Cuban Label EGREM Introduces New Web Site

(Prensa Latina – Cumbancha) Havana, Cuba – The Cuban Recording Company (EGREM) announced its new Web site address, from which it promotes the work of Cuban musical creators from different trends, besides being a powerful tool for research. The website www.egrem.com.cu shows the company’s catalog, sales statistics, information on the last productions, presentations of new titles and a database allowing people to learn other details. The website will have a daily update, and people will be able to see information on the history of EGREM, and how to contact distributors for information on the services offered by the recording company.

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Taj Mahal Signs with Tone Cool, Revisits Hawaiian Music

Taj Mahal - Hanapepe Dream
Taj Mahal – Hanapepe Dream
Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, USA – Based in Hawaii from 1981 until 1996, Taj Mahal returns to the island sounds of Kaua`i for the American release of Hanapepe Dream, his second CD with the Hula Blues. Hanapepe Dream, the Grammy® Award-winning artist’s debut joint venture between Tone-Cool Records and his own Kan-Du Records, will be released on June 10, 2003.

The follow up to 1998’s acclaimed Sacred Island, Hanapepe Dream’s 11 tracks feature Taj’s all-acoustic string band sound along with his signature slack-key blend of the blues and Pacific-Caribbean-island music.

Album highlights include an extended Hula Blues version of “Blackjack Davey,” a song from Taj’s 1974 reggae-infused Mo Roots album, and the signature Taj Mahal sound of “Stagger Lee,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “My Creole Belle.”

The American release of Hanapepe Dream will offer bonus video footage including live performances of “The Calypsonians” and “The New Hula Blues.” Following Dream’s release, the very first Taj Mahal and the Hula Blues U.S. tour will follow with three weeks of shows during summer, kicking off June 20 in Chicago.

Commenting on his custom blend of styles, Taj has said, “My perspective is cultural and world-based. It’s always been a global perspective. Even in the early days when nobody knew me, they’d go, ‘Well, that album is perfect, but what was that calypso song doing on there? What does that got to do with it?’ I think that the way music is played [in America], it’s terribly narrow cast. I relate to these various traditions that I feel are connected through family, extended family, and influenced by influence.”

As part of “The Year of the Blues,” Taj Mahal will be seen in Martin Scorsese’s film From Mali to Mississippi, which will launch the seven-film series entitled The Blues. This project carries the viewer to the root of the blues in African music, and its journey across the Atlantic to the Mississippi Delta. Performers will include African greats Ali Farka Toure and Salif Keita, and American legends Taj Mahal and Othar Turner.

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Abdala Productions Celebrates 5th Anniversary

(Prensa Latina – Cumbancha) Havana, Cuba – Producciones Abdala will celebrate on May 25 its five years of work promoting the wide spectrum of Cuban sounds. Producciones Abdala’s Unicornio label director Eduardo Ramos stated that they have distributed over a hundred productions from folklore to son, bolero, jazz, children’s, traditional and chamber music, as well as other contemporary trends. In the recently concluded Cubadisco 2003, they obtained 115 nominations and 33 awards including the Grand Prize for the CD “Canciones del buen amor” (Songs of Good Love) by Jose Maria Vitier. Among its latest CDs are “I wish you have good luck,” by Paulo F.G., “Troubadour” by Amaury Pérez, “Virtuoso Flute” by Niurka Gonzalez, “It Will Always be Love,” by the Evocacion duet and “Si de Tanto Soñarte,” by Lázaro Garcia.

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Bruce Molsky – a Show Review from Madison, Wisconsin

Bruce Molsky
Bruce Molsky
Running late on this mild spring evening, I angle into the nearest parking spot and run up the steps of an old, gutted, church, transformed into community center. Before even opening the door, I hear a well rosined bow gripping the strings of a fiddle. Chagrinned to have missed the first notes of his opening tune, I push on the wooden door to see Bruce Molsky sitting twenty feet away, on the stage. Molsky’s warm, smiling eyes meet mine and with a friendly nod of his head, he welcomes me into the hall. Everyone, I think, should be so lucky as to receive a personal greeting from this magnificent fiddling genius. I scan the room filled with roughly 60 people and slip into a folding chair next to the sound controls. Besides the two lamps shining on stage, the audio-system’s green desk light provides the only other lamp in the room. I’m at the back of the hall which was once the church’s sanctuary, yet Walking In The Parlor pierces the darkness and rings true in my ears. Molsky couples this tune with Rebel’s Raid. Though not a common technique among old time musicians, Molsky likes to build energy and add interest by pairing tunes together. One number ends and the next begins without any break or interruption.

Continuing with his fiddle, Molsky sings Peg and Awl. His voice grips the air, sounding as rosined as his bow strings. I’m suddenly aware of the many similarities between Molsky’s voice and his fiddle. They resonate amazingly at the same pitch. If his fiddle had lips, it would sing in a voice exactly like Bruce Molsky’s. I close my eyes and let the sonorous duet wash over me.

Molsky then strums his guitar and shakes his head. “It was in tune when I put it on the plane” he jokes. He fingerpicks Knoxville Blues. A tiny baby squirms and babbles among the show attendees, making it easy for me to complete the picture in my mind that I’m not really in the year 2003, in a building on the campus of the University of Madison, Wisconsin. But rather, I’m back in 1902, sitting on a tuft of grass in a Tennessee farm yard with the rest of my family, listening to Uncle Bruce entertain us. It’s not all that far fetched an idea. Old time music has it’s roots in the Appalachian mountains, dating back much father than the early 1900s.

Molsky pulls me back to the present with some banter before playing the tune, Fare The Well. “I’m not from the South. I did grow up in the South Bronx though…you gotta problem with that?” he rasps, smiling broadly. “No, Sir!” calls out a voice from the audience. We all chuckle. I’m not overly impressed with the acoustics tonight. Molsky sounds fine on his instruments and singing, but a touch too soft when talking. I determine to move up to the front during intermission.

The guitar is swapped for the banjo and we are treated to Rove Riley Rove, paired up with Uncle Norm’s. After another banjo number, we learn some finer points about Canada. Before playing a couple of fiddle tunes from John Arcan, The Grey Owl and Victor’s #39, Molsky tells us about a marvelous fiddle festival, Fiddles of the World, held up in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was there, four years ago, that Molsky heard about First Nations people. This is the term that Canadians use to refer to the people who lived on that land before the Europeans crossed over the Atlantic. During these two tunes we see Molsky’s animated face. His expressions are so varied, it’s as if he’s deep in conversation with his fiddle.

Lady Hamilton is played and then we are enjoined to sing along with Sail Away Ladies. “If I’m singing and you feel like singing, please join in” he says. While I love to sing, and I do sing along when thusly asked, in general, I’d rather listen. Molsky’s voice takes on such a personal tone, it feels like he is singing just for me. And I’d think everyone in the audience could say the same thing. Again the rich sound of both voice box and fiddle box fill our ears and every crevice of the room. I drink in the sound of the soprano fiddle and the baritone singer, their voices full and luxurious, made for one another. We hear Jeff Sturgeon and Sally’s Little Favorite. Molsky looks out at the audience and smiles an impish grin. As he fiddles these last few songs, his fingers are moving so fast, they fly like a typist on the keyboard typing eighty words per minute.

Cotton Eyed Joe holds several agreeable fiddle tricks. The tune is a lively one and includes Molsky sliding his finger down the peg board as he draws his bow across the string. We also discover that even fiddlers can rap. Old time fiddle master, Tommy Jarrell, taught Molsky the technique of rapping the wooden part of the bow against the fiddle. This tune moves so much, I notice the heel of Molsky’s foot banging from side to side rather than a more sedate toe tapping as he keeps the beat.

After a short intermission, during which we are brought up to-date about local folk music activities by the show’s presenters, Madfolk, we settle back down for Mike in the Wilderness which includes lots of colorful left handed plucking and Black Jack Grove where the bow whips around on the strings so much I am reminded of a flag being pummeled by the wind. I note that Molsky holds his bow with the first three fingers of his right hand. “You could cut off these two (ring finger and pinkie) and it wouldn’t make any difference” he says.

Of Molsky’s many varied musical talents, one of them is not as a choir director. He attempts to get us to sing along in this call and response song, Let’s Go to Hunting. The audience does not respond as hoped. Imagine Dutch painter, Jan Vermeer, handing out paint brushes to his patrons and entreating them to “add another pearl.” It’s just not going to happen. Likewise, Bruce, most of us want to hear you sing, not the off-key fellow sitting next to us. Conversely, the next song, Poor Cowboy, works tonight as a sing-a-long. Maybe because Molsky teaches us how to sing it and it’s a simpler song to sing for those of us who are musically challenged.

Molsky calls himself an African music freak. The next number was influenced by the Zimbabwe National Choir. Molsky heard a recording from the 1967 LP Africa in Revolutionary Music (LSM Records) and wrote this song. It’s still untitled, but Molsky is compelled to share it with us. I’m glad he does. It’s unlike most of his other music and resultantly adds another dimension to his repertoire. “Music evokes a different response every time you play it” he states as an excuse for not being able to find the right name for the song. Indeed, if the song’s emotional message keeps changing with every rendition, naming it would, in a sense, nail it down. That might not be a good thing.

During Roustabout, played on the banjo, Molsky, true to his word, spends time tuning the instrument while simultaneously playing the song. “Banjo players spend half their time tuning their banjo and the other half playing out of tune” he says.

We hear Give The Fiddler A Dram and Three Forks of Cheat, both fiddle tunes. When Molsky sings I Truly Understand and Field Holler, I find I need to look carefully at his feet. His voice sounds so rooted and plangent that I wouldn’t be surprised to see that his feet have become cemented to the floor, he is that solid sounding. His pitch is remarkable. He then warns us that he has only one more song before the evening is over.

Pickin’ The Devil’s Eye is one of my absolute favorites. The way that Bruce plays this makes me think there is more than one fiddler on stage. After this tune and leaving no doubt as to his virtuosity, Molsky exits. We respond in kind with a rousing round of clapping, not stopping until Molsky re-appears. The encore is of the same caliber. We all go home with joy in our hearts.

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Two Reissues of Klezmatics CDs

Klezmatics - Shvaygn =Toyt
Klezmatics – Shvaygn =Toyt
In 2003, Rounder Records has reissued The Klezmatics’ seminal recordings, Shvaygn=Toyt (Silence=Death) originally released on Piranha Records in 1988 and Rhythm & Jews released on Piranha Records, 1991. Both CD’s were recorded in Germany and the songs on the CDs are sung in Yiddish and German.

Silence=Death features the Les Miserables Brass Band along with The Klezmatics lineup that includes, Kurt Bjorling (clarinet), David Licht (drums), founding member and composer, Frank London (trumpet), Paul Morrissett (bass), Lorin Sklamberg (vocals, accordion and piano) and celebrated klezmer fiddler Alicia Svigals (who later embarked on a solo career).

The recording marries Russian waltzes with swing and experimental jazz, folk and klezmer music resulting in an eclectic musical stew. First Waltz features a circus-like atmosphere filled with oompah pahs, swirling clarinet, sparkling horns and Lorin Sklamberg’s emotive vocals. Glass of Wine would be equally at home on a Tom Waits’ recording and a Jewish wedding party. Other tracks on the CD range from moody waltzes, Balkan gypsy and experimental jazz music and it is only the talent of the band members that hold this melange together.

Klezmatics -  Rhythm & Jews
Klezmatics – Rhythm & Jews
A similar lineup of musicians appears on the follow up Rhythm & Jews with clarinetist David Krakauer replacing Kurt Bjorling and Krakauer’s presence can be felt throughout the recording.

On first listen, Rhythm and Jews appears less eclectic than Silence=Death. There are an equal amount of romps as there are laments on the CD, but the group favors orchestral arrangements over jazzy numbers. Fun Tashlikh focuses on Krakauer’s impassioned clarinet performance that is draped over North African percussion. NY Psycho Freyleklis combines Manhattan mayhem with a Balkan gypsy wedding party and features Alan Bern on accordion. Araber Tants features Alicia Svigal’s sonic violin and Tsiveles Bulgar showcases the band members’ musical prowess.

While many purists will argue that The Klezmatics do not record and perform authentic Klezmer music, the group has brought klezmer music to a larger audience. And perhaps they have taken klezmer music to the next level. For some folks, these two recordings will be a pleasant trip back in time.

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The Black Sufis of Gujarat

The Black Sidis of Gujarat are a tribal Sufi community of East African origin which arrived to India eight centuries ago and made Gujarat their home. They carried with them their exceptionally rich musical tradition and kept it alive and flourishing through the generations, unknown to the rest of the world. Their history is rooted in the slave trade of the 13th century and beyond, when Arab and later European slave traders systematically captured thousands of African men, women and children and took them across the seas for sale to the highest bidders. Many Sidi arrived in India as slaves to the Maharajas and Nawabs of the day, whilst others came as merchants, navigators, sailors and slave kings, settling in Gujarat. Their Nubian features attracted the Arab slave traders because of their huge demand in many Indian households as trusted servants and status symbols. That remains true in the Parsi community and several Sidi royal family lineages also continue to thrive to this day in
India.

A traditional occupation of African-Indian Sufis in Gujarat has been to perform sacred music and dance as wandering faqirs, singing songs to their black Sufi saint, Bava Gor. Sidi men and women perform sacred music and dance during rituals in the shrines to Bava Gor, and have lived on accepting alms for touring these devotional genres from villages to shrines for centuries. The Sidis are the most musically inclined, who recognise music as a tool for becoming closer to God. Many Sidis also perform as muezzins as they feel closely related to Hazrat Bilal, a black African man who was the first person chosen by Prophet Mohammed to recite adhan (call to prayer). Over time, the Sidis’ native African music styles, melodic and rhythmic structures, lyrics and musical instruments mingled with local influences in Gujarat to form this unique and symbolic representation of African-Indian ness.

The Sidi speak word perfect Hindi and Gujarati, but have remained an oppressed class in India. Because they are black, from Africa, and Muslim, this has kept them at a lower socio-economic and educational level, but recently their situation is finally beginning to change for the better.

Courtesy of Yusuf Mahmoud, Busara Promotions

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First Annual Africa Mondo Festival at SOBs, New York

New York, USA – New York City’s premiere world music club, Sounds of Brazil (SOBs),in association with Africamondo, will be presenting the 1st Annual Africa Mondo Festival on Sunday, May 25. There will be
live performances by Dominic Kanza and The African Rhythm Machine, Diblo Dibala, Kaïssa Doumbè and The Drums ofAfrica. Manning the wheels of steel will be Mister P and the event will be hosted by radio personality Kola Nut fromWLIB.

S.O.B.’s has remained in the forefront of musical diplomacy by presenting the most accomplished African musicians from Ali Farka Touré to Zap Mama, to music lovers worldwide. Now, with increased interest in the sounds of Africa, S.O.B.’s has created the Africa Mondo Festival that will once a year present the world’s greatest African musicians.

To initiate the Festival The Drums of Africa will perform a percussive prayer. Immediately following will be a moment of silence in honor of the world’s loss of one the most significant African musicians of the late twentieth century, Baaba Olatunji, to whom this first Festival is being dedicated with a portion of the proceeds going to the Baaba Olatunji Foundation.

Taking the stage first will be the spicy and joyous music of Dominic Kanza and The African Rhythm machine. Into his stew of Congolese soukous, Kanza throws spices from all of his international musical experiences including collaborations with Papa Wemba, José Feliciano, Paul Simon and Harry Belafonte.

Named best female vocalist in the 2001 African Music Awards, Kaïssa Doumbè has been thrilling audiences with her unique blend of R&B, jazz, makossa, African and Brazilian fusion. She sings in her native Cameroonian language and is accompanied by an international group of musicians with songs against war and injustice. Her electrifying performance is a testament to the power of music that
transcends cultural differences.

As if the evening wasn’t already magical, guitar wizard Diblo Dibala takes the stage next. Dibala is a master of the electric guitar, to such an extent that he can add intriguing new elements to a song without sounding cliché. He can take a song that begins as a romantic ballad, and slowly transform and rework it with his guitar playing into a hot dance track. Within each song, Dibala’s solo work
leads the music to higher and higher heights of listening pleasure.

For more information go to S.O.B.’s

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Womex 2003 Deadlines at the End of May

Berlin, Germany – The deadline for showcase and conference applications for WOMEX 2003 (Sevilla, Spain) is May 30.

Those interested in taking part in a WOMEX showcase, or submitting a conference proposal, can go to:

All proposal forms can be found at WOMEX.

The Worldwide Music Expo WOMEX is a great networking point exclusively dedicated to world, roots, folk, ethnic, traditional and local music of all kinds.

Address: WOMEX c/o Piranha Kultur, Carmerstr.11, 10623 Berlin, Germany. Phone: +49 (30) 318 614 0, Fax +49 (30) 318 614 10. E-mail: womex@womex.com

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Adalberto Alvarez, a Tireless Innovator

(Prensa Latina – Cumbancha) Havana, Cuba – In the midst of ambitious projects, Adalberto Alvarez Zayas turns 55 year-old. He began his 30 years of artistic life and 25 years of recording with the Son 14 orchestra and Frank Fernandez as producer of “A Bayamo en Coche” (To Bayamo by Carriage), one of the most renovating works of the Cuban musical industry during the last five decades. Putting the finishing touches on his next CD for Bis Music recording company, Adalberto Alvarez noted his efforts to rescue and popularize partner dance. “I have a lot of faith in a program I will launch with television director Victor Torres this summer.”

Adalberto rejoiced being named a Prodigal Son of Camaguey, honoring his 55th birthday and 30-year artistic career. There were over 15,000 people at the gala, including the presence of other musicians from the territory where he began his professional life in 1973.

The Camaguey Hotel dedicated a room to him designed similarly to the atmosphere of his house. Alvarez wanted to be a pilot and ended up studying bassoon at the National Art School. With the Son 14 orchestra in 1978, Adalberto returned to the best contributions of Arsenio Rodriguez to the format known as ensemble and enriched it creatively to preserve the dancing flavor and melodic beauty of the “traditional,” rejuvenated by the contemporaneous sound. His loyalty to this style led to his current nickname el “Caballero del Son” (The Gentleman of Son).

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Handpicked – An Acoustic Celebration of the Plucked String in London

London, England – As part of a national tour, Serious is presenting five of the world’s leading exponents of the plucked string at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Wednesday 4 June. It features a series of dazzling solos and unique collaborations, using minimal amplification to draw out the subtle and beautiful nature of the music.

The varied line-up includes one of the finest finger-style acoustic guitarists, Martin Simpson; Scottish guitarist Tony McManus, who brings the traditional jigs and reels of the Celtic diaspora to life; maestro of the kora, Senegalese Seckou Keita; Welsh harpist Llio Rhydderch; and Minna Raskinen who plays the haunting traditional Finnish kantele.

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