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Spin the Globe CD reviews for October 2002

VARIOUS ARTISTS: SAHARA GROOVE
ARC Music Int., PO Box 2453, Clearwater FL 33757-2453, www.arcmusic.co.uk


I knew from the opening notes that I was going to like this CD. First, the musical scales of the Middle East have always hit me deeply. Second, the CD starts with the title track, a song by Hossam Ramzy, a man who knows his way around the musical landscape, be it jazz or pop or folk. Ramzy’s “Sahara Groove” sounds traditional, but somehow it’s edgy and funky and modern too. After the stage is thusly set, a rich cast of musicians appears, including Sudanese singer Rasha, Nubian living legend Ali Hassan Kuban, and Gnawa Sidi Mimoun Band. Worth noting is that this collection of cutting-edge North African music isn’t solely the province of the young. Algerian Raï pioneer Cheikha Rimitti was born in 1923, Kuban in 1933, Samy El Bably in 1935. The latter’s “Asrar El Ein” is particularly catchy, with an earthy beat over which float’s El Bably’s fat trumpet. If that’s not enough for you, keep listening until you reach the song “Dik Alila” by Moroccan singer Rhany—a salsa-tinged sunset concluding your tour through the far north of Afro-pop.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

MAYRA CARIDAD VALDÉS: LA DIOSA DEL MAR
Jazzheads Records, PO Box 0523 Planetarium Station, New York, NY 10024-0523, www.jazzheads.com


Whether driving her band with her wild scatting (“Billy’s Bounce”) or singing praise to the Orishas (“Yemayá”), Mayra Caridad Valdés gets the job done on her solo debut, La Diosa del Mar (The Sea Goddess). As lead singer of Irakere and younger sister of Chucho Valdés, Mayra has the experience to step out on her own, singing traditional songs along with ballads and straight-up jazz. Her version of “Bésame Mucho” shows the range of her remarkable voice, the smoky lows sounding like the soundtrack to an old detective story before she breaks into a scat that complements beautifully the saxophone of Irving Acao. Nowhere is the sizzling chemistry of the group more apparent than on the final track “Rezo Afrocubano.” This traditional Orisha praise song begins with sparse drums and chanting, seamlessly adding voices and instruments on its way to a rich Latin-jazz conclusion. Valdés is a voice you’ll undoubtedly be hearing more of…so why not start now?

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

 

VARIOUS ARTISTS: RAÍCES LATINAS
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, 750 9th Street NW, Suite 4100, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC 20560-0953, www.folkways.si.edu


Raíces Latinas is an open market of Latino sounds. At the market’s entrance is the Nicaraguan nueva canción “Un Gigante Que Despierta.” Then you pass by an Argentine bailecito, a merengue from the Dominican Republic, and much more…all the way to Grupo Afrocuba’s rumba guagancó “Las Leyendas de Grecia.” Drawn from the Smithsonian’s archives of Latino music, the recordings range from modern studio sessions to 1951 field recording of the Columbian bambuco “Brisas del Pamplonita.” The generous liner notes give information on each track, as well as the tradition and the album it is drawn from. If you’re looking to learn more about the breadth of Latino music, this CD may be a great starting point. Do you prefer tango or son or capoeira? Guitars or brass bands or ocarinas? A visit to the Raíces Latinas marketplace may help you find out.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

 

 

Kathak & Flamenco - The Second Year

Museum of History and Industry, Seattle, 2 August 2002

 

Both are percussive traditions, but from cultures far removed. I wondered what was in store as I waited with the throng outside the performance space at MOHAI on a pleasant summer evening. I knew something of tabla player Vishal Nagar, having taken a somewhat intimidating drum lesson from him. The show began with Vishal and other musicians (Ramesh Misra-sarangi, Shantha Benegal-vocal, Ramesh Gangolli-vocal, Rahun Deshpande-harmonium) accompanying the dancing of Urmila Nagar (Vishal's mother) for Bhav, described as "the expressive form of Kathak dance." The bells on her ankles struggled to keep pace with the movements of her bare feet.

After an intermission, Carmona Flamenco had their say, with staccato conversations between the fingers of guitarist Marcos Carmona and the feet and hands of dancers Rubina Carmona and Ana Montes. The emotion and the footwork...I began to see the connections between the two styles of dance and music.

Finally, the third set with all the performers together. Short duets emerged between the musicians, and between the dancers, Connections were made, then distinctions. The performers' experience and ability to improvise drew cheers from the capacity audience. A triumphant performance.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

 

Old Blind Dogs

Capitol Theater, Olympia, 18 September 2002

 

I like Celtic music--it's my heritage, after all. I just don't tend to like it as much as some other types of ethnic music. I like bass and rhythm more than strings and pennywhistles. Old Blind Dogs shift the balance, giving old tunes new life and energy. There certainly was no lack of energy in the Capitol Theater when they took the stage after an opening by the Columbia Street Seisun Band.

Drummer Fraser Stone's main instrument is not a drum kit or bodhran, but a djembe, which gives you an idea of the band's approach. His drumming, along with the bass of Buzzby MacMillan, sets the band's musical foundation, seamlessly melding with Jonny Hardie's fiddle, Rory Campbell's pipes, flutes, and whistles, and Jim Malcolm voice and guitar. This band is tight, from their rhythms to their on-stage banter...while still maintaining a loose humor that connects with the crowd. This energetic, bouyant performance was a joy to behold. Putting a fresh face on Celtic music, Old Blind Dogs are a pack to be reckoned with.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

 

 

Le Ballet National du Senegal

Meany Theater, Seattle, 3 October 2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to this show, I spent some time thinking about the term "ballet." In my mind it conjures images of codpieces and tutus, prancing tiptoe and leaping around a sparse stage to the sound of classical music. Okay, I also know ballet in the form of Phillip Glass's "Satyagraha," which involved the somnolent chanting of Sanskrit phrases by dancers moving at the speed of continental drift.

But I wasn't afriaid of being bored by Le Ballet National du Senegal. For one thing, I know something of Senegalese music. Perhaps more importantly, I know something of the founder of the ballet company, one Leopold Sédar Senghor. Senghor, who died last December at age 95, was a poet and thinker, who also happened to be elected the first president of an independent Senegal in 1960. Among his legacies is the concept of "negritude" -- a rejection of colonial values in favor of traditional African identity and culture. So I knew this wouldn't be an African version of European ballet.

The show, "Kuuyamba," involves an initiation ceremony. The 35-member cast sets the stage slowly, establishing the rhythms of village life on a set showing the public space of a Senegalese village. A large tree dominates the skyline, with huts behind fences in the background. The foreground is bare stage, but it's not much of a stretch to picture it as packed earth, particularly when village women begin sweeping it and doing their food-preparation chores there.

Stunning choreography and lavish costumes team up with the thunderous drumming that you hear in your chest as much as in your ears. The music and energy ebb and flow enticingly, the drumming balanced by sweet kora, dan, and balafon musical interludes. And the dancing is exquisite throughout, from the acrobatic feats of the Peulh shepherds to the sensuality of the Amiran Miran dance.

And it's great -- in sometimes-stuffy Seattle -- to see the barriers between performers and audience break down. During the show, women (and one brave man) leapt to the stage to strut their African dance moves for a few moments, the more confident of them flirting with a drummer before returning to their seats.

If Le Ballet National du Senegal is coming to your town, don't miss it.

 



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