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World Music CD Reviews, January 2010

Album of the Month

various artists: Tumbélé! Biguine, Afro & Latin Sounds from the French Caribbean, 1963-74

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We've recently seen a number of African retrospective albums, but this is the only one I know of from the French Caribbean. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to find much music at all from Guadeloupe and Martinique, which makes this CD welcome indeed. Afro-Latin is the general theme here and listeners may recognized rhythms and other styles similar to English-language music from the region, though none of these French-speaking artists are familiar to me. These are not the dry, dusty recordings of some forgotten ethnomusicologist exploring the music of primitives on a desert island.

The very urban sounds of jazz, calypso, rumba, and biguine blend with gwo-ka drumming and call-and-response vocals in fascinating combinations. Apparently this blending was somewhat scandalous at the time, and today it still sounds unique and fresh. Just check out the electric guitar and horn solos on "Jojo," or the odd, frantic combination of surf guitar, organ, and sax driving "Jet Biguine." You'll have a hard time listening to this music and not wishing you were there in the islands, experiencing it live back in the day.

©2010 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media
(this review originally appeared at SoundRoots.org)

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


various artists : Ensigo-East Africa in Binaural (Ensigo)
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A compilation of binaural field recordings by Aaron Appleton, this album runs the gamut from vocal polyphonies and polyrhythmic drumming to a group spoken word piece on AIDS and one track evocatively entitled "Drunk, & Playing Guitar in Kigali's Streets." The songs -- from Uganda and Rwanda -- were recorded in a variety of locations including churches, mud huts, bedrooms, town halls, and out in the open air. The recordings are generally good quality, and the whole experience feels like driving through cities and rural areas stopping occasionally to listen to local sounds. Notes on the artists, locations, and songs would be most welcome, but in general this is a promising album from an aspiring young Alan Lomax. Set your own price for downloading it at http://ensigo.bandcamp.com/album/east-africa-in-binaural

Siora: Vison of the Dry Bones (Miowan)
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With a few days to go until Christmas, a dozen global holiday CDs wait in a stack while my attentions turn to an unexpected pleasure: the Jewish folk-jazz-world music of Siora. Led by vocalist Phyllis Chapell and keyboardist/arranger Dan Kleiman, Siora has a unique approach to music that is distinctly Jewish yet unconstricted to any particular style. The group's treatment of Herman Yablokoff's Yiddish classic "Papirossen (Cigarettes)" is a case in point. The five-minute piece starts with a flowing niggun over a composition of jazzy bass and percussion with a string section chiming in percussively. Add guitar, then a swinging piano solo, and a clever, effective double-tracking of Chapell's niggun line. And finally, a riff from Negro spiritual "Motherless Child," echoing the despair of the song's starving cigarette-selling boy and several songs from the Jewish diaspora.

Elsewhere, Siora fuses dobro to Jewish wedding music on "Ki Tinam," and infuses the Israeli peace song "Ma Navu" with Arabic zills and dumbek and the word for peace in several languages. Chapell and Kleiman (and other contributors including the Flecktones' Howard Levy) have a special chemistry that makes this modern genre-bending Jewish music deeply satisfying and highly recommended. And far better than another refrain of "Frosty the Snowman."

Anouar Brahem : The Astounding Eyes of Rita (ECM)
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Something there is about Palestinan poet Mahmoud Darwish that inspires musicians. And not just to set his words to music, as was done by Reem Kelani with the song "Mawwaal" on her album Sprinting Gazelle. Just as interesting is that he inspires instrumentalists to somehow emulate the rhythm or melody or mood of his poems through strictly instrumental music. That's what Marcel Khalife did on his Taqasim, and the poet's words also inspired the latest album by Tunesian oud master Anouar Brahem.

Playing with bass clarinetist Klaus Gesing, bassist Bjorn Meyer, and percussionist Khaled Yassine, Brahem has created an astonishingly engaging album of..what to call it?... world-jazz fusion? Tunesian neo-folk? Don't label, just listen (try "Galilee Mon Amour" for starters), and the beauty of the music and the quality of the recording will point the way to sonic bliss.

DVD: Sound of the Soul: The Fez Festival of World Sacred Music (Alive Mind)
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For eight days each June for the past 16 years, the city of Fez, Morocco, has teemed with musicians, dancers, and music lovers gathered for a unique celebration of sacred traditions. It's the World Sacred Music Festival, the granddaddy of a number of smaller sacred music festivals that have sprouted up all over the world.

For some years, compilations CDs of music from the festival have been available. Now, filmmaker Stephen Olsson makes it possible for those of us who have yet to make a musical pilgrimage to Fez to get see images, hear sounds, and learn a little of position of Morocco in world and religious culture that makes it the perfect location for this amazing festival.

"We wanted something to enhance the peace in the world, and understanding in the world," says festival president Mohamned Kabbaj. "And the main language is the musical language, because everybody understands this language. The music goes directly to the heart."

While the film includes generous views of performances, the many artist and organizer interviews superimposed over the music will inform some viewers, and leave others frustrated at the interruption of the music. Perhaps to make up for this, the DVD extras include 17 minutes of uncut performances, from Moroccan groups Samaa Sahraoui and Nass El Ghiwane, and Afghanistan's Garida Mahwash & the Kabul Ensemble. There's another 90-second extra answering the question "What Is World Music?" -- I won't spoil the surprise by revealing their answer.

This DVD and the 10-song companion CD offer a compelling glimpse into this unique festival, which in 2010 is expected to feature performers as diverse as gospel the Sizero Tabla Experience, The Royal Ballet of Cambodia, poets from Afghanistan, and either Ben Harper or Al Greene. Other performers will gather from the world over from 4-12 June, and while I won't be there this year, this glimpse of the festival has drawn me ever closer.

various artists: Next Stop ... Soweto: Township sounds from the Golden Age of Mbaqanga (Strut)
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Even under the thumb of apartheid, Soweto was blossoming as a hub for black culture and music in South Africa. Today one doesn't hear as much about the townships (particularly as the coming World Cup dominates news from the nation), but this musical legacy has spawned another compilation of energetic township jive. Following in the footsteps of The Indestructible Beat of Soweto series (were they really released nearly a quarter century ago?), Next Stop ... Soweto includes the well-known Mahlathini and Mohatella Queens (on separate tracks) alongside 18 tracks from less well-known artists.

Many of these songs appeared only on limited-distribution 45s made for the local market, so it's a boon that compilers Duncan Brooker and Francis Gooding have tracked them down for this compilation. You'll hear many influences in the varied tracks, including gospel, funk, traditional mining songs, and jazz. And always, that Soweto swing.

©2009 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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