29 November 2010

Monday's mp3: Listening to the Banned

Not long ago, I was writing about music banned in Zimbabwe. Like slavery and poverty and violence and fossil fuels, the suppression of "objectionable" songs and artists seems like something we should have transcended long ago. But it's not yet so.

To appreciate the widespread nature of the problem, you need look no farther than a wonderful new compilation called Listen to the Banned. The album is presented by Freemuse, an organization promoting freedom of expression worldwide for musicians and composers, and Deeyah, a Pakistani singer, composer,  filmmaker, and activist.

Like the best for-a-good-cause compilations, you can listen to Banned not out of guilt, but because it's got some fantastic music. You'll likely recognize a number of included artists, such as Persian singer Mahsa Vahdat, Lebanese oud player Marcel Khalife, Zimbabwean singer Chiwoniso Maraire, Ivory Coast reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly, and Western Saharan singer Aziza Brahim.

The less famous include:
  • Cameroonian musician Lapiro De Mbanga, whose song "Constitution Constipée (Constipated Constitution)" became an anthem of popular protest and got him charged with "inciting youth unrest." He is currently serving a three-year prison term.
  • Haroon Bacha fled Pakistan for the USA in 2008, leaving behind his wife and two children.  His songs of "peace, tolerance and resistance to war" were not accepted by Pakistani Taliban: "They used to come very frequently back home, just telling me to stop music, or else I would be killed and my family would be. ..."
  • Farhad Darya was one of the first musicians heard on Afghani radio after the fall of the Taliban (and their ban on music). He resides in the USA, but has returned to Afghanistan to perform. At a concert September 15 in Herat, Afghanistan, a motorcycle bomb exploded, injuring at least 13 fans. 
Here's Darya's contribution to this compilation:

[mp3] Farhad Darya: Arooss-e-Aftaw
from the album Listen to the Banned

You can read more of the artists' stories and see videos of some of them here. Here's the full tracklist:

    1.    Mystery - Mahsa Vahdat
    2.    Arooss-e-Aftaw - Farhad Darya
    3.    Constitution Constipee - Lapiro De Mbanga
    4.    Oh My Father, I am Yusif - Marcel Khalife
    5.    Rebel Woman - Chiwoniso Maraire
    6.    Quitte Le Pouvoir - Tiken Jah Fakoly - (featuring Didier Awadi)
    7.    Salam Darfur - Abazar Hamid
    8.    Al Shatte' Al Akhar - Kamilya Jubran
    9.    Atlan Dok - Kurash Sultan
    10.    Alisero - Ferhat Tunc
    11.    Regreso - Aziza Brahim
    12.    Speena Kontara - Haroon Bacha
    13.    Non Au Racisme - Fadal Dey
    14.    Bhallelak - Amal Murkus

If you love global music, you should be concerned about the trend of banning music. It happens worldwide for a variety of reasons, many of which are documented at Freemusepedia. There's a lot of music out there that I don't like, and that I even think may be damaging or dangerous. I choose to ignore it rather than call attention to it by trying to get it banned from schools or libraries or concert venues. Until governments and terrorists do the same, we need compilations like this and organizations like Freemuse to remind us about these artists on the front lines.

Listen / Buy CD
Freemuse website
Label website for CD
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22 November 2010

Monday's mp3: A Sufi Storm

Though more than 80% of its population follows some form of Hinduism, India is officially a secular nation. In northern India the multicultural past is perhaps most evident, with ancient (and often still used) Mughul mosques and shrines around each corner.

One might be less confident of finding religious diversity in the country's south, but that's exactly what the EarthSync folks found when they visited Nagore. A label based in the Indian city of Chennai, EarthSync visited Nagore to record the Laya Project album, a stirring tribute to the survivers of the 2004 tsunami.

In the wake of the tragedy, the 500-year-old Muslim dargah (shrine) in Nagore fed and sheltered thousands of Hindu survivors. Why don't the media call more attention to such acts than instances of religious conflict? That will have to remain a subject for another day.

Today we celebrate the living, pulsing spirit of Sufi music of Nagore Sessions, an album that mixes the voices of traditional singers Abdul Ghani, Ajah Maideen, and Saburmaideen Babha Sabeer with Middle Eastern percussion, a touch of Tibetan brass, and modern production values. The seven tracks are all traditional Indian songs, with arrangements welcoming to Western ears while not straying too far from their roots. Don't expect Nusrat-style solo vocals; much of the singing is more along the lines of group chanting, as on this song about the greatness of God.

[mp3] Nagore Sessions: Allahu Allah
from Nagore Sessions

The booklet with Nagore Sessions is lovely, combining stylized photography with inspirational Sufi quotes, though it's not much for explaining the meaning of the songs or the backgrounds of the artists. But this album is more about being immersed than being informed, so put it on, soak it in, and perhaps you'll find a way to express the kind of compassion shown by those at the dargah. As EarthSync director Sonya Mazumdar says:

In Sufism, so much is about climbing above the hard-line boundaries of religion to speak the common language of love. That's what these singers share with the world.

More Nagore Sessions:
listen/buy CD

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20 November 2010

Garifuna West Africa

A few years back, the world music world was enjoying a flurry of activity from Garifuna artists. Aurelio Martinez went international with his 2004 album Garifuna Soul, Andy Palacio released his magnificent Watina in 2007. For his musical and cultural efforts, Palacio was hailed by the New York Times as the man "who saved Garifuna music." Both artists toured, and Palacio even made a live guest appearance on Spin The Globe in August 2007.

Then Palacio passed on in January 2008, and the Garifuna world seemed to go dark. Sure, there was the great Umalali: Garifuna Women's Collective album and tour later that year, but since then we've had two years with little to speak of from this unique Central American culture.

The drought is now over. Aurelio is back, having lost his last name and found a big dose of West Africa on his new album, Laru Beya (Next Ambiance / Sub Pop, out 18 January 2010). While Garifuna Soul was focused largely on traditional drumming rhythms and vocals, the new CD brings in Youssou N'Dour, Orchestra Baobab, and more polished, melodic arrangements.

It's not as rooted and gritty as before, but Aurelio will surely find eager ears for this new world Afropop. Having big name guests won't hurt, but this modernization of the Garifuna sound stands on its own, and will reel in any fan of West African and Afro-Caribbean music. Says Stonetree Records' Ivan Duran:

When Aurelio and I were talking about how to approach the arrangements for the album, we became convinced that it had to be forward looking and tear down all the barriers. Andy allowed Garifuna artists to break free and be as creative as they wanted, free to go in any direction they wished. They don't have to be totally true to their roots, because Andy's work was very far from traditional music, but still clearly Garifuna.

I hope Aurelio is okay being called the new Garifuna ambassador -- his signing with Seattle-based label Next Ambiance (part of Sub Pop) will certainly put him in front of many listeners new to Garifuna sounds. Aurelio's closeness with Palacio may have prepared him for this very role. "When we talked," Aurelio says, "we often discussed the rescue and preservation of the Garifuna culture and how to inspire the new generation to be proud of their culture."

And if you take the time to read the song notes, you'll find the songs substantial as well as good listening, from the mambo-rock of "Wamada (Our friend)," Aurelio's tribute to Palacio, to "Wéibayua (Sharks)," his cautionary tale about the empty promises of politicians. Already one of my favorite albums of a year that hasn't yet begun!

More Aurelio Martinez:
label website

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18 November 2010

Top 10 Global Albums, November 2010

Top 10 World Music Albums – November 2010
  1. various artists: Listen to the Banned
  2. AfroCubism: AfroCubism
  3. Abraham Inc.: Tweet Tweet
  4. Peña : Pena
  5. Aurelio: Laru Beya
  6. AxumAxum
  7. Ojos de Brujo: Corriente Vital: 10 Años
  8. Nagore Sessions: Nagore Sessions
  9. Rahim Alhaj: Little Earth
  10. Mardi Gras.BB: Von Humboldt Picnic
Lots of new faces on this month's chart. At #1 is a compilation of great music from artists whose music has been banned and repressed in countries as varied as Zimbabwe (Chiwoniso Maraire), Iran (Mahsa Vahdat), and Turkey (Ferhat Tunc).

I've been raving about Abraham Inc., and their full album doesn't disappoint. Then there's the unexpected change of flavor on the new album from Garifuna artist Aurelio Martinez, who has brought in guest artists including Youssou N'Dour and Orquestra Baobab, adding a West African root to his new-world music. I suspect I don't need to sing Ojos de Brujo's praises to you. And the final new addition is the collaborative Sufi-favored goodness of Nagore Sessions.

More on these new sounds in coming posts, for now check them out and enjoy. And tune in to Spin The Globe on Nov. 19 for samples from each of these CDs and much more.
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16 November 2010

Monday's mp3: Monkey Mischief

I've had few close encounters with monkeys. Here in the USA a monkey peed on me once. In Malaysia one tried to steal my shades. And in India, I was involved in an elaborate scheme to recover a friend's camera from a monkey by offering a ransom of crackers. (The camera was returned unharmed, but the camera-knapper eluded justice).

As far as I know, none of those monkeys has had a song written about them. Nor do they deserve one. But many monkeys do deserve this honor, it seems. So many that I'm putting together a future episode of Spin The Globe on the very theme of songs about monkeys, from anonymous simians to Hanuman. And in doing the research for that show, I rediscovered some great music. You'll have to wait to see the full playlist, but here's one song to whet your appetite. 

Pepe & the Bottle Blondes are (or were -- I can't find any current info on them) a Portland, Oregon troupe playing campy Latin-flavored tunes with a quirky twist. Their website lists a 2005 album called Pambrosia, which I haven't heard. But since digging their earlier album out of my archives, I've listened a half-dozen times, and I've yet to grow tired of their tight arrangements and great sense of humor.

Listen for this track about Vicente and Juanita Lupe, and let it serve as a lesson to all you young monkeys out there who are rushing into a relationship.

[mp3] Pepe & the Bottle Blondes: L'Orangutá
from the album Latenight Betty

The Pepe in question here is one Pepe Raphael, a Madrid-born singer with a rap sheet that includes ballet and musical theater who has also appeared on albums by the similar group Pink Martini. Pepe -- if you're still out there making music, give me a holler and let me know what you're up to!

More Pepe & the Bottle Blondes:
Listen / buy CD

By the way, I do realize that this is actually Tuesday's mp3. I have no excuse except that I was busy with, um, special projects over the past few days. And there was a wind storm and the power went off. But I'll make it up to you; I have a bunch of new sounds to share soon. Stay tuned.
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11 November 2010


AfroCubism: AfroCubism

No, it's not Picasso with a voluminous hairstyle. It's once again the chicken-and-egg story of music from West African and Cuba. Which style has had the most influence on the other? Tie your head in knots trying to sort that out. Then pop in this marvelous new album and let it sooth the worry lines off your face.

Seriously, this is sublime music made by master musicians from both sides of the Atlantic. The AfroCubism project brings together Eliades Ochoa (guitar and vocals), Toumani Diabate (kora), Bassekou Kouyate (ngoni), Kasse Mady Diabate (vocals), Djelimady Tounkara (guitar), and Fode Lassana Diabate (balafon) in an Afro-Cuban tour de force.

Despite the numerical superiority of the Africans, the overall vibe tends toward the Cuban. But hearing Cuban folk music played with balafon and kora is a special treat, though the instruments blend so well you might not hear the uniqueness if you weren't paying attention.

It's worth paying attention, and apparently many people are. The album tops the World Music Charts Europe this month, and has been getting love
"It was as though the musicians had been holding back their ideas and energy for that moment," says producer Nick Gold. "After we'd waited so long, it all came together remarkably easily and spontaneously. The group had never played together before but the music just poured out and it continued to flow over the next few days." Seventeen songs were recorded in five days, with all the musicians playing together "live" in one large room. A second session was convened some months later and produced a further nine songs.

Fourteen of these songs made it onto this album, from the sultry "Al Vaivén De Mi Carreta" to the swinging "Mariama," co-written by Ochoa and Kouyate. Don't try to separate Cuba from Mali; after generations of cross-pollination, this musical heritage has finally flowered into this single sublime album. Enjoy.

More AfroCubism:
Listen / buy CD
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08 November 2010

Monday's mp3: Big Desert, Small World

Small world? Definitely. At a small church in Olympia, Washington, I met a man from Niger named Tahir. We got to talking about the election, politics, culture, and ultimately (surprise!) music. Turns out he knows members of one of the Saharan guitar bands I love. So yes, small world.

Meanwhile, I've been listening to another Tuareg band that's had less exposure outside of the desert. Amanar (also known as Amanar de Kidal) has been around since 2005, but they haven't been touring the way other bands have, so they don't have the name recognition of Terakaft, Etran Finatawa, Tamikrest, and big brothers Tinariwen. What they do have is a home-grown authenticity that comes of being the top wedding and party band of the town of Kidal in northern Mali.

The authenticity comes through on their album, recorded in their hometown with a local engineer. No big-name western remixers or guest artists, just real modern traditional music with powerful lyrics about local affairs that have global echoes. On the title track "Alghafiat (Peace)," the band sings about pride and identity:
Other than the Tamacheq from the desert,
Who are the roots of our race,
How many Tuareg are there today?
Some of them left and never came back
Others are dead and don't exist anymore
The remaining ones can be classified as five types:
The first ones are the rebels
The second ones, the poets
The third ones are discouraged of the Tuareg cause
The fourth ones just cling to life
The last ones are the bearers of lies
And worshipers of the word "project"
[mp3] Amanar: Alghafiat
from the album Alghafiat

The album is just out on Reaktion Records, which specializes in Saharan music and tries to bring listeners stereotype-defying information and music while providing the artists a fair compensation for their music. If you're a fan of other desert guitar groups and want to hear a different take on the tradition, be sure to check this out.

Amanar is:
Ahmed Ag Kaedi - Solo Guitar, Vocals
Hamida Ag Fonwa - Rhythm Guitar
Abdourahmane Kamissoko - Bass Guitar, Keyboards
Issmagel Ag Alhouda - Bass Guitar
Tamita Ag Aljimitt - Drums, Vocals on ‘Alghafiat’
Halifa Ag Aljimitt - Djembe
Lahbib ag Bilal - Flute
Lala walet Mohamed - Backing Vocals

More Amanar:
more streaming samples
Reaktion on facebook
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07 November 2010

Tweet Tweet!

I usually don't write about an album until I've had a chance to listen to the whole thing. But here's one I'm itching to get my paws on, based on one advance track. And you should too.

Apparently klezmer clarinet king David Krakauer and Jewish mixologist/rapper Socalled started working with funk trombonist Fred Wesley back in 2005, a year before the former two released the crazy, brilliant Bubbemeises: Lies My Gramma Told Me. But the funk didn't really come into the mix until now.

Now with Wesley on board, the sound is amazing. You don't need me to tell you... just check out this video of "Tweet Tweet," and the interview with Krakauer about the project. You'll be hooked too.

Allaboutjazz.com sez:
The music is organic, extracting the diversity of styles into a unique whole that is authentic and renewed. Krakauer's clarinet trills passionately articulates the music of his Eastern European Jewish heritage, which in turn is perfectly juxtaposed with Wesley and the band's funky James Brown-like horn vamps. The pocket is deep and Thick, provided by tight rhythms, be they straight hip hop beats in the title track or fervent Yiddish dance grooves in "Moskowitz Remix."
Whether it's "The H Song"—a revised remake of the Hebrew folk song "Hava Nagila"—or "Trombonic," which combines Wesley's rotund soulful horn, clever rap lyrics and Bailey's blistering guitar run, the music represents holistic funk music of the first order. From the cool vibrations in "Push," with its equally smooth vocals and solos, to the show-stopping finale, "Abe Inc Techno Mix"—with its earth-quaking full- throttled dub-beat mixing—it's easy to understand why Abraham Inc is thrilling audiences from Europe's Transmusicales de Rennes to Harlem's Historic Apollo Theater.

More Abraham Inc.:
Listen/Buy CD

01 November 2010

Monday's mp3: Autumnal Atlas & Afrobeat

I usually take Mondays to focus on just one artist, but given the possibilities for seeing live music this week in the Pacific Northwest I can't help but give you a broader view of the options. If you can, check out at least one of these artists (some are touring nationally, so check their websites for additional tour dates).

Let's start with Tuesday, when (after you've voted, of course) Natacha Atlas brings the fresh Egyptian-rooted sounds of her newest album Mounqaliba to the Triple Door in Seattle.

Wednesday the my top choices are Playing for Change at the Moore Theater, or Chicago Afrobeat Project at Nectar Lounge, both in Seattle. CAP also play Thursday at the Eastside Club in Olympia. As I write this I'm listening to the album (A) Move to Silent Unrest, a fantastic CD of mostly instrumental afrobeat songs with elements of jazz here and there.

[mp3] Chicago Afrobeat Project: Fix and Release
from the album (A) Move to Silent Unrest

You can find some live CAP tracks free for download on their website.

Thursday Iranian vocalist and tar player Parvaneh Daneshvar joins Seattle vocalist and composer Jessika Kenney for a noon performance of classical Persian music and poetry at Seattle City Hall. Later Yaamba Marimba plays at the intimate Triple Door Musiquarium.

Friday you'll no doubt spend the morning with Spin The Globe. Then Saturday it's Lila Downs Y La Misteriosa at Seattle's Moore Theater. See the calendar for more details on these and other upcoming shows. And happy rainy season.
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