All posts by Arthur Shuey

Arthur has been reviewing music for publications since 1976 and began focusing almost exclusively on world music in 2012. His musical background includes past presidencies of the Cape Fear Musicians Association and Blues Society of the Lower Cape Fear, founding membership in nine other blues societies, service on 17 music festival planning committees, two decades of teaching harmonica to individuals and groups, operating a small recording studio and performing solo and in combos for 30 years. Arthur has written professionally since 1975, pieces ranging from short fiction to travel articles, humor to poetry, mainly for local and regional entertainment media. His blog," Shuey's World," is featured at www.accesswilmington.com.

Falling in Love at the Beach

Rafael & Energía Dominicana – Enamorarse en la playa

Rafael & Energía Dominicana – Enamorarse en la playa [“Falling in Love at the Beach”] (ARC Music EUCD2715, 2013)

Many people, especially those of the romantic persuasion who enjoy the creative arts, believe in love at first sight. These days, one can eavesdrop on friends describing first encounters with potential paramours met online and hear them summarize, “We spent half an hour at Java Jive, and the spark just wasn’t there.” Cats, on the other hand, prolific beasts reputed to have nine lives, are more prudent; they do not believe in love at first sight. Two feline housemates may gambol and groom and sleep curled up together once they become acquainted, but the first interaction is a quick sniff and a spark.

For many people using online dating services, all housecats and at least this one listener to Rafael & Energía Dominicana’s “Enamorarse en la playa” release, “the spark just wasn’t there,” at first meeting.

This is probably because merengue itself is so strident and exuberant that it all initially sounds the same; everything’s on ten. On second and ongoing listens, though, this proves to not be just another merengue release at all. There is huge comfort with modern instruments and studio technique. The studio facility and staff are equal partners with the players here on a creative, passionate, gifted team.

This release develops, listen after listen, like a flower blooming. One looks forward to the next needle drop, not because it’s merengue night at a club, but because it sounds so good. Balance between instruments and sections, naturalness of vocals, judicious ring off from guitars, capture of the elusive horn solo from amidst the ever-steroidal salsa horn section … every concern that might go into a listener’s first impression is addressed and dealt with. It’s a record that makes one seek better speakers or tunable headphones to provide the sound a better frame.

“Enamorarse en la playa (Falling in Love at the Beach)” is not, at least to this listener, a love at first hearing release. It is, however, a long-term relationship.

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Effective Letter of Introduction to Yuly Tovar

Yuly Tovar – Songs From Mexico (Arc Music EUCD 2714, 2016)

The delicate combination of chicano afterbeat and the general ear is challenging. We tend to hear eight bars of Mexican euphony of whatever quality and file it under “humorous film scene background music.” Listen to this one again. The challenge is met.

With this sort of music, one hears the message THROUGH the recording rather than along with it. The environment is established first.

The environment, for multiple award-winning Yuly Tovar, is somewhat south of the border between arid and tropical. It is a “wet” mariachi, more languid than the familiar standard, and closer to the emotion than to the technical form. The afterbeat is there, and the pull toward minor keys, but the foundation is … in the verdant bushes, rather than in the sun-beaten, dry plains.

This is no field recording, with engineers taking what they can get. The mix is absolutely the star here. Balances between sections are unique and perfect for getting the tunes across. Ms. Tovar is in perfect sync with the players, sometimes using her voice as part of the horn section, then lilting atop the strings, then laying back to encourage relaxation along with the backline rhythm. She is spotlighted throughout this release as a consummate band leader.

“Songs from Mexico” is the first global release for Ms. Tovar, already well known and respected in her own country. It should serve as a most effective letter of introduction for her.

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The Passion and Virtuosity of Khamoro Budapest Band

Khamoro Budapest Band – Hungarian Gypsy Music (ARC Music EUCD2708, 2017)

Preparing to direct the 1970 film, “Little Big Man,” director Arthur Penn decided to use country blues for the soundtrack rather than Native American music. He called Columbia producer John Hammond to discuss the matter, stating that he wanted “the sound of oppression.” Hammond played him some of the music of Robert “Hellhound On My Trail” Johnson, and Penn said, according to Hammond’s autobiography, “My God, that’s just what I want. I hope we can get him.”

Hammond told him Johnson had been dead for more than thirty years, but that his son, John Paul Hammond, played just like him. That is how now-renowned slide guitarist John Hammond got his recording career off to a fantastic start, courtesy of his father, and that is also an example of how “the sound of oppression” easily crosses cultural barriers to speak to us all.

Gypsy music parallels blues in many ways. It is the music of an ethnic group stuck in interaction with a bullying mainstream culture. One does not wish persecution on any culture. Music is, however, a means of expressing deep feelings and generating solace and joy. The music of an oppressed people has the extra task of replacing words in a climate where a dominant culture frowns upon or even bans said oppressed people’s verbal observations on their plight. The listener can share the solace and joy and admire the players’ abilities all the more when the music comes from such a source, and the players are more motivated and rewarded by being able to accomplish much with a restricted set of tools. This is what Khamoro Budapest Band brings us.

There is some mournful wailing. There is reliance on sad, minor keys. Instrumentation is not always what we expect. There is also an imparting of awe; how can these people still dance and laugh with all they’re letting us know with their music that they and their families have gone through? Khamoro (“little sun” in the Romani language) plays with passion, virtuosity and the enthusiasm that comes from their desire to share the experience and exuberance of their musical tradition with the world.

There is poignancy, pride and dignity in “Rovan More Jahka,” humor in other pieces, and beautifully supported celebration throughout the release.
They have done their homework and selected pieces from specific regions in which gypsy culture has bloomed best. As a plant grows tallest above the soil when its roots run deepest beneath it, their take on the music shares it articulately because of the study underlying their familiarity with the form. When one acquires this CD, one acquires not only the joy and strength inherent in the music, but also a deeper insight into the tradition that built it.

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The Band Beyond Borders, A Remarkable Gathering of World Musicians

Amine & Hamza – The Band Beyond Borders – Fertile Paradoxes (ARC Music EUCD2704, 2017)

A popular comedian recently remarked that President Trump’s planned wall between the United States and Mexico is the sort of thing that will dissuade advanced alien life forms from contacting Earth. “Fertile Paradoxes” provides convincing counterpoint to this argument. Multiple cultures peacefully and productively interact throughout this wonderful release. Meaning no disrespect to the outstanding talents and contributions of any other artists on ARC or any other label, Amine and Hamza M’raihi and Band Beyond Borders are in a different class of world musicians.

“Fertile Paradoxes” essentially narrates a global musical ecosystem rather than demonstrating any one culture’s interaction with the rest of the world. One cannot listen to this release and pinpoint the artists’ place of origin (Tunisia, though they currently reside in Switzerland), so versed and versatile are they with the rhythms, tunings and instrumentations of diverse ethnic forms.

Perhaps the real paradox on the release is that there is no conflict where one would expect to find it. Instruments from cultures with no common borders or in historical conflict blend beautifully here. To quote the label’s press release, “kanun meets saxophone, cajón meets cello and musical borders are thrown to an adventurous wind, the south Indian kanjira frame drum and percussive Nigerian water jug ‘udu’ blend with accordion, and The Band Beyond Borders is joined by a full chamber orchestra on ‘Spleen’ and the sparky ‘Lullaby for Leo.’”

The players on this record represent a gifted and perceptive inner circle that was early to recognize the M’raihis’ vision and contribute their own talents and quirks to its development and, now, presentation to the rest of us.

“Fertile Paradoxes” will be equally at home in private music collections and public and independent radio station playlists, and the best musicians’ listening queues. This is an exciting treasure of a world music release, setting the bar higher for the entire field and providing a subtle, lovely, joyous example of creative interaction for us all.

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Unfolding The Flemish Roots

MANdolinMAN – Unfolding The Roots (ARC Music EUCD2705, 2017)

This is a wholly contemporary release. While material predates familiar Belgian musical influences like Jacques Brel, Django Reinhardt and Toots Thielmans, MANdolinMan’s approach certainly shares those legends’ “what the hell, let’s try this different thing and see what happens” approach. This is a Belgian quartet, after all, and Belgians have that attitude.

Belgium is, after all the nation that once tried to get cats to deliver mail. For a few months, in and around Liège, in 1879, mailmen attached waterproof message bags to peoples’ pet felines, expecting them to go home, much as carrier pigeons had been used for centuries. “Unless the criminal class of dogs undertakes to waylay and rob the mail-cats, the messages will be delivered with rapidity and safety,” The New York Times reported. The work ethic of cats made the service unreliable, and the experiment was called off after a few months, but the experiment did take place. In Belgium.

What the hell, let’s try this different thing and see what happens. What happens with “Unfolding the Roots” is an experiment that works. As with “Fertile Paradoxes,” another new ARC Music release by MANdolinMAN’s labelmates, Amine & Hamza, The Band Beyond Borders, this CD takes world music to a different level, giving listeners something at least as much FOR the world as FROM a specific spot on the globe.

This is musicians’ music, accessible to all and particularly rewarding to those seeking fusion and harmony, but most welcome to other players interested in seeing what will and can work. The listener is not pushed by the band’s delivery to categorize these 12 cuts as polkas, waltzes, mazurkas and contra dances, but to turn the volume up and invite friends over for a drink. They are the Flemish, mandolin instrumental equivalent of England’s famous folk rock act, Steeleye Span.

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The Best of Multi-Instrumentalist Baluji Shrivastav

Baluji Shrivastav featuring The InnerVision Orchestra – Best of Baluji Shrivastav (ARC Music EUCD2695, 2017)

“Awesome” is an awesomely overused word these days, and applied to music with a repugnant frequency that waters down the word’s meaning. It is intended to be easily accessible in the toolboxes of writers and speakers as, more or less, “’superlative,’ but without the cravat.” It is frustrating to a reviewer to have “awesome” watered down when it comes to mind so readily and naturally regarding Baluji Shrivastav. His actual name is Dhanonday Shrivastav (Officer of the Order of the British Empire, OBE).

Multi-instrumentalists who are truly competent with instruments of different general families (string, percussion, vocals, etc.) are rare and awesome enough, multi-instrumentalists who are blind from babyhood are at the tip of the awesomeness iceberg and blind instrumentalists working and recording with a 14-piece jazz ensemble made up entirely of visually impaired musicians from all around the globe are … “awesunique” comes to mind, a sniglet invented to combine “awesome” and “unique” for the specific purpose of lauding Baluji Shrivastav with a term unlikely to be watered down through overuse.

This 14-song anthology spans over three decades of recordings and reflects the artist’s explorations of several genres and bandstand partnerships. Three of the 14, “Discovering London & Friendship,” “Walking Through The Streets” and “Mixing with the Crowd and Spirit of Joy,” comprise a fascinating description of the man’s move to London, taking in the city’s ambiance without the sense of sight. Each of these three cuts is overdue for use in a film soundtrack, as is another piece written by the artist’s daughter, “The Way I Feel.” Of the CD cuts, these four particularly disprove Rudyard Kipling’s truism, “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,” for East and West intermesh seamlessly here.

From start to finish, from folk-rooted Indian ragas to rich orchestral pieces, this anthology delights and rewards a general listenership. It is, in short, “awesunique.”

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Srdjan Beronja’s World Music Gallery

Srdjan Beronja – Sounds of the East Music from the Balkans, India & the Middle East (ARC Music EUCD2696, 2017)

When music listeners and explorers gather formally to further their fascination, there are always two or three performers too intense for most ears. One hears whispers in the listening space as those who recognize the act about to begin caution those around them that this may be a time to visit the lobby or concession stand, to go outside to smoke or check messages. “Oh God, this guy will put you to sleep,” or “They’re saying something, but I don’t know what,” one hears from the row ahead or behind. These are the acts that are overwhelming for many.

The truly musically curious, however, remain in the concert space and pay all the more attention, both to the stage and to the other attendees who have remained in their seats. The acts that elicit this preliminary response in the audience are those who separate the fans from the ethnomusicologists. Meet Serbian composer Srdjan Beronja. His label’s press release explains that he “travel[s] to remote locations and records unusual local sounds from desert townships, coastal villages and the dawn chorus high up in trees.” On this CD, these field recordings “from the geographical triangle between India, the Middle East and the Balkans” are used to introduce and provide audio beds for some of the cuts, thus merging the artist’s fascination with natural sounds and his musicianship.

He works with a number of renowned players of instruments typifying tour stops along the way from the Balkans through the Middle East to India and back, with expressive results. This is not a consistent album to be played as background music at a cocktail party or curry house, but more akin to a visit to a good art gallery where a broad spectrum of visual artists is on display.

“Sounds of the East Music from The Balkans, India & The Middle East” is a beautiful collection for collectors.

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Hanitra’s Songs from Madagascar

Hanitra – Songs from Madagascar – Lasa (ARC Music EUCD2688, 2017)

A frequent complaint from listeners about world music releases is that they are too various. Artists from musical rivulets outside the mainstream seem to feel like representatives of their beloved homelands’ entire musical tradition, and try to share it all in one CD release. It is a natural impulse, akin to the “First Release Syndrome” reviewers often sense even in mainstream pop. It is, however, rarely possible for an artist to successfully pack forty pounds of ethnomusicology into a two-pound bag. Hanitra, on ARC’s new offering, “Songs from Madagascar – Lasa,” is an exception.

Song topics on this disc range, as liner notes announce, from “deforestation … to same-sex love, maltreatment of wives and a rebellion of housewives,” yet has continuity and impact as a package.

Hanitra has an ideally broad background as an individual and in educational background, and is a perfect representative of Madagascar’s various physical and cultural concerns. The tracks are as much songlines as songs, providing listeners maps of her country and her heart. Elegantly simple in instrumentation, the songs are beautifully layered and sophisticated in presentation, thanks both to the backing combo and the engineers. “Lasa” is a tribute to Hanitra, her recording team and her label.

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Folk Music from Peru

Wayna Picchu / Takirari / Tinku – Folk Music from Peru

Wayna Picchu / Takirari / Tinku – Folk Music from Peru (Arc Music EUCD 2675, 2016)

In Peru, I met and knew him as the biggest rogue on Earth / For in sin and crime, he’d wallowed, since his mother gave him birth / And they called him ‘El Mestizo,’ no one knew his mongrel race / There were traces of four nations on his evil-looking face.”
from “El Mestizo,” by Randolph Henry Atkin, 1914

It is relatively simple to determine which parts of modern “mestizo” Andean music come from the Spaniards and their descendants and which belonged to the indigenous people of the region. There were no stringed instruments in the Americas in pre-Columbian times. Therefore, a listener’s ear can easily separate, with a high level of accuracy, the elements with obvious guitar-ish origins from those birthed from wind instruments and drums.

Most world music fans can quickly divide melodies into New World and Old World origin, as well. Thus, Andean music makes most of us happy, armchair ethnomusicologists, and that is always fun. Within these generalities, this Peruvian folk anthology gives one the strong impression that the Inca were oppressive conquerors, perhaps not on the level of the Spanish settlers, but definitely suppressive of the earlier regional cultures they suppressed two and a half centuries earlier. The song titles and themes all refer to either Inca or Hispanic Christian issues. As to how much of a cultural, aural stew existed when the Spanish arrived, we have little idea.

What is captured here is the beautiful, magical sound we associate with Peru and the Andes. The deep, rich, large flutes immediately bring the Andes to mind. The bass drums are mountain echoes, and the higher percussion and wind instruments are avalanches, streams and birds. As for the Old World instruments and influences, guitars are incorporated for song intros, outros and modulations. They season, and they translate for ears descended from Europe. Vocals on this release are more instrumental than narrative, chants more than songs. It is a good addition to one’s world music collection.

Folk Music from Peru

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Magical Latin Christmas

Putumayo Presents Latin Christmas

Various Artists – Latin Christmas (Putumayo PUT 363-2, 2016)

Thank you, Dr. Poinsett, for bringing the “Flor de Noche Buena” back to the US from Central America 80 years ago. We now identify it with wonderful Christmas times with loved ones. eight decades ago. As the Hispanic demographic in this country expands, we will see, hear and incorporate a corresponding expansion Latin American Christmas traditions. This holiday anthology on the Putumayo label is a good start.

More than half the songs will be familiar to Anglo ears, but the bossa nova and rumba rhythms and light percussion overlays differentiate them from our old holiday favorites, now sadly more identified with our shopping malls than our homes. World Christmas music such as this collection can become a unique part of your own family memory and tradition. It is refreshing and a pleasure to hear what the tension of Spanish guitar, the strong rhythm of precise horn sections and musical pocket-filling percussion and clear, poignant vocals add to the songs we’ve been humming all our lives, and to add to a holiday music catalog that may have become stale through a lifetime of overplay.

In the hands of these artists from climes much more distant from Santa’s North Pole than ours, the musical imagery becomes more magical. Somehow, the Magis’ journey seems longer and thoughts of a “White Christmas” more fantastic. Hearing an instrumental foundation from less affluent lands, one pictures the joy and merriment of the season coming from time with loved ones rather than with competitive, material gifts. In short, this release is a sure enhancement of the yuletide.

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