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More Spin the Globe reviews, September 2004

ETIENNE MBAPPE: MISIYA
O+

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One could spend a lifetime exploring the music of Cameroon. Long ago in a geography class we joked that Cameroon was at "the armpit of Africa." In reality, Cameroon has been something of a stable oasis. Maybe that's what accounts for the remarkable, sophisticated music from Cameroon. Bassist Etienne Mbappe's Misiya is part jazz, part funk, and still to my ear distinctly Cameroonian. You know you're not in for traditional tribal music when the opening track, "Ee To Kem (Yes or No)," starts with an electronic beeping (phone? microwave?) then kicks into a serious stripped-down funk as Mbappe sings for an answer from the object of his affection. Funk, as much as any style, is at the heard of this album though it's also flooded with catchy melodies, rich vocal harmonies, jazzy solos, and complex rhythms. With regional influences ranging from the Middle East ("Olo Iyo") to the Caribbean (Andy Narrell's steel drums on "Mukanbilan/Trembling"), some listeners may become geographically disoriented. But the warm accessibility of this CD should entice a wide variety of listeners to explore its depths.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

ROKIA TRAORE: BOWMBOI
Nonesuch

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The third album from Rokia Traore continues to display her unique vision of modern Malian music. The album is marked by sparse arrangements and traditional instruments including generous use of n'goni, alongside Traore's guitar and singing. Non-griot griot Traore, the daughter of a diplomat, may owe her accessible sound to her vocal style as much as experience gleaned from her global wanderings. Her soft melodic tones stand in clear contrast to the more traditional reedy style of singers like Oumou Sangare. In a way, she is to Sangare what Habib Koite is to, say, Youssou N'Dour. The difference is in style more than quality, (though purist traditionalists might dispute that). And she's willing to push the edges of Malian music, incorporating, for example, a western string section into the song "Manian." Other tracks include multitracked harmonies ("Kote Don," "Deli") and driving rhythms ("Sara," "Nienafing," and the unnamed, hidden track following the title song). A delicious modern African album.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

VARIOUS ARTISTS: WOMEN OF LATIN AMERICA
Putumayo

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Putumayo's latest explores the voices of Latin American women, from the celebrated (Susana Baca, Lhasa, Toto La Momposina, Lila Downs) to the emerging new voices (Marta Gomez, Mariana Montalvo, Jacqueline Fuentes) and some in between. The diversity of vocal styles and countries could be richer; included are multiple tracks from Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, yet none from Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela, the "Guays", or ethnically unique Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Stil, the tri-lingual notes include basic background on the singers and songs, providing a good jumping-off point for further exploration.

©2004 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 

Other recent arrivals of note:

BAU: SILENCIO
Docura / Lusafrica

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Rufino Almeida, a.k.a. Bau, was given a cavaquinho (small four-stringed guitar) by his father, an instrument maker, at the age of seven. As well as entering his father's profession, Bau also developed a career as a musician. Today he is considered one of the finest instrumentalists in the Cape Verde archipelago. He plays cavaquinho, guitar and violin, and is acompanied by a small ensemble including saxophone and flutes. (CD Roots)

ELY GUERRA: SWEET & SOUR, HOT Y SPICY
Higher Octave

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"Sweet & Sour," with its retro-rock touches, sounds darker and more intense than Ely Guerra's last album, Lotofire. "Mas Bonita" sounds like Iron Butterfly jamming with a mellow Janis Joplin, while "Puerto Vallarta" has a light bossa nova feel. "Te Amo, I Love You" mixes folkish sentiment, jazz singing and psychedelic meanderings for a strange brew that sounds best suited for a rock speakeasy. Guerra can also get romantic, as on the breezy pop of "Besame," a tropical rock jam where she coos a simple desire for a kiss. When she whispers her longings, she sounds like a laid-back Suzanne Vega.
As a singer, Guerra has power, control and range. Despite her diminutive size (she stands just over 5 feet), she can belt the blues. But she also can lower the vocal intensity, shifting the focus to her direct and introspective lyrics. On "Te Amo," she describes the fears and doubts, the confusion and the conflict, that sometimes come when a new love arrives. Her music, especially live, evokes the nostalgic '70s days of freewheeling album rock with its guitar feedback, fuzz-tones and tempo-changing dynamics. (mysanantonio.com)

DARKO RUNDEK & CARGO ORKESTAR: RUKE- LA COMEDIE DES SENS
Piranha

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Darko Rundek, singer, poet, actor, theatre director and frontman of the late Yugo-cult band "Haustor," took a holiday from his solo-career for the adventures of a real Cargo Orkestar. The comédie des sens of Paris meet the European spleen of Zagreb, cosmopolitan influences of immigration clash with Balkan traditions. Join the Cargo Orkestar for a mysterious musical journey, rough and real, made of questioning, pain, joy and humour. (Piranha)

MARIANA MONTALVO: PIEL DE ACEITUNA
World Village

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Like many of her compatriots from Chile, Mariana Montalvo was forced into a life of exile. Although she has been living in France since the days of Pinochet, Montalvo’s connection to her roots has remained strong. Her music provides fresh interpretations of the folk music of Chile in the tradition of legendary Latin American singers such as Victor Jara, Violetta Para and Mercedes Sosa. Montalvo’s original compositions feature instantly accessible melodies and unique instrumentation such as the South American charango (guitar), quena (panpipes), and the trombone, which reflects the influence of Andean brass bands on Montalvo’s arrangements. For many years, she was a member of the popular group Los Machucambos, which is famed throughout Europe for their faithful interpretations of South American traditional music. Piel de Aceituna is Montalvo’s latest solo album. Its mix of traditional and modern styles provides the perfect blend of musical flavors to support her inspired adaptations of Chilean poems. (Harmonia Mundi)

 



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