30 August 2010

Monday's mp3: Natacha Atlas Refines Her Sound

Natacha Atlas is notoriously difficult to pin down. She's willing to do anything from hip-hop and pan-global pop to to Arabic classical music. And she sings covers of everyone from James Brown to -- on her new album Mounqaliba -- Françoise Hardy and Nick Drake.

Recorded with pianist Zoe Rahman, a 20-piece Turkish ensemble, and a chamber orchestra integrating Western and Arabic styles, the album is rich with lush arrangements that evoke classical Arabic music. But there's always a twist, a hint of hookah and jazz and torch singing that defines the Atlas sound. Compared to much of her past work, the focus is much more on mood and melody than on beat, with the mood for several pieces set by a brief interlude track.

Several of these interludes include spoken word segments on planetary resources and free choice that reinforce a mood nearing dark desperation thoughout the album. Indeed, Atlas says that the title track began as "a lament about the state of the world, about how we seem to be in a state of reversal, how everything is cock-eyed and upside down and we are far from being civilized. It’s like we’re in the dark ages in some perverse modern way, so it was a lament. But it ended up as an instrumental with voices on it – but no words."

For a song with words, "Makaan" may be a good representative of the album, with the strings beating out a rhythm while Rahman's piano and Atlas' voice (with a brooding male response) dance out their melodies. Let this album grow on you; its subtle blend of cultures and sounds may be the closest we come to a musical autobiography of this Belgian-born London resident of Middle Eastern roots.

[mp3] Natacha Atlas: Makaan

from Mounqaliba

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26 August 2010

TV: New Music from the Muslim World

Anusheh in Anusheh: The Secret Words
Photo Courtesy of Link TV
I have just a minute to write before zipping across town for dinner, but I had to let you know about this. Tonight, Link TV is airing a new series on Muslim music called "Rappers, Divas & Virtuosos: New Music from the Muslim World."

The four-segment show airs tomorrow on Link TV. if you don't get it you're still in luck; you can watch it online. The segments I've watched have been very engaging, giving political, social, historical, and geographical context to the cultural traditions being highlighted.
From the producers:
 Islam is the majority faith in 47 countries, with almost as many different cultures. This new series presents spirited musicians from Iran, Western Sahara, Bangladesh, and Morocco who, whether singing, rapping or playing their instrument, bring an extraordinary voice to their art. Each artist, in his or her own unique way, breaks through tradition and stereotypes of conformity, using music as a tool for justice and peace.
The four segments include:

Kayhan Kalhor: Songs of Hope Kayhan plays the kamancheh, or Persian spike fiddle. In a unique position, he represents both tradition and innovation in Iran.

Mariem Hassan: Voice of the Saharawis For the last 13 years Mariem Hassan’s heartfelt, piercing voice has been the musical ambassador of the Western Saharan people.

Anusheh: The Secret Words Anusheh is a fiery, outspoken Bangladeshi singer-songwriter who has pioneered the fusion of traditional rural songs with rock music.

H-Kayne: Hip-Hop Moroccan Style Hip-hop has only taken hold in Morocco the last six years, and it is largely thanks to H-Kayne, a group of four young men who grew up listening to Biggie and Tupac.

Kudos to Link TV for airing this, and I hope the response to this show is positive and encourages more exposure for such musicians and genres. Obviously they couldn't cover all styles of Muslim music in such a short period of time, and there are obvious places to explore next, including Indonesia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Central Asia. For now, though, it's a great start.

25 August 2010

Jammin' With Cheikh Lo

In case last week's haiku review of Cheikh Lo's new album Jamm left you wanting another bite, here it is. A free download of the title track of the dreadlocked Senegalese Sufi's first new album in five years.
Jamm means ‘peace’ in Wolof, the main language spoken in Senegal. Everybody needs peace in order to live a better life and to achieve serenity. Even if you have all the gold in the world but don’t have peace, you won’t have a life. But some people say they want peace and then they go and kill other people. Peace is also necessary in the home, between a man and his wife, in the office between workers, everywhere. It must inhabit the person. If it lived in everyone, something which would require a huge effort today, then we wouldn’t be fighting all these wars.
The song has plenty of different colours and different sources. Musically, I adopted a bit of a Songhai approach from the north of Mali in this song. The vocal, guitar and bass were from the original demo I recorded at my bass player Thierno Sarr’s small studio in Dakar. We took these demos and added percussion and trombones in a Dakar studio and Pee Wee added his sax in London. Spontaneity is what’s behind the strength of this album and all this was done very spontaneously.
JammCheikh Lo
"Jamm" (mp3)
from the album Jamm
(World Circuit)
More On This Album


"It's a melting pot!" says Lo of the album. "It's like a big basket, with some cheese here, some bread there, some chocolate and a cocktail on the side. There's something for everyone."

Still, I think providing more than 41 minutes of music would have meant a richer feast for listeners. Jamm hits stores August. 30.

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24 August 2010

Top 10 World Music Albums, August 2010

  1. AxumAxum
  2. Luisa Maita : Lero-Lero
  3. various artists: Putumayo Presents Tribute to a Reggae Legend
  4. The Budos Band: The Budos Band III
  5. King Sunny Ade: Baba Mo Tunde
  6. Mohsen Namjoo: Oy (Ouch)
  7. various artists: The Rough Guide to Bhangra
  8. Jienat: Mira
  9. Rahim Alhaj: Little Earth
  10. various artists: Roots of OK Jazz-Congo Classics 1955-1956

It's been a good month for new releases...and particularly for some less familiar artists. Take Axum. A duo of Ethiopian-Israelis (Gilor Yehuda aka Judah and Reuben Aragai aka Tedross), they blend hip-hop, dancehall, and reggae sounds with Ethio and Middle Eastern vibes, a mix that will knock your socks off. Luisa Maita remains on the chart, down from No. 1 last week. Putumayo's tribute compilation to Bob Marley also remains, followed by the Afro-soul of the Budos Band's third album (see SoundRoots' recent review).


King Sunny Ade is back with his first studio album in a decade; the long tracks aren't particularly radio-friendly, but make for fantastic listening in a format more like his famous long live sets. Mohsen Namjoo's Persian rock follows, then a new Rough Guide to Bhangra and the joiking-percussion album from Jienat.


Rounding out the chart this month is Rahim Alhaj's great world-jazz double CD Little Earth, featuring a raft of guests including Robert Mirabal, Bill Frisell, Glen Velez, and Yacouba Sissoko (what, no Bill Laswell?). And then another time-capsule album from Crammed -- this time a fascinating look at Congolese big-band jazz in the mid 1950s.

Check out the links above for audio samples and more info. And if you think I've missed key albums, feel free to discuss -- or you can submit your own review for possible publication on SoundRoots.


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23 August 2010

Monday's mp3: Malagasy Joy

For a recent radio show, I pulled out an album I haven't spun in a while. Kilema is a Malagasy musician and singer whose 2005 album Lavi-Tani (apparently now out of print) was another rose in my love affair with the musics of Madagascar. I only recently got his 2008 follow-up, Mena, another album chock full of great acoustic music.

Madagascar is also on my mind because of Douglas Adams. Yes, that Douglas Adams. In addition to intergalactic hitchhiking novels, he wrote the wonderful book Last Chance to See, a witty and somewhat disheartehing travelogue of a BBC-backed journey to see some of the rarest species on earth before they go extinct. One of the stops on their itinerary was Mauritius, a small (and ecologically desperate, from Adams' account) island that one gets to via Madagascar, another unique island with numerous threatened species.

Just as I'm glad that people are working to save Madagascar's lemurs and other critters, I'm ecstatic that the island was able to develop and maintain its own styles of music even as traders, colonial powers, pirates, and monarchs came and went.

A former member of the Justin Vali trio, Kilema (born Randrianantoandro Clément) is just one of the musicians bringing traditional Malagasy instruments to modern music. He comes from a musical family, and plays kabosy, valiha, katsa and marovany (more on these instruments here).

[mp3] Kilema: Nanitsanitsa (Overwhelmed)  
from the album Mena

If you enjoy this, be sure to also check out Tarika, D'Gary, Rossy, Regis Gizavo, and perhaps even Jaojoby. Each has a distinct sound and style. There are also a few good compilations of Malagasy music around.

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17 August 2010

South African from the Waist Down

Thanks to Marian for passing this along; it's a great story, and a catchy dance tune with a fun on-the-streets video. Check it out:

The story behind "South African from the waist down"…

"South African from the waist down" is the story of a simple South African car guard named Silver, with a passion for poetry and music. Silver is given the opportunity of a life time to send out his uniquely South African message to the world and keep the flag flying.
The car guard Silver writes a song, which one day gets discovered by the music composer Alistair Davis, in the streets of South Africa. Alistair instantly falls in love with the song and decides to take Silver to the Kaleidosound recording studio in Cape Town to meet the music producer Gabi Le Roux, who produced numerous albums for top selling artists including Mandoza.
Gabi at first turns them away but Alistair believes in the song and calls his old friend Aidan who then agrees to work on the lyrics, together with Silver. Finally they approach Gabi again and this time he loves it!
"South African from the waist down" went into production and the recorded version got a record deal with EMI South Africa.
Here's a higher quality listen for you: 

The single is available for digital download on iTunes & HMVDigitial.

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16 August 2010

Monday's mp3: The Budos Band

Where does Afrobeat end and soul begin?

You may ponder that question as you listen to the Budos Band. Having just released their third album, the NYC-based group is the heavy-soul sibling of Antibalas, the nephew you might say of The Daktaris. That earlier semi-mythical Afrobeat assembly (see "A Beginner's Guide to the Daktaris") was the seed from which sprouted a renewed interest in Afrobeat following the 1997 death of Fela Kuti.

Fela was himself influenced by musicians such as James Brown, so the who-was-first question between soul, Afrobeat, and funk becomes something of a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Let's just agree that the result is one tasty omelette of horns, attitude, and sometimes revolutionary social consciousness.

Another question, then: Can a group maintain some level of social consciousness doing Afro-soul instrumentals? Doesn't much of the power of folks such as Fela, his son Femi, Lagbaja, Antibalas and the like spring from their lyrics?

A shout comes from the other room. An answer to the question? She doesn't hear modern Afro-soul, but instead says "It sounds like you're listening to a Starsky and Hutch soundtrack." Perhaps something is lost without lyrics.

Still, I'm digging The Budos Band. They blipped on my radar only relatively recently, and while they won't displace the Afrobeat music in my collection, they've won a place with (from the new album) driving tracks such as "Budos Dirge," "Black Venom," and "Golden Dunes." The Budos Band III has a fuller, louder sound than their first album, and swings harder than their second.

The band is touring this summer (see schedule below); here's a taste of their horn-driven madness on a tune with an African name and some soulful Latinesque flute. Check it.

[mp3] The Budos Band: Adeniji
from the album The Budos Band II

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The Budos Band 2010 Tour Schedule:
8/17 Phoenix, AZ Sail In
8/19 Santa Fe, MN Corazon
8/21 Austin, TX The Mohawk
8/22 Dallas, TX Granada
8/24 Oklahoma City, OK Conservatory
8/25 Kansas City, MO Record Bar
8/27 Denver, CO Larimer Lounge
8/28 Boulder, CO Fox Theater
8/29 Durango, Colorado, Abbey Theatre
8/31 Salt Lake City, UT State Room
9/1 Boise, ID The Grove Plaza
9/2 Eugene, OR W.O.W. Hall
9/3 Portland, OR Dante’s
9/4 Seattle, WA Bumbershoot
9/18 THE BUDOS BAND III RELEASE PARTY Brooklyn, NY – Southpaw
10/2 Montreal, QC, POP Montreal
10/30 Honolulu, Hawaii, Hallowbaloo Music & Arts
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13 August 2010

five women, five men / ten reviews of global sounds / hot as summer sun

Now and then, the CDs needing review vastly outnumber the words I have available to write about them. And then, dear reader, it's time for me to distill the essence of each album, reducing it to an essence so simple and elegant and distinct that it can be expressed in just 17 syllables. Yes, once again it's time for a batch of world music CD reviews in haiku. Hold onto your cherry blossoms. 

Luisa Maita: Lero-Lero (Cumbancha Discovery)

Post-samba tunes; the
female Seu Jorge sings the
human condition.

Cheikh Lo: Jamm (World Circuit)

Just forty minutes?
Lo's first in 5 years has gems
but too few of them.

Cesaria Evora: Nha Sentimento (Lusafrica)

Cape Verde meets Cairo
warm Arab strings back a voice
rich with smoke and life.

Mohsen Namjoo: Oy (Fabrica)

The "Persian Dylan"
shoves Iranian music
to a new level

Khaira Arby: Timbuktu Tarab (Clermont)

Praise and joy and prayer
with vibrant power, Arby
sings Mali's culture

Max Wild: Tamba (ObliqSound)

Tamba, meaning "dance,"
is what you might do, gently
as Afro-jazz does.

Michele Choiniere: La Violette (self-released)

Franco-folk? No thanks.
And yet, these stringy dance tunes
pluck up feet and heart.

Magnifico: Magnification (Piranha)

Yugo bad boy brings
gypsy beats, sharp lyrics, and
one shake-ass party!

Tara Linda: Tortilla Western Serenade (Physalia)

Spaghetti western
with extra salsa; torch songs
to light the border

Avishai Cohen: Aurora (EMI Music)

Peace through ethno-jazz?
Bassist Cohen plays sparkling
rhythmic modern roots

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09 August 2010

Monday's mp3: Bring on the Brass!

Without brass, I'm nothing. With brass, all things are possible. I felt sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no brass. Faith, hope, and charity...the greatest of these is brass.

Okay, perhaps I'm taking my love of brass music a bit far. But really, we live in a wonderful time for it. Some eras ago, I played clarinet, and tenor saxophone. But playing marches and school band music and such, I never developed even the faintest idea just how cool these and other familiar band instruments could be.

Then I discovered Bollywood brass bands, and klezmer brass bands, and Afrobeat brass bands, and yes...Balkan brass bands. And while my instruments were long gone, I found a new kind of music to love.

Other share this passion, and even expand on it by forming bands in curious places. Red Baraat blasts Bollywood brass in NYC. Gangbe Brass Band cuts loose in Benin. And Brass Menazeri pulls in many global styles from their base in the Bay Area.

Brass Menazeri's newest CD, Vranjski San is available next week, though through some chronological quirk I reviewed it back in 2008, so check out that review (entitled "Balkan Dreaming") for more on the album. Since it's new again, here's a taste.

[mp3] Brass Menažeri: Cocekahedron
from the album Vranjski San

Bonus: Brass Menažeri can't keep a secret; their Facebook boasts a free mp3 of the song "Aaharoula," sung by drummer-vocalist Michele Simon and recorded live during a recent tour. And if you're curious about their instruments, check out this friendly video introduction:


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04 August 2010

Ravi Shankar Looks Back

CD REVIEW
Ravi Shankar: Nine Decades Vol. 1 1967-1968 (East Meets West Music)

I popped this CD into the stereo on a recent road trip before reading any of the accompanying info or liner notes. I also didn't notice the dates on the cover, so I was expecting something of a selection of Shankar's music over the course of his performing years. You know, like a Rough Guide to Ravi Shankar or something.

My ears were met, however, with a single engaging track, the 48-minute "Raga Gangeshwari," recorded live on the banks of the Ganges near Allahabad in 1968. Shankar's playing is fierce, energetic as the raga builds to a satisfying climax and a rather abrupt ending.

Later, I read up on the CD, and it turns out that this is just the first in a "multi-volume series" under the Nine Decades umbrella, in which Shankar will be hand picking recordings from his archive. The recordings will be re-mastered and released by Shankar's East Meets West Music, and if this first volume is any indication, they will offer a peek back in time at the culture surrounding Shankar's career as well as the music itself.

The Shankar-penned raga opening this CD is followed by 12 minutes of interviews recorded in 1968 in which listeners (mostly Americans) talk about Shankar, his music, and whether they "get" Indian music. It's an interesting slice of cultural history, though it is disconnected in time and place from the raga on the first track and the Vedic chanting of the temple priests (perhaps at the same time and place of the raga recording?) that rounds out the album.

Says Shankar in the liner notes: "The Nine Decades series focuses on live performances, some recorded in public and others recorded in private, at home, so as to give you a glimpse of the life in a raga as it is performed for others. Many of these treasures were not recorded with sophisticated audio equipment and yet they exhibit the power of life in live performances that has a value beyond any technological shortcomings."

If this feels like a rather small piece of cake in celebration of Shankar's 90th year, we can look for the future releases in this series to reveal more layers of the master and his music. More cake!

More Ravi Shankar:
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03 August 2010

Monday's mp3: Music from Jazzistan

CD REVIEW
Arboreal Quartet: The Arboreal Quartet (self-released)

Warning: innocent world music fans may find the Arboreal Quartet to be a gateway to the insidious world of jazz. And for that matter, jazz purists listening to this album may just find themselves entertaining a hitherto unexpressed curiosity about ethnic instruments. Thus is the curious impact of this Montreal-based quartet, which makes beautiful instrumental music that peeks over the fence between jazz and global sounds. Three-quarters of the group is standard jazz stuff: Tom Eliosoff on guitar, Fernando Gelso on drums, and J.F. Martins on bass. The unexpected twist comes though the sarode of John Wrinch Williams.


A cousin to the sitar, this Hindustani instrument takes on a variety of tones under Williams' capable fingertips. Sometimes it finds an interplay with the guitar with similar tones; sometimes it becomes twangy like a banjo. And sometimes its bent notes evoke slide guitar (or, yes, sitar).

Williams is also the group's composer and arranger, though that doesn't mean his sarode is always front and center. Gelso's crisp drumming and Martins' smooth upright bass (often sounding more like a bass guitar) provide the songs' heartbeat and identity sometimes more than the other players' melodic lines. The album includes no song notes to explain the story of the songs, all titled with a single word ("Lucky," "Upswing," "Dang," "Shift"). My favorite so far is the upbeat swing-reggae-jazz number "Snap." Don't think too much about the song names; find your meaning in the music, an unusual, rich, and surprising blend of crisp world-jazz instrumentals.

[mp3] Arboreal Quartet: Snap
from the album The Arboreal Quartet

While the group clearly would like you to buy their CD, it appears you can also download it from their website (link below) and make a donation. Play nice.

By the way, there's no indication in their literature that the band lives up to their name by playing their concerts while perched in trees. Though I haven't seen them live, so I can't yet be certain....


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