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Spin the Globe reviews, August 2003

VARIOUS ARTISTS
DROP THE DEBT

Say It Loud! / World Village
www.sayitloud-records.com www.worldvillagemusic.com

The 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.

Yes, 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.

The 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.

Lyrically, 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...."

This 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.

Okay, 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:

"If 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."

For more on debt relief, see:
www.jubileeusa.org
www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk
www.debtchannel.org

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 

JABALI AFRIKA
ROOTSGANZA

Converge Records
www.jabaliafrika.com

Only 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 vocal harmony.

Opening 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.

Jabali 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

 

 

DAVE LICHTEN
PRIM8: THE EVOLUTION

Stop the Killing Productions
www.prim8.org

Do 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.

Don't 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 Foundation.

©2003 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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