Riyaaz Qawwali to Bring the Sufi Music of Pakistan & India to New York City

Riyaaz Qawwali
Riyaaz Qawwali

Riyaaz Qawwali is set to perform on Saturday, March 19, 2016 at Zankel Hall in New York City. Riyaaz performs the ecstatic improvisational Sufi vocal tradition made famous in the West by the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, enthralling listeners with its lively rhythms, joyous melodies and inspirational poetry.

In addition to celebrating the traditional qawwali that has been in existence for over 700 years, the ensemble also weaves various songs and poetry of South Asia into the qawwali framework, using qawwali as a universal message of oneness that transcends religious boundaries.

Most qawwali troupes are composed of Muslim family members, but Riyaaz Qawwali, which is based in Texas, is composed of musicians who represent the diversity of South and Central Asia; they are of Indian, Pakistani, Afghani, and Bangladeshi descent, and come from various spiritual backgrounds, including Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism. The ensemble last appeared in New York at globalFEST 2015 and has an album titled Kashti.

Time: 20:00 (8:00 p.m.)
Roulette
509 Atlantic Avenue at 3rd Avenue
Downtown Brooklyn
917-267-0363

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Somaliland Act Sahra Halgan Trio to presents new album “Faransiskiyo Somaliland” at Studio de l’Ermitage

Sahra Halgan
Sahra Halgan

Sahra Halgan Trio is set to perform at Studio L’Ermitage on Wednesday, February 10, 2016as part of the 9th edition of the Festival Au Fil des Voix.

Sahra Halgan Trio is currently the only artist from Somaliland in the field of world music. The trio features Sahra Halgan on vocals, Aymeric Krol on percussion and Maël Salètes on guitar.

The band will present its album, “Faransiskiyo Somaliland” (Buda Music / Universal), released on October 23, 2015.

Studio L’Ermitage is located at 8 Rue de l’Ermitage, 75020 Paris, France.

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Flamenco Meets Cuba: Esperanza Fernández & Gonzalo Rubalcaba to Perform in New York

Esperanza Fernández
Esperanza Fernández

Esperanza Fernández (Spain) and Gonzalo Rubalcaba (Cuba) are set to perform on Saturday, March 12, 2016 at Roulette in New York City.

Esperanza Fernández, one of the flamenco world’s leading singers, and Havana-born pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, come together for Oh Vida!, a performance dedicated to two legendary figures: Cuban singer-bandleader Beny Moré, known as El Bárbaro del Ritmo, and the Gypsy flamenco singer Manolo Caracol, known for his passionate voice.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Gonzalo Rubalcaba

Fernández, born in Seville into an important Gypsy family of artists, is deeply rooted in the singing traditions of Lebrija and Triana. She worked with such luminaries as Mario Maya, Camarón de la Isla, and Enrique Morente.

Piano maestro Gonzalo Rubalcaba, acclaimed for his solid technique and originality, has developed his own distinctive voice and challenged the traditional musical classifications of the day.

$40; premium seats +reception $60
Time: 20:00 (8:00 p.m.)
Roulette
509 Atlantic Avenue at 3rd Avenue
Downtown Brooklyn
917-267-0363

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Sierra Hull Releases Weighted Mind

Sierra Hull - Weighted Mind
Sierra Hull – Weighted Mind

Mandolinist Sierra Hull has a new album titled Weighted Mind (Rounder Records). Weighted Mind includes folk-pop, bluegrass, and new acoustic music. The instrumentation is comprised largely of mandolin, bass, and vocals.

Béla Fleck produced the album and also appears on two tracks. Weighted Mind also includes special harmony vocal guests Alison Krauss, Abigail Washburn and Rhiannon Giddens.

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Baraka Honors Nargis Bandishoyeva

Baraka – Tribute to Nargis (Sketis Music SKMR-099, 2013)

Ethno-jazz band Baraka dedicates this album to Pamir singer Nargis Bandishoyeva. During the Soviet era, Nargis was the first vocalist who performed on the stage in the Shugnan language, which is spoken in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. The singer was adored by her nation and during her life gained real fame throughout Tajikistan. In the early 1990s, her life was sadly cut short in a car accident.

Baraka, based in Latvia, is known for mixing jazz with traditional music from various parts of the world. It’s what some call ethno-jazz or world jazz. In this case, the focus is on the music of Tajikistan, in Central Asia. Baraka’s band leader, percussionist and arranger Dmitry Evsikov along with his daughter Devika (vocals, bass) delve into genuine Tajik and Pamir folk music. On Tribute to Nargis, the music selections includes recreations of original compositions by Oleg Fesov and other composers together with some traditional pieces arranged by Dmitry Evsikov.

Throughout the album, Devika sings heartfelt ballads and love songs in various languages, including Farsi, Shugnan, Dari and Pashto. The music is characterized by the use of Central Asian percussion, electric piano and saxophones, developing an East meets West fusion.

The booklet includes the memories of Nargis collected by Dmitry and Devika. The poetry of Omar Khayyam and Rumi is interlaced with the works of modern Tajik poets.

The lineup on Tribute to Nargis includes Devika Evsikova on vocals and bass; Denis Pashkevich on tenor and soprano saxophone, flute; Raivo Stashans on soprano saxophone, flute; Normund Piesis on flugelhorn; Vilnis Kundrats on tenor saxophone; Alex Suris on accordion (and also cover design), Madars Kalnins on piano, Rhodes piano; Artem Sarvi on piano, Rhodes piano; Egor Kovaikov on guitar, acoustic guitar; Zigmund Zukovsky on bass; Andris Grunte on upright bass; Stanislav Judin on double bass; Andrey Markin on fretless bass, rhythm acoustic guitar; Andrey Orlov on bass; and Dmitry Evsikov on percussion.

Tribute to Nargis features a set of effectively crafted songs embracing contemporary jazz and the musical traditions of Central Asia.

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Les Moncada Remembers Latin Trumpet Legend Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros Sr.

When it comes to the Latin music world, the living legend of trumpet players was Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros Sr., who passed on January 6, 2016 at the age of 87 years.

“Chocolate,” as we will refer to him. was born in in Santa Clara, Cuba on April 4, 1928 and resided in Brooklyn, New York. In his musical life Chocolate played with so many orchestras; too many to mention. Chocolate performed with Beny More, Arsenio Rodriguez, the Machito Orchestra, Israel “Cachao” Lopez, Generoso
Jimenez, Larry Harlow and so many more.

According to timbalero great, Mario Grillo son of the famed Latin Orchestra leader, Frank Grillo “Machito”: “These are all the countries Chocolate Armenteros toured with me when we were in my father’s Machito Latin Orchestra: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, England, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Puerto Rico. The USA from Coast to Coast. We covered 35 cities in Europe. We traveled by bus, train, plane, ferry; we covered 15,000 miles in weeks.”

Mario stated that he is going to be 60 years old on St. Patrick’s Day and that he had known Chocolate for almost 60 years. Mario spoke of Chocolate with the utmost regard and said that Chocolate was family to his father and himself; that his sister Paula Grillo (former vocalist with the Machito Orchestra) and Alfredo Armenteros Jr. were baptized at the same church same day.

Mario Grillo: “When Mario Bauza and Graciela left my father’s Machito orchestra in 1975, they wanted Chocolate to go play with them in Mario Bauza’s Orchestra. Chocolate turned them down and chose to play with my father’s (Machito) orchestra. He was a very important person in my life and in many other people’s life. His talent was quite unique.

There are 1 million trumpet players on this earth; the minute he put his lips on that trumpet you knew it was Chocolate, just with his approach and concept. Chocolate was the greatest and most pleasant person; he was my friend and mentor. Mario Bauza had taught him my father’s music book (charts) and he taught me the book. He knew it full and well, he knew how my father’s orchestra worked and its approach and concept.”

 

Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros Sr. with the "queen" of salsa Celia Cruz - Photo courtesy of Alfredo Armenteros Jr.
Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros Sr. with the “queen” of salsa Celia Cruz – Photo courtesy of Alfredo Armenteros Jr.

 

Mario Grillo: “When you have a sound like Chocolate, how could you go wrong? He knew the roots of that orchestra.

I had dinner with many musicians and people, and dinner at the craziest of places. I even had dinner with Tito Puente. Whenever I would go out to dinner with Chocolate, it was complete, because he was complete. We would have a cocktail, an appetizer, a salad, soup, entrée, dessert and a digestif (an after dinner drink).

Chocolate recorded 3 albums for my father’s orchestra (Machito) and 2 studio recordings and he was on the North Sea Jazz Festival album recorded in Holland.

Even when no one wanted him as a roommate, when we were touring in Venezuela with the Machito Orchestra, I said he could be my room mate; we were in Venezuela for 10 days. I did not sleep for 10 days, when my wife came to pick me up at the airport she asked what had happened to me. She said I looked like a raccoon, with black under my eyes (Mario laughs)”.

Another time, Mario had told me about an incident where the promoter had not paid the touring musicians and his father Machito called the promoter and told him they needed to get paid, that Machito told the promoter that he had enough cash to fly all the musicians home and that if the promoter did not show up at the next city with cash for all the musicians, they were flying home and canceling the tour. Mario said that the promoter did show up and Mario did pay all the musicians.

With their payday, Mario said that Chocolate told him, “Let’s go have dinner”. Mario said that he and Chocolate spent $500.00 on dinner.

Mario was getting emotional talking about Chocolate. Mario Grillo: “When my father passed, I had the vote of confidence emotionally and physically from Chocolate and he came to our house after the funeral.

If you had a chance to see Chocolate, you saw the greatest thing, and if you didn’t you lose out!”

 

 Chocolate y su sexteto - Rompiendo Hielo

Chocolate y su sexteto – Rompiendo Hielo

 

Miguel “Pacha” Pozo, leader of Charanga Pacha in New York City, Jose Fajardo Sr. Charanga Orchestra: “I never had the pleasure to perform with Chocolate but 2 years ago he was part of the Jose Fajardo Awards and still at 84 he sounded great. The sound that he got out of the trumpet was awesome, he will be missed.”

Patricia Thumas, pianist from San Francisco, California: “I did a gig long ago with Tito Garca’s Orchestra and Chocolate had flown in from Miami and did the gig with us, It was a blast!”

Cid Govanni Ramos, Latin percussionist from Puerto Rico, member of Facebook’s Timbales Congas Bongo Bata & Bells: “Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros was like the last Mohican of Cuban son-style trumpet player. He played with a lot of people back then in Cuba and in New York with the top salsa artists in the scene, he will be deeply missed.”

 

 Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros Sr. - Photo courtesy of Alfredo Armenteros Jr.
Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros Sr. – Photo courtesy of Alfredo Armenteros Jr.

 

Faustino Cruz, timbalero, bongosero, Latin music historian & musicologist, and Latin instrument historian, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania via New York City: “Chocolate a heartfelt moment. We worked together for quite some time in the Joe Cotto Orquesta. I remember him calling me Joe Cotto’s son because I was the youngest member of the band at the time. We had great times. “

Tito Rodriguez Jr., timbalero, orchestra leader, son of the great Tito Rodriguez Sr.: “Chocolate will be sorely missed not only as a great trumpet player but as a person. He did several recording sessions for my father’s label in the late 70s. He was always smiling when I would run into him at his favorite eating place in El Barrio, New York City. A true legend RIP!

John “Dandy” Rodriguez, legendary bongosero, formerly from Tito Puente Orchestra and currently with MLO The Mambo Legends Orchestra: “Chocolate was a super trumpet player, a super person, always smiling, always dressed sharp, he recorded in Cuba and the United States, he was a one of a kind person, great soloist on his instrument. Chocolate was not a lead trumpet player, but he had a tone, if you closed your eyes; you would know it was Chocolate!

 

 

 

 

Our deepest regards to Alfredo Armenteros Jr.and Family. Chocolate will be greatly missed, although we have his grand recordings to listen to in his memory.

Thanks you to all the great artist that contributed their time and memories to this article. A special thank you to Mario Grillo, you’re too much man, and you had me from tears to laughing the hardest I have laughed in years! (almost like a Hispanic telenovela!)

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Delightfully Incandescent Divanhana

Divanhana – Zukva (ARC Music, 2016)

As a 2012 participant in the 12 Points Jazz Festival in Porto, Portugal and at the World Music Expo in Thessaloniki, Greece and with the 2013 release of Biljeske Iz Sestice on the Multimedia Music label, the fiery rich Bosnian fusion group Divanhana is back. This time on the ARC Music label, Divanhana wows listeners with Zukva, set for release on January 29th.

Melding influences of pop, jazz and even classical to the Bosnia’s sevdah or sevdalinka musical traditions, similar to the Portuguese fado, Divanhana pushes through the traditions and discovers a blend that’s fresh and deliciously flirty.

Divanhana members vocalist Naida Čatić, pianist Neven Tunjić, accordionist Nedžad Mušović, bass guitarist Azur Imamović, drummer Rifet Čamdžić and percussionist Irfan Tahirović make the most of their new take on Bosnia’s musical traditions with the lively opening track “Oj Safete, Sajo, Sarajlijo” with the equally energized “Da Sam Ptica” following close on its heels.

Formed in 2009 as students at Sarajevo’s Music Academy, Divanhana flashes brilliant on Zukva with straight forward musical expertise, but tracks like the lushly worked “Ciganka Sam Mala,” and brightly breezy “Zasto Si Me Majko Rodila” are proof that Divanhana is as expressively incendiary as it is talented.
Other delightful little goodies on Zukva include the sultry vocal studded “Otako Je Banja Luka Postala,” the lushly jazzy “Sejdefu Majka Budase,” along with “Zapjevala Sojka Ptica” and the irrepressibly catchy “Pijanica, Bekrija.”

Cleverly sassy and passionately expressive, Zukva blazes a new path for Bosnia’s music scene that is a delightfully incandescent introduction to Divanhana and the new music of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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Bulgarian Folktronics

Oratnitza – Folktron (Fusion Embassy, 2015)

Oratnitza delivers a contemporary acoustic music vision of Bulgarian traditional music. On Folktron the band performs original pieces that revolve around captivating vocals, kaval (a long, end-blown Bulgarian flute) melodies, roaring didgeridoo and a variety of trance drums beats and percussion.

Although some of the rhythms may emulate modern percussion instruments or even electronic beats, there are no electronics, except for one piece which is an electronic dance music dub remix.

The use of the didgeridoo adds an exotic tribal elements that permeates throughout most of the pieces. Most of the vocals use the traditional Bulgarian style that has fascinated world music audiences for years. They also add a little rapping on one piece which is annoying.

The lineup on Folktron includes Hristiyan Georgiev on kaval, vocals, melodica and tambura; Georgi “Horhe” Marinov on didgeridoo; Petar “Buny” Yordanov on cajon, tupan and darbuka; and Ivan “Popa” Gospodinov on vocals. Guests include Peyo Peev on gadulka; Petar Milanov on tambura; Petar Yanev on kaba bagpipe, and Magdalena Petrovich on cello.

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John Prine to perform at Merlefest 2016

John Prine - Photo by Jim Shea
John Prine – Photo by Jim Shea

Country and American folk singer-songwriter John Prine is set to perform MerleFest 2016. This will be his first appearance in a decade at the festival. Prine wrote classics like “Angel from Montgomery,” “Sam Stone,” “Paradise” and “Hello in There.” His music speaks to the everyday experience of ordinary people with a simply honesty.

Performers who have recorded from Prine’s extensive catalog include Johnny Cash, Bonnie Raitt, the Everly Brothers, John Denver, Kris Kristofferson, Carly Simon, Ben Harper, Joan Baez, George Strait, Old Crow Medicine Show, Norah Jones, Bette Midler, Miranda Lambert and many others.

Some of Prine’s most iconic albums include Sweet Revenge (1973), Common Sense (1975), Pink Cadillac (1979) the Grammy Award-winning The Missing Years (1991).

MerleFest 2016 is scheduled for April 28 – May 1, 2016 and will take place on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

Tickets for MerleFest 2016 may be purchased at MerleFest or by calling 1-800-343-7857.

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The Healing Power of Music

Manish Vyas – Atma Bhakti – Healing Sounds of Prayer (New Earth Records, 2015)

Let me say at the outset you not only want Manish Vyas’s Atma Bhakti Healing Sound of Prayer you need it. Composer, multi-instrumentalist and singer Manish Vyas from Gujarat, India is the artist behind such recordings as Healing Ragas, Shivoham, Sattva, Prasad and Prem Joshua and Manish Vyas: Water Down the Ganges with the German fusion musician Prem Joshua. He has collaborated with Deva Premal, Snatam Kaur, Ramdass and Maneesh de Moor. While that all might seem like a mouthful, it’s very clear from the opening strains of Atma Bhakti, you aren’t going anywhere in a hurry.

The serene, soul soothing song found on Atma Bhakti is elegant, quietly comforting and will surely blunt the edges of a chaotic day and maybe, just maybe, allow you to find your happy space and ignore that jerk in the neighborhood with the leaf blower.

Finding inspiration in the environs of an ancient temple, Mr. Vyas summons up an air of a restful, mindful space by way of vocals, chant, the swar-mandal (a harp from India), tanpura (a plucked, stringed instrument from India), keyboards, bells and gong.

Joined by Milind Date on bamboo flute, Atma Bhakti overflows with serenity, but not a Kenny G type of serenity, but rather revolves around a profound sense of consciousness through the use of chant, enhanced by Mr. Vyas’s vocals and additional vocals by Jay Dave, Krishna Jani and Singdha Pious.

Composing and arranging the music of Atma Bhakti, Mr. Vyas has conjured up that ancient temple through a set of three extended tracks that simply allow the listener to fall into that meditative space.

Mr. Vyas points out succinctly, “There is a very meditative atmosphere in the music.” Adding, “The material I select to sing is always on a higher plane going to a higher dimension. That has always been my preference, to work on music that lifts you from the level of the mind and takes you higher.”

Mr. Vyas indeed succeeds as listeners are transported by way of the quiet, almost spare, opening track “Atma,”riding the lines of his own vocals, keyboards, flute and the occasional use of bells.

The sound of a gong opens the track “Bhakti” or “mantra ‘shivaya namaha om.’” As instrumentation fills out the track, “Bhakti” deepens the lure with vocals, swar-mandal and tanpura.

Closing out the CD with “Vedic Chanting,” with an opening of street sounds, Atma Bhakti entrances the listener with a potent form of Vedic chant long used by priests in India and considered one of the oldest forms of oral tradition, so much so that Vedic chant has been proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Atma Bhakti’s beauty and depth is one of those rare musical journeys that gently remind us of the healing power of music and voice, nudging our mind into a mindfulness we often ignore. My advice is to settle in and slip on the headphones and take this journey.

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