Singer-songwriter, guitarist and composer M’Toro Chamou hails from Mayotte, an island located in the Indian Ocean near Comoros which is under French control. He’s an advocate for the island’s culture, which is under threat due to western popular culture influence. His latest album is titled “Punk islands”.
The new album features a fiery combination of traditional m’godro rhythms from Mayotte, African music and western influences, such as rock and blues, and call and response vocals.
“Punk islands” is a fascinating introduction to one of the iconic artists from the Indian Ocean region.
Buda Folk Band demonstrates that it’s one of the finest Hungarian contemporary folk music bands. The string ensemble creates captivating music rooted in Hungarian folk music.
Saját gyujtés (Own Collection Work) includes slow tempo beauties like the opening track ‘Var meg’ where the musicians use the plucked string technique. At various times throughout the album, they increase the pace to breakneck fiddling speed, delivering virtuosic performances.
Although the members of Buda Folk Band grew up in cities, they have captured the essence of Hungary’s rural tradition very nicely. The young musicians grew up in a musical environment. Their parents and teachers belong to the generation that initiated the dance house movement (referring to folk dance revival, not electronic music) in the mid-1970s.
The lineup includes Andor Maruzsenszki on violin and vocals; Ádám Takács on violin and vocals; Sándor ‘Sündi’ Csoóri on contra (3-stringed viola), Bulgarian tambura and vocals; Márton Éri on viola, contra, and vocals; Soma Salamon on accordion, recorder, kaval (Balkan flute), furulyak (shepherd flutes), vocals; Gergő Szabó Csobán on bass, guitar, cello, chorus. Guest: Anna ‘Tücsi’ Márczi on vocals, chorus.
The attractively packaged CD booklet includes Hungarian-language lyrics, bilingual credits and artist photos.
On Saját gyujtés, Buda Folk Band delivers an outstanding collection of modern Hungarian folk songs and musical pieces featuring tight ensemble interplay and some spectacular individual playing.
Odd submissions are just part and parcel to music reviewer, but I’ve never received a submission with a health warning. Well, until I received a copy of Piranha’s Hungarian Noir A Tribute to the Gloomy Sunday, set for release on May 13th. According to the cover warning “This music may be hazardous to your health. Listening precaution is advised.” Really? Sounds like a dare, doesn’t it.
I’ll admit that some music does provoke strong emotions, but that’s usually some homicidal tendencies as a result of some irritating bit of pop music that’s played over and over. That I might fall victim to a piece of music is another whole ball of wax. A threat to one’s personal health doesn’t seem like a likely profitable way to promote a music recording, but hey, I’m game. Okay, so I have listened to all 12 tracks, differing versions of the same song on Hungarian Noir a couple of times now and I’ve haven’t lapsed into a coma, developed a suspicious rash or run amok about the neighborhood. Do I possess a natural resistance to the dark lure of “Gloomy Sunday?” Or is this all a bunch of hooey?
A little background is in order. Regarded as the “Hungarian Suicide Song,” “Gloomy Sunday was published in 1933, a work by the pianist and composer Rezso Seress. Mr. Seress’s original lyrics went along the lines “The world is ending,” expressing the despair of war and the sins of humanity. It was poet Laszlo Javor who entitled his version “Szomoru vasamap” or “Sad Sunday,” re-wrote the lyrics that would stick in popular song over the original lyrics by Mr. Seress, with the song recounting the singer’s suicidal thoughts over a lover’s death.
The first recorded version of the song appeared in 1935 by Hungarian Pal Kalmar. A year later “Gloomy Sunday” was recording with English lyrics by Sam M. Lewis and performed by Hal Kemp. Another version also appeared in 1936 with the lyrics this time by Desmond Carter and performed by Paul Robeson. Perhaps the most famous recording of “Gloomy Sunday” is the 1941 version by Billie Holiday.
Okay, here’s where things get freaky. According to rumor and several 1930s press reports, the song has been associated with some 19 suicides in Hungary and the United States. And, here’s where things get a little sketchy. According to the press release I received, an American newspaper (no accredited publication was named) reported, “Budapest police have branded the song ‘Gloomy Sunday’ public menace No. 1 and have asked all musicians and orchestras to cooperate in suppressing it, dispatches said today.”
Apparently as the unnamed publication reports, “Men, women and children are among the victims. Two people shot themselves while gypsies played the melancholy notes on violins. Some killed themselves while listening to it on gramophone records in their homes. Two housemaids cut their employers’ linens and paintings and then killed themselves after hearing the song drifting up into the servant’s hall from dinner parties.”
If that weren’t enough, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) banned broadcast of the Billie Holiday version during World War II, citing it being bad for morale – a ban that wouldn’t be lifted until 2002. Now, here’s the kicker, composer of “Gloomy Sunday,” sad Mr. Seress killed himself in January of 1968.
World War I ended in 1918 and left some 17 million people dead and another 20 million wounded as well as a well-worn path of destruction, disease and famine. The 1930s saw the creeping advances of the global economic havoc of the Great Depression and news reports are chalking up suicide deaths to a song? Seriously? And, don’t get me started on the racist overtones of the idiotic reports about suicides “while gypsies played the melancholy notes on violins.” While all the reports might just be just chalked up to anecdotal urban legend, people at the time took the warning seriously. Good thing for music lovers, musicians are more than willing to tempt fate and take on a creepy urban legend. Nothing dispels public panic better than a good artistic poke in the eye.
I’ll admit “Gloomy Sunday” the song itself is fairly morose. Good thing Piranha offers up some goodies on Hungarian Noir like the opening version by the Cuban group Vocal Sampling or “Domingo Sombrio” by Mozambican Wazimbo featuring Kakana or lushly cool and brassy “Trieste Domingo” by Cuban Manolito Simonet y Su Trabuco. There’s enough of a change of pace, but there is no denying it is the same song over and over, despite the rap version “Travessia” by GOG featuring Pianola, or the breezily jazzy “Gloomy Sunday” by Glenda Lopez or “Triste Domingo” offered up by Argentine musician Chango Spasiuk.
Fans also get a dose “Gloomy Sunday” by way of Colombia’s Bambarabanda on “Triste Domingo” and Hungary’s Cimbalom Duo on “Szormoru Vasarnap.” As a bonus, fans get the sweetly melancholic vocals of Billie Holiday and her version of “Gloomy Sunday” before the recording ends with Pal Kalmar’s moody version replete with tolling bells and sad strings.
I don’t think listeners are taking their own lives in their hands with Hungarian Noir considering I have no intelligence to support that the U.S. military is using “Gloomy Sunday” to currently fight Islamic State, the Taliban or Kim Jong Un. While I’m all in favor of giving superstitious gobbledygook a good poke in the nose, this is one of those recordings where you really have to want to listen to varying versions of the same song.
Call me a traditionalist, call me a purist, call me a snob, call me a journalistic hack. (Okay, that last one is kind of beside the point.) But it’s a fact that since my musical tastes went global 30-plus years ago, I‘ve leaned heavily in favor of music that sticks closer to the roots. There may well be demographic reasons pertaining to my age, my race, my status or my upbringing that contribute to my preference, or maybe it’s just my concept of authenticity that guides me. Does that mean my choice of music has to sound as close to an Alan Lomax field recording as possible? Good heavens, no. Like most people, I simply have my own ideas, shared or not, about what it means to keep it real. And modernizing need not preclude reality in my worldview, even when it comes to my abiding love for African music. The pair of gents reviewed herein share not only a surname, but an apparent desire to expand their artistry without losing sight of it.
Mali’s Bassekou Kouyate is a wizard of the ngoni, a paddle-shaped traditional West African lute that comes in various sizes. It looks deceptively simple but in the right hands can unleash some mighty sounds. To say Kouyate’s band Ngoni Ba is all about the ngoni would be a misstatement, for although multiple lutes are the group’s mainstay, the songs on Ba Power (Glitter Beat, 2015) add amplified non-African instruments (guitar, drums, keyboards, trumpet). Despite the additions, it’s the wall of ngoni (with Kouyate’s own in the lead) that really grabs you.
Rockish paces on some tracks unleash the power the title promises, but as often as not the music is just as mighty at slower speeds thanks to the tart, twangy interplay of the small, medium and bass ngoni and the fact that they’re always prominent in the mix. Further power comes courtesy of Amy Sacko’s soaring vocals, the snap of the calabash (gourd drum) and the subtle application of electronic overtones here and there. Every song is a corker, but best of the lot is “Abe Sumaya,” on which Kouyate and his crew- Muslims all -assure us that the loathsome ideology of Islamist fundamentalism will never prevail in Mali.
Another Kouyate, namely Sekou Kouyate, hails from Guinea and plays the 21-stringed kora. He’s teamed with guitarist/vocalist Joe Driscoll (like me, a native upstate New Yorker) on Monistic Theory (Cumbancha, 2016). The two have been collaborators since 2010, and while matchups between African and Western musicians are nothing new, these gents have a particularly good spark. Kouyate’s fluid kora and airy vocals mesh with Driscoll’s snappy guitar and rap cadences minus any unnecessary interference from overproduction, commercial aspirations or canned beats.
The fairly minimal accompaniment of drums, bass and percussion provides a snug foundation for Driscoll and Kouyate’s bilingual discourses on love, unity and the power of music, and the mostly fast tempos inspire dancing to compliment the food for thought. What I really like about this disc is how unpretentious it feels. It gets to your heart rather than getting in your face, staying true to its titular theme of oneness and letting the music convey a positive message despite the troubles currently besetting mankind.
Zé Boiadé – Zé qué casá (La Roda/Rue Stendhal, 2016)
Zé Boiadé is a Franco-Brazilian band based in Aix-en-Provence in southern France. The quartet includes skilled multi-instrumentalists along with vocals in French and Portuguese.
On their new album, Zé qué casá, scheduled for release in May 2016, Zé Boiadé incorporate Nordestino music (folk music from northeastern Brazil), choro, samba and French song (chanson). The Brazilian-French mix is what makes the band’s sound unique, bringing together two distant traditions, combining melodic songs with Brazilian beats and the European-influenced Brazilian string traditions.
There are primarily two sets of material on Zé qué casá. The songs featuring vocals in French set to Brazilian musical arrangements and the instrumentals. On the instrumentals, band members display their virtuosity providing exciting interplay and times for jamming as well.
Zé Boiadé was originally a duo featuring singer-songwriter Claire Luzi (vocals, mandolin, melodica and percussion) and Brazilian composer Cristiano Nacimento (7-string guitar, trombone, and percussion). They were later joined by two musicians from Marseilles: Wim Welker on cavaquinho (small Portuguese and Brazilian guitar), background vocals and 7-string guitar; and Olivier Boyer on pandeiro (frame drum), percussion and background vocals.
Zé qué casá is a delightfully crafted album featuring alluring acoustic interplay, infectious Brazilian rhythms and striking vocals.
The sounds of various regions of Pakistan and klezmer come together in the new project called Sandaraa. The debut album incorporates the impressive vocals of Pakistani singer-songwriter Zeb Bangash and Brooklyn-based virtuoso clarinetist Michael Winograd.
The two musicians first met at the Pakistani Embassy as part of a US tour. They reconnected at NYU in Abu Dhabi. Inspired by Dari, Pashto and Baluchi music, a new band was formed that recreated Pakistani folk music with new arrangements that incorporate klezmer elements.
“As a band we’re steeped in Western technique and theory,” says Winograd. “We have thought about the ideal show we’d like to present, about how folk songs can work when we play them as a group.”
The lineup on the upcoming Sandaraa album includes Zebunnisa Bangash on vocals; Michael Winograd on clarinet; Eylem Basaldi on violin; Patrick Farrell on accordion and Farfisa; Yoshie Fruchter on electric guitar and oud; Richie Barshay on drums and percussion; and David Lizmi on bass. Benjy Fox-Rosen appears as guest bassist on one track.
Sandaraa showcases the intensive and fascinating alchemy between two musicians from two very distant musical traditions.
I‘ve long asserted that Latin music was the first “world” music to make its way into the mainstream. Arguable though that may be, there’s no doubting the variety of what can rightly be labeled Latin nowadays. Part of the reason for such variety is how the music has evolved; another is recognizing how much variety there was to begin with.
Vintage Latino (Putumayo, 2015) is a various-artists collection that steers clear of overly familiar names (no Tito, Tito or Machito to be found) and earns extra points for featuring some that were around in the early days as well as contemporary musicians keeping the classic sound alive.
So it is that the love songs of old time Cubans like Trio Melodicos and the rural roots of Venezuela’s Simon Diaz fit comfortably alongside contemporary revivers like the utterly charming Las Rubias del Norte from the U.S. and France’s excellent Republique Democratique Du Mambo. And if the best of both worlds is your thing, check the seamlessly splendid combination of Uruguay’s late great Lagrima Rios and acclaimed Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla on the candombe-flavored “Un Cielo Para Los Dos.” Each of the 12 tracks is a gem, so count this one a must.
Should you be craving the sounds of a Brooklyn-based Mexican brass band, that craving will be more than satisfied by Banda de Los Muertos on their self-titled release (Barbes Records, 2015). Founded and led by Oscar Noriega and Jacob Garchik, veterans of jazz and classical music, Banda de Los Muertos’ brass and reeds attack is not just rousingly good fun. It’s also an impressive display of great musicians doing their thing.
The intertwined trumpets, trombones, alto horn, sousaphone and clarinets (plus a solid backbone of drums) are loaded with traditional Mexican flavors and sport nuances ample enough to appeal to fans of jazz, klezmer and big band music. And no hard feelings if you don’t dig the band’s instrumental cover of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” or the sexy, husky guest vocals by Mireya Ramos, though some serious self-examination might be in order.
Thoroughly modern but with a clear understanding of age-old grooves, Empresarios out of Washington D.C. give us The Vibes (Empresarios Musica, 2015) a hot mash of cumbia, reggae, dub, house, jazzy experimentation and hip hop. They combine real and programmed rhythms as deftly as they shift from sung to rapped vocals, and their subject matter likewise ranges from self-referencing celebration to social consciousness.
A thinking man’s party band, these guys likely won’t appeal to staunch Latin music purists. For everyone else, they definitely bring it. And the last two tracks (instrumentals “Rootsy Jam” and “Alegria”) are killer.
Not sure why, but I’ve recently been receiving a steady stream of music from the Fol label out of Spain. Some I initially put aside with the intention of getting to it later, only to have it seem to vanish in that strange manner that befalls neglected objects. So I set myself to being more attentive and more open-eared, and not surprisingly have been rewarded with sounds I’m enjoying very much. What follows are overviews of just a few, enough to make me realize how stupid I’ve been for not tuning in to the bigger picture. I promise I shall (or at least try to) from now on.
Guadi Galego is a sweet-voiced singer and pianist who straddles the vocal line between vulnerable and intense on what seems to be her second release, Luas de Outubro e Augosto. The songs are consistently low-key and beats of any sort are largely absent, and it doesn’t matter. With help from producer and multi-instrumentalist Pachi Garcia Elis, the disc is a short, entrancing flow of ballads that are sometimes minimally accompanied but often are built against walls of sonic ambience that, like Galego’s prominent vocals, carry a sense of both authenticity and experimentation.
Mixing largely acoustic instruments with tradition, plus hints of jazz and Celtic feel, Davide Salvado scores big on his album Lobos. Layers of percussion (some played by Salvado himself) underpin arrangements that range from melancholy to jaunty and are enriched with guitar, mandolin, sax, bouzouki, standup bass, accordion, violin, ocarina and harp. Salvado’s vocals are emotive yet understated, with an appealing everyman quality that goes straight to the heart and stays there. This one’s a definite keeper.
Salvado’s vocals and percussion are also part of a quartet called Rustica whose self-titled disc is a co-release with Zouma Records. (So why does my computer’s Windows Media Player display graphics that look Japanese when I put the CD in? I don’t know.) The other members of Rustica are Cristina Pato on gaita (bagpipe), Anxo Pintos on zanfona (hurdy-gurdy) and accordionist Roberto Comesaña. Traditional to the core, the music they create is spine-tingling, magical stuff that usually seeps its way along with a droning, shadowy mystique.
A few lively, danceable attacks break the spell as well as adding to it, and if I had my way, there’d be a higher quotient of fast moments to balance out the prevailing slow ones. Salvado goes more operatic here than on his own release, the musicianship is superb, and the album’s rather lean 31-minute running time doesn’t feel lacking.
I figured I would like La Banda Morisca’s Algarabiya when I saw the imagery the CD presented. On the cover are five guys walking a sandy landscape, one with a guimbri slung over his back. Better still, there’s the hamsa symbol in the band’s logo. Spanish music with ties to the country’s Moorish past is a particular favorite of mine, and it looks and sounds as if La Banda Morisca will go a good way towards filling the gap left by the demise of Radio Tarifa. The former’s combination of North African and Middle Eastern motifs with enhanced flamenco rhythms is a fiery delight that ignites every track.
JoseMari Cala’s undulating, serpentine vocals lead the way, and instruments that include oud, cumbus and the aforementioned guimbri recall Andalusian splendor while stirring sparks of Gnawa spirit. Oh, and what do you know- there’s guest player Vincent Molino, once a key member of Radio Tarifa, making the sound even more zesty with his superb reed work.
From the looks of the italicized small print, it seems the tracks were recorded in the far, far southern Spanish region of Tarifa as well. But La Banda Morisca aren’t simply imitators. (Most of their grooves are played on a drum set rather than hand percussion, for example.) What they certainly are is an incredibly tight band with an obvious passion for modernizing Spain’s rich musical past to just the right degree, and they do it very well.
If you look up influential or powerful vocalists, more likely than not you are going to run into female singers like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston or male singers like Freddie Mercury, Josh Groban and Elvis Presley. But these ridiculous lists hardly ever turn up results with the likes of Pakistan’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Flamenco singers Enrique Morente or Camaron de la Isla, Russia’s Vladimir Vysotsky, Cape Verde’s Cesaria Evora or even jazz singers like Billie Holiday or Nina Simone. Now, no offense to the up and coming Celine Dions or Whitney Houstons out there singing their little hearts out like the little, overproduced songbirds they are, but I often wonder what happened to those singers whose vocals speak more to the emotion of the song than the impossible notes they can belt out at top volume. You know, authentic singers using their voices to convey an emotional state rather than to just impress.
As luck would have it the Six Degrees release of Rough Romanian Soul by Zmei3 (pronounced zmay-tray), out on April 22nd, landed on my desk. Zmei3’s lead vocalist Paula Turcas, a former soprano opera singer, is all authentic vocals against a backdrop of vibraphones by vibe master Oli Bott, guitars and vocals by Mihai Victor Illiescu and double bass by Arnulf Ballhorn on this folksy, bluesy, jazzy, slightly quirky, avant-gardesque musical landscape of the rough road of the post-Communist Romanian soul.
The group of Romanian immigrant bandmates snagged Grammy award-winner producer Ian Brennan, who’s worked with the likes of Tinariwen, Zomba Prison Project and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, by way of a Kickstarter funding campaign to cover costs of recording and travel, proving not only the tenacity of the group but also the inventive, can-do mentality that it takes to survive the rough road of a post-Communist life in Eastern Europe.
I was struck by a comment by Mr. Brennan in the press release where he explains, “Eastern Europe in general has been neglected by the rest of the world in terms of interest and exploration of music and culture. It has literally and deliberately been treated as a bloc. There is a great ignorance amongst many as to what Eastern Europe even is after World War II, so to have vibrant and modern music from Romania is a very valuable thing.”
A valiant and valuable thing indeed. Rough Romanian Soul opens with Ms. Turcas’s vocals and guitar lines on the moody” Stai Langa Mine” before giving way to a moody combo with vibes and bass. If you are looking for a frothy little folksy recording or a darkly villainous soundtrack to lurk about in a big cape and fangs, this is probably not the CD for you.
There are some lovely surprises on Rough Romanian Soul, like “Imn” with its indistinct and humming vocals, or catchy, folksy “ 2 Mai” or the moving “Poveste Din Tara Mea.” Other goodies include the riches of “Marie, Maria” with lonely vocals by Mr. Iliescu and harmonica, the alternatively rousing and bluesy “As Munci La Plug Si Coasa” and the lushly worked “Pana Cand Nu Te Lubeam.”
Ms. Turcas sums up the people and in a fashion their music this way, “The land is rough and the people strong, and our legacy is one of survival.”
Fans get a dose of tenacity on tracks like emotional “Ah!,” the elegantly guitar-laced “Intr-o Zi” and a tribute song to the resistance fighters from the 1950s “Vis.”
Rough Romanian Soul is a fierce, authentic, artfully crafted musical landscape.
Buena Vista Social Club member, guitarist and singer Eliades Ochoa says, “Cuban music has a certain feel, that sway, that harmony. “It can get right to the heart and the soul, no matter who you are.”
Isn’t that the barest truth! And, for Cuban music fans the ripe riches are set to hit the streets May 2nd with the Tumi Music release of Guajira Mas Guajira. Teaming up the band Alma Latina and his sister, vocalist and collaborator Maria, Mr. Ochoa and bandmates delve into the country music of Cuba or música guajira. Of course Ms. Ochoa isn’t just a sister but comes with a prestigious musical background of her own playing with the likes of Ruben Gonzales, Sonera Edition, Tierra Caliente, Caribe Typical and El Grupo Achala, as well as touring with Omara Portuondo, Ibrahim Ferrer and her brother.
Packed with dizzying array of guitars, sassy percussion, piano, congas, bongos, trumpet and saxophone, Guajira Mas Guajira will have Cuban music fans jumping up and down like a kid hopped up on Christmas, birthday cake and a passel of puppies.
Mr. Ochoa says of Guajira Mas Guajira, “Together with Buena Vista Social Club, this album is one the most important and interesting recordings of my life. “Alma Latina is an inspiration and an expression of art, music, painting and dance. It is a call to bring harmony and love through music to all human beings and Latin brothers. And it’s about the dance,” an element that runs through every charming track on the album.
Guajira Mas Guajira goes beyond the standard Buena Vista Social Club fair with sleek, often sizzling, guitar licks, charmed intimate vocals and a breezy Caribbean flair. Opening with the delicious “Brisa Mananera” with vocals by brother and sister, Guajira Mas Guajira proves swoon-worthy.
Moving through tracks like “Que Sigan Sonanando Las Campanas” with some lovely vocals by Mr. Ochoa, the raucously delightful “El Punto Cubano” and spirited “Me Voy Para Monte,” Cuban music fans get a real feel for the unrestrained joy of the guajira.
There’s also the smoothly sultry “Tu Aliento Me Hace Falta,” the infectiously jubilant “El Quichi Quicha” and delightful instrumental “Te Sigo Amando” to enthrall fans.
Mr. Ochoa notes, “No matter where Cuban music goes, it touches people.”
I have no doubt that where Guajira Mas Guajira goes it will charm Cuban music fans.
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