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Spin the Globe reviews, July 2004 (part 2)

O-MAYA: O-MAYA

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Latin Alternative, Rock en Español, Alt. Latin - again marketers have tried and failed to narrowly label a music genre. And there are signs that the genre's commercial popularity has peaked and now wanes (witness the demise of the CMJ Alt. Latin chart). But that interpretation of events belies the wild energy of Latin bands making great music. O-Maya is a case in point. The Bay Area band's self-titled CD drips with cool and a kind of musical adventurousness that defies marketing labels. Opening the album is "Mentiroso," starting with the voice of George W. Bush echoed by a skeptical Latino voice. Tight horns and percussion give way to a conscious rap:

"They got us twisted in this backward system / where it seems that the end justifies the means / ... Instead of educating the youths / they're making them troops / they spill blood for the thugs who took office by coup."

Strong opinions, backed by equally strong music. And we haven't even talked about the clear, powerful voice of Destani Wolf. A veteran of SoVoSo (a spinoff from Bobby McFerrin's Voicestra), Wolf brings soulful emotion to songs like "No Matter the Space and Time" and "Nothing Less than Freedom." The musical variety is impressive, running the gamut from hiphop to soul to ska to cumbia. Bandleader/producer B. Quincy Griffen keeps it all from spinning out of control, resulting in an insistent album with broad appeal to fans of Latin, hiphop, and "world music" alike.

Not unlike: Grupo Fiesta, Orishas, Ozomatli, Zemog

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

GANGBE BRASS BAND: TOGBE
Contre Jour

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It's like Ladysmith Black Mambazo meets the Dirty Dozen Brass Band in West Africa. The sounds of this boisterous group of young jazz musicians from Benin takes African music in an entirely new direction. Drawing on the nation's traditional music, they combine polyrhythmic vocals and percussion with rich horn arrangements to create energetic, highly original tunes. That description may sound like Afrobeat, but Gangbe (which means "sounds of metal" in the Fon language) has little more than a passing similarity to the music of Fela Kuti. Sure their songs concern social justice, African unity, praise for ancestors, even a call inviting "good-looking women to dance and...". But the tuba-driven basslines, the overflowing masculine energy, and the flat-out unique arragements put Gangbe in a category of their own. File under amazing. Highly recommended.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

TARIKA: 10- BEASTS, GHOSTS & DANCING WITH HISTORY

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Bearing the sounds of magic from an exotic isle, Tarika is the best known and most prolific of Madagascar's musical groups. This 10-year retrospective is a great sampling of what TIME Magazine calls "one of the top ten bands on the planet" (and you won't find me arguing!). Nine of the 15 tracks are straight off previous Tarika albums (Son Egal, D, Soul Makassar, Bibiango). This album is especially welcome when you realize that these CDs, except the most recent Soul Makassar, are all inexplicably out of print! I may never understand the decisions of record executives, but I understand great music when I hear it. From the opening notes of "Tsy Kivy (Don't Be Discouraged)" Tarika hooks you with their upbeat style, insistent harmonies, and the irresistible valiha (a tubular zither/harp) prancing lightly above it all.

The remaining six tracks include remixes and live tracks. Philippe Teissier du Cros puts a fresh spin on one of Tarika's most popular songs "Koba," a tribute to a pastry of rice flour, peanuts, and honey. Rob Keylock remixes "Raitra," a sentimental love song so popular in Madagascar it has an instant coffee named after it. The Afro Celt Sound System remix of "Avelo" adds a slow deep beat behind Hanitra's rap-like vocals - enhancing a song that was meant to be spooky, speaking of how the ancestors would deal with disrespect and injustice. Transglobal Underground remixes Soul Makassar's keystone song, " "Madindo," which makes it the blending of three cultures: Madagascar, Indonesia, and the dance hall. Hanitra's rapid-fire vocals evoke modern hiphop, but are really rooted in a traditional vocal style called jijy. As if this wasn't enough, the CD includes a live recording of "Ady" from the 1997 WOMAD festival in England, and the song "Bibiango" recorded at the Soul Makassar sessions but not included on that CD. Finally, the CD includes two videos from Soul Makassar, on which you can catch a glimpse of the band and their unusual instruments, and even Hanitra lounging languidly in the surf. Highly recommended.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

BERNIE KRAUSE: CITADELS OF MYSTERY
Takoma Records

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For a CD recorded in the summer of 1975, Citadels of Mystery has a largely undated sound. Some of that is due to the largely acoustic instrumentation. Though known as an electronic music pioneer, Bernie Krause went light on the kind of synth cheese that gives music the shelf-life of warm milk. Instead the sound is atmospheric as Krause tries to musically evoke the feeling of the citadels forming his theme. The Inca city of Machu Picchu is represented with a three-song suite: "Festival of the Sun" alternates between intricate percussion and upbeat jazz; the soundtrackish "Heights of Machu Picchu" begins with a soprano sax in a roomy atmosphere and ends in something like smooth or Brazilian jazz with a softly chanting chorus; "Flight to Urubamba" concludes the suite with an energetic romp that sounds only a little like a 1970s TV show theme. The other three pieces are the rhythm-n-jazz "Jambo, Jambo" ("hello, hello" in Swahili), the brief, ethereal "Stonehenge: A Mid-Summer's Day Dream," and the Haitian/Caribbean flavored "Citadel, Ay Bobo," which begins with a call-and-response with a children's choir and ends with Andy Narell's steel drums. A lack of real cultural depth or focus might prompt some to file this 31-minute-long CD in the forlorn genre "exotica," but it is also a fascinating time capsule, revealing something about where "world music" stood 30 years ago.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

CHARLIE MCMAHON & GONDWANA: DIDJERIDU TRAVELLING SONGS
ARC

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Right up front, please note this disclaimer from the liner notes: "While Charlie revered the playing of the Aboriginal people in their traditional ceremonies, he did not mimic their performance, but performs contemporary music." So is McMahon another Dr Didg? This CD begins with the didj right up front, a vibrating wall of sound sparcely decorated with light percussion, synth, and guitar on the mirage-invoking "Heat." He follows this with the fast-bubbling "Pig Wobble," the lyrics of which translate to "I'm blowing so hard the didjeridu / Lips are getting numb." Most of the tracks are instrumental, with tastes of rock ("Stampede"), acid jazz ("Currupt Wobble"), and the soundtrackish orchestrated termite drama of "Swarm." Termites are also celebrated in the slowly groovy "Ngarti." So no, Charlie isn't another Dr Didg. He uses less electronica and gears his music less to the dancefloor, a strategy that pleases my earballs. Recommended for didj lovers and as an accessible entry point for the didj-curious.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

IMAGINARY HOMELAND: JUMP FOR GEORGE
Jumbie

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Ever been to a Ghanaian hoedown? Ever met an Appalachian griot? If not, welcome to the world of Imaginary Homeland, a world where an ocean doesn't stand in the way of Afro-Appalacian-jazz collaboration. The CD opens with "Kanawha Girl," a name explained in the liner notes to come from the first choice of West Virginians for their pro-Union breakaway territory. Hand-drumming (Mark Stone), acoustic bass (Matt Pavolka), and sax (David Rogers) cruise along in a vaguely Afrojazz locale, until Marlene Rice's fiddling brings it back to Americana. The paired sax and violin on "Mobius Trip" might bring to your lips the term "ethnic jazz." And "Jump for George" has bass runs and sax riffs that would be at home in a jazz trio. But with the jazz elements accompanied by prominent hand drumming, bells, rattles, and xylophone, the "jazz" label fails to encompass the fresh spirit of this music. Like any cross-cultural collaboration, it may be spurned by purists. But there's a certain logic in combining the folk music of people on either side of the Atlantic. Imaginary Homeland is a nice place to visit; come listen for a while.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

RAJERY: VOLONTANY
Label Bleu / Indigo

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Rajery, the one-handed master of the Malagasy valiha, returns with his third album on the Indigo label. The sound is soft Afropop - soft in sound but not in impact. Essentially acoustic, Volontany hints at elements from other African styles - South African choirs, Cameroonian jazz, West African kamelengoni, Congolese call-and-response rumba - but in a mix that's unique to Madagascar. "Tsikirilem" swings while "Mahafinaritra" reminds my ears of Habib Koite yet with a very different vocal style. The harmonized, a capella "Mifankatiava" and "Viavy" highlight subtle differences from similar South African choir styles. And while sharing instruments and culture, this music sounds nothing like Tarika. Someday I must get to Madagascar and unravel the mystery of the wonderfully diverse music of this island nation. Until then, I'll be listening to the Malagasy music that reaches our shores. Volontany is a joy to the ears.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 

Other recent arrivals of note:

SEKOU BEMBEYA DIABATE: GUITAR FO
Discorama

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"The master of modern Mandingo guitar, co-founder and soloist of Guinea's Bembeya Jazz, Sekou "Diamond Fingers" Diabate is the inventor of a unique style, which has influenced and inspired all the guitarists on the African continent. For this album, this lyrical, sensual, always inspired and outstanding musician on a par with B. B. King, has engaged in a brilliant rereading of his great classics, along with some Bembeya Jazz pieces. A lesson in swing and emotion." (Discorama)

MILAGRO ACUSTICO: RUBAIYYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM
World Class

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"Omar Khayyam was born in 1040 at Nishipur, in Persia. He lived in one of the most splended periods of Islamic culture. During this age, the art, science, and philosophy of Islam left their mark on the lands and the people of the Mediterranean. This period also produced religious extremism that lead to the first terrorist acts in history by the 'Ashishiyyin' sect, root of the word 'assassin.' I had to write music for his verses and translate them into the Sicilian dialect, so melodic and straightforward it fits perfectly with the melancholic beauty of Omar's poetry." (Bob Salmieri)

SAMEER MAKHOUL: ATHAR
Magda

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"A blend of traditional Arab music, ancient poetry and Turkish and Andalusian music. A wealth of cultures and rhythms in music and poetry combine to create the unique voice of virtuoso oud performer and composer, Sameer Makhoul. A remarkable sound, bold yet traditional, in a rich musical vernacular, flowing like the springs of the performer?s native village of Peki'in or like the sigh of the wind in its citrus groves. A rare example of collaboration between Israel's very finest Jewish and Arab musicians." (Magda)

ARMENIAN NAVY BAND: SOUND OF OUR LIFE - PART ONE: NATURAL SEEDS
Heaven and Earth

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"The Armenian Navy Band was founded by the percussionist/vocalist of Armenian descent, Arto Tunçboyaciyan. Music is a fundamental element of his life, by which he tries to communicate his greatest values: 'love, respect and truth.' The group is composed of twelve Armenian musicians, among the best that live in Armenia at the moment. The compositions are all original of Arto Tunçboyaciyan which -using his words - 'have the sound of my life.' This music is pervaded by sonorities taken from the Armenian and Anatolian tradition fused with elements coming from different musical experiences, amongst them jazz. The Armenian Navy Band represents the synthesis of Arto's musical journey and life experiences. As an ensemble with particular virtuosity, it also has great ability in performing live music and compositions taken from the tradition and from the current culture of Armenia." (Albakultur)

GABRIELLE ROTH & THE MIRRORS: RAVEN RECORDING: THE CLASSICS (TOTEM, BONES, INITIATION, RITUAL)
Raven Recording

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"For the first time ever, listeners can find four of Gabrielle Roth & The Mirrors most beloved albums in one place. Raven Recording is proud to introduce RAVEN: THE CLASSICS, a beautifully packaged multi-CD set containing the best-selling recordings Totem, Initiation, Bones, and Ritual. These critically-acclaimed CDs have each been re-mastered at New York City's Sterling Sound. Re-mastering give each of the four release of The Classics an unmatched contemporary and clean sound that still possesses all the warmth and vibrancy of the orginal analog recordings." (Raven Recordings)

ERIK MARCHAND ET LES BALKANIKS: PRUNA
Le Chant Du Monde

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In modern-day Bucharest, a type of light music known as manele is gaining a hold to the point of saturating the scene. This new genre created by gypsy musicians and singers from the Banat region in Romania grafts the East-West modernity of popular music from Serbia onto a base of the old lautaresc style from Bucharest and the city suburbs. It can also include samples of modern Turkish music and Balkan percussion imported from neighboring Istanbul. Whether avant-garde, or the result of a natural opening-up of borders with the coming of the New Europe and the third millennium, Erik Marchand’s music on Pruna uses the same geographical background; but gives a different result - no samples, no rhythm machine, no studio effects, nothing but highly talented human beings playing music - twelve musicians considered among the best in their respective cultures. Here is the music of the moment, utterly up-to-date and in harmony with its day and age, clearly asserting its diverse ethnic and historical origins. Their music seems to be traditional, though in fact it belongs to a country not born yet, where popular culture would have its rightful place, and be able to express the spirit of its community in new, creative terms, while keeping the sound and force of its origins. (Harmonia Mundi)

 



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