the Globe reviews, August 2003
DROP THE DEBT
Say It Loud! / World Village
problems following the invasion of Iraq seem to have awakened
the Bush administration from a slumber on the need for debt
relief (We're shocked! Shocked!). But the problem of developing-world
debt has long been on the mind of others, including the Jubilee
organization. Imagine paying 38% of your income just to service
your debt. But don't get me started; we're here to talk about
the music of debt.
the issue now has an all-star soundtrack, thanks to the efforts
of new indie label Say It Loud. Featuring a stellar lineup
of musicians (most from Africa and Latin America), Drop the
Debt is simply great listening. And even if you're an amazing
polyglot (songs come from 14 different nationalities), you
won't feel like anyone's hitting you over the head with a
guilt skillet. The closest thing to an anti-debt anthem is
"The Third World Cries Everyday," a richly orchestrated,
mostly-English song by Africa South, an amazing constellation
of musicians including Oliver Mtukudzi, Louis Mhlanga, Suthukazi
Arosi, Khululiwe Sithole.
rest of the CD is even better. It kicks off with the deep
reggae mood of "Baba" by the combined forces of
Tiken Jah Fakoly (Ivory Coast) and Tribo de Jah (Brazil).
Brazilian vocalist Chico Cesar shows just how fast and percussive
Portuguese can be sung on the folksy "Il faut payer (devo
e não nego)," a collaboration with the Fabulous
Trobadors of France. Bringing in Latin sounds is "Cosas
pa' pensar" by Colombia's Toto La Momposina with a fabulous
horn section. Cameroon's
Sally Nyolo combines with Shingo2 of Japan for the drum-and-voice
tune "Tilma (remix)." Like turntablism? You'll dig
French group Massilia Sound System's "Osca Sankara."
If funk is your thing, "Argent trop cher (money's too
expensive)" by Tarace Boulba of France and Ablaye Mbaye
of Senegal will definitely help you get a groove on.
the CD stays on topic, though each song highlights a different
aspect of the debt burden. The translations give a sense of
the widespread problems. Senegal's El Hadj N'Diaye sings "For
40 years we've been repaying / A debt that endlessly grows
/ ... We even say we'll never be able to pay it back / That
it's planned that way." Zedess (Burkina Faso) sings "Even
a democratic president / Who wants to lead his country out
of poverty / Comes up against the policies of the technocrats
/ Who decide the priorities." Massilia Sound System's
"Osca Sankara" includes samples of a speech given
on debt relief by Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara, shortly
before his assassination in a coup. Other songs take a more
personal look. Tiken Jah Fakoly and Tribo de Jah's "Baba"
laments a farmer who works hard but realizes no profit when
the harvest is in. Congolese artists Faya Tess & Lokua
Kanza look to the future in "Bana": "This land
belongs to our children / It's in their name that we demand
the debt be canceled / and the accounts revised...."
is a great CD that just happens to champion a great cause
as well. All the tracks are exclusive to this release, and
with a variety of styles and consistently high energy it's
bound to have wide musical appeal. Get it as a wide-ranging
survey of contemporary world music or as a political statement.
But get it.
just one last word on selective debt relief. Read this statement
from the conservative Heritage Foundation, and ask yourself
why they and "President" Bush aren't including Senegal,
Burkina Faso, Columbia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, and other poor countries
in their push for debt relief. Just substitute one of those
countries for "Iraq" and see if it fits as well:
Iraq's debts are not forgiven, the Iraqi
people will be financially crippled for a generation, or
even generations, eliminating any prospect of a growing
and prosperous Iraq. If European and Arab leaders truly
want to help the people of Iraq, the best way to
demonstrate this would be by easing the debt burden."
more on debt relief, see:
Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media
a tiny amount of Kenyan music has made it to the US market,
despite a great musical diversity in this country of 31 million
people of 47 ethnicities. I won't attempt to summarize Doug
Patterson's detailed account of Kenyan music, but suffice
it to say that this is only the third Kenyan CD I've actually
laid my hands on, and one of the others is oud music recalling
Kenya's time under Arabic rule. Jaliba is Kiswahili for "rock"
- not the musical genre, but the conglomerated mineral, specifically
a large rock upon which band members used to meet. And their
music is founded upon the African rock of rhythm blended with
Rootsganza is "Amatingalo," a broad tribute Africa.
Growly male voices run through the countries singing "viva
Kenya... Uganda... Tanzania... Zimbabwe...." You get
the idea. The singing isn't polished, but it fits beautifully
with the variety of songs about country, family, and love.
Following the funky drumming of "Percussion Discussion"
is "Sweetness (Utamu)," a beautifully harmonized
a capella choral song. The piano-and-strings ode to motherhood
"Letter to Mama," is sweet nearly to the point of
sappiness, with the refrain "Sweet mama, Super woman
/ I love you forever." There's plenty of variety in the
16 tracks, including lead vocals by sweet-voiced Lois Mutua
on "Forever Young" and "Nabhangu." Making
a social comment on joblessness and police brutality is the
Caribbean-flavored "Eastlands Yard," while "Grandma's
Milk Gourd" simmers with Afro-beat energy.
Afrika is now based on the US east coast, so keep an eye out
for live shows. Sitting on a festival lawn soaking in these
warm, loose sounds would complete a summer's evening. Or just
pop in this CD for a rare glimpse of Kenyan tunes.
©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media
PRIM8: THE EVOLUTION
Stop the Killing Productions
the lives of primates have a soundtrack? Do monkeys have music?
Well they do now. Flamenco guitar virtuoso Dave Lichten has
teamed up with other artists to testify against abuse of primates,
including the repulsive (yet growing) practice of selling
and eating their flesh. While the CD booklet is adorned with
poignant photos of primates, the CD isn't overt about its
message. Apart from the slow, gospelish lyrics of "Move
On With My Life" and some atmospheric backing vocals
on the highly energetic, violin-led "Jamirquai and the
Gorilla," the songs are instrumental, a soundtrack for
your own thoughts. Unless you're looking through the booklet
as you listen to, say, the wistful flamenco "A Monkey
Is Born" your mind may stray from the topic. But looking
at the photo of the child with a baby monkey perched on a
shoulder, you can't help but wonder about the future of both,
in a world marked by terror, greed, and self-interest.
get the idea that this CD is a downer; its world-jazz feel
may be a little melancholy, but the great playing and understated
energy will appeal to jazz, new age, and world music fans
alike. Lichten has serious chops, playing bass (on "Evolution")
and violin in addition to his flamenco and other guitars.
Other artists includ including Jean-Michell Baron (who wrote
and performed "Move on with my Life"), Pana Jawahar
Baba (tabla), Sara Vaughan (bass, percussion, and clarinet),
and Jay Ferguson (synth). The multitracking leaves the CD
sounding a little over-produced, but if that bothers you,
go see Lichten's live solo show at the CD release party in
San Diego (see Calendar for
details). Thirty percent of all CD proceeds go to the Prim8
Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media