31 October 2005

Monday's mp3: Tromboney Throat-singing Blues

If you've been following along at home, you'll know I've had throat-singing on my mind of late with the passing of Paul Pena and the recent tour of Tyva Kyzy. Now comes a very different take on a throat-singing collaboration. Jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd, who in 2003 explored West African sounds with Toumani Diabate on the CD Malicool, has turned his attentions to the Mongolian Steppe.

A chance meeting in 2002 led to improvisational sessions betwee Rudd and two singers, Odsuren and Battuvshin Baldantseren. The liner notes of Blue Mongol point out that "the trombone derives from the same acoustical principles [as overtone singing]." So they explored the sounds, and in fall 2004 finished recording this album. Just released by Soundscape Records, its 13 tracks range from odd fusions like "Buryat Boogie" to the "American Round" of traditional US songs, to traditional songs Mongolian songs. Rudd's trombone may sound a little out of place at first, but the more you listen, the more it makes sense. Here's a fascinating, stripped down track of (apparently) improvisation between Baldantseren and Rudd - a direct conversation between trombone and throat.

Roswell Rudd & the Mongolian Buryat Band: "Four Mountains"

From the CD Blue Mongol
Buy the CD | Hear audio samples

30 October 2005

Gaming for Allah, or, Putting the Fun in Fundamentalism

A column in the October Harper's Magazine mentions a fascinating but not surprising development in the world of computer gaming. The Iqra Learning Center in Leeds, England is distributing games with Muslim themes. In one, an evil wizard named Darlak the Deceiver imprisoned Islamic teachers and hid the Koran - the player must rescue the prisoners and "reestablish the true worship of Allah on Earth." Another game, set in the year 2114, sees the planet united under the Banner of Islam. Alas, the happy Muslim Earth is attacked by the Flying Evil Robot Armada directed by Abu Lahab XVIII, the only surviving disbeliever. In a third game, set in 2214, Musaylema II (an apprentice of Abu Lahab XVIII, incidentally)
has managed to develop a robot base on Earth and to capture the 'Crown of the Believers,' the Muslims' prized turban, which can protect its wearer from harm. The Robot Army functions because of hidden generators. Your new job is to seek out these generators and destroy them.
Are these games innocent escapism, or a dangerous suggestion of a war between civilizations? Ah, people - they're just games. And at least they don't pit Muslim believers against frothing masses of unbelieving humans. (Though the heat about these games may have had some fallout - the game developer's site - http://islamgames.com - seems to be offline.)

The real tragedy is the subtext that the world is black and white, that concept common to all fundamentalists (Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, etc.) that "if everyone else believed what I believe, the world would be at peace." It's simple, it's clear. And it's demonstrably wrong. The divine speaks to people in different ways, even people raised in the same culture and circumstances. Religions fragment, come together, fragment again. Fundamentalists don't seem to recognize this reality in their one-size-fits-all theology.

Fortunately, the human spirit (or divine spark, or soul, or whatever you want to call it) reflects the divine/infinite/God/Allah/Jahweh, and thus contains infinite patience, creativity, joy, love, truth, and life. These will outlast any fundamentalism, even if some may find short-term enjoyment in blasting blasphemous robots.

28 October 2005

The Man Who Discovered World Music

In an article published today, the Mercury News takes a big leap, calling Yusef Latif "the man who discovered world music." This seems to be a generous extrapolation of the comments of percussionist Adam Rudolph:
Yusef is so important in what people now call world music. In the 1950s, he felt that, if he was going to have a long journey, he wanted to know as much as he could about all phenomena. He set a tone for a lot of what happened in Detroit, showing by example that being a student of music is an important part of being a jazz musician. He'll say to me, 'Brother Adam, we're just evolutionists.' Some musicians find a language and direction, and it serves them throughout their life. It's not to say one is better than an other. It's just a different inclination.'
Detroit? Jazz? Where's the "world" in this music? I won't dispute that Latif had an influence "on what people now call world music," but what does it mean to "discover" it? If you mean someone who recorded and brought the ethnic musics of the world to Western attention, one thinks of Alan Lomax, or Hugh Tracy. If you mean Western musicians/collaborators who brought (and continue to bring) popular attention to ethnic music forms, perhaps Bob Brozman, Mickey Hart, David Byrne, or Paul Simon.

My point? The musics of the world have always existed, and have always been known to some. Other people have created, recorded, collaborated on, publicized, exploited and profited from world music projects. It's all just too big to be personified in one man, and the newspaper's headline writer should know this. Call Latif a pioneer, if you wish. The "discovery" of world music is ongoing, and the work of many.

27 October 2005

Blown Away by Orange Winds (CD review)

Orange Winds: Dahab Walk
(bibiafrica) | artist site

Nuremberg. Just the word, and you're already thinking of the war crimes trials, aren't you. Well, get over it. There's more to this Bavarian city than the ghosts of Nazis. Lots more. And while it may not be the hottest thing since a little publication by Copernicus in 1543, Orange Winds' new CD Dahab Walk has a lot going for it. The trio (Andrea Goettert and Achim Goettert on horns, Charles Blackledge on percussion) makes a loud, joyous noise, one that will appeal to fans of jazz and world music.

A theme of winds blows them from Africa to the Caribbean to Mexico to Asia. All the way the reeds and flutes (including some guest fluting by Dieter Weberpals) create catchy melodies that dance lightly over Blackledge's deft world percussion. This stripped-down world jazz will make your ears smile. (If you like your music bigger, louder, and with vocals, the Orange Winds trio also plays in the German ska band Papa SKAliente, which has just released an album called Skajazz.)

This track from Dahab Walk shows the band in Latin mode, crisp and tight and urging you to dance.

Orange Winds: "Porque No Unimos / Mexican Winds"

26 October 2005

The Sahel Opera: Africans Sing for Themselves

Comoros Beach: flying merchant  25.289.03 Well, unless you're in Berkeley today, your chances of seeing the marvelous Comoros singer/songwriter Nawal this year just ran out. Her 20-show US tour concludes at Ashkenaz tonight. She swung through Olympia Monday, and her show at Traditions Cafe was well-attended and wonderfully uplifting. From her opening vocal solo, it was clear that Nawal's roots lie in Muslim Africa. Her trio, with brother Idriss Mlanao on bass and Melissa Cara Rigoli on mbira and percussion, fed off the audience's energy and produced an evening of sparse but rich music, often with a spiritual, trance-like vibe. You don't often get that much spirit on a Monday night, and it's got to be culturally healing to have Americans chanting in Arabic about peace.

After the show, I talked with Nawal and found out about a fascinating project she's involved in. Along with Góo Ba (Senegal), Zé Manel (Guinea Bissau), and Tunde Jegede (Nigeria), she's writing something called the Sahel Opera. Yep, that kind of opera. Of course, along with the operatic singing, you can expect some heavy African content (the music director is Wasis Diop!). The opera's website says it "scrutinizes the relation between Europe and Africa in a critical and humorous way."

The Sahel region is generally taken to include the lands between the Sahara to the north and the savannas to the south. Which means that small islands near Madagascar aren't traditionally included. But Nawal was pursuasive in her argument for inclusion, the Comoros being similarly Muslim and French-speaking. So the islander was accepted.

If you're from the Sahel, take note that auditions for the Sahel Opera are in April and May 2006, and the opera will premier in Bamako in November 2006 before embarking on a tour of the Sahel countries and beyond. I'll share more details when available, or check the opera's website.

24 October 2005

Monday's mp3: Delicious Mauritius

I always chuckle when I hear someone say "I love African music."

Because there's no such thing.

Don't get me wrong. Africa is the source of much of the worlds music, providing the rhythmic foundations for jazz, R&B, rap, hip-hop, folk, and many other offshoots. Africa is a huge and diverse continent, bubbling with rhythm and melody.

It's just that there's no such thing as "African music." There's music from Africa, and it runs the gamut from sublime to insipid, from modern to traditional, and it spans every musical genre. Don't tell me you love "African music," tell me you love solo kora from the Jali tradition, or you love the sophistocated Afro-jazz of Cameroon, or you love soukous dance tunes from Congo, or kwaito from South Africa.

African musical diversity came to mind this week as I assembled music for a show on African islands.

Two islands dominate the offshore African music scene: Cape Verde (Cabo Verde) off the west coast, and Madagascar off the southeast coast. But many other islands surround the continent, inlcuding the Seychelles, Zanzibar, Comoros, Reunion, Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe. The Oct. 21 Spin the Globe (you can hear it for the next 7 days here) highlighted music from these places, and also included an interview with Nawal of the Comoros Islands, who performs tonight at Traditions Fair Trade Cafe in Olympia (her only Western Washington appearance!).

This song is from the island of Mauritius (just pass Madagascar and keep going...). It appears on The Rough Guide to the Music of the Indian Ocean.

Kaya: "Sense"

23 October 2005

"I've never met a Jewish person before."

Multicultural Week at York LanesImage via WikipediaThat quote should be plenty of motivation for more multicultural and interfaith activities. The words are from a 16-year-old Kuwaiti exchange student at a Ramadan dinner for both Muslim and Jewish youth. For the full story, read the Seattle Times article.
"We are all just people," said Majd Bani-Odeh, a 16-year-old exchange student who grew up in the West Bank.
This same student says she comes from an open-minded family, one whose members never judge a person before meeting them. What a gem of wisdom from a 16-year-old. Some people go a lifetime without learning this, isolating themselves from people they perceive as "other" based on second-hand information. Some learn this along the way, often only after they are forced into a situation that illustrates the similarity of seemingly "different" people.

I've been fortunate to be involved in multicultural and interfaith activities for many years now. And I'm still learning. I'm learning not to pre-judge people. I'm learning that I'm like many people who appear very different from me, and I'm unlike many people who look like me. I'm learning that religions/ethnic groups/races include people ranging from wild radicals to entrenched fundamentalists. And my world is richer for this perspective.

Question stereotypes voiced by your family and friends. Question yourself. Like the students in the article, arrange an event bringing together disparate groups. If not ethnic or religious groups, hold a dinner for Republicans and Democrats and Greens. Don't debate; listen to each others' stories. Get to know people as people, not as representatives of a country or culture or religion or political party. Do it for yourself, or for them, or for the sake of planting a seed for peace and civil society. If you want to go deeper, check out the programs at the Study Circles Resource Center.

Just take a step. And then you can write your own story: "I'd never met a [fill in the blank] before..."

21 October 2005

Ethiopia-Boston Big Band Jazz (CD review)

EITHER/ORCHESTRA: ETHIOPIQUES 20-LIVE IN ADDIS (Buda Musique)
band site : buy CD/hear samples

The Either/Orchestra is a ten-piece jazz ensemble based in Cambridge Massachusetts. The Ethiopiques series of recordings is known for re-releasing music from Ethiopia's "golden years" in the early 1970s. What strange events conspired to bring them together?

Let's just say that a chance 1994 encounter between E/O bandleader Russ Gershon and a CD called Ethiopian Groove: The Golden 70s led to E/O's reinterpretation of some Ethiopian classics. And a chance encounter between this music and the ears of Buda Musique's Francis Falceto let to an invitation for E/O to perform at the 2004 Ethiopian Music Festival. And that's where this live 2-CD set originated. That's the story, though the liner notes provide far richer detail.

But I know you're now wondering if this sounds like jazz or like world music, right? Well, yes. And the tilt of that "yes" depends on where you're listening from. Fans of Ethiopian music will hear familiar rhythms and melodies, such as the unmistakable Arabic tinge of "Muziqawi Silt" (which has, in the hands of the Daktaris and Antibalas become an Afrobeat anthem). Less Ethiopized ears may simply hear an adventurous jazz big band experimenting with unusual rhythms and exotic melodic lines. This illusion holds up through most of the first CD, but is shattered on the last track, "Soul Tezeta," when the Motown ballad feeling gets a rich dose of vocals by Michael Belayneh. Also graced with Ethiopian voices are the shuffling "Antchim Endelela" featuring Bahta Gebre-Heywet, and the sublimely torchy "Shellela" sung by Tsedenia Gebre-Marqos. While the Ethiopiques series has provided some great blasts from the past, this latest release proves that Ethiopia's unique and compelling music lives on today. Highly recommended.

20 October 2005

Bob's Volcano Stringbands (CD Review)

PAPUA NEW GUINEA STRINGBANDS WITH BOB BROZMAN: SONGS OF THE VOLCANO (Riverboat)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples


To fully appreciate Bob Brozman's latest musical journey, you need to start without him. Start by getting the Smithsonian Folkways 3-CD anthology Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea. Pull out the disc called Guitar Bands of the 1990s. Listen to the raw guitar and voice music, the result of missionaries' introduction of guitars, ukuleles, and Western harmonies into the area starting in the 1970s.

 Whether a result of time or Brozman's influence, the arrangements on Songs of the Volcano are more polished, though still earthy, his addition of slide guitar giving the impression of some long-lost Polynesian tribe. I was sorry to note that there's no overlap in bands between the two albums - a direct comparison would have been very enlightening. Volcano is certainly more accessible and more melodic, while retaining some of the late-night-campsong quality of the group vocals. This album is fascinating, and Brozman deserves kudos for his efforts to preserve and strengthen PNG's musical traditions. But even with the included DVD, Volcano doesn't erupt with as much appeal as his past collaborations with single master musicians Debashish Bhattacharya,  Rene Lacaille, and Takashi Hirayasu.

19 October 2005

Amadou & Mariam's African Blues (CD review)

AMADOU & MARIAM: THE BEST OF AMADOU ET MARIAM-JE PENSE A TOI (Circular Moves)
artist site : buy CD/hear samples

Who are Amadou and Mariam thinking of? Each other, obviously, as they've taken their improbable musical love story from a shaky, disapproved start at the Mali Institute for the Young and Blind to international stardom. Also of fellow Africans, for whom their songs have encouraging social messages. Perhaps even of Western fans, whose purchases of their African blues music have propelled them into the world music spotlight.

In musical logic, this album belongs after their first three releases (Sou Ni Tile, Tje Ni Mousso, and Wati) but before this year's Manu-Chao-ified Dimanche a Bamako. Je Pense a Toi contains original versions of songs from the first three CDs, pumped up with horns, organ, and more. Musically, A&M deliver straight-up blues, particularly on the driving "Chantez-Chantez." But the addition of bass and organ can't erase the influences of Mali's sparse desert landscape (think Tinariwen) on tracks like "Toubala Kono." Don't look to Amadou & Mariam for traditional African instruments (though there's a little djembe here and there); do come for some of the best of African blues. You'll find it.

17 October 2005

Monday's mp3: Nawal - Voice of the Comoros

I'm still a little giddy from the powerful voices of five modest Tuvan ladies, the group known as Tyva Kyzy (translated, the Daughters of Tuva). Performing at the so-new-it's-not-quite-finished Arts Center at South Puget Sound Community College Saturday night, they wowed the audience with the rich stringed music, lovely harmonies, and of course the exotic sounds of overtone singing. They're the first women-only Tuvan throat-singing group, and are now headed to Oregon and California. View tour schedule. I was fortunate enough to meet the artists away from the show, and though a little weary from their tour, they were open, funny, warm, and generally delightful. I also discovered I have a Tuvan plant growing in my yard (known to me as Sea Buckthorn).

Now, with hardly time to catch my breath, I'm eagerly anticipating the Olympia appearance by Nawal. Originally from the Indian Ocean islands of Comoros off the coast of Africa, Nawal blends the music from her roots and her travels. It's a mix that's as hard to describe as the musics of Madagascar; there's just something about those African islands that produces beautiful, unique blends of musical influences. Hear it for yourself at Traditions Fair Trade Cafe in Olympia at 8pm Monday October. 24.

Monday's mp3: Nawal: "Naritsangagnihe"

Visit Nawal's website | Buy her CD Kweli

13 October 2005

Abouna: Chad on Screen, with Great Music

I love good movies, ones that leave you with both questions and a sense of satisfaction. And of course if the film also has a great world music soundtrack, I'll climb up on the rooftop and shout for joy.

Abouna (Our Father) is one such film. Its understated plot about two boys seeking their disappeared father takes place in a world saturated with color and rich with humanity. One of very few films to be made in Chad, Abouna manages a balance between pain and beauty, with plenty of descriptive silence. The soundtrack by Ali Farka Toure echoes the sparse landscape. (I haven't found the soundtrack itself anywhere; I'd welcome information about whether and where it's available.)

In an engaging interview included on the DVD, director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun says that the characters' pain "is so powerful because there is something beautiful in it." He also notes that there are no professional actors in Chad, and almost no infrastructure, so the film was made with inexperienced - but very sincere - actors.

Read an interview with director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun at Filmmaker Magazine.

Haroun is next working on a film about Orchestra Baobab. Can't wait to see it.

12 October 2005

Scratchy New Taiko

The On Ensemble wants to expand your concept of taiko. Among other things. It's not just a bunch of semi-naked men pounding on big drums, but a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional Japanese percussion music.

The LA-based On Ensemble (pronounce that "ohn") is four young musicians who take a musically and legally innovative approach to their craft. Musically, they incorporate such diverse elements as throat-singing, guitar, koto, found sounds, and turntablism. Legally, they license their music under the Creative Commons license, allowing free non-commercial sharing of their songs. In that spirit, here's one song from their newly released debut CD, Dust and Sand. The track includes a conversation between the drums and turntables - listen closely to this 21st Century taiko.

[mp3] On Ensemble: "Zeecha"

Buy the CD | On Ensemble website (contains a more free taiko downloads!)

10 October 2005

Celebrating Paul Pena

Paul PenaCover of Paul PenaI am saddened by not shocked to learn of the passing of Paul Pena. If his name doesn't ring a bell, perhaps you've not seen the wonderful movie Genghis Blues, an account of his discovery of Tuvan throat singing and his journey to Tuva, on which he meets Tuvan living legend Kongar-ol Ondar (who gave Pena the nickname "Earthquake") and enters a throat-singing competition. Ondar and Pena bond like long-separated brothers, blending their music and touring the countryside. Pena combined his blues background with his amazing self-taught throat-singing, which is also available on the CD version of Genghis Blues. Pena, who had been ill for some time, passed on October 1 at his home in San Francisco. This song from the soundtrack to Genghis Blues highlights the kargyrra form of throat singing, a low growling sound. (You can watch a short throat-singing demonstration here.)

Paul Pena & Kongar-ol Ondar: "Kargyraa Moan"

You can buy Genghis Blues on CD here, or as mp3s here

08 October 2005

World Music Top 10 - October

Spin The Globe / SoundRoots World Music Top 10
October 2005
1. Balkan Beat Box: Balkan Beat Box
2. Kronos Quartet & Asha Bhosle:
You've Stolen My Heart
3. Thione Seck: Orientation
4. Yerba Buena: Island Life
5. Freshlyground
: Nomvula
6. Bantu feat. Ayuba: Fuji Satisfaction
7. Anoushka Shankar: Rise
8. Daby Balde: Introducing Daby Balde
9. Various Artists: Women Care
10. Toumani Diabate & Ali Farka Toure: In the Heart of the Moon

07 October 2005

SoundRoots on the Fly

Just a quick note that SoundRoots is one of the featured "traditional and world music" world music blogs in an article by Richard "Tikun Olam" Silverstein on Fly Global Music Culture. Read it.

(Pssst: We like to think of ourselves as enthusiastic promoters of wonderful music, not pirates. Though I do look dashing in a sash and black boots.)

06 October 2005

Salsa Worldwide

Salsa is universal. I know why I love the infectuous blast of horns, the incessant rhythms of good salsa. But to understand why Afghanis love it, you might want to talk to Scott Baldauf, or read his article on salsa in Afghanistan in the Christian Science Monitor.
The music was a revelation. After Sept. 11, and the media barrage proclaiming a "clash of civilizations" between the West and the Arabic world, here was evidence of something quite the opposite. Instead of a clash, this was a blend, and a gorgeous one at that.
It was a reminder that there were other voices in the Arab world than Osama bin Laden, and good voices at that. "Amr Diab," the taxi driver announced proudly. "He is Ricky Martin of the Arab people."
I don't know that anyone in Dakar is claiming to be the Senegalese Ricky Martin, but Africa's got more salsa bands than you can shake a calabash at (African Salsa on the Earthworks label is just one compilation). So does Japan (led by Orquestra Del Sol).

Tomas ThordarsonCover of Tomas ThordarsonToday, we head to an even more improbably hotbed of salsa. Yes, my friends, Denmark. And even the little mermaid shouts "Azucar!" when Tomas Thordarson takes the stage. In this song, Tomas apparently has the blues, though you'd never know it from the music. He sings: "I’m sitting here alone, drinking red wine from yesterday / With just a poor memory of the best years / And that’s what I can’t understand."

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Tomas Thordarson, the Ricky Martin of Denmark.

Tomas Thordarson: "Hvis du vil ha mig"

03 October 2005

Monday's Mp3: Echoes of Africa

I've been researching an upcoming show on "world music oldies" today, and want to share this one with you. When you think of the centuries of music that have resounded across Africa, it's a bit absurd to think of songs recorded in the 1930s and 1940s as "oldies." Yet it wasn't until after the introduction of the gramophone into Africa that Africans began to record their own music. The CD Echoes of Africa: Early Recordings (Wergo, 2002) captures 24 of these rare recordings, and is the source of today's mp3. This song was recorded 7 April 1930 in Dar-es-Salaam, performed by men from the lower ranks of the 6th Regiment of the King's African Rifles (aka Askari Wa K.A.R. Ya Sita).

The sound is raw and compressed - not likely to be on anyone's list of great African dance tracks. But it's a crucial bit of history, and fascinating in its own way.

Monday's mp3: Askari Wa K.A.R. Ya Sita - "Kofia Nyekundu"

Buy the CD

01 October 2005

But... We'd Never Attack a GOOD Mosque!

It must be difficult being a giant multinational corporation with billions in sales. Just imagine the logistical and communication issues involved in making those vast piles of money. Still, it's hard to imagine how this magazine advertisement managed to slip through the layers of management at Boeing and get published in both the National Journal and the Armed Forces Journal. The ad depicts an Osprey aircraft depositing U.S. Special Forces onto the roof of a mosque.

There are more than 6 milllion Muslims in the US - did Boeing imagine that none of them would see it, or perhaps that none of them would be offended? Close your eyes for a moment and picture the reaction if the troops were dropping onto a Jewish temple, or the Vatican, or the Taj Mahal. Boeing has already apologized, and will undoubtedly reinvigorate their cultural sensitivity training. But that won't erase this indelible confirmation that profit trumps culture (and plain old good taste) in some corporate circles.