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Spin the Globe CD reviews for May 2002

STELLA CHIWESHE: TALKING MBIRA

CD-PIR1681 Piranha Musik, Carmerstr. 11, 10623 Berlin, Germany www.piranha.de

 


This CD begins with the liquid notes of the mbira (a.k.a. thumb piano), then shakers, then voice. It’s fitting that Stella Chiweshe provides all the sounds on the first track, “Ndabaiwa (Kassahwa revisited),” since she’s one of the few African woman--and the only Zimbabwean woman--leading her own band. Talking Mbira demonstrates both her love of tradition and her willingness to challenge it as musician, healer, and activist. While “Tapera (We Are Perishing)” and “Huvhimi (The Vision for Hunters)” are hypnotic mbira-centered songs and “Paite Ritma (Spiritual Lions)” is an a cappella plea against bloodshed, other songs get the full world-beat treatment. The track “Chachimurenga (Future Mix)” includes bass, drums, and remixing by members of 3 Mustaphas 3, resulting in a funky marimba dub. As Chiweshe’s first new album in seven years, Talking Mbira will be a fixture in the CD players of African music fans.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

VARIOUS ARTISTS: ELECTRIC HIGHLIFE–SESSIONS FROM THE BOKOOR STUDIOS

76030-2 Naxos of America, 416 Mary Lindsay Polk Drive, Suite 509, Franklin TN 37067 www.naxosworld.com


update: Bokoor Studio has been destroyed by flooding, but you can help with the rebuilding costs of this historic studio. For more information, click here.

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Just a small white building on farmland near Accra, Bokoor (“Cool”) Studio wasn’t a high-tech wonder. But it was one of just two recording studios in Ghana in the mid-1980s and it released nine records and 60 cassettes, providing a crucial record of Ghanaian popular music. Electric Highlife includes 13 songs from this period from eight groups. The lyrics of these guitar-fronted songs cover a range of social issues, from naughty children to financial woes, and the tunes range from the slow groove of The Black Beats Highlife Dance Band’s “Tsutsu Tsosemo (Old Time Training)” to the fast bounce of the Happy Boys Guitar Band’s “Sosu Sei Me (Limit the Way You Spoil Me).” Having been recorded on Bokoor Studio’s four-track the music is a bit tinny, but this may just add to its authenticity as a time capsule for West African popular music.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

USTAD MOHAMMAD OMAR: VIRTUOSO FROM AFGHANISTAN

SFW CD 40439 Smithsonian Folkways 750 9th Street NW, Washington DC 20560 www.folkways.si.edu


In a curious spin-off from the events following 9/11, the increased awareness Afghanistan is resulting in a powerful Western curiosity about Afghani culture and music. One major Internet store lists no fewer than a dozen new releases of Afghani music. While newly released, the music on this CD was recorded in 1974 after master rabab (a short-necked lute) player Omar arrived at the University of Washington on a fellowship and became the first Afghani to teach in the US. Accompanied by Zakir Hussain on tabla, Omar leaves no doubt that the roots of this music lie in India (Indian musicians became court musicians in Kabul in the mid-1800s), and that it has nonetheless developed along its own path. And the performance was a remarkable demonstration of the language of music, since Hussain and Omar had never met before the day of the recording and did not speak a common language.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

ANDRE TOUSSAINT: BAHAMIAN BALLADS

76029-2 Naxos of America, 416 Mary Lindsay Polk Drive, Suite 509, Franklin TN 37067 www.naxosworld.com


Golden throat crooner Andre Toussaint is virtually unknown today, though in the 1950s he was a regular fixture in the hotel lounges of Nassau and drew comparisons to singers like Harry Belafonte. A native of Haiti, Toussaint arrived in the Bahamas in 1953, and proceeded to make a name for himself with his smooth mellow style, singing in French, Haitian, Italian, and Spanish. He died in 1981 and his songs have been difficult to find; this CD helps remedy that problem for those looking for some sweet guitar strumming and smooth tropical singing. Restored from old analog masters, many of the songs are simply guitar and voice, while others (such as “Watermelon Spoilin’ – Here I Go Walkin’” and “Marisa”) feature a full calypso band with horn section. Except for a brief Toussaint bio, the notes are brief and no additional artist credits are included, but the music croons for itself.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens



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