31 March 2006

World Music - New Release Roundup

So much music, so little time. I may get to longer reviews of some of these new releases in coming days, but for today here's the quick and dirty on some notable albums.

Salif Keita: M'Bemba (Universal) - Buy CD
The new album from "the golden voice of Africa" doesn't hit stores until June 20th, but a sneak preview shows Keita in fine form. The acoustic magic follows the pattern of his previous album Moffou. With a range and style not entirely unlike Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Keita has a voice that, the Washington Post gushed, "other mortals can only aspire to." Look for a US tour in summer 2006.

Gotan Project: Lunatico (XL Recordings) - Buy CD
The tangotronica pioneers return with an album more "classically tango-oriented," to use their phrase. Still highly engaging for fans of a modern global mix, and less of a stretch for world music purists, Lunatico is sure to wind Gotan new fans following its April 11 release date.

Richard Bona: Tiki (Decca) - Buy CD
The bassist from Cameroon provides more catchy melodies on his latest dispatch of soft African jazz. Looking forward to digging more deeply into this album, which hits stores May 9.

Various Artists: From Bakabush (Stonetree) - Buy CD
For 10 years, Stonetree Records has focused on the music of the Garifuna people of Central America's Atlantic coast. This celebration of that decade includes young and old Garifuna artists, and with its beautiful and informative packaging is a wonderful introduction to the music.

Yeshe: World CitiZen (Dog My Cat) - Buy CD
Yeshe's half-whispered vocals and liquid mbira dzavadzimu create an intimacy that makes you want to lean into the music. Combining his own Australian roots (Ganga Gigi contributes yidaki/didg to three tracks) with with the Zimbabwean roots of his primary instrument, Yeshe has uncovered the traditional music of a land that exists only in his mind. And I want badly to vacation there. Includes a cover of Marley's "No Woman No Cry." and eight other compelling tunes.

Eyal Maoz: Edom (Tzadik) - Buy CD
Guitarist/composer Eyal Maoz brings in John Medeski on Hammond B3. Together with bass and drums, they take you along on an exploration of new experimental Jewish jazz territory.

Turlu Tursu: Accordion 'n Drum 'n Bass (Home Records) - Buy CD
The album title gives you a sense of the instrumentation; what's surprising is the fresh ways in which the players come together on songs from India, Eastern Europe, Turkey, and beyond.

Corou De Berra: Maschi Femmine & Cantanti (Fanzines) - Buy CD
Gorgeous harmonies are the hallmark of this 6-voice traditional vocal ensemble from the Mediterranean Alps.
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30 March 2006

Jill Is Free!

Our hearts are singing this morning, for one woman in a land we've never visited has been freed from captivity. Jill Carroll was released this morning, and despite the ongoing death and devastation in Iraq, this gives us some reason for hope.

Since we're feeling celebratory, here's some appropriate music. Abdelkader Saadoun is a UK-based Algerian musician whose album "Freedom" was a runner-up on Spin the Globe's list of Best World Music Albums of 2004.

[mp3] Abdelkader Saadoun: "Freedom"
artist's website
The BBC has a nice page on Saadoun, if you're interested in finding out more.

29 March 2006

Reading Into Cultures

I was browsing around at the website of one of the world's great bookstores, Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, the other day. As I browsed the virtual stacks, I felt that familiar bookstore feeling of simultaneous joy and despair. Joy at the rich offerings, the promise of knowledge and wonder that awaited in all of these marvelous works. And despair that I will never be able to read all that I want to, that I will never know all the delightful details of humanity. There are just too many stories, genres of music, fables, religions, dances, histories, and poems.

Ah, but what I can do -- and have done! -- is create a little bookshelf of interesting titles that may intrigue SoundRoots readers, as they've intrigued me. Some I have read, like the marvelously fresh African children's stories of Nancy Farmer and some of the books on world music. Others remain on my to-read list, like the ones about mariachis, and Muslim women, and the history of yodeling. If you're interested in cultural knowledge, check out the SoundRoots bookshelf.

Of course, I'd love to hear what you're reading and what you recommend. While SoundRoots tends to concentrate more on music, we're just as fond of a good read. In fact, books on my desk but not on the above list include "Global Beat Fusion" by Derek Beres, "For God and Country" by James Yee, "Many People, Many Faiths" by Ellwood and McGraw, and "Planet Musician" by Julie Lyonn Lieberman.

And now I'm starting to get that conflicted feeling again...

I can't help but add a footnote with some web references. If you're interested in yodeling, check out yodelcourse.com's online tutorial, complete with sound files. Or this Crash Course in Yodeling.

And here, for your listening pleasure, is some live yodeling. Feel free to yodel along.
[mp3] Group Yodel

27 March 2006

Monday's mp3: Justice Is Only a Wimoweh

A long saga of cultural expropriation and copyright confusion is finally resolved. And the family of the man who wrote one of the best known African melodies will finally receive compensation.

The story is everywhere this week (even the New York Times got into the act), but it's too late for Solomon Linda. Born in 1909, Linda recorded the song "Mbube" (also know as "Wimoweh" or "The Lion Sleeps Tonight") in 1939.

The song has been recorded at least 150 times, and featured in at least 13 movies. But Linda had signed over the copyright to the song in 1952, receiving received 10 shillings — worth less than a dollar. Linda died in 1962 virtually broke. A paltry stream of royalties trickled to Linda's family, but the new agreement should, the family's lawyers say, keep them "quite comfortable."

More history of the song here, including how Alan Lomax and Pete Seeger got involved with it.

Today's mp3 features a version of the song about as far as imaginable from the original. The singer is Yma Sumac, the five-octave queen of exotica.

[mp3] Yma Sumac: "Wimoweh"
from The Ultimate Yma Sumac Collection

24 March 2006

Remembering Cuba's Pio Leiva

Pio Leiva, the oldest surviving member of the Buena Vista Social Club, died in Havana yesterday at the age of 88. Known by the nickname “Montunero of Cuba” for his performances of traditional Cuban “son montunos,” Wilfredo “Pio” Leiva is also famous for composing the song “Francisco Guayabal,” which became a big hit for singer Beny More.

The Cuban singer was one of the prominent members of the Buena Vista Social Club, which was immortalised in the 1999 film by Wim Wenders in 1999. Several of the group's members have passed away in recent years, including singer Campay Segundo and Ibrahim Ferrer, and pianist Ruben Gonzales.

Leiva began his career as a bongo player in the Siboney orchestra and, after singing in trios and other ensembles, made his professional debut in 1932 as a singer with Juanito Blez’s group, Caribe. Last year, Leiva contributed to the recording of the tribute album to Spanish singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat – titled Cuba le canta a Serrat (Cuba Sings to Serrat) – with his interpretation of the song “Me gusta todo de ti” (I Like Everything About You).

Leiva released his last recording album, La Salud de Pio Leiva in May, 2005. He also released a live album/DVD in January of a concert he performed in Amsterdam (Pio Leiva y los Mentirosos - Live in Amsterdam) at the age of 87.

23 March 2006

Joshua Lebofsky's Sacred Soul (CD Review)

Joshua Lebofsky: Play a Little Prayer

Canadian singer/pianist Joshua Lebofsky apparently gets around. His first email arrived from Dubai. Then his album arrived, packing inspiration, he says, from "prayers both sacred and secular" from sources including West African, Native American, and Judeo-Christian traditions. It's a lot he has bitten off, but not too much to chew.

The opener, "Cecil's Psalm," give credit to Cameroon, and serves as a jazzy invocation: "Oh Lord, open up my lips / I'll sing thy praise." More obviously African is "The Briss" from Ivory Coast, with insistent djembes, vocal harmonies, and a sizzling trombone solo sneaking into the mix. The first real taste of Lebofsky's voice comes on his bold reinterpretation of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," which takes on a sparse soulfulness well suited to his gravely-but-crisp tones. Lots of other flavors too, from the jazz-funk of "Demon Dance" to the slow "Nearer My God to Thee," on which Lebofsky shows off the more flexible gospel side of his voice. "Funeral Song" claims Native American roots, but sounds rather more like not-so-mournful jazz.

If you think sacred equals stuffy (or preachy), Lebofsky's ability to transform sacred songs may give you second thoughts. Or no thoughts at all, if you just sit back and soak in the inspiration.

artist site : buy CD/hear samples : hear full-length songs

22 March 2006

Social Change Thru Global Hip-Hop

Last weekend, dj earball had occasion to attend the CD release party for the new album by Olympia-based Afro-Cuban ensemble Obrador. Well, we think of them as Afro-Cuban because of their longstanding relationship with both Afro-Cuban rhythms and the Guillermo Tomas School in Guanabacoa, Cuba. The school has been the recipient of many donated musical instruments brought by Obrador.

The new album, Para Los Ninos, shows this well-established group in collaboration with a different style of music: Brazilian rap. Ota, Killer, Grilo, and Berruga are the members of Fato Criminal, a group from the Guainazes neighborhood of Sao Paulo, where they have been working to promote social change through hip-hop. Fato Criminal came to the US in 2004, and this album is a live recording of their concert with Obrador at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, WA (with added backup vocals by Dennis Hastings and LaVon Hardison).

Four of the eight songs on Para Los Ninos include rapping by Fato Criminal set to Obrador's polyrhythms and punctuated by their horn section. Lyrics span four languages (Portuguese, Spanish, French Creole and English) and styles range from Cuban to hip-hop to jazz to funk. This song (from the band's website) appears on the new album, but this mp3 is a version recorded live in Havana.

[mp3] Obrador: "Nasty Figures (Live in Havana)"

Check out www.obrador.org for more information on the band (which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year!), including audio and video samples and information on the nonprofits they support. You can buy the album directly from the band, and proceeds from album sales benefit the Guanabacoa Project and the Hip Hop Youth Center in Sao Paulo.

For more on Fato Criminal, check out this podcast of People's Tribune Radio, an episode entitled "Change Society Thru Hip-Hop I."

20 March 2006

Monday's mp3: Springtime Cha Cha

Brazil and Scotland don't share much common culture, much less a common climate. But that doesn't stop Scottish band Mac Umba from making a joyful noise by joining the musics of the two lands.

Highland pipes with cuica? Timbales with Celtic whistles? It's so crazy, it just might work. The eight-member band (three pipers, five percussionists), which started as a batucada group, added pipes to their music to appear "more traditional" when playing at a football (soccer) game. The blend stuck, and on this 1999 album, they plunge into a storm of high-energy tunes as well as ballads and even the Brazilian classic "Asa Branca."

[mp3] Mac Umba: "Springtime Cha Cha"
from the album BruHuhaho

Happy Spring! (and to my southern friends, happy Autumn!)
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17 March 2006

Happy St. Patrick's War

Er, I mean Happy St. Patrick's Day. It's just that on the third anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, I find my nation's leaders with war still on their minds, their militant talk now aimed at Iran. Perhaps they should take a moment to ponder a bumper sticker I saw today, one which summed up current US foreign policy (and its failures) in one distressingly concise sentence:

We're making enemies faster than we can kill them.

I know, I know: That doesn't help make your St. Paddy's Day any happier. Perhaps a little music will. Just posted is the archive of today's Spin the Globe, featuring Irish and Celtic music, along with new world music releases. For the next week, you can listen or download it.

And if you need a sunnier take on Iran, you could do worse than the marvelous new album The Rhythm of Speech II: Musical Conversations, which brings together a dozen musicians from Iran, India, and Mali on two CDs and a DVD. Someone needs to pop this into the Oval Office stereo system, and President Bush might find himself with a slightly more nuanced opinion of Iranians. And other foreigners.

Have a peaceful day.

Hazmat Modine: Bahamut (CD Review)

Hazmat Modine: Bahamut
(Geckophonic / Zpsygoat)

artist site : buy CD/hear samples
Bahamut: This monstrous fish comes from Muslim traditions. The legend goes that it floats in a vast sea. A giant bull rides on its back and on the bull is a ruby mountain. There is an angel on the mountain over which are six hells, then the Earth, and then seven heavens. The bahamut is so huge and dazzling that human beings cannot look upon it.

While their own description of the creature on the title track reveals different details, dazzling also seems an appropriate adjective for this wildly eclectic NYC band. At first blush, Hazmat Modine is a blues band: harmonicas, resonator/slide guitars, drums, some horns. But then there's the throat singing (courtesy of Huun Huur Tu) and Alexander Fedoriouk's cimbalom. A disorienting moment later, you settle into a mysterious undiscovered country, a crossroad where the collision of Tuvan, Roma, and Americana not only makes sense, it's inevitable. Imagine a plane carrying the Squrrel Nut Zippers and Bob Brozman crashing among a troupe of Roma encamped on the Tuvan steppe, and you'll start to get the idea. It's world music for blues/swing fans, Americana for world music junkies, and just damn good.

[mp3] Hazmat Modine with Huun Huur Tu: "It Calls Me"
Hear more full songs from Bahamut at hazmatmodine.com
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16 March 2006

Naing Naing: Toothbrush Fever (CD Review)

Not really "world music," but music very much music of the world, Toothbrush Fever is a blend of field recordings and manipulated sounds that defies description yet is strangely compelling. Is a Czech cement mixer more sonically pleasing than one from elsewhere? You may find out on "Le Coq Megalo," where it shares earspace with a "pretentious" rooster. Then there's the insectoid "Wasp Tabla," drippy "Ice Cube Music #2," and the hygienic title track "Brosse A Danse," or toothbrush dance music. Naing Naing (aka sound manipulator Francois L'Homer) really has something here. I'm just not sure what it is.

Listen to some complete songs:
[mp3] Naing Naing: "Brosse A Danse/Toothbrush Dance Music"
[mp3] Naing Naing: "Mi Ma La Bu / Generator Music"
[mp3] Naing Naing: "Greensleeves"
read complete album tracknotes

13 March 2006

Monday's mp3: Sheila Chandra's Indipop

Sheila Chandra was a true "world music" pioneer. Tomorrow is Chandra's birthday, so this we're featuring her music and a little background today.

While Chandra provided many in the West with their first taste of Indian singing (and drum vocalizations) and several songs placed on the UK charts, her trad-pop style never caught on in India. Under the heading "Strong Areas" her blog says:

Currently USA and Australia. (Consistently high placing in the Billboard World Music Chart and the CMJ chart.) Formerly Japan and Scandinavia in the 80's. Not much interest in the UK now or formerly except with singles. None at all in India.

Admittedly, Chandra was an early adaptor of "world fusion," blending traditional Indian elements with pop as would later be done by countless other groups. Today, the pop elements sound dated, and the pop-English verses lack the complexity and lyric subtlety heard in great Indian singing, which which we are much more familiar now. (By way of comparison, check out Susheela Raman's delicious new Indi-pop-fusion Music for Crocodiles.)

By the time world fusion got big, Chandra had moved on to more solo and experimental vocal work, as on her album Roots and Wings. She's maintained a low profile of late; the only recent work I'm aware of is a contribution to the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Still, her early work is worth revisiting, and not just because it's historically good for you. It's fun, too. The cover shown here is from the 1996 re-release of her first full album Out On My Own, from which this song is taken.

[mp3] Sheila Chandra: "All You Want Is More"
from the album Out On My Own
originally released in 1984 by Indipop Records
re-released in 1996 by Caroline/Indipop
re-re-released in 2000 by Narada
Sheila Chandra's website

09 March 2006

Children of the Revolution: Life, Love, (and Guantanamo Bay) - (CD Review)

Since their eponymous debut album in 1999, Seattle's Children of the Revolution have pursued their musical dreams with unflagging energy. The fruits of these labors include six albums and a reputation, honed through worldwide touring, as a great live band. Putumayo, who included a COTR track on their compilation Greece: A Musical Odyssey, says they "represent the future of popular music." Not that their recipe of a multicultural band borrowing from different ethnic traditions is entirely unique (think Pink Martini, Mynta, Balkan Beat Box, Tabla Beat Science, Lo'Jo, or Bayuba Cante, just to name a few).

But these are rare success stories amid the ruins of failed musical experiments. And you well might wonder what keeps the wheels on the cart if you look at everything it's being asked to carry: lyrics in English, Spanish, Greek, and a little French and Arabic; styles ranging from fiery Afro-Cuban to folk-pop ballads to political ska to violin/scat jazz; and along with 11 group members, guest artists including Reggie Watts, Ann Wilson, Yva Las Vegass, and Gina Sala.

So what holds it together? Eric Jaeger's guitar energy. Vassili's songwriting, singing, and strut. More than anything, a keen sense of storytelling. Hanging with COTR, you not only get great music, but also compelling tales of love ("Isla Margarita," "Liberation"), loss ("Keep Holding On," "Broken Pieces"), the ticking of time ("Depression Era Kid," "Jonathan"), living with HIV/AIDS ("Chapter One"), human rights ("Guantanamo Bay"), and life cut short ("Angeles de Bolivia"). By no stretch of imagination could this all be called "world music," yet it's deeply felt music telling powerful human stories rooted in the band's diverse experiences.

Band site | Buy CD | Hear samples

07 March 2006

Ali Farka Toure Moves On

News reports this morning bear the sad news that Malian guitar great Ali Farka Toure has died. Sometimes called the "African John Lee Hooker," Toure won a Grammy award recently for his duet album with Toumani Diabate, called In the Heart of the Moon. It was his second Grammy, following one in 1994 for Talking Timbuktu, his collaboration with Ry Cooder.

Toure died in the capitol, Bamako, but will be buried in his hometown of Niafunke. He was elected mayor of Niafunke in 2004.

Toure's record label, World Circuit, reports that he had just finished work on a new solo album. So fans will be cosoled in their grief with new music from the guitar master.

Articles on Toure: Mali Music, Wikipedia, Afropop Worldwide
Articles on Toure's passing: BBC, Reuters, CBC
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06 March 2006

Monday's mp3: Kwaito! Oscar!

I don't think of the Academy Awards as a great promoter of world music and culture. But their selection last night of the South African film Tsotsi as Best Foreign Language Film is certain to gain attention for the soundtrack, which is dominated by kwaito. Sometimes called "South African Hip Hop," kwaito (the term translates as "anger") seems to run the gamut from cheezy knockoffs of western hip hop to amazing blends of modern beats with roots drumming and choral singing. Read a good background of kwaito here.

The Tsotsi soundtrack is dominated by South African artist Zola (not to be confused with barefoot South African runner Zola Budd). I haven't yet seen the film or heard the soundtrack (which also include tracks by Vusi Mahlasela), so until I do here is a track to whet your appetite for kwaito.

[mp3] Jimmy B: "Make Me Bounce"
From Kwaito: South African Hip Hop (Stern's / Earthworks)
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05 March 2006

World Music Top 10 - March 2006

SoundRoots / Spin the Globe Top 10 Albums for March 2006

1. Djelimady Tounkara: Solon Kono
2. Madrigaia:
3. Anga:
Echu Mingua
4. Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars:
Carnival Conspiracy
5. Ugarte Anaiak:
Toumani Diabate & Ali Farka Toure: In the Heart of the Moon
7. Fantazia:
Mul Sheshe
Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Flamenco Nuevo
9. Susheela Raman:
Music for Crocodiles
10. Julia Saar & Patrice Larose:
Set Luna

[more world music charts]

And a new slew of reviews are available at Spin the Globe, some of which initially appeared here at SoundRoots. They include: Tagaq: Sinaa; Anga: Echu Mingua; Djelimady Tounkara: Solon Kono; The Yuval Ron Ensemble: Tree of Life; Hossein Alizadeh & Djivan Gasparyan: Endless Vision; Congotronics 2-Buzz 'n' Rumble from the Urb'n' Jungle; Layla Angulo: Live at the Triple Door; Madina N'Diaye: Bimogow; Susheela Raman: Music for Crocodiles; The Rough Guide to Bhangra Dance; Putumayo Presents Brazilian Lounge [read the reviews].

You can also hear the 3 March installment of Spin the Globe, featuring women in world music, as an mp3 - caution, it's 2 hours long (and about 55mb). You may wish to peruse the playlist before downloading it.

02 March 2006

Restoring Faith in Blogkind...

And suddenly, dj earball feels like maybe there is an Easter bunny after all. Thanks to the SoundRoots readers who responded to the last post, which I will refer to as a request for acknowledgment, not a plea for attention. I hope that even those of you who get here via feed/newsreader will drop by in person now and then to leave a comment or question. It's encouraging knowing you're out there.

The comments on Nusrat made me a bit jealous; I never got to see him in person. He came through Boston when I lived there, but at the time I had only a vague idea who he was. Sigh. At least he left plenty of recordings, and a great legacy in the form of a new generation of qawwali singers.

DouglasLong asked: "I enjoy all artists that can do just what you are asking your readers to do: share, sample, respond, communicate. NFAK is one of the world's best examples of this. What other artists can you think of that participate with their colleagues and listeners in the same way?" It's a good question. And while I don't think mainstream pop/rock artists are necessarily all about ego, it seems that many more "world" artists are eager to collaborate, share, teach, and give back to their community/nation. Of course, many "world" artists have lived through a birth, or re-birth of their nation, and the immediate needs of the people are hard to ignore.

I think of what Eliseo Parra is doing to document the music of the Iberian peoples. Then there's globetrotting Bob Brozman, who through collaboration has brought attention to many little-known musicians and traditions. I could go on, but who do you think of?

And thanks very much to KayT for the heads up on the stunning people-with-animals photographs of Gregory Colbert at ashesandsnow.org - definitely worth a visit. The installation with music sounds sublime. Admirers of Djivan Gasparyan's music should also check out his new album with Hossein Alizadeh called Endless Vision.

By the way, the BBC World Music Award winners have been announced. They include Amadou & Mariam (Best Album, Best in Africa), Ry Cooder (Best in America), Konono No. 1 (Best Newcomer), and Fanfare Ciocarlia (Best in Europe). The audience award will be announced at a concert April 7. Read all about it at bbc.co.uk

Thanks for restoring my faith in blogkind. Drop by again soon, wontcha?

01 March 2006

Don't Download This MP3...

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan had one of the most stunning and distinctive voices in the history of recorded music. We're posting a song of his today to whet your appetite, but that's not our main objective.

SoundRoots spends untold hours listening to music from around our planet and culling the best, most interesting, and most unusual sounds for your ears and information for your mind. Yet, we feel the stirrings of dissatisfaction. Why? Because despite the thousands of visitors and the clear eagerness for the music and information, there's a certain silence.

SoundRoots is neither a lecture nor a sugar daddy. It's a place for discovery and conversation, for sharing stories of the unity of humankind, objections to stereotypes and shallow thinking, and, yes, amazing music and singing from all over the world.

Without the water of your comments and the sunshine of your thoughts, SoundRoots will wither and die.

So don't download this mp3...at least not without leaving even your brief (anonymous, if you're shy) thoughts on this song or Nusrat or qawwali, or a cultural observation, or a question about some artist or some flavor of world music.

[mp3] Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: "Mustt Mustt"
more music from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

[yet more]: The flood of interest in this track and Nusrat compells me to add a little more info. "Mustt Mustt" is one of Nusrat's most famous songs, and so was a key candidate for a big of remixing. That's what it got on the posted track, a Massive Attack remix from the album Mustt Mustt (Real World Records, 1990).

In the making of 'Mustt Mustt', Nusrat embarked upon an exploration of various Western styles and rhythms, to which he brought his own Asian approach. The Pakistani musicians from Nusrat's Party are accompanied by guitarist Robert Ahwai (West Indies), bassist Darryl Johnson (USA) and percussionist James Pinker (New Zealand). Produced by Michael Brook, who also plays guitar, the album is a unique meeting of international talent.

Real World, by the way, has a nice site about Nusrat's legacy, including lyrics and audio (the site has nearly hidden navigation: click on the leaves). More info on the album, including album notes, available here.