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World Music CD Reviews, April 2005

Hazelwood Records

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Spin the Globe listeners know about the show's soft spot for brass bands. Something about that sound...from the funky syncopations of New Orleans to the crazed frenzy of the Balkans, to India's Bollywood style. Now Germany, with its brass sometimes stereotyped in oom-pah beerhall bands, steps forward with Mardi Gras.BB, a band that can really swing. This CD starts soft and moody, putting you in the mind of Squirrel Nut Zippers, perhaps. Then there's the cover of "Mellow Yellow" (on earlier CDs they've covered such classics as "Riders on the Storm" and the Munsters' Theme). Doktor Wenz's gruff, smoky voice calls forth the ghost of Billlie Holiday on "Wrong Ain't Wrong" and elsewhere sounds more like Dr. John. But Mardi Gras.BB isn't imitating anyone; they've got their own brassy-jazzy-funky sound that defies both categories and gravity. This "limited edition" CD includes two French-language tracks.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Stonetree Records

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This CD is welcome not only for its unique brand of Afro-Caribbean music, but also as an invitation to discover more about the Garifuna, whose ancestors were escaped Nigerian slaves who settled in Central America (Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala). The music (known as Paranda) is distinctly Afro-Caribbean, but completely different from Cuban, Jamaican, or other styles. Prominent are shakers, buzzy Garifuna drums, guitars, and Martinez's smoky voice (along with guest vocalists Andy Palacio, Chella Torres, and Lugua Centeno). The liner notes contain thorough musician credits, but no notes on songs and lyrics; one is left to guess or visit the label's website for English lyrics. Yet the translated lyrics don't reveal much; the songs are stories whose meaning flutters out of reach. The simple phrases or stories are pregnant with meaning and emotion, but specifics are elusive. Rich polyrhythms abound, even in "Dugu" which welcomes the arrival of the ancestors. Vocal harmonies grace "Nirau Hagabu," which sounds more upbeat even as it tells the story of a man who drinks at the bar while his wife does all the work at the farm. This album has already sent me researching the culture, and I'm sure to spend just as much time soaking in its musical riches.

For more on the history of the Garifuna (or Garifune) see this page or garifuna.com. And for more on Garifuna/Paranda music, check on Michael Stone's article on Rootsworld.com.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Ruote Records

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As you might expect from an album fronted by a Finnish woman vocalist, Pauliina Lerche begins Katrilli with a burst of bright, percussive vocals on "Vot I Kaallina," a call for the young maidens to dance. If you like Varttina, you'll be hooked on this opening. But Lerche (also a member of Burlakat - see Spin the Globe's March 2005 review) roams in her influences; as you wander into the album you'll find the landscape populated by sarangi, tabla, and harmonium along with more traditional Finnish instruments. These guest sounds generally aren't prominent enough to label this music "fusion" - instead they play supporting roles to the Karelian folk music leading actor. Lerche leans on her solid accordion skills even more than her voice - half the tracks are instrumental, including a solo called "Liianmies." Her willingness to experiment is made clear in the last track "K.K.K. Remix" a sparse retooling of the very Indian-flavored "Katrilli Kintaan Kylästä" with vocals by Sarathi Chatterjee.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


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You may not have many chances to see Freshet play live. The band is half American, half Finnish. And I mean two people from each place. Fiddler Ruthie Dornfeld and guitarist John Miller traveled to Järvenpää, Finland in spring 2004 to meet up with bassist Tapani Varis and mandolinist Petri Hakala and record this CD. The light, crisp instrumental music not surprisingly straddles boundaries, opening with a Venezuelan fiddle waltz, then wandering through various other musical styles, including little bossa nova, polka, jig, polska, even samba. If, like mine, your ears can get over-saturated with the sound of strings, flip to the refreshing "Oikotie (Shortcut)" on which Tapani takes the lead with an overtone flute that sounds much like the Fulani flute of West Africa. This CD is more "folkie" than much music I listen to (what? no drums?) but Freshet is indeed clean and refreshing, wherever their musical rivers run.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


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Surely there's something theologically amiss with the concept: Gospel music by Jews. Have the Klezmatics suddenly joined Jews for Jesus? But then, why not Jewish gospel? Many gospel tunes take as their subject pre-Christian Biblical stories, stories shared by both peoples, stories of Elijah, and Moses, and Noah. And when the singing is done in a voice as marvelous as that posessed by Joshua Nelson, the soft wax of theology melts away before a blaze of divine joy. From the opening lines of the nine-minute "Elijah Rock" there's no doubt of Nelson's vocal influence; he sounds so much like Mahalia Jackson it's eerie. But this and other songs Nelson sings are a tribute, not an imitation. The arrangements with the Klezmatics horns, clarinet, and fiddle (not to mention the enthusiastic audience) make it clear the song has been transported into a new era. For the uninitiated, this album may serve as a roadmap between the musics of two peoples. "Walk in Jerusalem," "Go Down Moses," Mary Don't You Weep," "Moses Smote the Water," and "Didn't It Rain" walk side-by-side with "Ki Loy Nue," "Shnirele, Perele," and the Klezmatics' signature "Ale Brider." Full of energy, harmony, and emotion, this album is a treasure no matter what faith you follow.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Sidibe Music

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Mamadou Sidibe walked into the KAOS studio on 10 May 2002 holding in his hands the instrument he helped popularize as a young musician: the kamelengoni (or kamele n'goni). Sidibe was one of the first to play this less-known cousin of the kora (a 21-stringed harp) with eight strings instead of the traditional six. The added range helped, but his inherent skill got him gigs across Africa and Europe, playing with the likes of Toumani Diabate, Oumou Sangare, and the legendary Coumba Sidibe. That day at KAOS he was touring with guitarist Markus James in support of James' album Nightbird. Now Sidibe has his own CD in collaboration with vocalist Vanessa Sidibe (possibly also known as Vanessa Janora). Vanessa provides English-language counterpoise to Mamadou's plucking and singing. While such linguistic hybrids often fall flat, Vanessa's vocals, English or other, are sweet and true. The CD starts with "Nacama" about the difficulty of destiny. The hypnotic, loping groove sets the pace, over which occasionally springs a kamelengoni riff or a soulful burst from Vanessa. It's a winning combination, this blending of African instruments and vocals with English blues-soul vocals. Quite different than Nightbird, which was tilted towards James' guitar and raspy voice. From the fast "Sen Sen" to the sorrowful "N'Dia" Nacama shines.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


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Powerful women's vocals command your attention from the opening bars of "Pedras Contra Tanques" on this album from Galacia's Leilia, a group of women singers and percussionists. From this style (imagine Varttina with sax and udu) to the moody ballad "Hei De Estar Alí" to a capella-plus-tamborine songs such as "Falando De Máis", Leilia makes a strong contribution to the Galician pandeiretera revival. Backing musicians include Kepa Junkera on triki (Basque accordeon). The notes with this imported CD do not include English translations, but do include Spanish lyrics, notes, and photos.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


Other recent arrivals of note:

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Charismatic young chanteuse Maria De  Barros -- god daughter of their  culture's most legendary Cesaria Evora  -- offers an album, brimming with the  island spirit and joie de vivre of Cabo  Verde. Continuing on traditional paths  with bluesy mornas and salsa-like  coladeiras, she also introduces the  fresh, meringue-like rhythm of the  funana -- driven by the ferro, a  metallic instrument played with a spoon. Her childhood in West Africa was rich  with Cabo Verde's ethnic melting pot as  well as French influences, which is  evidenced by her coladeira-tinged  rendition of Caresse Moi. (Goldenrod)

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Where the album opens with the controlled cacophony of the "Kleyzmish Moshpit," it soon segues into the quieter, more introspective tone poem, "Kaddish for Carmen", and then that builds, slowly, into a still introspective, still forcefully slow, but increasingly loud tone poem. It isn't until "Peep nokh a mol" that I become aware of Alexander's (or Sarin's) drumming. The songs are so melodic, and the all-star band so exceptional, that it takes repeated listenings to beging to peel the onion. Like an onion, the more I listen to this album, the more I enjoy it. (Klezmershack)

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Three of the voices that best represent female singing in the Piedmont region of Italy. Their different experiences do not prevent them from finding cohesion and consistency both in the themes they chose and their way of performing. Together they blend the tradition of popular songs with evocative, original arrangements. Songs are sung a capella, or with Armando Illario accompanying on accordion and percussion. Occasional additional instrumentation includes clarinette, trombone, hurdy-gurdy, jews harp and tamburello. (CDRoots)

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How about some highlife, soukous, Afrobeat, Latin, funk, and reggae, all in one? Sounds good, right? Well, that's what you can expect from Sila and the Afro-Funk Experience, a band fronted by Kenyan musician and bandleader Victor Sila. With vocals sung in both Swahili and English, not to mention bottomless grooves perfect for boogying on down to, Sila's fusion-friendly sound is both futuristic and traditional. (East Bay Express)

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Gito Baloi, sadly, is with us no more. He was shot dead during an apparent robbery in Johannesburg in April 2004. But he did leave us with this, a superb acoustic album he recorded, co-wrote and co-produced with Nibs van der Spuy. Baloi and Van der Spuy started playing as a duo in 2000: “Gito would send shivers down one’s spine; he had the voice of an angel, which was a musical instrument in its own right. So unique is his bass sound that after three notes you know it is Gito Baloi.” The two musos’ gentle acoustic guitar rhythms blend effortlessly, with a minimal layer of vocals drifting in and out. Opener "Todos" has a Spanish flavour, followed by "Salaam" with its vaguely Eastern tang and the African magic of "Mountain Wind," and so it continues; eclectic, but not overpoweringly so. Baloi also provides a touch of percussion, and Chris Tokalon (flute) and Kyla Thomas (violin) help out on a few tracks. Sweet-Thorn is as gentle and tender as Baloi’s death was violent; it’s two African souls making music that is sublime in its simplicity. (ZA@Play)


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