Artist Profiles: Omer Ihsas

Omer Ihsas

Omer Ihsas is one of the most respected singers and composers of Darfur. He has led a band for over 20 years, composing songs that have helped sensitize the nation to the rich culture and profound challenges of his home region. At a time when many of Sudan’s most accomplished artists no longer live in the country, Ihsas is a model of commitment to his country remaining on the scene from city stages to refugee camps using music as a persistent force for change and to bring a better future.

Ihsas was born in 1958 in Nyala, Darfur. His mixed Arab and African heritage makes him a quintessential Darfurian. This vast region borders Chad, Central African Republic and Libya and so is fantastically diverse culturally. That diversity was the charm of Ihsas’s youth.

Nyala is one of the most beautiful serene civil places I’ve ever known,” recalls Ihsas. “When I was young it was quite different from now. Different tribes gathered peacefully every year for celebrations with dancing and singing. We lived together naturally.” That unity has been savaged today by decades of neglect and divide-and-rule tactics from a hostile government in Khartoum. But it lives on in Ihsas’s memory and it is his life’s dream to see it restored.

After he began singing in 1977, Ihsas went to Khartoum in 1981 and auditioned to study at the Institute of Music and Drama. He is a natural talent with a powerful voice that is also capable of great sensitivity and nuance so it’s no surprise he passed with flying colors. He auditioned with an Arabic song that speaks of feeling in Arabic Ihsas and this immediately became his stage name. Initially Ihsas worked at fitting into the music scene in Khartoum mostly imitating what other artists were doing. “I tried to be accepted,” he recalls, “but I realized that this was not the right goal. They were limited to 5 or 6 styles of music. I wanted to bring the richness of Darfur to the world.”

The Sudanese sound had been created when artists brought their unique traditions to Khartoum and Omdurman and found successful ways to modernize them. Ihsas knew this was also possible for the diverse rhythms and modes of Darfur but he was determined not to distort his sources in the process. “I did not intend to change the music,” he says. “I wanted to present it as it is then just develop it a little mostly by adding instruments.” Eventually he found himself leading a 16-piece band with three violins saxophone trumpet keyboards accordion percussion bass and guitar. In 1996 Ihsas added twelve dancers creating a full-force stage experience the likes of which no Darfur artist had ever delivered before.

Omer Ihsas

The music of Darfur is a mix of complex African rhythms many of them 12/8 variants but it is also informed by Arabic music and importantly the most mystical side of Islam. “We are Sufis,” says Ihsas. “We draw from hakeba folkloric Sufi music which uses the riq [a small frame drum] the most popular Sufi instrument.”

After 1989 Ihsas like so many other Sudanese musicians faced harassment and arrest at the hands of the new Islamist state. He understood that he had to address the political realities of Sudan in his compositions but in a positive way. “We are singers,” says Ihsas. “We sing love songs first. But the conscience of a singer is with the people and with the land. My conscience woke up.” In 1991 he composed one of his most famous songs “Darfur Our Homeland.” Ihsas knew that the problems in Darfur had deep roots. As with the conflict in the south of Sudan, the real issue was not religion or ethnicity but rather unequal development and the government’s unwillingness to share the country’s resources with any region where its political support was weak. At the height of the north-south civil war Ihsas performed with a major singer from the south as a sign of solidarity.

Ihsas has struggled to champion the culture and plight of Darfur while still promoting the idea of a unified Sudan. This has been no easy task given the divisive politics of the 1990s. “People accused me of fomenting tribalism,” recalls Ihsas “Of enclosing myself in Darfur. But no I was singing for all of Sudan. I’m a Sudanese singer singing Sudanese songs in the name of Sudan. This is why I call my music Sudanese songs from Darfur. Now many other singers are using this idea.”

Recording music is also not easy in Sudan. Ihsas and his band recorded an album called Imagine in Austria in 2005. But most Sudanese know him through his mesmerizing stage performances. Ihsas travels throughout the Sudanese diaspora but keeps his home in Khartoum along with his two families, his wife and four kids on the one hand and his band on the other. Despite all the violence chaos and danger, he continues to perform in Darfur today. He feels that the multi-cultural nature of Darfur’s music holds the key to resolving the conflict for the divisions that tear tribe from tribe have been introduced during his lifetime and thus can be ended. “First the fighters from must come together,” says Ihsas. “Then we can have hope. I ask for this in my songs.”

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Artist Profiles: Omer Erdogdular

Omer Erdoğdular

Omer Erdoğdular started studying music while still a child. He was born in Konya and grew up in Istanbul, initially learning ney from his father. In 1965 he began studying with Umit Gurelman and soon after started lessons with Niyazi Sayin which continued for many years. In the following two decades he participated in many radio and TV programs orchestras and concerts in a period when ney just began to be rediscovered in Turkey.

In 1980 he first appeared in concert with the famous soloist Bekir Sitki Sezgin and from then on played in most of his concerts. From 1984 to 1987 Omer Erdoğdular was a neyzen in Ministry of Culture’s Classical Turkish Music Chorus. He made several recordings among them with tanburi Necdet Yaşar and kemence player Ihsan Ezgen.

In 1987 he became a member of the Ministry of Culture’s State Classical Turkish Music Ensemble founded by Necdet Yaşar of which he is still an active member. As a soloist a member of the State Classical Turkish Music Ensemble and also the Necdet Yaşar Ensemble, Omer Erdoğdular performed around Turkey and in Europe, United States, Japan and the Middle East, participating in various festivals concerts and recitals.

He devotes a significant amount of his time to teaching both in Istanbul Turkey and in seminars abroad such as the annual Labyrinth Musical Workshop in Greece, Makamhane in Austria and the Sufi Music Retreat in the United States of America.

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Artist Profiles: Omar Sermini

Son of Cheikh Mohammed Sermini, Omar Sermini was born in Aleppo in Syria. He studied under the best of master musicians such as Abderahman Moudallal and Nadim Darwish. Omar worked in the field of invocations and enrolled at the Arab Music Institute where he learned to read music and play the ‘ud.

He has taken part in many Arabian festivals: Carthage and El Medina in Tunisia, the Festival de l’Independence in Algeria the Fes Festival in Morocco, the Maison de la Religion in Lebanon and in the Syrian Song Festival. He has also participated in international festivals notably in the Theatre de la Ville in France and in Sao Paulo Brazil.

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Artist Profiles: Omar Faruk Tekbilek

Omar Faruk Tekbilek

Omar Faruk Tekbilek was born in 1951 in Adana, Turkey to a musical family who nurtured his precocious talents. At the age of eight he began his musical career by developing proficiency on the kaval a small diatonic flute. “My brother was a born musician,” Faruk recalls. “He was really my guru my inspiration.” His brother Hadji played the flute but as he grew up Faruk found himself drawn to other instruments as well.

At the same time, Omar studied religion with thoughts of becoming a cleric or Imam. His musical interests were being nurtured by his older brother and by a sympathetic uncle who owned a music store and who provided lessons. “He had a music store and he also had another job during the day. So he told me to come after school open the store and – in exchange – he gave me lessons.”

While working in the store Omar Faruk learned the intricate rhythms of Turkish music how to read scales and other rudiments. He was trained on and eventually mastered several instruments: ney (bamboo flute), zurna (double-reed oboe like instrument with buzzing tone), the baglama (long-necked lute), the ud (the Middle Eastern lute), as well as percussion. By the age of twelve he began performing professionally at local hot spots.

Because it was a border town,” Faruk recalls, “Philosophers artists actors and all other members of the cultural intelligentsia were attracted there. This explains why so many great musicians have come from my town. My city was rich with cultural opportunities so I was very lucky.”

In 1967, upon turning sixteen he moved to Istanbul where he and his brother spent the following decade as in-demand session musicians. Omar Faruk stayed true to his folkloric roots but during this period of frenetic session work in the metropolitan music scene he explored Arabesque, Turkish and Western styles and the compositional potential of the recording studio. In Istanbul he also met the Mevlevi Dervishes, the ancient Sufi order of Turkey. He did not join the order but the head Neyzen (ney player) Aka Gunduz Kutbay became another source of inspiration. Omar Faruk was profoundly influenced by their mystical approach and fusion of sound and spirit. During that time he was introduced to Hatha Yoga and eventually to Tai Chi and Chi Qong which he continues to practice daily.
Omar Faruk’s skills in the studio blossomed in Istanbul playing with some of the leading Turkish musicians of the day including Orhan Gencebay flute and saxophone player Ismet Siral percussionist Burhan Tonguc and singers Ahmet Sezgin, Nuri Sesiguzel, Mine Kosan and Huri Sapan to name a few.

After establishing himself as one of the top session musicians in Turkey he began touring Europe and Australia. By 1971 at the age of 20 he made his first tour of the United States as a member of a Turkish classical/folk ensemble. It was while touring in the USA that he met his future wife Suzan and in 1976 he relocated to upstate New York to marry her.

Omar Faruk found very few options for a Turkish musician in the USA so he formed a band called the Sultans with an Egyptian keyboardist, a Greek bouzouki player and his brother-in-law on percussion. It started as a pop band but very quickly turned into a sort of Pan-Near Eastern ensemble. They began to attract some attention within the circle of Middle Eastern dance fans. They managed to record five albums during this time but Omar Faruk was still unknown outside his local musical community.

This was all about to change with the fateful meeting with Brian Keane in 1988. Keane released an album in 1988, Suleyman the Magnificent. A film was being made about the Ottoman emperor Suleyman to coincide with the opening of an exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Brian Keane was hired to do the soundtrack. “I knew I wanted to incorporate Turkish instruments and players,” he recalls, “but the Met saddled me with a bunch of professors; all intellect and no emotion.”

Desperate to move the recording along, Keane called Arif Mardin, the legendary Turkish producer of the Bee Gees, Aretha Franklin and so many others and asked if he knew any Turkish musicians. Mardin didn’t. “But two or three days later he called and said his cooks went to Fazil’s, a belly dance club in Manhattan. So I went for five nights and suffered through really bad belly dance music. Then one night Faruk shows up looking like he was right off the boat. (In fact he had just driven down from Rochester, New York, over 33 miles away.) You could tell immediately that he was different. His playing was so emotional; he really stood out.”

Keane had already seen the opening of the film and knew what he wanted, the mystical sound of the Sufi flute or ney added to his own synthesizer. As far as he knew, this combination hadn’t been done before, but Keane invited Tekbilek to his studio to try it. “When Faruk started playing,” he said, “the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It was magic from the start.” Their very first take became the opening of the movie and the recording. Faruk brought in some of his friends and the soundtrack was soon finished. In the following years, he and Keane would produce another six recordings, together launching Omar Faruk boldly into the world music scene.

Omar Faruk Tekbilek has since established himself as one of the world’s foremost exponents of Middle Eastern music. A multi-instrumentalist par excellence, he has collaborated with a number of leading musicians of international repute such as jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, keyboard player Karl Berger, former Cream rock drummer Ginger Baker, Ofra Haza, Simon Shaheen, Hossam Ramzy, Glen Velez, Bill Laswell, Mike Mainieri, Peter Erskine, Trilok Gurtu, Jai Uttal and Steve Shehan among others. He has contributed to numerous film and TV scores and to many recordings, including world sacred music albums and has been touring extensively throughout the Middle East, Europe, Australia, North and South America.

Alif (2001) was produced by Steve Shehan. Alif is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet and it also signifies the first letter for Allah. The seventh song and title track is a Sufi masterpiece of devotional love in all its forms – divine love romantic love and love of life. This is the theme running through the album’s 12 songs. The album includes Hadji Atmet Tekbilek, Mamak Khadem and Flamenco guitarist Jose Antonio Rodriguez Muñoz.

In 2005 he released The Tree of Patience which features Flamenco legend Enrique Morente, percussion master Arto Tuncboyaciyan, Ara Dinkjian, ambient music innovator Steve Roach and Hansan Isakkut. “I have a picture I carry in my mind,” Omar Faruk Tekbilek revealed. “I call it The Tree of Patience.”

Omar Faruk is the recipient of the Best Artist of the Turkish Music Award 2003 from the Turkish Writers Association. He is also the recipient of the US Golden Belly Musician-Of-The-Year-Award for 1998 and again for 1999.

Discography:

Suleyman The Magnificent (Celestial Harmonies, 1988)
Fire Dance (Celestial Harmonies, 1990)
Whirling (Celestial Harmonies, 1994)
Gypsy Fire, with Hagopian (Traditional Crossroads 1995)
Mystical Garden (Celestial Harmonies 1996)
Crescent Moon (Celestial Harmonies 1998)
One Truth (Hearts of Space 1999)
Dance into Eternity (Celestial Harmonies 2000)
One with Yuval Ron Yair Dalal (Magda 2003)
Alif – Love Supreme (Narada World Select 1198 2002)
The Tree of Patience (White Swan, 2005)
Rare Elements (Remixes) (5 Points Records 2009)
Kelebek – Butterfly soundtrack (Celestial Harmonies 2009)Love Is My Religion (Alif Records, 2017)

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Artist Profiles: Omar Banaga

Omar Banaga

Amir Omar ‘Banaga’ was born in the west of Sudan and began his performance career singing on a children’s television program on Sudanese television. He also continued his musical studies at the Institute of Music and Drama with the goal of finding a way to represent the rich diversity of traditional rhythms and melodies he grew up with.

In 1986 he joined with other students to form a group Igd el Djilad a landmark ensemble dedicated both to preserving traditions of the past and also addressing social issues of poverty and oppression. The group became extremely popular but in the increasingly repressive milieu of the late 1980s and early 1900s its members faced harassment detention and interrogation.

Ultimately in 1997 Omar Benaga moved to the United States. It was a wrenching decision that he made along with other key Igd el Djilad members.

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Mames Babegenush Adds Strings

Mames Babegenush – With Strings

Mames Babegenush – With Strings (Galileo Records, 2017)

Mames Babegenush is an award-winning klezmer music band from Denmark. On their new album With Strings, Mames Babegenush goes beyond klezmer, exploring the traditional musics of northern and eastern Europe.

As the album title indicates, the brass and woodwind-fueled Mames Babegenush collaborates with a string ensemble featuring violins and cellos.

The lineup include Emil Goldschmidt on clarinet; Lukas Bjørn Rande on saxophone; Bo Rande on flügelhorn; Nicolai Kornerup on accordeon; Andreas Møllerhøj on bass; and Morten Ærø on drums. The Livestrings ensemble includes Andrea Gyarfas Brahe on violin; Lisa Marie Vogel on violin; Sidsel Most on bratsch; Samira Dayyani on cello; and Live Johansson on cello.

With Strings is a vibrant album that takes the listener on a wild ride throughout klerzmer music and beyond.

Buy With Strings in Europe

Buy With Strings in the rest of the world

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Artist Profiles: Old Blind Dogs

Old Blind Dogs

 

Over the years Old Blind Dogs have evolved and grown into one of Scotland’s favorite folk bands. In the early days, Dave Francis was involved on percussion and Carmen Higgins on fiddle. In 1992 Davie Cattenach joined the band and they toured as a four piece and recorded four great CDs with Scotland’s record label KRL – New Tricks, Close to the Bone, Tall Tails and Legacy.

In 1996 Fraser Fifield became the fifth member of the Old Blind Dogs adding to the bands cutting edge sound with his tasty jazz licks on the sax and his superb playing of the small pipes. Their first album as a quintet titled Five aptly enough and released in 1997 – completed their five-album deal with KRL. Then in early 1997 Graham ‘Mop’ Youngson (ex – Wolfstone) replaced Davie Cattenach with his funky hard-hitting rhythm kit. The band was busy in 1998 touring in the United States of America, Germany, Spain, Denmark and the UK.

1999 saw the Old Blind Dogs embracing the New Year with a new and evolved line up. Ian Benzie retired from the band in January. Ian was the lead singer with OBD since the band was born in 1990 and was soon missed by the band members and fans. Fraser Fifield also moved on to develop other musical projects. The Old Blind Dogs continue on with the introduction of another great Scottish singer and songwriter Jim Malcolm and Rory Campbell (Deaf Sheppard) on small pipes and whistles.

 

Old Blind Dogs

 

Jim Malcolm is a performer of traditional Scots music and song with particular strong links to the ballads of Perthshire and Angus. In addition he is a fine exponent of simultaneous guitar and harmonica playing. His debut album Sconeward was well received by critics both at home and abroad. A new album Rohallion went straight to the top of Greentraxs best seller’s list.

Piper Rory Campbell will be most recognized through his contributions in another great Scottish Folk band – Deaf Sheppard.

The World’s Room was released with Green Linnet Records in October 1999.

The lineup of the band has changed frequently with only Jonny Hardie (Fiddle mandolin and backing vocals) remaining from the original group.

Discography:

New Tricks (KRL 1992)
Close to the Bone (KRL 1993)
Tall Tails (KRL 1994)
Legacy (KRL 1995)
Five (1997)
Live (1999)
The World’s Room (Green Linnet Records 1999)
Fit (Green Linnet Records 2001)
The Gab o Mey (Green Linnet Records 2003)
Play Live (Green Linnet Records 2004)
Four On The Floor (Compass Records 2007)
Wherever Yet May Be (Compass Records 2010)

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Artist Profiles: Okay Temiz

Okay Temiz

 

Okay Temiz was born in 1939 near Istanbul, Turkey. His family moved to Ankara, where he grew up. Temiz studied drumms and percussion at the Ankara conservatory. He began his professional career as a member of show groups with which he toured North Africa, the Near East and all of Turkey. In Europe, Okay Temiz felt especially at ease in Scandinavia and adopted both Sweden and Finland as second homes. At an early stage he regarded himself as an ‘international’ – what today would be called a world musician – and succeeded in bringing together widely differing musical influences.

In the late 1960s, American trumpet player Don Cherry – who took great interest in African and Asian cultures – heard the Okay Temiz play in Stockholm. The incident sparked a collaboration which would last many years. In the mid-1970s, Temiz founded the Ensemble Oriental Wind, a regular and successful guest on the concert stages of Europe throughout the years of its existence. Oriental Wind is described as ethno jazz or world jazz.

 

 

Just as he has often invited European musicians to make guest performances in Turkey, Temiz has repeatedly introduced Eastern musicians to Europe primarily people whose musical roots are in the folklore of their country.

 

Okay Temiz

 

The zurna has accompanied Temiz throughout his life; its sounds being associated with the most exciting incidents of his childhood – celebrations dances and holidays. In the 1970s Temiz frequently performed in Scandinavia with Binali Selman, a renowned zurna player from Eastern Turkey. In the 1980s he worked with another zurna player in Stockholm – Ziya Aytekin from the northeastern part of their homeland. In 1996/7 following his return to Turkey, Temiz met a young zurna player from the country’s west Ahmet Özden whom he regards as one of the greatest living masters of this difficult instrument.

In 1998, Temiz he recorded the album Karsilama with davul drums and zurnas. He carried out a similar project in Finland in 1995 with his Magnetic Band, a Scandinavian-Turkish ensemble.

Okay Temiz regularly presents percussion workshops for both adults and children.

Discography:

Drummer of two worlds (Finnadar Records, 1975)
Yonca (YCS, 1976)
Oriental Wind (Sonet, 1977)
Live in der Balver Höhle, with Oriental Wind (JG Records, 1978)
Zikir, with Oriental Wind (Sun Records, 1979)
Chila-Chila, with Oriental Wind (Sonet, 1979)
Bazaar, with Oriental Wind (Sonet, 1981)
Live in Bremen, with Oriental Wind (JA&RO Records, 1981)
Life road, with Oriental Wind (JA&RO Records, 1983)
Sankirna, with Oriental Wind (Sonet, 1984)
Derviş (Ada Müzik, 1989)
Misket (Sonet, 1989)
Istanbul da Eylül (La Lichere, 1989)
Fis fis tziganes (La Lichere, 1989)
Magnetic dance (Bayar Müzik Üretim, 1990)
Green wave (Uzelli, 1992)
In Finland 1995 (Ano Kato Records, 1995)
Karsilama (Ada Müzik, 1998)
Black spot (Kala, 1998)
Black Sea Art Project (Ada Müzik, 2001)
Darbukas & Zurnas (Ada Müzik, 2002)
Mehteran (Ada Müzik, 2002)
Kuzeyden Güneye Yansımalar “Senfoni” (Ada Müzik, 2002)
Okay Temiz ve Ritim Atölyesi (Ada Müzik, 2002)

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Artist Profiles: Ola Bäckström

Fiddler Ola Bäckström was born in 1959 in Dalarna, Sweden. He is known for his work with The Simon Simonsson Kvartet, Den Fule (Quake NSD61), Boot (Virvla NSD639) and Traton (with Carina Normansson and Maria Jonsson).

Ola plays the viola d’amore”, a non-standard version of the Baroque instrument”, which has 5 playing strings and 4 resonating strings. The fiddle head features a dragon head carving”, a replica of an old Swedish fiddle. The inking on the side copies a Stradivarius violin.

Ola Bäckström formed Anglo-Swedish band Swap in 1995 along with British musicians Karen Tweed (accordion) and Ian Carr (guitar) and Swedish artist and Carina Normansson (fiddle, vocals).

Discography:

Ola Bäckström (1994)
SWÅP (Northside Records, 1997)
Sic (Northside Records, 1999)
Mosquito Hunter (2002)
Du Da (Northside Records, 2005)
Boggdansen (2005)

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Artist Profiles: Ojos de Brujo

Ojos de Brujo in 2002

Ojos de Brujo was a flamenco roots band based in Barcelona, Spain. The band caused a stir in international music circles in 2003-2004 with its flamenco fusion. The group whose name means ‘witch eyes’ created a popular mix of flamenco with funk, samba, reggae and other forms of world music. One of Spain’s most popular live musical acts at the time, the group was composed of musicians on flamenco guitar, bass and percussion; a DJ and a dancer and featured the captivating lead vocals of Marina Abad.

Said Xavi Turull the group’s percussionist: “We live in Barcelona and we live strong – always out in the streets so we’ve always lived rumba catalana and flamenco puro really strongly. But when Marina came into the group we became even more focused on flamenco. Our roots got stronger and we became more confident when we experimented with other styles. We became more solid – more of a band.”

The second album Bari took its name from a word in Caló – the Gypsy (Roma) dialect of Spain – that means roughly ‘finding the groove in life’ – the same way you do in music. Xavi Turull explained: “Bari is a word that Ramon, who’s Gypsy, picked up from his grandmother. It’s kind of like the feeling that everything in life is working right. That everything feels good.”

Techari came out in 2006 and was released in North America on February 2007 on Six Degrees Records. It is an ambitious self-produced journey recorded both abroad in Cuba and New York as well as in a studio at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains close to the birthplace of Salvador Dali. “One of the pressures of success is to look for ways to stay true,” said Xavi Turull. “And we are really trying to find a way to be free. That’s why the new album is called Techari because it means ‘free’ in the gypsy language.”

Work on Techari started at the end of March 2005 and was completed at the end of October. In between the band did two international tours which stop-started the recording process. “Recording and touring at the same time was a little crazy but the result is amazing,” added Xavi. “We are finally at a point where the sound is exactly the way we want.”

Special guests included Faada Freddy from Senegalese hip hop collective Daara J, Asian Dub Foundation’s Prithpal Rajput and Nitin Sawhney, South Indian fusion artist and British TV star (who returned the favor after Ojos de Brujo collaborated on two tracks for his album Philtre).

Cuban pianist Roberto Carcasses also made an appearance alongside respected flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela and Cuban tres/flamenco guitar player Raul Rodriguez from Son de la Frontera.

Cuban drums were used in bulerias, funk was layered onto rumba catalana and dhol drums add an Eastern flavor to the mix. However the band was quick to point out that these collaborations were the result of new friendships and not any cynical marketing strategy.

The Techari bonus CD-ROM featured work from fourteen illustrators from around the world, each represent the individual nature of the fourteen tracks fifteen translations of lead singer Marina’s emotionally-charged lyrics and three full-length videos.

 

 

 

Lenacay, Calima, Marinah and Kejaleo are bands started by former Ojos de Brujo members.

Discography

Vengue (1999)
Bari (2002)
Bari: Remezclas de la Casa (2003)
Techari­ (2006)
Techari­ Live (2007) CD/DVD
Techari­ Remixes (2007)
Aocana (WEA Spain, 2009)
Corriente vital 10 años (WEA Spain, 2010)

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Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion