TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena's Shadow.
Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena's Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.
Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.
A couple of weeks ago I sat down and settled in to watch the 1968 concert film Monterey Pop by D.A. Pennebaker that I had recorded from Turner Classic Movies. With a line up that included The Mamas & The Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, Hugh Masekela, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding company with Janis Joplin, The Animals, The Who, Country Joe and the Fish, Otis Redding, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Ravi Shankar, I had to simply lounge back on the sofa and wallow in the sheer goodness of it all.
Interspersed in the band footage, Mr. Pennebaker lets it all hang out with visuals of hippies, flower children, bearded, bespectacled intellectuals and button-down squares all soaking up 1968’s great American songbook. The strait-laced partying with the painted or costumed. The sophisticated sleek mingling with bikers and women in flowing, flowered caftans. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to go? I always thought so.
This morning I woke up to the news that 64 year-old Stephen Paddock repeatedly fired weapons from his Mandalay Bay Hotel Room upon the 22,000 concertgoers at the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival. With more than 50 dead and 500 wounded, this mass shooting has gone down as the worst in American history. But that’s always a tricky bit of trivia, isn’t it? It’s the worst so far. What in the hell could possible be down the road next?
I suspect the usual cast of characters in the wake of this mass murder will appear and then disappear like so much smoke like the somber-faced politicians reverently praying for those lost and those injured or the grim local news reporter spouting platitudes against a backdrop of lit candles and those angry self-appointed defenders of justice who if they had been there would have pulled out their own guns and dispatched the perpetrator with undue haste. But that’s always the problem isn’t it that those quick-draw Dirty Harrys are never around we they are needed. I also suspect that there will be the inevitable questions as to why Mr. Paddock committed such an atrocity, as if there could possibly be a good excuse or thoughtful reason.
Unfortunately, I don’t see a way to pray our way out of this. Surely, enough prayers were said in the wake of the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan in Pairs, or the Pulse nightclub shooting on Latin night in Orlando, Florida or the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena to finally put an end to this kind of massacre. I don’t think the prayers are working. Certainly, cities like Caracas in Venezuela, San Pedro Sula in Honduras, Cape Town in South Africa and U.S. cities like St. Louis, Baltimore and New Orleans that made it onto Mexico’s Citizens’ Council for Public Security’s annual ranking of the world’s most violent cities for 2016 are chocked full of the faithful. If praying were the cure-all wouldn’t Chicago or Cleveland and Milwaukee be much different places than they currently are?
I further suspect that forces are gathering as I write this summoning the music community to respond to this tragedy by way of a proceeds-for-victims concert, or a foundation or a fucking bunch of heartfelt tweets. I simply can’t image looking back on a musical career and pointing to a single concert performance as one of your best, where you got to jam with musical greats or played your heart out, all to memorialize a bunch of dead music fans.
Bob Dylan sang to us “There must be some way out of here.” Well, Bob, I just don’t see that happening any time soon.
Following up on their 2016 release of Eternal, the San Francisco based Baraka Moon is back to inundate listeners with their particular brand of savage coolness on Wind Horse, available on October 6th on the Baraka Moon Music label. Immersing listeners into a deep sound pool fashioned out mystical Sufi trance, textured Indian ragas, meaty African rhythms and the tangy flavors of Australia’s Aboriginal centuries-old musical traditions, Wind Horse is a deluge of sound that is potent and highly satisfying. With copacetic grooves and delicious dance tracks, listeners just have to ride the easy waves of Wind Horse for an excellent ride.
Baraka Moon has pooled its talents with its members, vocalist and harmonium player Sukhawat Ali Khan (who just happens to be related to musical masters Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Nazakat Ali Khan); percussionist and didgeridoo master Stephen Kent; drummer and percussionist Peter Warren; and guitarist, ukulele player and backing vocalist Anastasi Mavrides. Wind Horse also shows off the talents of guest musicians like Gurdeep Hira on tabla, Eda Maxym, Stella Karuna Kent and Sam Becker on backing vocals, Ben Issacs on jembe and percussion and Madusara Liyange and Swapan Gandhi on bansuri flute.
Wind Horse opens on the winds of the fabulous groove “Bismillah,” before moving onto the guitar slick and meaty rhythmic “Rasa Divine,” replete with some dishy backing vocals. Listeners shouldn’t miss out on the rich and rewarding “Narayane” with Mr. Khan’s vocals surrounded by guitar flourishes and mesmerizing rhythms. “Allah Hoo” is simply kickass good with didgeridoo against harmonium and Mr. Khan’s vocals.
“Sabir” is full of reggae flair, while “Mankuntu” is all quick paced richness. Equally delicious are the didgeridoo and speaking tongues flash of “Julay Julay” the raucous wild ride of title track “Wind Horse” and the lovely serene addition of bansuri flute on closing track “Alap.”
Baraka Moon’s Wind Horse is a magic carpet ride across Indian grasslands, Pakistani’s lazy river banks, African savannas and the rich, red earth packed landscapes of down under. And what a ride it is.
Love Is My Religion out on the Alif Records label, the latest offering by Turkish composer and multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek is stylishly dramatic and sleekly passionate and a worthy addition to Mr. Tekbilek’s impressive discography that includes the recordings The Sultans Middle Eastern Band Vol 1 and 2, Suleyman the Magnificent, Beyond the Sky, Whirling, Mystical Gardens, Alif, and Kelebek. Pulling at threads from the past and present, from the traditional and contemporary, Love Is My Religion cleverly weaves a spell that is both beguiling and deliciously exotic.
Opening with “Araf,” listeners delve deep into the warm riches of Mr. Tekbilek’s mastery of ney, oud, davul, bendir and darbuka, as well as the flavors offered up by accompanying artists Alex Alessandroni Jr. on piano, Bahadir Sener on kanun, Yossi Fine on acoustic bss and Chris Wabich on drums. If that weren’t enough to tempt listeners “Vivir” is utterly spectacular with the song’s composer and vocalist Yasmin Levy taking center stage with her heartbreaking vocals. Joined by Mr. Tekbilek on vocals and various instruments, keyboardist and guitarist Amotz Plessner and Hamid Saeidi on santour, “Vivir” shimmers.
Love Is My Religion adds icing to the cake with Ismet Siral’s “Barefoot Dervish” in all its piano, synthesizer, brass and woodwind goodness, as well as A. Ekber Cicek’s “Haydar” and the delicately delightful “Mara” composed by Amotz Plessner, Alex Alessandroni Jr. and Idan Raiche who also his own piano work to the recording, but the real outstanding performance on this track has to be Lili Haydn’s spectacular violin lines. Standout tracks like deeply exotic “Memories,” the jazzy slant found on “Steepe” and closing track “Adam, Love Is My Religion & Tende Canim,” composed by Mr. Tekbilek and using a traditional Sufi melody are sure to please any music fan.
The performances on Love Is My Religion aren’t just impeccable there’s hypnotic, graceful and fiercely good, so my only advice is to listen up, load up and disappearing into some delicious music.
With summer just around the corner many of you are planning to head off to the beach, to the mountains or to grandma’s house while others are planning backyard barbecues, family reunions or pool parties so you are in desperate need of some tunes. As luck would have it I have your smoking raging down the highway, sizzling grilling chicken and hey someone needs to get that Frisbee off the roof tunes for your summer fun. The double-CD set Tedeschi Trucks Band Live from the Fox Oakland is your ticket to some kickass, razor sharp tunes.
Fans know the Jacksonville, Florida blues/rock Tedeschi Trucks Band from past offerings like Let Me Get, Midnight in Harlem, Revelator, Made Up and Everybody’s Talkin. Their latest offering is the fruits of their labors from a 2016 live performance at Oakland, California’s Fox Theater.
Guitarist Derek Trucks explains the springboard for the recording, “We’ve been wanting to properly document the progress of this ban for a while and it really felt like we were hitting our stride and firing on all cylinders last fall.”
Guitarist and vocalist Susan Tedeschi adds, “It was special capturing the live performance from Oakland. The audience was great and the band played with passion. I am thankful we captured the band at this moment in time.”
Headed up by Ms. Tedeschi and Mr. Trucks, The Tedeschi Trucks Band is full of the usual suspects with Kofi Burbridge on keyboards and flute, Tyler “Falcon” Greenwell on drums and percussion, J.J. Johnson on drums and percussion, Tim Lefebvre on bass guitar, Mike Mattison on vocals and acoustic guitar, Mark Rivers on vocals, Alecia Chakour on vocals, Kebbi Williams on saxophone, Elizabeth Lea on trombone and Ephraim Owens on trumpet. Fans get a treat with guest musician Alam Khan on sarode on “These Walls.”
Live at the Fox Oakland is savagely good and kickass cool. Chocked full of the goodness of “Don’t Know What It Means,” “Keep on Growing,” “Bird on the Wire” and “Anyhow,” and that’s just CD 1, the Tedeschi Trucks Band’s sound is tight and razor sharp. With rocking guitar licks, sizzling rhythms, soulful vocals, sassy backing vocals and brass lines so sweet they’ll probably keep the mosquitos away, Live at the Fox Oakland is all you need to get your mojo working again. CD 2 is just as fabulous with offerings like “Leavin’ Trunk,” “Don’t Drift Away,” “I Want More (Soul Sacrifice Outro)” and the rich and rewarding “Ali.”
For fans wanting to get a little live action of the Tedeschi Trucks band should check their local concert venues because the band is currently on a U.S. tour and will have upcoming concerts in places like Philadelphia, Saratoga, Rochester, Virginia Beach, Raleigh, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Albuquerque this June and July.
It’s doubtful that Live at the Fox Oakland will make your teeth whiter, your kids smarter, help you find the love of a good woman or improve your posture – but you never know because I think I’m sitting a little straighter right now.
Just out of curiosity, when was the last time you heard a piano recording? Seriously, when was the last time you sat and soaked in the frolicking richness or the magically complexity of an entire piano CD? Been a while? When so much peripheral background music screeching from the corners it hardly seems like pleasurable and more like something shoved down the throat, re-exploring the unimaginable richness of the piano can seem like an indulgence.
You deserve an indulgence by way of Tigran Hamasyan’s second offering on the Nonesuch Records label entitled An Ancient Observer. Born in Armenia, Tigran Hamasyan is known for such recordings as World Passion, New Era, A Fable and his first recording with Nonesuch by way of Mockroot. He is also known for collaborations with Dhafer Youssef, Ari Hoenig, Lars Danielsson, Stephane Galland and Sefj Tankian.
Backed by a wealth of folk traditions from his Armenian roots, Mr. Hamasyan has delved into progressive rock and jazz, often pulling at those Armenian musical tradition threads to flesh out his musical compositions.
Mr. Hamasyan explains his new recording, “These songs are musical observations about the world we live in now, and the weight of history we carry with us.”
Pairing charming elegance with musical drama, An Ancient Observer is a bold, razor sharp listen that tugs at the musical tapestry of jazz, classical and his native folk music. Plying the listener with his extraordinary mastery of the piano, Mr. Hamasyan expands the depth by way of vocals, synths, Fender Rhodes and special effects. The result is at once intimate and then expansive as he takes the listener through such musical feats as “Markos and Markos,” “The Cave of Rebirth” and the elegance of “New Baroque I and II.”
Back in Armenia, where ordinary life inspires his music Mr. Hamasyan explains, “I gaze out of my window and see the biblical mountain Ararat with perpetual snow on its peak, with electrical towers with wires in the foreground cutting the picture, and satellite dishes melted onto old and modern houses—ancestral smoke coming out of their chimneys—and birds hovering above the trees along with occasional airplane trails in the vast sky. It is a dialogue, this interaction of God-given ancient nature with our modern human achievements” he says.
“For me it is an awakening, and a beautiful feeling, to be able to observe the magnificence of this sleeping volcanic giant, which has existed for millions of years and was observed by the Ararat Valley Koura-Arax culture through to the present day citizens of the Armenian republic. I can see and observe the same birds, animals, rivers, and mountains that the craftsman of 4,000 years ago painted on a clay vessel. He was observing the same thing I observe now, and what remains is his or her beautiful work of art.”
Composing all the music on An Ancient Observer and basing “Nairian Odyssey” and “Etude No. 1” on Armenian folk melodies, Mr.Hamasyan enthralls and entrances listeners with “Nairian Odyssey” with its fascinating twists and turns and “Etude No. 1” with its quick and bright clever catchiness, as well as additional tracks like “Egyptian Poet,” Leninagone” and title track “Ancient Observer.” This is simply a lush recording.
Jazz and piano fans are sure to dive into the deep end of An Ancient Observer, but for those jazz novices this might be one of those recordings they might very well enjoy dipping a toe into for the sheer quiet loveliness, expressive drama and poignant expansiveness. An Ancient Observer is one of those easy indulgences begging for us to be quiet and just listen.
Too often when we hear “it must be something in the blood” it conjures up images of someone gone wrong somewhere, but nothing could be further from that kind of assumption when we’re talking about Mali’s Vieux Farka Toure.
Son of the musical powerhouse Ali Farka Toure, Vieux Farka Toure has not just continued in his father’s musical footsteps but blazed a path of his own with recordings like Vieux Farka Toure, Fondo, The Secret, Mon Pays and Touristes with Julia Easterlin and an ongoing collaboration with Israeli musician Idan Raichel on the Toure-Raichel Collective. And the righteous riffs just keep coming with the Six Degrees Records release of his latest of Samba.
Mr. Toure is just content to rest on his vocals and guitar playing laurels on Samba; instead he composed and arranged all the tracks and produced this latest with co-producer Eric Herman. Mr. Toure explains the recording process of Samba, “It was not a regular studio session nor was it a concert. It was somewhere in between. We were recording the album, but we had an audience of about fifty people in the room with us. The audience understood it was to witness the process of recording an album, not to present a concert in a studio, which was a very good thing because we got the energy of a live concert with the quality of a studio recording.”
Rich, warm and rewarding, Samba pulls at the threads of desert blues, funk, reggae, rock and Malian praise song to create a polished, masterful collection of tracks. From the opening of the guitar lick laced “Bonheur” through to the deliciously catchy “Ni Negaba,” Mr. Toure lets his listeners ride a wave of hypnotic grooves while using his musical voice to express the joys of family, the importance of protecting the environment and the pitfalls of religious fanaticism in the wake of Mali’s recent struggles with jihadism where music was banned and musicians were abused or exiled.
Backed by such musicians as drummer Mamadou Kone, calabash player Soulemane Kane, ngoni players Maffa Diabate and Abdoulaye Kone, bassists Marshall Henry, Eric Herman and Checikmare Ba, shaker and kourignans player Tim Keiper and organist and keyboardist Rob Cohen, Mr. Toure gives listeners a delicious ride on sizzling tracks like “Ba Kaitere” and “Homafu Wawa,” and doles out delectable treats like the guitar and ngoni enfused “Samba Si Kairi” and the cool grooves of “Nature.” Fans get a dose of guest keyboardist Idan Raichel on the track “Mariam,” a track dedicated to Mr. Toure’s little sister, and the delightfully elegant track “Maya.”
Despite some doubts about the success of Samba, Mr. Toure says of the experience, “It was an interesting idea but I did not know how it would go. Luckily everything was perfect. There was a great ambience there for the session and we were able to capture this unique energy for the album.”
Mr. Toure has certainly blazed his own path on Mali’s musical griot road of riches with Samba. Must be something in the blood.
There’s always a bit of a letdown when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around. Instead of celebrating a culture filled with the Celts’ vibrant art and mythology, grand writers and even grander musicians, I get goofy leprechaun graphics, cheap, green beer specials and dreadful Irish brogues hawking everything from Celtic-inspired party favors to get lucky sweepstakes.
The general theme, whether it is a car dealership sale or your local St. Patrick’s Day parade, seems to dictate everything be painted bright green, decorated with dippy looking leprechauns and the occasional fake pot of gold. Now, I’m okay with taking on faeries, because little people with wings flying around are just wrong. Get a fly swatter or a can of Raid because I’m pretty sure faeries are carriers or rabies or Lyme disease. Unfortunately, much of the music doesn’t get much better with cheap knockoffs of pub bands or the not quite Enya singers. The good news is that I can do a little something about music with a few suggestions for your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Tara Music has re-released Fuaim by Clannad. Hailing from County Donegal in North West Ireland, this is the real deal in Celtic music. This reissue allows listeners to revisit Clannad’s early years and wallow in the goodness of “Na Buachailli Alainn,” “La Brea Fan Dtuath,” “Strayed Away” and “The Green Fields Of Gaothdobhair.”
Speaking of re-releases, Real World Records has pulled some goodies off the shelves for reissue like Peter Gabriel’s Big Blue Ball. Guess as the founder or Real World, Mr. Gabriel has got a fair amount of pull. While more of a world music fusion project than a strict Celtic recording, Big Blue Ball slips in some offerings like “Deep Forest,” “Rivers” and “Altus Silva” that are well worth snagging.
Pulling some other gems from the shelves Real World has reissued Anatomic, Seed, Volume 1: Sound System, Volume 2: Release, Volume 3: Further in Time, Capture 1995-2010 and Pod all from the Afro Celt Sound System catalog. Again, there’s a good deal of musical cross pollination with other genres, but don’t overlook tracks like “When I Still Needed You,” “Beautiful Rain,” “Mother,” “Drake,” “Seed,” “Nevermore,” “The Other Side,” “Colossus” and “Go on Through.” The Afro Celt Sound System sound remains timeless.
This Day Too: Music From Irish America by Terence, Michael and Jesse Winch has a friendly Irish bar feel. Out of the Washington, DC area, the Winch brothers get some help by way of fellow musicians and singers Patrick Armstrong, Tina Eck, Eileen Estes, Brian Gaffney, Conor Hearn, Seamus Kennedy, Nita Conley Korn, Zan McLeod, Brendan Mulvihill, Connor Murray, Dominick Murray and Madeline Waters. And just by the names, that’s a whole lot of Irish. This Day Too: Music from Irish America offers up tracks like “The Wonder Hornpipe/Austin Tierney’s/The Thunder Reel,” “Lally’s Alley/Cat’s Tail & Gravy,” “Earl’s Chair/The Green Groves of Erin/Sailor on the Rock” and “In Memory of Michael Coleman/Hughie’s Cap/Forget Me Not.”
Arc Music has put out Celtic Mystery with tracks by artists like Ron Korb, Altan, Noel McLoughlin and Golden Bough.
Real World Records has another reissue on tap this year with Martyn Bennett’s Grit. This was a stunning release and time hasn’t diminished it in any way. Fierce and explosive, Grit is razor-edged fusion that astonishes as much as it entertains. You should check out tracks like “Blackbird,” “Chanter,” “Why” and “Ale House.”
Looking for something on the sweetly folksy side, you might want to check out Midnite String Quartet’s Celtic Heartstrings out on the Roma Music Group label. There are some sweet string versions of “The Blood of Cu Chulainn,” “The Irish Rover” and “Carrickfergus.”
This year seems to be the year of the reissue and as luck would have it Robin Williamson’s Glint At The Kindling/Five Bardic Mysteries/Robin Williamson reissue is out this year. Tracks off the Glint at the Kindling featuring Mr. Williamson, as well as Sylvia Woods, Chris Caswell and Jerry McMillan or better known as the Merry Band and tracks from his 1985 spoken word release Five Bardic Mysteries sports such tracks as “The Road the Gypsies Go,” “The Woodcutter’s Song,” “Lough Foyle,” “The Dialogue of the Two Sages” and “Three Celtic Nature Poems.”
Golden Bough wraps up their sound in the goodness of Celtic harp, violin, accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, guitars, tin whistle and bodhran. Their offering Celtic Festival jaunty nod to St. Patrick’s Day.
If that’s not to your liking you could always check out Noel McLoughlin’s Song for Ireland is out on re-release.
As if The Dubliners needed any additional introduction, Arc Music has the goods on this Irish standard and has put out a special 2-CD set of The Dubliners with Luke Kelly. This compilation features such tracks as “Song for Ireland,” “The Sun is Burning,” “Free the People,” “Donegal Danny,” “Now I’m Easy,” “Whack Fol de Diddle” and “Irish Rover.”
Newfolk Records has put out Beoga’s Before We Change Our Mind and Tallymoore’s Drive for your listening pleasure. Either by single track or full recording, these two bands shouldn’t be overlooked.
Celtic music favorite Kila’s Kila Alive out and is a kick in the pants and will have dancing on the tabletops faster than the green beer special with offering like “Mutatu,” “Electric Landlady,” “Babymouse” and “Raise the Road.” If that weren’t incentive enough Alan Doherty is a guest on the recording.
Released in 2016 Deliverance by The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc is a stunning CD. Combining the fiddling traditions of Norway, Sweden and the Shetland Islands, Deliverance is simply spectacular with tracks like “Talons Trip to Thompson Island,” “Flinken” and “Da Scallowa Lasses/Lorna’s Reel” to snare your inner fiddler.
The clever Celtic band West of Mabou put out West of Mabou in December of 2016, but shouldn’t be overlooked. The group offer up jaunty numbers like “Rannie MacLellan,” “The Foxhunter,” “Slip Jigs” and a plummy “Temperance Reel/Devil’s Dream.”
For you hard rocking Celtic fans The Rumjacks’ latest release Sleepin’ Rough was release last year, but you might want to check your local music scene because the band is on tour in the US in March and April.
Finally, there is the double CD/DVD set Affinity by Atlas. Lovely and atmospheric, Affinity is a lushly masterful collection of music by guitarist Cillian Doheny and concertina player Cillian King with fellow musicians Maria Ryan, Lucia Mac Partlin, Sean Warren, Michael Shimmin and Nicky Scott.. Don’t miss this one.
Should you find yourself sitting in a bar somewhere wearing a cheesy shamrock hat, surrounded by paper leprechauns and drinking green beer while listening to a Celtic Goth band murder “Whiskey in the Jar,” just remember that the Celtic spirit takes many forms. And, if approached by faeries grab a shoe!
Sitting back and listening to the latest recording Kidal by Mali’s desert blues/rock group Tamikrest, I wondered if I would have even heard about the continuing struggles of the Tuareg and other desert peoples if it weren’t for the lush music spilling out of the Sahara by way of groups like Tamikrest and other musician groups like Terakaft, Tinariwen and Etran Finatawa or the powerful Sahrawi singer and musician Mariem Hassan. Sadly, I think few would even know that people live and travel these remote parts of the Sahara much less know about the struggle to maintain their nomadic identity if it weren’t for the music.
Fortunately for us Glitterbeat Records has got all the little music junkies out there covered with Tamikrest and their latest Kidal set for release on March 17th. Following up on previous recordings Adagh, Toumastin, Chatma and Taksera, Tamikrest again wraps up listeners in the familiar sleek guitars, rolling rhythms and meaty vocals on Kidal.
Recorded in Bamako, Mali, Kidal gets some extra special treatment with producer Mark Mulholland from Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra and mixer David Odlum who earned a Grammy for his work with the group Tinariwen. Two years in the making, Kidal is worth every single track.
Tamikrest leader Ousmane Ag Mossa says of the recording, “Kidal talks about dignity. We consider the desert as an area of freedom to live in. But many people consider it as just a market to sell multinational companies, and for me, that is a major threat to the survival of our nomadic people.”
Opening with those familiar desert blues riffs on “Mawarniha Tartit,” Tamikrest lays down a sound that’s hypnotic and driven. Packed with guitar, percussion and drums, Kidal kicks some serious rock riffs. Tracks like “Manhouy Inerizhan,” “War Toyed” and “War Tila Eridaran” are brilliantly fiery, but its tracks like slower and bluesy “Atwitas” that blow the listener away with its sleek, edgy guitar, laced in kora lines and roughed over vocals.
Kidal is chocked full of goodies like the acoustic guitar led “Tanakra,” the fabulously trippy and immensely satisfying “Ehad Wad Nadorhan” and the folksy, homey “Erres Hin Atouan” with its call and response vocals. There’s also the rocking “Adoutat Salilagh” and the sweetly worked closing track “Adad Osan Itibat” to satisfy all your desert blues/rock needs.
Kidal is power to the people through music and it doesn’t get any better than that.
The musical landscape of American music overflows with cool. From Blind Lemon Jefferson to Woody Guthrie, from Ella Fitzgerald to Hank Williams, from Miles Davis to Chuck Berry, from Aaron Copland to Jimi Hendrix, from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Jessye Norman, the music of the United States has flowed freely. And that cool has spread far and wide as the likes of Aerosmith, Chicago and Bruce Springsteen have circled the globe many time over and continue to do so.
Without lapsing into some creepy American exceptionalism, we’ve reveled in the sounds of R. Carlos Nakai, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Willie Nelson, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Mahalia Jackson and the list just goes on and on.
But here’s the thing – musically we’ve never lived in a vacuum. The general attitude of US audiences has been if it’s cool, we want it. In the early 1970s Ravi Shankar brought his Concert for Bangladesh to the US and the American audience was so enthralled by the sounds they applauded the group’s warm-up. Okay, the audience’s naiveté is amusing, but the point is we wanted this music.
Having been to a Buena Vista Social Club concert, I can attest that if anyone took my seat I would have clawed their eyes out, as I expect most others who have fallen hard for those rich, warm sounds out of Cuba. The same could be said of the concert featuring L. Subramaniam, his son Ambi Subramaniam and Mahesh Krishnamurthy. Think about it, how many times do you think you heard the Spanish summer song “Macarena” by Los del Rio or “Gangnam Style” by South Korea’s Psy?
In 1986, Paul Simon introduced audiences to South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo on his Graceland album and later in 1990 gave audiences a taste of Afro-Brazilian musicians like Grupo Cultural Olodum, Milton Nascimento and Nana Vasconcelos on his release of Rhythm of the Saints. By-the-way, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is currently on tour and will have upcoming concert dates in the US in February and March of 2017.
Bill Frisell let us into the goodness of Sidiki Camara, Vinicius Cantuaria, Christos Govetas, Greg Leisz and Jenny Scheinman with the The Intercontinentals. There are countless other examples of collaborations of American musicians with artists from around the world. We’ve been inundated by bits of bhangra, African, Indian, Celtic and every other genre under the sun in our popular music, movies and advertising.
I’m not sure how any movie soundtrack makes it without the sly addition of tabla or frame drum these days. Again, if it’s cool we want it. We need it. Let’s face it we’re the fat kid and there’s a whole lot of musical cake out there to eat. And the good thing is that we are all the better for it.
But what if all this musical collaborative goodness from around the world is coming to an end for US audiences? Let’s just forego the conversation about the President Trump’s plan to completely gut government funding for the National Endowment of the Arts and Humanities. There’s something more sinister afoot.
Recently, Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi has been forced to cancel US tour dates because he was denied a visa from the US Embassy in Harare. Speculation has it could be the US’s ongoing wrangling with President Mugabe’s administration or a summit of Sudanese, Somalian and Libyan musicians that coincides with Mr. Mtukudzi’s concert. Also, the Beijing Chinese Orchestra is reported to have cancelled a February concert in Seattle after 22 musicians were denied entry visas by the US government. With the current climate, the powers that be and the sheer force of will to dismantle any and all of President Obama’s actions by the hard-nosed hard asses in charge, can Cuba’s musicians be far behind in the denied visa category? And, which musicians will be next?
I want to be optimistic and say that US audiences won’t go for this, but already the cancelled concerts of Mr. Mtukudzi and the Beijing Chinese Orchestra have already slipped past our collective radar. It is quite possible that there is a whole host of foreign musicians and performers who have been denied visas and those concerts have gone quietly into the night and simply disappeared. Let’s face it this is not the most up-front and honest of administrations. But what is even more worrying is the idea of musicians, artists and performers simply passing up coming to the US entirely. What if we’ve become just too much of a hassle? What if facing a populace of angry, shouting, red-faced, gun-toting, wall-building nuts just isn’t worth it? So then what? What happens when our cool openness for whatever is around the musical corner is gone?
Don’t get me wrong I still think there’s a place for the sweet little square dance or the shit-kicking hoedown, but I don’t think we can live on it alone. I don’t think I’d want to.
Hagop Goudsouzian – Armenian Minstrels and Armenian Echoes (Hagop Goudsouzian Productions)
When was the last time you had a hostess sit before a neatly set table, complete with floral china cups, and offered her guests a charming, a cappella folk song while wearing a lime green Nestlé Frutina T-shirt? Probably never would be my guess. But that’s exactly what you get and so much more with Armenian and Canadian filmmaker Hagop Goudsouzian’s collection of films Armenian Minstrels and the three-part series Armenian Echoes.
Producer and director of a bevy of television programs, as well as the films Apricot Armenian Gold, Armenian Exile and My Son Shall Be Armenian produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Mr. Goudsouzian has set his sights on capturing Armenia’s musical soul by way of Armenian Minstrels and Armenian Echoes. Maybe some have caught these gems on your local PBS stations, but for those who haven’t these films they are not-to-be-missed glimpses into the riches of the heart of the often overlooked Armenian people.
Mr. Goudsouzian is generous as he introduces viewers to the Sayat-Nova Minstrel Song Ensemble in Armenian Minstrels and to artists like Minstrel Andranik Ujanci and Minstesl Makhmour, as well as the studio work of the group and the students of the Jivani School of Minstrel Art.
We get a listen to the vocals of Tovmas Poghosyan, a professor and the artistic director and president of the Sayat-Nova Cultural Union in the recording studio, a peek into Garine Haroyan’s archival work for the center and a behind-the-scenes look as the ensemble prepare for a concert.
The interview with Minstrel Kochar as he explains his early singing roles during his Soviet era school years and his backyard performance at his village home in Yeghis is indeed a delight. It also leave the viewer wanting, because, hey, what are these fruits that the bears eat in the mountains?
It’s easy to fall headlong into the kaleidoscope of colors and sounds with the trilogy Armenian Echoes as the films follow the work and artists of the Aram Merangulyan Folk Instruments Ensemble and its kamancha maker, player and concertmaster Onik Galstyan, the deeply lovely vocals of National Chamber Choir under direction of Robert Mikeyan and collaboration with composer and musicologist Arthur Shahnazarian, the reverence of song of the Choir of the Mother Cathedral of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the bright work of the Naregatsi Folk Instruments Ensemble.
What’s easier is to fall under the spell of is the elderly minstrel Edik Safaryan as he sings one his songs dedicated to his wife Knarig, the dancers of the Vardanyan Sisters Dance Troupe and Edmon Safaryan playing the duduk along with fellow musicians Khatchik Sogoyan, Gargan Hakopyan and Ura Hakopyan.
Perhaps my favorite is Bogdan G. Hovhannisyan, amateur folk song collector and khachkar (an Armenian stone carving with origins dating back to the 9th century) carver and engraver. Amid the jumble of his workshop, Mr. Hovhannisyan treats viewers and his assistant to a song before he explains his passion for folk songs that began under the Soviets when it was not encourage and his founding of a folk choir in the Lori region of Armenia.
Despite all the charms of the landscape Mr. Goudsouzian offers, the smiles of dancers and joyful offerings of song throughout these films, viewers are reminded of the seriousness with which all these artists have devoted themselves.
There are reminders of a sometimes harsh reality as the director of the Sayat-Nova Cultural Union struggles with financing now that the state no longer provides funds, the sorrow that many Armenians simply emigrate to other countries to find better lives, the remaining scars of lands that once belonged to the Armenian people, a genocide and the horrific ravages of the 1988 Armenian earthquake that killed some 50,000 people and destroyed nearly 500,000 buildings. But there is a stubborn perseverance to keep going and to take the business of cultural preservation seriously. Nothing could sum up this sentiment better than a young singer from the Surb Tiramayr Choir from Vanadzor when she says, “Singing spiritual songs is a very difficult and a big responsibility. We have taken it upon ourselves, because they are the heartfelt songs of our people and they don’t take it very well if it’s poorly sung. You must sing it very well or resign.”
There are no slick rock star musicians, no big haired divas, no Dancing with the Stars anywhere in sight in Armenian Minstrels and Armenian Echoes – no, these small town dancers, striped shirted religious singers and mountain side saz players and minstrels are better. By way of Armenian Minstrels and Armenian Echoes, Mr. Goudsouzian had opened a treasure trove of the delights of the Armenian soul.