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Spin the Globe reviews, March 2004

MUSAÏK: IN THIS WORLD
Roots Cellar Productions

listen / buy


A half-billion years after continental drift forced them to wave goodbye, Canada and Morocco come are finally reunited in the form of Musaïk. The band, composed of Jim Fidler, Thierry Arthur, and Lekbir Halili, creates a reggae-tinged multicultural fusion, from the samba drumming underlying their interpretation of New Orleans classic "Jacamo" (also known as "Iko Iko"), to the anti-war dub "Around the World," featuring spoken snippets from Ramsey Clark, George Bush, and others. The emphasis isn't on politics or griping, though. Musaïk is pushing positive vibrations in their highly enjoyable, hopeful music. "Dub Illusion" raps poetic about a dance beat so infectious that people are dancing the world over. "Citizen of the World" continues the global theme, bemoaning nationalism and proclaiming "Everywhere I go I feel so Irie." The artistic CD insert includes photos and complete lyrics (printed in the languages sung: English or Arabic). This cross-cultural collaboration will have you dancing to the beat of a more beautiful world.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

OUMOU SANGARE: OUMOU
World Circuit / Nonesuch

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Two CDs, 20 songs, eight previously unreleased tracks: Don't pinch me; I like this dream. Includes tracks from her three 4-star albums (Moussoulou, Ko Sira, and Worotan) as well as three songs from a Mali-only cassette and the unreleased rehearsal "Mogo Te Diya Bee Ye." For US audiences familiar with the more plaintive, minimal songs, some songs may come as a surprise. "Yala" (one of the Mali tape songs) includes driving drums, a catchy kamelengoni riff, and a horn bridge injecting a hot Afropop groove under Sangare's satiny, percussive singing. And the hiphop beat and vibes on the smoldering "Djorolen (remix)" put one in the mind of Zap Mama. The second CD contains more energetic tracks, pausing only for a moment to catch its breath with the quiet, soothing "Djorolen" on which Sangare shows off the softer side of her voice accompanied by the guitar of Nitin Sawhney. There's not a weak song here, and enough variety to keep the neophyte listening intently. Oumou is bound to be one of the best world music CDs of 2004.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

VARIOUS ARTISTS: THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF ETHIOPIA
World Music Network

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As evidenced by the ongoing Ethiopiques series of older music and the ongoing success of artists including Aster Aweke and "Gigi" Shibabaw, Ethiopia is rich in musical treasures. This new Rough Guide is a fine introduction to the exotic twists and turns of the nation's song. Included are a cut from Aweke's 1989 CD Aster and several tracks from Ethiopiques CDs, including the Wallais Band's Afrobeat classic "Muziqawi Silt" (recently covered by New York's Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra). Driving sax grooves, ululating vocals, funk guitar, fat horn sections, it's all here. Mostly electric and urban, the CD ends with a sample of traditional music by Adaneh Teka, an azmari (the Ethiopian version of a griot) who sings and plays masinqo (a bowed single stringed viola). The music of Ethiopia is unlike anything else from Africa, and can be challenging to the uninitiated ear, but this collection is a great starting point. For more contemporary Ethiopian music not included here, check out Gigi's self-titled CD or her work on Abyssinia Infinite's Zion Roots. Or check out the selection of Ethiopian music at Ait Records.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

YOUSSOU N'DOUR: 7 SECONDS: THE BEST OF YOUSSOU N'DOUR
Sony

samples : buy mp3s : buy CD


Nine years ago, Youssou N'Dour released another "The Best of" CD. But he's one of the true überstars of world music, so who's counting. Of the 16 tracks on this new CD, six have never before been available to US fans, which should be motivation enough for the dedicated N'Dourite. These include the energetic "Mouvement (Dunya)," the rhythmic teenage-love song" Please Wait," and a live version of "Set" recorded with The Super Etoile in 1994 for the Columbia Records Music Hour. Also included, of course, is "7 Seconds," his famous 1994 duet with Neneh Cherry.

While I'm generally a powerful advocate of cover songs, I have mixed feelings about the two included here. In 1996 N'Dour and The Super Etoile let some sweet-talking Sony executives talk them into recording The Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" as a single for the Japanese market. Maybe it sounded great in Tokyo - better, one would hope, than it works in the context of this new CD, where the bland interpretation veritably stands, arms waving, to shout, "I'm the weakest link! Me! Over here!" The cover of Smokey Robinson's "Don't Look Back" is more interesting, but still lacks the distinctive arrangement that would make it a classic reinterpretation.

While this is a good release, if you're just buying one Youssou N'Dour album, look instead to his rootsy 2002 release Nothing's in Vain (Coono du réér) or the raw sound of his early 1980s work on The Rough Guide to Youssou N'Dour & Etoile de Dakar.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

TAMA WAIPARA: TRIUMPH OF TIME
ObliqSound

samples : buy CD


Tama Waipara's cultural heritage is Maori, but the New Zealand singer curiously reflects British literature more than his traditional roots. Waipara stakes out his unique musical landscape from the opening notes of Triumph of Time, swirling liquid music accompanying a spoken and sung selection from Shakespeare's "As You Like It." Then he glides into a deliciously languorous conga-bass-piano-accordion version of A.C. Swinburne's poem "Love and Sleep," its somnolent pace belying the spicy content: "And all her body pasture to mine eyes / The long lithe arms and hotter hands than fire / The quivering flanks, hair smelling of the south...."

By the opening of the third song, "April's Lady," an inescapable truth about Waipara refuses to go unarticulated: Tama sounds a lot like Stevie, and his arrangements do nothing to hide this similarity. Yet while Wonderesque, Waipara never falls into imitation. Even while borrowing lyrics from Shakespeare and Swinburne, Waipara creates fresh arrangements that hint at many directions, but never stray beyond the borders of authenticity. "Felise" bubbles with Afro-Cuban rhythms and sweet organ licks; "Never Try" is a soulful plea for a lover's understanding; the title track "Triumph of Time" is another slow burn with sensual Swinburne lyrics.

The one hint of Waipara's heritage emerges on the original song "Korowai (Cloak)," with Maori chants and bone flute woven seamlessly into the arrangement, just as this song is woven gracefully into the larger poetry of the CD. Throughout Triumph of Time, the focus is on Waipara's meltingly delicious voice, which drips with more sincerity than a dozen crooning boybands.

A portion of the profits from this CD are being donated to Books In Homes, promoting literacy and education in New Zealand.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

MOH ALILECHE: THE SOURCE OF WATER (TAAWIT)
7/8 Music Productions / City Hall Records

info : buy CD


Moh Alileche has made the promotion of his ancestral Amazigh culture and music his mission, and this CD certainly serves as a fine ambassador. Alileche confidently sings and plays with additional musicians adding crisp percussion, flutes, violins, and other instruments. This great production of Amazigh (the preferred term to Berber) music, includes useful history and song translations in the liner notes. There's plenty of cultural and political context to the music, which drips with sadness, pride, and a faint hope. Oppressed by both the West and Islamic powers, the Amazigh of North Africa might be compared to the Gypsies, only without the international recognition. Alileche gives voice to this struggle in a most articulate way.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 
Other recent arrivals of note:
Seamless blend of modern instruments and beats with Lomax's fabulous field recordings from the American South in the mid-20th century. Highly recommended.
Julian Spizz:
Incipit

This Trinovox member and student of Bobby McFerrin takes his vocal music in unique directions. Percussive, soulful Italian vocal music released on a German label ready to please American ears.
Who knew that Czechs could be so funky? The title translates as "Long Way" but your hips will be seeking the shortest way to the dance floor. These guys are deeply funkified!
Sambodromo:
Abfahrt!
Samba-rock from Germany! Need I say more?
Susan McKeown:
Sweet Liberty
Compelling from the start, McKeown makes her new CD irresistable by adding mariachis and Mali's Ensemble Tartit to her Irish mix.
Malik Belili:
Zmanayi - Ce Temps-la
Traditional Kabylian (Algerian) music from the Imazighane (aka Berbers) - the "free people" - with modern touches.
These three Rough Guides cover three of the most prolific singers in existance. Rafi and sisters Mangeshkar and Bhosle are the singing voices of countless Bollywood films and stars; these CDs trace various styles from the mid-1950s to the late 1990s.

Gahu
Hot Planet

New Zealand's Gahu brings the groove with their "rhythm 'n' jazz of Aotearoa" - ranging from Latin to funk to African roots with Ghanaian drummer Yaw Boateng.


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