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: Alasdair Fraser

Alasdair Fraser at the Carrboro ArtsCenter – Photo by Angel Romero

Alasdair Fraser was born on may 14 May, 1955 in Clackmannan, Scotland. He is widely acclaimed as a top performer, recording artist and teacher of the rich fiddling tradition of his native Scotland.

His vast repertoire spans several centuries of Scottish music and also includes his own compositions, blending a profound understanding of the Scottish tradition. Fraser is justly renowned for his ability to communicate with his audience through his personal warmth and wit as well as through music. His richly expressive playing transports listeners across a broad spectrum ranging from haunting laments drawn from the Gaelic tradition to classically-styled airs and raucous dance tunes.

In addition to releasing critically acclaimed solo albums, Alasdair’s compositions and performances have also been included on top selling Celtic and New Age compilation albums (Celtic Twilight on the Hearts of Space label, and Wilderness Collection and Celtic Odyssey on Narada). His solo violin can be heard on the soundtracks of several major films, including The Last of the Mohicans and Titanic.

Alasdair Fraser with Skyedance Band

In May 1996, Alasdair’s album Dawn Dance received the prestigious NAIRD (now AFIM) Indie Award for best Celtic album of the Year. This is the first album by Alasdair to feature entirely his own compositions. The music brings together the best of Scottish, Baroque, Rock and Medieval/Ancient ideas and features some of the best musicians in these respective fields. Shortly after the release of Dawn Dance, Alasdair and the other musicians decided to name their band Skyedance.

Fraser has founded five summer fiddling programs in the USA, Spain and Australia.

Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas at the Carrboro ArtsCenter – Photo by Angel Romero

In recent years, he has been touring and recording with American cellist Natalie Haas.

Fraser lives in northern California, in the United States.

Discography

Portrait of a Scottish Fiddler (Brownrigg Productions, 1982)
Skyedance, with Paul Machlis (Culburnie Records, 1985)
The Road North, with Paul Machlis (Sona Gaia/Narada, 1987)
The Driven Bow, with Jody Stecher (1989)
Dawn Dance (Culburnie Records, 1996)
Way Out to Hope Street, with Skyedance Band (1997)
Return to Kintail, with Tony McManus (Culburnie Records, 1999)
Labyrinth, with Skyedance Band (2000)
Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, Vol 1, with Paul Machlis (Piano) and Natalie Haas (Cello) – released 2002
Live in Spain, with Skyedance Band – released 2002
Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, Vol 2, with Muriel Johnstone and Natalie Haas (Culburnie Records, 2004)
Fire and Grace, with Natalie Haas (Greentrax Records, 2004)
In the Moment, with Natalie Haas (Culburnie Records, 2007)
Highlander’s Farewell, with Natalie Haas (Culburnie Records, 2011)
Abundance, with Natalie Haas (Culburnie Records, 2014)
Ports of Call, with Natalie Haas ( Culburnie Records, 2017)

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Artist Profiles: Aly Bain

Aly Bain

Aly Bain was born on May 15 1946 in Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland. Lerwick is a small, enchanting town on the Shetland Islands. Aly began learning fiddle at the age of eleven. Tom Anderson, his teacher, is acknowledged as one of the true masters of Shetland music. Aly developed a highly dramatic style of playing, matching his great tone and technical ability with genuine emotion. Alert to the musical potential of the dynamic interaction between Irish and Scottish traditions, he helped establish the Boys of the Lough. The group is now recognized as one of the best in the tradition.

Simultaneously, Aly pursued his solo career. Since 1986, he has been working with Pelicula Films on various television series dealing with folk music. The first series, “Down Home,” traces fiddle music from its roots in Scotland across the Atlantic to the United States and Canada. The second, entitled “The Transatlantic Sessions” (1995), featured many prominent artists, such as Emmylou Harris, Iris DeMent, Kathy Mattea, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Mary Black, Karen Matheson, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, Donal Lunny, Dick Gaughan, and Phil Cunningham.

Aly Bain (left) &Phil Cunningham (right)

Aly Bain and accordionist Phil Cunningham are two of the most celebrated musicians on the Scottish traditional scene. The duo first worked together on a television series in 1988, and embarked on their first tour shortly after. They were so well received that they have been touring Scotland annually ever since, in addition to frequent performances in Europe and North America.

In 1993, his autobiography, Fiddler on the Loose, was published, co-written by journalist and editor Alasdair Clark. He continues to tour extensively with the Boys of the Lough in addition to his collaborations with Phil and many other musicians.

Aly Bain also tours with Swedish multi-instrumentalist Ale Möller and with American fiddler, singer, guitarist and banjo player Bruce Molsky.

Discography:

Aly Bain ( Whirlie Records, 1984)
Aly Bain & Friends (Greentrax Records, 1989)
Lonely Bird (Green Linnet, 1992)
The Best of Aly Bain:Volume One:A Fiddler’s Tale (2008)

With Phil Cunningham:

The Pearl (Green Linnet, 1995)
The Ruby (Whirlie Records, 1997)
Another Gem (Whirlie Records, 2000)
Spring the Summer Long (Whirlie Records, 2003)
Best of Aly and Phil, Volume One (2004)
Roads Not Travelled (Whirlie Records, 2006)
Portrait (2010)
Five and Twenty (Whirlie Records, 2012)
Best of Aly and Phil, Volume Two (2013)

With Ale Möller

Fully Rigged (Whirlie Records/Northside, 1999)
Beyond the Stacks (Whirlie Records/Northside, 2007)
Meeting Point, with Ale Möller and Bruce Molsky (2013)

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Artist Profiles: Anna Wendy Stevenson

Anna Wendy Stevenson

Raised in Edinburgh, and surrounded by music from a family steeped in the arts, violinist, composer and producer Anna Wendy Stevenson has made her name as a highly respected performer and teacher of traditional fiddle. She studied music with her grandfather, composer Ronald Stevenson, and won a scholarship to study in the USA when she was only 19.

A founding member of highly successful trio Fine Friday, Anna Wendy has recorded and toured extensively throughout Europe, Canada and Australia performing at many of the top festivals (The National Festival, Celtic Colours International Festival, Celtic Connections, Port Fairy). She is also a member of all female quartet Calluna and was a member of globe trotting band Anam. Anna-Wendy also performed with the Bella MacNab Dance Band, the ceilidh band of choice for the Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Revels at the Assembly Rooms.

A holder of the London College of Music LLCM, ALCM (diplomas in teaching and performance) and renowned for her innovative approach to teaching, Anna-Wendy is a principle teacher at Lochgoilhead Fiddle Workshop and is involved with the Feis and other teaching organizations. Her excellent communication skills have led to extensive work with Yehudi Menuhin’s Live Music Now Organization bringing music to people with special needs.

Anna-Wendy released the CD Gowd and Silver with her grandfather Ronald Stevenson featuring a selection of Ronald’s arrangements of Scottish melodies as well as some of his original compositions.

Discography:

Dance Tunes, Airs and Songs from Scotland, with Calluna (Scottish Mill Records, 2000)
Gone Dancing, with Fine Friday (Foot Stompin’ Records, 2002)
Mowing the Machair, Fine Friday (Foot Stompin’ Records, 2005)
Gowd & Silver (Eclectic Records, 2005)
Anna-Wendy Stevenson (2006)
My Edinburgh (Anna-Wendy Music, 2010)

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Artist Profiles: Annie Grace

Annie Grace

Annie Grace grew up in the Scottish Highlands. Music played a large part in her formative years, and she began learning to play the bagpipes at the tender age of ten. Music festivals and close harmonies with her four siblings gave her a solid grounding in singing and her wasted youth was spent marching up and down Fort William High Street with the Lochaber Junior Pipe band.

During her four years at Glasgow School of Art, she performed with The Gunsmoke Trio and Pedro, and The Mighty Peelly Wally Ceilidh Band before being invited to join a new band subsequently named Iron Horse. Iron Horse became one of the acclaimed new wave folk bands of the nineties. The group was in huge demand. Constantly touring and recording, they visited all corners of the world and headlined at major festivals. Annie?s voice became a feature of the band, as well as her ability to entertain audiences with her stories and infectious humor.

Musical projects with Iron Horse included the award-winning Voice of the Land (1995) commissioned by the BBC, Stri (1997) a collaborative fusion piece with the RSNO and tours with British Council projects in Central Asia. In 2002, Iron Horse collaborated with Sogdiana, the national orchestra of Uzbekistan, touring parts of the country, and producing a CD of the project.

Annie started to expand her musical horizons by guesting on other albums with backing vocals or instrumentation. In 1998, she found herself surrounded by thirteen world music divas in the fantastic Female Factory show. Based in Amsterdam, this show toured Russia, Spain and Holland with a ten-piece band. Other projects included Scottish Women (2001-2002), commissioned by Celtic Connections. Annie is also a member of the Scottish big band The Unusual Suspects, who were formed at Celtic Connections 2003.

In February 2004, Annie released her debut solo album Take Me Out Drinking Tonight to an overwhelming response, including a 5 star review in the Sunday Herald. The album, a sparkling collection of contemporary and traditional material, shows Annie at her mature and confident best, living up to her reputation as a superb singer and exponent of the whistle.

Discography:

Take Me Out Drinking Tonight ‎(Greentrax Records, 2004)
The Accidental Death of An Accordionist, with The Tour-a-Rural Ceilidh Band (2008)
The Bell (Gracie Records, 2011)

With The Iron Horse:

The Iron Horse (Lochshore, 1992)
Thro’ Water, Earth and Stone (Lochshore, 1993)
Five Hands High (Lochshore, 1994)
Voice Of the Land (Lochshore, 1995)
Demons and Lovers (Lochshore, 1997)
The Wind Shall Blow For Ever More (Lochshore, 2004)

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Artist Profiles: Arthur Cormack

Arthur_Cormack – Photo by Cailean Maclean

Arthur Cormack was born in 1965. He is one of the finest Gaelic singers of his generation. Since winning the Mod Gold Medal in 1992, he has sung world-wide with fellow Skye musician and former Cliar member Blair Douglas and with the highly-acclaimed MacTalla.

He runs the Macmeanmna record label and is known as the busiest man in Skye, also running the youth tuition festivals organization, Feisean nan Gaidheal and The Aros Experience, a tourist center, theater and restaurant in Portree. He has also made two CDs with Cliar in addition to his own releases Ruith Na Gaoith and Nuair Bha Mi Og.

Discography:

Nuair a Bha mi Òg (Temple Records, 1984)
Ruith na Gaoithe (1989)
Seinn O Ho Ro Seinn!, with Fiona Mackenzie ‎(Mairi Mhòr, 2003)
Buanas (Macmeanmna, 2017)

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Artist Profiles: Back of the Moon

Back of the Moon

Back of the Moon was Scottish group that formed in 2000. Back of the Moon rapidly gained a reputation for their dynamic live performances. Gillian Frame, Ali Hutton, Findlay Napier and Hamish Napier made up the band.

The giant acoustic sound came from their tightly woven frontline of Scottish pipes and fiddle, the intimate pairing of low whistle and flute, the distinctive rhythmic force of their guitar and piano rhythm combo, and the three-part vocal harmonies in their Scottish songs – in which each unique singer took the lead.

Back of the Moon released three albums, and were named Best Folk Band at the 2005 Scottish Trad Music Awards.

Discography:

Gillian Frame and Back of the Moon (2001)
Fortune’s Road (Foot Stompin’ Records, 2003)
Luminosity (Foot Stompin’ Records, 2005)

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Artist Profiles: Alyth McCormack

Alyth McCormack

Alyth is one of today’s most exciting new talents in the world of Gaelic song. Born in 1970 and raised on the Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides, Scotland), Alyth was immersed in the music, poetry and drama of her native Scottish Western Isles from a very early age.

Although aware of the long tradition in all things Gaelic, McCormack understands that within the tradition there is and must be a constant transition for the Gaelic language, culture and heritage to survive. With this in mind, she recorded her debut album An Iomall (The Edge). “This recording began a long time ago in my mind. I come from the Island of Lewis and loved being raised there. Lewis is exposed and weather torn and this is evident in its culture, but it is also beautiful and compelling. In this album I wanted to express these extremes which are also inherent in Gaelic song and Gaelic culture. The songs stand alone, so to work with them I chose a careful approach. Changing musical styles from arrangements but don’t always remain true to the spirit or beauty of the original. I have listened to the stories of these songs, and with these musicians, have interpreted them. The response is honest: the songs remain timeless.”

In 2009, Alyth released her second solo album, People Like Me that included members of the Scottish band Lau.

Discography:

An Iomall – The Edge (Vertical Records, 2000)
People Like Me (Navigator Records, 2009)
Red & Gold, with Triona Marshall ‎(ANE Records, 2011)
Homelands ‎(ANE, 2015)

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Artist Profiles: Andrew Cronshaw

Andrew Cronshaw

Andrew Cronshaw was born April 18, 1949 in Lancashire, United Kingdom. He is known for both his music and his writing. His writing appears frequently in British publication FRoots and other magazines. And he is also the author of the chapters devoted to Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Faroes, Iceland, the Baltic States and Portugal in the most recent version of the Rough Guide to World Music.

Musically, Andrew’s voyage began as a child with a piano and a tin whistle. His primary instrument is now the zither, which lives at the heart of a collection of instruments that have come into his life through his travels, research and enormous musical curiosity. These include: a fujara, which Andrew describes as “a five-foot long Slovakian shepherd’s flute that yields shivering breathy harmonics;” aba-wu from China’s Yunan province, which is his “seductive-toned” brass-reed instrument, and many other string and percussion instruments.

In the early 1990s, Andrew chose to tour most often as a solo performer. With his instruments and a small PA, he played more than 100 performances in ancient English village churches. Solo, in his case, meant he would book the concert, meet the audience at the door, perform, pack up and move on.

Although a U.K. native, over the past twelve years more and more of his time has been spent in Finland. He is fascinated by and increasingly involved in new Finnish music rooted in its folk traditions. Andrew says he is drawn also by the sense of community, especially in Kaustinen, a music center and home to one of the world’s finest music festivals. It was at the Kaustinen Festival he initiated Hauenleuka: a large performance project that involved the floating of a giant seven-meter, five-string kantele down the river Perho accompanied by four hundred local musicians and dancers.

His album On The Shoulders Of The Great Bear, is based on a dozen traditional tunes from Finland, one from Siberia, and three from the Scottish Gaelic-speaking tradition.

Andrew founded an ensemble called SANS, a collaboration with Finnish musicians.

Andrew’s approach to music includes the belief that instruments “find a particular tune they like.”

Discography:

A Is For Andrew, Z Is For Zither ‎(XTRA, 1974)
Times And Traditions For Dulcimer ‎(Trailer, 1976)
Earthed In Cloud Valley (Trailer, 1977)
Wade In The Flood (Transatlantic Records, 1978)
The Great Dark Water (Waterfront Records, 1982)
Till The Beasts’ Returning ‎(Topic Records, 1988)
The Andrew Cronshaw CD ‎(Topic Records, 1989)
The Language Of Snakes (Special Delivery, 1993)
On The Shoulders Of The Great Bear ‎(Cloud Valley Music, 2000)
Ochre ‎(Cloud Valley Music, 2004)
The Unbroken Surface Of Snow ‎(Cloud Valley Music, 2011)
Live, with SANS (Cloud Valley CV2014, 2014)
Kulku, with SANS (Cloud Valley Music, 2018)

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Artist Profiles: Anna Murray

Anna Murray

Anna Mhoireach (Anna Murray) is from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. She is an exceptionally talented piper and arranger. She plays lively Scottish folk tunes played on the Highland pipes and the beautiful Scottish small pipes, accompanied by modern instruments.

Anna learned from a young age to sing in her native language of Gaelic and started to play the Highland pipes at ten.

The release of her third recording Tri Nithean (Three Things) coincided with her performance at Celtic Connections 2000 in Glasgow.

Discography:

Out Of The Blue (Lochshore, 1994)
Into Indigo ‎(KRL, 1996)
Tri Nithean: Three Things ‎(Lochshore, 1999)

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Artist Profiles: Anouar Brahem

Anouar Brahem

Anouar Brahem was born in 1957 in Halfawine in the Medina of Tunis. Encouraged by his father, an engraver and printer, and music lover as well, Brahem began his studies of the ud (Arab lute), at the age of 10 at the Tunis National Conservatory of Music, where his principal teacher was the ud master Ali Sriti.

An exceptional student, by the age of 15 Brahem was playing regularly with local orchestras. At 18, he decided to devote himself entirely to music. From 1981 to 1985, Brahem lived and studied in Paris, seeking out points of congruence with other cultures. He was, nonetheless, first heard on disc with an all-Tunisian trio on Barzakh (ECM 1432) in 1991. This was followed by the collaboration with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the late Pakistani tabla master Shaukat Hussain on Madar (ECM 1515) and by an album reworking, with an international cast, music Brahem had written for the Tunisian cinema.

In 1985, he returned to Tunis and an invitation to perform at the Carthage festival provided him with the opportunity of bringing together, for “Liqua 85”, outstanding figures of Tunisian and Turkish music and French jazz. These included Abdelwaheb Berbech, the Erköse [Barbaros Erkose] brothers, François Jeanneau, Jean-Paul Celea, François Couturier and others. The success of the project earned Brahem Tunisia’s Grand National Prize for Music.
In 1987, he became the director of the Musical Ensemble of the City of Tunis. Instead of keeping the large existing orchestra, he broke it up into variable size ensembles, giving it new orientations: one year in the direction of new creations and the next more towards traditional music.

On the recording of Khomsa, his partners were Tunisian violinist Bechir Selmi, Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson, Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen, and three musicians from France – accordionist Richard Galliano, keyboardist Frangois Couturier, and saxophonist Jean Marc Larche. Although Dave Holland and John Surman both contributed compositional material to Thimar, Brahem’s following album,most of the writing stems from Brahem’s pen.

Two of the pieces were written originally for the Musical Ensemble of Tunis, two more for the Tunisian Theatre, and one originated as a sketch for the Khomsa ensemble. The majority of the music, however, was prepared specifically for the Thimar session. Dave Holland: “I hadn’t known what to expect. Anouar gave us a pile of music the day before the session. There were no bar lines – and of course there were no chords, because that’s not a reference point in this music. But there were these complex melodies, and one phrase might have seven beats in it, and another phrase nine. And when John and I started to play this, at first we were stumbling all over ourselves. But we persevered, put some pencil marks on the music, talked about how to approach the structures… At the session, things started to fall into place, as they so often do. The moment impresses itself upon you, and you rise to the occasion. Bringing these traditions together is by no means simple, and I think what we ended up with is music that has real value.”

As was the case with Kenny Wheeler’s Angel Song, the drummerless music of Thimar places special responsibilities on Dave Holland to shoulder most of the rhythm duties. The demands seem to bring forth some of his finest playing. “With John and Anouar, although my main function was to be accompanist and rhythm player, I felt I was getting support from both of them because of their ability to maintain a sense of rhythm independently…” Holland was invited into the session after producer Manfred Eicher played Brahem Angel Song. Brahem: “I listened to that album following the bass. It’s like the heartbeat of the music. And Dave’s sound is so beautiful. Powerful, but rounded, not at all aggressive or harsh.” The ud player first became aware of John Surman’s music with the release of the solo album Road To St. Ives in 1990. “This extraordinary sense of melody that John has. ..I liked that so much. It touched me very deeply. Since then, I’ve listened to everything he’s done.”

In 1994, Surman and Brahem toured Japan together but separately, playing opposite each other in concerts to mark ECM’s 25th anniversary. “We got to know each other and got along well and talked then about making a record one day. His playing on all his instruments is exceptional, but I especially like the blending of the bass clarinet and the ud. The wood in the sound makes it a very satisfying combination, I think. “I was really impressed with the engagement of both Dave and John in the making of this album. Collaborations of this kind can be quite…dangerous. Sometimes musicians of different cultures meet only superficially. But they were both concerned to get to the essence of the music.”

In 1995, Brahem released Khomsa, featuring Richard Galliano, Bechir Selmi and François Couturier. This was followed by 1998’s Thimar with John Surman and Dave Holland.

The Astrakan Café album came out in 2000 as Anouar Brahem Trio with Barbaros Erköse and Lassad Hosni.

In 2002, Brahem released Le Pas du Chat Noir, recorded with François Couturier and Jean-Louis Matinier, followed by
2006’s Le Voyage de Sahar withe the ame lineup.

In 2009, The Astounding Eyes of Rita came out. Lineup: Klaus Gesing, Björn Meyer and Khaled Yassine.

Souvenance was released in 2014, recorded with Francois Couturier, Klaus Gesing and Björn Meyer.

Anouar Brahem released Blue Maqamns in 2017 with Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland and Django Bates.

Discography:

Barzakh (ECM Records, 1991)
Conte De L’Incroyable Amour (ECM Records, 1992)
The Silences Of The Palace Caroline Records, 1994)
Madar (ECM Records, 1994)
Khomsa (ECM Records, 1995)
Thimar (ECM Records, 1998)
Charmediterranéen (ECM Records, 2002)
Le Pas Du Chat Noir (ECM Records, 2002)
Le Voyage De Sahar (ECM Records, 2006)
The Astounding Eyes of Rita (ECM Records, 2009)
Souvenance (ECM Records, 2014)
Blue Maqams (ECM Records, 2017)

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