All posts by Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV 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 albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

Artist Profiles: Girma Beyene

Girma Beyene with Akale Wube

Girma Beyene was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He is a renowned pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader.

Beyene is credited for arranging over 60 songs in the 1960s and 70s during the Golden Era of Ethiopian music. After a long break from music, he was convinced to go back to performing by his musical disciples, French band Akalé Wubé, a group deeply influenced by Ethiopian music.

Discography:

Éthiopiques Volume 8: Swinging Addis (Buda Musique, 2000)
Éthiopiques Volume 22: Alèmayèhu Eshèté, featuring Girma Bèyènè (Buda Musique, 2007)
Éthiopiques Volume 30: “Mistakes On Purpose”, with Akalé Wubé (2017, Buda Musique, 2017)

Share

Artist Profiles: Mames Babegenush

Mames Babegenush

Mames Babegenush was founded in Copenhagen in 2004. It is a six-piece ensemble that combines klezmer music, Scandinavian roots and Eastern European traditions.

Lineup: Andreas Møllerhøj on double bass; Lukas Rande on saxophones; Morten Ærø on drums; Nicolai Kornerup on accordion; Bo Rande on flügelhorn; and Emil Goldschmidt on clarinet.

Discography:

Klezmer Killed The Radiostar (Calibrated Music, 2009)
My Heart Aches When The Angels Dance (Gateway Music, 2011)
Full Moons & Pay Days [Remixes and Originals] (Gateway Music, 2012)
Mames Babegenush (Math Records, 2014)
Mames Babegenush with Strings (Galileo Records, 2017)

Share

Artist Profiles: Saraswathi Ranganathan

Saraswathi Ranganathan

Indian American musician Saraswathi “Sara” Ranganathan is an Indian Classical veena performer and cross-cultural musical ambassador. She was born in Mysore and grew up in a musical family. Ranganathan learned veena from her mother Shantha Ranganathan and from Karnataka Kalashree EP Alamelu in Bengaluru (Bangalore). She has been performing and teaching for over three decades.

Saraswathi Ranganathan won the ‘Best Asian Entertainer’ award at the 37th Chicago Music Awards in 2018.

She is passionate about presenting the veena to a diverse audience through concerts at world music festivals, collaborations with artists from different genres, creative workshops at schools, lecture-demonstrations at universities for world music courses, educational performances at museums and other distinguished places of public interest, demos at libraries.

Ranganathan was the first Carnatic veena artist designated to perform in an off-Broadway play, “Jungle Book,” directed by Mary Zimmerman and supported in part by Disney Theatrical Productions.

Saraswathi Ranganathan holds a master’s degree in Sanskrit and an MBA from Loyola University of Chicago. She directs her non-profit music school, Ensemble of Ragas, in Schaumburg, a Chicago suburb, teaching Carnatic classical vocal and veena.

Discography:

The Magic of Veena, Vol. 2 (Ensemble of Ragas, 2011)
Refreshing Raga Blues (2015)

Share

The Multiple Sides of Ruben Blades

Ruben Blades Presents Paraiso Road Gan

Ruben Blades Presents Paraiso Road Gang (RB Records, 2019)

Famed singer-songwriter, producer and actor Ruben Blades is enjoying a highly productive phase. Recently, he has released excellent salsa and jazz albums, appears as an actor in the great zombie spinoff Fear the Walking Dead TV series and develops other fun projects. Ruben Blades Presents Paraiso Road Gan is an endeavor where Ruben takes music in a different direction and showcases Panamanian talent as well.

“As an artist, part of my function is to provoke reactions, stimulate discussion and tear down stereotypes,” says Ruben about Paraiso Road Gang.

In the album credits, Ruben appears as El Hijo de Anoland (Anoland’s son). Anoland Diaz is Ruben’s mother and he uses this artistic name when he experiments with other musical genres.

The album opens with the song “No te Calles,” a collaboration with alternative rock band Making Movies. The group includes two Panamanian brothers, guitarist and vocalist Enrique Chi and bassist Diego Chi; and Mexican brothers Juan Chaurand on percussion and keyboards and Andrés Chaurand on drums. On this piece, rock meets a wall of global drums.

“El País” is a delightful rock song with engaging lyrics in Spanish, elegant jazz trumpet and overall excellent vocal work.

On “Love Me or Leave Me,” Ruben switches to irresistible roots reggae with English vocals and a rocking guitar solo.

Says Ruben about Paraiso Road Gan : “This album represents the fulfillment of an intention that I expressed more than three decades ago. Make a record with material other than what I usually interpret and produce, in Spanish and English. This is “Paraiso Road Gang.”

On “Templo de Agua,” Ruben collaborates with renowned American bagpiper Eric Rigler from Bad Haggis. It’s a potent mix of rock and world music with Celtic influences and vocals in Spanish.

Panamanian rapper Pash appears on “Panamá Gris,” a song that incorporates salsa and rock.

“Nación Rica, Nación Pobre” is a Spanish language blues-rock song; a sharp socially conscious comparison between life for blacks in Haiti and the United States and also a critique of world powers.

Pop love song “Mírame” gives voice to singer-songwriter Horacio Valdés.

“Dime (Que puedo hacer sin Ti)” presents a love song with folk, rock and pop elements.

The final track, “La China Medina” is a really fun piece with rock, funk and retro disco beats and strings.

Paraiso Road Gang

The lineup includes El Hijo de Anoland on vocals; Luis Enrique Becerra on keyboards and chorus; Marco Linares on guitars; Daniel Ortega on drums; Ademir Berrocal on percussion; Germán “Chispa” Lawson on bass; Juan Carlos “Wichy” López on first trumpet and Flugelhorn; Alejandro “Chichisin” Castillo on second trumpet and flugelhorn; Avenicio Núñez on first rombione; Francisco Delvecchio on second trombone; Carlos Ubarte on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Karla Vargas on chorus; Carlos Pérez Bidó on batá drums; Roberto Delgado on bass; Jose Ramón Guerra on percussion; Raúl “Toto” Rivera on percussion; Marcos Barraza on congas; Juan Antonio Berna on piano; Idígoras Bethancourt on trombone; Enrique Santamaría on guitars and bass; Néstor González on tenor saxophone; and Ladislao Becerra on harmonica.

“This new genre, “Mixtura”, allows me to present musical explorations that are fun and at the same time educate me,” adds Ruben. “Leaving the comfort zone is something necessary for the creative mind and I will continue to do it periodically. It is something that helps us grow and that prevents indifference from taking over our life.”

Buy Paraiso Road Gang

Share

The Remarkable Nyckelharpa of Toledo

Ana Alcaide

Spanish vocalist, nyckelharpa player and composer Ana Alcaide performed at the RaInforest World Music Festival on Saturday, July 13 at the Theatre Stage.

Ana Alcaide

Ana’s music encapsulates Spanish traditional music, Sephardic traditions and global music influences. She and some of her colleagues live in Toledo, an ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage that used to be the capital of Spain before it moved to nearby Madrid.

Three cultures lived in Toledo during the Middle Age: Christians, Jews and Muslim Moors. Ana Alcaide draws from this deep historic well and delighted the audience in Sarawak with her captivating vocals and enthralling nyckelharpa, a remarkable Swedish instrument that has adapted well to Spanish traditions.

The band featured Spain-based musicians from Germany and the United States: Rainer Seiferth on guitar and Bill Cooley on darbuka, frame drum and psaltery; and Spanish musician Bruno Duque on clarinet and ney.

Share

Ricardo Peixoto’s Remarkably Expressive Brazilian guitar

Ricardo Peixoto – Scary Beautiful (Ricardo Peixoto, 2019)

Brazilian guitarist and composer Ricardo Peixoto collaborates with American and Brazilian jazz and classical musicians Scary Beautiful. Although a lot of the Brazilian jazz made in the United States is smooth bossa nova, Peixoto’s music goes in a totally different direction, incorporating various other Brazilian rhythms and tonalities.

Scary Beautiful is masterfully arranged and features stellar performances by Peixoto, flutist Bob Afifi, pianist Marco Silva and a robust rhythm section.

Ricardo Peixoto Peixoto’s compositions include ensemble pieces with fascinating guitar and flute interplay, rich string and brass ensemble orchestrations and an exquisite piano and guitar duet.

The lineup includes Ricardo Peixoto on guitars; Paul McCandless on soprano saxophone; Ken Cook on piano; Cliff Hugo on bass; Kendrick Freeman on drums; Brian Rice on percussion; Bob Afifi on flute; Paul Hanson on bassoon; Marcos Silva on piano; Scott Thompson, bass; John Santos on percussion; Kendrick Freeman on percussion; Aaron Germain on bass; Rafael Barata on drums; Bernardo Bessler on violin; Priscila Plata Rato on violin; Marie Christine Bessler on viola; Marcus Ribeiro de Oliveira on cello; Claudia Villela on vocals; Rob Reich on accordion; Jessé Sadoc on flugelhorn; Marcelo Martins on tenor saxophone; Aldivas Ayres on trombone; Mike Shapiro on drums; Luiz Brasil on tenor guitar, percussion; Ricardo Guerra on percussion; Harvey Wainapel on clarinets; and Kyle Bruckman on oboe.

Ricardo Peixoto – Scary Beautifu

Scary Beautiful is an impeccable example of Brazilian guitar craftsmanship.

Buy Scary Beautiful

Share

Mexican Roots Fusion and Social Fairness from the Villalobos Brothers

Villalobos Brothers – Somos

Villalobos Brothers – Somos (Villalobos Brothers, 2019)

The Villalobos Brothers hail from Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico area. Their finely-crafted music includes an exquisite mix of traditional son jarocho, contemporary Latin jazz, catchy rock, flamenco and classical music.

The three brothers are violin virtuosos, with a beautiful technique that incorporates various influences, leaning on jazz and classical music. On Somos they treat the listener to fascinating violin interplay and poetic justice.

There is a wonderful mix of acoustic-leaning pieces and powerful tracks with drum set, electric bass and electric guitar.

The lyrics on Somos convey messages of love, peace and social justice, focusing on corruption in their home state, inequality, environmental justice, the Ayotzinapa student murders and poverty. “We believe in music as a positive, necessary and inexhaustible healing force, and we live to share our creations. We are not only troubadours of love and brotherhood, but also activists, speaking against injustice, corruption, greed and impunity.

The lineup on Somos includes Luis Villalobos on vocals and violin; Alberto Villalobos on vocals and violin; Ernesto Villalobos on vocals and violin; Humberto Flores on electric and acoustic guitars, jarana; Rosa Avila on drums; Leo Sherman on electric and double bass; Arturo Stable on percussion on tracks; Javier Cabrera Jasso on percussion; Alberto Jiménez on electric guitar; Manuel Vásquez on cajón; and special guest Arturo O’Farrill on piano.

Somos is a charming and delightful cross-genre album rooted in tradition and social equity, forged by a group of talented young Mexican musicians.

Buy Somos

Share

Artist Profiles: Karima Skalli

Karima Skalli

Moroccan artist Karima Skalli is one of the leading classical Arabic music vocalists, inspired by the great voices of classical Egyptian music. At the age of 9 she sang one of Umm Khaltum’s songs in its entirety for her family. Her influences include Umm Khaltum, Suad Mohammed, Leila Morad, Mohamed Abdelwahab, and especially Asmahane.

She has collaborated with top composers and poets, specifically the great Moroccan ud player and composer, Saïd Chraïbi, who discovered her, and the eminent poet Abderrafie Jwahri. Both masters have composed elegant songs for her.

When she was invited to the Festival de la Goulette in Tunis, Karima skalli sang compositions by Nasser Shemma, the Iraqi ud master.

In November 1999, Karima was invited to perform at the Cairo Opera accompanied by the Egyptian Philharmonic Orchestra, a high point of her career. There, she dedicated the evening’s performance to the Egyptian diva Asmahane, who remains Karima’s model and inspiration.

Karima released one album, Wasla, for French label Institut du Monde Arabe.

Share

Artist Profiles: Bombino

Bombino – Photo by Chris Decato

Goumour Almoctar, beter known as Bombino, was born on January 1, 1980, in Tidene, Niger, a settlement of nomadic Tuaregs located about 80 kilometers to the northeast of Agadez.

Bombino spent his early childhood between the encampment and the town of Agadez, the largest city in northern Niger and historically a part of the ancient Sahara trade routes connecting North Africa and the Mediterranean with West Africa. 

Bombino attended a French-Arabic school that taught both French and classic Arabic.

After the first Tuareg rebellion in Mali and Niger, Bombino fled with his father and grandmother to stay with near relatives in Algeria. One day, relatives arrived from the front lines of the rebellion, carrying with them two guitars that they left behind for a few months. Bombino began to teach himself to play the guitars.

Bombino and his family decided to move back to Agadez. During a trip to Niamey, Niger for medical treatment, Bombino met with his uncle Rissa Ixa, a famous Tuareg painter, who gave him a guitar. After returning to Agadez, Bombino joined the Tuareg political party where he met the best guitarist of the party, a man named Haja Bebe. He received lessons, improving so fast that Haja Bebe invited him to join his band. It was during that time that Bombino acquired his nickname. As the youngest and smallest member of the band, the other members called him Bombino, a variation on the Italian word bambino for “little child.”

Bombino got a role as an extra in the French film Imuhar: A Legend that was filmed in the nearby desert. After finishing his work on the film, Bombino settled into life as working musician, performing at political rallies, weddings, and other ceremonies.

He argued often with his father, who did not want his son to become a musician. To escape this problem, Bombino decided to travel to Algeria and Libya in 1996. In Libya, he made friends with some local musicians, and they spent time watching videos of Jimi Hendrix, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and others in an effort to master their skills. Bombino was rapidly becoming an accomplished guitarist and was in high demand as a backing musician.  While working as a herder in the desert near Tripoli, Libya, Bombino spent many hours alone watching the animals and practicing his guitar.

Eventually, Bombino decided to return to Niger, where he continued to play with various local bands.  As his legend grew, a Spanish documentary film crew helped Bombino record his first album, which became a local hit on Agadez radio. The success of the album validated Bombino’s choice to make a career out of music, and he began playing regularly for tourists and locals alike.

Bombino

In 2006, Bombino traveled to California with the band Tidawt for a tour organized by a non-profit organization.  During the trip, he recorded a desert blues version of the Rolling Stones classic “Hey Negrita” together with Stones’ members Keith Richards and Charlie Watts. The track appears on the 2008 album led by Rolling Stones saxophonist Tim Riese, titled Stone’s World: The Rolling Stones Project Volume 2.

In 2007, the second Tuareg rebellion began, and the government countermeasures were powerful and arbitrary.  Many civilians were killed and farms and livestock were devastated in an effort to crush the rebellion. The government’s tactics only served to incite the Tuareg community, and many around Bombino joined the rebellion. Government forces killed two of Bombino’s musicians, so he fled in exile to Burkina Faso along with many of his fellow Tuaregs.

In 2009, he met filmmaker Ron Wyman who had heard a cassette of Bombino’s music while traveling near Agadez. Wyman was enchanted by Bombino’s music and spent a year seeking him out, eventually tracking him down to Wagadugu, Burkina Faso, where Bombino was living in exile.  While there, Wyman decided to feature Bombino in a documentary he was filming about the Tuareg.  Later that year, he took Bombino to Cambridge, Massachusetts to begin recording the album Agadez in his home studio.

Bombino – Photo by Ron Wyman

On April 2, 2013, Bombino made his Nonesuch Records debut with the release of the album Nomad. Nomad debuted at #1 on the Billboard World Music album chart and earned enthusiastic reviews.

Bombino traveled to Woodstock, New York in late 2015 to record Azel (2015). There were a few remarkable innovations on this album. The first is the introduction of a new style Bombino is pioneering that he warmly calls ‘Tuareggae’ – a mix of Tuareg blues/rock with reggae.  Another is the first-ever use of Western vocal harmonies in recorded Tuareg music.  

In November 2017, Bombino and his group traveled to Casablanca, Morocco to record Deran (Partisan Records). Bombino wished to return to Africa to record and to step away from celebrity producers to create the most authentic expression of his music possible.  Deran benefited from deeper involvement from his band – Youba Dia (bass), Illias Mohamed (rhythm guitar) and Corey Wilhelm (drums), and Mohamed Araki Eltayeb (keys) – in arrangement and other creative decisions.

Bombino is an advocate for teaching children the Tuareg language of Tamashek, the Berber language, as well as French and Arabic, all of which he speaks fluently.  “We fought for our rights,” says Bombino, “but we have seen that guns are not the solution.  We need to change our system.  Our children must go to school and learn about their Tuareg identity.”

Discography:

Agamgam 2004 (Reaktion, 2010)
Agadez (Cumbancha Records, 2011)
Nomad (Nonesuch, 2013)
Azel (Partisan Records, 2015)
Live At The Belly Up ‎(Belly Up Live, 2016)
Deran (Partisan Records, 2018)

Share

Artist Profiles: Grupo Cimarrón

Cimarrón

The Grupo Cimarrón ensemble is known for their explosive música llanera (plains music) and fast-paced, triple-meter joropo. They live up to the meaning of their name Cimarrón: “wild bull.”

Since creating Grupo Cimarrón in 1986, leader and harpist Carlos Rojas has looked both backward and forward in time. The música llanera and joropo have roots in 19th-century Colombia, and the style of singing, playing and instruments used have been carefully modeled on tradition. The ensemble has created a new mix by emphasizing rhythm and creativity and insisting that joropo dance be a part of the performance wherever possible. Grupo Cimarrón has performed in China, Europe, and North and South America.

Harp, guitars (bandola and cuatro), maracas, wooden box drum (cajón) and the rhythm of the dancers’ feet are the instruments used by the high-energy Grupo Cimarrón, all of whom carry strong ties to the cattle country of the Colombian plains. Each band member is a virtuoso in his or her own discipline, and the albums provides a medium for both collective and individual expression.

The group’s 2004 Smithsonian Folkways release Sí, Soy Llanero earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Traditional World Album.

Discography:

Sí, Soy Llanero – Joropo Music From The Orinoco Plains Of Colombia ‎(Smithsonian Folkways, 2004)
Joropo Music From the Plains of Colombia ‎(Smithsonian Folkways, 2011)
Orinoco (Cimarron Music, 2014)

Share