Category Archives: Book Reviews

Kalakuta Notes Expanded

 Fela: Kalakuta Notes Second Edition
Fela: Kalakuta Notes Second Edition

We reviewed the first edition of Fela – Kalakuta Notes in 2009. A second expanded edition was published in 2015 by Wesleyan University Press.

In this second edition, British-Ghanaian musician and author Collins has extended the original introduction by providing crucial context for popular music in Africa in the 1960s and the influences on Fela Kuti’s music and politics. The 1960s was a time of independence and change for many African nations, including Nigeria.

Another addition to the original book is a new closing chapter, where Collins discusses the legacy of Fela: the international spread of Afrobeat; Fela’s musical children, Femi and Seun Kuti; the Kalakuta Museum; and the annual Felabrations held in Nigeria, North America and Europe.

The discography has been updated by Ronnie Graham. Also, there’s a timeline; and historical photographs.

Lastly, the new edition includes a foreword by Banning Eyre, senior editor of American syndicated radio show Afropop Worldwide.

As indicated in our previous review of the book, Fela: Kalakuta Notes is an essential read. Fela Kuti was a highly influential musician who developed a new musical genre, Afrobeat that has spread throughout the world. His music and political activism have influenced numerous individuals throughout the world.

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Review of New Music Concepts. 2nd International Conference ICNMC 2016

New Music Concepts. 2nd International Conference ICNMC 2016
New Music Concepts. 2nd International Conference ICNMC 2016

New Music Concepts. 2nd International Conference ICNMC 2016, Michele Della Ventura (ed.), ABEditore s.r.l. – Milan ISBN 978-88-6551-221-0

This book is a collection of essays and scholarly articles comprising the results of the second New Music Concepts academic conference, held in Treviso (Italy) 5‒6 March 2016. In this review we will take a general look at this publication, focusing on the specific research carried out within the framework of the annual academic meeting. The conference is organised by the Studio Musica Music Academy affiliated with the Benedetto Marcello Conservatorio di Musica of Venice.

As the book’s academic editor, Professor Michele Della Ventura, writes in the introduction, the book is a collection of ideas, theories, and research findings from areas touching on the humanities, philosophy, engineering, mathematics, and the everyday experience of studio work and creative artistic work. The publication consists of articles by researchers, academic educators, and artists from England, the United States, Spain, Austria, France, Poland, Sweden, Greece, Korea, and Germany. The results of the research presented in the book can be divided roughly into three main areas: (1) sound engineering and studio work; (2) teaching at different levels of artistic instruction, with special consideration given to the potential of applying e-learning tools to improve the quality of education; (3) cultural studies and their impact on the understanding of contemporary artistic phenomena.

The amplitude of the issues involving development of e-learning methods in the book is not surprising if we consider the academic and educational achievements of Professor Michele Della Ventura, who has been a specialist in this field and for many years has been systematically expanding the field of artistic teaching, contributing to the improvement of the quality of education with the involvement of modern tools and learning:

Among the articles addressing the issue of sound engineering and tools for the creation of contemporary music, one can find such issues as ‘A User-Centric Algorithmic Composition System’ (A. Antoine, E. R. Miranda), ‘Blyth-Eastbourne-Wembury: Sonification as a compositional tool in electroacoustic music’ (N. Bonet, A. Kirke, E. R. Miranda), and ‘Basis Function Modeling of Loudness Variations in Ensemble Performance’ (T. Gadermaier, M. Grachten, C. E. Cencino Chacon). These issues were well suited to the resources of the academic centre where the conference was held, as the Academy of Music in Treviso possesses a well-equipped modern recording studio.

Among the issues related to teaching and e-learning, such topics emerged as: ‘Virtual Music Classroom via Incubation Theory: Case Studies and Research’ (Mary K. French), ‘E-learning and its effectiveness in improving The Performance of Techniques and Skills of playing the piano’ (Bahia Galal Al Ekhrity), and ‘The Efficiency on Video-supported Teaching in Amateur Violin Training’ (N. Yagisan, Y. Aksoy).

In the last-mentioned section one can find very interesting studies concerning research touching on the fields of philosophy, sociology and culture. It is shown in this section how varied, in terms of fields and subjects, research on music can be. Among other issues we find ‘Could the be considered an alternative popular music? A Jihadist ideology practiced through audio patterns: the case of al Nusra and Daesh’ (I. Hafez), ‘An innovation way the teaching the Arabic music analysis of the freshman student through e-Learning’ (Mayada Gamal El Deen Aly Aghaa), and ‘A Cross-Cultural Exploration of Music in History: Language, Health and Implications’ (M. H. Cui, D. Knox, M. O. Agyeman, R. MacDonald), as well as the article ‘World Music: a Transcultural Phenomenon’ (P. Tendera, W. Rubiś). In this section of the book, the philosophy of music is closely connected to sociocultural research, which complements the broad perspective of the research conducted annually within the framework of the ‘New Music Concepts’ conference. Bringing together issues touching on technology, teaching and cultural research in a single book results in a very interesting offering in the field of academic reading.

The last-mentioned article is the result of my own theoretical research, which I have been conducting for several years. These studies focus on the ontology and value of music. We analyse not only the construction of music (where I concentrate on my own original, philosophically modernised division of music into form and content) but also the conditions that must be met for the phenomenon of transculturalism that we see in the World Music trend to have significant meaning.

We are conducting our research in counterpoint: focusing on one hand on aesthetically diverse exemplifications (mainstream jazz, swing, bebop, Latin, world fusion, global fusion, worldbeat, neo-tradition, influences of Hindu, ethnic Arab, Jewish, gypsy, African folk and European music), on the other on the universality manifested in the creative process, improvisation, and specifics of musical expression [[Cf. P. Tendera, W. Rubiś, ‘World Music: a transcultural phenomenon’, in: New Music Concepts. 2nd International Conference ICNMC 2016, Michele Della Ventura (ed.), ABEditore s.r.l. – Milan, pp. 61‒82]].


Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music

Sara Le Menestrel - Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music, Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications
Sara Le Menestrel – Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music, Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications
Sara Le Menestrel

Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music, Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications (University Press of Mississippi, 2015)

Those of us who work in the music business use the terms Cajun and Zydeco frequently when referring to music from southern Louisiana. We normally identify Cajun as the music of the white descendants of Acadians and Zydeco as the music developed by the black musicians. A new book by cultural anthropologist Sara Le Menestrel titled Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music, Categories, Stereotypes, and Identifications reveals fascinating details about the origin of Cajun and Zydeco music.

Le Menestrel brings to light a third genre called Creole music. Creole is used for any purposes referring to food, people, culture and the term Creole music is used in the context of southern Louisiana music to define the pre-Zydeco music created by French-speaking blacks.

Sara Le Menestrel’s book is not an extensive study of Louisiana musicians. Instead, she focuses on how the different racial and ethnic groups interact with other, creating cross-pollination across musical genres. Le Menestrel discusses the interactions between black and white artists, urban and rural, and other distinctions.

The hybridization in southern Louisiana’s music has materialized in past decades and continues today. We’ve seen recently how some modern southern Louisiana bands have incorporated rock, blues, western swing, country, bluegrass and Celtic music into traditional Cajun music.

The author spent time talking to musicians although this was not an easy task. Many of the artists who make a living from music are often busy, touring extensively. Sara Le Menestrel also gained additional knowledge by observing concertgoers and dancers.

Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music takes the reader from the early 20th Century to present times, providing abundant documentation about the evolution of music, the musicians involved, and the venues they performed. The author also provides helpful chronological charts and vintage photos of the artists and posters.

Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music is a 400 page-book with color and black and white illustrations, graphs and bibliography.

Sara Le Menestrel is currently based in Paris, France. She is a cultural anthropologist and a research fellow at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris. Her research concentration includes the anthropology of music and the anthropology of disaster through post-Katrina and post-Rita Louisiana. She is the co-editor of Working the Field: Accounts from French Louisiana, published by University Press of Mississippi.

Negotiating Difference in French Louisiana Music is a must read for anyone interested in the development of southern Louisiana and an excellent resource for music journalists and scholars.

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Wildman of Rhythm: the Life and Music of Benny Moré

Wildman of Rhythm: the Life and Music of Benny Moré
Wildman of Rhythm: the Life and Music of Benny Moré by John Radanovich University Press of Florida; 1st edition (September 27, 2009)

Benny More was one of the top singers that Cuba ever produced. I highly recommend this book if you are into Latin, Cuban, mambo music. Benny More was born in Cuba and as a young child exposed to the rich folkloric music and drumming. This music was instilled in Benny’s soul as a child and portrayed through his music. Benny is one of my favorite singers, coming first among other Latin singers and has a style like to no other.

John Radanovich details events in Benny’s life from start to finish in a complete history of Benny More’s life.

John, I have seen different spellings from Cuba for Benny More (Beny), what would you say the correct spelling for his name would be correct?

Although much of his early recordings show his name spelled “Beny,” according to the More family, Benny named himself after Benny Goodman when he went to Mexico with Miguel Matamoros. There are many people willing to violently argue for one spelling or the other. “Benny” is on his gravestone.”

What gave you the momentum to write this book?

I always loved big bands and grew up with jazz, but when I heard “Que Bueno Baila Usted” for the first time in New Orleans, I was completely knocked out. For some years I had been writing about Latin jazz and salsa, and every singer I talked to always said—as did Celia Cruz—that what they did was nothing compared to what Benny did. Eventually I had interviewed many people who knew Benny, and Paquito D’Rivera urged me to keep going, so I found myself with much of the preliminary materials for a book.”

In your research, did you get any assistance for details of Benny’s life?

Benny’s family, like his daughters in Miami, and his daughter in Havana, helped me with lots of details. Benny’s grandson in Miami, Roly, knows probably more than anyone in the world on Benny, though Roly was surprised by some of the things I found. I also interviewed Benny’s first cousins: the great Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros in New York City, and Enrique “el Conde Negro” Benitez in Havana.

Chocolate was Benny’s first bandleader, and Enrique taught Benny how to sing and wrote many of his songs. I went to meet Generoso Jimenez in Havana in 2000, and returned to do more research in Havana and Santa Isabel de las Lajas, Benny’s hometown, in 2007. I also interviewed others who knew Benny like Bebo Valdes and Graciela Perez.”

In writing the book, did you discover things that were not true/or untrue that were said about Benny?

Some people in the U.S. believe Benny was beaten by Castro security forces and died from the wounds, which isn’t true. Benny definitely died at age 44 of cirrhosis of the liver caused by incredible drinking throughout his life. I also learned that Benny was neither an anti-revolutionary nor pro Castro; there are people who want to argue either belief. The fact is that Benny was completely nonpolitical. I also learned that Benny was only legally married once, to a Mexican named Juanita Bocanegra, though he fathered at least 12 children.”

Have you received feedback from readers, regarding the publishing of the book?

Readers who love Benny’s music are very happy with the book, and so is Benny’s family. I wrote the book for his fans and his family, so it’s great to know that after a lot of difficult research, I was able to please the people who I wanted to most. I also wrote the book for those who don’t know anything about the music and era in Havana, with the American mafia owning the hotels, the excitement of the music, and all the stars who regularly went to Havana like Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.”

Has the book been translated into Spanish and sent to Cuba where Benny was born?

The book hasn’t been translated into Spanish yet, and I hope that will happen since there are still lots of his fans in Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and Spain. It might be a bit difficult for Cubans in Cuba to have the book because it contains a few stories of how Castro manipulated musicians and other artists. Though I believe some writers in Cuba do have the book in English.”

John what other books have you written and what other books about musicians, do you intend to write?

“This was my first published book. I know someone needs to do a book on the last great Cuban musician, Bebo Valdes, but writing books these days is a very expensive and time-consuming pastime, and it’s very difficult to get books published in the U.S. now, unfortunately.”

This book needs to be on your list or lists to buy if you are a Latin music lover. A chance to learn the rich history, rewards and struggles of the best Latin singer that ever lived. I think Benny would have been proud of his book and of John Radaovich’s writing of him. John, Benny would have said, “Que bien escribe usted!”.

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: University Press of Florida; 1 edition (September 27, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9780813033938
ISBN-13: 978-0813033938

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Voice of the People Book Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

IZ: Voice of the People
The book Israel Kamakawiwo’ole IZ – Voice of the People celebrates the life of one of the most beloved singers in recent Hawaiian history. Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole had a prodigious voice and successful career. Unfortunately, he died at a young age of a debilitating disease.

IZ – Voice of the People contains interesting biographical details, following Israel since he was a child up to the time of his death and the numerous tributes he received. It is full of fascinating family photos as well as professional photographs taken throughout his career.

The book begins with an introduction about Hawaii, its music and culture. It sets the background for the time period in which the native Hawaiian Israel Ka’ano Kamakawiwo’ole was born, 1959, in the island of Ni’ihau.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole grew up in an environment where Hawaiian music and the islands’ native language was spoken.

The author sets the context for the musical career of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole at a time when Hawaiian traditional music had its ups and downs. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was a member of the popular band Mäkaha Sons of Ni‘ihau. In 1993, Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole started his solo career and became a star in his native land and beyond.

His first solo album was the CD “Facing Future”. It was followed by another five (some of them post humous) recordings, “E Ala E” (1995), “In Dis Life” (1996), “IZ In Concert: The Man and His Music” (1998), “Alone In IZ World” (2001) and “Wonderful World” (2007). Facing Future remains the top selling Hawaiian music album in the world. In 2002 it was certified gold by the RIAA, a first for a Hawaiian Record label. In 2005, the album was certified platinum by the RIAA for sales of over 1 million units.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole IZ – Voice of the People provides details about Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s family and its history of heart disease and obesity. Israel Kamakawiwo’ole found it very difficult to lose weight and he became morbidly obese. This affected his health and he died on June 26, 1997.

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s legacy cotinues in various forms. His versions of “Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” have been featured in various films, television programs, and commercials.

Buy the book: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole IZ – Voice of the People

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Mambo Diablo – My Journey With Tito Puente Book Review

Mambo Diablo: My Journey With Tito Puente
Mambo Diablo – My Journey With Tito Puente by Joe Conzo, with David A. Pérez. AuthorHouse, 2010. ISBN-10: 1452082812, ISBN-13: 978-1452082813.

Tito Puente was the legendary bandleader, timbales player, vibe player, composer, and Latin musician like no other, who has been an inspiration to all Latin percussionist and bandleaders. Joe Conzo long time friend of the late Tito Puente gives and outstanding view in “Mambo Diablo” My Journey with Tito Puente, a book regarding the life and times of Tito Puente.

From bandleader Perez Prado of mambo fame to non-comparable Cuban singer Beny More, legendary trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and the life and moments of New York in the 1940’s with the invention of BeBop, the Bird Parker and others,the book provides intimate details of the life of Tito Puente.
Continue reading Mambo Diablo – My Journey With Tito Puente Book Review


Sindo Garay: Memories of a troubadour

By Marta Valdés

To stop reading has rarely been so difficult to me like now, when it’s almost Sunday and the moment draws near to type these paragraphs in which I inform those who love the rich history of the Cuban music about the recent publication of this precious book, the result of the loving, persistent dialogue between the distinguished figure of the lyric and researcher Carmela de Leon and Sindo Garay, the great troubadour.

Sindo Garay, Memorias de un Trovador (Museo de la Música) is a publication -the third one, to my knowledge-, which is part of the collection of publications that the Museum of Music has been presenting as part of the program for the preservation, publication and dissemination of our musical heritage carried out by the Cuban Institute of Music. I’m not happy filling spaces by literally copying this information, albeit it is fair to stress the importance of actions aimed not only at emphasizing and preserving memorable things but also at providing researchers with a valuable source of information.
Continue reading Sindo Garay: Memories of a troubadour


An Enthralling Portrait of Fela

Fela - Kalakuta Notes
Fela – Kalakuta Notes
Nigerian musician and band leader Fela Kuti was one of the most influential African musicians in the past decades. He has become a  legendary figure and his legacy continues through dozens of Afrobeat bands throughout the world, including groups led by some of his sons, Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti. A new book, titled Fela – Kalakuta Notes (Kit Publishers, ISBN 9789068327489) provides captivating details and photography about the life of Fela Kuti. The mesmerizing photographs are by Jak Kilby, Rico d’Rozario and Thierry Secretan.

The multifaceted author, John Collins, knew Fela Kuti well. He constructs a captivating picture of Fela thanks to testimonies by musicians that played in Fela Kuti’s bands (as well as personal accounts, essays, diary notes and a 1975 interview with Fela Kuti. Collins provides juicy details about the birth of the Kalakuta Republic. While in prison for marihuana charges, Fela became a leader among inmates, who called the jail cell Kalakuta (rascal in Swahili). After his release, Fela renamed his home the Kalakuta Republic, a haven for musicians and artists in the thriving Lagos scene that also the scene of numerous confrontations with the local authorities.

Throughout out the book, John Collins explains how and when the term Afrobeat was coined, in the early 1970s (we’ll let you read the book to find out). Readers will also learn about Fela Kuti’s travels and his long stays in Ghana, a country where he found considerable support during hard times.

Kalakuta Notes includes an extensive discography by Ronnie Graham, originally published in 2002. If you are interested in all of Fela’s CDs, this is your opportunity to get the complete list.

The author of Kalakuta Notes, Dr John Collins, has been actively involved in the Ghanaian and West African music scene since 1969, as a musician, band leader, recording producer and engineer, music union executive, writer and music journalist. He has published numerous articles on West African music and over the past 30 years has influenced and inspired countless others. His previous books include African Pop Roots (1985), and Highlife Time (1996).

The extraordinary Fela: Kalakuta Notes is a must read for all who are interested in one of the most influential contemporary musicians that came out of Africa.

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Border Techno

Nor-tec Rifa!: Electronic Dance Music from Tijuana to the World by Alejandro L. Madrid
Nor-tec Rifa!: Electronic Dance Music from Tijuana to the World by Alejandro L. Madrid
Nor-tec Rifa!: Electronic Dance Music from Tijuana to the World by Alejandro L. Madrid (Oxford University Press)

Border towns are fascinating urban centers, which are natural crossroads for the exchange of ideas and cultures. The Mexican city of Tijuana, located just across from the United States, south of San Diego (California) is no exception. During the past decades, Tijuana’s most creative artists were exposed to music and other art forms from both sides of the border and beyond. The book Nor-Tec Rifa! explores the history and development of the exciting Nor-Tec sound, a blend of northern Mexican popular music with electronic dance music from the United States and Europe. The name Nor-Tec combines norteño with techno.


Alejandro L. Madrid sets the context for this hybrid musical revolution, providing details about the Mexican regional (norteña, banda, and grupera) traditions and various electronic genres (house, techno, ambient, breakbeat, trance, etc. ) styles that inspired the Nor-Tec musicians.

Most famous of all was the Nor-Tec Collective, founded by musicians and producers, including Ramón Amezcua (Bostich), Pedro Gabriel Beas (Hiperboreal), Ignacio Chávez Uranga (Plankton Man), Fernando Corona (Terrestre), Roberto Mendoza (Panóptica), Jorge Ruiz (Melo), José Trinidad Morales (Pepe Mogt), Jorge Verdín (member of Clorofila), and Fritz Torres (member of Clorofila). These musicians were joined by an equally talented group of graphic designers.

Personal accounts by the artists themselves explain how the musical ideas came together. In a personal interview with the author of the book, Pepe Mogt describes how at a family party he came up with the idea of using sampled northern Mexican rhythmic patterns:  Jorge [Ruiz] "Melo" and I went to my sister’s party. Obviously, my family hired a norteño group, and we ended up sitting right by the stage. We were there, enjoying the party but I was already listening to those norteño sounds with new ears.

Listening to the instruments, especially the  percussion, the drum set … and I thought that it might be possible to integrate them into electronic music because they sounded very interesting. You know, when it is live, the sound is really huge and that motivated me to try to experiment and create something new, especially because it is a sound that has always been in Tijuana but I had never really paid attention to it. So I told Jorge and he was like: "No, No, man! How do you think we are gonna mix norteño? That’s the very last thing we are gonna mix!" That’s why I call him the first Nor-tec dissident. Jorge’s attitude was that of most musicians."

The author, Alejandro L. Madrid is a musicologist and cultural theorist whose research focuses on the intersection of modernity, tradition and globalization in music and expressive culture from Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2005 Alejandro received the prestigious Casa de las Américas Musicology Prize. He is Assistant Professor of Latin American and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Nor-Tec Rifa! is a captivating account of the infectious energy brewing in Tijuana that led to the creation of a new hybrid musical genre.

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A Whale of a Song: David Rothenberg Jams with Orcas

David Rothenberg - Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound
David Rothenberg – Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound
David Rothenberg

Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound
(comes with CD)
Basic Books

I realize that a review for a book focusing on whale songs might seem a bit strange, maybe even out of place on a world music site. However, musician and author (of several books including "Why Birds Sing: A Journey Into the Mystery of Birdsong"), David Rothenberg brings us another dimension. And he brings up the concept that non-human creatures enjoy listening to and making music as much as humans. And for many readers such myself this seems like a manifestation of one of those wild childhood dreams.

Depending on your level of rationality, you could say that I and others who think along these lines are anthropomorphizing or you might just consider that creatures such as birds and whales have been singing since the beginning of time. I won’t start philosophizing because I am not that good at it. Instead, I encourage you to read Rothenberg’s thoroughly engaging books. He is good at philosophy and putting all the pieces together in a unique puzzle.

"Thousand Mile Song (Whale Music in a Sea of Sound)" offers a fascinating and well-documented glance at a musical interaction between humans and whales. Similar to "Why Birds Sing," Rothenberg engages various researchers on his quest to find out if non-humans sing because they enjoy it. And the author-musician also invites the whales into a musical jam–an exchange between his clarinet and their whale clicks and songs.

The book comes with a CD and the music on it, falls somewhere between experimental jazz and otherworldly sounds. The music also sounds oddly Finnish. The author performs with Orcas off the coast of British Columbia, spends time in New Zealand, the former Soviet Union and other locales exploring whale songs. He also takes us back to the 1970s when listening to whale songs was hip and somewhat trippy. This quest leads to an insightful ending that transforms readers’ view of the natural world.

I believe that any musician, no matter the genre, can glean a lot from this book and CD. As we search for more cross cultural exchanges with music, why not consider cross species jam sessions? Perhaps this sounds too far out, or just right down your alley. After all, this is a new era where anything is possible if we just open our hearts.

And what better way to preserve non-human life on this planet, then to honor what we share in common. This planet is home to a myriad of creatures, and many seem to enjoy music as much as humans do. And unlike the whales, you do not need to travel a thousand miles to reap rewards from this unusual musical connection.

Patricia Herlevi hosts the music consciousness blog, The Whole Music Experience. She also feels a strong connection to birds, whales and other creatures.

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