All posts by Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

Interview with Daniel Ho about his Collaboration with The Grasslands Ensemble

Ukulele virtuoso Daniel Ho talks to World Music Central about his newly released album Between the Sky & Prairie, a collaboration with Mongolian musicians The Grasslands Ensemble. The Sky & Prairie is a beautifully-crafted album produced by Wu Chin-tai “Judy Wu” (Wind Music) and Daniel Ho.

 

 

Your latest album, Between the Sky & Prairie is a collaboration with The Grasslands Ensemble. How did you come in contact with the musicians?

I had been working on world music projects with Wind Music, a Taiwanese record company, for around five years. We recorded three Taiwanese aboriginal albums and a project with Wu Man (the pipa player for the Silk Road Ensemble) and Cuban percussionist Luis Conte. Our goal was to present traditional music, untouched, in a contemporary framing. We were lucky to receive two Grammy nominations and four Golden Melody Awards (Taiwan’s Grammy Award) for these collaborations and were invited to produce an album of Mongolian music. We visited Mongolia a few times and met many wonderful musicians, which became The Grasslands Ensemble.

 

The Grasslands Ensemble & Daniel Ho – The Sky & Prairie

 

Tell us about the recording process in terms of location, rehearsing, communication and so forth.

My co-producer, Judy Wu, helped to select the music with executive producer Li Dong. I don’t speak Chinese so she also communicated my arrangement ideas to the musicians as well as scheduled the recordings.

How did this experience affect you?

I had never been to Mongolia and I am grateful that music brought me half-way around the world to experience its rich culture and breathtaking grasslands. I treasure my new friends who have been so generous with their music.

Between the Sky & Prairie is released by Wind Records, a Taiwanese record label. How was the experience?

Wind Music is a wonderful record label. I admire their dedication to preserving culture and the entire staff is so kind and thoughtful. I always look forward to doing projects with them because it is more like having fun with friends than working!

The physical version of the album is gorgeous, with a beautifully- designed hard cover book. Is this the first time you release a project like this?

Actually, all of the albums we’ve released with Wind Music look like this. We put everything we can into all aspects of our projects – the music, recording quality, graphic design, music videos and documentaries.

Will you be doing more collaborations with musicians from other musical traditions?

I don’t have any specific plans right now, but I look forward to what’s around the corner. I’ve found the greatest joy in learning about the origins of music – how sound is used to convey emotion in ways that don’t conform to our Western framework of melodic development, harmonic structure, rhythm, and form.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

Composition is at the core of my music. I’m always trying to open my mind melodically (traditional world music is great for this because its melodies are independent of Western rules and restrictions), expand my harmonic vocabulary, and develop my ability to function in advanced rhythmic settings like odd meters and polyrhythms. African, Indian and Latin music are wonderfully rhythmic.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

I love Bach’s voice leading and counterpoint and use his techniques for all of my writing. Harmonically, Dave Grusin is the strongest influence on my music, and rhythmically, I draw from world music influences as well as great drummers like Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd.

 

Daniel Ho – Photo by Lydia Miyashiro

 

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

I first started recording in high school with my friend David Ho on a Tascam four-track cassette tape recorder. In the early 90’s, my first professional recordings were on 24-track, 2-inch tape recorders in studios in Los Angeles.

Around the mid-1990’s the Alesis ADAT began the revolution of affordable studio-quality home recording. From there it went to Mac-based fully editable digital recording in the mid to late 90’s. Technology quickly changed how we capture sound.

I started my record company, Daniel Ho Creations, in the mid-90’s and have recorded over 100 albums in my home studio. Without the pressure of paying for studio time, it is incredibly liberating.

Aside from Mongolian music, are there any other musical traditions that interest you?

I love all kinds of world music, though some of them would require me to be more skilled before I’d be able to collaborate effectively.

For example, I love Cuban music, but I would first need to develop my sense of rhythm before I could play with Cuban musicians.

What ukulele models are you playing now? Who builds them?

I play a Romero Creations Tiny Tenor. Pepe Romero, Jr. is a world- class luthier and the son of classical guitar legend Pepe Romero.

Four years ago, I had the opportunity to design this instrument with him. We looked at all the qualities we love about the ‘ukulele, like its portability and sound, and tried to expand on them. We came up with the Tiny Tenor, which is a full tenor scale ‘ukulele that fits in a concert ‘ukulele gig bag.

The instrument caught on over the past few years and Romero Creations is now distributed by YAMAHA in Japan. For me, this experience was like writing a song with wood. It is exciting to see people all over the world making music with an instrument we created! You can find more information about our instruments at RomeroCreations.com.

Have you even played a Portuguese cavaquinho or a Spanish timple?

No I haven’t. I’d like to though.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

I would love to do a project with Yo Yo Ma. Working with Dave Grusin would be amazing, too. Or maybe a mandolin and ‘ukulele project with Chris Thile.

What music are you currently listening to?

I really enjoy listening to James Taylor. I love the sincerity of his songwriting and voice. But I don’t do a lot of listening. As a writer, I try to avoid getting melodies stuck in my head which could end up in something I’m composing.

What new projects are you working on?

Presently, I’m working on a comprehensive ‘ukulele program with YAMAHA music school. I’ve been a student of music all my life and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned so far. The project will launch in April 2018.

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Artist Profiles: Remmy Ongala

Remmy Ongala

Known as “The Doctor,” Remmy Ongala was based in Dar es Salaam with his band Orchestre Super Matimila. In Tanzania, Remmy’s popularity amongst the people particularly the young was unrivalled – only the President was better known.

The steady melodic drive of Congolese-style soukous was at the root of Matimila’s music lifted by the fluid East African guitar style and infectious Tanzanian rhythms. The music had a broad spacious quality with hints of Latin and Caribbean influence. Above this soared the rich soulful vocals of Remmy Ongala.

Remmy’s aim was to make people dance but also to make them think. The voice of the Tanzanian artist always had something politically astute or deeply philosophical to say. His concerns were rooted in both the daily life of Dar es Salaam and politics on a global scale. By introducing English lyrics he widened his potential audience yet further.

As he said ‘I am successful in Tanzania because I write songs about serious topics; my music is known as Ubongo Beat because in Swahili ubongo means brain and my music is heavy thinking music.’
Remmy Ongala died on December 13, 2010 in Dar es Salaam.

Discography:

Songs for the Poor Man (Real World 235, 1990)
Mambo (Real World 232, 1991)
Sema (WOMAD Select, 1996)

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Artist Profiles: Relativity

Relativity

Relativity was a groundbreaking Celtic super group that played traditional Irish and Scottish music with a new edge” as well as original tunes.

It tied together the talents of some of the best Irish and Scottish contemporary folk musicians, featuring members from The Bothy Band (Micheal O Domhnaill and Triona Ni Dhomhnaill) and Silly Wizard (Johnny and Phil Cunningham).

Several members of the band went on to create another band called Nightnoise which became very popular.

Musicians:

Johnny Cunningham – fiddle
Micheal O Domhnaill – guitar
Phil Cunningham – accordion, keyboards
Triona Ni Dhomhnaill – vocals, keyboards

Discography:

Relativity (Green Linnet, 1985)
Gathering Pace (Green Linnet, 1987)

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Artist Profiles: Reem Kelani

Reem Kelani – Photo by Phillip Ryalls

 

Reem Kelani was born in Manchester, in the UK and brought up in Kuwait. Reem’s father comes from Ya’bad near Jenin and her mother from Nazareth in Galilee. Reem enjoyed early exposure to all sorts of music. She learned the piano and listened to the Jazz standards her father used to sing at home. She studied the Quran as a child and used to hear the calls to prayer about her in Kuwait. Life in the Diaspora also meant that she was exposed to the music of the Arabian Peninsula, Iran East Africa, the Levant and Egypt. It was while at a family wedding in the Galilee that Reem as a child was first taken by Palestinian music.

Reem has been recording and collating folk songs from women in her maternal home of Nazareth, in the refugee camps of Palestine and Lebanon and elsewhere in the Diaspora.

Now considered as one of the foremost researchers and performers of Palestinian music Reem Kelani recorded Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora. Some of the songs on the CD are Reem’s research and arrangement of traditional (and some very old) Palestinian songs; the others are her own musical settings of popular and resistance poetry by Mahmoud Darwish, Salma Khadra, Jayyusi Rashid Husain and Mahmoud Salim al-Hout.

Reem’s band includes a Jazz rhythm section comprising Zoe Rahman on piano, Idris Rahman on tenor saxophone clarinet and bass clarinet, Oli Hayhurst on double bass and Patrick Illingworth on drums. Egyptian violinist Samy Bishai and Iranian percussionist Fariborz Kiani complete the line-up.

Other artists on Sprinting Gazelle D include: Armenian duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan (playing the ancient and haunting Palestinian double-clarinet the yarghul); film-composer Dirk Campbell (who lends his string arrangements and nay playing); Salah Dawson Miller (on Arabic percussion); Paul Clarvis (on drums and frame drums) and Sonia Slany with her Solid Strings Quartet.

Reem Kelani sees her project as a means of demonstrating the fact of the Palestinians’ existence now and in the past. She views her musical journey as both historical and political personal and collective. She seeks to point out suffering and to highlight celebration. Her journey is a musical one through the written and oral history of a people who are proud of their collective sense of poetry stories music and existence. This is manifested in the detailed accompanying booklet which includes introductory notes for each song lyrics in Arabic and English and a comprehensive glossary of musical and cultural terms.

Leon Rosselson of Fuse Records offered his advice and his record label. This gave Reem the opportunity to produce the CD herself thus maintaining her musical and cultural integrity and her independence. Raising the necessary funds for the project was by no means easy but with the help of friends, family and supporters the CD was finally made. It took two years in the process and is the culmination of more than 2 years of effort and hope.

Discography:

Sprinting Gazelle – Palestinian Songs from the Motherland and the Diaspora (2006)

Reem Kelani: Live at the Tabernacle (2016)

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Stirring Afro-Flamenco Explorations

Raúl Rodríguez – La Raíz Eléctrica (Fol, 2017)

Spanish multi-instrumentalist, composer, researcher and inventor Raúl Rodríguez has released another impressive recording titled La Raíz Eléctrica.

The new album continues Raúl Rodríguez’s explorations of flamenco, Caribbean and African music connections. On La Raíz Eléctrica you’ll find a delectable mix of flamenco, Afrobeat, Cuban son, Haitian vodoo rhythms and Andalusian rock.

La Raíz Eléctrica features a remarkable cast of guests, including Haitian musicians from Lakou Mizik, Boukman Eksperyans as well as Paul Beaubrun; American singer Jackson Browne; and other extraordinary musicians.

Raúl Rodríguez showcases his talent playing a wide range of musical instruments including two variations of the Cuban tres he came up with: the flamenco tres and the electric tres, which appears in this album for the first time.

La Raíz Eléctrica has it all: fiery percussive pieces, notable solo guitar performances and inspiring songs.

 

 

You don’t want to miss the physicals version. La Raíz Eléctrica comes with a 100+ page hard cover book with essays, photos , credits, English-language translations and a cover by one of Spain’s most talented graphic designers, Mariscal.

The lineup includes Raúl Rodríguez on vocals, tres flamenco, electric tres, electric guitar, flamenco guitar, lap steel guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals, keyboards, palmas (flamenco handclap percussion), bombo, caja, shekere, karkabas, kazoo; Aleix Tobias on drums, cajon, calabash, darbuka, bells, bendir, congas, tambourine and effects; Pablo Martin Jones on cajon, palmas, bell, kalimbas, bongos, congas, bells; Guillem Aguilar on bass; Mario Mas on electric and flamenco guitar; Domi Jr. on jembe; Peterson “Tipiti” Joseph and James Acarrier on kone (Haitian metal horns); Jackson Browne on vocals; Javier Mas on archlute; Paul Beaubrun on electric guitar; Theodore “Lòlò” Beaubrun on lead and backing vocals; Mimerose P. “Manzé” Beaubrun, Natacha Massillon, Caroline Dejean Andrus, Donier Mondesir, and Emilio Cuervo on backing vocals; Domi Serralbo and Paco Pavia on palmas; and dancer Juan de Juan.

 

 

La Raíz Eléctrica is a masterfully-crafted cross-pollination of musical styles by one of Spain’s most gifted musicians.

Buy La Raíz Eléctrica in Europe

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Artist Profiles: Rebirth Brass Band

Rebirth Brass Band

New Orleans ensemble Rebirth Brass Band was formed in 1983. The group carries musical tradition through the decades with a revolving cast of musicians.

Brothers Philip and Keith Frazier and their friend Kermit Ruffins first started the band with members of the Joseph S. Clark Senior High School marching band. Rebirth has recorded many albums won a Grammy and toured Europe and the U.S.

Rebirth Brass Band has seen its share of hardships. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated their home city including the neighborhood of Treme which is now widely known due to the HBO TV series of the same name which followed neighborhood citizens as they rebuilt their homes and lives. Through the years Rebirth Brass Band which was featured in the series has used music to create hope unity and a sense of place even while marching around the world.

Discography:

Here to Stay! (Arhoolie Records, 1984)
Feel Like Funkin’ It Up (Rounder Records, 1989)
Do Whatcha Wanna (Mardi Gras Records, 1991)
Rebirth Kickin’ It Live (Rounder Records, 1991)
Take It To The Street (Rounder Records, 1992)
Rollin’ (Rounder Records, 1994)
We Come To Party (Shanachie, 1997)
Main Event: Live At The Maple Leaf (Mardi Gras Records, 1999)
Hot Venom (Mardi Gras Records, 2001)
Rebirth for Life (2004)
Ultimate Rebirth Brass Band (Mardi Gras Records, 2004)
Throwback (Basin Street Records, 2005)
25! 25th Anniversary Album (2008)
Rebirth of New Orleans (Basin Street Records, 2011)
Move Your Body (Basin Street Records, 2014)

DVDs:

Never A Dull Moment (2007)

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Artist Profiles: Rebecca Pidgeon

Rebecca Pidgeon

Rebecca Pidgeon, the acclaimed American actress has also displayed her gift as a singer-songwriter on her several well-received albums with Chesky Records. Pidgeon’s style includes elements from folk, pop, jazz and Celtic traditions.

Rebecca Pidgeon was born October 10, 1965 in Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA). While a teenager in Scotland, music came as naturally to Pidgeon as breathing. She sang along with the radio and her parents’ Beatles and Joni Mitchell records as a light escape from her demanding acting studies. In Edinburgh, a friend asked her to sing on his demo tape. “I didn’t know I was a singer at all,” she recalls. “At first I felt ridiculous because I hadn’t trained to be a singer hadn’t even planned it. I didn’t feel like a genuine singer and the first songs I wrote didn’t feel like real songs. It was only when people started saying to me ‘That’s a wonderful song’ that I finally began believing I was a singer and a songwriter.”

Pidgeon made two celebrated British albums with the folk-pop band Ruby Blue, shared the stage with Lyle Lovett and Van Morrison and played a series of New York gigs with Anthony Coote while she was starring in the New York stage production of Oleanna.

By the age of 23 the actress had found work in theater film and on BBC television starring with Anthony Hopkins, David Warner, Ian Holm and Dame Peggy Ashcroft. She had just played a lead in a star-strewn BBC production of Uncle Vanya when she moved to the United States in 1990 and married playwright David Mamet. “Coming to America was a huge change. I didn’t have a plan in my head and I had to start all over again with both my acting and my music,” she says.

After returning to the United States, Pidgeon happened to hear a Kenny Rankin album that was released on Chesky Records, the New York-based audiophile record label. “It was recorded without overdubbing and the sound was so beautiful and natural that I knew it was what I wanted. I wished to get away from the over-produced approach I’d known in England.” So began Pidgeon’s relationship with Chesky Records.

Her first Chesky release, The Raven featured Pidgeon’s striking version of “Spanish Harlem.” The Raven went on to become an audiophile classic thanks to Pidgeon’s crystalline voice and Chesky’s high-fidelity recording techniques. Her second album, New York Girls Club brought her unique singing and songwriting to more music lovers. “Songwriting became a very important form of self-expression for me a rich part of my life,” Pidgeon explains.

While growing up in Scotland Pidgeon’s father knew many Scottish songs in addition to American and British music. Pidgeon’s third, Four Marys showcases Rebecca’s unique interpretations of timeless Celtic folk songs.

Between album projects, Pidgeon has starred in the Mamet plays Oleanna, Speed the Plow, The Old Neighborhood and the motion pictures The Spanish Prisoner, The Winslow Boy and State & Main.

Discography:

Down From Above with Ruby Blue (1990)
The Raven (Chesky Records, 1994)
New York Girls Club (Chesky Records, 1996)
The Four Marys (Chesky Records, 1998)
Tough On Crime (2005)
Behind The Velvet Curtain (2008)
Slingshot (2012)
Blue Dress On (2013)
Bad Poetry (2014)

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Artist Profiles: Rebeca Mauleon

Rebeca Mauleon

Rebeca Mauleon is a prolific pianist composer arranger as well as author and educator. She has performed with acclaimed luminaries Latin, rock, pop and world music artists, including Carlos Santana, Mickey Hart, Tito Puente, Steve Winwood, Israel “Cachao” López, Giovanni Hidalgo, Carlos Patato Valdez, Joe Henderson and others.

Her performing and arranging credits include Tito Puente (Goza Mi Timbal), Steve Winwood (Junction Seven), and Carlos Patato Valdez (Ritmo y Candela). In the 1990s she recorded and toured with Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum as its Musical Director; highlights include Woodstock ’99 the Conan O’Brien show and the Regis and Kathy Lee Show.

As a producer, Mauleon’s first solo release Round Trip garnered international critical acclaim. As the leader of her own ensemble, Rebeca has appeared at numerous renowned music festivals including the Kennedy Center’s “Women in Jazz” festival in 1999, the Monterey Jazz Festival and San Francisco and San Jose Jazz Festivals. In 2001 she was the recipient of the prestigious Meet The Composer New Residencies Award for a three-year residency at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Rebeca is also much in-demand as a teacher and clinician throughout the U.S. and Europe specializing in Latin music performance and history, combining hands-on master classes with high-energy performances by her ensemble. She is the author of several texts on Latin music technique (all published through Sher Music). She has also published articles for top industry magazines including Keyboard, Modern Drummer, Mix en Español and Bass Player.

Rebeca is a tenured professor of Latin American Music at City College of San Francisco, a guest lecturer at U.C. Berkeley, and sits on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Jazz Festival.

Discography:

Round Trip (Bembe Records, 1999)
Latin Fire (Rumbeca Music, 2004)
Descarga en California (Universal, 2006)

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Duduk Quartet Depicts the Armenian Spirit

Jivan Gasparyan Duduk Ensemble – Yeraz (Buda Musique, 2017)

On Yeraz, Jivan Gasparyan presents a new, remarkable perspective of the ancient Armenian duduk. The album was recorded in Geghard, a medieval monastery in the Kotayk region of Armenia that is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The lineup on Yeraz is an all-duduk quartet that performs evocative and bittersweet musical pieces representing the agony, optimism and vivacity of the Armenian people.

Personnel: Jivan Gasparyan on duduk; Jivan Gasparyan Jr. on duduk; Armen Ghazarian on duduk; and Vazgen Makaryan on duduk.

Yeraz is an outstanding recording by the great maestro of the duduk joined by three equally talented duduk players.

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Artist Profiles: Razón de Son

Raúl Rodriguez, Razón de Son – Photo by Oscar Romero

Razón de Son is a creative research project that investigates the intercultural origin of early flamenco music. The research uses a double method of investigation: on one side the anthropological background and on the other musical experimentation.

Razon de Son aims to expand the musical storyline by tracing back to the deeply mestizo culture heir of the cultural crossover that occurred in the Afro-Caribbean colonies and the Andalusian ports of Seville and Cadiz between 16th and 19th centuries.

Raul Rodriguez creates new tunes and reinterpretations of the ancient Afro-Hispanic dances. He also introduced a new musical instrument that he calls the tres flamenco, combining Cuban son and flamenco toque which opens the possibilities of a new language: Son Flamenco.

Razon de Son also applies the latest historical and musical studies around the multiple sources that influenced flamenco music. This idea was developed over the last few years by several authors such as Faustino Nuez, Jose Luis Ortiz-Nuevo. J. L. Navarro Garcia and Santiago Auseron offering some of the most interesting perspectives around the basic fundamentals of the flamenco culture.
This new perspective not only shows new origins of Flamencos most deeply rooted traditions but also highlights the importance of the contribution of black music from the Andalusian ports of the XVI to XVIII centuries to flamenco music. Detailed studies show that the African dances already existed in the Spanish Golden Age and had a decisive influence on the development of many of the modern Flamenco dances thus opening up a path to follow in order to continue to discover new tools of expression new sones for the future.

In 2003. Raul Rodriguez founded the celebrated band Son de la Frontera featuring for the first time the Cuban tres in Flamenco in an homage work to Diego del Gastor. He produced both albums of the band for Nuevos Medios: Son de la Frontera (2004) and Cal (2006). The band got international reputation receiving several awards as Flamenco Hoy 25 Best Instrumental Album, BBC Radio World Music Awards as Best European Album 2008. Son de la Frontera toured worldwide and played in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, La Habana Miami, Mexico DF, Montreal, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, etc. from 2003 to 2008.

Razon de Son is Raul Rodriguez’s continuation of his musical research of early flamenco.

Line-up: Raul Rodriguez – tres cubano; Mario Mas – Spanish guitar; Aleix Tobias on percussion; and Guillem Aguilar – bass

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