Tag Archives: featured

Dazzling Fiddlin’

Frigg – Frost on Fiddles (Frigg, 2017)

The Finnish fiddle wizards are back with another remarkable album. Frost on Fiddles takes you into a wild sled ride inspired by the folk music of Finland and Norway, modern bluegrass, Celtic music and fabulous Transylvanian-style rapid fire fiddling.

The four fiddlers and string musicians display their talent with flavorful intertwined layers of fiddles, guitar, mandolin and bass.

The line on Frost on Fiddles includes Tommi Asplund on fiddle; Tero Hyväluoma on fiddle; Alina Järvelä on fiddle; Esko Järvelä on fiddle; Juho Kivivuori on bass; Tuomas Logrén on guitar; and Petri Prauda on cittern and mandolin.

Frost on Fiddles is yet another exceptionally good contemporary folk music album with an array of top Finnish talent.

Buy Frost on Fiddles

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Cuban Star Daymé Arocena to Perform at Skirball Cultural Center 2017 Sunset Concerts Series

Acclaimed Cuban vocalist Daymé Arocena is set to perform on Thursday, August 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. A singer, composer, and choir director, Arocena’s inspiration comes from jazz, soul, classical music, and Cuban musical traditions. This is a free admission concert available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Her most recent recording is Cubafonía

The evening will begin with DJ Carlos Niño of dublab at 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, August 17, 2017, at 8:00 p.m.
Skirball Cultural Center
2701 N. Sepúlveda Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 440-4500

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World music bands help urban audiences connect with nature: performer insights from the 20th Rainforest World Music Festival

The 20th Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia) delivered a special four-day delight of preview showcases and evening performances. There were also interactive discussions between media and musicians each morning, followed by afternoon workshops and jam sessions.

The 2017 lineup of 22 international and 5 local groups included Abavuki (South Africa), Achanak (UK/India), Ba Cissoko (Guinea), Belem (Belgium), Bitori (Cape Verde), Calan (Wales), Cimarron (Colombia), Dom Flemons (US), Hanggai (China), Huw Williams (Wales), Kelele (South Africa), O Tahiti E (Tahiti), Okra Playground (Finland), Pareaso (Korea), Radio Cos (Spain), Romengo (Hungary), Saing Waing Orchestra (Myanmar), Spiro (UK), Svara Samsara (Indonesia), Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe (Taiwan), The Chipolatas (UK/Australia), and The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band (Thailand). The Malaysian lineup featured At Adau, Ilu Leto, Lan E Tuyang and Sekolah Seni Malaysia Sarawak from Sarawak, as well as Maliao Maliao Dance Troupe from Malacca.

During media interactions over three days, and in separate interviews, members of these 27 bands described their connection with nature, local and diaspora influences, traditional instruments, industry careers, political messages, and music impacts.

See also my writeups on performer insights from earlier editions of RWMF: 2016 (‘Fusion without Confusion’), 2015 (‘Collective Vision’), 2014 (‘Heritage and Messages’) and 2013 (‘Cultural Preservation’). The commemorative book ‘Rainforest World Music Festival – 20 Years of Song and Rhythm in Sarawak’ was also released at RWMF. The book is edited by Gracie Geikie and Lah Wan Yee, and I am honored and delighted to have a chapter in it on the role of the media at the festival.

 

Rainforest World Music Festival press conference, day 1 – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Connecting with nature

In cities, we are separated from rural life and the natural world. I hope that we can honor nature while living in the city, it’s our responsibility,” said Jon Hunt from UK-based Spiro.

Landscapes are an influence and inspiration in their music as well.

We are nature. We are part of our land. All our costumes are taken from nature,” said Marguerite Lai, founder of dance troupe O Tahiti E. For example, women wear red as the color of life.

We really appreciate nature. The jungle is our playground in Sarawak. Our music reflects our love for nature,” said Meldrick Anak Udos from Kuching band At Adau. The band is named after the root of the tree used to make the sape string instrument. “Nature is very personal for us,” he added.

Our music mimics the sound of wind blowing under coconut trees, farmers chasing cows, and bees humming around flowers,” said Nattapon Siangsukon of the Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band from Thailand, whose music reflects the culture of the north-east. “One of our musicians grew his own tree for 10 years to make his instrument,” he explained.

Cimarron from Colombia features the rural music and dances of peasants. “Our instruments are made from local woods from the rainforest of South America. We mention local animals in our songs, such as crocodiles and regional birds. The sounds of milking of cows are also in our songs,” explained Carlos Rojas from Cimarron.

RWMF itself sends out strong messages about nature and conservation by conducting a mangrove tree-planting ceremony at Kuching Wetland National Park the day before the festival. “The tree-planting ceremony was one of the most memorable experiences,” said Monika Lakatos, singer from Hungarian gypsy band Romengo.

Local and diaspora connections

A number of artists showcased unique instruments from their regions, such as bamboo mouth organ khaen and two-string guitar (Thailand); cuatro, bandola, maracas and tambora (Colombia); Burmese harp (Myanmar); twin-pipe nose flute (Taiwan); and kantele (Finnish cordophone). Others performed dances and rhythms from their region, such as the clog dance (Wales) and funana (Cape Verde).

Some world music bands play traditional music without modification, while others adapt it to new surroundings and audiences. “We are an experimental world music band. We are neither fully traditional nor fully contemporary,” explained Meldrick Anak Udos from Kuching band At Adau. Their influences include the cultures of the Iban, Bedayu, and Orang Ulu tribes.

Some musicians said they make their own instruments as well. “I make my own sape. I can play better with an instrument I make myself,” explained Mathew Ngau from Sarawak’s Lan E Tuyang.

We learn traditional rhythms from villagers, and then adapt the music to our times,” said Gihon Siahaya, percussionist with Svara Samsara from Indonesia. “Our music is based on traditions but can’t be called traditional music,” he explained.

Our music is rooted in folk but we also add our own lyrics,” said Sami Kujala, bassist with Finnish electro-folk group Okra Playground.

Many diaspora populations in the West have kept alive their homeland music and fused it with their new base culture as well. “Previous generations of our communities came to the UK from northwest Punjab in the 1950s and 60s,” said Ninder Johal, tabla player of UK-based bhangra fusion band Achanak. “We combine Punjabi folk music with Western instrumentation, and have been performing for 20 years,” he said.

Rainforest World Music Festival press conference, day 2 – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

Political awareness, social change and diplomacy

Many of the bands also had messages about global dialogue and local social change. “It used to be taboo for females to play the sape,” said Alena Murang of the all-female six-member group Ilu Leto (‘We The Ladies’).

The group is breaking away from such traditions – but also keeping alive other traditions such as the chants of the tribes Iban, Kelabit and Kenyah (there are over 50 tribes in Sarawak). “We are from six different ethnic groups. Social media has helped us connect and collaborate,” explained Alena.

Countries and people need to talk to one another, not just make assumptions. Music festivals may be the last channel of diplomacy. They are going to become more important,” said Huw Williams from Wales.

The creative community needs to engage with the larger issues and challenges confronting our world – this includes visual artists, musicians, writers and more. “Musicians are in an industry which involves traveling around the world. It is our duty to inform others about what is happening where we travel and share these messages back home,” said Siyabulela Jiyani of Pan-African vocalists group Kelele.

Protest music exists in multiple styles. South African music is well-informed of the challenges of the time, and is not just about good times,” said Siyabulela from the Capetown-based group.

Many musicians also expressed support for unity in diversity, and found commonality among the various cultures represented. “We are people of the world. We are different but so similar,” said Marguerite Lai, founder of dance troupe O Tahiti E. She pointed to the similarities in some words in Malay and Polynesian languages.

I am a world citizen representing a larger cause,” added Don Flamins, songster and Grammy Award Winner from the US.

RWMF highlights

The performers agreed that one of the unique features of RWMF is the multiple opportunities for the bands to get to know one another and collaborate. “We made many good contacts and want our music from Guinea to go further around the world,” said kora virtuoso Ba Cissokho.

Extreme commitment of the audience to stay and enjoy the performances even during heavy rains adds to the joy,” said Monika Lakatos, vocalist with Hungarian gypsy band Romengo.

We don’t like rain during performances, except in the Rainforest,” joked Tristan Glover from music-humour trio Chipolatas.

The afternoon workshops and jam sessions are a major highlight of RWMF. “It was amazing to play together with people you have never met before. It was a magical experience for us to play with the Chinese horse fiddle player,” said Sami Kujala from Finland’s Okra Playground.

At first we were very nervous about the workshops. But after the first workshop we relaxed and did very well,” said Hwang Dong Yoon from South Korea’s Pareaso.

Rainforest World Music Festival press conference, day 3 – Photo by Madanmohan Rao

 

The lighter side

Many performers also shared humorous anecdotes from their concerts around the world. “Our funniest experience was being in an Italian village where no one spoke English! It’s a great experience for all of you to be in such a situation – have fun,” joked Jay Tilag, director of Sekolah Sani Sarawak from Malaysia.

Finnish audiences may appear expressionless but show their emotions through texts, joked Sami Kujala from Okra Playground. For musicians it is better to have feedback right away, so such reserved behavior can be a challenge!

Tristan Glover of The Chipolatas shared another unusual experience during a performance in a Middle Eastern country. Men and women were seated separately, and there was absolutely no applause during the event – but a huge crowd gathered outside later for autographs and selfies!

Festival impacts

Other than ‘feel good’ sentiments and global geography tours, world music festivals do have notable impacts as well. Many supporting anecdotes and trends were shared by the performers and organizers.

A visible local impact of RWMF is the rise of awareness and pride in local culture and instruments among youth in Sarawak, such as the sape,” said June-Lin Yeoh, RWMF artistic director. “Youth are seeing foreigners play their sape with pride – and getting recognition, fame, and money as well,” she explained. Now many youth are making their own sape and forming traditional and fusion bands.

Another impact of the festival is closer cooperation and collaboration between the musicians from different countries. In many other festivals, the musicians just “load in, play, load out, leave,” said Jun-Lin. But at RWMF they make friends with each other and with locals as well. Interestingly, this year there were bands from China as well as Taiwan!

The setting of the festival is also unique. “Jungle, mountain and sea – all three are here,” said Jun-Lin proudly. The festival also highlights some instruments which one may never see anywhere else even by world music standards.

World music festivals do help preserve and promote local cultures from around the planet, affirmed Betham William-Jones from Welsh group Calan. Ethnic music is not just something taught in school or described in official documents.

In Taiwan, the government did not allow some tribes to use their own language. “Now kids ask their parents about how to sing our melodies,” said Camake Valuaule from the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe, Taiwan. “Traditional music is forever. We sing forever,” he affirmed.

Traditional music need not sit in museums and archives, it can be made alive and contemporary,” said Alena Murang of Sarawak group Ilu Leto; RWMF gives such groups a chance to showcase their music to local as well as global audiences.

With music you can change someone’s life. Welsh music saved my life,” said Huw Williams from Wales. “I actually wanted a normal job with a regular check, but due to mass employment in my youth I was forced to become a musician,” said Huw Williams from Wales. “I have been reduced to travelling the world and singing songs,” he joked.

Ironically, some world music bands are more known outside their home country than within. “We need people like you,” said Andile Makubalo from South African band Kelele. Overseas audiences and international festival appearances also help keep alive local music traditions and cultures.

Airlines should also be playing music on board from world music festivals, given how many international passengers they carry, joked Kevin Nila Nangai, communications manager at RWMF.

headline photo: Achanak

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Uncovered Somali Tapes from Hargeisa

Various Artists – Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa (Ostinato Records, 2017)

Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa is a remarkable project compiled by Vik Sohonie & Nicolas Sheikholeslami. They combed through tapes rescued from Radio Hargeisa before it was destroyed during the Somali Civil War in the 1980s.

The cassettes were hidden away abroad to protect them from bombings. Part of this collection, has returned to its original location and are now part of the 10,000 cassette tape archive of the Red Sea in Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa. The Ostinato Records producers digitized a large part of the archive and selected 15 songs that represent the diversity of Somali music.

You’ll find a joyful mix of genres where pop, soul, funk, jazz, blues, reggae and disco are mixed with traditional Somali, Ethiopian, Arabic, and other influences.

The artists featured include Nimco Jamaac, Aamina Camaari, Ali Nuur, Hibo Nuura, Gacaltooyo Band feat. Faduumina Hilowle, Iftiin Band feat. Mahmud Abdalla “Jerry” Hussen & Maryan Naasir, Xasan Diiriye, Dur Dur Band feat. Sahra Dawo, Sharaf Band feat. Xaawo Hiiraan, 4 Mars, Danan Hargeysa feat. Mohamed “Huro” Abdihashi, Sharero Band feat. Faadumo Qaasim, Waaberi Band (composed by Said Mohamed Harawo), Dur Dur Band feat. Muqtar Idi Ramadan, and Iftiin Band feat. Mahmud Abdalla “Jerry” Hussen.

The album cover (and the video below) shows a modern woman with an afro and earrings. It was a time were women were free to dress as they pleased, before the conservative clerics took over most of Somalia, forcing women into burkas, nikabs and hijabs.

 

 

 

Buy Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa in Europe

Buy Sweet As Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa in the rest of the world

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Toko Telo at the Top of the Transglobal World Music Chart in August 2017

Toy Raha Toy, the debut recording by Malagasy superband Toko Telo is the number one album in the Transglobal World Music Chart for August 2017. The trio includes guitarist and vocalist D’Gary, vocalist and percussionist Monika Njava and accordionist and vocalist Régis Gizavo.

This was Règis Gizavo’s final album. He died on July 16, 2017.

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Remarkable Folk-Rock Renaissance

Offa Rex – The Queen of Hearts (Nonesuch Records, 2017)

Offa Rex is a fascinating collaboration between English vocalist, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olivia Chaney and multi-faceted American rock band The Decemberists. Their extraordinary debut album The Queen of Hearts and it is deeply inspired by the great English folk-rock wave of the 1970s. Offa Rex adds elements of psychedelia, folk-rock, Americana, contemporary folk music, progressive folk, and even hard rock, creating a sound that bridges the past and modernity.

The material used in Offa Rex is primarily traditional English, Irish and Scottish songs. You’ll find upbeat, sing along songs, together with mesmerizing songs such as “The Gardener,” highlighting the gifted vocals of Olivia Chaney.

 

 

 

 

Offa Rex is touring this summer. Next dates:

8/08 — Vancouver, BC at Orpheum Theater*
8/09 — Calgary, AB at MacEwan Hall*
8/12 — Missoula, MT at Travelers’ Rest Festival
8/13 — Missoula, MT at Travelers’ Rest Festival
8/15 — Salt Lake City, UT at Red Butte Garden*
8/17 — Oakland, CA at Fox Theater*
8/19 — Jacksonville, OR at Britt Festival*

*Olivia Chaney opening for The Decemberists’ shows

Buy The Queen of Hearts

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Bravado Masala

James Asher and Mahesh Vinayakram – Bravado Masala (Times Music, 2008)

This album sounds promising and exciting on the cover, which certainly has an element of humor in it as well. The 8 tracks span just under an hour, but many of the pieces come across as rather cheesy and amateurish, which is quite surprising considering the fusion success of musicians like James Asher. Still, we recommend the track Lost Summer.

Another piece which also manages to stand out is Tabletop Dancer, which reveals influences of Middle Eastern sound. We would recommend instead Asher’s other fine fusion album, Feet in the Soil.

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Ask Your Heart: Mehmet Polat Trio

Mehmet Polat Trio – Ask Your Heart (Home Records, 2017)

Ask Your Heart is the second album by the Mehmet Polat Trio (released in 2017 on homerecords.be). Its music transports the listener from a world of agitation to a place of calm. Imagine you are by the sea, relaxing by the waves, and you begin to get an image of this trio’s sound. Much contemporary music is too overproduced with electronics in place of real instruments, but not this album. Its spareness is elegant and moving.

The trio has nothing fancy to hide behind. They have only each other for back up. Folk in feel, the music has within it modal jazz and traditional African sounds. The album starts out slowly with “Untouched Stories,” as the two-stringed instruments, kora and oud, take baby steps and gradually move together with the flute-like ney. There is a lullaby feeling as the ney moves out expansively, playing longer notes while the oud and kora provide a steady accompaniment.

 

Mehmet Polat

 

Mehmet Polat is the trio’s founder. He started his life’s journey in Turkey, raised in a family of Alevi Sufi musicians. They play a spiritual folk music, whose songs are often revelatory or in praise of Sufi saints. Yet Mehmet was not content to remain within one musical genre. He seeks to voyage, exploring the musical connections between the middle East, traditional African music, and jazz. He has written that he is “constantly searching for new musical paths and inspiration.” He has found two master musicians to accompany him on his quest: Sinan Arat on ney and Dymphi Peeters on kora. The ney is an ancient reed flute, and the kora is 21 stringed instrument from West Africa with a calabash base as a resonator. But, neither instrument dominates the other; and none of the musicians overpowers the others or remains the center of attention.

 

 

There is equilibrium among the players, a sense of give-and-take as they improvise, as if each has come to share a delicious communal plate of food. The trio’s first album Next Spring started their collective adventure, but on this album, the different musical genres coalesce. The sound takes flight.

The trio’s musical creativity is heard best on the fifth track, “Whispering to the Waves,” as the oud shapeshifts to sound like an upright bass. The music breathes and the listener breathes with it. It has spaciousness. Sinan plays a long solo on the ney. It is haunting, seeming to flow like a mysterious mist into the night air.

On “Evening Prayer,” the three instruments together announce a simple melody. The ney improvises next. And then a surprise: Mehmet sings a vocal of longing, and the ney shadows it. The piece is a ghazal from the Middle East. Mehmet explains, “there is a melody or groove underneath, and the vocal improvisation is on top of it.” He learned how to sing ghazals from listening to recordings of an old local master from Urfa, Turkey, Kazancı Bedih. His listening paid off. He’s a talented, expressive singer. The deep vocal works well with the low tones of the instruments. The vocal is full of yearning for the divine. The song is from a poem by Leyla Hamm, who was an Ottoman woman poet, and reads in part:

Dear Divine: please help this powerless being in despair
May you help me heal my heartache
I am your disobedient creation, please forgive me…

The final track, “Mardin,” is also a ghazal. Here again the instruments start by playing the melody together and then the vocal is introduced. The song’s lyrics are translated in part as, “I have sacrificed myself for no other than your love.” The listener is drawn into this powerful, meditative moment as the vocalist moves into a place of longing. Mehmet Polat writes in the album’s liner notes: “Music for me is a connection from heart to heart. I invite you to open your heart to the music and let it come to you.” And if you allow yourself to stop and to listen, this music will open your heart.

For more about the Mehmet Polat Trio or to purchase “Ask Your Heart” you can visit their website: mehmetpolat.net

Buy Ask Your Heart

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New York’s World Music Institute Reveals The 2017-18 Season

The World Music Institute (WMI) has announced the 2017-18 series of concerts. The world music programming includes over 40 performances by musicians from 28 countries.

Some of the highlights include acclaimed Ethiopian stars Mahmoud Ahmed and Hailu Mergia; the New York debut of Tuareg rising star, guitarist Mdou Moctar and his band; Portuguese Fado star Mariza; Lebanese singer-songwriter Yasmine Hamdan; Hindustani bansuri master Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia; Afrobeat/techno duo Tony Allen & Jeff Mills; Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man; Malian kora masters Toumani Diabaté & Sidiki Diabaté; South African jazz legends Abdulla Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela; Ibibio Sound Machine; Canadian Inuk artist Tanya Tagaq; and a special collaboration between Kronos Quartet and Soo Yeon Lyuh, master of the haegeum (Korean two-string fiddle).

Wu Man

Venues include intimate spaces such as Littlefield and The David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center as well as large-scale stages like BAM Opera House, Apollo Theater and The Town Hall.

For a more details, tickets and complete list of events go to www.worldmusicinstitute.org, or call 212-279-4200.

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A New Vision of Fado

Yolanda Soares – Royal Fado (Compaes Records, 2016)

Eclectic classically-trained Portuguese vocalist Yolanda Soares draws her inspiration from fado, although she doesn’t describe herself as a fado singer. On Royal Fado she showcases her gifted voice accompanied by Portuguese guitar and Welsh harp. In addition, Yolanda Soares incorporates flamenco, tango and Middle Eastern influences. This unconventional, innovative fusion works out very well.

The Welsh connection comes from the album’s producer Chris Marshall who brought in acclaimed harp player Claire Jones; baritone singer Rhydian Roberts; Portuguese guitar maestro Custódio Castelo and traditional choral group A Moda Mae from Alentejo.

On Royal Fado, Yolanda Soares brings passion and a new imagination of fado.

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