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Spin the Globe reviews, May 2004

VARIOUS ARTISTS: WOMEN OF AFRICA
Putumayo World Music

song samples : buy CD


Given that no single CD could do justice to the music of a continent of women, this new Putumayo compilation makes a reasonable stab at the task. The selected women represent a geographically broad area (Algeria to South Africa to Cape Verde to Ivory Coast) and the music is smooth, melodic, pleasing and accessible. This would make a great introduction to those not familiar with much African music, though the lack of drumming may be a surprise. But seasoned world music fans may find the songs too similar and the tone too smooth. Some of the more boisterous African women (Mahotella Queens, Busi Mhlongo, Gigi, Malouma) could have helped spice things up a bit. But then, you'll want to get full CDs from them, anyway.

Includes a previously unreleased track from Kaissa, and several other songs not previously available in the US.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

SALLY NYOLO: ZAIONE
Lusafrica

samples :buy CD


Nyolo’s fourth solo album continues her musical explorations. While polished and modern, Nyolo sticks to the more rootsy path she’s trod since her yearlong stint with Zap Mama in the mid-1990s. Nyolo’s continuing affinity for Zappish vocal harmonies are on display as the CD opens with the title track, a nursery rhyme. Following is the bubbly, infectious “Tilma” (another version of which appears on Drop the Debt, with rapping by Japan’s Shingo2), a song about the tontounes, a group financing scheme used in Cameroon though it’s now banned in the US and elsewhere. The songs touch on everyday concerns: love, hope, death, marriage, and superstition. Living in Paris most of her life, Nyolo has absorbed many musical styles, hints of which emerge throughout Zaione to give flavor and texture. “A Lion in the Jungle” steams through the underbrush in a slow, slightly electronic groove, with spoken word and singing in English and French. More English on “Djimen,” which sings of building “a new world with the words of every language.” The CD closes with its quietest song, the lullaby “Petit Ami,” a vocal and mvet (zither) duet with Princess Erika. Despite the variety of styles and a small raft of guest artists, the CD stays focused on the kind of rootsy global Afropop Nyolo does best.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

OZOMATLI: STREET SIGNS
Concord Records

samples : buy CD

Fasten your seatbelt. The Concorde may be no more, but supersonic adventures are on today’s itinerary. Opening with a Middle-Eastern flavor atop a big beat, Street Signs points to a high-velocity tour of the vibrant Latino-Club-North African-Ska-Rap nation known as Ozomatli. Horns, beats, scratching, samples, and tight, tight arrangements await the intrepid traveler, with vocals soaked in culture and politics. Guest visitors to this land include Hassan Hakmoun (“Believe”), David Hidalgo (“Santiago”), Eddie Palmieri (“Nade Te Tira”), Les Yeux Noirs, and others. The adventurer seeking eminently danceable attractions with progressive anti-war hosts need look no farther.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

TEOFILO CHANTRE: AZULANDO
Lusafrica

samples :buy CD


For a country with fewer people than the city of Seattle, Cape Verde has an extraordinary position in world music, with globally known musicians and a unique Afro-Brazilian sound. The appeal of the mournful Verdean morna music continues in this latest release from Teofilo Chantre. His voice isn't as powerful as that of Cesaria Evora, for whom he has penned songs, but his arrangements are appealing and engaging. The CD includes duets with fellow Evora (on "Mae pa fidje") and Bonga (on "Canta Cabo Verde").

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 

Children of Uganda Tour of Light 2004
Washington Center for the Performing Arts, Olympia, WA, USA
Friday, April 2, 2004, 7:30pm

samples : buy CD


The buoyant public face of the Uganda Children's Charity Foundation, the Children of Uganda are a performing troupe comprised of orphans aided by the charity. The show is no sad Oliver Twist thing, but a rollicking, high-energy display of Ugandan drumming and dancing. Serving to educate as well as entertain, the show features young men and women - boys and girls, really, aged 8-19 - performing traditional court dances, folk songs, praise songs, even a song devoted to cows. The show is slick and easily accessible, with master of ceremonies Peter Kasule providing exuberant descriptions of the program. Some may find the show too slick, too tailored to a Western audience. But the energy couldn't be faked, and the well-balanced show was engaging throughout.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

KELSANG CHUKIE TETHONG: VOICE FROM TARA
Narada World

samples : buy CD


Tibetan singiner Kelsang Chukie Tethong sings beautifully with simple accompaniment on this CD. The traditional and sacred songs include piano, strings, woodwinds, and some light hand drumming, but the focus in on Tethong's nimble, airy voice. The lyrics are spiritual, songs of the Buddha and the Dalai Lamas, of life and home. A beautiful album on the quiet, traditional side of world music.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

USTAD SULTAN KHAN REMIXED BY VARIOUS ARTISTS: RARE ELEMENTS
5 Points Records

samples : buy CD


Fans of electronica-roots mixes will groove on these remixes of Ustad Sultan Khan by Thievery Corporation, Brainpolluter, Radar One, Joe Claussell, Ralphi Rosario, and Joe Claussell. On the less successful tracks, the electronics nearly bludgeon the original content into an unrecognizable pulp, but overall the balance works, if you’re the kind of listener who doesn’t demand traditional purity.
Not unlike: Tabla Beat Science; Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan 7 Michael Brook: Remixed – Star Rise;

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

LUIS GARAY PERCUSSION WORLD: SACUMBA
Percumba Records

samples : buy CD


I’ve got an idea for a CD project: a 52-minute drum solo. Wait, don’t leave! It’s not just one drum, we’ll include congas, surdos, bongos, cajons, djembes. And for more melodic interest, we’ll include whistles, timbales, marimbas, cuicas, bamboo chimes, and cowbells. I confess: it’s not my idea, but the brainchild of Argentina-born, classically trained Luis Garay. As Professor of Percussion at the Cordoba State Conservatory of Music, Garay knows a bit about putting together engaging music, and any fan of percussion, jazz, or world music should find this a fascinating CD. The sounds include sambas “Sambazo” and “Sacumba,” the jungle groove of “Afro-Chin,” the manic bongos and congas of “Martillo” and the sparse yet thick “Chacara” with muffled Argentinean drum and sharp cajon. Garay and his Percussion World perform primarily on the East Coast, but this CD gives you a first-class ticket to a country where percussion is melody, and everyone grooves.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

SAINKHO NAMTCHYLAK: WHO STOLE THE SKY?
Ponderosa Music & Art

samples : buy CD

On the second CD on Ponderosa from Tuva’s answer to Yoko Ono, the restless Namtchylak trots through acoustic bluesy grooves (“Music Mail to Tuva”), throatsinging, electronic beats, and breathy vocals (“Who Stole the Sky?”), smoky avant-torch jazz (“Electric City”), Tuvan folk (Amidiral”) and more. An eclectic offering sure to please the fans of both vocal improvisation and edgy world music.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

OLIVER MTUKUDZI: TSIVO (REVENGE)
Sheer Sound

samples : buy CD


The 47th(!) album by Zimbabwean musical icon Oliver Mtukudzi will further cement Tuku’s reputation for producing danceable, socially conscious music. It also marks a change for Tuku and The Black Spirits, being the band’s first acoustic studio album and the first recorded in his new home studio in Norton, Zimbabwe (for glimpses of the studio, see the documentary movie Shanda). While fellow Zimbabwean Thomas Mapfumo has chosen life in exile and a more political approach to music, Tuku continues to live in Zimbabwe, treading a delicate line by avoiding overt politics, but addressing social issues that, as a recent Songlines article put it, allow him to record freely “without leaving a single Zimbabwean in any doubt as to where his true sympathies lie.” The translated song titles hint at this ambiguity: “Nothing Remains a Secret Forever,” “You Cannot Satisfy a Person,” “What Are You Afraid Of,” They Exaggerate.”
The subtleties of the lyrics may be lost to non-Shona speakers (though a few lyrics are sung in English), but Tuku’s music is infectious to ears across language barriers, and his encouragement of people to do better, to be positively engaged with their families and communities, is a message that oozes from his every pore. In a way, this isn’t even a political compromise for Tuku; he simply sees personal interaction as the key to human affairs. “There is no government level. Governments, or any organizations, come from people, so if people are not disciplined at a personal level then how can they be disciplined at a higher level? There’s no more to say. If we don’t respect the next person then we’re killing ourselves.”

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

ANGELIQUE KIDJO: OYAYA!
Columbia

samples : buy CD


The music of the Orishas has always infused the work of Benin’s Angelique Kidjo, whether in her Afropop offerings or on her last CD, Black Ivory Soul, which explored Afro-Brazilian connections. On Oyaya! Kidjo follows the West African spirituality to another key stopover, the Caribbean. The Caribbean theme keeps Kidjo away from past Afropop excesses, keeping the music rooted and deeply soulful. Cuba looms large from the opening track “Seyin Djro,” an energetic tune with a universal theme: “My soul is searching for joy and laughter. It costs nothing and everyone can find it.” Kidjo interprets styles from all over the Caribbean, including salsa, calypso, ska, and meringue. “Oulala” includes steel drums and an energy suitable for a Carnival theme song. Unlike some of Kidjo’s previous work, the Orisha influence isn’t front and center on Oyaya! But it’s the musical and cultural foundation of this music, infusing the rhythms and melodies even of Kidjo’s original songs.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

MAJMOUAT ABDE ELHAKIM: MAJMOUAT ABDE ELHAKIM
Post-World Industires

samples : buy CD

Majmouat is an Arabic word for band. Abde ElHakim is the band leader, a one-eyed man with a handlebar moustache. This is Moroccan street music, and ElHakim has been performing for a lifetime, resulting in a vocal style that, the press material claims, “makes Tom Waits sound like a big sissy.” I don’t know about that, but this is engaging music, with call-and-response vocals, tight drumming, and street sounds and performances mixed in with studio recordings. Curiously, this is a Seattle project, Produced by Grey Filastine (¡Tchkung!, Infernal Noise Brigade), engineered by former Seattlite Robb Kunz, and translated by area cab driver Naime Lahmoudi, with cover photos by Seattle-based Tomiko Jones. The CD is sadly devoid of any song notes, though it contains wonderful photos and general information about the recording and the music. A gem for lovers of North African roots music.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

THOMAS MAPFUMO: CHOICE CHIMURENGA
Sheer Sound

samples : buy CD


If you’ve already got the full Mapfumo discography, you’ll find nothing new on this disc. If you’re new to the bouncy, politically charged chimurenga music of this California-based Zimbabwean star, by all means start with this CD. From his anti-AIDS classic “Timothy” to the populist “Zimbabwe” (“Don’t beat people up so that they bow to what you want; just listen to what the majority wants, and act accordingly.”) this 80-minute CD is chock-full of choice Mapfumo, champion of the people and the dance floor.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

NANCY CURTIN: SONGS FROM BRAZIL / MUSICAS DO BRASIL
self-released

buy CD - get artist info


After establishing herself as a singer of Irish songs with her band The Strayaways, Portland-based Nancy Curtin has spent the last four years exploring Brazilian song, and her new CD is ripe with the fruits of this exploration. The soft sounds of Portuguese drip deliciously from her mouth as she covers songs by the greats: Jobim and Moraes (“Garota de Ipanema,” “Brigas, Nunca Mais”), Milton Nascimento (“Don Quixote”), and others. While Brazilian music can have many flavors, Curtin cooks the ingredients shared with smoky jazz: guitar, bass, piano, and subtle drums. A line or two of translated lyrics help the listener understand each song, but the real connection with the music is in the emotions conveyed by Curtin’s effortless delivery. She offers a slightly spicier “world music” taste with the samba “Vou Deitar e Rolar” and the Billy Blanco bossa “A Banca do Distincto.” Overall, though, this CD will most please the ears of Brazilian jazz lovers.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

MAGGIE SANSONE: MYSTIC DANCE: A CELTIC CELEBRATION
Maggie’s Music

buy CD


Hammered dulcimers are used in musical traditions the world over. On her new CD Mystic Dance, Maggie Sansone explores mostly European traditions, with a Northumberland set, a Welsh set, a Celtic wedding set, a medieval set, and various reels, jigs, and waltzes. Within each set the songs are often very short – under two minutes – but they run together without pause, a clever use of CD-indexing technology to distinguish between songs without separating them. Softly acoustic throughout, the 19 tracks include flutes, guitars, accordions, hand drums, and other instruments deftly backing Sansone’s distinctly ringing metal strings. “Persian Dialogue” features a back-and-forth between Sansone’s hammered dulcimer and her Persian santur, with a synthesizer drone supporting the minor-scale melody. Her santur also appears on the title track “Mystic Dance,” and detailed song notes help the listener understand the instruments and the context of the music. A subtle, beautiful album.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

PAPE KANOUTE: GRIOT FROM SENEGAL
ARC Records

samples : buy CD


Without knowing it, you may already have heard Pape Siriman Kanouté from his work with Africando and Agricantus. The sounds of West Africa are always present on Kanouté’s first international solo release – particularly in the form of Kanouté's kora and vocals – but around them swirl a fusion of world influences including drums, bass, guitars, saxes, and more exotic instruments. The disc begins with "Afrique," which bubbles with rich instrumentation including Kanouté's soprano sax, along with call-and-response vocals between Kanouté and female singers. "Seremende" incorporates didgeridoo, tambourine and strings for an offbeat Middle-Eastern twist. Poor liner notes with untranslated lyrics leave the listener in the dark about the CD's song meanings, instruments, and additional musicians. And kora lovers will be disappointed at how seldom the magical calabash harp is in the foreground. But for a subtle fusion effort that maintains a traditional vibe, Griot from Senegal is highly listenable and enjoyable.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 
Other recent arrivals of note:
OCHO PIES:
Ocho Pies

Olympia's darling Latin jazz quartet, Ocho Pies finally has a CD for fans to savor between live shows. Featuring music and lyrics from Cuba, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Colombia, Nigeria, Mexico, and the USA, it's no wonder it took them years to record! Connie Bunyer, Steve Luceno, Paul Hjelm, and Michael Olson have made a sweet CD that you can get direct from the band. Call 360-786-8257.

PANGIA:
VOL. 2

www.pangiaraks.com

Raks (aka bellydance) music from Mt. Shasta based Pangia. No liner notes to speak of and a sad excuse for a cover photo, but sharp playing and crisp recording make this a worthy CD for fans of Middle Eastern percussion and dance. Pangia is Pat Olson: oud, guitar, vocals; Denise Mannion: keyboard, zils; and Gordon Kamm: doumbek and percussion.


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