Category Archives: CD Reviews

Hip Shaking Tanzanian Rumba

Zanzibara 9 – Mbaraka Mwinsheshe & Orchestra Super Volcano – Masika, A Fresh Breeze from Tanzania – 1972-74 (Buda Musique, 2015)

This population showcases one of the most popular dance bands from mainland Tanzania, Orchestra Super Volcano, led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Mbaraka Mwinsheshe.

The band’s style is characterized by strong vocal work, Congolese-style creative guitar, laid back percussion, and a brass section that sometimes sounds very Cuban. This is no coincidence since many Tanzanian bands were influenced by Congolese rumba, which in turn was influenced by Cuban music.

Mbaraka Mwinsheshe and Super Volcano were very successful throughout East Africa, touring throughout Tanzania and Kenya, as well as concerts in Uganda, Zambia, Zaire (Lubumbashi), and Ethiopia.

The CD booklet includes English and French liner notes, with details about the Zanzibara series that focuses on Swahili music from Tanzania, biographical information and song lyrics translations to English and French.

Mbaraka Mwinsheshe died in a car accident in Mombasa in January 1979, during a tour in Kenya.

Zanzibara 9 contains a great collection of hip-shaking songs, illustrating one of the finest Tanzanian dance bands from the 1970s.

Buy Mbaraka Mwinsheshe & Orchestra Super Volcano – Masika, A Fresh Breeze from Tanzania – 1972-74

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The Passionate Boleros of Puerto Rico

Miramar - Dedication to Sylvia Rexach
Miramar – Dedication to Sylvia Rexach

Miramar – Dedication to Sylvia Rexach (Barbes Records, 2016)

This album celebrates the legacy of Puerto Rican artist Sylvia Rexach, one of the essential composers of boleros from Puerto Rico. Boleros are the romantic ballads that started in Cuba and spread to the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, from Latin America to Spain.

Boleros are popular with various generations of Spanish-speakers and come in many forms. You’ve probably heard modernized versions performed by well-known world music acts from the Spanish-speaking world. Miramar’s aim is to bring back the old-style boleros from Puerto Rico. These songs were very popular at the time, so you could say that it’s pop music from another era.

The name of this new bolero project, Miramar, has a romantic connection to the sea. In most of Latin America and Spain, you’ll find numerous locations called Miramar: “a romantic snapshot of a place both close and far away from home.”

The band is led by members of salsa band Bio Ritmo, Puerto Rican vocalist Reinaldo Alvarez and Chilean-American keyboardist Marlysse Simmons-Argandoña along with vocalist Laura Ann Singh. “When I first heard duo music, specifically Duo Irizarry de Córdova” says Rei, “to me it was a new expression of pain and longing. It was a concrete manifestation of everything that I love about romantic music.”

Rei loved the way the male and female voices interacted in the classic bolero duos and found Laura Ann Singh, who became the ideal singing partner. “We have to breathe together and feel the songs together, emotionally and rhythmically.” Says Laura Ann, “and because we have this natural chemistry in our voices and trust each other as musicians, I think we got to skip some of the mundane aspects of learning music and go right to the subtle and the abstract.”

Dedication to Sylvia Rexach is a journey through the world of the classic Puerto Rican romantic ballads.

Miramar will be on tour next month:

June 22nd – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center
June 23rd – Cedar Rapids, IA – Legion Arts
June 24th & 25th – Chicago, IL – Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Court
June 26th – Cleveland, OH – Cleveland Museum of Art
June 26th – Pittsburgh, PA
July 6th – Washington, DC – Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center
July 24th – New York, NY – Lincoln Center Outdoors

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Nana Simopoulos’ Pathway to World Jazz

Nana Simopoulos – Skins (Na Records NR-9206-2, 2016)

Nana Simopoulos is a talented American multi-instrumentalist and composer who bridges the borders between world music and jazz. On “For No reason, the opening track of hew new album, titled Skins, she features a classic jazz swing rhythm, jazz vocals and guitars and saxophone improvisation.

The next song, “Let the Fire Burn Me” offers Middle Eastern influences in the form of frames drums along with vocal, bouzouki and flute melodies from the Near East.

On track 3, Nana Simopoulos ventures further into the East with a seductive mix of Indian tabla, wood flute and fascinating jazz vocals.

“Owl Woman” mixes jazz saxophone with wonderful Indian sarangi and steel drums, bringing together three global cultures.

The Middle Eastern influences return on “The Pathway” although this time, the frame drums intermingle with a Latin jazz beat.

“Anases” is a love song that features Greek-language vocals, global percussion, bouzouki and jazz saxophone.

Track 7, “Merely to Known” has the best vocal work, with delightful call and response vocals and also some of the best guitar work on the album. This lengthy piece gives the other instrumentalists like the bass player and drummer an opportunity to showcase their talent.

The final track has an Indian jazz flavor, with a mix of tabla, sarangi and saxophone.

The lineup on Skins includes Nάnα Simopoulos on vocals, guitar and bouzouki; the late Ustad Sultan Khan on sarangi; Mary Ann McSweeney on bass; Manos Loutas on bass; Royal Hartigan on drums; Michalis Orphanidis on drums; Solis Barki on percussion; Jamie Haddad on percussion; Greg Beyer on steel drums, percussion, berimbau; Dave Liebman on saxophone, wood flute; Charlie Tokarz on alto flute, saxophone; Dimitri Vassilakis on saxophone; and Caryn Heilman, Daví, Solis Barki and Markos Simopoulos on background vocals.

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Klezmer Americana

Yom – Songs for the Old Man (Buda Musique, 2016)

French Klezmer clarinetist and composer Yom dedicates Songs for the Old Man to his father. His previous 7 albums were indirectly dedicated to his maternal Jewish ancestry of Transylvania. This time, Yom follows his father’s experience in the USA. Songs for the Old Man combines Klezmer-clarinet melodies with Americana-style guitars such as dobro and steel guitar.

The lineup on the album includes Yom on clarinets; Aurélien Naffrichoux on electric guitar, steel guitar, and baritone guitar; Guillaume Magne on guitars, dobro, banjo; Sylvain Daniel on bass; and Mathieu Penot on drums.

Songs for the Old Man is a fascinating cinematic adventure representing the vast American landscapes combined with Eastern European Klezmer tunes.

Buy the Songs for the Old Man CD in Europe

Buy the Songs for the Old Man digital release

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Explosive Fertility of Haiti’s Musical Legacy

Various Artists – Tanbou Toujou Lou: Meringue, Kompa Kreyou, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore from Haiti (1960-1981) (Ostinato Records, 2016)

Occasionally some crank will go on and on about how great the music was in his or her day and about how today all the music is garbage. I have a tendency to chalk up this kind of discontented blathering a way for some people to wax poetic about the music of their day and that need for the musical version of comfort food. But every once in a while I get a musical kick in the gut like with Ostinato Records’ June 2016 release of Tanbou Toujou Lou: Merengue, Kompa Kreyou, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore from Haiti (1960-1981).

Culled from private collections and radio archive storage rooms from New York to Port-au-Prince to Jacmel to St. Marc, the music of Tanbou Toujou Lou is the living, breathing legacy of the height of Haiti’s rich musical scene during the 1960s, 70s and 80s from recording labels like Ibo Records, Marc Records and Mini Records, as well as a wealth from smaller labels.

So, with densely packed percussion, finely honed brass lines and all the riches groups like Zotobre, Les Gypsies de Petionville and Les Loups Noirs managed to squeeze out of African roots music, Cuban and Colombian musical styles and vodou drumming, it’s not such a leap to find the music of the past worth pining over while shedding a tear or two.

All it takes is a listen to Tanbou Toujou Lou’s opening track “Lagen” by Zotobre to fall victim to the stunning, explosive richness of Haiti’s musical legacy. I dare anyone to find better percussion on a recording done in the last year. And, Tanbou Toujou Lou just gets better with Les Gypsies de Petionville’s “Francine,” Les Loups Noirs’ “Bebe Showman” and “Gislene” by Tabou Combo.

Fans get a taste of groups like Coupe Cloue et Trio Select, Super Jazz de Jeunes, Ensemble Etoile du Soir and Ensemble Webert Sicot.

While some tracks may sound a little dated, one thing is clear that this music is vibrantly drawn, and has been largely and sorrowfully overlooked.

Compiled and curated by Vik Sohonie, Tanbou Toujou Lou is lushly packed with heady tracks like “Lonin,” “Tipotage” and “Samba Pachas No2.”

With 19 tracks of Haitian deliciousness in a blast from the past it’s hard to go wrong with this offering.

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The Heart Speaks In Songs

Corinne Bailey Rae’s new album The Heart Speaks In Whispers belongs to a crop of what we may call artistry devoid of “collective era”; it does not belong to a particular genre or school that matches popular sentiment. It could be liberal or neo-liberal subculture art, where it exists to express the artist and that’s it. It’s true art: individual art without a grand obligation, at a time of polarized politics, and because of this, The Heart Speaks In Whispers may be fated to be quietly labeled as an uncompassionate album. If one can listen to the parts of a song, singing is often unclear because of its sincerity, coupled with abstract expressionist synth sounds, then you have found yourself a grand experience.

Which era do we belong to? Surely not one of immense prosperity. It’s an era of pain for most thus our politics and most musicians signed to well-known labels push the fact aside to sell great visuals and Belle Epoque. Others add in “profound: lyrics that empathize without expressing contemporary habits or survival culture. Some are so good at what they do that their songs, despite being divorced of popular sentiment, are very enjoyable. Bailey Rae belongs to this group of artists. She does not belong to any monikered era and her music is quite simply productions that are meant to be appreciated by listeners.

Corinne Bailey Rae
Corinne Bailey Rae

“Night” is a song with such sharp parts (sharp as in cheese) that one does not have a firm grasp on the whole at the songs end. The song’s parts are both acoustic and electronic music. Her singing is often unclear and we’re asked to feel much more we are asked to understand. It seems to be vehicle-ing faith in beauty and in feeling as opposed to faith in wording and perhaps it is an answer to living in modern societies full of lying politicians and lying media. It, however, is not clear enough to be such a song.

Most of the songs have familiar rhythms. They are either singer-songwriter songs, children of folk, are soulful R and B songs with both quiet and expansive songs. Some of the songs “Push On For The Dawn” is very good. It is a giant metaphor and sounds like a long epic poem put to song. “Horse Print Dress” doesn’t make sense at first listen nor will a listener want to make any sense of it. None of the songs are danceable nor do they have an understanding of how to dance others. All of them are groovy.

“Stop Where You Are” has an incredible beginning. It’s pure majesty and pure beauty. It speaks to our need for individual liberty. The rest of the song is less beautiful than the song’s beginning.

The Heart Speaks In Whispers should be listened to as a the music of an artist’s personality and tastes. As such it is divorced from popular sentiment and collective living. It wants to impose itself on collective living.

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Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate’s Pleasurable Ride

Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate – Monistic Theory (Cumbancha, 2016)

It struck me at the time of their first recording Faya (2014) that you couldn’t come across a more unlikely collaboration, but guitarist and vocalist Joe Driscoll and kora player and vocalist Sekou Kouyate seemed to effortlessly incinerate any cultural backgrounds, musical styles and language barriers on that first recording out on the Cumbancha Discovery label. Well, Mr. Driscoll and Mr. Kouyate have done it once again with their latest Monistic Theory set for release on May 13th on the Cumbancha label. The result is just as captivating and as a pleasurable ride as Faya.

Mr. Driscoll explains the collaboration, “Our styles are totally different but complementary. It’s like putting baking soda and vinegar together.”

That bubbling over of styles of Mr. Driscoll’s catchy folk, funk and hip-hop blend and guitar expertise against the Guinean roots of Mr. Kouyate’s charmed vocals and utterly magical kora playing seems to be just the point of Monistic Theory in that “the concept that reality is a unified whole and that all existing things can be ascribed to or described by a single concept or system.”

Mr. Driscoll and Mr. Kouyate blaze through that commonality of music without ever losing their own musical identity. It’s impossible not to fall victim to the fiery blend Mr. Driscoll’s razor edged vocals and the flurry of Mr. Kouyate’s kora lines.

Monistic Theory sets up a wide open, infectious groove with instrumental opening “Tamala,” before giving way to the meaty “Just Live” and the breezy feel of “Tokira.”

Keeping the feel clean, without lapsing into over production, Monistic Theory relies on collaborators bassist John Railton, drummer James Breen and percussionist Tim Short to fill out the sound.

Title track “Monistic Theory,” pairing a smooth groove with a kickass rap is delicious, as are the offerings of “Batafa” and “Wama.” Listeners get a treat with “Master Blaster,” a live performance track that simply sums up the extraordinariness of this duo.

The collaboration between Mr. Driscoll and Mr. Kouyate comes across as easy and why shouldn’t it when as Mr. Driscoll recounts, “I met Sekou, and I said, ‘Hey man, let’s work on this for a while.’ It was one of those ‘follow the river’ things, and I went with it.

If only all collaborations could be that easy and that damn good.

Buy Monistic Theory in North America

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Blazing a New Path for Mali’s Musical Landscape

Oumar Konate – Maya Maya (Clermont Music, 2016)

Following up on his 2014 release of Addoh, Malian guitarist and vocalist Oumar Konate has hit the musical streets this time with Maya Maya, out on the Clermont Music label.

Fashioning his own sound out of a mix of Mali’s rich musical tradition with western rock music, Mr. Konate erases the boundaries by way of fusing call-and-response vocals with fiery rock guitar lines to blaze a new path for Mali’s musical landscape.

Taking on electric and acoustic guitars and lead vocals Mr. Konate has teamed up with percussionist and drummer Makan Camara, bassist and backing vocalist Cheick Siriman Sissoko, slide and pedal steel guitarist Keven Maul and pianist Professor Louie to give voice to Mali’s up-and-coming musicians and his country’s precarious future in the face of growing violence, government corruption and an extremist fundamentalist movement.

Listeners will recognize the familiar strains of that rolling rhythmic Malian sound on the opening track “Alada” of Maya Maya, but Mr. Konate and fellow musicians conjure up a decidedly sharper sound, going for the sleeker, edgier take to that desert blues sound. Tracks like “La Ihala,” title track “Maya Maya” and “Waiheedji Taga” bristle with a seductive electricity fashioned out of searing guitar licks and hypnotic percussion that is thrilling.

Vocals with an aching poignancy mark such tracks as the piano threaded “Djama” and the lonely sounds conjured up on “Nedoum Bedefe.” “Hinchi Hinchi” is just downright ferociously rocking, as is the closing track “Hinchi Instrumental #1.”

It takes only a listen of Mr. Konate’s guitar licks and Mr. Camara’s drumming to see a bit of the road ahead for Mali’s musical landscape and it is kickass.

Buy Maya Maya in North America

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Savagely Hip M.A.K.U. Soundsystem

M.A.K.U. Soundsystem – Mezcla (Glitterbeat Records, 2016)

Done your stretches? Done your deep breathing exercises? Well, you’re going to need them when you get an earful of the eight-member, New York City based group M.A.K.U. Soundsystem’s Mezcla set for release on May 27th on the Glitterbeat Records label.

With a ferocious sound that comes with a bite and a message with an even bigger bite, M.A.K.U. Soundsystem whips up a mix of Colombian and Afro-Colombian with dashes of funk, Afrobeat, jazz and hip-hop thrown in for good measure. Savagely kickass, Mezcla rips the bindings of polite recordings in favor a live sounding recording all the while examining the immigrant experience.

The group’s bassist and singer Juan Ospina explains, “They’re putting their lives at risk to come to El Norte, but the borders they cross have all been created by man. Look down from space and you won’t see them.

This message is apparent as Mezcla’s liner notes dedicate the album to “The Everyday People of all races and backgrounds, [e]specially to those who find within their spirit the strength to outgrow the hardship inside themselves to promote a positive life for all amidst the wickedness of the few who constantly rule this world to turmoil and despair.”

So, take that, tyrants!

Filling out M.A.K.U. Soundsystem is drummer and backing vocalist Andres Jimenez; electric guitarist and backing vocalist Camilo Rodriguez; keyboardist and synth player Felipe Quiroz; clarinetist and saxophonist Isaiah Richardson Jr.; electric bassist and lead vocalist Juan Ospina; tambora and maracon player, percussionist and lead vocalist Liliana Conde; tambor alegre player, percussionist and backing vocalist Moris Canate; and trombonist Robert Stringer.

Thrilling and electrifying fans from the opening “Agua” with its sizzling blend of percussion, brass and keyboards, M.A.K.U. Soundsystem makes short work of drawing listeners in with offerings like the uninhibitedly wild “Thank You Thank You,” the savagely cool Afro-Colombian percussion of “Let It Go” and the sultry “Positivo.”

Some reviewers have called the music “raw” and “gritty,” but for those looking for an authentic, non-overproduced recording Mezcla is the real deal. That often sought after live performance energy comes across loud and clear on Mezcla. Other goodies include the fun filled “La Inevitable,” the sassy bright “La Haitiana” and infectiously danceable “Happy Hour.”

Mr. Ospina says, “We try to keep it human, to give people something they can relate to.”

The brightly colored music of M.A.K.U. Soundsystem’s Mezcla is savagely hip and restlessly sharp so you still have time to build up your stamina before May 27th.

Buy Mezcla in North America

Buy Mezcla in Europe

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Mayotte Afro-Rock

M’Toro Chamou – “Punk islands” (2016)

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.

Buy Punk islands

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