Category Archives: Artist Profiles

Artist Profiles: Alireza Ghorbani

Alireza Ghorban

Vocalist Alireza Ghorbani, born in 1972, began studying the Persian classical repertoire (radif) at the age of 12 with such masters as Mehdi Fallah, Hossein Omoumi and Ahmad Ebrahimi. His later work with Ali Tajvidi and Farhad Fakhre’ddini opened new horizons as he experimented with art songs (tasnif) from radio broadcasts of the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1999, he joined Farhad Fakhre’ddini’s National Iranian Orchestra as lead vocalist, performing in Iran and abroad. His warm, resonant voice and songs that speak to the spirit of the times in Iran have made him particularly popular. He has made many recordings and collaborated with Majid Derakhshani, Sadeq Cheraghi, Pezhman Taheri, Houshang Kamkar, the National Iranian Orchestra, and the Shams Ensemble.

On Rapture, Alireza Ghorbani collaborates with Tunisian singer Dorsaf Hamdani for the first time. It presents a dialog between the Arabic and Persian cultures.


Ivresses / Rapture (Accords Croisés, 2011)

Eperdument (Accords Croises, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Honoré Avolonto

Afrobeat musician Honoré Avolonto started his career in 1969 as a percussionist. The young conga player went onto become one of Benin’s most prolific composer.

Avolonto composed Benin’s most successful LP (no title – SAT 143) which was recorded for the Satel music label in the late 70s. The album was recorded with the Black Santiago, a band fronted by amazing trumpet player Ignace De Souza, another legend, with whom he recorded the Afrobeat track “Dou Dagbe We” few years earlier. Avolonto has fronted some of Benin’s most powerful bands.


Artist Profiles: Antoine Dougbé

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo not only composed and recorded hundreds of songs but they still found time to arrange and record for other artists, one of them being “Le premier ministre du Diable” – Antoine Dougbé.

Dougbé created his own style which he dubbed Afro Cavacha, a fantastic mixture of Congolese Rumba, Latin sounds and traditional frenetic Vodun rhythms. Original Antoine Dougbé vinyl records that were released on his own label, Editions Dougbé Antoine, have become some of Africa’s most sought after collector’s items.


Artist Profiles: Cheb Nacim

Cheb Nacim

Cheb Nacim combines contemporary Rai with a traditional music base. Singing in Arabic, he possesses a unique combination of tone and technique that transcends language barriers and genre preferences. His first major concerts took place around the suburbs of Nantes in 1993, in venues such as Quai de la Fosse with Khaled and Cheb Mami and the Triangle in Rennes. Cheb Nacim took part in the tribute concert for Cheb Hasni alongside the biggest stars of Rai, Sahraoui, Faudel, Cheb Nasro, Rachid Taha, Mohamed Lamine and Cheikha Rimitti.

Through his performances Cheb Nacim’s reputation grew considerably and saw him open concerts for L’Orchestre National de Barbes at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Faudel at the Hammersmith Palais in London.

In the tradition of the great Rai singers Cheb Hasni, Khaled and others, Cheb Nacim recorded Algerian Rai, an album of passionate Rai songs by Hasni, Dahman El Har-rachi, Abderahmane Djoudi, as well as original compositions.


Algerian Rai (ARC, 2006)


Artist Profiles: Yelas


Yelas was born in the 20th century in Tarihant, ‘a little village perched in the mountains not far from the sea’, he was from a modest background where you had to work to achieve anything, to pull through. So the little Kabyl got down to work and did very well at school. But soon, he would stray from the path that seemed mapped out for him, enrolling in the school of life where his guitar would be his most faithful mentor and his native Berber language his chosen discipline.

In 1984, he formed a first group at secondary school, performing a patchwork of Bob Dylan, Jacques Brel, Paul Simon and Idir covers. This was the start of a fabulous adventure that was to last more than fifteen years before it culminated in the production of his first record.

During that time, young Said chose a name that spoke volumes about his plans: Yelas, meaning ‘ever present’. During that time, he also joined the Berber Spring movement and became increasingly committed to the struggle for recognition of his people’s rights and identity. During that period, he left for France where he now lives.

Like bluesmen and folk singers, Yelas writes alone on the guitar, ‘as the mood takes me’, he says. When the time is right and not to order. ‘I feel naked without my guitar. I’ve traveled all over Europe, North and South, and I’ve even been to the United States and Canada with it.’

Despite a year spent as a pupil at a conservatory of music in Algeria (classical guitar section) and his higher business studies, the young man preferred to live from day to day, his life guided by meetings and experiences.

Yelas has played in subways and streets, in public places and cafes for a pittance and for the sheer pleasure of it too, the delight of sharing his passion with an audience. Today as yesterday, his place is on the stage, the scene of every kind of interplay and potentiality. This explains his apprehension when he goes through the looking glass into the impersonal recording booth. ‘Studio work isn’t easy. Nothing like stage performance. But it’s there that you realize you’re becoming more professional.’

‘My music is like my musicians, met by word of mouth in the same way that my music tells the story of my life.’ A nomad at heart, the Kabyl does not refuse the world music label. Quite the opposite. He simply has his own vision, which he defines in this way: ‘Blending with all the colors of the world without losing your soul, without forgetting where you’re from’.

That is why his seven musician partners – a magnificent seven – must be ‘able to feel at home with a wide range of repertoires’: cosmopolitan like him, a polyglot who speaks four languages. He admits to being as strongly influenced by Greek or Hispanic genres as by the great tradition of American songwriters.

It was armed with these credentials that he set out to explore his natural world, the music of Kabylia, stirring it up in every sense of the term ‘to protect our Berber cultural identity, to fight for freedom and to continue the struggle. It’s a permanent commitment.’ There is no point in asking him to play for the government: he is a spokesman for those people who have no say, an Algeria reduced to silence.

This is what Yelas tells in his words and music. He sings in his own language, the speech of his native land, ‘more suited to melody than others because of the richness of its sounds’. He is proud in his words and warmly eloquent. Above all, he has a unique, singularly-multiple style, bringing together all the lessons he has learned during his travels.

Flamenco dances are unconsciously there, Celtic music slips quietly in and the Mediterranean movement stretches to the shores of a Latin-style America. It is difficult to qualify and categorize Yelas’ music. There is no doubt that it is a fine reflection of his open spirit, infatuated with freedom. But above and beyond the notes, rapid tempos and calmer ballads, there are the words, words whose true meaning is enhanced by the music.

Beginning with the title, which symbolizes his approach. ‘Ifili means net. But the real meaning is trap, in other words, the current situation in Algeria. We have to go into exile to find freedom!’, forcefully explains this native son, still attached to his roots although his winged sandals have carried him to the four corners of the world.

The same applies to Ggan-Kem, ‘the exodus of Kabyles fleeing social and political oppression’. And it is no accident that the record begins with a tribute to the victims of terrorism, ‘starting with Matoub Lounes and all those who fell in the Berber Spring’.

Tafsuyt continues in the same vein, ‘to keep alive the memory of the victims of the first Berber Spring at the start of 1980, repressed with terrible violence’.

Furulu is something of a symbol, but also a tribute, borrowing its title from a character in a novel. ‘It is in praise of the old educational system, which was established just after independence and took a beating twenty years later. It is an indirect tribute to the French-speaking world and all those who wanted to build an educated Algeria’.

Later on, Debout! (Stand up!) launches ‘an appeal to Algeria, which must wake up to our differences in identity’, sadly neglected treasures. This awakening is predicted in Tannumi, ‘the hope that goes hand in hand with any struggle. Despite the hardship, it brings joy too, because freedom lies at the end!’.

Not to forget to have fun, Not to forget Tizgrit, ‘the village by the coast where I went to school‘. The place where it all began, as a few verses inscribed on music paper remind us, a touch nostalgically. Days of adolescence, certainly still carefree days in a way. That is perhaps why Yelas ends his first album with two songs that are less loaded with meaning, more suited to dancing and celebration: La fille au violon (The girl with the violin), ‘simply a love song’, and Huzz-Imanim, ‘a call to get up and move, to have a good time’. Two themes showing that Yelas is much more than just a singer with a message, much more than just a bard of rai, a genre that all too often loses its way.


Ifili (Iris Music, 2002)
Sliyid (2009)

Biography by Jacques Denis


Artist Profiles: Mickey Hart

Mickey Hart


Mickey Hart was born on September 11, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York City. He is best known for his nearly three decades as a fundamental part of the influential rock band the Grateful Dead. As half of the percussion unit known as the Rhythm Devils, Mickey and Bill Kreutzmann went beyond the conventions of rock drumming. Their extended polyrhythmic excursions were highlights of Grateful Dead shows, introducing the band’s audience to an ever-growing set of percussion instruments from around the world. Exposure to these exotic sounds fueled Mickey’s desire to learn about the various cultures that produced them.

Hart’s tireless study of the world’s music led him to many great teachers and collaborators including his partners in Planet Drum. The self-titled Planet Drum album not only hit #1 on the Billboard World Music Chart remaining there for 26 weeks it also received the Grammy for Best World Music Album in 1991- the first Grammy ever awarded in this category.


Planet Drum


Planet Drum was one of twenty-nine recordings released on Mickey Hart’s The World series on Rykodisc Records. The World offered a wide variety of music from virtually every comer of the globe with releases like Voices of the Rainforest from Papua New Guinea and Living Art Sounding Spirit: The Bali Sessions.



Mickey’s experiences have led to unique opportunities beyond the music industry. He composed a major drum production performed by an assembly of 100 percussionists for the opening ceremony of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. Additionally Mickey has composed scores soundtracks and themes for movies and television including Apocalypse Now Gang Related Hearts of Darkness The Twilight Zone the 1987 score to The Americas Cup the Walter Cronkite Report and Vietnam A Television History arvdr The Next Step. In 1994 Mickey along with all the members of the Grateful Dead was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


Mickey Hart


Mickey’s lifelong fascination with the history and mythology of music is documented in four books: Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion Planet Drum Spirit into Sound: The Magic of Music and Songcatchers: In Search of the Worlds Music written in collaboration with National Geographic.

In 1999 Mickey was appointed to the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. In October of 2000 the Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center conferred an honorary doctorate of humane letters upon Mickey for his work in advancing the preservation of aural archives.

Mickey is the 2003 Recipient of The Music Has Power Award by The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function part of the Beth Abraham Family of Health Services.

Mickey is the recipient of the 2004 Governors Award presented by NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences).

On Sept. 18 2004 Mickey set a new Guinness World Record for the largest drum circle with 454 drummers.

Mickey Hart served for twelve years on the American Folklife Center (AFC) Board of Trustees and helped to establish the “Save Our Sounds project a collaboration between the AFC and the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. He also served on the Smithsonian Folkways advisory board in the late 1980s where he was instrumental in shaping digitization strategy for the Moses and Frances Asch Folkways Records Collection and served as technical director for The Original Vision the initial Smithsonian Folkways reissue of Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly recordings. Hart also digitally remastered the Smithsonian Folkways album Hawaiian Drum Dance Chants and with Thomas Vennum Jr. supervised sound duplication for the album Navajo Songs.

In 2011 Mickey Hart made an agreement with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings to release the world music recordings known as The Mickey Hart Collection.’ The plan is to preserve and further the Grateful Dead percussionist’s endeavor to cross borders and expand musical horizons. Smithsonian Folkways will make many of Mickey Hart‘s music projects available digitally (stream and download) for the first time while keeping physical versions in print as on-demand CDs.



The Mickey Hart Collection started with 25 albums drawn from The World, a series Hart curated that incorporated his solo projects other artists’ productions and re-releases of out-of-print titles. Six of the twenty-five albums form the “Endangered Music Project”, a collaboration between Mickey Hart and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress which presents recordings from musical traditions at risk. Both The World and The Endangered Music Project were previously distributed by Rykodisc from 1988 to 2002. Hart co-produced The Endangered Music Project with Alan Jabbour former Director of the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.

The Mickey Hart Collection‘ offers a wide variety of music from virtually every corner of the globe recorded in a diverse range of locations from the Nubian Desert to the Papua New Guinea rainforest. “Music is our talking book our portal to the spirit world. I hope you will enjoy these audio snapshots of my musical journey ,” Hart said. “It’s an honor to have my recordings at Smithsonian Folkways alongside the greatest songcatchers of our time.”

Today, Hart continues his extensive Grateful Dead career with fellow original bandmates Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann — and now with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chementi — in Dead & Company. The supergroup’s 2016 summer tour sold out shows nationwide in the United States, garnering acclaim from critics, Deadheads, and new fans alike.

Solo discography

Rolling Thunder (Warner Brothers BS2635 1972)
Diga Rhythm Band (1976)
The Rhythm Devils Play River Music with The Rhythm Devils (Passport Records PB 9844, 1980)
Dafos Mickey Hart Airto Moreira Flora Purim (Reference Recordings RR-1, 1983)
Yamantaka with Mickey Hart Henry Wolff Nancy Hennings (Celestial Harmonies Records, 1983)
Music to be Born By (Rykodisc, 1989)
At the Edge (Rykodisc, 1990)
Planet Drum (Rykodisc, 1991)
The Apocalypse Now Sessions with The Rhythm Devils (1991)
Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box (Rykodisc, 1996)
Supralingua (1998)
Spirit into Sound (2000)
The Best of Mickey Hart: Over the Edge and Back (Rykodisc, 2002)
Global Drum Project, with Zakir Hussain Sikiru Adepoju Giovanni Hidalgo (Shout Factory 2007)
Mysterium Tremendum (2012)
Superorganism (Empire, 2013)
Planet Drum, 25th Anniversary edition (Universal, 2016)


The Rhythm Devils Concert Experience DVD (2008)


Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion (1990)
Planet Drum: A Celebration of Percussion and Rhythm (1991)
Songcatchers: In Search of the Worlds Music (National Geographic 2003)
Spirit into Sound: The Magic of Music (2006)


Artist profiles: María Vargas

María Vargas

María Vargas Fernández was born in Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cádiz, Spain) in 1947. The gypsy artist started to sing at an early age showing her great talent singing saetas, a sacred Flamenco style performed during Holy Week (Easter).

At the age of 12 she performed at the Teatro Villamarta in Jerez de la Frontera, one of the cradles of Flamenco, in a tribute to Manuel Torres. Since then, she has performed at numerous Flamenco festivals across Andalusia. María Vargas won many prestigious awards like the La Copa de Jerez al Cante por Bulerías, Placa Columbia in Mairena de Alcor and the National Award in Córdoba entre otros. A few years later she moved to Madrid, hired by Manolo Caracol for the flamenco nightclub (tablao) “Los Canasteros” and she recorded her first LP.

In the following years, María Vargas worked at other well-known Flamenco tablaos in Madrid, including “Las Brujas”, “Café de Chinitas” and “El Portal de la Morería.” She also performed regularly at most summer festivals in Andalusia and several European countries.

María Vargas’ discography encompasses several albums, accompanied by some of the most famous guitarists in the flamenco world: Paco de Lucia, Manolo Sanlucar, Paco Cepero, Manuel Morao and the Habichuelas.

In 1999 the Flamencology College (Cátedra de Flamencología) in Jerez de la Frontera gave her the National Flamenco vocalist Award.

In 2009, Sanlúcar de Barrameda named a city square Plaza Cantaora María Vargas.

Partial discography:

Reina Del Canto Gitano ‎(CBS S-64238, 1970)
Copa Jerez De Cante Flamenco ‎(CBS S-64788, 1971)
Maria Vargas ‎(Olympo L-46, 1972)
Rios De Primaveras ‎(Virgin I-210 619, 1990)
Juerga Flamenca (Dial, 1994)
Maria Vargas y La Guitarra De Paco De Lucia (Polydor, 1999)


Artist Profiles: María Mezcle

Maria Mezcle

Flamenco singer Maria Mezcle was born in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. She is the great granddaughter of El Mezcle and a descendant of María Vargas, one of Sanlúcar’s greatest singers.

María Mezcle was immersed in flamenco at a young age. At 6 she started to dance, but she soon realized that flamenco singing was really her calling. At 11, she won her first flamenco song contest and started touring the flamenco clubs, guided by flamenco dancer Domingo Rosado with whom he took her first steps as a singer.

María Mezcle learned the classic flamenco styles of Cadiz and Seville and received a degree in Music Education.

In 2010 she released her first album, María Mezcle, produced by guitar maestro Gerardo Núñez. On this recording, María showcases the singing styles of Cadiz province: Sanlúcar, Jerez and Los Puertos (the ports).

Since then, she has collaborated with great flamenco artists such as Miguel Poveda and José Mercé and has won several national flamenco awards.

María Mezcle has toured the world as a singer with the National Ballet of Spain’s “Sorolla” show. In 2015 she released her second album titled Desnuda (Naked).

María is currently based in Madrid, where she teaches at the renowned Amor de Dios School and participates at flamenco jams.


Artist Profiles: Diego Villegas

Diego Villegas

Diego Villegas was born in Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cadiz, Spain) in 1987. He grew up in a flamenco environment. His sister is a flamenco dancer and she initiated and guided him.

At 8, Villegas began his classical guitar studies at the “Joaquín Turina” Conservatory in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cadiz, and then completed his Professional Degree at the Joaquín Villatoro Conservatory in Jerez de la Frontera (Cadiz). At the age of ten he enrolled in the Sanlúcar de Barrameda Municipal Academy, where he studied clarinet and symphonic percussion. At 12 he joined the “Julián Cerdán” Band, also in Sanlúcar, as a clarinet soloist.

In terms of flamenco, Diego Villegas has shared the stage with dancers such as Antonio Fernandez ‘Farru’, Ángel Muñoz, María Juncal, Concha Jareño and Raquel Villegas. He also collaborates with artists like Remedios Amaya, María Toledo, Jorge Pardo, Israel Suárez “Piranha”, etc.

Diego Villegas leads the Flamenco-Jazz Project. He plays musical instruments such as flute and saxophone. He also uses other wind instruments rarely utilized in flamenco: harmonica and clarinet.

In 2016 Diego Villegas released his first solo album titled Bajo de Guía, which is dedicated a well-known neighborhood in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. On Bajo de Guía, Villegas combines flamenco, jazz, bossa nova and Latin American rhythms.


Artist Profiles: La Negra

La Negra

Flamenco artist Amparo Velasco, better known as La Negra, was born and raised in Alicante (Spain).

La Negra Flamenco has worked with acclaimed flamenco artists José Mercé and Vicente Amigo. She mixes jazz, African beats and Latin groooves with flamenco roots.

In 2006 she released her self-titled debut album, “La negra”, produced by influential musician Javier Limón.




La negra (Casa Limón, 2006)
La que nunca (El Volcán Música, 2012)
Colores (2016)