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World Music CD Reviews, June 2005

Warner Music Finland

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The Sami practiced a shamanistic spirituality rooted in a respectful, harmonious relationship with nature. The land itself was sacred, and it was also marked with specific holy sites. Sieidit (stones in natural or human-built formations), álda and sáivu (sacred hills), springs, caves and other natural formations served as altars where prayers, offerings and sacrifices were made. Through a type of sing-song chant called the joik, Sami conveyed legends and expressed their spirituality.
--read more at sacredland.org

Contemporary traditional...living culture...innovative folk.... Whatever you call it, the music of Sami singer Ulla Pirttijarvi (formerly a member of Girls of Angeli / Angelit) is engaging on a deep, primal level. A simple description is traditional Sami yoik (joik) songs blended with modern instrumentation. But look around the Web, and you'll find many descriptions of yoik that fail to give a sense of the tradition's emotional/spiritual power. Sounding like a cross between Tuvan throat-singing and Native American chants, yoik has a grounded, gutteral sound, heavy and earthy, evoking the harsh northern landscape from which it emerged. At the same time, it's melodic and beautiful, particularly as practiced by Pirttijarvi, who keeps the tradition alive for a new generation by blending it with electronics, beats, and "non-traditional" instruments.

The organic feel of this blend may be due, in part, to location: most of the vocals were recorded at Pirttijarvi's home in northern Finland, while much of the instrumentation was recorded in New York. "The yoik is within me," she says, "and can be brought to the surface whether I'm at home in my own house or standing on a busy corner in New York. But of course - the surroundings will affect the music in different ways."

The CD lacks complete lyric notes/translations, but the music is really more for the heart than the head. From the windswept opening song "Northern Silk," Pirttijarvi progresses through a song about her great-great grandfather set to a hiphop beat ("Calkko-Niillas"), the blips and bleeps of a modern metropolis ("New York"), and a wedding yoik ("Inger-Mari") that would be right at home in a Bollywood romance. The music and yoik singing style may not be for everyone, but this album is engaging throughout, and producer Frode Fjellheim deftly avoids falling into new age cliches or dull electronica whirlpools, keeping the arrangements fresh and supporting of the main instrument, the fabulous voice Pirttijarvi. Highly recommended.

For more explorations of Sami yoik, try:

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


Omar Torrez Music

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Freshly shorn and making a splash in world and mainstream music circles, Omar Torrez returns with a new self-produced CD blending flamenco/Gypsy/Latin influences with a touch of rock and hiphop and whatever else this nimble-fingered guitarist has absorbed in his world travels. He gets political on "Hold On," a call to action on which he sings and raps about the need for change: "Why don't we challenge this fate / send him packing back to the Lone Star State..." Most of the lyrics (if not the emotions) are more subtle. His voice soars on the Afro-Cuban cover of the traditional Mexican song "Llorona." Eclectic literary and musical references (including a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Big Brother) make this mix good for the head, but Torrez's delicate (often speedy) guitar and emotion-laden singing pack a strong wallop for the heart. Somewhere between Santana and the Gipsy Kings, Dynamisto! is an engaging mix of what Torrez calls "Latin soul & groove."

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

sarajevo blues


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Part 1: Jewish Traditional Songs - The CD begins with women's voices in harmony, singing "Viva Orduenya," a dance for Jewish brides in Tangiers, accompanied by zills and dumbek. Then "Si Veriash La Rana," with lyrics describing traditional female roles (aka "forced gender compliance," the liner notes point out) among Bulgarian Jews.

Part 2: Sarajevo Blues - We're suddenly transported from the past to the present, with a modern a capella song detailing the civilian perspective on urban warfare: "war, and nothing is going on..." With 10 songs, this part comprises the bulk of the album, in which Jewlia Eisenberg and her Charming Hostess cohorts tell the stories of individuals caught up in powers beyond their control. Stories musically beautiful and personally tragic. Crawling through a tunnel, dodging snipers, seeking food and water. The juxtapositions of melody and tragedy, as on "Death Is a Job," can be unbalancing for the listener. It's painful stuff, but beautiful at the same time. But should you really be enjoying this beauty?

Part 3: Poem Songs - The CD ends with three song-poems. Most engaging sonically is the final one, "Aish Ye K'dish," an energetic, angry plea for the unquestioning to awaken, ask, demand answers. Ask, one presumes, the kind of questions that would prevent the Sarajevo Blues. But in the end, there is no awakening: "You remain a work-horse, unaware." This challenging album isn't for everyone, but vocal and world music fans will fine a lot of meat in both the lyrics and the music.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Grappa Musikkforlag AS

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Haunting and atmospheric, Vita consists of thirteen religious Norwegian folk songs recorded sung a capella in the resonant Emanuel Vigeland mausoleum. This album is all about voice and acoustics. In a place where most of us would simply shout "hello" to hear the echoes, Lovlid sings folk and sacred songs of aching beauty. The album begins with a song by a great-grandfather she never met, a funeral song singer whose voice she heard on a cassette tape. She also sings a version of Psalm 147 and other hymns. While the liners include English and French song histories, no title or lyric translations appear, leaving the listener somewhat in the dark about song meanings. But it's clear that like the fading echoes of Lovlid's cyrstalline voice, the history of her family and her culture echo in these somber, gorgeous songs.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


artist site : Listen/Buy CD at CDBaby.com

Afropop from Scotland? The latest take on Afro-Celtic music comes from straight outta Glasgow. Really more Afro than Celtic, the band includes members from France, Scotland, Ghana, and Uganda, led by Liberian singer Jerry Boweh. Shimmering guitars, soaring vocals, and positive messages combine a toe-tapping danceable multicultural masala with elements of Afropop (ala Youssou N'Dour, Angelique Kidjo, Salif Keita), jazz, jam band, and rock. Their lyrical messages echo the upbeat music, from the title track's exhortation to be careful and unified in a time of chaos to the celebration of each person's special gifts in "Gigadeh." But Zuba doesn't turn a blind eye to trouble: "Tomayziyi" is a plea against war in Liberia and across the globe, and also contains an amazingly infectious guitar riff. "Zuba (Cheer Up)" is an appropriate theme song for the group, a great beat wedded to the message "Come and join the celebration; Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it doesn't get you anywhere." As good as this album is, one gets the impression that the full Zuba experience is available only at live concerts. So see Zuba if you can, or buy their CD for a taste of their feel-good Bassa Beat sound.

Zuba is: Jerry Boweh (Liberia): vocals, guitar, percussion; Robin Miller (Scotland): guitars; Jacob Chaudeurge (France): congas, djembe, percussion; Andy Wood (Scotland): bass; Alasdair MacDonald (Scotland): drums, tablas, percussion; Anna MacDonald (Uganda) & Rosemary Amoani (Ghana): vocals

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

World Music Network

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The desert is blooming. On the heels of a number of recent Sahara-region releases, World Music Network climbs aboard the caravan with this newest Rough Guide. Haunting scales, echoing strings, ululating women - the music evokes the harsh but beautiful land from which it emerges.

The liner notes by Andy Morgan give good musical, geographical, and political summaries of the songs' context. But does this 13-song compilation truly serve as an accurate survey of a desert that spans at least nine countries and many more nations/tribes from Eritrea to Mauritanea? Simply put, no. Particularly glaring is the virtual omission of music from the eastern half of the desert, including vast sweeps of Chad, Sudan, Eritrea, and Egypt. Some Nubian music (Ali Hassan Kuban? Hamza El Din?) would have been right at home in this mix. A more accurate title would have been The Rough Guide to the Sahara: West. Rough Guide folks: consider this an invitation to do a second CD from the east.

That said, the album includes a diversity of ethnicities represented by better-known artists -- Malouma (Mauritania), Tinariwen (Tuareg), Tartit Ensemble (Tuareg), Hasna El Becharia (Algeria/Berber), and Mariem Hassan (Sahraoui) -- alongside others including Compagnie Jellouli & GDIH (Morocco), Chet Fewet (Libya), Aziza Brahim (Sahraoui), Nayim Alal (Sahraoui), Seckou Maiga (Songhai), Groupe Oyiwane (Niger), Kel Tin Lokiene (Timbuktu), and Sahraoui Bachir (Berber/N. Algeria).

For further musical exploration of the Sahara, try:

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


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This compilation from the queen of Egyptpop is more than just a rehash of old hits. Only seven of the 17 tracks are directly from her previous CDs. The other tracks include new mixes and remodeled tunes and even one new song - the Bond theme "You Only Live Twice" given the slow smouldering Atlas treatment with full orchestration. If you're not familiar with Atlas' modern blend of traditional Middle Eastern rhythms with club beats, hiphop, and R&B - all topped with her powerful, nimble, expressive voice - this is a good starting point. And dedicated fans will find enough new material here to hold their interest, including the "hidden" 17th track, a sizzling version of "Moustahil," recorded live in France.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

World Village

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Warsaw Village Band stakes a bold claim at the start of Uprooting. A brief traditional Polish roots recording of Josef Lipinski gives way to "In the Forest," a song thick with rhythm, turntable scratching, insistent strings, and female polyphony. It's a quick look back, then a plunge into the future, creating a new sound for still distinctly Polish music. And it's a pattern that's repeated in the CD, with four short "roots" tracks followed by the modern sounds of WVB's collective imagination. "We are trying to create a new cultural proposition for the youth in an alternative way to contemporary show-biz," the band says on their website. "That's our fight." While the band takes a step back after "In the Forest," perhaps dashing expectations for a thoroughly radical album (like Ojos de Brujo's Bari, for example), the remainder of Uprooting is nonethless engaging, from the brash vocals of "Matthew" to the slow, bluesy "Grey Horse." Whether you think of it as world music, or hard-core Polish folk, or a bridge between tradition and modernity, Uprooting is engaging and fresh.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Luminoso Records

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My introduction to Mas Y Mas was somewhat unrepresentative of their music, but nonetheless they had my full attention. Over a loping samba-esque bassline and percussiver guitar, an attitudinal voice sing-raps "Like a camel in a coma / Like a whale in Oklahoma / I've got the hump." Downloaded from calabashmusic.com, it's "The Hump," a song to crank up and sing along with, irreverent, funny, and damn catchy. But no, it's not really typical of Mas Y Mas. Though they sound much larger, the group is a trio. Though they sound much more tropical, they're based in the UK. Led by guitarist-singer Rikki Thomas-Martinez, the Afro-Latin-Reggae trio has a talent for sounding simultaneously traditional and edgy. And the energy of the CD is unflagging - a band that can capture this much on CD must be downright explosive live in concert. Martinizez and bandmates Wayne D. Evans (basses, saw, and vocal) and Richard Kensington (percussion, backing vocal) are seriously talented performers who have proven themselves over nearly a decade of live shows; this CD should help spread their music even farther around the globe.

Similar artists/RIYL: Manu Chao, Children of the Revolution, Radio Tarifa, Cuchata

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


Other recent arrivals of note:

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The album was recorded during OBD's Spring Tour of USA and Canada in 2004. Live tracks Chicago's renowned Old Town School of Folk Music (where they performed two shows with John Renbourn) and The Tulsa Theatre for the Performing Arts. It features 13 tracks in all, 7 with vocals. Hailing from Scotland, Old Blind Dogs is a band on the cutting edge of Scotland 's roots revival. Together for over 15 years, they have released eight albums and toured the globe, garnering extensive press and winning numerous awards. In 2004, the Dogs won the coveted "Folk Band of the Year" honor at the Scottish Trad Music Awards. Lead vocalist Jim Malcolm won "Songwriter of Year" at the same event. Dynamic percussion and bluesy harmonica fuel the delicately-phrased melodies of traditional songs, while a blend of small pipes, whistle guitar, cittern, mandolin and fiddle round out the band's energetic renditions of traditional tunes. Jim Malcolm's rich vocals are wonderfully polished, and the arrangements are, as always, both tight and constantly surprising as they fuse original with the traditional.

info : buy CD

When the enslavement of Romania's gypsies officially ended in 1864, tens of thousands fled the nation for new horizons. Several thousand landed in the United States, often settling in the black ghettoes of the Southern US states, where they continued to make music. Ioan Ivancea, Fanfare Ciocarlia's oldest member and group historian, once answered when asked if jazz was a big influence on the group, "Who's to say our cousins who went to the US didnt help invent jazz?" On Gili Garabdi (Ancient Secrets of Gypsy Brass) this matter and other mysteries are explored by this most infamous of Gypsy bands.

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Cumbia Funk has landed! There’s no doubt that cumbia is the most popular rhythm in Latin America. While salsa is basically a Latin Caribbean genre, cumbia is a more true representative of a Pan-American culture. From Argentina to Mexico you find cumbia based rhythms in a myriad of permutations. But it’s massive popularity means that this music isn’t normally viewed as being ‘cool’ and it admittedly can get pretty damn cheesy. But a new generation of Latinos have grown up listening to this music, mixing it up with anything from hip hop to rock. The composition of the band is more similar to a salsa or funk group than to a typical cumbia ensemble. Their eclectic blast is a mix of funk, rock, ragga, salsa, all mixed in with a heavy dose of Afro percussion and a wicked brass section whilst consistently retaining the cumbia beat. And what before sounded wrong, now sounds very right. (knowtheledge.net)

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The Global Village Orchestra is an eclectic blend of musicians from Senegal, Turkey, China/Uiguria, Germany, Netherlands, Hungary, Moroko and Iran. The cultural blend of sounds embodies a world beat of broad textures. Yaschlik is a simple and moody song with varied flavors. Sequence 2 has an almost spiritual significance. Blue Wedding swings into a more jazz oriented fill with native dialect against the instrumentation. The vocals in Ayerlik are deeply resonating. The title cut, Globalistics is an upbeat, happy tune. Widely using improvisational techniques throughout, the songs allow each artist enough breathing room for self-expression. Embracing a celebration of life, Globalistics by the Global Village Orchestra is a colorful cross-cultural sampling of musical compositions. (jazzreview.com)

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After championing a new breed of classically-bent Indian sound merged with delicately polished digitalism, Sabbah re-roots, literally, himself in a new context of North African folk music. Crafted by the dexterous hands of numerous recurring characters, La Kahena is the work of many guided by the One brilliant idea. Bill Laswell's signature bass lines cannot be missed, and Karsh Kale's sturdy tabla is evident. MIDIval PunditZ's Gaurav Raina returns to ProTool the record to the superior standard he set on Krishna Lila. Ney player/DJ Mercan Dede throws in a hand, as does cellist Rufus Cappadocia, composer Richard Horowitz and violinist Bouchaib Abdelhadi, filling out the landscape these women paint. In so many ways, that last observation wraps up both La Kahena and life itself: the dark drudgery of men decorated by the poetic feminine, both swirling, clashing and, in the end, making the most beautiful music imaginable. If Africa is truly the motherland of human culture, She's given birth once again. (ethnotechno.com)

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Ay Candela is the most interesting and compelling kind of compilation recording. Not merely a hastily packaged rehash meant to cash in on a vital artist's current reputation: It is, in essence, a history of the singer and his time, his pattern of travel through Cuba's street fairs, small-time recording studios, night clubs, and finally to the world's most prestigious stages a as member of the Buena Vista Social Club. The recordings compiled here were done over various periods in Ibrahim Ferrer's career, and include the canonical pillars of his repertoire like the title track, and the wondrously joyful "De Camino a la Verada," which he wrote new versions for. There is also a lovely duet here with Carlos Querol called "Santa Cecilia" that dates back to the beginnings of the 20th century. One of the bonuses of this collection is "Una Fuerza Inmensa," a beautiful solo bolero. For the price this is a fantastic buy. There isn't a stray or mediocre moment in the bunch, and the music virtually crackles with energy, vitality and happiness. These are the root sounds of one of Cuba's greatest vocal stylists and offer proof of the depth and breadth of his legacy and contribution. (Allmusic)


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