31 March 2007

Senegal Raps

Last fall SoundRoots raved about the live show by Senegalese rappers Gokh-Bi System at Seattle's Bumbershoot festival. The group is about to embark on another US tour, this one called the "Ancient Meets Urban Tour."

Ancient Meets Urban is a mission-based musical experience featuring a tour of young, rising music stars who blend traditional African music with urban music styles including hip hop, dancehall reggae, and R&B. In alignment with their mission to bridge "Ancient" Africa and "Urban" America, A Round World Music acts, Gokh-Bi System, leaders of the emerging African hip-hop movement and one of the most popular African groups in the U.S. today will be the featured act. In alignment with June's Black Music Month, while on tour, AMU artists will also visit local schools, colleges, and universities in each market bringing the Ancient Meets Urban experience to the classrooms in an effort to reach and impact the younger generation by exposing them to music from abroad - music filled with messages about peace, love, and justice.

A portion of the proceeds from the AMU Tour and CD sales will be contributed to the AMU Academy of Justice (AMUAJ), a non-profit organization founded in 2007 to aid in Africa's development with a focus on economic development and education. A contribution will also be made to establish a state of art music studio in the impoverished village of Pikine Guinaw Rails (Dakar Senegal) and create a music distribution model to provide African artists with an opportunity to create and sell their music around the world.
Tour dates:Gokh-Bi System - Mission of Music CD
April 7, 9:30pm - Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, MA
April 19, 5pm - Verge College Music Conference, Boston, MA
May 11&12 - Lake Eden Arts Festival, Black Mountain, NC
May 26, 10pm - BAM Café - Dance Africa Festival, Brooklyn, NY
June 10, 7pm - International Festival of Arts & Ideas, New Haven, CT
June 13, 6pm - Porter-Phelps Museum, Hadley, MA
August 12, 2pm - North Alstead Market, New Haven, CT (opening for Angelique Kidjo)

Check out these Gokh-Bi System videos: Ndadje : Mama Afrika : Mission of Music
Read an African Path interview with Gohk-Bi
Pick up their album Mission of Music (or download at Calabash)

30 March 2007

And the winner is...Ali Farka Toure

The late Malian guitar wizard has won Album of the Year in the just-announced BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music. Other winners include:

Culture Crossing Award: Maurice El Medioni & Roberto Rodriquez
Club Global: Gotan Project
Newcomer: K'Naan
Middle East & North Africa: Ghada Shbeir
Americas: Gogol Bordello
Europe: Camille
Asia/Pacific: Debashish Bhattacharya
Africa: Mahmoud Ahmed

The winners will perform at a gala show May 27, at which the Audience Award will also be announced. You can hear samples of each artist and read more about the awards here.

Speaking of awards, does anyone know the status of the Kora Awards? These are (were?) the pan-African awards that often featured pop and flash over the kind of rooted music we prefer, but always provided at least some insight into the state of African music. Current info is not forthcoming, and even their website is defunct, though the site africanhiphop.com spoke positively of the awards as recently as last October. What's up?

Sure, one can learn something about the state of African music from the South African Music Awards (SAMA), which holds its awards ceremony April 14. But their website, though functioning, is tough to negotiate (it took me many frustrating minutes to discover the list of nominees buried in a poorly-labeled Word document). C'mon, Africa...the rest of the world is hungry for your music, and you're letting us down!

SAMA contenders for Album of the Year:
Bheki Khoza - Getting to Heaven Alive
DJ Sbu - Y-lens Vol. 1
Simphiwe Dana - The One Love Movement on Bantu Biko Street
Siphokazi - Ubuntu Bam
Vusi Mahlasela - Naledi Ya Tsela (Guiding Star)

26 March 2007

Monday's mp3: Pistolera

I sometimes throw around the term "Alt Latin" as if it means something. As someone who has had to explain the term "world music" more times than I care to count, I should know better. But like "world music," "Alt Latin" is helpful at pointing people in the right direction.

But wagging a finger in a southerly direction doesn't explain whether the music is Cuban rap (Orishas) or Peruvian rootstronica (Novalima) or Mexican Chilango punk (Los de Abajo).

NYC-based Pistolera has their own twist on the genre, something you might call pop-folklorico. Traditional roots and instruments -- notably the accordion -- are overlaid with rock and ska elements and powerful vocals. Guitarist Sandra Lilia Velásquez leads this marvelous mashup, joined by Maria Elena on accordion, Inca B. Satz on bass, and Ani Cordero on drums. This track is from their debut album, which came out last November and features guest appearances by members of some of our favorites: Si*Se, Grupo Fantasma, Antibalas, and Slavic Soul Party.

Pistolera has just garnered a nomination for the American Latino Awards, by the way. They're vying along with three other choices for Favorite American Latino Indie Musical Artist. Vote here. The band's website is pistolera.net

[mp3] Pistolera: "Cazador"
from the album Siempre Hay Salida
Pistolera - Siempre Hay Salida

25 March 2007

Congressional Diversity

Here's one that nearly slipped by us. While certain folks were in an uproar over the first Muslim in the US Congress and the Jefferson Koran he used at his swearing-in ceremony, they may have missed other significant changes in the makeup of the US Congress. Along with Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the new Congress includes two Buddhists an a "nontheist."

The two Buddhists are Reps. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii. Read more about Hirono, the daughter of poor Japanese immigrants, here. On the issue of faith diversity, Hirono says "It's about time that we have people of other backgrounds and faiths in Congress ... what happened to separation of church and state and religious tolerance? I believe in those things." Well amen. Or, um, you know. Om.

The "nontheist" isn't new to Congress. Rep. Pete Stark of California is 75 years old and is now in his 18th term representing San Francisco’s East Bay. According to an Associated Press story, he issued a brief statement confirming that “I am a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being.”

Of course, many politicians express their belief in Judeo-Christian values, and their affiliation with a church, but act in ways that are not, shall we say, completely in accord with Biblical teachings on things like adultery, bearing false witness, stealing, and such. I won't name names; just watch closely for the forked tongues. At a time when the US is urging different religious factions to cooperate in governing various parts of the planet, having a tiny bit of religious diversity at home can't hurt our credibility. Now where are those Sikh politicians hiding out?

21 March 2007

Songs of Spring

What with all the flowers a-bud and the birdies a-singin', I couldn't help but get in the spirit and create a playlist over at Calabash to help celebrate the season. Have a listen to these tunes, which may help awaken you from your long winter hibernation. (Apologies to readers in the Southern Hemisphere for the northern bias in this posting.)

Happy Spring

World Music Top 10 - March 2007

SoundRoots / Spin The Globe
Top 10
World Music Albums - March 2007

1. Andy Palacio & The Garifuna Collective:
Watina (review)

2. Autorickshaw:
So the Journey Goes
3. Ojos de Brujo:
4. Vusi Mahlasela:
Guiding Star
5. Vieux Farka Toure:
Vieux Farka Toure
6. Antibalas:
Various Artists: Merdeka
8. Samba Squad:
9. Forro in the Dark:
Bonfires of Sao Joao
10. Tinariwen:
Aman Iman/Water Is Life

World Music News & Such
In February, Ozomatli was the first Western band to perform in Nepal. Their performance there was on the recommendation of Deputy Director of the American Embassy in Kathmandu
Sharon Hudson Dean, who said "the band reached up to half the population of Nepal through the media with the message of "Unity in Diversity" at a time when some ethnic groups are pushing violent separatist agendas.” The theme of Unity in Diversity celebrates the newly ratified peace accord in Nepal. Ozomatli members met with youth leaders in Kathmandu to discuss creative, nonviolent change. Ozomatli sax player Ulises Bella said of the Nepal trip: “Life changing and mind blowing are cliches that are too often thrown around, but what else is there to describe a trip to India and Nepal... the opportunity to perform for these audiences, whether it was in the concert halls or orphanages, is a gift that we as group will always cherish in a very deep chamber of our collective souls.” Ozomatli's new album “Don’t Mess With The Dragon” hits US streets April 3rd.

We've mentioned Israel's Boom Pam previously; just found this video of "Hatul VeHatula." Big fun.

We offer no comment on the video game "Virtual Villagers: The Lost Children" beyond their own words: "Guide your tribe as they rescue a group of lost children. Help your villagers become farmers, builders, scientists and parents while uncovering the mysteries of the island natives in this engrossing simulation game! Full Version Advantages: Unlimited, unrestricted gameplay; Raise kids who resemble their parents; Care for the sick in a tropical hospital; Watch your villagers thrive and grow old; Explore the new western shore of Isola."

And yes, a little music for you -- a high-energy, positive message tune from the second album by reggae/rock band J-san & the Analogue Sons.

[mp3] J-san & the Analogue Sons: "Freedom Sound"
from the album SoundResistance

20 March 2007

Journeying via Autorickshaw (CD Review)

Autorickshaw: So The Journey Goes (self-released)

Our favorite Canadian-Indian-fusion group returns with a third album following their delightful Four Higher in 2004. This one opens with the title track, in which a rippling, funky bass line from Rich Brown is soon followed by Suba Sankaran's confident voice. She sings "I'm looking at the people / Who stare back at me / About to start the journey / of self-discovery." Listening to this album is indeed to witness the group's self-discovery and evolution, from the strong title track right through to "Nalina Kanthi," a piece commissioned from the singer's father, percussionist Trichy Sankaran. 

Along with original tunes, the album includes adaptations of Bengali and Tamil folk tunes, an effective 7-beat version of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire," and a Bollywood offering penned by the legendary RD Burman.
Concluding the album is something of an improvisation and editing experiment. A variety of guest artists were given "guide vocals," bass, and drums, and asked to play along. Sankaran and Ed hanley then spent a week weaving together the 64 raw tracks into the track "Heavy Traffic." 

While a comparison to the recent work of Susheela Raman seems inevitable, the music of Autorickshaw maintains more Indian roots and makes fewer forays toward pop and rock idioms. So the Journey Goes takes the listener to a bustling global train station, where Autorickshaw can guide you through the jostling mayhem.

19 March 2007

Monday's mp3: Alt Latin Police

Six Degrees Records have made a big name for themselves over the 10 years since their founding. And they're not above saying so themselves. In a press release that labels the major record companies as "dinosaurs," Six Degrees notes that they are among the independent labels "that have found a way to adapt to the music world's changing climate" like, say "the nimble little critters running around the dinosaurs' feet."

Some of their artists/releases veer a little too much into the modern, forsaking roots for electronic sleight of hand, but their roster still boasts some of our favorites, including Bobi Cespedes, Ojos de Brujo, and Zuco 103.

Now, to celebrate ten years of "producing good music in bad times," Six Degrees has released one of the most distinctive cover albums of the year. Backspin includes Niyaz doing The Cure's "Love Song," Bombay Dub Orchestra covering "Get Carter Theme," and Ojos de Brujo inspired interpretation of Marley's "Get Up Stand Up." Two Police songs are covered: "Spirits in the Material World" gets some phat new beats in the hands of Karsh Kale. And then there's this raucous cumbia-fication perpetrated by our favorite Latin band from down San Francisco way.

[mp3] Los Mocosos: "The Bed's Too Big without You"
from Backspin
hear samples of all tracks here

So what are those little critters running circles around the dinosaurs' feet, anyway? Rats? Chickens? Poodles? Cockroaches? Kiwis?

18 March 2007

Djembe: The Next Generation

Once he works out the balance problem, he has an amazing future ahead of him...

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17 March 2007

Sound o' the Green

I'm off to a conference today, which works out since the forecast is for rain. But I can't leave without a St. Paddy's Day audio greeting, in the form of a tune from one of my favorite Irish groups that doesn't cater to Irish music stereotypes.

The CD notes have the extensive Irish lyrics transcribed nicely, but no explanation in a language my Irish ancestors' descendants can understand. So suffice to say I like the rhythm and feel of the whole thing.

So go get yourself a bowl of rice crispies with green milk, or green beer, or look for shamrocks in the spring weeds, or whatever else you might do to observe the day a man named Maewyn died. Just leave the snakes alone.

[mp3] Kila: "Tine Lasta"
from Lemonade and Buns

15 March 2007


Angelique Kidjo: Djin Djin (CD Review)Angelique Kidjo - Djin Djin CD
Razor & Tie / Starbucks
buy CD/hear samples

Angelique Kidjo's first recording in 1980 was an inauspicious beginning to what would become a stellar musical career. She recorded Pretty for release in Africa, but the co-producer absconded with the master tapes, claimed authorship of the songs, and never paid Kidjo a penny.

Fast forward to 2004's Oyaya (Joy), which found Kidjo at the top of her game as the third in a series of albums exploring the diaspora of African music. Following Oremi's focus on African music in the USA, and Black Ivory Soul's Brazilian flavor, Oyaya explored the roots and branches of Caribbean music.

Now Kidjo returns with an album of sparkling Afropop that features a host of guest musicians, including Alicia Keys and Branford Marsalis on the title track, Joss Stone on "Gimme Shelter" (yes, the Stones song), Carlos Santana and Josh Groban on the poignant ballad "Pearls," and Ziggy Marley on "Sedjedo."

Speaking of Groban, Kidjo is currently on tour opening for him (right now they're on their way to North Carolina). Groban, though labeled by the New York Times as "Oprah Winfrey’s pet balladeer," is no stranger to African music, having also recorded with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

So can Kidjo find new fans in the legious of Grobanites? Who knows. What I can say for certain is that Djin Djin does not disappoint, providing not only Kidjo's trademark powerful vocals, but also a fair amount of probing into new territory. You've got the guest artists, the Stones cover, and the album's bold final track: a Kidjo-arranged version of Ravel's Bolero, entitled "Lonlon."

Okay so a little preview for you, since you have to wait until May 1 for the album's official release. This song features the blind Malian blues duo Amadou and Mariam. It's pretty clear that Kidjo could sing circles around Mariam, but the deft arrangement puts their voices in a nice balance along with Amadou's guitar work.

[mp3] Angelique Kidjo: "Senamou (c'est l'amour) w/ Amadou & Mariam"
from Djin Djin

Oh, and if you're feeling interactive, you can download and remix the track "Salala" (featuring Peter Gabriel) at realworldremixed.com

12 March 2007

Monday's mp3: Tuku & the Orphans

As if ,  hadn't already captured our hearts with his upbeat Zimbabwean music, now he's produced a charming album of music by orphans, most of whom have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. The kids are called the Mutubambile Orphan Choir, and they composed the songs on this album with help from Tuku, who also helped with arrangements.

This song's message is that one needs to speak up or be ignored:

A child who does not cry out,
Will not be helped
If you present your problems to people
You will be given assistance

[mp3] The Mutubambile Orphan Choir "Mwana Asingacheme (A child who does not cry out)"
from the album Tuli Bamuchaala (We Are The Orphans)

The songs include messages of hope and pleas for greater awareness of HIV/AIDS. And proceeds from the sales of the music help pay for the orphans' education.
More on Oliver Mtukudzi

11 March 2007

TurkTube Open for Business

The AP reports today that YouTube is back in business in Turkey. Two days after the popular online video service was banned from the country for carrying videos that allegedly insulted Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the head of Turk Telecom said he'd received a court order to lift the ban.

SoundRoots leans more towards free press than restrictions on content, particularly regarding insults of politicians. Respect should be earned, not legislated. And while YouTube certainly has some less-than-uplifting content, Turks and others can take comfort in the many positive expressions of culture available there. Like these:

Mercan Dede is a Canada-based Turkish musician/DJ who combines traditional roots with electronica. His latest album is Breath

Burhan Ocal is one of our favorite percussionists, hands down. His breathtaking darbouka (dumbek) skills are often on display with the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble. He also has collaborated with a wide variety of artists including Natacha Atlas, Kronos Quartet, and Paco De Lucia.

Omar Faruk Tekbilek is another Turkish ney player, whose albums enjoy wide distribution in the US. His latest release is Tree of Patience.

Finally, a scene from the film Crossing The Bridge: The Sound Of Istanbul:

Welcome back, Turkey.

10 March 2007

2007 Independent Music Award winners

If the Grammies were too flashy for you, there are always other awards to enjoy.

Unlike any other music industry contest or competition, The Independent Music Awards delivers real career opportunities for Indie artists, labels and releases.
Co-sponsored by Border's Books & Music, winners of this year's program are promoted to more than 9 million music fans and industry professionals via print, radio and online promotions.
The IMAs recognizes excellence in Music, Music Promotion, Packaging and Merch Design. The program's year-long marketing campaigns, partnerships and distribution alliances put IMA Winners and Finalists in front of millions of music fans and industry decision makers around the world.
You can read all about the awards here and listen to winning songs. The ones we're most interested in include our favorite Peruvian roots-fusion group (and three groups previously unknown to SoundRoots):

Best World Fusion Album: Novalima - Afro ("Machete")
Best World Traditional Album: The McDades - Bloom ("The Whistle Blower")
Best World Fusion Song: Seed and Root - "Paraiso"
Best World Traditional Song: Inca Son - "Viaje A La Montana"

Oh, and just for fun, here are a couple videos from our Nigerian buddy Lagbaja.

Both of those songs -- "Skentele/Skontolo" and "Never Far Away" -- are from Lagbaja's latest album, Africano.... the mother of groove. Lagbaja's website has complete lyrics to the album's songs, but unfortunately no translations. After a brief flirtation with US distribution of his compilation album WeBeforeMe, (which you can still find online, although the website for label IndigeDisc is essentially defunct, having not been updated in two years), most of Lagbaja's music is once again difficult to find and apparently unavailable at major online outlets. Which is unfortunate, given that he's a great performer and deserves to be more widely appreciated.

08 March 2007

International Women's Day...musically

International Women's Day 2007The planet observes International Women's Day every March 8, and the theme for 2007 is "Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls." The day provides a great excuse to talk about women in world music--and not just any women, but those who have used their music for the greater good of their people, their gender, their nation, and the globe.

Miriam Makeba (South Africa) is one of the best known African artists ever. She began her career in the 1950s, and has since found success as a singer/songwriter, political activist, author, actor, great-grandmother and UN ambassador, selling more than five million albums along the way. Of course, she also had to deal with three decades of exile from her homeland during the years of apartheid. Her adopted home of Guinea appointed her as ambassador to the United Nations, and more recently she served as served as Goodwill Ambassador to the UN, founded the Makeba Rehabilitation Centre for Girls, and has worked on HIV and AIDS programs.

Oumou Sangare (Mali) is known for her powerful voice both musically, and socially as she speaks up for women's rights in West Africa. "She's assertive and speaks about important issues, specifically in Mali, but it also resonates in America," offered ethnomusicologist Jon Kertzer in a Global Village Idiot article. He noted that she sings specifically about "the place of women in Islamic society, and how men treat women."

Natacha Atlas (UK/Egypt) also served as a Goodwill Ambassador at the 2001 UN Conference Against Racism, and is herself an embodiment of the cultural links between Europe and North Africa. In 2004 Atlas joined 16 other women in recording the song "On en a marre" [mp3] for Amnesty International's women's rights program. Her music is also used as the theme song to the CBC TV show "Little Mosque on the Prairie."

Rim Banna (Palestine) was born in Nazarath, where she continues to live with her Ukrainian husband. Her songs are inspired by the Palestinian people’s conscience and sentiments, from their culture, their history and their folklore. She is perhaps best known for her singing of lullabies, and was featured on the cross-cultural collaboration Lullabies from the Axis of Evil.

Mercedes Sosa (Argentina) is a living legend in Latin America. Now serving as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Latin America and the Caribbean, she has long supported progressive causes, a stance for which she was searched and arrested on stage in La Plata in 1979. She was later banned in Argentina and moved to Paris, then Madrid.

Angelique Kidjo (Benin) is not only a musical dynamo fluent in several languages, but also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. She's got a new album called Djin Djin coming out May 1, and will be on tour in the USA, opening for Josh Grobin (!?!). [Angelique Kidjo video]

The world has many other great women musician/activists, of course. Leave a comment with your favorite, or perhaps some lesser-known artists deserving of more attention.

05 March 2007

Monday's mp3: Tabla meets Palm Wine

Koo Nimo is the stage name for Ghanian "palm wine" guitar player Daniel Amponsah. Actually his birth name was Kwabena Boa-Amponsem, but whatever you call him, he's a West African guitar legend.

Vishal Nagar is a young tabla virtuoso who is steeped in tradition, but apparently eager to explore the intersection of cultures. I first saw him in a wonderful 2002 performance blending Indian traditional music with flamenco.

Both musicians have spent time teaching and performing in the Seattle area. And at some point, they connected and decided to record a five-song album together. The album is apparently out of print and unavailable. If any of you know the story of their collaboration, please get in touch. In the meantime, today's offering is an unusual but effective blend of Nagar's tabla with Nimo's voice and guitar.

[mp3] Koo Nimo & Vishal Nagar: "It Takes So Much Energy to Hate"
from their self-titled album released in 1999 on Minimum Wage Records

More about Koo Nimo
More about Vishal Nagar