Artist Profiles: Jai Uttal

Jai Uttal

Jai Uttal is a pioneer in the United States’ world music community. His eclectic east meets-west sound has put his music at the forefront of the world fusion movement. Jai Uttal’s musical roots embrace a rich variety of cultures and traditions that span the globe and the centuries. From the traditional music of the Appalachian Mountains to the passionate strains of Bengali street singers from the haunting rhythms and melodies of ancient India to contemporary electric rock sounds Jai’s music distills the essence of diverse musical forms.

As a child in New York City, Jai’s home was filled with music. He began studying classical piano at the age of seven and later learned to play old time banjo harmonica and guitar. His musical interests encompassed a wide variety of styles and over the years he experimented with many forms of musical expression.

Eventually this led him to the work of India’s National Living Treasure Ali Akbar Khan. At the age of 19 Jai moved to California to become a student of Khansahib for traditional voice training and to learn the sarod a 25-stringed Indian instrument. Later he traveled to India where he was deeply inspired by the Bauls the wandering street musicians of Bengal. Jai settled among them communicating only through music which ultimately helped establish his unique style.

During these early visits to India Jai also met his Guru Neem Karoli Baba and spent time with many great beings of both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. He became deeply absorbed in the practice of kirtan the ancient yoga of chanting or singing to God. This form of prayer became the core of his musical and spiritual life.

When Jai returned to the United States his music had been transformed. He continued to study Indian music diligently while also performing in reggae, R&B, punk and blues bands. He also began leading kirtan groups all over the country. The combination of Jai’s exceptional vocals and exotic instrumentation produced a new and captivating sound.

In 1991 Triloka Records released his debut album Footprints featuring world music innovator Don Cherry and Indian vocalist Lakshmi Shankar. The album received critical acclaim and led Jai and his band the Pagan Love Orchestra to international prominence. By the time his second album Monkey was released in 1993 Jai and the Pagan Love Orchestra had an enormous fan base with a top ten record on the world music charts.

In 1994 Beggars and Saints was released a tribute to the Bauls of Bengal and again the album received international recognition solidifying Jai Uttal’s position as a world music visionary. During this time Jai also produced two CD’s for his teacher Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Combining the brilliance of Khansahib’s playing and composing with Western orchestration Journey and Garden of Dreams became extremely popular in the Indian community.

Jai’s fourth release Shiva Station was another leap forward. Capturing the raw urgency of his live performances with the Pagan Love Orchestra and adding the mixing wizardry of veteran producer Bill Laswell Shiva Station presented traditional chants in a totally new way. The concerts at that time united the temple and the nightclub the sacred and the worldly; emphasizing the underlying theme that spirituality and devotion can pervade all aspects of life.

Meanwhile, with the rise of interest in Yoga, Jai was receiving more and more requests to lead kirtan workshops and concerts all over the world. In the last few years chanting has brought him to Israel Fiji Brazil Germany Switzerland and India. Jai released a live kirtan CD titled Nectar to begin to chronicle these powerful events.

Finally in February of 2002 Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra released Mondo Rama on Narada Records. The product of several years of deep musical and self-exploration Mondo Rama combined Brazilian influences, Hebrew prayers, Appalachian Blues, Beatles psychedelia and of course Indian music and chants, Mondo Rama explodes from the speakers in celebration and rebirth. “I went through many difficult heart-wrenching transformations in the last year” says Jai, “and I decided to put it all into this CD. The anguish the pain the joy and the redemption. Mondo Rama means the World is Rama or Everything is God. This CD is an attempt to express that feeling and the sense of surrender and gratitude that I try to remember everyday“. Mondo Rama went on to be nominated for a Grammy as Best New Age Album of 2002.

Jai adds, “world music is music from everywhere. Music that creates bridges. Music that unites hearts and cultures. Music that brings peace.”

In recent years Uttal has drifted away from world music, focusing on music for the new age market.


Footprints (Triloka Records” 1991)

Monkey (Triloka Records 1993)

Beggars and Saints (Triloka Records 1994)

Shiva Station (Triloka Records 1997)

Nectar (Etherean 2000)

Mondo Rama (Narada Records 2002)

Kirtan (Sounds True 2004)

Music for Yoga and Other Joys with Ben Leinbach (Gemini Sun Records 2004)

Pranayama (2005)

Loveland – Music for Dreaming and Awakening with Ben Leinbach (Gemini Sun Records 2006)

Dial M for Mantra (Sounds True 2007)

Thunder Love (Nettwerk 2009)

Bhakti Bazaar (Sounds True 2010)

Queen of Hearts (Nutone 2011)


Artist Profiles: Jahazi Modern Taarab

Jahazi Modern Taarab – Photo by Kwa

Established in Dar es Salaam during December 2006, Jahazi Modern Taarab group is currently the leading taarab group in Tanzania with more fans than any other. Their success story can be attributed to Mzee Yusuf the manager and owner who is also one of the pioneer musicians of the modern taarab style. Mzee teams up with his sister Khadija Yusuf another very popular taarab singer in Tanzania. Both artists built their reputations and international fame with Zanzibar Stars Modern Taarab.

Modern taarab is a style which gained popularity in the late 1990s by some taarab musicians who were trying to find a way of building a new generation of fans. Unlike in traditional taarab this modern version where most of the music comes from keyboards rather than real instruments allows fans to ‘get up and dance’. Most of the songs are about how one boasts of enjoying his or her love life. Modern taarab groups are often in the headlines and have attracted criticism for promoting hatred and jealousy especially among women.

‘To avoid being misunderstood we decided to write songs which speak about realities in love life like how to mend broken affairs as well as unifying and strengthening relationships’ claims Mzee Yusuf explaining that his modern taarab style does not promote hatred.


Artist Profiles: Jagwa Music

Jagwa Music

Founded in 1972 in the outskirts [Ng’ambo] of Dar es Salaam as a chakacha ngoma group – a style of traditional music performed mainly on the eastern coast of East Africa mostly at wedding ceremonies. The dancers are usually women with the men playing instruments.

In the late 1980s young people changed chakacha from pure traditional music to more mixed flavor mchiriku by adding a small keyboard in the collection and two drums and a stool with two timing sticks. Ever since this particular music became very popular among the youth from the working class communities. Unlike chakacha, mchiriku dancers are of both sexes and in most cases the audiences are free to join in the fun.

Jagwa Music group with twelve members is now one of the leading Dar es Salaam mchiriku groups performing in weddings traditional ceremonies and sometimes in clubs. Jagwa has recorded various popular albums available locally on cassette.


Artist Profiles: Jack Beck

Jack lives in Fife Scotland. He became interested in Scots-dialect songs and ballads during the 196s folk-song revival and helped found The Dunfermline Howff. Throughout the sixties he played with such artists as Archie Fisher, John Watt, The McAlmans, The Corries and The Incredible String Band among others.

Jack co-founded the acclaimed folk band Heritage which made four recordings numerous TV and radio broadcasts and frequent European tours.

Since 1989 he has toured regularly in the United States and presented a monthly radio program broadcast in Scotland and the USA.

In 1990 Jack became an honorary life member of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland and since then he has worked solo with Heritage colleague George Haig and with songwriter John Watt at clubs and festivals.

He is currently helping to develop a new national qualification for Scottish traditional music tutors. His venture is A Stranger in this Country an ‘infotainment’ examining similar Scots and American ballads that he has performed across Scotland and the United States. Jack continues to record and perform both solo and with his wife Wendy Welch providing music for her storytelling performances.


O Lassie Lassie (1989)

Half Ower Half Ower tae Aberdour (Tradition Bearers, 2001)


Artist Profiles: Ivan Neville

The Neville Family is a gifted musical and creative family in the United States. Ivan Neville began absorbing the musical attitudes of his family at birth and learned to play keyboards guitar bass and drums.

It wasn’t long before he became a pivotal member of Bonnie Raitt’s band Rufus Keith Richards & the Xpensive Winos and the Spin Doctors.

Ivan launched his solo career with the acclaimed If My Ancestors Could See Me Now and Thanks. Ivan also wroteand co-produced Saturday Morning Music which includes a timeless hybrid of soul, rock and New Orleans Funk that translates into an incomparable modern musical gumbo.


Artist Profiles: Istanbul Oriental Ensemble

Istanbul Oriental Ensemble

The Istanbul Oriental Ensemble led by percussionist, vocalist and string player Burhan Ocal includes a number of Turkey’s leading Gypsy musicians who are dedicated to preserving the all-but-forgotten heritage of 18th- and 19th-century Gypsy music from Istanbul and Thrace (the area where Europe and Asia meet that today includes parts of Bulgaria Greece and Turkey between the Aegean and the Black seas). The diverse character of this music which celebrates a full range of life experience is influenced both by the Gypsies’ love of nature and by their great migrations.

Gypsies have played an important role in shaping the music of the region around Istanbul Edirne and Izmir (Smyrna) since the 1th century. Their talent love of music and undisputed technical virtuosity have allowed them to assimilate a highly divergent range of folk and classical forms. They have long been bearers of an important musical tradition especially in Turkey where Islamic disapproval of music made it the preserve of the Greek Jewish and Gypsy peoples.

In the course of their constant travels the Turkish Gypsies acquired a wide repertoire adopting those elements of Turkish classical music that provided the best vehicle for their vitality and temperament such as the solo improvisations known as taksim. The daily life of these musicians in fact centered on musical improvisation. When they were not performing at a concert wedding or some other gathering they would get together to improvise late into the night. One musician would begin to develop a theme to introduce the makam (one of the modes or scales that are the basis for Turkish classical music) which would then be picked up and lavishly ornamented by the next musician.

The main instruments of the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble are the darbuka (drums), the kanun (zither), the ud (lute), clarinet (successor to the zurna), and the keman (violin or fiddle). The ensemble’s recordings Gypsy Rum and Sultan’s Secret Door have both won the Deutsche Schallpattenpreis (a rare honor for consecutive albums) while Gypsy Rum also received the Musique de la Monde prize as the best world music album of 1998. In 2000, the group released its third recording Caravanserai which was dedicated to its original clarinetist Ferdi Nadaz who died shortly after the recording was made. The recording tells the tale of a band that arrives at an oasis and play at the wedding of a wealthy camel dealer. It includes Ya Kerim! which features Nadaz’s muezzin-style vocals the only known recording of his voice. Members of the Istanbul Oriental Ensemble were featured in the 1993 film Latcho Drom (Safe Journey) which tells of the Gypsies’ migration across Europe and Asia through song and dance.

The members of the band are:

Burhan Ocal – leader

Ekrem Badi – darbuka

Yasar Sutoglu – clarinet

Muzaffer Coskuner – ud

Alaattin Coskuner – kanun

Cuneyt Ertan Coskuner – violin


Gypsy Rum ̺(Network Medien, 1995)

Sultan’s Secret Door ̺(Network Medien, 1997)

Caravanserai ̺(Network Medien, 2000)

Grand Bazaar ̺(Network Medien, 2006)


Artist Profiles: Istanbul music and Sema Group

Istanbul music and Sema Group

The Istanbul Music and Sema (Whirling Ceremony) Group was founded by R. Hakan Talu Serhat Sarpel and Nadir Karnibuyukler in order to share two of the most important elements of Turkish Culture – its traditional music and spiritual ceremonies – with a wider audience. The concerts feature Turkish classical music Tasavvuf (mystical) music and Sema ceremonies (Whirling Dervish rituals) in engaging performances that closely adhere to historical tradition.

These rituals evoke the call for “human love” “brotherhood” and “tolerance” associated with the great mystic Mevlana Celalleddin-i Rumi who spoke to humanity 727 years ago with the invitation “Come! Whoever you are come!”

The musicians and semazens (whirling dervishes) who make up the group have combined these traditional forms of music and ceremony for many years in concerts in Turkey and many cities of the world.


Artist Profiles: Irene Farrera

Music was Irene Farerra’s first language. Her earliest memories of Venezuela are full of song and dancing feet. “Music is part of every celebration and social occasion,” says the Oregon-based vocalist. By the time she was six she could sing dozens of aguinaldos or holiday songs. She loved the rhythm of Venezuela’s gaita music too so much that she insisted on organizing her brother and three sisters into a band to perform for the family. Impressed by their fervor their father bought a drum for the brother maracas for the sisters and presented Irene with a cuatro a Venezuelan four-stringed guitar. The instrument became her constant companion.

What began as a childhood diversion has become a deep commitment to the universal language of music. Farrera’s album Soy de Ti (Indígena Records) is a testament to her mastery of the guitarwhich she wields as both melodic and percussive accompaniment and her skill in translating emotion and observation into poetic lyrics. Accompanied by steel drum master Andy Narell (who produced the album) and Afro-Latin percussionists Michael Spiro, Jesús Diaz and Jackeline Rago Farrera weaves her silky voice through verses of caressing tenderness urgency and hope.

These are songs about being in love being on fire,” she said. “Some are songs to embrace the world to bring people together in the dance. Ideally I would like my music to reinforce the sense of positive activism and power that each of us carries within.”

All but one of the 11 tracks are originals that Farrera penned over the last ten years. The arrangements with lyrics in Spanish and English cover a range of styles: the samba-reggae rallying cry of “For the World” a romantic rumba flamenca for “I’ll be There” and the title track a bossa nova performed with Brazilian guitarist Carlos Oliveira and violinist Darol Anger of The Turtle Island String Quartet.

Farrera’s siblings indulged her every Christmas season by crooning the choruses to the aguinaldos that quickly became a family tradition. By the time she was a teenager Farrera was lead singer and the family bandwith the addition of her sisters’ boyfriendswere playing paid gigs at holiday parties. “They were having fun but I was serious ” she recalls. “I was certain that this is what I needed to do. Something in me could not separate from the music. I went everywhere with my guitar.”

Still a musical career seemed unrealistic. After high school she packed up her guitar and moved to New York to study architecture. She returned to Venezuela to work but grew restless, a scholarship offer eventually brought her to Oregon where she completed a degree in humanities. At one point short of cash and encouraged by a voice teacher she auditioned at a jazz club in Ashland. “I played ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ and they hired me for the weekend!, “she said. “I had no formal training and was thrilled to get paid. The audience was supportive and wonderful. Word spread the gigs got bigger and better. I didn’t think I would stay but the music has kept me here.”

The club gave her the opportunity to play with Charlie Byrd since then she has toured extensively and opened for the likes of Cesaria Evora, Tish Hinojosa and Susana Baca. Critics lauded her first two albums “Walking in the Jungle” (Same Sea Music 1993) and “Alma Latina” (Redwood Records 1995) comparing her voice to fine chocolate.

Her live sets continue to pay homage to the Venezuela of her childhood. “The cuatro makes you want to play joropo the folk music that goes with that instrument. The way I strum the six-string guitar now is as a percussive instrument, charrasqueado with all the fingernails together. The gaita also is very percussive. The two styles are very strong. Of course I have now traveled the world and been exposed to many musical styles. Most important to me are the music of Cuba and Brazil with their rich and compelling rhythms and melodies. ”

Much of Farrera’s repertoire has a message a plea for enlightenment action or redemption. Beyond the words however rings her dedication to a universal and non-verbal language of rhythm and expression. “Many people tell me that my music is passionate. I like to think it’s from the heart that it awakens those places in you that feel strongly about life and love. I want to move people with my music. Often when I play some of the audience doesn’t understand the words whether they’re in Spanish or English. But they feel the meaning in every cell of their bodies.

It’s not that music breaks geographic borders,” she added. “It simply demonstrates that they don’t existthey’re imaginary lines drawn to divide us. I need to perform my music as a Latina and as a woman to represent my culture con pasion to bring us all together. I think we are ready for it.”


Artist Profiles: Insingizi Emnyama

Insingizi Emnyama

Insingizi Emnyama was established in 1987 at Sobukhazi Secondary School and specialised in the Ladysmith Black Mambazo style of music Mbube and traditional dances like Indlamu Isitshikitsha and ´Gumboot dance´.

In the early 1990s Insingizi Emnyama became famous in their home country through staging concerts nationally and winning several prizes. In the summer of 1995 Insingizi Emnyama were invited to do concert tours in Austria, Slovenia and Denmark. In the same year they recorded their first album which was a hit on Zimbabwean radio with the hit single ´Sugar Daddy´ in Denmark. The song is about an elderly promiscuous businessman who contracts AIDS. “Sugar Daddy” deliberately infects young unsuspecting girls whom he attracts with cash and his Mercedes Benz. His motto: “I can´t die alone so let me fix others.” In 1996 another album called Sihlale Sonke was released followed by Sengikhumbula (1997).

After the successful participation in a festival called Sura Za Afrika which took place in almost all provinces of Austria in the summer of 1996 the group decided to be officially based in Graz, Austria. The group members started to study music theory and different western music instruments such as piano, violin, accordion, etc.

The aim of the musicians was to build their own Cultural Arts Center and School in Zimbabwe where young artists could learn and improve their skills. The idea was to promote arts and culture in and outside of Zimbabwe providing employment and creating bridges with other countries by cultural exchange programmes. In April 2000 the group visited Zimbabwe to prepare the construction of the center unfortunately political problems and economic hardships made it impossible to begin the first phase of the proposed Arts center.

The group financed the stay in Austria through successful performances all over Austria and in Germany. Insingizi Emnyama has been engaged in projects on stage and in studios with famous Austrian and international musicians.

For their LP Bridges (1999) Insingizi Emnyama used instrumental accompaniment (guitars, keyboards, saxophones, etc.) for the first time but unfortunately this album was not successful in comparison with the previous a cappella and percussion recordings.


Artist Profiles: Ishbel MacAskill

Ishbel MacAskill came from the Point area of the Island of Lewis. She was brought up with the rich heritage of century’s old Gaelic music and song which still survives in Point and indeed all over the island of Lewis. Her music and culture were immensely important in her life and for several years she was very much involved in teaching traditional Gaelic singing to children at the numerous Feisean (festivals of music and song) throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

She fervently believed this approach to be a positive contribution to the revival of the language. She was deeply motivated by the rich beauty of her heritage of Gaelic music and poetry. She was especially moved by the intensely emotive quality of the poetry and through her unique delivery manages to convey to her audiences a feeling of involvement in the colorful history and culture of the Gael. Her particular style of unaccompanied traditional singing her numerous radio and television performances and countless world-wide live appearances established her position as one the best known Gaelic singers of generation. Regular appearances in her leading acting role in the Gaelic television drama Machair has also made her familiar to Scottish television viewers.

Her singing took her to venues throughout the U.K. Ireland Europe The Far East and North America. Her recordings were always in demand at home and abroad and significantly sell to people who have never before heard the Gaelic language. Whether her audience was Gaelic speaking or not her English introductions to these centuries’ old songs of love, war, sea and landscape exile and life itself made each one a memorable experience.

She died in 2011.


Essentially Ishbel (2000)



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