Tonje Unstad – Sett (Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 2006)
Carmen Souza – Ess e nha Cabo Verde (TheOo TheZz Records, 2006) (Portugal)
Songbirds taught me a humble lesson recently. I erroneously thought that if my body didn’t immediately react favorably to certain kinds of music, than that music wasn’t particularly healing. Often songbirds and squirrels respond favorably to genres of music that I frown upon. The wonderful thing about non-humans is that they do not categorize or judge the way we humans do. They respond to vibration and sound waves that please them. So I believe that I should take my cues from nature rather than my own rigid thoughts.
Even among the creatures, preferences differ. Songbirds gravitate towards flute music of all kinds and soprano vocalists, and squirrels favor Latin and African music. After all, squirrels tend to be quite rhythmic themselves. If you don’t believe me, see how many birds appear in your garden while playing music with a medium to high range.
Besides, it’s arrogant for humans to believe that other creatures are unable to find pleasure in music. Scientific research has proven that both water molecules (Dr. Masaru Emoto’s research) and plants (various studies), respond to musical vibration so then why would animals not respond favorably or unfavorably to music?
Two young women vocalists have been brought to my attention recently, Norwegian pop singer-songwriter, Tonje Unstad and Portuguese-Cape Verdean chanteuse Carmen Souza. While the musicians differ in musical preferences and style, they’re both 25 years old and on the cusps of international notoriety. Neither musician shy away from pop music. However, Tonje sings in a variety of styles from flamenco, (Canteen drama), to cabaret, (In the wee hours of the night), to reggae, Latin styles and rock.
Carmen fuses Cape Verdean influences with American jazz and soul music. And while both of these woman produce pleasurable music, it was a struggle for me to move past my own rigid musical preferences. (I still don’t care for pop music, but sometimes I find myself making exceptions).
Tonje who hails from northern Norway released her debut CD, Sett (Seen) last April on the KKV label. While she normally accompanies herself on guitar, a full band and guest horn players team up with her on this fabulous recording. The musicians include, Bendik Lund Haanshus on guitars, Sveinung Hovensjo on bass, Markus Hernes on drums, Martin Sjolie on keyboards as well as, Jarle Forde on trumpet and flugelhorn and Helge Forde on trombone. Together these musicians explore vast musical territory and embellish Tonje’s songs.
If I had not moved beyond my aversion to pop music and not been intrigued by the pixie-like Tonje who smiles at us via the CD cover, I would have missed out on a real musical treasure chest and especially the flamenco track. Fans of Kari Bremnes will warmly welcome newcomer Tonje Unstad into their lives.
Carmen Souza joins the ranks of other young Luso-Cape Verdean singer-songwriters with one foot on the African continent and the other in Europe. Carmen is already poised for success among European audiences having appeared at WOMAD and invited to perform on the BBC 3 “world on your street stage” in 2005. And certainly Portugal brims over with both young Cape Verdean and fado vocalists which can only assist Carmen in finding North American distribution and radio airplay.
My first reaction to Carmen’s album was that it sounded too much like American soul music, a genre that doesn’t excite me. Yet, the birds flocked into the garden, taking great pleasure in Carmen’s music which caused me to question my initial judgment. While Carmen’s vocal inflections at times lean towards soul music, she could certainly up the ante of soul music in the American music industry with her pioneering spirit, vocal prowess and tight, uncluttered arrangements.
Her debut CD, produced by her songwriting partner and bassist, Theo Pas’cal features Cape Verdean rhythms, batuco, morna and Kola sanjon played out on polyphonic percussion. And for a 25 year old musician, Carmen possesses sophisticated musical taste which includes the gamut from Keith Jarrett and Diane Krall to Stevie Wonder (old school of soul music).
If you enjoy the music of Lura and Sara Tavares, then you’ll want to add Carmen Souza’s Esse e nha Cabo Verde to your collection. And pay attention to the songbirds because it turns out they were right after all. Next time someone says life is for the birds, I will agree. What a life!
Patricia Herlevi is a former music journalist turned music researcher. She is especially interested in raising music consciousness. She is looking for an agent and publisher for her book Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit). She founded and hosts the blog
The Whole Music Experience and has contributed to World Music Central since 2003.