Artist Profiles: Steel Pulse

Steel Pulse

Steel Pulse was formed in 1975 in the UK with a firm commitment to fighting injustice, educating the masses, and promoting positive messages through spiritually uplifting music.

Probably the UK’s most highly-regarded roots reggae act, Steel Pulse originally formed at Handsworth Wood Boys School, Birmingham, and featured David Hinds (lead vocals, guitar), Basil Gabbidon (lead guitar, vocals) and Ronnie McQueen (bass).

However, it is Hinds who, as songwriter, has always been the foundation of Steel Pulse, from their early days establishing themselves in the Birmingham club scene onwards. Formed in 1975, their debut release, ‘Kibudu, Mansetta And Abuku” arrived on the small independent label Dip, and linked the plight of urban black youth with the image of a greater African homeland. They followed it with ‘Nyah Love’ for Anchor.

Surprisingly, they were initially refused live dates in Caribbean venues in the Midlands because of their Rastafarian beliefs. Aligning themselves closely with the Rock Against Racism 1 organization, they chose to tour instead with sympathetic elements of the punk movement, including the Stranglers, XTC etc.: “Punks had a way of enjoying themselves – throw hordes at you, beer, spit at you, that kind of thing“.

Eventually they found a more natural home in support slots for Burning Spear, that brought them to the attention of Island Records. Their first release for Island was the ‘Ku Klux Klan’ 45 rpm, a considered tilt at the evils of racism, and one often accompanied by a visual parody of the sect on stage.

By this time their band had swelled to include Selwyn ‘Bumbo’ Brown (keyboards), Steve ‘Grizzly’ Nesbitt (drums), Fonso Martin (vocals, percussion) and Michael Riley (vocals). Handsworth Revolution was an accomplished long playing debut and one of the major landmarks in the evolution of British reggae.

However, despite critical and moderate commercial success over three albums, the relationship with Island had soured by the time Caught You (released in the US as Reggae Fever) came out. They switched to Elektra, and revealed their most consistent collection of songs since their debut with True Democracy, distinguished by the Garvey eulogizing ‘Rally Around’ cut.

A further definitive set arrived in Earth Crisis. Unfortunately, Elektra tried to coerce Steel Pulse into a more mainstream vein, asking them to emulate the pop-reggae style of Eddy Grant. Babylon the Bandit was consequently weakened, but did contain the anthemic ‘Not King james Version’, which was a powerful indictment on the omission of black people and history from certain versions of the Bible. Babylon the Bandit won the Best Reggae Band Grammy award.

Their next recording was State of Emergency (MCA), which retained some of the synthesized dance elements of its predecessor. Though it was a significantly happier compromise, it still paled before any of their earlier albums.

Spike Lee met Steel Pulse at the group’s fund raising concert in Washington DC for the Jamaican victims of 1988’s Hurricane Gilbert. This resulted in David’s composition ‘Can’t Stand it’ featuring in Lee’s Do the Right Thing movie soundtrack.

Rastafari Centennial was recorded live at the Elysee Montmartre in Paris, and dedicated to the hundred year anniversary of the birth of Haile Selassie. It was the first recording since the defection of Fonso Martin, leaving the trio of David Hinds, Steve Nisbett and Selwyn Brown.

In the United States their reputation was growing, becoming the first ever reggae band to appear on the Tonight television show.

Their profile was raised further when, in 1992, the band filed a $1 million class action lawsuit against New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission. The group charged that cabbies refused to pick up blacks and Rastafarians throughout the streets of New York. This lawsuit initiated a video, Taxi Driver, with a supporting cast that included the Reverend Al Sharpton, Jay Leno, Branford Marsalis, C. Thomas Howell, Robert Townsend and the late Tony Johnson, the inspiration behind Sunsplash.

We just can’t ignore the politics, because every life and soul that’s born on this earth is a political maneuver for someone, at some stage“, Hinds explained. “From a spiritual aspect, it’s really an upliftment through facing reality – what’s out there. We deal with positive spirits. It means putting aside the guns, the drugs and all of the things that are ailments of society – especially the black communities right now“.

In 1993, at the request of the Clinton Administration, Steel Pulse became the first reggae band ever to perform during the inaugural festivities in Washington DC.

The following year, the group headlined large-scale music events including the US Reggae Sunsplash Tour, Japanslpash, Northern California’s Reggae on the River Festival and embarked on a successful tour of South America.

1995 saw an extensive Caribbean tour followed by an appearance in January 1996 at the prestigious Hollywood Rock Festivals in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo which featured Page and Plant, The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins and Aswad amongst others. Later that year Steel Pulse released their derivative best of album titled Rastanthology and followed this up in 1997, with the Grammy nominated, Rage and Fury album.

Extensive worldwide touring throughout the remainder of that year and 1998 included shows at MTV’s Boardaid in California and the environmental Waterman’s Ball in Los Angeles. December ’98 saw the return to Africa for the first time in fifteen years when they played the Ivory Coast. Hind’s notes “//it was a tremendous sight to behold and the ecstatic moral boost to our existence was so energizing//”.

For 1999, the group was headliner for the world-wide Spirit of Unity Tour and in August 1999 released a second live album titled Living Legacy (Tuff Gong international) that was recorded Live in Paris, Holland and Puerto Rico.

Discography

* Kibudu, Mansetta And Abuku (Dip, 1975)
* Nyah Love (Anchor)
* Handsworth Revolution (Island Records, 1978)
* Tribute to the Martyrs (Island Records, 1979)
* Caught You, also known as Reggae Fever (Island Records, 1980)
* True Democracy (Elektra, 1982)
* Earth Crisis (Elektra, 1984)
* Babylon the Bandit (Elektra, 1986)
* State of Emergency (MCA, 1988)
* Victims (1991)
* Rastafari Centennial – Live In Paris at Elysee Montmartre (MCA, 1992)
* Vex (1994)
* Rage and Fury (1997)
* Living Legacy (Tuff Gong international, 1998)
* African Holocaust (2004)

Videos

* Steel Pulse: Live From the Archive (2003)
* Steel Pulse: Door of No Return (2008)

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Artist Profiles: Simaku

Simaku

Parashqevi Simaku was born in 1966 in Kavajë, Albania. She is a popular and beloved singer from Albania. As a teen she represented Albanian culture, singing folk songs on national television and radio and performing to international audiences.

Simaku won many competitions and awards, worked with many well-known composers and musicians, ventured into modern pop and created the first music videos in her country.

currently living in New York City, Simaku writes and produces recordings with her American husband, guitarist Robert Nolfe. Simaku made a modern world music album, Echoes From Iliria, that is rooted in undiscovered Eastern-European folk traditions.

Discography

* Echoes From Iliria Jehone nga Liria (Reincarnate Music, 2006)

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Folk Rockers from Nunavut

The Jerry Cans – Inuusiq

The Jerry Cans – Inuusiq (Aakuluk Music, 2017)

Canadian band The Jerry Cans is based in Nunavut, in Canada’s far north. On Inuusiq they present a unique mix of folk-rock, pop, indie rock, reggae and Inuit throat singing.

The band indicates that their songs talk to young people and their challenges, trying to make music that equalizes traditional and contemporary life.

One of The Jerry Cans’ initiatives is the creation of the first record label ever in Nunavut, Aakuluk Music. “We had thrown around the idea to start a label to support Inuktitut music. We have four young artists singing in Inuktitut,” says vocalist and guitarist Andrew Morrison. “We’ve often heard as we were pitching our work, that if you want to succeed, you have to sing in English. We don’t accept that. We wanted to create a business entity to support it.”

 

The Jerry Cans

The lineup includes Nancy Mike on throat singing and accordion; Brendan Doherty on bass; Steve Rigby on drums; Gina burgess on fiddle; and Andrew Morrison on lead vocals and guitar.

The CD version includes a booklet with Inuit and English-language lyrics.

 

 

With Inuusiq and their new record label, The Jerry Cans give a fresh, creative new voice to Canadian Inuit culture.

 

 

Buy Inuusiq

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Artist Profiles: Sinikka Langeland

Sinikka Langeland – Photo by Dag Alveng

Born in 1961 to a Norwegian father and a Finnish mother from Karelia, Langeland was given a Finnish name, Sinikka, and felt the influence of two nationalities and cultures from the beginning. She lives in Finnskogen, 120 km north of Oslo, close to the border of Sweden. Finnskogen, the ‘Finnish forest,’ was first populated by Finns in the 17th century.

After an early education in classical music Sinikka started to look at contemporary folk music and the singer-songwriter genre, but this was soon displaced by an interest in older forms, intensifying as her research continued and underlined by a wish to “create an original music rooted in my own area, taking account of local possibilities and looking back into history to find out more.”

She highlights that her specific musical journey has “always been about searching. I love folksong but I’m not exclusively a traditional folk singer. There were always influences coming from other places, too.”

At 20 she changed from guitar to kantele, the Finnish table harp. She plays the 39-string concert kantele, with its five-octave range. “At first it was just an experiment – I thought it would be fun to have a Finnish instrument for one or two songs. But I became completely fascinated by it.” Meanwhile she was expanding her repertoire to include rune songs, incantations, ancient melodies from Finland and Karelia, as well as little known medieval ballads and religious folk songs.

Sinikka Langeland

Her work has flowed in several directions simultaneously. She gives, for instance, solo performances with voice and kantele, and she gives duo concerts in churches, together with organist Kare Nordstoga, in which old folk songs and Easter hymns are placed alongside with J.S. Bach’s transformations of the same sources. And, since the early 1990s, she has been working and recording with jazz musicians as part of her ensembles.

Swedish bassist Anders Jormin has been a regular colleague for more than a dozen years, joining her for the first time on the recording ‘Har du lyttet til elvene om natta’ (Grappa, 1995). Sinnika also played regularly with drummer Markku Ounaskari, a backbone of the Finnish jazz scene.

Sinikka’s songs often focus on the relationship between people and nature as it is expressed in traditional and modern poetry. Her CD Starflowers (ECM, 2007) includes her versions of the poems of Hans Borli (1918-89) and is performed with a remarkable ensemble that opens up the songs to improvisation. In its interweaving of folksong, literature, and Nordic jazz it may be considered a typical ECM production, but it is also a consistent extension of the work Sinikka has been developing over the last decades.

Discography

* Langt innpå skoga (Grappa Musikkforlag GRCD 4074, 1994)
* Har du lyttet til elvene om natta? (Grappa Musikkforlag GRCD 4107, 1995)
* Det syng, with Anne Marit Jacobsen, Halvor Håkanes, Eli Storbekken and Agnes Buen Garnås (Grappa Musikkforlag GRCD 4123, 1997)
* Strengen var af røde guld (Grappa Musikkforlag GRCD 4136, 1997)
* Lille Rosa (Grappa Musikkforlag HCD 7156, 1999)
* Starflowers (ECM, 2007)
* Maria’s Song (ECM 2127, 2009)
* The Land That Is Not (ECM, 2011)
* The Half-Finished Heaven (ECM Records, 2015)
* The Magical Forest (2016)

Web Site: www.sinikka.no

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Artist Profiles: Silvio Rodriguez

Silvio Rodriguez

Singer, guitarist and songwriter Silvio Rodríguez is one of Cuba’s most influential songwriters. He was born November 29 of 1946 in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. His mother introduced him to music by singing lullabies, boleros, and sometimes sones.

His first contact with the mass media was at the age of 3, at a radio station. At 16 he took piano lessons. His musical studies were interrupted by his service in the Cuban armed forces as a conscript. Nevertheless, while in the military, he met Esteban Baños, who encouraged him to play guitar. That was the beginning of a new stage in his artistic career.

His poems, combined with his revolutionary ideology and his innate talent at making music, made Rodríguez a leading figure in Cuban music. Together with Pablo Milanés and Noel Incola, he gave birth to the Nueva Trova Cubana movement. His creative work includes hundreds of songs that made him popular throughout the Americas as well as Europe and some African countries.

Discography

* Grupo De Experimentation Sonora Del ICAIC, v. 1
* Grupo De Experimentation Sonora Del ICAIC, v. 2
* Grupo De Experimentation Sonora Del ICAIC, v. 3
* Grupo De Experimentation Sonora Del ICAIC, v. 4
* Días y flores (Egrem, 1975)
* Cuando digo futuro (1977)
* Al final de este viaje… (1978)
* Antología (1978)
* Mujeres (Polygram, 1978)
* Rabo de nube (1980)
* Unicornio (1982)
* Tríptico (volumen uno) (1984)
* Tríptico (volumen dos) (1984)
* Tríptico (volumen tres) (1984)
* Causas y azares (1986)
* Arboles, with Roy Brown (1987)
* Oh, melancolía (1988)
* En Chile (1990)
* España y Argentina en vivo (1990)
* Silvio (1992)
* Rodríguez (1994)
* Domínguez (1996)
* Descartes (1998)
* Mariposas (1999)
* El Hombre Extrano, with Grupo Sintesis
* Mano A Mano, with Luis Eduardo Aute
* Expedición (2002)
* Cita con ángeles (2003)
* Érase que se era (2006)
* Segunda Cita (2010)
* Amoríos (Sony Latin, 2015)

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Artist Profiles: Sigurd Brokke

Sigurd Brokke

Sigurd Brokke was born in 1971 in Hylestad, Valle (Norway). He plays munnharpe (Jew’s harp) in the Setesdal tradition. His technique is frequently very personal, inspired by many different sources. Sigurd won the Jew’s harp class at Landskappleiken, the annual national competition, in 2003 and 2004. He has also won several local competitions in Agder and Telemark.

Sigurd has also taken part in many folk music festivals the last few years, has instructed many courses and has been teaching Jew’s harp playing at the Valle comprehensive school.

Currently, he works at the Agder folk music archives at Rysstad. Since 2001, he has been the leader of Setesdal Spelemannslag.

Discography

Rammeslag, ordinary fiddle and jew’s harp from Setesdal (Etnisk Musikklubb EM29, 2007)
Rammeslag II (Etnisk Musikklubb EM49, 2009)
Munnharpe (Etnisk Musikklubb, 2012)
Munnharpe II (Etnisk Musikklubb, 2015)

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Artist Profiles: Sierra Maestra

Sierra Maestra

Sierra Maestra is a seminal son cubano (Cuban son) band from Havana, Cuba. Currently, it’s one of the finest and most popular musical ensembles performing in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Placing themselves apart from other Cuban acts, Sierra Maestra reawakened the traditional style son line-up: tres, guitar, trumpet, bongo, güiro and vocals, emulating the golden days of the 1920s and 30s. Sierra Maestra’s members are pioneers in revitalizing this genre for new generations and its re-introduction into the Cuban mainstream. Sierra Maestra named themselves after the mountain range in the eastern part of Cuba as a tribute to the birth place of son.

Sierra Maestra first performed in 1976 at the University of Havana, where all the group members studied. Their goal, then as now, was to recover this popular Cuban music style of the 1920 that had been all but forgotten.

The group slightly increased the original instrument line-up with extra percussion (congas and maracas) and replaced the tradiitonal marímbula with electric bass. Some of the guaracha rhythms were sped up in a move away from the slow, close pair dancing of the 1920s.

This revitalization of son with a modern attitude was a sensation for the new generation of Cubans, and Sierra Maestra quickly became popular, playing the annual festivals at the universities around the island of Cuba, capturing first place prizes in their first three years. They were also appearing regularly on national TV.

In 1978, Sierra Maestra was asked to represent Cuba a the “Festival Mundial de la Juventud y los Estudiantes” in Havana. Their first album, “Sierra Maestra llegó con el guanajo relleno” recorded in 1981, received a silver disc award for outstanding sales, spectacular popularity and critical reception. They also won individual prizes for best recording, most popular song and highest record sales. Also in 1981, they launched their first foreign tour to Nicaragua.

Sierra Maestra recorded their second LP, “Y Son Así” in 1982 and was awarded the Girasol prize for the year’s most popular group and finished the year with tours to Angola and Nicaragua.

In 1983, Sierra Maestra won the “Benny Moré” dance music prize at the Benny Moré festival and took part in the IV Song Festival held in Helsinki, Finland. They then traveled to Sweden and France and to the International Film Festival in Spain (where they’ve enjoyed playing over the years).

Also in 1983, Sierra Maestra recorded the soundtrack to the Cuban TV series “Las Impuras” and their song “A los rumberos de Belén” was used in Robert Redford’s film, “The Milagro Beanfield War”. Since then, Sierra Maestra has attracted international audiences in Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States. They have recorded numerous albums, singles and appeared on over seven compilations.

Sierra Maestra also have a French feature film called “Salsa” that was released in February of 2000 in France. It’s a feature film, written by Jean-Claude Carriére and directed by Joyce Buñuel, released by Universal Studios.

The ensemble’s arrangements generally use the classic formula: introduction of trumpet phrases over the basic melody of the song (this usually following A-B or A-B-C-A scheme) and then the montuno, based on vocal or trumpet solo improvisations with chorus work. Sierra Maestra also play Cuban rumba, a different clave -2/3- that accompanies a totally different dance to that of son.

Sierra Maestra’s leader for many years, Juan De Marcos González Cárdenas (vocals, tres, musical director) left the group to create the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Buena Vista Social Club. And Jesús Alemany, the band’s charismatic trumpet player for many years, left to form his group Cubanismo.

Discography

* Sierra Maestra llegó con el guanajo relleno (1981)
* Y Son Así (1982)
* ¡Dundunbanza! (World Circuit Records, 1994)
* Criolla Garabali (Iris Music, 1996)
* Tibiri Tabara (World Circuit Records, Nonesuch WCD051, 1998)
* Rumberos de la Havana (Iris Music, 1999)
* Rumbero Soy (Riverboat Records TUGCD1027, 2002)
* Son: Soul of a Nation (Riverboat Records, 2005)
* Sonando Ya (World village, 2010)

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Artist Profiles: Siamak Jahangiry

Siamak Jahangiry

Siamak Jahangiry was born in 1971 in chaloos, in northern Iran. He started playing the ney at the age of 12. Jahangiry studied with Abdolnaghi Afsharnia before going on to study with Iran’s leading ney players, mostly with Mohammad Ali Kiani Nejad.

He received his degree in music from Tehran University of the Arts and has written a book on the ney, its playing techniques in the 20th century, and its masters.

Jahangiry is a member of the Abd-al-kadir Ensemble, a group dedicated to the compositions of Abd-al-kadir Maraghi—one of the most important Iranian music theorists and composers of the 14th century.

Siamak Jahangiry is also a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and appears on the ensemble’s albums Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet and New Impossibilities, as well as recordings with his own ensemble. “//When you travel and play for people outside your country, they usually want to learn more about your culture and where you come from//,” says Jahangiry. “//This is an important aspect of what we do with this project. We gain knowledge about each other and share knowledge about ourselves//.”

He is currently a professor of music in the Fine Arts school of Tehran University.

Discography

* Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet
* New Impossibilities
* Misty Solitude (2007)
* Tanha (Alone)
* Taranomi Baraye Sobh (2014)

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Artist Profiles: Shemekia Copeland

Shemekia Copeland – Photo by Carol Friedman

Charon Shemekia Copeland was born April 10, 1979 in Harlem, New York City. She is the daughter of famed blues guitarist and vocalist Johnny Copeland

At only 19, Shemekia Copeland released her debut recording, Turn the Heat Up! (1998). A year later, she appeared in the movie Three To Tango, while her song “I Always Get My Man, was featured in the film Broken Hearts Club.

Her second album, Wicked, released in 2000, received three Handy Awards (Song of the Year, Blues Album of the Year, Contemporary Female Artist of the Year) and a GRAMMY nomination. Two years later, New Orleans R&B legend Dr. John stepped in to produce her third recording, Talking To Strangers (2002). Afterwards, Copeland released The Soul Truth in 2005. The album was produced by celebrated Stax guitarist Steve Cropper (who also played on the CD), and featured a mix of blues, funk and Memphis-style soul.

Shemekia Copeland joined Telarc International for the February 2009 release of Never Going Back. This new chapter in the Shemekia Copeland story represents a crossroads on her ongoing artistic journey – a place where numerous new avenues are open to her. While she will always remain loyal to her blues roots, Never Going Back takes a more forward view of the blues, and in so doing points her music and her career in a new direction.

I’ve had success in my career, and I’m happy with that,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to continue to grow. In order for an artist to grow – and for a genre to grow – you have to do new things. I’m extremely proud to say I’m a blues singer, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only thing I’m capable of singing, or that’s the only style of music I’m capable of making.”

She added: “I want to keep growing. My main goal when I started this was that I was going to do something different with this music, so that this music could evolve and grow. I got that idea from my father. He didn’t do the typical one-four-five blues. He went to Africa and worked with musicians there. He was one of the first blues artists to do that. I want to be the same way. I want to be innovative with the blues.”

Discography:

* Turn the Heat Up! (Alligator Records, 1998)
* Wicked (Alligator Records, 2000)
* Talking To Strangers (Alligator Records, 2002)
* The Soul Truth (Alligator Records, 2005)
* Never Going Back (Telarc International, 2009)
* Shemekia Copeland – Deluxe Edition (Alligator Records, 2011)
* 33 1/3 (Telarc, 2012)
* Outskirts of Love (Alligator Records, 2015)

Web sites: www.shemekiacopeland.com

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Artist Profiles: Shams Ensemble

Shams Ensemble

Iran’s renowned Shams Ensemble, influenced by Sufi, Kurdish and Persian classical music traditions, performs powerful rhythms and haunting melodic works incorporating the poetry of Mevlana (Rumi). Founded in 1980 by musician and composer Kaykhosro Pournazeri, Shams was the first group to compose music specifically for the ancient Kurdish tanbur lute.

The award-winning Shams Ensemble has performed over hundreds of concerts in Iran and around the world and recorded many best-selling albums. In 2007, Shams Ensemble performed with whirling dervishes from Konya, Turkey for four sold-out nights in Tehran’s renowned Royal Palace, Saadabad; these performances marked the first Sufi concerts performed in Iran and attracted national and international attention.

Discography:

Nishteman (2012)
Mastan (2012)
Hidden in Heart (2012)
the Land of Love (2013)
Sewi Sour (2013)
the Land of Sun (2013)
Raindrops (2015)

shamss.org/shamss/

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