of Fela recordings on CD, though the packaging was sparse. Now Afrobeat fans can rejoice with the announcement by Knitting Factory Records to re-release the complete 45-title Fela discography on both CD and vinyl complete with original artwork. At the same time, the new musical FELA!, directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, is opening on Broadway later this month. I'm envious of you folks in NYC who get first shot at the show, but in the meantime I'm grooving to the first release of the series, The Best of the Black President. The double album includes a generous 13 tracks, including many well-known songs ("Lady," "No Agreement part 2," "Zombie"). Fela's diatribes against military abuses seem no less relevant today, and the energy of his music no less compelling. I've yet to go back and compare the remastered sound to that of the MCA releases, but I assure you it sounds great and makes essential listening for global music fans (or those looking to start their own local Afrobeat orchestra).

various artists : Jazz Around the World (Putumayo)
buy CD/hear samples

World Torch? Global Nightclub? There's got to be a better title for this disc, which may fall under the broad umbrella of "jazz," but is a narrow slice of the global jazz available today. Granted, Putumayo are playing to the audience they've built up with their relatively smooth, accessible series of CDs, and the included artists provide 11 interesting, quality tracks. But the songs -- from artists including Cameroonian Blick Bassy and Maori Mataraina Pipi -- have a certain soft sameness that will appeal to fans of Sade more than those of Mingus. Often the songs feel more like pop ballads than jazz. The gentle familiarity is reinforced by the inclusion of a couple cover songs. Keletigui Diabate teams up with Habib Koite his band Bamada on the balafon-led "Summertime at Bamako" and the Kora Jazz Trio plays a delicious Africanized version of the Cuban classic "Chan Chan" woven from kora along with the traditional piano. Jazz Around the World is a fine CD, just be aware of just what kind of jazz you're getting.

Cacique'97: Cacique'97 (Footmovin')
buy CD/hear samples

The Iberian Peninsula has long been an area of shifting, merging culture, in large part because of its position as a gateway to Africa and the Ottoman world. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the latest Afrobeat troupe to emerge comes from Lisbon, and also incorporates musical elements of former Portuguese colony Brazil. Their name comes from a term meaning "chief" in indigenous Brazilian tribes plus the "'97" as a commemoration of the year Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti died. The energy and arrangements of their self-titled album would make Fela proud, though as a non-Portuguese speaker unaided by any song notes or lyrics, I have no idea if they're singing about social injustice or just a desire to visit the mall. Okay, their press info indicates the former, mentioning their "activist approach and promotion of social awareness" and a couple of the songs include English lyrics, but still, would it have killed them to include some track notes? That quibble aside, this is some of the freshest Afrobeat I've heard in some time, and you've got to like a group that can make a Jorge Ben song (the opening track "Jorge De Capadocia") sound like it's straight outta Lagos. Highly recommended!

Fat Freddy's Drop: Dr. Boondigga & the Big BW (The Drop)
buy CD/hear samples

The Black Seeds: Solid Ground (Easy Star)
buy CD/hear samples

It must be something in the sausage rolls. How else to explain the remarkable claim of New Zealand to be the southern hemisphere's answer to Jamaica? In truth, I haven't heard this claim made explicitly, but added to the the existing library of Kiwi reggae (Ruia, Trinity Roots, Katchafire) these two new releases certainly argue in that direction.

On their second full album, Fat Freddy's Drop hones their soul-dub sound through nine fine tracks. Stripped-down rhythms, rich harmonies, and sparse horns create a chilled vibe perfect for beach or party. “I grew up listening to American Black music from the early ’70s, loving soul music and loving jazz, and discovering reggae and hip-hop." explains Samoan-born electronics wizard Chris Faiumu (a.k.a. Fitchie). "That music wasn’t that developed here. I had to look offshore to find good music. And it mostly seemed to be African-American artists of the ’70s and ’80s. Indigenous people drew parallels in the work of Bob Marley in their own struggle here in this country. Reggae is a music that suits the taste of life here."

The Black Seeds take a more straight-ahead reggae approach, though the surf guitar riff that opens the CD's first track "Come To Me" suggests something a little different. With more focus on vocals than Fat Freddy's Drop, the Seeds' conscious lyrics are up front: "Slingshot" admonishes one to "Simmer down your temper now / Don't inflame the problem now" or it'll come right back to you. "Strugglers" makes a powerful case for taking care of the less fortunate: "Take what you need / and give what you can." And who could resist the imagery evoked by the song title "Love Is a Radiation"? “It’s all about the island sound: speed ukulele, church choirs, the rhythm of the Samoan log drum. After all, if you live on the island, are you going to put on AC/DC?" says The Black Seeds’ guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Barnaby Weir. "There are African rhythms in every music, and we believe you can find the journey of the rhythm all the way down to New Zealand.”

Maybe it was Bob Marley's visit to Aoteoroa some 30 years ago that sparked this music, but the Kiwis have taken it in their own direction, and it's worth catching this musical wave.

Kitka: Cradle Songs (Diaphonica)
buy CD/hear samples

I'm in the car, driving west into -- I kid you not -- the sunset. Above me a sky with breathtaking swooshes of scarlet and orange, on the stereo otherworldly vocal harmonies that seem to transport me to another time and place. I pull over to watch and listen. Perhaps somewhere in rural Russia a mother is humming this same song to a child, for while the tune opens the new album by Oakland based Kitka, it originated with Jews in the old country. Hauntingly beautiful women's polyphonies are the hallmark of Kitka, which has been together since 1979, and their voices are perfectly suited to the 18 Eastern European lullabies on Cradle Songs. Almost entirely a cappella, the songs range originate in various cultures including Bulgaria, Albania, Georgia, Russia, and Armenia, and often sound deeper, sadder, or more nostalgic than one might expect from songs for children.

“The Armenian lullaby texts have stunningly beautiful poetry, with a lot of powerful, natural and cosmic imagery. But there are also lyrics that convey intense sadness and longing,” Kitka singer Shira Cion explains. “The songs tell histories of children and parents lost, of cultural genocide. In many Eastern European lullabies, the mother pours out all the grief, fears, and hopes in her soul when she sings to her child. Our close friend and mentor in Ukrainian folk song, Mariana Sadovska, even jokingly refers to some of the cradle songs from her native tradition as ‘sadistic lullabies.’”

"At first, I found these lullabies really challenging,” reflects Kitka singer Janet Kutulas, whose Greek family sang her one of the songs the group wove into “Nani, Nani, Kitka Mou.” “They seemed almost inaccessibly dark. But the more you listen to them, the more and more beautiful they become. They aren’t your stereotypical tra-la-la lullaby.”

While I'm generally suspicious of "children's music," this isn't the first album of international lullabies to enthrall me, and this one ranks right up with Lullabies from the Axis of Evil as an album that will entice and perhaps soothe adults and children alike.

©2009 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



Home - Find World Music CDs & MP3s - Listen Live Online - World Music and Culture Events Calendar - CD & Show Reviews - Top Ten & Other Charts - Past Show Playlists - About Spin the Globe - Contact - World Music Links - KAOS Radio