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World Music CD Reviews, September 2005


Palm World Voices / Palm Pictures

AFRICA: buy/hear samples
BAABA MAAL: buy/hear samples

In July, Spin the Globe expressed mixed feelings about the first Palm World Voices release: Vedic Path India. I'm glad to report that these next installments in the multimedia series are vast improvements, though a few rough edges remain. Both include a spiffy fold-out National Geographic map chock full of photos, graphics, and info, along with a thick booklet of photos and info, the DVD, and the audio CD.

As you might expect, Africa is chock full of great music. The map is rich in detail (though it's odd to have images of artists whose music is not included in the project: Gigi, Fela Kuti, Orchestra Baobab). The DVD is more varied, showing Africans playing, fishing, dancing, welding, farming, and just lounging around the city in the cool of the evening. Some tracks show a coordination between the music and the images. Particularly powerful is the section showing African women from Uganda, Ethiopia, and Senegal to the sound of Baaba Maal's "African Woman." One notices that the video is more wide-ranging than the audio; you may see residents of Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Mozambique, but oddly the musical range is limited to central and western Africa. The lone exception is the late Brenda Fassie of South Africa. Nothing else from southern Africa, and nothing at all from East Africa. Tut. The good news is the great music from Oumou Sangare, Sunny Ade, Ray Lema, and others. Too bad there's not a page in the booklet giving at least a brief bio of each artist, their country/nation, and their importance to African music. Finally, Africa needed a proofreader. The DVD track listing is out of order, and the booklet describes the balafon as "an 18 to 21 string wooden xylophone..."! Hello?!? While accessible and strong enough to be a great introduction to Africa, just a little more geographic diversity and attention to detail could have made this compilation truly excellent.

Baaba Maal has two advantages over India and Africa: focus and narration. Instead of giving an impression of a vast land full of varied people and musics, we get the story of one world-famous singer, in his own words and those of narrator/writer/director Robin Denselow. The DVD is smoothly edited, and gives satisfying musical segments along with bits of Maal's life at home in the 40-minute biographical film. Particularly interesting is a long road/canoe journey to Mauritania for a concert. The DVD also contains three tracks (totaling about 30 minutes) of Baaba Maal in concert at the Royal Festival Hall. The richly detailed companion map focuses on Senegal's history, geography, culture, and music. I've got to harp on details again: the booklet repeats the "18 to 21 string wooden xylophone..." spiel, while the mapmakers, bless their cartographic hearts, insist that the balafon has, in fact, "12 to 21 hardwood keys." Otherwise the booklet is fabulous, with a history, selected discography, photos, bits on Senegalese music and culture, and more, including transcriptions from interview segments on the DVD. The 11-track CD is a fine introduction to Baaba Maal's recent work (spanning 1992-2001). World music fans will delight in this third Palm World Voices release, easily the most focused and strongest of the series so far.

Sample videos (quicktime format) from palmworldvoices.com:
"Hamady Boiro" Baaba Maal

"Yala" Oumou Sangare

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

Palm Pictures

artist site : buy DVD/CD & hear samples

If the fingerprints of Fela Anikulapo Kuti are found on much "world music" today, it's doubly true for Nigerian music. His son Femi must have had moments of doubt about inheriting the role of political critic, social worker, and prophet. But no such doubts surface in the course of this DVD, which tracks Femi at home and at work in Ikeja, on the outskirts of Lagos.

Just down the road from his father's famous Shrine, Femi has converted an old warehouse into a combination home, social center, and nightclub. During the week, locals flock to see the band rehearsals, which are open (there's even voting on the concert set lists). And every Sunday night, the new Africa Shrine erupts as hundreds of Nigerians and visitors blow off the accumulated week's steam. The DVD looks at many of the Shrine's players, including fans, security, and the band. It's Femi who drives this bus, though, and you see why when he's talking about his role for the community and for Nigerian more broadly. He doesn't flinch at the contradiction between his fiercely pro-democracy songs and the fans who would coronate him as a prophet-king.

Femi chastises the crowd for loving sex and drink too much, then launches into "Shotan" - its musically ferocity echoed by the beer and white plastic chairs flying over the audience. On stage his voice and persona are sometimes laid back. Then suddenly he appears possessed by some ancestral spirit, his face and body contorted, his eyes wild. The DVD comes with a companion 14-track CD with much of the same music as the DVD. If you want to understand Femi - or Fela or Nigerian politics for that matter - this DVD may be the next best thing to being there - and you're less likely to be hit by a plastic chair.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


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Malian music is hot - from the Festival in the Desert to the urban sounds of Bamako. But some of the hottest music is also the coolest, like the laid-back guitar vibe of Tinariwen. And right on their heels are the blind couple Amadou and Mariam, with their fourth release. While it features the same great Malian blues, there's a twist. This CD is the result of a collaboration between the couple and global music icon Manu Chao, who produced and contributed to the music. His influence is unmistakable on tracks like "La Realite," which includes the kind of sound/music programming featured on his own albums, and he does vocal duties on "Taxi Bamako" and "Senegal Fast Food." Throughout the CD, Chao's touch gives a more accessible, sound, particularly to newby ears that might find Malian music overly repetitive. He initiated this project after hearing an Amadou & Mariam song on his car radio. "I rushed out and bought all their CDs," Chao says in a Radio France Internationale interview. "Every day I'd put their records on at home and when I started singing along, I'd add to them. ... It became a little game I played every day." The CD would be enhanced by including English translations (or even summaries) of the French lyrics. But that's a small complaint about an excellent album. Dimanche a Bamako (Sundays in Bamako) oozes a laid-back musical sophistication that will draw in many who don't think they like world music.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

THIS JUST IN! ... New World Music CD Releases


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It seems so obvious. Nigerian Fuji music is a return to the vocals and rhythms of traditional Yoruba roots. Hiphop is similiarly stripped-down beats and chants. Why a happy marriage between the two took so long is a mystery, but Adé Bantu and Adewale Ayuba have joined them and you can expect to see little Fujihop offspring any day now. And this is a great CD to seduce your hiphop-loving friends into trying out African music.

Born in Lagos and living in Cologne, Bantu has a deep understanding of both Nigerian and Western musical cultures. Over the bubbling Fuji drums he superimposes not only rapping, but also reggae and Afrobeat touches. The result is a soundtrack for modern Africa, and Bantu stands out as an innovator amid the masses of African imitators of Western hiphop. Bantu comments "Hiphop culture has reached a turning point, it has lots its values and OD'd on its own supply of negativity. Where do we go from here?" Fuji Satisfaction points the way.

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Somewhere out in the ocean, every Wednesday night, there's a world music party going on. And this is the soundtrack. The third in a series of Namaste compilation CDs, this album presumably reflects the kind of music heard while hanging in the "Trance Temple" at the Ibiza club where the dinner/party/dance/experience takes place. Artists include Oi Va Voi, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mari Boine, and others. A satisfyingly chillin' take on world music.

AMADOU BALAKE: TAXIMEN (Popular African Music)
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Hailing from the Ivory Coast, Amadou Balake is little known in the rest of the world. But following his appearance on Africando's Martina and the Golden Afrique compilation, Balake takes center stage on his own with this CD. The music on Taximen will put you in the mind of soukous, with catchy guitars, call-and-response vocals, and a persistent dance beat. Brief notes hint at song meanings, from the title track ("the taxidrivers in abidjan are not nice at all") to "Soun Grouba (the whore)": ("a whore causes diseases and problems but you should understand that she does not necessarily do this job by her free will."). The songs were all originally released on Sacodis International, the Abidjan-based label of Aboudou Lassissi.

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Classic African music from Gaby Lita Bembo, a great musical figure in Zaire (now Congo) in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This album samples the hits he achieved along with his band Stukas du Zaire between 1974 and 1983. Apparently quite a showman on TV, and he's not a shabby singer either. The CD insert lacks track notes/lyrics, but includes a great brief history of Bembo and the band.

artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Since Horace X's last album Sackbutt (see May 2003 review) I have waited to no avail to see them live. Placating my hunger, at least a bit, comes this new CD. A little less dayglo, and somewhat less wonderfully startling to my ears, Strategy nonetheless contains the essential Horace X elements: high energy, rapid-fire Jamaican-style vocals, and a wall of dance-beat sounds made by acoustic instruments. My affection for this band stems from the latter: particularly Hazel Fairbairn's fiddling and Pete Newman's reeds along with Simon Twitchin's irrepressible vocals, Fabian Bonner's bass, and Mark Russell's drums (and, as the credits note, "everything else"). "She Want" is the most fun song about sex in recent memory. Much of the rest of the album is pleasantly buoyant, if not as groundbreaking as Sackbutt. The standout tune is the title track, "Strategy," on which the band lays out some positive philosophy: "Earth can be a paradise if we realy desire / ... we need de wisdom an compassion an humility / .. so to help each other that could be our strategy." While I still crave a live show, this track along will keep me going for a while yet.

Bonus: here's a free mp3 of the song "Wicked and..." from Horace X Live at the Junction.

artist site : buy CD/hear samples

I'll admit my limitations right up front: my advance copy of the second album from the lead guitarist/arranger of Youssou N'Dour's Super Etoile Band includes no song title translations or lyrics or notes, just the CD, the song names, and M'baye's face on the cover. In a sense, it's a pure listening experience - just my ears and the music. And the music speaks well of itself. Talking drums and electric guitars up front, catchy melodies, and M'baye's smooth voice atop rich arrangements. N'Dour fans will eat this up, and the music isn't a cheap knockoff of his sound. I particularly like the tracks "Jankh Ndaw" and "Yaral Ma" and I'll let you know if I find out what they're about. M'baye does sing in English on a few tracks, and the album concludes with a cover of Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up," though this is vocally the weakest track on the album. Aside from that, Yaye Digalma is a rewarding album with great Afropop appeal. And eight years after his debut Dakar Heart, it's about time!

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Norway meets Africa in this feel-good compilation of music by women, for women, in the name of CARE Norway. Four women from the north (Unni Wilhelmsen, Lynni Treekrem, Simone, Anneli Drecker) meet four women from the south (Talike, Tigist Bekele, Chiwonoso, and Marie Daulne) and make sweet, empowering music together. Some of the lyrics (at least the English ones) may be a tad sappy, but they're sincere. And several tracks -- particularly the ones featuring Zap Mama's Daulne -- are real winners. The magical glue of Anania Ngoriga's kalimba holds together some of the less charismatic songs. While not as emotionally engaging as KKV's earlier Lullabies from the Axis of Evil, Women CARE is good music for a good cause.

©2005 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media


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