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The Sky & Prairie, a Spectacular Production

The Grasslands Ensemble & Daniel Ho – The Sky & Prairie (Wind Music, 2017)

The Sky & Prairie is a remarkable production that brings together the talents of Inner Mongolian act The Grasslands Ensemble (天草之間遊牧樂團)and Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso, producer and composer Daniel Ho. The project was envisioned by Taiwanese record company Wind Music. The label’s Judy Wu produced the album.

The album features new versions of traditional Mongolian, Buryat, Barga, Manchurian, Evenk and Daur folk songs performed by musicians based in Hulunbuir, in Inner Mongolia’s prairie region. The artists represent a wide range of ethnicities, including Mongolian, Manchurian, Evenk, Daur, Russian and Han Chinese.

Daniel Ho composed the opening song and participates throughout the album playing ukulele and piano.

On The Sky & Prairie you’ll listen to various traditional instruments such as the iconic morin khuur (horse-head fiddle), Central Asian lutes and jaw harps along with conventional singing and throat singing.

The Hulunbuir-based ensemble includes Borjigin Hasibatu on vocals; Qiqigema on vocals; Bayinhehe on vocals; Han Mou Ren on the rare chaoer (Mongolian bowed instrument) and morin khuur; Tamir Hargana on tsuur and throat singing; and the Hasar Band: Yimin on morin khuur and backing vocals; Cai Yi-Fei on morin khuur, tsuur flute, backing vocals; Bao Wuyunbilige on lead vocals and tovshuur (thorat singing); Wang Jian on doshpuluur (a long-necked lute) and backing vocals; Aqitu on lead vocals, percussion and amen khuur (jaw harp); and Bao Yue-Yong on morin khuur.

The packaging is stunning. The CD is included in a hardcover book with a beautifully designed book that contains biographies, photos and credits in English and Chinese.

 

 

The Sky & Prairie is a splendid recording featuring exquisite versions of timeless folk songs from Central Asian regions.

 

 

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Vodoun Gods on the Slave Coast

Vodoun Gods on the Slave Coast (Sublime Frequencies SF089, 2014) is a documentary film by Hisham Mayet. The movie was shot in January 2011 during Benin’s vivid annual vodun festivities. The celebrations include sacred dance and ceremonies. Benin is the birthplace of vodun (also known as vodoun or voodoo), an ancient religion that was transported to the Americas by Portuguese and Dutch slave traders.

The vodun celebrations captured in this film include ecstatic musical performances and spectacular colorful costumes representing the cult of Sakpata, Egoun-goun, and the Zangbeto.

The DVD contains a 12-page booklet with large color photos from several vodun ceremonies in Benin.

Vodoun Gods on the Slave Coast is a fascinating document about an ancient religion that has influenced various Afro-American cultures.

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Chandrika Tandon’s Inspiring Journey

Chandrika Tandon – Shivoham – The Quest (Soul Chants Music, 2017)

Shivoham – The Quest is an impressive production by vocalist, composer and businesswoman Chandrika Tandon. The album is beautifully packaged and designed in a hard cover box that contains three discs and a booklet with song descriptions, photos and credits. Shivoham – The Quest is divided into three movements: Yearning, Searching and Connecting that reflects Chandrika Tandon’s musical and life journey.

 

 

Chandrika Tandon brings together two of the greatest musical traditions in the world: Indian classical music (Hindustani and Carnatic) and western classical music. The Indian influences dominate in some of the tracks, with Indian musical forms, Hindi lead vocals, percussion, bansuri flute, string instruments, mantras and other elements. Western classical appears in the form of classical and early music choirs and orchestras and lead vocals in English.

 

 

There is fusion as well, where Indian and western traditions are elegantly intertwined. Additionally, Chandrika Tandon incorporates other world traditions such as the Soweto Gospel Choir, flamenco and global percussion.

 

 

The list of musicians is extraordinary. In addition to Chandrika Tandon’s impeccable and mesmerizing vocals, Shivoham – The Quest includes the London Voices choir directed by Terry Edwards; Soul Chants Ensemble of New York; Soweto Gospel Choir; The King’s Singers; and soloists from Ajoy Chakrabarty School of Music of Kolkata.

Also featured is the London Metropolitan Orchestra, directed by Andy Brown and percussion ensembles from Kolkata and Mumbai in India.

The lists of solo instrumentalists includes a striking international cast of acclaimed musicians: Kenny Werner on piano; Martin Bejarano on piano; Sally Heath on piano; Romero Lubambo on guitar; Peter Calo on guitar; Pedro da Silva on Portuguese guitar; Jamey Haddad on percussion; Cyro Baptista on percussion; Thomas Kemp on violin; Gil Goldstein on accordion; Anthony Pike on clarinet; Pandit Ronu Majumdar on flute; Sandeep Mishra on sarangi; Pratik Shrivastava on sarod; Shubhayu Sen Majumdar on esraj.

Shivoham – The Quest is a masterfully-crafted production that seamlessly crosses various secular and sacred music traditions.

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Alluring Songs of Cossacks and Old Believers

Chitinskaya Sloboda – Songs of Russian People. Cossacks’ songs / Song of old-believers and Transbaikalien Cossacks (Sketis Music SKMR-129, 2016)

Songs of Russian people. Cossacks’ songs / Song of old-believers and Transbaikalien Cossacks is a two-CD set by Russian folk music ensemble Chitinskaya Sloboda. The group is part of a movement in Russian folk music that is researching and recovering ancient musical traditions.

Disc 1 focuses on Cossack songs. It features a mix of polyphonic choral a cappella pieces along with songs featuring accordion and percussion accompaniment. The ensemble provides fascinating vocal interplay with a wide-range of vocal ranges featuring female and male singers.

Disc 2 includes songs a cappella old believers songs (an ancient Russian orthodox sect) and traditional cossack songs from the Transbaikal mountainous territory east of Lake Baikal in Russia.

Chitinskaya Sloboda includes Alexander Avdeyev, Vyacheslav Egorov, Vladimir Kravtsov, Arina Nekrasova, Larisa Pakhomova, Alexei Ryumkin, Natalia Ryumkina, Leonid Subotni, and Lyubov Tkachenko.

The CD booklet includes liner notes in Russian and English and song lyrics in Russian.

Buy the digital download version of Songs of Russian People. Cossacks’ songs / Song of old-believers and Transbaikalien Cossacks. The CD is available from shop.sketismusic.ru

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Extraordinarily Expressive Contemporary Maqams

Anouar Brahem – Blue Maqams (ECM Records, 2017)

Blue Maqams brings together Anouar Brahem, one of the great masters of the oud, and three of the finest jazz musicians. The music on Blue Maqams is an exquisite mix of Arabic modal music known as maqam, and jazz, classical, flamenco and Brazilian influences. Although there is jazz improvisation, all the pieces, composed by Brahem, have a clearly defined structure.

Anouar Brahem’s oud delights with impeccable performances and interplay with the bass, drums and piano. Dave Holland is one of the most open minded jazz bassists, who has collaborated with flamenco, Latin American and American roots music artists.

The lineup includes Anouar Brahem on oud; Dave Holland on double bass; Jack DeJohnette on drums; and Django Bates on piano.

Blue Maqams is an exceptionally expressive album by oud maestro Anouar Brahem and three dazzling improvisers.

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At A Loss

A couple of weeks ago I sat down and settled in to watch the 1968 concert film Monterey Pop by D.A. Pennebaker that I had recorded from Turner Classic Movies. With a line up that included The Mamas & The Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, Hugh Masekela, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding company with Janis Joplin, The Animals, The Who, Country Joe and the Fish, Otis Redding, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Ravi Shankar, I had to simply lounge back on the sofa and wallow in the sheer goodness of it all.

 

Monterey Pop

 

Interspersed in the band footage, Mr. Pennebaker lets it all hang out with visuals of hippies, flower children, bearded, bespectacled intellectuals and button-down squares all soaking up 1968’s great American songbook. The strait-laced partying with the painted or costumed. The sophisticated sleek mingling with bikers and women in flowing, flowered caftans. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to go? I always thought so.

This morning I woke up to the news that 64 year-old Stephen Paddock repeatedly fired weapons from his Mandalay Bay Hotel Room upon the 22,000 concertgoers at the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival. With more than 50 dead and 500 wounded, this mass shooting has gone down as the worst in American history. But that’s always a tricky bit of trivia, isn’t it? It’s the worst so far. What in the hell could possible be down the road next?

I suspect the usual cast of characters in the wake of this mass murder will appear and then disappear like so much smoke like the somber-faced politicians reverently praying for those lost and those injured or the grim local news reporter spouting platitudes against a backdrop of lit candles and those angry self-appointed defenders of justice who if they had been there would have pulled out their own guns and dispatched the perpetrator with undue haste. But that’s always the problem isn’t it that those quick-draw Dirty Harrys are never around we they are needed. I also suspect that there will be the inevitable questions as to why Mr. Paddock committed such an atrocity, as if there could possibly be a good excuse or thoughtful reason.

 

 

Unfortunately, I don’t see a way to pray our way out of this. Surely, enough prayers were said in the wake of the Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan in Pairs, or the Pulse nightclub shooting on Latin night in Orlando, Florida or the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena to finally put an end to this kind of massacre. I don’t think the prayers are working. Certainly, cities like Caracas in Venezuela, San Pedro Sula in Honduras, Cape Town in South Africa and U.S. cities like St. Louis, Baltimore and New Orleans that made it onto Mexico’s Citizens’ Council for Public Security’s annual ranking of the world’s most violent cities for 2016 are chocked full of the faithful. If praying were the cure-all wouldn’t Chicago or Cleveland and Milwaukee be much different places than they currently are?

I further suspect that forces are gathering as I write this summoning the music community to respond to this tragedy by way of a proceeds-for-victims concert, or a foundation or a fucking bunch of heartfelt tweets. I simply can’t image looking back on a musical career and pointing to a single concert performance as one of your best, where you got to jam with musical greats or played your heart out, all to memorialize a bunch of dead music fans.

Bob Dylan sang to us “There must be some way out of here.” Well, Bob, I just don’t see that happening any time soon.

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French Band Lo’Jo at the Top of the Transglobal World Music Chart in October 2017

Fonetiq Flowers, the new album by globe-trotting French band Lo’Jo, reached the number one place at the Transglobal World Music Chart in October 2017.

The album contains thirteen songs, recorded around the world, including places like Austin (Texas, USA), Lafayette (Louisiana, USA), Seoul (South Korea), Tbilisi (Georgia), Cotonou (Benin), Paris (France) and Bamako (Mali).

To see the complete chart go to www.transglobalwmc.com

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Baraka Moon’s Magic Carpet Ride across the Globe

Baraka Moon – Wind Horse (Baraka Moon Music, 2017)

Following up on their 2016 release of Eternal, the San Francisco based Baraka Moon is back to inundate listeners with their particular brand of savage coolness on Wind Horse, available on October 6th on the Baraka Moon Music label. Immersing listeners into a deep sound pool fashioned out mystical Sufi trance, textured Indian ragas, meaty African rhythms and the tangy flavors of Australia’s Aboriginal centuries-old musical traditions, Wind Horse is a deluge of sound that is potent and highly satisfying. With copacetic grooves and delicious dance tracks, listeners just have to ride the easy waves of Wind Horse for an excellent ride.

Baraka Moon has pooled its talents with its members, vocalist and harmonium player Sukhawat Ali Khan (who just happens to be related to musical masters Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Nazakat Ali Khan); percussionist and didgeridoo master Stephen Kent; drummer and percussionist Peter Warren; and guitarist, ukulele player and backing vocalist Anastasi Mavrides. Wind Horse also shows off the talents of guest musicians like Gurdeep Hira on tabla, Eda Maxym, Stella Karuna Kent and Sam Becker on backing vocals, Ben Issacs on jembe and percussion and Madusara Liyange and Swapan Gandhi on bansuri flute.

Wind Horse opens on the winds of the fabulous groove “Bismillah,” before moving onto the guitar slick and meaty rhythmic “Rasa Divine,” replete with some dishy backing vocals. Listeners shouldn’t miss out on the rich and rewarding “Narayane” with Mr. Khan’s vocals surrounded by guitar flourishes and mesmerizing rhythms. “Allah Hoo” is simply kickass good with didgeridoo against harmonium and Mr. Khan’s vocals.

“Sabir” is full of reggae flair, while “Mankuntu” is all quick paced richness. Equally delicious are the didgeridoo and speaking tongues flash of “Julay Julay” the raucous wild ride of title track “Wind Horse” and the lovely serene addition of bansuri flute on closing track “Alap.”

Baraka Moon’s Wind Horse is a magic carpet ride across Indian grasslands, Pakistani’s lazy river banks, African savannas and the rich, red earth packed landscapes of down under. And what a ride it is.

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Impeccable and Spellbinding Performances by Omar Faruk Tekbilek

Omar Faruk Tekbilek – Love Is My Religion (Alif Records, 2017)

Love Is My Religion out on the Alif Records label, the latest offering by Turkish composer and multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek is stylishly dramatic and sleekly passionate and a worthy addition to Mr. Tekbilek’s impressive discography that includes the recordings The Sultans Middle Eastern Band Vol 1 and 2, Suleyman the Magnificent, Beyond the Sky, Whirling, Mystical Gardens, Alif, and Kelebek. Pulling at threads from the past and present, from the traditional and contemporary, Love Is My Religion cleverly weaves a spell that is both beguiling and deliciously exotic.

Opening with “Araf,” listeners delve deep into the warm riches of Mr. Tekbilek’s mastery of ney, oud, davul, bendir and darbuka, as well as the flavors offered up by accompanying artists Alex Alessandroni Jr. on piano, Bahadir Sener on kanun, Yossi Fine on acoustic bss and Chris Wabich on drums. If that weren’t enough to tempt listeners “Vivir” is utterly spectacular with the song’s composer and vocalist Yasmin Levy taking center stage with her heartbreaking vocals. Joined by Mr. Tekbilek on vocals and various instruments, keyboardist and guitarist Amotz Plessner and Hamid Saeidi on santour, “Vivir” shimmers.

Love Is My Religion adds icing to the cake with Ismet Siral’s “Barefoot Dervish” in all its piano, synthesizer, brass and woodwind goodness, as well as A. Ekber Cicek’s “Haydar” and the delicately delightful “Mara” composed by Amotz Plessner, Alex Alessandroni Jr. and Idan Raiche who also his own piano work to the recording, but the real outstanding performance on this track has to be Lili Haydn’s spectacular violin lines. Standout tracks like deeply exotic “Memories,” the jazzy slant found on “Steepe” and closing track “Adam, Love Is My Religion & Tende Canim,” composed by Mr. Tekbilek and using a traditional Sufi melody are sure to please any music fan.

 

 

The performances on Love Is My Religion aren’t just impeccable there’s hypnotic, graceful and fiercely good, so my only advice is to listen up, load up and disappearing into some delicious music.

 

 

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