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Breaking the Ground a Little More

The very names of the CDs I’m reviewing here (some, anyway) indicate that they’re looking to go to places that haven’t yet been fully explored musically. Ever-eager to hear new trails mapped out in the world of world music, I couldn’t be happier.

 

The Band Beyond Borders – Fertile Paradoxes

 

Tunisian Amine Mraihi is a wizard of the oud (Arabic lute). His brother Hamza has equally mastered the kanun (Arabic zither). Together they head up an impressive ensemble called The Band Beyond Borders and are looking to demonstrate as much on Fertile Paradoxes (ARC Music, 2017). You might think you have cause for concern about an opening track entitled “Spleen,” but have no fear. It’s as perfect a mood-setter as you could hope for, with Amine’s pensive riffing joined in due time by Hamza’s complimentary swirl, plus tabla, violin and classical Indian vocals. A meditative air soon jumps headlong into a stops-out jam featuring a chamber orchestra, layered percussion and solos galore, including saxophone, before settling back into the establishing calm.

 

 

The remainder of the pieces (shortest among them sporting a seven-and-a-half-minute running time) similarly blend serenity and thunder, tossing in a zesty accordion at one turn and a klezmer-like clarinet, flamenco flair or an abrupt jazz fusion passage the next. It would sound like a mess were it not for how precisely all the players are attuned to every nuanced change and how expertly they execute them. Whether it’s the evocative side or the supercharged moments that grab you most (or maybe the bridges between them), the sheer “wow” factor of this music makes it a must.

 

Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues – Different Voices

 

If the title doesn’t say it all, as in the case of Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues’ album Different Voices (Dawnserly Records, 2016), it might be necessary to add an explanation like “Blues Harmonica and Classical String Quartet,” which this one does on the front cover. Siegel’s blues harp is certainly the first thing heard, in the form of a mournful wail that ushers in violins, viola, cello and the saxophone of guest Ernie Watts on the cheeky drag of “Missing Persons Blues.” That one’s a head-bobber, and nothing that follows breaks the flow, be it the vocal contributions of Matthew Santos (who also does some handy beatboxing), blues vet Sam Lay or Marcy Levy (reinvigorating that old warhorse “Lay Down Sally,” which she co-wrote with Eric Clapton).

High marks also for the aching gospel tinges of Chicago folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong on “I’ll Fly Away” and subtle counterpunch of the tabla that adds a groove dimension throughout. The interwoven tones of harmonica and strings bring forward the roots of their respective traditions while keeping the blues undertow intact and allowing for experimentation such as the Central Asian-flavored “Galloping Horses,” a track which ends too soon. It all wraps up beautifully with “The Sky Will Fall,” a most heed-worthy lament; although I think music of this caliber can keep both sky and earth intact.

 

Amelia Romano – New Perspectives

 

A different sort of blue and a different sort of harp (think stringed) lead the way on New Perspectives (independent release, 2017) by Amelia Romano. This San Franciscan gal has been playing the harp from a very young age, presently favoring the cobalt blue electric model. And yes, some of the delicately refined tones affiliated with the harp are heard on this disc. But Romano has an ear and a vision well beyond the expected (her time teaching music in a South African township is one reason for that) and she takes the harp in Latin, blues, flamenco, jazz and singer/songwriter directions without missing a pluck.

While the personal touch of the relationship tale “Smile” opens the album on an inviting note that shows Romano to be a fine singer as well, it’s her versatility on the harp that really makes the whole thing a gem. South-of-the-border familiarities abound with “Bésame Mucho” and “Joropo Ortiz” reminding us that the harp is as much a Latin folkloric instrument as anything else, and in her own compositions Romano works the harp strings like heartstrings, whether laying back for an emotionally ambient passage or skillfully jamming inventive arrangements including the title track. Joined by varying, mainly acoustic combinations of bass, percussion, curator, guitar, viola, cello and reeds, Romano never comes across indulgent or showy. Instead she wields her chosen instrument with a combination of finesse and fire that’s unbeatable.

 

Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang – Build Music

 

Build Music (Luaka Bop, 2017) is the latest by Brooklyn-based Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang, and the music they’ve built is based on the ancient sound of Sierra Leone’s bubu horns, bamboo instruments used to accompany Ramadan processions. The bubu tones are recreated on keyboards and applied to modern Afropop arrangements topped with Nabay’s dryly infectious vocals. Lively, catchy and danceable though the results are, the programmed instrumentation that dominates gets a bit annoying after a while. It’s good, but it could have and should have been better. Recommended for those who prefer electronic over organic by a wide margin.

 

The Nile Project – Jinja

 

The musician’s collective it represents is appreciably larger, but on Jinja (Zambaleta, 2016), The Nile Project is comprised of 13 players and singers from seven nations (Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda) that are among those spanned by the world’s longest river. The project’s first album was a live set from their 2013 debut concert, and this, their second (named for the Ugandan city in which the collective most recently gathered), is an assemblage of recordings from both proper and impromptu studios. In the end it matters little whether the music was laid down on or off the fly, because it’s seamless and brilliant.

 

 

The basics are easily described: melodies provided by the oud, krar and adungu (Arabic, Ethiopian and Ugandan lutes respectively); ample support from bass, saxophone and qawala (Egyptian flute); vocals traded between countries and genders; galloping percussion from across the spectrum and once in a while a specific element like the ikebme (lamellaphone) arising prominently. Musically, it’s tougher to find descriptive words.

Anyone familiar with Egyptian raks sharki or the increasingly well-known strains of Ethio-jazz will find common ground goodness here, as will those who can appreciate combined Egyptian and Sudanese love song sentiments, the embellishing of an Ethiopian Christian hymn with sounds straight out of the Muslim world, multilingual singing with shared passion as an unbreakable link, the beauty of acoustic instruments bursting forth unencumbered by overproduction or the way the whole disc comes across as how you’d imagine the perfect soundtrack accompanying a visit to the Nile’s 4000-plus miles would sound. And I’m barely marring the surface in relating the many pleasures to be heard.

 

Marcel Khalife – Andalusia of Love

 

If combining oud and kanun (see above) with piano isn’t entirely new, it’s still not the sort of combination you hear every day. And what some might find truly radical about Andalusia of Love (Nagam Records, 2016) is the fact that Marcel Khalife, a Lebanese Christian, sets to music the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008), a Palestinian who championed the cause of peace between Palestine and Israel.

 

 

The elder Khalife (on oud and vocals) is joined by his sons Rami (piano) and Bachar (percussion) and Gilbert Yammine (kanun). The foursome work together with an energy that builds and separates much like the nuances of poetry: musical passages correspond to the rising and falling of sung stanzas supported by variations in tone, feel and speed to emphasize what I can only assume are changes in mood, intent and subject matter.

One need not understand the language to appreciate the unity-espousing feel of music that ranges from traditional to experimental. The savory concluding track “Achikain,” which tapers to a trickle after a flood of inspired group dynamics, is a fitting end to a wonderfully rendered cycle of music.

headline photo: The Band Beyond Borders

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Music for St. Patrick’s Day 2017

There’s always a bit of a letdown when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around. Instead of celebrating a culture filled with the Celts’ vibrant art and mythology, grand writers and even grander musicians, I get goofy leprechaun graphics, cheap, green beer specials and dreadful Irish brogues hawking everything from Celtic-inspired party favors to get lucky sweepstakes.

The general theme, whether it is a car dealership sale or your local St. Patrick’s Day parade, seems to dictate everything be painted bright green, decorated with dippy looking leprechauns and the occasional fake pot of gold. Now, I’m okay with taking on faeries, because little people with wings flying around are just wrong. Get a fly swatter or a can of Raid because I’m pretty sure faeries are carriers or rabies or Lyme disease. Unfortunately, much of the music doesn’t get much better with cheap knockoffs of pub bands or the not quite Enya singers. The good news is that I can do a little something about music with a few suggestions for your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Tara Music has re-released Fuaim by Clannad. Hailing from County Donegal in North West Ireland, this is the real deal in Celtic music. This reissue allows listeners to revisit Clannad’s early years and wallow in the goodness of “Na Buachailli Alainn,” “La Brea Fan Dtuath,” “Strayed Away” and “The Green Fields Of Gaothdobhair.”

 

Clannad – Fuaim

 

Speaking of re-releases, Real World Records has pulled some goodies off the shelves for reissue like Peter Gabriel’s Big Blue Ball. Guess as the founder or Real World, Mr. Gabriel has got a fair amount of pull. While more of a world music fusion project than a strict Celtic recording, Big Blue Ball slips in some offerings like “Deep Forest,” “Rivers” and “Altus Silva” that are well worth snagging.

 

Big Blue Ball

 

Pulling some other gems from the shelves Real World has reissued Anatomic, Seed, Volume 1: Sound System, Volume 2: Release, Volume 3: Further in Time, Capture 1995-2010 and Pod all from the Afro Celt Sound System catalog. Again, there’s a good deal of musical cross pollination with other genres, but don’t overlook tracks like “When I Still Needed You,” “Beautiful Rain,” “Mother,” “Drake,” “Seed,” “Nevermore,” “The Other Side,” “Colossus” and “Go on Through.” The Afro Celt Sound System sound remains timeless.

 

Afro Celt Sound System – Volume 1: Sound System

 

Afro Celt Sound System – Volume 2: Release

 

Afro Celt Sound System – Volume 3: Further in Time

 

Afro Celt Sound System – Seed

 

Afro Celt Sound System – Pod (remix album)

 

Afro Celt Sound System – Volume 5: Anatomic

 

Afro Celt Sound System – Capture 1995-2010

 

This Day Too: Music From Irish America by Terence, Michael and Jesse Winch has a friendly Irish bar feel. Out of the Washington, DC area, the Winch brothers get some help by way of fellow musicians and singers Patrick Armstrong, Tina Eck, Eileen Estes, Brian Gaffney, Conor Hearn, Seamus Kennedy, Nita Conley Korn, Zan McLeod, Brendan Mulvihill, Connor Murray, Dominick Murray and Madeline Waters. And just by the names, that’s a whole lot of Irish. This Day Too: Music from Irish America offers up tracks like “The Wonder Hornpipe/Austin Tierney’s/The Thunder Reel,” “Lally’s Alley/Cat’s Tail & Gravy,” “Earl’s Chair/The Green Groves of Erin/Sailor on the Rock” and “In Memory of Michael Coleman/Hughie’s Cap/Forget Me Not.”

 

Terence, Michael and Jesse Winch – This Day Too: Music From Irish America

 

Arc Music has put out Celtic Mystery with tracks by artists like Ron Korb, Altan, Noel McLoughlin and Golden Bough.

 

Various Artists – Celtic Mystery

 

Real World Records has another reissue on tap this year with Martyn Bennett’s Grit. This was a stunning release and time hasn’t diminished it in any way. Fierce and explosive, Grit is razor-edged fusion that astonishes as much as it entertains. You should check out tracks like “Blackbird,” “Chanter,” “Why” and “Ale House.”

 

Martyn Bennett – Grit

 

Looking for something on the sweetly folksy side, you might want to check out Midnite String Quartet’s Celtic Heartstrings out on the Roma Music Group label. There are some sweet string versions of “The Blood of Cu Chulainn,” “The Irish Rover” and “Carrickfergus.”

 


Midnite String Quartet – Celtic Heartstrings

 

This year seems to be the year of the reissue and as luck would have it Robin Williamson’s Glint At The Kindling/Five Bardic Mysteries/Robin Williamson reissue is out this year. Tracks off the Glint at the Kindling featuring Mr. Williamson, as well as Sylvia Woods, Chris Caswell and Jerry McMillan or better known as the Merry Band and tracks from his 1985 spoken word release Five Bardic Mysteries sports such tracks as “The Road the Gypsies Go,” “The Woodcutter’s Song,” “Lough Foyle,” “The Dialogue of the Two Sages” and “Three Celtic Nature Poems.”

 

Robin Williamson – Glint At The Kindling/Five Bardic Mysteries/Robin Williamson

 

Golden Bough wraps up their sound in the goodness of Celtic harp, violin, accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, guitars, tin whistle and bodhran. Their offering Celtic Festival jaunty nod to St. Patrick’s Day.

 

Golden Bough – Celtic Festival

 

If that’s not to your liking you could always check out Noel McLoughlin’s Song for Ireland is out on re-release.

 

Noel McLoughlin – Song for Ireland

 

As if The Dubliners needed any additional introduction, Arc Music has the goods on this Irish standard and has put out a special 2-CD set of The Dubliners with Luke Kelly. This compilation features such tracks as “Song for Ireland,” “The Sun is Burning,” “Free the People,” “Donegal Danny,” “Now I’m Easy,” “Whack Fol de Diddle” and “Irish Rover.”

 

The Dubliners – The Dubliners with Luke Kelly

 

Newfolk Records has put out Beoga’s Before We Change Our Mind and Tallymoore’s Drive for your listening pleasure. Either by single track or full recording, these two bands shouldn’t be overlooked.

 

Beoga – Before We Change Our Mind

 

Tallymoore – Drive

 

Celtic music favorite Kila’s Kila Alive out and is a kick in the pants and will have dancing on the tabletops faster than the green beer special with offering like “Mutatu,” “Electric Landlady,” “Babymouse” and “Raise the Road.” If that weren’t incentive enough Alan Doherty is a guest on the recording.

 

Kila – Kila Alive“>Kila Alive

 

Released in 2016 Deliverance by The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc is a stunning CD. Combining the fiddling traditions of Norway, Sweden and the Shetland Islands, Deliverance is simply spectacular with tracks like “Talons Trip to Thompson Island,” “Flinken” and “Da Scallowa Lasses/Lorna’s Reel” to snare your inner fiddler.

 

Nordic Fiddlers Bloc – Deliverance

 

The clever Celtic band West of Mabou put out West of Mabou in December of 2016, but shouldn’t be overlooked. The group offer up jaunty numbers like “Rannie MacLellan,” “The Foxhunter,” “Slip Jigs” and a plummy “Temperance Reel/Devil’s Dream.”

 

West of Mabou – West of Mabou

 

For you hard rocking Celtic fans The Rumjacks’ latest release Sleepin’ Rough was release last year, but you might want to check your local music scene because the band is on tour in the US in March and April.

 

The Rumjacks – Sleepin’ Rough

 

Finally, there is the double CD/DVD set Affinity by Atlas. Lovely and atmospheric, Affinity is a lushly masterful collection of music by guitarist Cillian Doheny and concertina player Cillian King with fellow musicians Maria Ryan, Lucia Mac Partlin, Sean Warren, Michael Shimmin and Nicky Scott.. Don’t miss this one.

 

Atlas – Affinity

 

Should you find yourself sitting in a bar somewhere wearing a cheesy shamrock hat, surrounded by paper leprechauns and drinking green beer while listening to a Celtic Goth band murder “Whiskey in the Jar,” just remember that the Celtic spirit takes many forms. And, if approached by faeries grab a shoe!

Sláinte mhaith, my friends.

headline photo: Beoga

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Rejuvenated Portuguese Folk Music from Coimbra

Diabo A Sete – Figura de Gente (Sons Vadios, 2016)

Figura de Gente is the third album by an excellent Portuguese contemporary folk music band from Coimbra called Diabo A Sete.

The group plays original music inspired by Portuguese folk music. They use a wide-range of traditional instruments ranging from flutes to bagpipes and cavaquinho, featuring modern arrangements and a powerful folk-rock rhythm section including electric bass and drums.

Diabo A Sete was formed in 2003. The current lineup includes Celso Bento on flutes, bagpipes, and background vocals; Eduardo Murta on bass; Luísa Correia on acoustic guitar and background vocals; Miguel Cardina on drums; and Pedro Damasceno on cavaquinho, mandolin, machinho, and background vocals. The band also features a new member, Sara Vidal on lead vocals, Celtic harp, Galician tambourine and adufe. She is currently the lead singer for the group A Presença das Formigas and is the former vocalist of acclaimed Spanish band Luar na Lubre, one of the leading Galician folk music bands.

Figura de Gente also features special guest Julieta Silva on sanfona (hurdy-gurdy), piano and background vocals.

Figura de Gente is a beautifully-crafted album by Diabo A Sete, one of the finest contemporary folk music bands in Portugal.

Buy the album from www.sonsvadios.pt/loja/

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The Enduring Sound of Renato Braz

Renato Braz – Saudade (Living Music, 2015)

Saudade is a collection of beautiful, poetic songs composed by some of Brazil’s greatest songwriters and performed by the remarkable voice of Renato Braz. The album combines Brazilian melodies and rhythms with Paul Winter’s global jazz sound as well as world music elements from Russia and other cultures.

Renato Braz has been an essential member of the Paul Winter Consort family in recent years. Even though he has made recordings in Brazil, Saudade is first release in the United States.

The lineup is quite impressive. His band includes the Paul Winter Consort, the Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, Dori Caymmi, and Ivan Lins.

Saudade is beautifully packaged, featuring an extensive booklet with photos, lyrics and descriptions of the songs.

 

 

 

Buy Saudade

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Explosive Drum and Bass from African Amazons

Les Amazones d’Afrique – République Amazone

République Amazone (Amazon Republic) brings together some of West Africa’s best female singers with highly percussive electronic music.

While the women provide the lead and background vocals, Irish producer Liam Farrell, also known as Doctor L, contributes most of the instruments in the form of electronic bass and beats. The focus is on powerful, deep bass sounds, developing a hybrid sound that combines traditional world music vocals and club-style dance beats.

Les Amazones d’Afrique (the African amazons) include Angélique Kidjo, Kandia Kouyaté, Mamani Keita, Mariam Doumbia, Mariam Koné, Massan Coulibaly, Mouneissa Tandina, Nneka, Pamela Badjogo and Rokia Koné.

Additional instrumentalists on some of the songs include Mouneissa Tandina on drums, Mamadou Diakité on guitar, Harouna Samaké on kamele ngoni, Vincent Courtois on cello, Patrick Ruffino on bass.

Buy République Amazone

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The Thunderous Sound of Red Baraat

Red Baraat – Bhangra Pirates (Rhyme & Reason Records, 2017)

American brass band Red Baraat is heading in an exciting new direction. Their 2017 album, Bhangra Pirates is an explosive mix of irresistible bhangra beats, funk, jazz and the mighty sound of a brass band. Now that they’ve gotten rid of the annoying rapping that appeared in some of the previous albums, Red Baraat’s South Asian sound is more musical, fluid and much easier to enjoy.

The lineup on this album includes Sunny Jain on dhol, effects and vocals; Rohin Khemani on percussion; Sonny Singh on trumpet; Ernest Stuart on trombone; Jonathan Goldberger on guitar; Delicate Steve on guitar; MiWi La Lupa on bass trumpet and vocals; Chris Eddleton on drum set; Tomas Fujiwara on drum set; John Altieri on sousaphone and effects; Jon Lampley on sousaphone and effects; Jonathon Haffner on soprano and alto saxophone; and Mike Bomwell on soprano and baritone saxophone.

Buy Bhangra Pirates

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They’re Happy Days

Lone Piñon – Días Felices (Living Music Duplication, 2017)

This new release from New Mexico, the self-professed “land of enchantment”, is sure to get you dancing. Acoustic trio, Lone Piñon’s second album, (literally translated Happy Days), is a fiesta of music that pays homage to the borderland’s cultural roots. The band members hail from different geographic, cultural, and musical backgrounds but have come together since 2012 to revive the New Mexican Chicano string band style. According to the band’s bio, they “bring a devoted and explosive musicianship to Northern New Mexican… and Mexican music”.

It’s a challenge not to clap, tap, or sway along with these rhythms. Catchy melodies abound, the vocal harmonies sung in Spanish, English, and Nahuatl. The instruments also sing: violin, accordion, guitar, guitarrón, and upright bass. Multiple themes recur and duel. Some are upbeat and some are dark and mesmerising. Some songs sound like soundtracks, some a wedding jig, some a square dance.

The opening instrumental track, “El Borrachito”, is a celebratory introduction and heralds the party to follow. Another fifteen tracks of dance music and crooning ballads demonstrate Lone Piñon’s complex repertoire.

Standout tracks are: “Estas Lindas Flores”, a duet of vocals and accordion in a jolly hoedown; “El Querreque”, a toe-tapper in huapango style; and “La Llorona”, alternating brisk fiddle and doleful lament that tells a clear narrative with or without lyrics.

 

 

Listening to this album highlights the pleasure to be derived from cross-cultural relationships. These Días Felices are uplifting.

 

 

Buy Días Felices in the Americas and rest of the world

Buy Días Felices in Europe

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EXIB Música 2017 Showcase to Return One More Year to Portugal

The 4th edition of the Iberoamerican showcase EXIB Música 2017 will take place in Portugal once more. The 2017 event will be based in Évora with additional activities in Arraiolos and Montemor-o-Novo. The expo focuses on the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries in the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas. It will be held June 7-10, 2017.

The program will be based on the premises of the Expo: impulse, commitment, diversity, industry and identity.

The program will feature 18 showcases from all Iberoamerica as well as 12 Off-EXIB concerts representing the music of the Portuguese regions. The expo will include a professional area with booths to disseminate information and generate networking.

The 4th edition of EXIB Música comes with important international collaborations as well as reflections on the space of musical management in the Creative Economy.

The program will also include the launch of projects, laboratories on music, meetings, masterclasses and documentaries of Ibero-American music.

More at exibmusica.com

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Acclaimed Flamencos and Mestizos Series Returns to Madrid This Week

The SGAE Foundation will present a new edition of its much-admired Flamencos and Mestizos series March 9-12, 2017 at Sala Berlanga in Madrid.

The showcase will feature performances by La Shica, Pablo Rubén Maldonado & La Susi; Enrique Heredia ‘Negri’, Genara Cortés, Toñi Fernández and the bailaoras (dancers) Macarena Ramírez, Leilah Broukhim and Antonio Molina ‘El Choro’.

Flamencos and mestizos will open on Thursday, March 9th with two shows that defy tradition. First, with the heterogeneous style of La Shica, which will present a form of flamenco fused with alternative genres such as punk, rock or funk. She will be joined by the young bailaora (dancer) Macarena Ramírez, whose wild performances steer away from orthodoxy.

On March 10, the Berlanga Hall will host Pablo Rubén Maldonado (piano) & La Susi (vocals). They play flamenco that rather than fusion is evolution. The double bill will also feature Enrique Heredia ‘Negri’, one of the finest vocalists of new flamenco.

Singer-songwriter Toñi Fernández and bailaor (dancer) Antonio Molina ‘El Choro’ will dive into Flamenco roots to endow them with new meanings on Saturday, March 11.

Vocalist Genara Cortés and dancer Leilah Broukhim will present the final performance of the current edition of the Flamencos and Mestizos series on Sunday, March 12 with a show that demonstrates that flamenco does not recognize borders.

Flamencos and mestizos is a showcase series created to provide a window to emerging artists who straddle the border between deep flamenco and mestizo flamenco through music and dance. This is the fifth installment of this series started in 2015, directed by producer, composer and singer Paco Ortega.

Sala Berlanga is located at Calle de Andres Mellado, 53, 28015 Madrid.
Time 21:00 (9:00 pm).
Tickets: €5.50 euros

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Austrian Band Alma Wins German World Music Award

Austrian act Alma won the 2017 German World Music Award “Festival-Ruth.” The Ruth is one of the four yearly awards from Rudolstadt-Festival, the biggest German World Music Festival TFF Rudolstadt.

Alma (meaning soul in Spanish) includes five musicians from Austria, four women and one man, with roots in Jazz, folk and classical music. Their music crosses boundaries, incorporating Alpine and Transalpine sounds from Central Europe.

The band will release its third album, titled Oeo, in June 2017.

The lineup includes Julia Lacherstorfer on violin, vocals; Evelyn Mair on violin, vocals; Matteo Haitzmann on violin, vocals; Marie-Theres Stickler on diatonic accordion, vocals; and Marlene Lacherstorfer on double bass, vocals.

Alma

Recent Alma-Videos:

 

 

 

A first Oeo teaser:

 

 

More at: www.almamusik.at

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