Natacha Atlas was born in Belgium, the daughter of an Egyptian father and an English mother. Natacha grew up in the Moroccan suburbs of Brussels, becoming fluent in French, Spanish, Arabic and English, immersing herself in Arabic culture, Egyptian “shaabi” pop and learning from childhood the raks sharki (belly dance) techniques that she uses during her spectacular live performances.
Even more remarkable than Natacha’s dance moves is her unmistakable voice, rich in nuance and grounded in Arabic music.
Natacha moved to England as a teenager and became Northampton’s first Arabic rock singer. Since then has involved herself in a wide variety of musical projects. Dividing her time between the UK and Brussels, she sang in a variety of Arabic and Turkish nightclubs, and spent a brief period in a Belgian salsa band called Mandanga. As she commuted between Northampton and Brussels, however, she began to attract the attention of the Balearic beat crew ¡Loca! and Jah Wobble, who was then assembling his Invaders of the Heart. Wobble was looking for an wide-ranging Middle Eastern singer and fell in love with her voice.
In 1991, both these projects became a reality. Timbal by ¡Loca! started out as a track on Nation Records’ Fuse Two compilation and became a massive dance club hit, while Wobble’s http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000007641/musidelmund-20/002-7906139-4219234?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2 | Rising Above Bedlam – five tracks which Natasha co-wrote – attracted much critical acclaim and a Mercury award nomination.
The success of Timbal consolidated Natacha’s relationship with the ground-breaking Nation Label, who introduced her to TransGlobal Underground (TGU), at that time enjoying Top 40 success with http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000DEO0/musidelmund-20/002-7906139-4219234?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2 | Templehead.
First guesting with TransGlobal Underground in 1991, Natacha became two years later a member of the core quartet of TransGlobal Underground, as lead singer and belly-dancer. A couple of years later, it was TransGlobal Underground’s Tim Whelan, Hamid ManTu and Nick Page (a.k.a. Count Dubulah, who helped her to make her first solo album, Diaspora.
Diaspora came out in the summer of 1995 to critical acclaim. Natacha combined the dubby, rhythmic-driven global dance of her longtime associates Transglobal Underground, with the more traditional work of Arabic musicians like Tunisian singer-songwriter Walid Rouissi and Egyptian composer and ud master Essam Rashad. The result was a collection of songs of love and yearning that genuinely fused West and East.
On her second LP, Halim, Natacha explored further her deeply felt affinity with Arabic musical heritage.
In parallel with the success of her solo albums she remained a full-time Transglobal Underground member, and Transglobal Underground composed her backing band, until they left Nation Records in 1999, and they have remained allies throughout her subsequent career. Atlas has appeared on most TGU albums and its members are usually involved in the production of her solo albums.
1997’s Halim followed, and then Gedida in 1999 , both creatively and naturally fusing Middle Eastern and European styles, and delighting an ever-increasing audience in both territories.
In 2000, Natacha released The Remix Collection, in which material from the first three albums was reworked by a variety of remixers, including Talvin Singh, Banco de Gaia, Youth, 16B, Klute, the Bullitnuts, TJ Rehmi, Spooky and Transglobal Underground.
Natacha’s fourth album Ayeshteni was released in 2001.
2002’s album, Natacha Atlas and Marc Eagleton Project’s Foretold in the Language of Dreams, was a considerable divergence. No beats; a calm recording, involving a slightly smaller group of musicians than normal, including Syrian qanun master Abdullah Chhadeh, whom Natacha married in 1999.
Aside from her own projects, Natacha remains very much in demand as a guest singer for the recordings and performances of a remarkably wide range of musicians, including Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook, the Indigo Girls, FunDaMental, Ghostland, Abdel Ali Slimani, Toires, !Loca, Musafir, Sawt El Atlas, Franco Battiato, Juno Reactor, Dhol Foundation, Jah Wobble, Jaz Coleman, Apache Indian (on his chart hit Arranged Marriage), Mick Karn, Jean-Michel Jarre’s Millennium Night spectacular at the Pyramids, Jonathan Demme’s film The Truth About Charlie, and David Arnold’s film scores including Stargate and Die Another Day.
Natacha Atlas spent a lot of time in her father’s homeland, Egypt. There, she worked with members of Transglobal Underground and Egyptian musicians. Her album, Ayeshteni, was recorded and composed there.
In 2003, she released Something Dangerous, a solo album of contrasts and collaborations, in which she injected Middle Eastern music into UK pop, pulling in dance music, rap, drum’n’bass, R&B, Hindi pop, film music and French chanson.
On Something Dangerous (2003), Atlas not only combined more styles than ever, but for the first time on an Atlas album it featured guest vocalists, and more singing in English than she did before. There is a collaboration with English composer Jocelyn Pook (who, among other things, created the score for Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut), it has Atlas’ Arabic vocal lushly surrounded by Pook’s western classical orchestration for the Prague Symphony Orchestra. Another guest is West Indian Princess Julianna, whom Atlas met when they were both guesting with Temple of Sound.
On the Arabic side, Atlas used Abdullah Chhadeh and one of Egypt’s finest shaabi trumpet players, the late Sami El Babli (deceased in a car crash shortly after the recording), to whom the track is dedicated. Atlas and Sinead O’Connor, who last recorded together on John Reynolds’, Justin Adams’ and Caroline Dale’s 2002 Ghostland album, trade aphorisms in ‘Simple Heart”.
With Mish Maoul (MNTCD 1038), released in April 2006, Atlas’ career came full circle to touch base with her roots.
The new album returned to the music she grew up hearing in the Moroccan suburb of Brussels, particularly when the Golden Sound Studio Orchestra of Cairo makes its entrance. It also reunited her again with Temple of Sound’s Nick Page (aka Count Dubulah), with whom she first worked in Transglobal Underground and who helped produce her very first solo album Diaspora.
Born in Paris to Vietnamese parents, the self-taught Nguyên Lê began to play drums at the age of 15, followed by guitar and electric bass. After graduating in Visual Arts, he majored in Philosophy, writing a thesis on Exoticism. Then he devoted to music, creating Ultramarine (1983), a multi-ethnic band whose CD “http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FIHFB4?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000FIHFB4 |Dé” was considered “1989’s best World Music album by Philippe Conrath of Libération. Lê easily slides from rock, jazz, and funk to Vietnamese, Indian, and North African music.
Nguyên Le is a self-taught musician, with a wide scope of interests: rock & funk (Jim Cuomo, Madagascar tour 84), jazz standards & contemporary Jazz (bass player with Marc Ducret, guitar player with Eric Barret), Improvised Music (Yves Robert), singers (Ray Charles), Contemporary Music (André Almuro, Tona Scherchen, Marius Constant, Mauricio Kagel), Ethnic Music: African & Caribbean with Ultramarine, Algerian with Safy Boutella & Cheb Mami, Indian with Kakoli, Turkish with Kudsi Erguner, Vietnamese with his “Dan Bau” (traditional one-stringed instrument) teacher Truong Tang.
In September 1987 he was chosen by director Antoine Hervé to play with the O. N. J. (French National Jazz Orchestra). Within this big band, he played with such musicians as Johnny Griffin, Louis Sclavis, Didier Lockwood, Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Randy Brecker, Toots Thielemans, Courtney Pine, Steve Lacy, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Gil Evans, Quincy Jones. Nguyên Le’s work also deals with programming synthesizers, effects & computers as well as writing orchestral pieces : “Processor” composed, arranged & recorded on CD O.N.J. 87 & Lunik II” co-arranged with Dominique Borker & performed by the O.N.J. 1989.
In September 1989 he recorded Ultramarine’s 2nd album De &, in May 90, his first album as a leader Miracles, recorded in the U.S.A. with Art Lande, Marc Johnson & Peter Erskine. At the same time he worked with such musicians as Michel Portal, Miroslav Vitous, Trilok Gurtu, J. F. Jenny Clarke, Aldo Romano, Daniel Humair, Dewey Redman, Andy Emler, Jon Christensen, Nana Vasconcelos, Glenn Ferris, Christof Lauer, Paolo Fresu, Kenny Wheeler, and John Taylor.
In May of 1992, after a one month tour with Paul McCandless on winds, Art Lande (piano), Dean Johnson (bass) & Joël Allouche (drums), he recorded his 2nd album Zanzibar, which got the prestigious Télérama « ffff » award. In January 1993 he recorded “INIT”, a trio with André Ceccarelli, François Moutin & guest Bob Berg, while setting up a new band on the music of Jimi Hendrix, with Corin Curschellas (vocals), Steve Argüelles (drums), Richard Bona (bass).
Since January 93 he’s been a frequent guest soloist of Cologne’sd WDR Big band, especially with composer/director Vince Mendoza. Nguyên Lê plays on three of his projects: Jazzpaña, Sketches with Dave Liebman, Charlie Mariano, Peter Erskine, & “Downtown”, with Russell Ferrante.
In April 1994 he was the guest soloist of “The New Yorker”, a suite by Bob Brookmeyer, with Dieter Ilg (bass) & Danny Gottlieb (drums). With these two musicians he set his first trio, and recorded Million Waves in December of 1994.
In the meantime, he was playing in trio with Michel Benita (bass) & Peter Erskine, recording on Michel Portal’s new album with Ralph Towner (guitar), & working with Ornette Coleman on one of his contemporary music pieces, “Freedom Statue”.
In June 95 he was invited by WDR BigBand in “Azure Moon”, with the Yellowjackets & Vince Mendoza. In July 1995, in Stuttgart Festival, he was one of the guest guitar players to celebrate the “Universe of Jimi Hendrix”, besides Trilok Gurtu, Terry Bozzio, Cassandra Wilson, Jack Bruce, Vernon Reid, David Torn, Victor Bailey, Pharoah Sanders.
In April 1996, Nguyên Lê created Tales From Vietnam, a project on Vietnamese music, with a 8-piece band blending jazz & traditional musicians. With stage director P. J. San Bartolomé, he started ” Of the Moon & the Wind “, a complete show where traditional & contemporary Vietnamese dancers are integrated to the “Tales from Viêt-Nam” orchestra. The CD Tales From Vietnam received a great welcoming from international critics : Diapason d’Or, Choc du Monde de la Musique, Choc of Year 1996 Jazzman, 2nd best CD 96 for Jazzthing (Germany), Best CD 96 on radio TRS 2 (CH), “a minor masterpiece” Jazztimes (USA).
On April 1997 Nguyên Lê released his 5th CD, Three Trios, with Marc Johnson/ Peter Erskine; Dieter Ilg/ Danny Gottlieb; & Renaud Garçia Fons/ Mino Cinelu.
He recorded 2 CDs with Paolo Fresu’s quartet: Angel (February 1998) & Metamorfosi (April 1999). On May 1998, the 6th record came out: Maghreb & Friends, an exploration of Maghreb musical traditions & a deep collaboration with Algerian musicians.
Nguyên Lê produced the 1st CD of Huong Thanh, Moon & Wind , entirely done in his home studio. His CD Bakida, based on his regular trio with Renaud Garçia Fons (bass) and Spanish percussionist Tino di Geraldo (percussion, drums) plus guests from all over the world like Kudsi Erguner, Chris Potter, Carlos Benavent.
In September of 2002, the Huong Thanh CD came out, titled Dragonfly. In June of that year he was invited by the Metropole Orchestra (Netherlands) to play his music arranged by Vince Mendoza. Purple: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix, an album celebrating Jimi Hendrix was released in September of 2002. Up to now, it is Lê’s most successful album, with 20,500 CD sales & non stop touring all over the world.
Mangustao, Huong Thanh’s 3rd album, released in January 2004, was awarded as “Choc de la Musique” by French magazine Le Monde de la Musique.
In March of 2005 Walking on the Tiger’s Tail was released. This was a new album with his great friends Art Lande, Paul McCandless & Jamey Haddad.
Several projects were carried out in 2006 : the score writing of “Le Sheitan”, a movie by Kim Chapiron with Vincent Cassel, & Homescape a very electronic, improvised & mystical recording in duo with Paolo Fresu & Dhafer Youssef, all done at home. There was also the score for the Vietnamese movie “Saigon Eclipse” by Othello Khanh; the recording of “Mozart” last Uri Caine’s album; a 13-gig tour in the USA with “Tiger’s Tail” quartet, thanks to a CMA/FACE grant; two “classical” compositions commissioned by the Ahn Trio & the Laguna Beach Fest in Los Angeles. In addition, Nguyên Lê was unanimously awarded the guitar “Django d’Or” 2006.
In 2007, after tours in US & China, he released Fragile Beauty, the 4th album with Huong Thanh.
In 2008 he recorded Othello Syndrome for Uri Caine, Blauklang for Vince Mendoza’s & also Dream Flight, a new ELB (Erskine, Lê and Benita) album, with guest Stéphane Guillaume on sax.
His 2009 project, Saiyuki, borught together Japanese koto and shamisen player Mieko Miyazaki and Indian tabla player Prabhu Edouard. It draws on a renowned Chinese 16th century novel. The story’s epic excursion from China to India becomes a metaphor for the three players’ musical journeys, real or imagined. The CD features Mieko Miyazaki (koto) & Prabhu Edouard (tabla) and special guest Hariprasad Chaurasia (flute).
As a sound engineer he mixed Dhafer’s Youssef album Abu Nawas Rhapsody.
In 2011, Nguyên Lê released Songs of Freedom, an album with cover versions of pop song hits from the 1970s.
“My language is Jazz, but I have chosen to open it & to feed it with other essential cultures that fascinate me & remind me of my origins,” says Lê.
* Programme Jungle, with Ultramarine (Bloomdido BL 001)
* Dé, with Ultramarine (Musidisc, 1989). Reissued in 2005 (Universal 983 883-0}
* Esimala, with Ultramarine (Musidisc , 1991) Reissued in 2005 (Universal 983 883-1)
* Miracles (Musidisc, 1989). Reissued in 2005 (Universal 983 881-9)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000FIHFAU?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000FIHFAU | Zanzibar (Musidisc, 1992). Reissued in 2005 (Universal 983 882-0)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000024HU8?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000024HU8 | Million Waves (ACT 9221-2, 1995)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000001YKE?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000001YKE | Tales From Vietnam (ACT 9225-2, 1996)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000001YKJ?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000001YKJ | 3 Trios (ACT 9245-2, 1997)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000024CBA?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000024CBA | Maghreb & Friends (ACT 9261-2, 1998)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0000089Z0?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B0000089Z0 | Angel, with Paolo Fresu’s quartet (RCA Victor, 1998)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000028E6W?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000028E6W | Metamorfosi, with Paolo Fresu’s quartet (BMG, 1999)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000042ORG?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000042ORG | Bakida (ACT 9275-2, 2000)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00009QG7I?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B00009QG7I | Purple Celebrating Jimi Hendrix (ACT 9410-2, 2002)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0007R8E7C?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B0007R8E7C | Walking On the Tiger’s Tail (ACT 9432-2, 2005)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000EGCEBS?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000EGCEBS | Homescape (ACT 9444-2, 2006)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002OC9ZYE?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B002OC9ZYE | Saiyuki (ACT 9483-2, 2009)
* Songs Of Freedom (ACT, 2011)
* Purple (ACT, 2012)
* Celebrating Dark Side Of The Moon (ACT, 2014)
* Hà Nội Duo, with Paolo Fresu (ACT, 2017)
Amine & Hamza – The Band Beyond Borders – Fertile Paradoxes (ARC Music EUCD2704, 2017)
A popular comedian recently remarked that President Trump’s planned wall between the United States and Mexico is the sort of thing that will dissuade advanced alien life forms from contacting Earth. “Fertile Paradoxes” provides convincing counterpoint to this argument. Multiple cultures peacefully and productively interact throughout this wonderful release. Meaning no disrespect to the outstanding talents and contributions of any other artists on ARC or any other label, Amine and Hamza M’raihi and Band Beyond Borders are in a different class of world musicians.
“Fertile Paradoxes” essentially narrates a global musical ecosystem rather than demonstrating any one culture’s interaction with the rest of the world. One cannot listen to this release and pinpoint the artists’ place of origin (Tunisia, though they currently reside in Switzerland), so versed and versatile are they with the rhythms, tunings and instrumentations of diverse ethnic forms.
Perhaps the real paradox on the release is that there is no conflict where one would expect to find it. Instruments from cultures with no common borders or in historical conflict blend beautifully here. To quote the label’s press release, “kanun meets saxophone, cajón meets cello and musical borders are thrown to an adventurous wind, the south Indian kanjira frame drum and percussive Nigerian water jug ‘udu’ blend with accordion, and The Band Beyond Borders is joined by a full chamber orchestra on ‘Spleen’ and the sparky ‘Lullaby for Leo.’”
The players on this record represent a gifted and perceptive inner circle that was early to recognize the M’raihis’ vision and contribute their own talents and quirks to its development and, now, presentation to the rest of us.
“Fertile Paradoxes” will be equally at home in private music collections and public and independent radio station playlists, and the best musicians’ listening queues. This is an exciting treasure of a world music release, setting the bar higher for the entire field and providing a subtle, lovely, joyous example of creative interaction for us all.
The leader of the world fusion group Ancient Future, Matthew Montfort, released his first solo recording, ‘Seven Serenades for Scalloped Fretboard Guitar’ in 2009. He is a pioneer among guitarists who have had their fretboards scalloped in order to play various forms of world music that require intricate note-bending ornaments while still being able to play chords.
Montfort immersed himself in an intensive study with veena master K.S. Subramanian in order to fully apply the South Indian gamaka (note-bending) techniques to the guitar. The December 2009 Les Paul issue of Guitar Player Magazine includes a full page feature on Matthew Montfort with a corresponding GuitarPlayer.Com video and lesson entitled “The Music of Jimi Hendrix Applied to Indian Raga.”
He has performed concerts worldwide, from the Festival Internacional de la Guitarra on the golden coast of Spain to the Festival of India in Mumbai. He has worked with many world music legends, including tabla phenomenon Zakir Hussain and Chinese zither master Zhao Hui.
Montfort wrote the book “Ancient Traditions – Future Possibilities: Rhythmic Training Through the Traditions of Africa, Bali, and India,” which has been used by many musicians to improve their rhythm skills.
Renowned throughout the Arab world, Le Trio Joubran is led by Palestinian ud virtuoso Samir Joubran. Samir performs in duo or trio lineups with his younger brothers: Wissam Joubran and Adnan Joubran.
Samir and his brothers are the sons of a master luthier, who is the son of a master luthier; a family steeped in the ancient history of the ud, the Arabic lute.
Their mother sang in a Muashahat (a classical Arabic poetry/music form) ensemble and their father is an ud crafter known throughout the Arab world. The brothers were born in the Galilean city of Nazareth in a family with a strong musical tradition.
The three sons perform on uds built by Wissam, who was the first Arabic luthier to graduate from the Stradivarius Institute in Cremona, Italy, where he mastered the construction of violins and uds.
Le Trio Joubran was born when elder brother Samir listened to the jazz/rock/flamenco guitar trio of Al Di Meola (USA), Paco de Lucia (Spain), and John McLaughlin (UK).
The trio’s first CD together, Randana, was the first meeting of an ud trio. “We wanted to experiment composing for three uds,” says Samir. “It was a challenge and the music was experimental. Through our touring we gained confidence which makes the music on Majaz different. It’s more accessible to a wider public; it’s more clear, transparent, and joyful but with sadness in the background, and yet proud. We introduce percussion in a very subtle way, sensitive and present. Three uds are there with three different personalities, but together.”
Ronnie Malley is a multi-instrumentalist musician, theatrical performer, producer, and educator. He collaborates with the music groups Allos Musica, Duzan Ensemble, Lamajamal, and Surabhi, and is a faculty member at the Chicago Academy for the Arts. He performed recently at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) in India with George Lawler (percussion), Subrata Bhattacharya (tabla) and Abhisek Lahiri (sarod). See my writeup on the JLF music showcase here.
His recent credits include author and composer of the original play Ziryab, The Songbird of Andalusia (Silk Road Rising World Premiere), author and composer of the story The Oud, Ziryab, and Andalusia: An Enchanting Tale of Music (Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Chicago Cultural Center). He has produced the albums Auraad Fathiya, Saazuk Safar, Tsikago, and Gypsy Surf.
Ronnie conducts Arabic language artist residencies for Chicago Public Schools through Intercultural Music Production and is a teaching artist for music and theater with Global Voices Initiative. He joins us in this wide-ranging interview on his musical journey, the role of music in cultural identity, and his message for a better world.
Q: How did the lineup for East Meets Middle East get formed? How did the musicians know each other?
RM: East Meets Middle East (EMME) formed in early 2016 as a collaboration between two Chicago musicians; George Lawler and myself, who had been playing together for over 10 years, and two seasoned classical Indian musicians from Calcutta; Subrata Bhattacharya and Abhisek Lahiri, who were both on tour and visiting Chicago. We were introduced by a mutual musician friend.
EMME’s concept arose from a conversation between Subrata and myself about a hate crime on a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, which we thought displayed the ignorance that exists about different faiths and cultures from the Middle East and India, not only in America, but elsewhere. We thought about making a project that would emphasize the uniqueness of these rich, yet distinct, cultures and serve as a contrast to many ‘East Meets West’ albums that often lump South Asian and Middle Eastern music into one broad category.
Q: How was your overall experience touring through India this month?
RM: Touring India this month was an exhilarating experience! I’d say one major highlight was being able to see three distinct cities: Kolkata, Jaipur and Delhi. In Kolkata, George and I were able to get a closer look at one of India’s cultural capitals and learn more about its folk music (e.g., Jhoomur and Tusu) as well as one of my favorite literary icons Rabindranath Tagore.
In Jaipur, the world just came together through music and literature. I especially enjoyed reconnecting with friends such as Nathu Lal Solanki (nagarra player from Rajasthan) and Homayun Sakhi (Afghan rubab player in Aga Khan All Stars). Delhi was also amazing because George and I got to perform with friends Raghu and Sudha Raghuraman, masters of Carnatic music, and also meet folks from Amarrass Records, Desmania Design, and One World College of Music.
Q: How is your album ‘East Meets Middle East’ being received by the audiences and media?
RM: Folks at the JLF were very supportive. We’re a little new as a group and still building our audience and media coverage, but social media and streaming site comments have also shown appreciation for what we’re trying to do. Some have expressed that it’s refreshing to get a more in-depth look at these cultures through music. Others enjoy the instruments and how they complement each other.
The sarod and tabla are Indian counterparts to the Middle Eastern oud and darbuka (also called a tabla in the Mid East). Though, I’d say most comments have been about the improvisation. We have a structure for the compositions, but we also leave room to improvise – making each live performance a unique experience for us and the audience.
Q: The tracks Misty Trail and Distant Star really jump out! Can you describe how they were created?
RM: All of the tracks on the album are original compositions. Misty Trail is a composition by Subrata Bhattacharya and Distant Star is an original composition of mine. Initially, Subrata went to a studio in India with Abhisek Lahiri and recorded the composition as a guide track for us to learn, and eventually re-record in Chicago.
Distant Star came about as an improvisation while rehearsing with George in Chicago, which I later arranged. Ultimately, once we had a structure for the pieces, improvisation became the focus. Indeed the whole album was conceived like that. Basically, once Subrata and Abhisek arrived in Chicago, they came to George’s and my studio for rehearsals, which we ended up recording, and that became the album. It’s a live album of original compositions and improvisations, but really it’s a musical dialogue of our encounter.
Q: What other lineups and genres have you experimented with?
RM: I grew up playing everything from rock and blues guitar to Middle Eastern and North African folk and classical music. George and I also have had the group Lamajamal for about ten years, which explores music from the Balkans, Greece, the Middle East, and North Africa. With that group, we include clarinet, bass, guitar, and various Turkish instruments. George also has a group called Byzantine Time Machine, which explores Balkan and Greek music through an electronic medium.
I also have another fusion group called Surabhi, which is a group that celebrates the connections of Indian, African, and Middle Eastern music to Spanish flamenco. The lineup for Surabhi consists of veena, oud, tabla, guitar, cajon, bass, and African percussion. Our groups are based in Chicago.
Both Abhisek and Subrata also have their own fusion projects in Calcutta as well as Europe and the US. Abhisek’s group is Ionah and Subrata’s projects are many, including Flat Earth Ensemble and Naad, to name a few. They’ve also collaborated with countless artists.
I think EMME is unique for all of us. The group explores the relationship between raga and maqam musical styles, but also delves into the improvisational components of those styles, as well as drawing on all of our collective influences in everything from Pink Floyd to Ali Akhbar Khan.
Q: How would you describe your musical journey so far, in terms of phases, genres, collaborations, inner discovery?
RM: For myself, music has been all I’ve ever really known. I went from performing in the family Mid-Eastern band at weddings as a child to playing rock and in punk marching bands to performing classical Turkish and Persian repertoire with the University of Chicago Middle East Music Ensemble to collaborating with world artists and creating groups like EMME.
I know Abhisek also began performing with his father, Pt. Alok Lahiri, at a young age. George, like myself, honed a lot of his background in world musics from Chicago’s diverse communities. It’s all really a continuous journey that unfolds new chapters with every project, encounter, or collaboration. It’s about trying to build experiences where music is a medium for social interactions and dialogue – not just for musicians, but also those with whom we interact.
Q: What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?
RM: As a musician and composer, the great challenge is striking a balance between performing and writing in one’s career. As a performer, sufficient practice to hone one’s craft and deliver a great performance is essential, even when the repertoire is not new. One has to discover something new in what might appear mundane. As a composer, it is important to shift practice routines for performances and allow more time to think creatively for thoughts and inspiration to translate into more writing.
Q: Who would you say are the leading influences in your musical career?
RM: The family band with my father and brother is probably my first leading influence in my musical career as we were able to perform as the house band in Chicago for many visiting artists from the Middle East.
Next, I would say the musicians with whom I performed like Tony Hanna from Lebanon, Magdi El Husseini from Egypt, and Najib Bahri and Mohammed Saleh from Tunisia. A lot of credit is also due to some of Chicago’s own older established musicians who migrated to the US, like Issa Boulos and James Stoynoff.
Q: How do you blend different musical influences and genres, i.e. how do you create fusion without confusion?
RM: It is about mutual respect. For example, it is one thing to say, “Oh, I love Indian or Middle Eastern food,” and another thing to have dinner with an Indian or Middle Eastern family. In the first case, it’s like choosing something as a matter of taste simply because it’s appealing and can offer some spice to your proverbial melody. Perhaps, it’s a start to gauge interest, but confusion on what’s authentic or appropriate can arise.
In the second case, a relationship is formed. One learns the customs, language, and perspective of a culture developing a bond with the people and their tradition. The latter approach is what I appreciate about creating cross-cultural collaborations in music.
Q: What kinds of social and political messages have been conveyed in your recent albums? What is your vision of what music can do in this age of political/economical turmoil?
RM: With EMME, we’re trying to raise awareness that there are similarities and distinctions in the traditions we represent. Both Mid-Eastern and South Asian cultures have robust pluralistic societies consisting of many religions and philosophies that tend to be homogenized in the West, but also misunderstood in the East amongst the people themselves.
Our hope is that music can serve its part in an effort to bring humanity closer in dialogue and make us all more productive. While it is important to celebrate our differences, we should also get over them and realize we face similar issues that affect and should unite us all.
Q: What new album or video are you working on now?
RM: All the members of EMME have their own projects they tend to, but we are looking to begin recording a second album in Chicago around Spring and Summer of 2017.
Q: How is the creative scenario for traditional and fusion music today? Are audiences/venues/labels/artistes very open to such collaboration?
RM: It’s important not to ascribe the label ‘fusion’ to all cross-cultural collaborations. Indeed many traditional styles, such as Spanish flamenco, Indian raga, Mid Eastern maqam, and music from the Americas are organic blends of multiple styles that date back hundreds of years.
Overall, I think there’s an audience for anything one wants to focus on – and in turn, probably a record label or streaming service that’s tailored for or by that audience. There’s room for a lot styles from academic projects like Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road, to cross-genre projects like Junoon, or straight up hip-hop sung in Arabic or Punjabi by emerging artists where these languages are spoken. My hope is that people in general can transcend the labeling of a genre and rather open more to exploring and appreciating sound, whether it’s classical or contemporary, analog or digital.
Q: Where do you see yourself 10 or 15 years from today? What are some ‘˜dream projects’ or visions you are working towards?
RM: 10 to 15 years from today I plan on continuing to work in music production and performance as well as teaching and writing about it. The greater vision is to create more interdisciplinary art projects that allow others to perceive practice of art as a way of life and perceiving the world, not just as a commodity for consumption.
Q: Do you compose on the road also, while traveling?
RM: I always have a recorder and blank sheet music handy. Inspiration strikes when you least expect it sometimes. It could come from seeing something or someone in the street, while waiting for a train, or in a cab driving through the street of Calcutta or Chicago.
Q: What are some unusual reactions you have got during your live performances?
RM: It really depends on the audience and where we’ve played. In my group Lamajamal, we had people come up to us crying saying how a piece of music brought back memories of their father or mother, or of being back in their country. That was the case once with an Armenian woman who was attending a performance at a cultural center.
We’ve also been asked to conduct workshops and lectures about the music and cultures we present. This was the case when Lamajamal presented a workshop on commonalities between Jewish, Turkish, and Middle Eastern Music at Georgetown University. My other group Surabhi has given similar performances and presentations about the commonalities of Indian, Arab, and Spanish music. These presentations are often meant with informative questions and new learning.
A different experience occurred when I was touring last year with a project called Caravanserai. The sponsors of the tour were showcasing arts and artists from the Muslim world to cities in America, where most people had never even met a Muslim, and were informed only by what they saw on TV. Zeshan Bagewadi, an Indian-American musician, and myself headlined the tour. Though we both had Muslim backgrounds, the music we presented was funk and rock n’ roll with elements of Sufi poetry and style.
In our first performance to some community members from the town, someone within earshot said, ‘So this is what terrorist music sounds like!’ That was definitely not a reaction I was expecting on the first day being in this town. After a week-long residency of workshops and community engagement there, we felt that our music and outreach was able to soften their hearts from the first reaction and open their minds by the time of the final performance at the end of the week.
Q: As a Palestinian, how important is culture to the people’s identity, and how do you see yourself contributing to this preservation?
RM: Culture is the image and representation of any people’s identity. Yet, I also think it’s important to make sure we identify with who we are – musician, artist, poet, athlete – more than where we come from. In other words, I’d rather be considered an artist who happens to be Palestinian, than always being viewed as a Palestinian artist.
My background is in Global Music Studies and I find that by knowing and passing along music from my culture or other cultures with which I engage (e.g., Indian, Turkish, Balkan, American) I can represent them better from an artistic perspective than a nationalist one. There are many Mid Eastern and South Asian artists who know their traditional cultures very well, but who also have experience in music from outside, yet existing within, their own cultures in genres like rock n’ roll, hip hop, jazz, and classical music. In that sense, they still represent who they are and also where they come from.
Artists like Junoon, Zubin Mehta, M.I.A, and the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM are all examples of artists from specific cultures who are also global representatives. In short, if I were to represent my ethnic heritage, I would say demonstrating how I am a global citizen would be one way.
Q: Do you also teach workshops for students and musicians?
RM: All of the members of EMME are also teachers of their respective craft. George and I both work at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and also work as teaching artists conducting workshops and lectures in schools and universities. Abhisek and Subrata also have many private students and have given residency workshops at schools around the world including the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
Q: How has the music industry changed over the years, and how has it impacted you?
RM: I think acts have come to rely greatly on the do-it-yourself model with emphasis on income from live performance, self-publishing, and potential placement for licensing than record sales, which in today’s digital economy can be negligible for artists. The ability to reach a whole new audience has never been easier through the advent of social media and recording technology. As for other aspects, we learn to embrace and utilize tools responsibly, whether they be social media or instruments like electronic loops and mixers.
Q: What is your message to the aspiring musicians out there?
RM: The only way you’ll get to where you’re going is if you remain in the game. All measures of success are relative. One does not have to be a superstar to have a career in music, even though that, too, is a legitimate aspiration. I’ve found it to be more rewarding to contemplate what we can contribute to the world as artists and how the relationships we build along the way truly determine our success.
Q: What is your message to your audiences?
RM: Support live music and art. Practice an art, whatever it may be, if just for the sake of appreciating expression and what art means to humanity. In a world, caught up in technology, nothing will ever replace the need for face to face time whether one is a practitioner, student, or observer.
“Music is a fantastic communication medium” – French cross-cultural flutist-composer Jean-Luc Thomas
Based in Brittany, French flutist and composer Jean-Luc Thomas has traveled around the world for a series of musical collaborations. Celtic traditions blend in a creative mix with African, Arab and South American sounds in his albums. Spanning folk, classical music and jazz, Jean-Luc continues to cover a wide range of sounds and styles in his projects. His earlier albums include Ainara, Translations, The Dance of Fire, Parallel Horizon, Namou, Kej, Hastan, Dibenn, and History of Water, Tree and Stone.
I caught two performances of his fusion lineup promoting his most recent album, Magic Flutes, as part of an India tour. He performed with Indian musicians Ravichandra Kulur (flute), Giridhar Udupa (ghatam), and Muthu Kumar (tablas, cajon, djembe, darbuka). They played at Alliance Francaise and The B-Flat Bar in Bangalore. In this interview, Jean-Luc speaks on his collaboration of Celtic and Carnatic styles of music, his decades-long musical journey, and message to the world.
Q: How would you describe your musical journey so far, in terms of phases, genres, collaborations, inner discovery, and so on?
JL: I learned to play the flute alone, then I learned to play music thanks to others. I started with no teachers because flute, at that time, was very new in Brittany. So I had to find the basic technical things by myself. Then I met old singers of Breton traditional musics who gave me times and songs, then I went to Ireland to play during the sessions they have in pubs.
Here I learned many technical things and lots of tunes. I was a traditional musician for 15 years (quite successful), but I felt I had to listen to others sounds. So I went to Mali, Poland, Brazil, Kurdistan, Tunisia, Niger, and so on. I played each time with local musicians. I also started to meet jazz musicians, story-tellers, electronic musicians – and little by little I discovered new sounds, new territory. I improved my availability and capacity to listen and then play with other people.
So, I always keep one feet in my local music and the other foot in encounters of other artists with improvisation as a key to communicate.
Q: How did the lineup for Magic Flutes get formed in France, and then in India?
JL: In France, Ravi and I decided to invite Camilo Menjura on guitar for the recording (we had met him earlier in Rudolstadt (Germany) in 2013). When we started recording Ravi and I immediately thought about Camilo. Camilo is a Colombian guitar player living in London. When we performed last June, he couldn’t leave England for administrative reasons, so we had Philippe Bayle at the guitar. In June, we also performed with tabla player Prabhu Edouard, who plays kanjira and some other percussion as well. It was a great moment!
In India, Ravi wanted to try several combinations, I think it was a very good idea. We could change the colors of each concert, so we had Giridhar Udupa (ghatam), Muthu Kumar (tablas, cajon, darbuka), Swam Selvanganesh (kanjira), and Rafiq Langa (khartal). We played sometimes in trio, sometimes in quartet. I completely trusted Ravi on his musical propositions. So, every concert was a different party.
Q: What are the features of Carnatic music that makes it possible for you to collaborate so well with South Indian musicians?
JL: As a Breton traditional musician, I come from a modal music, not tonal. This is the specificity of Carnatic ragas. We play modes or ragas and not tonality. I’m fascinated with modes, music with drones, which is very meditative and very inspiring for improvisation. The time stops, you are in a meditative atmosphere and then you let the ideas become organized, the improvisation emerges, and you let music go through you!
Q: How was your overall experience touring through India this month? What were some highlights for you?
JL: We had very good concerts in Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Delhi. Every concert was different because we changed the line up for each concert. It was a really good experience to travel through India with Ravichandra as a guide. I saw so many different things, met so many people, listen to so many amazing musics, eaten so many different meals, that I need a little bit of time for a good digestion of all that!
Q: How did the musicians know each other?
JL: I met Ravi in Rudolstadt in July 2014, Camilo Menjura was also a part of Magic Flute’s first creation in Rudolstadt. Then sometimes I introduced Ravi to Western musicians, sometimes Ravi introduced me to Indian musician. Music is a fantastic communication medium!
During the Indian tour, many musicians met just before the concert. The musical quality of each of them allows lot of precision and freedom for us. Music allows that situation, especially if you are ready to improvise, which is obvious in India, but not so obvious sometimes in Europe.
Q: How is your album being received by audiences and media?
JL: We had very good feedbacks of this album, internationally (Canada, South America, USA Belgium) and in France (including Brittany, where I live). Endorsements and praise have come from Cloudcast (Canada), RTBF (Belgium), Le Tregor, Global Village, Trad Magazine, and Ethnotempos.
Q: The tracks ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Carnaak Nagin’ really jump out! Can you describe how they were created?
JL: I composed the fast melody of Crossroads for Ravi in 2014 when I came to Bangalore. I was thinking about his flute and this tune arrived. Then we practiced together and Ravi wanted to have an aalap. When he played it, I was thinking of the ancient Pibroch (Piobaireachd or Celmar) of the old tradition of bagpipes from Scotland. Then Ravi composed the last tunes, and one after the other, each of us brought an idea; we tried, we kept, we changed, we threw, we kept some elements. It is the way we work together. On the album, the presence and colors of Camilo Menjura are awesome, and he contributes a lot to the sound of this album.
Carnaak Nagin is another story. We were talking about common groove and scales. I played a very old tune from South Brittany on a very old scale (microtonality, ¼ tone) and Ravi immediately enjoyed it, so we played it again. The tempo arrived and the dances from South-Brittany could communicate with Indian snake’s dances. For the recording, Ravi also wanted to have additional percussion and they also bring their own colors in this album, on tunes like Carnaak Nagin. (Carnac is a place in south Brittany famous for menhirs and dolmens of the old Celts tradition.)
Q: What other lineups have you played with?
JL: The album original ‘Magic Flutes’ features Camilo Menjura (guitar), Jerome Kerihuel (percussion), and additional percussionists K.U Jayachandra Rao (mridangam), G. Guruprasanna (kanjira) and Muthu Kumar (table, darbuka). For my Bangalore tour in 2014, I collaborated with Arun Kumar (drums), Prakash Kn (bass), and Aman Mahajan (keyboards).
In France, I have teamed up with Philippe Bayle (guitar) and Prabhu Edouard (tablas, kanjir). Other musicians on my India tour this year have been Swami Selvanganesh (kanjira) and Rafiq Langa (karthals).
Q: What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?
JL: As a flute player, you need to work every day on the instrument, so, it’s a lot of time just to keep connected to the instrument. You need to work on technical things, daily exercises on improvisation and traditional music. Then you need to feed your art by listening, reading, observing nature, to find inspiration for compositions, new roads to explore as an artist and, of course, meet other musicians.
And then, you need to work, record albums, perform live. I created a label with Gaby Kerdoncuff, another musician from Brittany, called Hirustica, which is 10 years in 2017. It allows us to record and produce our music with 100% liberty. So you need to be always connected to the instrument, find ideas and be creative, try to perform to make your compositions live on stage or on albums.
Q: Who would you say are the leading influences in your musical career?
JL: So many influencers, from local musicians and singers from Brittany and Ireland to others like Hariprasad Chaurasia, Hermeto Pascoal, Alim Kasimov, Steve Reich, Egberto Gismonti, Eric Dolphy, and Rolland Kirk – without forgetting the amazing nature from Brittany with sea, birds, forests and rivers and all the wonderful musicians I met on my musical journey!
Q: How do you blend different musical influences and genres, i.e. how do you create fusion without confusion?
JL: In all the collaborations I had, I wanted everybody to keep his accent. I think of music as a discussion, sometimes you have to talk, sometimes you have to listen and be silent when the other is speaking. When everybody speaks, that’s confusion for me in music as in life. So, the human quality of the others musicians is also fundamental.
Q: What kinds of social and political messages have been conveyed in your recent albums? What is your vision of what music can do in this age of political and economical turmoil?
JL: We can be Indian, Breton, Nigerian, and so on – but before all we are terrans, we live on this earth, we have our qualities and limit. There are so many things we can’t do alone so we need to work and learn from the other. Anyone else can teach us some important things in music, in life. We need to move the borders, keep our accent, our spices, but cook together something new with humility and sincerity because each is a new school.
1+1 is more than 2. Over religions, politics, and opinions, you have music and the quality of a relationship on stage. I played with so many different musicians. But I felt always the desire to share music above all with all of them. Through music or arts, you can meet so many different people. Learn to accept and enjoy the difference because it helps to learn and grow.
Q: What new album or video are you working on now?
JL: The next album, ‘Serendou.’ will be released in February. It’s a collaboration with the amazing flautist and singer Yacouba Moumouni and Boubacar Souleymane from Niger, we have worked together for 10 years now. We played in Niger, France, Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, and now it’s time for the second album. We have guests Carlos Malta (Pifano-Japurutu) and Bernardo Aguiar (pandeiro) from Rio de Janeiro, and the amazing Michel Godard on tuba. We’ll be on tour in France and Scandinavia in March 2017.
I will also finish a new solo creation ‘Oficina Digital,’ which is a concert where I wrote 100% of the music. I worked with a looper who sent soundtakes I made in Brazil during different stays and my own flute that I loop in real time for diffusion via five speakers around the audience. There is also a video I made in Brazil. It’s a creation with video mappings and spatialized sounds, and takes me a lot of time.
Q: How is the creative scenario for jazz and fusion music in France today?
JL: My humble perception is that it’s still possible to find some places opened to experimentations, creations, far from the big music business. But it’s a fragile network supported by people of an amazing faith in new sounds, radicalities and explorations. I’m surrounded by fine musicians who try to explore new musical horizons, sometimes they can have support from festivals, venues, producers, radios – and sometimes not, but most of them don’t give up and never will.
In the 70s it seemed that everything was possible, now some producers have managed to format music as entertainment and not for art or culture, so it’s not so easy for creative and original artists to be regularly programmed. But there still remain some places and festivals who keep providing spaces for undiscovered sounds.
Q: Are French audiences, venues, labels and artistes very open to collaboration?
JL: Some are, others are not. Most of them are in search of rentability or easy profit. It means mainstream success. As in any city, you can find fast food and cheap bad food restaurants, you’ll find in the world (and France is a part of that), fast listening, quick consuming, big musical gatherings who can survive because they sell lots of beers surrounded by a bad loud sound. But it’s also always possible to find real restaurants with people who prepare good food with originality, ethics and creativity.
Q: Where do you see yourself 10 or 15 years from today? What are some ‘dream projects’ or visions you are working towards?
JL: I have no vision, life has taught me that everything I have is more than any of the dreams I could have. I play with fantastic musicians: Michel Godard, Yacouba Moumouni, Carlos Malta, Ravichandra Kulur, and so on. I never dreamed of that and it’s really deeper and more beautiful that any dreams I could have.
So, no projection, I keep working on my Breton garden, open to Indian spices, African ginger, Brazilian coconut – trying to be honest with me, musicians I play with and audiences who may come to my concerts.
Q: How does your composition process work? When do collaboration and jams come in?
JL: Each composition is different. You can compose thinking about a place, a person, you can compose during an exercise, during a walk in the forest, looking at the sea, or inspired by a book. I always start with a melody. I sing it, then I record it in a non definitive version. I let it sleep for a while and come back to it a few days later to listen with fresh ears – I change some things or maybe not, and then think about the pulse, a bass line, some harmonies.
Then I may continue alone or submit to other musicians who will add their own creativity for the structure, introduction and so on. Sometimes I can do everything at home, sometimes I wait for a rehearsal to fix more some elements. Each composition has its own story!
Q: Do you compose on the road also, while traveling?
JL: It happens, I need calm, time, good vibes, feeling quiet to be able to compose. Very often, I compose after traveling, back home, quiet.
Q: What are some unusual reactions you have got during your live performances?
JL: With Magic Flutes, during our last concert in France in June 2016, many people cried. They had too much emotion relating to the dialogue, respect, love between myself and Ravichandra Kulur. That was very intense for Ravi and me.
Q: Do you also teach workshops for students and musicians?
JL: Yes, very often, it can be traditional music from Brittany or Ireland, or improvisation. I give three or four workshops (from two days to one week) each year.
Q: How has the music industry changed over the years, and what are the effects? For example, downloads, social media, loops/mixers.
JL: Everything changes around us, everyday. So, you have to learn and adapt. I don’t want to be sad about old times. What is happening, happens. I knew vinyl, tapes, CDs, and now digital technology. But in Brittany vinyl is back with lots of interest. So it’s good to be connected to the world, we can listen today to all the music of the world, but do we listen? One thing will never change, it’s the quality of time you spend practicing, rehearsing, listening.
Q: What is your message to the musicians and audiences out there?
JL: Keep faith, work on your personality, open your ears and your heart. Never forget curiosity and alterity!
Music fans should settle in and enjoy the sumptuous ride that is Transparent Water. Co-creator Omar Sosa, the Cuban-born composer, bandleader and pianist, has such recordings as Eggun – The Afri-Lectric Experience, Jog, Ile and Calma under his belt, while Seckou Keita, the Senegalese kora master, has released albums like 22 Strings/Cordes, Afro-Mandinka Soul with his own Seckou Keita Quartet and Clychau Dibon. Joining forces under the Ota Records label, Transparent Water, set for release on February 24th, pairs Mr. Sosa’s Afro-Cuban and jazz sensibilities with the lush African traditions of Mr. Keita’s long musical legacy of his griot family.
Transparent Water is where world music meets world jazz, where tradition meets improvisation and where the lines of spiritual and earthy meet. The result is stunningly evocative.
With Mr. Sosa on piano, Fender Rhodes, sampling, microKorg and vocals and Mr. Keita firmly enticing listeners with his kora mastery, as well as talking drum, djembe, sabar and vocals, listeners are treated to the interplay between these two musicians and composers. But as luck would have it, Mr. Sosa and Mr. Keita turn the music on its ears with the additions of Chinese musician Wu Tong on sheng and bawu; Japanese koto master Mieko Miyazaki; Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles on bata drums, culo’puya, maracas, guataca, calabaza and clave; Korean geojungo player E’Joung-Ju; and Rajasthani nagadi player Mosin Khan Kawa.
Cuban rhythms, African melodies and Asian influences pile up, separate and mesh together in an expansive musical tapestry where it’s impossible to pull at one musical thread and undo the lot.
Like water, Transparent Water flows easy from the jazzy opening track “Dary” into the delicately piano and kora interplay of “In the Forest.” Lush track flows into lush track with goodies like the sheng laced “Black Dream,” the catchy African influenced “Mining-Nah” with Mr. Keita’s vocals warming up the track and mysteriously moody “Another Prayer.”
Listeners can’t help but be charmed by tracks like sassy offering “Fatiliku,” the dreamy musical landscape of “Oni Yalorde” with Mr. Tong on the bawu or the piano lines of “Zululand.” Transparent Water is one of those recordings that requires listeners stop and really listen and it’s best if you just go with its flow.
Mr. Sosa, Mr. Keita and company have conjured up a truly brilliant collaboration on Transparent Water. Mesmerizing, evocative and sophisticated, Transparent Water begs for a listen.
American percussionist Jerry Leake has recorded a superb album where he explores various musical genres. Leake is best known for his Cubist projects where he fused world music, rock and jazz-rock.
Crafty Hands is album dedicated to percussion and it’s a true delight. Jerry Leake uses an arsenal of percussion instruments drawn from many different global cultures, creating a rich and masterfully-crafted palette of rhythms. However, Leake is joined by other musicians, who enrich his work and take the fusion even further, incorporating jazz, rock, and ambient electronic music.
The opening piece, “Crafy Hands”, sets the tone with a traditional Ewe song where he uses a mix of instruments from three of Ghana’s ethnic groups, the Ewe, Dagomba and Ashanti. On top of this he layers Senegalese sabar beats, Moroccan frame drum and karkabas (metal castanets) and well as complex flamenco bulerias. Here, Leake is accompanied by guitars.
On the second piece, an original titled “Apprentice”the music turns electric and more jazz fusion-oriented, combining powerful drum set beats, electric bass, piano and guitar with harmonica along with various other percussion instruments. It’s based on a Dagomba rhythm and melody and showcases the talent of three students from Leake’s Berklee Global Jazz class.
“Time Hunt” is total jazz-rock fusion featuring fantastic synth solos that recall Joe Zawinul, electric guitars that echo Bill Frisell and Leake’s wide-range of percussion, ranging from marimba to tabla and drum set.
On Track 4, “Do you Think Your Thought” Leake invited DJ Mr. Rourke, who adds hip hop vocal samples that are combined with various drums.
“Blue Water” is a short shamanic composition with a flute that sounds Native American along with percussion, water sounds and resonator guitar.
Track 6 features a mesmerizing solo vibraphone performance titled “Alchemy.”
“String Theory” has some of the best electric guitar work on the album, with a soaring guitar that progresses beautifully accompanied by an assortment of irresistible rhythms.
The brief “Mr. Gong Prelude” highlights the gong accompanied by thunder tube. It leads into a traditional Dagombe song titled “Mr. Gong”, where Afro-roots fusion returns with rock-style guitar and outstanding percussion.
Track 10, “Tarang” is a tabla solo by Leake.
The remarkable sound of the talking drum opens “Dub Clef,” another traditional Dagombe tune that is reconstructed as a jazz-rock piece with electric and acoustic guitars and more masterful percussion structures. This piece has very close connections to the sound you’ll find on the Cubist albums.
The solo vibraphone reappears on track 12, “Quarks.”
Mr. Rourke returns with his turntables and samples on the last track, “Begin by Listening”. Spoken word and ethnic vocal samples sound much better than rap in the context of world music. Leake adds trance-like beats.
The lineup on Crafty Hands includes Jerry Leake on sabar, cajón, karkabas, vocals, bendir, gonkogui, atoké, shakers, floor tom, gender wayang, gung-gong, handclaps, lunga, cymbal, drum set, riq, yabla, daval, tar, triangle, marimba, cowbell, agogo, pandero, recorder flutes, water sounds, thunder tube, vibraphone, sogo, sabar, kidi, guiro, atoké, and clave; Randy Roos on nylon string, electric, baritone, MIDI and resonator guitars, bass; Steve Hunt on keyboards; Mr. Rourke on turntables and samples; Santiago Bosch on electric piano; Roni Eytan on harmonica; and Max Gerl on electric bass.
Elbicho was one of Spain’s leading jam bands. The group was forged on the streets in the heart of Madrid. Their rapidly growing and loyal fan base raved about their live performances and eagerly spread the word (along with their first demo recording), to such an extent that it wasn’t long before they received offers from industry giants.
Their live acts, both energetic and addictive, hardly gave a moment’s rest conjugating and fusing flamenco bulerias and tanguillos with an array of diverse styles such as progressive rock, rap, blues, African rhythms and a touch of jazz Based in Madrid. Well known in Spain, but with little exposure outside the country, El Bicho put together a captivating show, appealing to musicians and non-musicians alike, and always bringing the house to its feet.
The band traced its origin to a music workshop directed by Guillermo McGill at the Escuela Popular de Musica, where lead singer Miguel Campello from Elche (eastern Spain) met Victor Iniesta (guitar) and in turn Carlos Tato (bass), Toni Mangas (drums) and David Amores (percussion) join the group forming El Combo Flamenco.
After a year of gigs and composing they recorded their demo Bichos which became a major sell out at their concerts. In 2002 Juan Carlos Aracil (flute) and Pepe Aracil (trumpet) joined the group, elevating the music yet another step, and contributing to establish their definitive sound.
Elbicho’s debut album includes major names in Spain’s Flamenco scene, such as Jorge Pardo, Carles Benavent, Tino di Geraldo, Tomasito, Eva Duran and Javier Alvarez. The record was produced by Tino di Geraldo and Guillermo Quero.
The most recent line-up included Miguel Campello Garzón on vocals, Victor Iniesta Iglesias on guitar, Carlos Tato Moreno on bass, Antonio Mangas Ovide on drums, David Cobo Amores on percussion, Juan Carlos Aracil Sala on flute, Mario Díaz Bermejo on keyboards, and José Andreu Garzón on trumpet.
Several of El Bicho’s members had side projects such as world music and jazz fusion band Candelaria.
On May 16th of 2008, elbicho recorded a live album in Madrid that includes two music CDs and a DVD with live concert footage. De Imaginar contains passionate flamenco rooted songs that are popular with the public as well as extensive instrumental jams where elbicho blends high energy Andalusian rock with Afro-Latin beats, jazz fusion and much more.
In June of 2010 the band announced that it was going to take a break and scheduled as farewell tour. As a farewell gift to the group’s fans, the DRO label released a boxed set To Junto that includes elbicho’s entire discography plus a bonus CD with demos and other unreleased material.