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Spin the Globe CD reviews for May 2002

AZAM ALI: PORTALS OF GRACE


72438-11390-2-8 Narada World, 4650 N. Port Washington Road, Milwaukee WI 53212

www.narada.com


Even with all the current multicultural offerings, this haunting CD stands out. With Portals of Grace, Azam Ali - who was born in Iran, raised in India, and now lives in the United States - indulges her fascination with the music of medieval Europe. Azam's clear, ethereal vocals are the highlight here, and provide the common theme underlying the Latin, French, Sephardic, Portuguese, Arabic, and Judeo-Spanish songs. The musicianship of Greg Ellis (Azam's partner in the group Vas) and others grounds the music and the resulting songs range from the chanting of"O Quanta Qualia" to full-instrumentation pieces such as "El Rey de Francia." Dedicated to the memory of India's "Bandit Queen" Phoolan Devi, who fought for the rights of the weak and downtrodden, Portals of Grace will appeal to New Age, medieval, and world music fans alike.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

LO*JO: AU CABARET SAUVAGE


468007 World Village (no mailing address) www.worldvillagemusic.com


When I first saw Lo*Jo at WOMAD (back when there was a WOMAD...sniff) I was entranced by the groovy French-Mediterranean beats with Dennis Péan's growly vocals and the harmonies of sisters Nadia and Yamina Nid El Mourid. On Au Cabaret Sauvage (released in Europe as L'une des siens), the France-based musical commune provides more moody listening laced with unusual themes and styles ranging from rock to chanson. The poetic English song translations tell of "a drop-sized man high as three dates" on "Petit homme," while "L'une des siens" tells of a lover enraptured: "I am one of the characters in the handwriting of a woman, an echo of her voice." A new feature for Lo*Jo are African influences including talking drum, balafon, and kamel n'goni. More melodic and varied than Lo*Jo's two previous CDs, Au Cabaret Sauvage ("In the Wild Cabaret") will please both newcomers and longtime fans. Lo*Jo appears Sept. 17 at Seattle's Century Ballroom.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

SHARON KATZ & THE PEACE TRAIN: IMBIZO


APR CD 1063 Appleseed Recordings, PO Box 2593, West Chester PA 19380, wwwlappleseedrec.com


Imbizo is Zulu for "a cultural gathering of hearts and minds" - the longstanding goal of South African-born musician Sharon Katz. After organizing a groundbreaking, tradition-defying 500-member multiracial choir in South Africa 1992, the tireless Katz toured through Africa on the train that gave her current multinational group their name. On Imbizo, Katz's breathy staccato vocals sometimes lack the weight to carry a song and some of the lyrics are well intentioned but insipid ("meet the love conductor, he's your brother on the peace train, choo-choo choo-choo"). But the musicianship is first rate, including Bakithi Kumalo on bass, Okyerema Asante on percussion, and many others. Ranging from reggae to township jive to rock, Imbizo has enough variety to delight some listeners, but Katz's work at spreading the message of peace may be more enduring and important than her music.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

BARRIO CHINO: MEDITERRA NOSTRA


Candela 861042 Tinder Records, 4380 Redwood Hwy, Suite B10, San Rafael CA 94903 www.tinderrecords.com


Named for the port area in Barcelona and comprising musicians from Spain, France, Cuba, and Algeria, Barrio Chino is a veritable musical port city. The group gathers sounds from the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Spain in their pursuit of a style they call "flamenco rumba." Energetic Arabic-Andalusian percussion and string arrangements flavor the songs "Guadalquivir" and "Oran" while the soft ballad "Massilia" soothes with simple accordion, guitar, and vocal harmonies. Singing in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Arabic, Hebrew, and Greek, Barrio Chino achieves a sound that might be described as Children of the Revolution meet Lo*Jo in Cuba. The engaging result is soulful traditional music from a bustling port city that exists only in your ears and the imagination of Barrio Chino.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

Lokua Kanza: Toyebi Te
Yewo Music

 

After apparently having stumbled with forays into overproduced pop on previous albums, Congolese singer Lokua Kanza has released a sweet, simple CD. Toyebi Te is more reminiscent of Cameroonians Richard Bona and Gino Sitson than most Congolese music, with subdued arrangements that highlight Kanza's singing skills. Parts of this CD are proof that pop R&B sounds better not in English. But the song "Good Bye" with its sweet message about leaving home -- and its Stevie Wonder-esque vocal highs -- suggests that Kanza should focus his English on such sincere songs. And he should keep making music like the love song "Mbiffe" with its infectious, smile-inducing melody.

©2002 Scott Allan Stevens

Here's another review of this CD (from Rootsworld)



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