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Spin the Globe reviews, June 2004

(compiled by Charlie Gillett)

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The liner notes for this album start by saying

Warning: the tracks on this album do not all sound the same. There are fast songs and slow ones, dark moods and dance tracks, sung in many languages, hardly any in English.

A warning to some, perhaps. To me, that's a well-baited hook. For the fifth year running, BBC host Charlie Gillett has assembled two CDs with some of the most intriguing tracks in contemporary music. Some of the artists will be familiar to American world music fans: Sidestepper, Ojos de Brujo, Kekele, Tinariwen, Abyssinia Infinite, Kanda Bongo Man, Chava Alberstein, Lo'Jo, Khaled. Others include up-and-coming artists and those not easily found in the USA: 17 Hippies (Germany), Souad Massi (Algeria) and BBC World Music Award winners Daara J (Senegal), Think of One (Belgium), and Dj Dolores (Brazil). A great survey of the state of the European world music scene, which is often a few steps ahead of the USA.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Seattle and Tacoma
May 10-17, 2004


Wai (New Zealand)
This Maori group was, for me, the highlight of the festival. Four musicians, some electronic machinery and keyboard and drums, and a big tribal-dance sound that engages even though you can't understand the words. At a subsequent acoustic appearance live at KAOS on Spin the Globe, the members of Wai talked about their mission to promote Maori language and culture, which almost died out under the not-so-benign thumb of New Zealand's Euro-centric rulers. Singing exclusively in Maori, Wai demonstrates how musical and adaptable the language is, ranging from hard-endged rap to soulful melodies. Even the tradition-based dance moves and swinging of poi balls seem at once ancient and contemporary. This band is a must-see. Their debut (and only) CD is available at www.wai100.com

Badenya les Frères Coulibaly (Burkina Faso)
This drumming troup had lots of laid-back energy with beats and dancing enough to engage the young audience. But i couldn't help thinking -- as I watched both the performers and the crowd -- that this is challenging music for the uninitiated. Kids who are used to the simplicity of American pop music seem to have some trouble with the complex polyrhythms of West Africa. And really, this is the classical music of that region, so a little more explanation might have been helpful. Still, the dancing and solos on djembe and talking drum focused the audience, and the few miscommunications among the perhaps-too-laid-back musicians didn't faze the crowd.

Jamie Adkins & Co. (Québec)
A two-person storytelling/circus troupe, Jamie Adkins & Co. had the kids in the palms of their hands. In this world premier of a show entitled "Typo," Adkins portrays a hapless blocked writer who attempts to climb a faulty ladder to change an elusive lightbulb, parades around in his underwear, juggles all manner of things, engages in monosyllabic conversation with his piano-playing secretary, and ultimately ends up on a not-so-tight rope. Great for adults too!

The festival featured many other artists as well - for details see seattleinternational.org.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

live at Jazz Alley, Seattle
6 June 2004

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Mama, this woman can perform. Not just sing, but dance, opine, and look great doing it. The packed house for Kidjo's last of three nights at Jazz Alley was animated from the start, the Afro-Cuban grooves propelling the more bold to their feet from the first notes. And when the diminutive Benini took her cordless mic on the road, the place roared. All around the crowd, across the balcony, and back to the stage where her flawless quartet was keeping the groove. Kidjo sang songs from her new CD, Oyaya, as well as the previous installments in her African-diaspora trilogy, Oremi and Black Ivory Soul. And she snuck in a few older hits as well, including a melt-in-your-mouth delicious duet with her guitarist of the classic "Malaika." Highlights included the descriptions of visiting AIDS orphans in Tanzania, followed by the song that grew out of that experience, the Jamaican ska-drenched "Mutoto Kwanza." And the double encore. And just basking in the glow of this sparkplug of a performer. Except for some minor technical problems with muddy low-end sound and a spotlight that struggled to find its spot, Jazz Alley was surprising hospitable to this raucus show. I've never seen the place crackle with so much energy, and bounce with so much dancing. Catch Angelique if you have half a chance - you won't regret it.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

(Compiled by Andy Kershaw)

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BBC radio host Andy Kershaw likes collecting things. More, perhaps than sharing them with others. This second CD of his collected music comes 17 years after Great Moments of Vinyl History, his first compilation. The new CD's eclectic mix of blues, country, folk, and world music presents some jarring juxtapositions. Following an acoustic guitar song by South Africa's Shiyani Ngcobo, you're hit with the driving rock guitar of "Motor Boys Motor" by the 101ers. The songs jump around in time as well, from 1948 to 2004 with many stops between. World music fans will gravitate toward the tracks by Ngcobo, Dorothy Masuka, Ali Farka Toure, Youcef Boukella, and Kristi Stassinopoulou, but the rest of the CD holds up well for the broad-eared listener. Dan Pickett's "99 1/2 Won't Do" contains what Kershaw says may be the earliest recorded rap, and "Captain Beefheart & Mr Neal" is a great story told by Ian McMillan with music by The Angel Brothers and Satnam Singh, who combine English and Punjabi music. The humorous, well-written liner notes explain the origins (and mysteries) of the songs. Don't wait until 2021 for the next installment!

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Real World

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Put a great world vocalist in a small room with a hot producer. It's a formula that worked brilliantly for Michael Brooks & Hukwe Zawose. Having heard State of Bengal's previous outing, Visual Audio, I was a little concerned. But no worries - he shows great restraint here, dumping the heavy drum-n-bass for something more like world chill, and letting Paban Das Baul's voice shine clearly atop it all. Don't get me wrong - the bass is still there, it's just not ubiquitous and all-encompassing. Dance fans may find this disappointing, but fans of Indian vocals and fusion will eat this faster than a succulent vindaloo. "Radha Krishna" is sparse and funky; "Padma Nodi" is a soft acoustic oasis; even on the feisty title track "Tana Tani" (meaning "push-pull") the thick instrumentation makes ample room for the vocals to shine. An appropriate blend of musical styles for the Bauls, wandering mystical minstrels who thumb their noses at Bengali taboos.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

ARC Music

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She's been compared to Angelique Kidjo and called "the Tracy Chapman of Kenya." I don't know about all that. But this Kenyan singer-songwriter-guitarist has a sound that gracefully blends traditional and modern instruments, creating a unique sound. One of the best features on this CD - and one of the most unusual to Western ears - is the use of orutu, a one-stringed fiddle that sometimes sounds like a Brazilian cuica, sometimes like a human voice. More liner-note details on the instrumentation would have been nice and several tracks wander dangerously close to cheesy pop. But the compelling music still gets across a sense that Owiyo is singing from her roots. While the Luo-language lyrics aren't translated, the summaries tell of universal themes: don't hurry, value wisdom, love your family, child labor is bad. And some not-so-universal themes, like "Kisumu 100" urging investment in the city on the shores of Lake Victoria, or "Suna Ka Ngeya" describing insect infestations. A promising, if slightly uneven, debut from an African artist to watch.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Felmay (Italy)

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A native of Kabul but for a long time resident in Germany, where he directs the Academy of Indian Music in Cologne, Daud Khan is a virtuoso of the robab, whose teachers have included the late maestro Ustad Muhammad Umar a superlative artist who was equally at ease in popular and classical repertoires, gifts he has evidently passed on to Daud Khan. A plectrum-played lute with three main strings plus others for resonance, the robab has an interesting history. Regarded as the progenitor of the Indian sarod, it has a full-bodied sound rich in subtle echoes, qualities that Daud Khan effortlessly exploits to transport the listener to another dreamily ecstatic dimension. Daud Khan presents a pair of stunning instrumental reworkings of originally sung ghazals (tracks 2 and 4) on which the melodic line acquires depth and texture without losing any of the rhythmic colouring that is so much a part of the beauty and strangeness of Afghani music.

Read more of this review at www.felmay.it

World Music Network

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Born of the Zulu experience of labour migrancy, maskanda is a musical dance style dominated by lush acoustic guitar ‘picking’ and distinctive rhythms. Born in 1953 in Umzinto, on KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast, Shiyani Ngcobo has been a maskanda musician for more than thirty years. The winner of numerous maskanda awards, his use of a mixture of the rhythmic patterns associated with its different styles has earned him a reputation in South Africa as something of a maskanda maestro. This album captures how he has remained true to the aesthetic of early maskanda, while at the same time nurturing his own individual style.

World Music Network

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Sukke unites three leading members of the European klezmer scene under a single roof. Three individuals, top-flight musicians with deep roots in Yiddish music, who discovered and learned to appreciate one another on the stages of international klezmer and Yiddish festivals, and then decided to focus their diverse talents and backgrounds on a common project: the first European klezmer band. Standards and rarities from the East European instrumental repertoire and original music featuring lyrics by Yiddish poet Michael Wex combine in a unique and evocative sound that is like nothing else in the Yiddish music world.

World Music Network

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Vakoka brings together thirteen of Madagascar’s most talented musicians to explore diverse traditions and push the boundaries of Malagasy music. Over a six-week period this ‘all-star’ cast from around the country worked together to create a record that showcases the island’s incredibly diverse musical and cultural heritage. The resulting songs carry the joy and emotion of a remarkable group as they explore each other’s musical traditions, blending the old and new in a way rarely heard – on this island or any other.



Les Ballets Africains
Pantages Theater, Tacoma WA
Monday, April 12, 2004 7:30pm

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Les Ballets Africains, the national dance ensemble of the Republic of Guinea, was founded by Keita Fodeba in the early 1950s, and came to Tacoma as part of its half-century celebration tour. Using djembe, doundoun, kenkeni, krin, kora, and other instruments the company tells uniquely African stories through high-energy music and dance.

In a Spin the Globe interview, company president Mamadou Conde explained that the tour is a sort of "greatest hits" of Les Ballets Africains, highlighting the best pieces in their evolution over the last 50 years.

The first half of the show is dominated by stories of history and culture. It begins with a piece choreographed by Keita Fodeba himself, entitled "Midnight." This piece, says Conde, intended "to show the world how colonialism affects the continent of Africa, not only economically, but also culturally." Disturbing images of colonial oppression disrupt normal life. The show also includes a piece on "female circumcision" - a challenging subject handled deftly and powerfully by the company.

Les Ballets Africains and its home nation of Guinea, Conde says, are not just representing the country, but the whole of Africa. Remembering history and providing social commentary through dance are important. "It's good to criticize people, so they can change."

After intermission, it's time for the company to show off a little with skillful displays of musicianship and acrobatics. The multitalented performers drum, dance, fly through the air. Imagine a professional drum circle being invaded by members of Cirque du Soleil and you'll have some idea of the gravity defying rhythms and flights. "By the time the show has finished, it is like travel," Conde says. "It's like a trip to Africa." If you have a chance, take this trip. It's cheaper than airfare, and far more invigorating.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


Naxos World

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World Music Network

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The musics of Western and Southern Africa often grab the international spotlight, but East Africa has its own musical traditions, ably represented by two new CDs. Swahili Rumba by Golden Sounds Band is, in a way, the East's answer to big dance bands like Orchestra Baobab and the Super Rail Band. Shimmering guitars, relaxed-but-tight horns, and crisp drumming grace the drawn-out songs (7-8 minutes each). Full translations explain the songs, with topics including music as a job ("Kazi Ni Kazi"), long-distance love ("Alice"), and the band's journeys around the country ("Safari Ya Kisii [Enching'inini]"). This slow-burning music demands time to be appreciated, and maintains an old-school feel although the band was formed only in 1996 and is currently hot with Kenyans.

Golden Sounds Band's song "Masidi Hana Sababu" also makes an appearance on The Rough Guide to the Music of Kenya. But this CD goes far beyond Swahili rumba, spotlighting Kenya's musical diversity by dipping into benga, taarab, and rap. On the benda tune "Nduraga Ngetereire," Queen Jane sings of the pain of waiting for a boyfriend who is studying in Europe. Then Gidi Gidi Maji Maji rips up the dance floor with another in a stream of hits, the rap-driven "Ting' Badi Malo." Suzzana Owiyo sings the charming "Kisumu 100" with backing orutu (fiddle) that sounds like voices or Brazilian cuicas, and tells of the 100th anniversary of the town of Kisumu. With songs from the 1980s to the present, a nice snapshot of well-rooted Kenyan music, from traditional to modern blends

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


Other recent arrivals of note:


Senegalese superstar Youssou N'Dour digs deeply into his spiritual roots on his newest CD. Recorded in both Dakar and Cairo, the album shows the Arab roots of Senegalese Sufism as well as its unique expression in West Africa. This CD is a thing of beauty.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

(Riverboat Records)

Cellist David Darling subtly supports the polyphonic harmonies of the indigenous Wulu Bunun tribe singers on this sublime album. The singing is inspired by nature: the sounds of water, wind, rustling leaves, bees. As in other cultures (the Baka jump to mind), music is a constant companion in everyday activities. The subtle additions by Darling and a string quintet added later only serve to put the spotlight where it belongs, on the voices.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

It sounds like old calypso, but the promo notes emphatically point out that it's not calypso. It's mento, which is, as far as I can tell, the Jamaican version of, yes, calypso. The same humor and cleverness inhabit the lyrics, and doubtless the well-informed about Jamaican history will find biting social/political commentary embedded within. For the rest of us, it's historical and fun music, with songs like "Monkey Talk" explaining why simians are more civilized than humans.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

(ARC Records)

Drumming from the heartland of the drum. The groups El Hadj Ensemble, African Works, Ipelegeng Group, Soweto Ensemble, and Tirani Club beat out rhythms from across the continent, from the Kalahari to Uganda. Solid drumming and useful song notes on this brief survey of a topic that really demands a lifetime of study.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


(Luaka Bop)

Slow, groovy. loungy. Los Amigos Invisibles make music that sounds like 1970s TV soundtracks, except far cooler and frequently quite danceable. This new soundtrack to their universe includes the beat-laden ("Diablo," "Ease Your Mind," "Brujo") to the sergiomendezesque ("Playa Azul," "Comodon Johnson") and even some nasty funk ("Superfucker"). Comes complete with Parental Advisory for Explicit Content, so you know the kids'll love it.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


(Amiata Records)

Contemporary Italian composer Aldo Brizzi brings together the luminaries of Brazilian song (Virginia Rodrigues, Carlinhos Brown, Tom Ze, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Margareth Menezes & more) on this varied and engaging album.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


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