30 May 2011

Monday's mp3: Doing the Reflexive Mambo

I love me. Though now that Oprah's off the air, I know I'll need a little boost now and then to remind me of how much I love me. Fortunately, I've got my stereo loaded with Putumayo's new compilation Rumba, Mambo, Cha Cha Chá. Music that, as a friend put it, makes you want to flirt with yourself.

Putumayo sez:
On Rumba, Mambo, Cha Cha Chá, Putumayo explores retro-flavored Latin dance music with these timeless genres from the Cuban family tree. Rumba, mambo and cha cha chá are familiar names to ballroom dancers the world over. Originating in  Cuba from a blend of African and European influences, they have become  immensely popular around the globe. On this album, Putumayo has  collected songs that demonstrate the universal appeal of these musical  styles, with informative liner notes in English and Spanish accompanying the CD.

Marseille-based Conjunto Massalia opens the album with "Guajira y Chachacha," a song about the birth of these two related genres. Cuban group Tradicuba’s "Potpourri de Cha Cha Cha" is a medley of some of the most memorable cha cha chá's in the history of this venerable style. Internationally celebrated  Colombian band Fruko y Sus Tesos, whose Latin dance  tunes are popular with salsa DJs around the globe, offer their own spin  on a classic of the mambo repertoire, "Mambo #5." Salsa Celtica adds Celtic flavors to son and rumba rhythms on "Esperanza."

Blending soulful Afro-Cuban percussion with elegant melodies on "Mi Chachacha," Orquesta La Moderna Tradición has earned accolades for preserving and updating the classic Cuban  ballroom music style danzón, a forerunner of cha cha chá and mambo.  Grammy Award nominated, Chicago-based Angel Meléndez and The 911 Mambo Orchestra perform the classic "Cereza Rosa" in a mambo-meets-cha cha chá style.

Other featured artists on Rumba, Mambo, Cha Cha Chá include the Havana-based group Asere, who contribute “Oriente;” renowned Cuban flautist J. Joaquin Oliveros performing "Me Lo Dijó Adela"; ska and mambo-inspired Belgian group Internationals with "E.L.S.;" and Russia’s Tres Muchachos & Companeros covering Jimmy Bosch’s "Pa' Mantener Tradición."
That this music has spread globally is attested by the origins of the included artists: Cuba, yes, also France, Colombia, Scotland, the USA, Belgium, and Russia. The whole compilation makes me nostalgic for a time I never knew, for dancing in a sweaty but polite hall on a palm-lined street as the sun sets across a sandy beach. Put on this track, and have a dance with yourself. You'll hardly miss Oprah at all.

[mp3] Angel Meléndez and The 911 Mambo Orchestra: Cereza Rosa
from the album Putumayo Presents Rumba, Mambo, Cha Cha Chá

listen / buy CD
Putumayo website

29 May 2011

Who Is Soema Montenegro?

Who, exactly, is Soema Montenegro?

If you ask indie filmmaker Vincent Moon, she's "the best singer in the world."

If you ask my sweetie, she's "the secret lovechild of a Kate Bush-Tom Waites tryst on an undisclosed island off the coast of South America."

Me, I think maybe she's a sister of Lila Downs who was raised by the ghost of Yma Sumac.

If this gives you some idea of the sound of this enigmatic, gorgeously voiced singer from Argentina, then great. Because the music she presents on her new album Passionaria so defies categorization that it's nearly impossible to describe. Sweet one moment, she can in an instant throw herself into a primal scream or gutteral growl or spiritual-sounding chant. The musical arrangements also vary from desert-sparse experimental ("Colibrí"), to a capella ("Invocación a la Passionaria"), to full-blown street brass band ("Flores del desierto"). Because of this, some listeners may find the transition between tracks a jolt.

If you can get past that, you'll find that Montenegro's voice is an incredible instrument with vast range and emotion, and the choices she makes have her stretching it to its musical and emotional limits. Her singing conveys a raw, naked energy that may make some listeners uncomfortable. But because this kind of expression is so rare in our age of slickly produced, niche-marketed music, it's also hugely refreshing.

[mp3] Soema Montenegro: Cuando Pasa

is her second album, but the first to be released in the United States. Give her a little of your time and listening attention, and you may be amazed at your own response.

More Soema Montenegro:
listen / buy CD
label website
more video

24 May 2011

The Smod Squad

As you might imagine, when I heard that Manu Chao had produced a new album by a Malian acoustic-rap trio, my curiosity was aroused. Chao has previously produced an album by Malians Amadou & Mariam, so he's not stranger to the West African country's popular music.

Being completely unfamiliar with Smod, I wondered if the sound might resemble other West African rap, like Positive Back Soul, or JJC & 419 Squad, or even like Somalian rapper K'Naan. But really, no, it doesn't.

What you get with Smod is an album of tightly harmonized sung and rapped vocals (in French and Malian tongues) with musical accompaniment that sounds far more Manu Chao than West Africa. Guitar-based, the music includes the little loops and hooks that velcro the songs on Chao's own albums to your brain.

Smod's leader Sam is the son of Amadou &  Mariam, which explains the Manu Chao connection. He and his cohorts Mouzy and Ousco -- and later Dronsky, when Mouzy left for Europe -- composed and rehearsed much of their music on the roof of Amadou & Mariam's home, and Chao recorded some of the album up there with his mobile studio. Though this is their first international release, they recorded their first album Dunia Kuntala in 2002.

On this their third album, the music underlying the trio's vocals doesn't sound particularly African: No djembes or koras or balafons. This music is global in construction, and presumably in appeal. There's enough musical variation and interest to hook the listener who doesn't understand the lyrics, and not surprisingly Ousco confirms that “We talk a lot about politics, about corruption and injustice."

"Hip-hop is rebel music,” Ousco says. “It came along because things weren’t working right. Back in the day, the griot sang the praises of the King, except that the king wasn’t thinking of his people any more. Many people were marginalized and rejected and it was those people who became rappers. They said to the king, ‘Your power may be fine and all that, but there are people dying of hunger. And we who are from the ghetto, we want something better.’"

The music on Smod's first two albums reportedly was more in line with the beat-driven swagger of mainstream Western hip-hop. Their sound changed in 2004 when Sam decided to learn the guitar, and they developed an acoustic style they call "Afro-Rap." It's engaging, and the band's fresh sound will undoubtedly win over many world-music fans (though fewer hip-hop fans, I'm guessing).

If I have a complaint about the album, it's that the hand of Manu Chao is so heavy on the music it leaves me feeling like I'm listening to the band through his ears, not mine. Which makes me wonder what Smod sounds like when he's not around. Perhaps we'll find out when they tour, or get around to a future fourth album. In the meantime, Smod is worth checking out as a new African sound.

More Smod:
listen / buy CD
Smod interview

23 May 2011

Monday's mp3: Omara & Chucho, Sitting in a Tree

I listened through the new CD Omara & Chucho a couple of times before I realized why it wasn't what I expected. I know Portuondo from her Buena Vista Social Club work, and from various other tracks such as the one included on the Rough Guide to Salsa Divas. Which is to say, energetic Afro-Cuban dance tunes. Which the tracks on this new album most certainly are not.

What Omara & Chucho is, is a musical love affair between two amazing Cuban artists. It is intimate, personal, mostly on the quiet side, the kind of music you might expect in a small jazz lounge late at night, inspiring hand-holding lovers as much as it impresses folks just there for the music. It's not a place you go to dance, but you can listen, or mope, or cry, or hope that at age 81 (like Omara) or even a sprightly 70 (like Chucho) you will have such stories and the skill to share them so beautifully.

The two have conspired before, on Portuondo's 1999 Desafios, but this new album hearkens back to Portuondo's musical roots, and her 1959 debut recording Magia Negra, on which she covered Ellington's "Caravan" and "That Old Black Magic." Fifty-two years later, the singer returns largely to jazz, or Cuban songs with a jazz feel, on most of Omara & Chucho. Exceptions include the upbeat "Huesito" (with added vocals by Rossio Jimenez Blanco) and the swinging "Me acostumbre a estar sin ti." Wynton Marsalis adds his trumpet on "Esta tarde vi llover." Otherwise it's just Omara's voice and Chucho's piano throughout, channeling a lifetime of musical experience into a few quiet, sweet songs.

[mp3] Omara Portuondo & Chucho Valdes: Y Decidete Mi Amor

from the album Omara & Chucho

More Omara & Chucho:
Listen / Buy CD
Omara website
Chucho website

19 May 2011

World Music Top 10 - May 2011

Spin The Globe’s Top 10 World Music Albums – May 2011
  1. Hadag Nahash: 6
  2. A Bossa Eletrica: Do Norte
  3. Antwerp Gipsy-Ska Orkestra: I Lumia Mo Kher
  4. Scharlatöne: Hals uber Köpf
  5. various artists: The Rough Guide to Klezmer, 2nd edition
  6. M.A.K.U. Sound System: Vamos Bien
  7. Azam Ali: From the Night to the Edge of Day
  8. Ocote Soul Sounds: Taurus
  9. Vieux Farka Toure: The Secret
  10. Malika Zarra: Berber Taxi
Lots of new sounds this month, led off by Israeli hip-hop/soul/funk troupe Hadag Nahash. I don't know much about their politics, but somehow I have it in my head that they are the musical equivalent of Obama's Middle East speech tonight: a similar call for change and opportunity, with more than a little partying along the way. Not sure if their music is really widely available, but the album link above will get you to their website where you can track down their energetic music.

Have fun exploring these links. And here's a Hadag Nahash video to give you a taste of their music and style.

16 May 2011

Monday's mp3: Dancing With Shiva

I know I usually focus on new music, and I've got a ton of recent releases still to share. But this week we're going back a bit, because I've become re-enchanted with a release of an Indian fusion CD from five years ago.

Vancouver Canada-based Tandava is a group "inspired by the folk and classical music of India and Bangladesh" -- while giving these traditions a contemporary sound by creative arrangements and the use of instruments unusual for Indian music, including guitars, erhu, and marimba. The result is a delightful acoustic music that transcends preconceptions about South Asia-rooted music, perhaps inevitable considering the group's four musicians diverse musical backgrounds. Tabla player Stafan Cihelka has studied under Zakir Hussain; marimba/percussionist Jonathan Bernard has studied in Beijing and Cairo; erhu player Lan Tung studied in Taiwan, China, and India; and flautist/guitarist Prashant John has traveled physically and musically from his home in Bangladesh through jazz, folk, and rock to his current home with Tandava (and his trio Lehera) in Canada.

The group gets its name from a dance performed by Shiva, "a vigorous dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution" (wikipedia)

Tandava released their first and only CD in 2006, and their website doesn't show much sign of recent updates (sadly, the audio samples do not work). So enjoy this track, and if you like it tell them to get on the stick and make more music!

This song, the liner notes say, is also known as "Dance Under the Moonlight." It is sung "to call the villagers to come out and dance in celebration of the harvest. This popular Taiwanese aboriginal melody has been transformed by the syncopated rhythmic treatment and vocal harmony."

[mp3] Tandava: Dance of the Amis
from the album Tandava

More Tandava:
listen / buy CD

14 May 2011

From Kuno to Kebyar to You: Balinese Gamelan

You might not be a gamelan expert. If you are, you're ahead of me, and you probably already know that most of the gamelan recordings widely available hail from the Indonesian island of Java, particularly the area of Jogjakarta. But the quaint, terraced and touristed (and infrequently terrorized) island of Bali has its own gamelan styles. Recorded in the mid 1960s, the new release From Kuno to Kebyar: Balinese Gamelan Angklung is a marvelous look at this unique gamelan music.

Extensive liner notes help set the stage culturally, geographically, historically, and religiously. The short story is that Bali was a separate nation until defeated by Javanese forces in 1343, though it remained (and remains) a Hindu holdout in an overwhelmingly Muslim nation.

The gamelan angklung is a set of instruments specially tuned in pairs to produce ombak (resonant waves), and used extensively in religious ceremonies. This slightly-out-of-tune sound -- which apparently emerged before Muslim and Hindu influences -- can be a little tough on the unconditioned ear, and the newcomer to gamelan may not want to digest the full 73-minute CD at one sitting. Attentive listening does reveal wide differences in the sounds of the pieces, from the crisp 52-note melody of "Tujang Buro"  to the frenzied clamor of "Godeg Miring," which is not unlike the raucous sound of Konono No. 1 though here the sound is completely acoustic.

The recordings are clear and crisp, and if you didn't know this was 45-year-old "world music" you might mistake it for an avant-garde percussion ensemble. The notes suggest that one style of Balinese gamelan that emerged after the Dutch subjugation of the island "illustrates how the Balinese responded to outside pressures by creating a new music whose restless style was a musical reflection of the turbulent times." In other words, rock 'n roll.* Sort of.

Smithsonian Folkways bills this album as "the first devoted exclusively to gamelan angklung", though I find in my collection another somewhat mysterious older release called Gamelan of Bali - Angklung Sidakarya. Ah, well, such mysteries are good for the soul, as this music is good for the culturally curious soul. Hear samples at the link below.

hear samples / buy CD
Wikipedia on gamelan music
Gamelan Angklung video

*If you really want to explore the rock/pop side of Indonesian music, check out the Madrotter blog

09 May 2011

Monday's mp3: The Band that Got Me Listening to Quebecois Folk

This week's big find comes from an unexpected direction. It's not often I bend my ear towards Quebecois folk music, but right from the startling vocal opening track "La Turlutte du Rotoculteur" (Google translation: "The jigger of Tiller" -- ?) this second album from De Temps Antan is a riveting tour de force.

I'm desperately trying to spin a clever line involving rock-paper-scissors, as the name of this album translates as "Paper Suits." And these guys rock in their own folky way. It's just not coming. The aforementioned suits are pictured prominently on the three serious looking musicians, lending an air of the surreal and unexpected. In truth, though, the group steers clear of cultural mashups and instruments, sticking to the Quebecois vocal and musical traditions they plied as part of the multi-platinum folk band La Bottine Souriante.

The trio -- fiddler/vocalist Andre Brunet, accordionist Pierre-Luc Dupuis, and guitar/mandolin/bouzouki player Eric Beaudry -- easily hook the listener with their musical skill, and the clear joy they take in making this music. Les haibits de papier is a great case of the music speaking for itself, unassisted by clever cultural angles or even -- at least in my case -- any expectations based on knowledge of the musicians' backgrounds. Perhaps the CD's lack of lyrics or liner notes (or even the musicians' names and instruments) is also intended to steer you to a pure listening experience. Intended or not, that's the effect.

The songs vary significantly, from a cappella, to vocals accompanied only by drum, to full-blown numbers like this one featuring jaw harp, slide guitar, and harmonica along with strings and vocals.

[mp3] De Temps Antan: Dominic a Marcel
from the album Les haibits de papier

More De Temps Antan:
listen / buy CD

08 May 2011

Songs of Powerful Women (Happy Mother's Day!)

Dear Mom:

I know you're not as into global music as I am, but I think you'll like this album. It's by an artist named Galeet Dardashti, who grew up in the United States, but has roots in Judaism and in the Persian culture of Iran. You don't need to know much about that to enjoy the album, just that she uses her roots as a jumping off point to explore some of the strong women characters in the Bible.

We're talking women such as Eve, Leah, and Rachel. The CD's title song "The Naming" recounts how these women name their children. There's also "Hagar/Sarah," which recounts the rivalry between Hagar and Sarah, whose descendants still are, as Dardashti writes in the liner notes, "embroiled in an intractable cycle of violence." At the end of the song, she sings "dueling headlines from recent Palestinian and Israeli newspapers."

But this isn't really a political album, it's about the Biblican women who often play second fiddle to the patriarchs. Other songs tell about the Queen of Sheba, Dinah the daughter of Leah, and less familiar characters such as Queen Vashti and the witch of Endor.

It's all tied together with great middle-eastern-flavored music supporting Dardashti's powerful voice. Apparently such vocal gifts run in the family. Dardashti tells of her Jewish grandfather, whose voice was so compelling that when he acted as cantor at the synagogue in Tehran, Jews and Muslims lined up to hear him:

In Iran, my grandfather was huge. He was one of the biggest singers in his day. He would sing at the Shah’s palace, he had a weekly radio show, back  when there was no TV, so everybody would listen every week. They knew he was Jewish.

Throughout the Bible texts, Dardashti says, "women are marginalized. I am trying to show how for the most part women try to overcome that inequity. And how they can rise to the challenge and be powerful and funny."

Which brings us to today, Mother's Day. You may not have stories told about you thousands of years from now, but I'll gladly sing your praises, how your gentle, firm, spiritually inspired guidance and wisdom have helped shape me and protect me and inspire me.

Happy Mother's Day!
Your son

P.S. If you want to find out more about Galeet Dardashti, here are a few helpful links.
You can buy the CD here
Her website
Her facebook page
a video from her album

07 May 2011

Johnny Clegg Fading Out?

The most remarkable thing about Johnny Clegg isn't that he's still making music 111 years after his emergence as an antiwar musician during the Second Anglo-Boer War. Or that it's apparent from his website photo that he's had his eyes surgically removed. No, it's that he's only just learning how to end songs. The majority of the tunes on his newest album, Human, still end with long fade-outs, but it's worth noting that several songs actually come to an end without the engineer having to touch a knob.

I like Clegg's music, and I like that he was leading interracial bands in South Africa and mixing Western pop and township jive long before such fusions were cool ... or even legal. And I like several of the tracks on this new effort, particularly "Congo" and "Magumede." He has the usual blend of political and personal (read: love) songs, much like a southern hemisphere Bruce Cockburn. But several tracks leave me flat, and I'm a little concerned that the lack of sparkle may reflect a fade-out for this groundbreaking musician. Diehard Clegg fans will certainly enjoy this album; the less devoted may find it a bit uneven and unsatisfying.

More Johnny Clegg:
listen / buy CD

Clegg is finishing a USA tour at present. Remaining dates:
May-07 Sat Albuquerque NM Villa Hisapana @ Expo NM
May-08 Sun Durango CO Ft. Lewis College
May-10 Tue Denver CO L2 club

04 May 2011

Songlines Music Awards 2011

With the passing of other global music awards (and Grammy categories), the Songlines Music Awards may be poised to become the top achievement of global performers. That, along with simply being able to make a living in today's tough music industry.

The winners of the 2011 awards have just been announced, and they are (make your own drum roll noise here):

For the album Africa for Africa

BEST GROUP: Bellowhead
For the album Hedonism

For the album AfroCubism

For the album Raghu Dixit

I won't argue with their choices. Well, I won't argue much. I think their UK-centricism is showing a bit in the choice of Bellowhead over fellow nominee Terrakota, whose album World Massala has the edge in my opinion.

In case you're wondering who else the winners beat out, here's the list of finalists in each category:

    Ana Moura (for the album Leva me Aos Fados on World Village)
    Cheikh Lô (for the album Jamm on World Circuit)
    Femi Kuti (for the album Africa for Africa on Wrasse)
    Youssou N'Dour (for the album Dakar-Kingston on Universal)

    Bellowhead (for the album Hedonism on Navigator)
    Hanggai (for the album He Who Travels Far on World Connection)
    Lepistö & Lehti (for the album Helsinki on Aito Records)
    Terrakota (for the album World Massala on Ojo Musica)

    AfroCubism (for the album AfroCubism on World Circuit)
    Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal (for the album Chamber Music on No Format)
    Kronos Quartet with Alim & Fargana Qasimov and Homayun Sakhi
    (for the album Rainbow - Music of Central Asia Vol 8 on Smithsonian Folkways)
    Vishwa Mohan Bhatt & Matt Malley (for the album Sleepless Nights on World Village)

    The Creole Choir of Cuba (for the album Tande-la on Real World)
    Raghu Dixit (for the album Raghu Dixit on Vishal & Shekhar Music)
    Syriana (for the album Road to Damascus on Real World)
    Tamikrest (for the album Adagh on Glitterhouse Records)

You can read more about each winner at the Songlines website. And catch the Songlines podcast for clips of each of the winners. They've even put out a compilation CD with 16 tracks from the nominees, and it's a great lineup

03 May 2011

Nigeria 70: Funky Lagos Vol. 3

If you've been holed up in an elaborately guarded complex someplace, you might not have run across the Nigeria 70 series of releases from Strut. It started with Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970's Funky Lagos in 2001; then Nigeria 70: Lagos Jump: Original Heavyweight Afrobeat Highlige & Afro-Funk in 2008. Next week, the third installment arrives, entitled Nigeria 70: Sweet Times: Afro Funk, Highlife And Juju From 1970s Lagos.

Like its siblings, this compilation is packed with little-known artist making a big, funky sound. Here's a sample track. The liner notes say:

Often going by the unlikely acronym of ‘D.I.E’, this trio constructed their confusing moniker from each member’s surname. Don Kemoah, Isaac Olasugba and Ezekiel Hart were all graduates of Koola Lobitas, the infamous highlife/jazz fusion outfit founded in the late 1950s in London by Fela Kuti. By the time he had hit upon the formula for Afrobeat, D.I.E. had released the first of three Nigerian singles during the early 1970s before emigrating to Italy. ‘Ire’ is a highlife-inspired track with a juju feel and the title means ‘blessing’ in Yoruba. The lyrics concern friendship and the need to do good: “We shouldn’t fight or we’ll end up in prison.”

The Don Isaac Ezekiel Combination – Ire by Strut

[note: There was a mixup and we initially posted the wrong info with this track. The name and track notes have now been corrected.]

Listen / buy CD
Sweet Times website
Video preview of CD

02 May 2011

Monday's mp3: Heavenly Hispanic Harp

I'm not generally a big harp fan. Tell me that the music in heaven is primarily harp driven, and I start wondering how to sneak in some dumbeks and trombones and didgeridoos.

Experiencing the Latin harp playing of Correo Aereo's Abel Rocha some years back started a change of heart. The rhythm, the expression he brings to his playing began to redeem the idea of harp music for me. Now the redemption is complete, following last Saturday's concert at Olympia's Capitol Theater by the Celso Duarte Sextet.

Duarte's music is probably familiar to SoundRoots fans, even if his name isn't. Born in Paraguay, he plays both Paraguan ad Mexican harps, along with numerous other instruments. He became a member of Lila Downs' band La Misteriosa shortly after meeting her at a festival in Oaxaca, Mexico in 1998, and released his own debut album De Sur A Sur (From South to South) in 2006.

Last weekend's show was opened by Laura Rebolloso, though sadly I arrived too late to catch her set. My disappointment was short-lived once Duarte's troupe took the stage. The dancing, the singing, and mostly the music were sparkling examples of an updated tradition.

As energetic as the performance was, some of the musicians' energy seemed lost because of a setup that had them far apart on the large stage. At one point Duarte and his cellist brother played a duet, with the latter at the back of the stage in a dark corner. Unfortunate. Also unfortunate is that Duarte's website is currently down, though you can find his CD at Amazon -- and if you happen to be in NYC this week, you can get a CD at his show May 5 at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center. 

Here's a taste of Celso's heavenly harp stylings:

[mp3] Celso Duarte: Apolonita
from the album De Sur A Sur

By the way, the Olympia show was a benefit for the worthy nonprofit CIELO Project.

More Celso Duarte:
Listen / buy CD

more videos