Rising Saharawi artist Aziza Brahim and her band will be performing live in London on Tuesday, 26 April 2016, at the Elgar Room (Royal Albert Hall). She will return to the UK on 29 July 2016 to play at WOMAD Charlton Park.
A musician and activist, Aziza Brahim will be presenting her new album ‘Abbar el Hamada‘ (Across the Hamada), a mix of Western Saharan sounds, Spanish flamenco rumba and West African music.
Raised in a Saharawi refugee camp in the Algerian desert, and living in exile for more than two decades (first in Cuba and currently in Spain), Brahim’s life and music embodies both the tragedies and hopes of the present-day migrant and refugee experience.
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.
Títere Tran Tran is a puppet project from Granada (Spain) that aims to bring the world of flamenco to a younger audience. It’s a family show in which they explain the types of flamenco and its historical characters. All with the help of two puppets, La Farruca and Tomasillo el Alegrías. Source: Andalusian Stories.
Rounder Records has reissued the album Master Drummers of Dagbon, V. 1 by Alhaji Ibrahim Abdulai & the Master Drummers of Dagbon. The reissue is part of Rounder’s back catalog world music albums released for digital distribution.
Musicologist and author John Miller Chernoff, who made these recordings in Northern Ghana, writes, “There are heavy spiritual repercussions when masters of drumming express themselves in a tradition of artistic genius. The singing of the drums resembles the breathing of the wind, and when the sound of the drumming dies, it moves away like exhaled breath. The bass drums vibrate inside the earth.”
Understanding Hathor, the ancient Egyptian goddess of music, is understanding how one of human kinds most fascinating civilization’s thought of music’s relationship to life. Understanding Hathor can help us judge what aspects of life we associate music with.
The Egyptian civilization of the very long Egyptian antiquities is one of the most thrilling in human history. To this day, fascinates millions if not billions and Egyptian pyramids are visited by large numbers of tourists whereas neighboring Sudan’s Meroe pyramids are not as well known. What’s mind boggling about the civilization of the Egyptian antiquities is many of its practices and concepts it found their way into both European (Athens), are the heart of carnival culture, and also into West African civilization and thus into American life. Examples of this are many. Barack Obama’s father was a Luo, belonged to the Luo ethnic group in East Kenya, an ethnic group who are direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians, and so the President of the United States today is direct descendant of ancient Egyptians.
Music played a central role in the life of ancient Egyptians and the goddess, or the idealization, of music was Hathor. She was one of the ancient Egypt’s most popular goddesses. According to brittanica.com, the Greeks equated Hathor with Aprhodite. She was also a goddess of fertility, of women, of mirth, of fertility, of beauty, and of love. The Oxford Dictionary of Ancient Egypt adds happiness to the list. She was also a goddess associated with mining and in particular with Turquoise. She was represented as a woman with cow horns or as a cow, obviously to signify giving life. She was considered to be the daughter of Re, the sun, and her cult centre was in Dandarah, of which ruins exist today. She was celebrated side by side with Horus, the god of both power and healing symbolized as a falcon.
The following epitaph is a translation of an song used to praise Hathor. It is from the book Hathor and Thoth: Two Key Figures of the Ancient Egyptian Religion by Claas Jouco Bleeker, a Dutch historian of Egyptian religion.
We laud thee with delightful songs
For though art the mistress of jubilation
The mistress of music, the queen of harp playing,
The lady of dance,
The mistress of chorus dance, the queen of wreath-weaving
How do our own conceptions of music compare to Hathor traits? We each conceive of music in different ways but all or most seem to agree on some of its uses. We agree that it dances us and that it makes us happy. Mirth, or amusement, s certainly a reason why we listen to music.
Some societies do equate music with fertility and do celebrate music when celebrating power of healing (Hathor is celebrated alongside Horus.) Not all do however and there is a lot of sobriety silence in contemporary life. Very little music is composed to celebrate fertility in some areas in the world though in other areas the practice is prevalent. Do we equate music with beauty? We do, but the art elites seem to equate it more with paintings. Beauty seems to be fixed or affixed to as opposed to in movement. However, most people would equate a beautiful time with participating in beautiful dance to a beautiful song.
There is a certain sobriety that comes with gems and with the contemplation of a cow that is unlike celebrating Hathor. A cow today would mean prosperity through work and very little of us globally sing work songs wen compared to how we sang them one or two centuries ago.
Its hard not to agree with the ancient Egyptian’s definition of music through their god or shall we say theology of music. Music is certainly the grand way to celebrate and seems to be agreed upon by all of our senses as communing with beauty, life, mirth and happiness. May it continue to be the case, and may we compose and perform a few more fertility songs and work songs
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.
Puerto Rican salsa singer and composer Ismael Quintana passed away on April 16, 2016 in Colorado. Ismael Quintana was the lead singer of Eddie Palmieri’s famed band called conjunto “La Perfecta.”
Quintana was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. His family moved to The Bronx borough of New York City when he was only two weeks old. In New York he went to school and while he was still in high school he formed a band with his neighborhood friends.
In 1961, pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri invited Quintana to join “La Perfecta” as lead singer. During the 1960s, Quintana co-wrote some of Palmieri’s major hit songs.
In 1971, Quintana left Palmieri’s band and started a solo career. Between 1974 and 1983, he recorded five albums as a solo artist and a hit song titled “Mi Debilidad” (My Weakness). His solo albums include “Punto y Aparte” (1971); “Dos Imágenes” (1972); “Ismael Quintana” (1974); “Lo Que Estoy Viviendo” (1976); and “Amor, Vida y Sentimiento” (1977).
In addition to “Mi Debilidad”, some of quintana’s most popular songs include “Adoración”, “Muñeca”, “Maestro de rumbero”, and “Puerto Rico.”
Throughout the past decades, Quintana performed and recorded with salsa super band Fania All Stars.
Quintana partially retired from the music world because of health reasons.
Los Pleneros de la 21 are masters of the African-derived bomba and plena drumming styles of Puerto Rico. Led by drummer and composer Juan José Gutierrez-Rodriguez, this twelve-piece New York-based ensemble that also includes keyboards, bass, and string instruments, is one of the outstanding proponents of traditional Afro-Puerto Rican music.
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.