in the Dark: Light a Candle (Nat
I'm making lists and taking names. Lists of my favorite
albums of 2009, names of the bands who created the
music. And one that has been simmering in the back
of my mind for some time is the latest from NYC-Brazil
troupe Forro in the Dark. It hasn't been at the
top of Spin The Globe's playlists, but on a recent
road trip with a vanload of testosterones, I popped
in the headphones, tuning out the talk and tuning
in the forro. And I soon found my self regretting
not digging into this disc earlier.
if you haven't discovered it already, is a festive
dance music from northeastern Brazil. The name may
have come from English from back when dances were
advertised as being "for all." Or it may
be a derivative of forrobodó, meaning "great
party" or "commotion". I'm not going
to try to settle that argument; I will tell you
that Forro in the Dark make great music, based on
the distinctive rhythms and instruments of the style,
including breathless flute and incessant triangle.
Not so traditional is the electric guitar that provides
a key element of the band's sound. Not all of the
rhythms are native Brazilian; "Nonsensical"
uses a reggae beat and English lyrics that say "If
you don't like Bob Marley / You better stay away
from me / ...Something wrong inside your brain."
Okay, not deep, but it sure is fun.
other English-language songs are amusing, and off-kilter
enough that they don't sound like a "world
music" band simply trying to rope in more Anglophiles.
"Better than You" could be taken as a
cautionary tale of the dangers of self-improvement
that neglects humility improvement. And "Silence
Is Golden" (featuring vocals by Sabina Sciubba
of Brazilian Girls) is the tale of why sometimes,
it's just best not to speak.
enough tradition in the mix that I found myself
hearkening back to what was probably my first exposure
to forro, the 1991 compilation Brazil Classics 3:
Forro etc. And come to think of it, there was electric
rhythm guitar on that album too. So what do I know.
Let's just say that Forro in the Dark are keeping
the forro dance/party sound alive, whether they're
neo-traditional or not.
the traditional elements of forró are there.
We respect the tradition,” explains guitarist
and vocalist Guilherme Montiero, “but that’s
just the starting point. We’re open to all
styles. Forró creates the space, but our
imaginations and our creativity are our only limit.”
“Our instruments, our way of writing songs
is very connected to those roots,” drummer/vocalist
Mauro Refosco adds. “But our approach to playing
and our attitude and energy comes from rock and
roll. Living in New York helped us break the rules
a little. We like to play loud.”
proof of their penchant for loud, look no farther
than the great retro rocker, "Perro Loco."
Though perhaps the song that crystalizes the band's
eclectic approach is "Lilou," which combines
a classic forro flute sound with swinging electric
rhythm guitar and turntable scratching. The more
I listen to this album, the more I like it even
better than their debut CD Bonfires of Sao Joao.
And it's making a strong play for my best-of-2009
Dear Dad Tango (self-released)
in London there's a jungle growing in a library,
and a bear consulting the card catalog as a soft
mambo plays. That's one snippet from the DVD portion
of a most curious CD from a group called Soznak.
Actually named after a Middle-Eastern mode which
brightens and elevates the sound of a piece of music,
the group could easily find themselves wedged in
next to African-rock outfits such as the Occidental
Brothers Dance Band International and Justin Adams
& Juldeh Camara. But with members from many
corners of the world, including Spain, Angola, Congo,
Kwa Zulu–Natal, Cameroon, Iran, Iraq, and
Ireland, the group's sound is not so easy to pigeonhole.
The CD's catchy opening track "Tata Y Mama"
might best be described as Congolese calypso. The
vocals, jazzy horn lines, and mbira in "Sugar
Stick" show influences from southern Africa.
Then there's the Latin funk feel of "Traffic
Jambo." It's a mixed-up world, this land of
Soznak, and the acid-trip artwork of the CD and
the odd short films on the accompanying DVD do little
help the listener's equilibrium. Yet the more I
listen I'm drawn into this strange sound collision,
this multicultural masala. I can't explain Soznak,
but I can enjoy them. You might, too.
Evora : Nha Sentimento (Lusafrica)
doubt Cesaria Evora is capable of recording an album
that doesn't drip with a sense of delicious melancholy.
I don't understand a bit of the Cape Verde Portuguese
in which she sings, but as Evora says, "Music
is just the universal language. Even if you don't
understand the language ... you listen because you
like the rhythm of the song." Not only are
the songs on this album are up to the Barefoot Diva's
own high standards, they break new ground with the
inclusion of Egyptian strings and melodies on the
title track and several others. It's not a jolting
addition, either musically or historically, since
Cape Verde lies in the trade routes from West Africa
to Arabic North Africa and beyond to Europe.
a 2006 interview Evora said "What delights
me today is the happiness of having got through
all the years of suffering to better enjoy the life
I live now. At home we say 'it's better to drink
the venom first and the honey later'. Now I'm drinking
the honey." It must be particularly sweet to
have recovered from the minor stroke she suffered
while on tour in 2008, and this gorgeous album is
a sweet dose of morabeza, the Creole word for love,
friendship, and good feelings, and a welcome splash
of island warmth in the midst of a cold northern
T : The Prester John Sessions (Easy
never guess from the music the this album comes
from the man who creates the driving bass lines
for gypsy punkers Gogol Bordello. Perhaps, instead,
from a friend of Bill Laswell's who has spent time
in both Jamaica and Ethiopia. Just as Mulatu Astatke's
recent retrospective gives us the roots of Ethio-jazz,
Tommy T digs into his Ethiopian roots (he was born
and raised there), blends them with his experiences
in Western music, and emerges with a fantastic album
of Ethiopian-tinged jazz, dub, and reggae.
at Tadias.com, Tommy T (born Thomas T. Gobena) describes
his new project as “an aural travelogue that
rages freely through the music and culture of Ethiopia.”
And he's not alone on this journey. Ethiopian singer
Gigi (who you may know from her work alongside husband
Laswell with Tabla Beat Science) does vocal duties
on the tracks "Eden" and "The Response,"
both highlights of the album.
Gogol Bordello bandmates Pedro Erazo
and Eugene Hutz contribute to the "Lifers"
remix. And elsewhere, Ethiopian melodies emerge
from the horn section and through the distinctive
Ethiopian violin known as masinko. It's a delicate
act of production work to keep these traditional
bits balanced with all the modern elements (electric
guitar, bass, drum kit, organ) and to my ear, it
all works. Fans of the Ethiopiques series of reissued
recordings will know already that these elements
aren't actually new to Ethiopian music.
the 70s, funk, wah-wah pedals, and jazz had a huge
impact on Ethiopian music," Tommy explains.
"The Prester John Sessions will give people
an idea about the musical diversity of Ethiopia,
which includes influences and ideas borrowed from
the sounds of the 70’s with the added bonus
of up-to-date production values."
you've enjoyed your way through the Ethiopiques
series, this album will take you the next step to
truly modern Ethiopian sounds, alongside Gigi
2 Harlem (a group featuring Gigi's sister Tigist).
It's essential listening for the adventurous ear,
and a great gateway to the wonders of Ethiopian
"I believe in music without
boundaries," Tommy says. "Music should
be inclusive, not exclusive. People who love music
know the best music is created without boundaries
and limitations. The Prester John Sessions take
that idea to the next level."
Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: I Speak Fula (Sub
Pop / Next Ambiance)
these days you can't read a 2009 top 10 list without
tripping over this album. To be sure, I Speak
Fula is a superb offering of West African music,
centered around the bajno-like hunter's harp known
as ngoni. Great percussion, great energy, and guest
artists including Vieux Farka Toure, Kassy Mady
Diabate, and Toumani Diabate.
string work is intricate and masterful, and the
overall sound generally more lively than Kouyate's
Afro-blues-oriented 2007 debut album Segu
Blue. All that said, I suspect there's
extra hype for this one because it's been picked
up by grunge pioneers Sub Pop on their new Next
Ambiance sub-label. Perhaps Kouyate will further
win me over when the group tours the USA in early
2010, but for now I'm bucking the hype and putting
this on my list of great albums that almost
made my 2009 top 10 list.
Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media