18 November 2005

World Music CD Reviews: New Releases

Maybe it's the rush to beat the holiday season - here in the US, Thanksgiving is next week, and that means that the Christmas consumer surge is just around the corner. Whatever the reason, new music has been piling up here at earball HQ, and here's a quick summary of some I listened to today:

Melodic, engaging, and jazzy, Testa's second CD extra-muros was previously available only as a rare and expensive import. Imagine Bob Dylan doing Italian jazz, with material based on his job as part-time station master at a train station (Testa's real-life job!). If you speak Italian, you'll have the pleasure of delighting in his gifted wordplay; the rest of us will simply enjoy the sound of well-crafted songs, melodic and sublime, sharing universal truths and sorrows.

MICHAEL JOSEPH: O-GLEPI (self-released)
There's something charming about the music of guitarist/songwriter Michael Joseph Ulery. His promotional material emphasizes his mixed heritage, not just his Native American roots, and his mixed musical background (rock/punk/jazz/blues/classical/bluegrass). And his acoustic music reflects the mind of someone being who he is, not some marketing ideal. O-Glepi begins with folky acoustic guitar chords under a Native flute melody called "Ancestors Song." Then a hit of acoustic blues guitar with flute on "Gourdhead." The flutes of Amon Olorin mesh well with the guitar, and are featured on two solo tracks. Michael Joseph shows off his own licks on the multitracked "Red on White (Blood on Snow)." He's clear about his music, saying "It is not meant to represent any one particular culture...like the artist...it is a product of various musical and cultural influences." Humble and refreshing, O-Glepi is a sweet taste of contemporary acoustic music with Native (and other) roots.

AMIRA SAQATI: DESTINATION HALAL (Barraka El Farnatshi/Barbarity)
Halal, if you were wondering, is the Muslim equivalent of kosher. Working under the name Amira Saqati (Moroccan term for "a piece of something"), Youssef El Mejaad and Pat Jabbar provide fresh direction for contemporary Arabic music. Destination Halal was recorded during Ramadan 2004, and has a rootsy sound, largely because of the use of traditional instruments including oud, gembri, violin, and darbuka. And then there's the rapping (as on "Madinti" and "Felestin"), and the techno beats ("Marrakesh X-Press," "Psy Habibi," and "Hel Aeynik"). Some songs may be over-produced for world music fans, but the more-acoustic songs including "Sabra Dimi," "Oumayma," and "Galbi Tabe" are well crafted, crisply recorded, and worth the price of admission. If only they'd included notes on the songs' meanings!

With a start of Afro-Cuban rhythm and soaring sax on the title track, you might expect this to be the work of some high-energy Latin group. But a spoken intro to the second track, "Anything is Possible," reveals the truth. Oye-oba plays "underground African spiritual music," and his roots are Afro, not Latin. Hailing from Nigeria, Oye-oba boasts work with King Sunny Ade, Babatunde Olatunje, Fela Kuti, Tony Allen, and Manu Dibango. Of these, Adura Power is most like the Soul Makossa sound of Manu Dibango, driving rhythms woven with sharp horns and half-spoken, half-sung vocals into a tight, danceable Afropop (and without Dibango's sometimes-cheezy synth). A little soukous here, a little Afrobeat there, slow for the love song "Ife (My Lover)" then upbeat with screeching guitar solo for "E-Mura (Let's Build A Positive Nation)." This solid, very satisfying album ends with shades of Fuji on "Ajo (Journey)," a pleasing blend of drums and vocal harmonies.

Mighty Sparrow is calypso royalty - if you had any question about that, just check out the size of his crown! Born Slinger Francisco, the prolific calypsonian has a body of work that goes back to the mid 1950s. This collection includes early work with biting political and social commentaries, as on the track "Mad Bomber," an eerily relevant 1958 song about a man who planted bombs around New York City. While there's some overlap with Smithsonian Folkways' 2000 release Calypso Awakening, First Flight is still a great CD for any calypso fan.

The worst aspect of this album is the cardboard case. It's innovative, and I applaud the lack of plastic. But instead of a booklet, one finds no fewer than 14 tiny sheets of paper - including one for the lyrics of each of the 11 tracks. Artistic, yes. But how many of these pieces will still be with the CD in a year? Fortunately, when you pop in the CD, the brilliant music will banish such complaints from your mind. I don't really know what to call this music - it's got a touch of Manu Chao anarchy, a little Radio Tarifa multiculturalism, and tons of hard work and imagination. Parra has recorded songs on all four of Spain's official languages (Castilian, Catalan, Galacian, and Basque) and explored musical traditions from all over the Iberian peninsula, seeking lost or endangered sounds. From the rapping speed-talk on the baile-juego (dance game) "Galandun" to the bagpipe-led sheep-shearing song "De Esquileo," Parro has created a work of wonder that should send many digging deeper into the musical offerings of Iberia.

Yiddish, Gypsy, and other Eastern European musics, including a "communist hymn" from this five-member multicultural group (hailing from Bulgaria, Spain, Ireland, and the UK). Lots of strings and crazy rhythms in the 13 delightful instrumental songs.

Prior to the 1979 revolution, Iranians were not listening to Persian hip-hop, but rather traditional tunes and love songs. Preserving a slice of this pre-revolutionary history is Monika Jalili. Her self-released album NoorSaaz (a combination of the Farsi words for "light" and "creator" or "musical instrument") includes ten songs (totaling just over 40 minutes) of music. She calls it world fusion, but the music sounds fairly traditional to inexpert ears, incorporating her strong, crisp, almost operatic voice with violin, oud, guitar, and percussion. No song lyrics are included, although the song titles are translated, giving some idea of the meaning. And on at least one track ("Soltan-E Ghalbha/Ruler of Hearts)" she sings one verse in English. A fine Persian diversion.

'Nuf for now. I've got a few old gems lined up to share as mp3s, so check back in the next few days. And remember, when dj earball sees more comments here, he is encouraged to do more posting!

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