Shiyani Ngcobo – Introducing Shiyani Ngcobo (World Music Network INTRO101CD, 2004)
Vakoka – Introducing Vakoka (World Music Network INTRO102CD, 2004)
Sukke – Introducing Sukke (World Music Network INTRO103CD, 2004)
As if they haven’t done enough over the last decade with their extensive and frequently fabulous Rough Guide series, the folks at World Music Network have now unleashed a new line called Introducing. Initially focusing more on underexposed artists within a particular genre (unlike the Rough Guides, which tend to be genre-focused), the first three releases jump from South Africa to nearby Madagascar and then to Europe. It’s an ear-catching start, boding well for the probable goodies to come.
Shiyani Ngcobo specializes in a South African style called maskanda, a guitar-driven music that stomps like many of the other sounds associated with his country. Rippling guitar rhythms, sometimes supported by violin or squeezebox, frame mildly urgent call-and-response vocals that balance gruff authority with plaintive wailing. Occasional passages carry a bluesy twang, a capella testifying conveys a distinct spiritual air and the Zulu migrant worker aesthetic that gives maskanda its grit is deeply felt. Though painstakingly recorded, this disc’s strength lies in the rawness of music created to convey
defiant solace undaunted by hard times.
Loose aggregation though they are, the members of Vakova (the fine print also calls them the Malagasy All-Stars) are some of Madagascar’s finest players and singers who lean toward the traditional.
Through mutual passion and fortunate circumstance they gathered at a studio in the capital city of Antananarivo long enough to complete an albums’s worth of the sort of music that could only come from Madagascar. Here in spades is that inimitable blend of mainland African, Asian and European structures, unique indigenous instruments like the valiha (tubular zither) and richly unencumbered cultural roots.
Hanitra Rasonaivo of Tarika is the most famous participant here, though there’s a flood of lesser-known talent contributing to these 12 tracks of sumptuous fanahy Gasy (Malagasy soul). An absolute knockout.
Buy Vakoka – Introducing Vakoka
Sukke (named for a type of Jewish temporary dwelling where one week in autumn is spent in contemplative thought) is the group name taken on by three accomplished klezmer musicians from Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany. Together they’re something of a klezmer supergroup.
Band members Merlin Shepherd (clarinet, mandola, vocals), Sanne Moricke (accordion, vocals) and Heiko Lehman (bass, guitar, vocals) aren’t as fusion minded as, say, the Klezmatics or Frank London’s brass band, but they’re up to the task of making their stripped-down klezmer click. Heavy on traditional songs and tunes reflective of Lehman’s background in theatrical storytelling, the tunes grandly showcase the instrumental expertise of each player, mostly in shades of celebration but some somberness too. The liner notes call Sukke the first Europen klezmer band- whether they are or not, it’s probably safe to call them the most definitive one.
All three of these introductory discs are attractively packaged and laid out (I just wish the inner photos were larger) along with the great music. Looks like the beginning of another winning series for World Music Network. Bring ’em on.