All posts by TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena's Shadow. Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena's Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931. Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.

2019 St. Patrick’s Day Music

So, here we are. We’ve come to that time of year when I have this sudden insane desire to rip paper shamrocks from the walls and turn them into origami swans. With a few deft strokes of a Sharpie, I yearn to give every cheap, cheesy leprechaun a fabulous Salvador Dali mustache. I want to fill every faux pot of gold with squid and give every green, gaudy hat its proper due by handing it off to the nearest Labrador Retriever to be rendered into a slobbery, slimy cheap piece of felt as it so richly deserves.

It must be St. Patrick’s Day season.

I am currently without Sharpie, Labrador Retriever or squid, but, my fine readers, I do have music for your St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve got raucous music, soothing music, poetry within music, music so fine as to make a pint of Guinness shed a tear. I’ve got music with fiddles, music with guitars, music with pipes and music with voices so lovely it will give that Labrador Retriever pause and so drop that chewed hat. I’ve got music from across the ocean, music from down the road, music from across a green field and music from a dark wood. So, let’s get to it.

Irish Relaxation: Calming Celtic Instrumental Music and Beautiful Nature

Those seeking to find a kind of Celtic serenity this St. Patrick’s Day have to look no further than New Age NY Company’s Irish Relaxation: Calming Celtic Instrumental Music and Beautiful Nature. Celtic Chillout Relaxation Academy and Calm Music Zone offer up tracks like “Irish Relaxation,” Spiritual Awaking,” “Nature of Ireland,” “Irish Soundscapes,” “Patrick’s Day,” “Waves & Cliffs” and “Ancient Hills of Ireland” for those looking for a bit of Celtic Zen (I’m sure all you Druids out there have your own name for a Zen-like state so just fill in your own word).

David Arkenstone – The Celtic Heart

David Arkenstone has on tap for this St. Patrick’s Day The Celtic Heart. Sweet instrumentals like “Hearts Entwined,” “May Dance,” “the Promise Ring” and “Secret Wedding” are comfortably easy and enjoyable. This is perhaps a little sedate for a raucous St. Patrick’s Day party, but might be held in reserve if the mayhem needs to be taken down a notch or two.

The Outside Track. – Rise Up

The label Lorimer has put out Rise Up by a group called The Outside Track. Comprised fiddler and singer Mairi Rankin, singer and flute player Teresa Horgan, composer and harpist Ailie Robertson, composer and accordionist Fiona Black and guitarist Michael Ferrie, The Outside Track boasts such previous recordings like Light Up the Dark, Flash Company, The Mountain Road and Curious Things Given Wings. Rise Up possesses some real charmers such as “Dark Reels,” “Road to Rollo Bay,” “The Wahoo Set,” “Eleanor Plunkett” and “Happy Reels.”

Eabhal – This Is How the Ladies Dance.

Out of the Scottish Gaelic tradition comes Eabhal and their 2019 recording This Is How the Ladies Dance. Musicians Megan MacDonald, Jamie MacDonald, Nicky Kirk and Hamish Hepburn have crafted a fine fiddle and accordion soaked album on This Is How the Ladies Dance with delicious fare like “Beir Soiridh,” “MaSim,” “Windsong,” “An Ribhinn Donn” and “The Artist.”

Claire Hastings and her album Those Who Roam

Luckenbooth Records has on tap Claire Hastings and her album Those Who Roam. With her previous recording Between River and Railway under her belt, this Scottish singer and songwriter dazzles her way Those Who Roam with tracks like “The Lothian Hairst,” “Seven Gypsies,” “Jamie Raeburn” and “Ten Thousand Miles” with some truly spectacular vocals.

The Tannahill Weavers –Orach

Scottish group The Tannahill Weavers has put out Orach -The Golden Anniversary Album, out in the U.S. On the Compass Records label. This is a wonderful collection of traditional and contemporary song celebrates The Tannahill Weavers 50th anniversary and their 18th album with the group’s current line-up members Roy Gullane, Phil Smillie, John Martin and Lorne MacDougall and fondly honoring past band members. Fans get goodies like title track “Orach,” “Jenny A’ Things,” “Oh No!,” “The Asturian Sessions,” “The Ghost of Mick McDonnell” and “Gordon Duncan Set.”

Ciaran Tourish and Keven Doherty –Hotel Fiesta

The goodness just keeps on coming with Altan and 4 Men & a Dog heavyweights Ciaran Tourish and Keven Doherty and their release Hotel Fiesta. This album is a punch to the gut, a kiss on the cheek and a warm embrace all wrapped in one with tracks like “The Oak Tree (Jackson’s 1 & 2),” “Hawker’s Blues,” “A Visit to Ireland/The Lark on the Strand/Peter Byrne’s Fancy,” “Boots of Spanish Leather,” “Ur Chnock Chein Mhic Cainte,” “The Foxhunters/Dusty Miller,” “Dan the Man” and “My Love Is in America/The Cup of Tea/The Donegal Reel.”

Various Artists – Live Recordings from the William Kennedy Piping Festival, Vol. 2

If it’s piping you want, it’s piping you get with Live Recordings from the William Kennedy Piping Festival. This double CD set is a compilation from various performances at the William Kennedy Festival from 2003-2017. There’s more pipers here than you can shake a stick at, including Sean McKeon’s “The Maid on the Green/The Humours of Glin,” John McSherry and Francis McIlduff’s “Son Ar Rost/Song of the Chanter/The Foxhunters/James Kelly’s/The Limestone Rock,” The Goodman Trio’s “An Roguire Dubh/Airgiod Cailighe,” Paddy Keenan’s “The Broken Pledge/The Skylark/The Bucks of Oranmore” and Jarlath Henderson and Ross Ainslie’s “Jim Tweedie’s Sea Legs/Iain Ruadh/Thunderstruck/Angus Thing/Limestone Rock.” This is a sort of glorious piping overdose.

Grainne Holland – Corcra

Following up on recordings Teanga Na nGael and Gaelre, Irish singer Grainne Holland has out this year a whole CD’s worth of her own original songs called Corcra. Teaming up with a stellar cast of musicians including Aidan O’Rourke, Liam Bradley, Brendan Mulholland, Cormac McCarthy, Niamh Dunne, John Joe Kelly, Paul Dunlea, Conor McCreanor and Steve Jones, Ms Holland turns out a stunning collection of songs including “Mise Agus Tusa,” “Coinsias, Corp Agus Croi,” “Harry’s” and “An Ri Rua.” There will be no dry eye in the house by the time she’s done.

Farsan – Gaelic Traditions in the New World

Lead vocalist Mairi Britton, fiddler Katie McNally, pianist, accordionist, mandolinist and vocalist Neil Pearlman and border and highland piper Elias Alexander make up the group Farsan and their debut recording “Gaelic Traditions in the New World” is rich and rewarding and well worth a listen. Masterly moving through tracks like “Taladh A’ Phuilein,” “Pronn An Caoran,” “The Water Boiling Machine,” “Fear Drabastach,” “A’ Mhisg A Chuir An Nollaig” and “Gun Togainn Air Hugan,” Farsan turns out a recording that’s equal parts achingly lovely and joyfully jaunty.


Gary Innes –Imminent

Scottish accordion player Gary Innes shows off his chops on his recording Imminent. Leaning heavily on his own compositions, Mr. Innes casts a wide net over the tracks of Imminent, offering up goodies like “The Doctor’s Order,” the raucously wild “Welcome to New York,” the sweetly solemn “Sheerwater,” the completely entertaining “Alpha Runrig” and the easy mood of “Trade Winds.”


Hannah Flowers – Amhran na Cruite: Songs of the Harp

St. Paul, Minnesota native Hannah Flowers takes a turn in Irish with her recording Amhran na Cruite: Songs of the Harp. Angelic vocals and fairy compositions woven throughout tracks like “Buachaill on Eirne,” “Cul Tiubh na bPearlai,” “Urchnoc Chein Mhic Cainte” and “Dun Do Shuil” will surely earn Ms. Flowers a nostalgic tear at the thoughts of the old country.


Daoiri Farrell – A Lifetime of Happiness

If you are looking for some straight up Irish folk then look no further than Daoiri Farrell’s A Lifetime of Happiness. This is the real deal Irish folk fare to cozy up along with some properly pulled pints and a few friends. You’ll want to snag a listen to tracks like “The Galway Shawl,” “Valentine O’Hara,” “Theres the Day,” “Sweet Portadown,” “Rosie Reilly” and “Via Extasia” if for no other reason than Mr. Farrell’s plumy Irish vocals.

Brighde Chaimbeul – The Reeling

The Skye born, Scottish smallpipes player Brighde Chaimbeul’s recording The Reeling is shockingly good and I mean leaked out of the air, bubbled up from some strange lake good. Recorded live in a historic church in Cromarty, Scotland, the music of The Reeling sounds as if it had just lingered in the air for a couple of centuries before a wee lass captured it and put it down for the rest of us. Don’t believe me? Check out tracks like “A Bhriogais Uallach/Highean Donn nan Gobhar,” “Moma e Moma Rodila,” “An Leimras/Harris Dance” and “Gur Boidheach Nighean Donn Mo Chridhe.”

Jose Manuel Tejedor – Miraes

Brandishing pipes and whistles, Jose Manuel Tejedor gives listeners a taste of Spain’s Celtic flavor on Miraes. Mr. Tejedor lays down the goodness with tracks like “Automatas,” “Espiona,” “Miraes” and “Rihonor/Rio de Onor.”

In addition to Mr. Tejedor on pipes and whiles Miraes is packed bouzouki, mandolin, bodhran, violin, concertina and with some steel guitar from fellow musician Angel Ruiz on “Valles.”

Celtic Woman- Celtic Woman Homecoming Live from Ireland
Celtic Woman Ancient Land

If Celtic Woman is your thing, there are two out this season Celtic Woman Homecoming Live from Ireland and Celtic Woman Ancient Land.

This is rather typical Celtic Woman fare with “Mo Ghile Mear,” Dulaman,” and “Fields of Gold” gracing Homecoming and tracks like “Ancient Land,” “Homeland,” “Mna Na hEireann” and “Tara’s Tune” on Ancient Land. While not exactly to my particular tastes, I’m sure there’s some out there waiting with baited breath to get a listen.

Various Artists – Street Lights

It started out with a few folk. People like Dave Geraghty, Gary Lightbody, Bono, Conor O’brien,Loah, Roisin O, Cathy Davey, Galia Arad, Faye O’Rourke, Saint Sister, Little Green Cars, The High Hopes Choir and The Camden Orchestra, along with musicians Cian Boylan, Conor Brady, Ben Castle, Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Colm Quearney, Rob Malone and Graham Hopkins. Well, these folk put out the single “Homeward Bound” as a way to aid the homeless. Well, wouldn’t you know they put an album to carry their good works over. Street Lights, the album, teams up the likes of Damien Dempsey, Snow Patrol, The Frames, Vincent McMorrow, Villagers and Luka Bloom for a CD that will benefit Ireland’s homeless. Fans will want to check out Street Lights’s version of Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound,” Damien Dempsey’s “Soft Rain,” Stephen James Smith’s spoken word coolness on “My Ireland” and Richard Hawley and Lisa Hannigan’s “Hush A Bye Mountain.”

Bangers Mash – Quicksand Cafe

Quicksand Cafe by Bangers & Mash, out on the Dancing Druid Music label might appeal those who want to gather up a gang of toughs and rock out this St. Patrick’s Day. Pulling together the talents of vocalist and percussionist Liam Hudock, electric bassist Seth Lesselbaum, vocalist and bodhran player Carole Lesselbaum, vocalist and guitarist Chad Herth, vocalist and fiddler Alexandra Adams, drummer Anthony Anastase and guest guitarist and drummer Brian Gabriel, Quicksand Cafe is a quick-paced Celtic steamroller as it rollicks along with tracks like “Fields of Athenrye,” “Star of the Country Down,” title track “Quicksand Cafe,” “Rambling Rover” and “Morrison’s Jig.”

YR Hwntws – Y Tribanw

From Wales there’s the stunning recording Y Tribanwr by the group YR Hwntws. Lushly sweet with jazzy overtones, Y Tribanwr is downright delicious. Corralling the talents of vocalist Gregg Lynn, vocalist, tabor player and percussionist Nia Lyn, fiddler Bernard KilBride, vocalist, flute and whistle player Imogen O’Rourke, mandocello player Dan B. James and double bassist and bass guitarist Dean Ryan, YR Hwntws has a tight, neat sound throughout tracks like “ Ym Mhontypridd mae ‘Nghariad,” “Aradwr a’i Ychen,” “Bro Morgannwg,” “Ffarwel I Dai’r Cantwr” and “Diawledig a Nefolaidd/Pibddawns Gwr Wrecsam.” The music is downright lovely, the recording excellent and the liner notes contain the Welsh lyrics to all the songs if you want to give your Welsh a go and the English translations if you’re a scaredy cat like me. Yeah, I think speaking Welsh might just need a wee bit of courage.

Lleuwen Steffan – Gwn Glan Beibl Budr

Another offering from Wales and a sort of off-the-beaten track comes Gwn Glan Beibl Budr. Fans might recognize Lleuwen Steffan’s voice by her previous recordings Tan, Duw A Wyr/God Only Knows and Penmon. While Gwn Glan Beibl Budr might be a tad more experimental than the Celtic Woman set would tolerate, but Ms. Steffan’s vocals on tracks like “Y Garddwr” and “Can Taid” are just too good to miss. Fans should check out the silky smooth vocals of “Cwm Rhondda” against some pretty fabulous percussion and instrumentation. Other goodies include the lazy smoky feel of “Caerdydd” and the sweet elegance of “Mynyddoedd.”

The Gloaming – The Gloaming 3

One of the real gems this year has to be Real World Records’ The Gloaming 3. So finely wrought, so utterly elegant, The Gloaming 3 is likely to cause normally placid people to turn to others and snottily ask, “Must you breathe in and out so loudly?” for fear of missing a single note. The Gloaming 3 gang of vocalist Iarla O Lionaird, hardanger d’amore player Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, guitarist Dennis Cahill, fiddler Martin Hayes and pianist Thomas Bartlett transform a voice and four instruments into a Celtic music lover’s wonderland. There’s no need to point out particular tracks, simply because it’s wonderful from the opening notes of “Meachan Rudai (The Weight of Things)” to the very last note of “Amhran na nGleann (The Song of the Glens).” All one needs to do is to surrender to the timelessness of each precious note and let the rest go hang.

I hope some of this music might go a long way to soothe the irritations of cheap green beer, insanely drunken revelers in matching T-shirts with “Irish you were naked” printed on the front and the stupidly obnoxious guy dressed as a leprechaun this St. Patrick’s Day. If not, my advice is to grab a Sharpie, a Labrador Retriever and a bucket of squid.

I’ll leave you with the Gaelic saying, “Giorraionn beirt bothar.” It essentially means “Two people shorten a road.” So, grab a friend, order up a pint, tell a tall tale and revel in some fine music.

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Umut Adan’s Psychedelic Folk-Rock Vibe

Umut Adan – Bahar (Riverboat Records, 2019)

Crafting a kind of homage recording can be tricky business, especially if you is paying reverence to a dated sound and applying that sound to your own compositions.

Walking that fine line where adoration doesn’t cross over into parody or a pale copycat effort has to come with some true convictions, not only to the original sound but also to your own musical chops and whether you have anything new to add. Well as luck would have it Turkish singer, songwriter and guitarist Umut Adan proves rightly he’s got the chops and can kick some ass on his international debut recording Bahar (meaning Spring), out on the Riverboat Records label.

Diving deep into the Anatolian rock movement of the late 1960s, Mr. Adan has revived a sound familiar to devotees of the Turkish rock scene and musicians like Cem Karaca, Fikret Kizilok and Erkin Koray. While I am sometimes skeptical about claims of retro-sounding recordings, Mr. Adan has indeed captured the psychedelic rock sound; so much so it’s a little eerie and wholly satisfying.

Umut Adan – Bahar

Teaming up with producer and musician Marco Fasolo and producer and engineer Liam Watson, who just happens to be London’s Toe Rag studio founder where Bahar was recorded, Mr. Adan breathes a renewed musical life into Anatolian rock’s heyday by recording magic and good old fashioned rock compositions. Divvying up the work load, Mr. Adan plays acoustic and electric guitars, percussion, Mellotron and belts out the vocals on Bahar, while Mr. Fasolo takes care of electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums, percussion, mellotron and piano.

While the political messages of Bahar might be lost on those who don’t speak Turkish, the music is meaty and entrancing enough to cross any language barriers. Proof is opening track “Bembeyaz Cananım” Dedicated to Turkish folk musician and composer Muhlis Akarsu, this track embodies all the goodness of 60s Anatolian rock.

Following up with a meaty beat and dishy guitar lines “Şeytanın Aklını Çeldim,” Bahar perfects that electrified folk/rock sound. And it just gets better with tracks like “Ortasından Gel,” “Güneş” and the folksy love ballad “Zaman Zaman” by Fikret Kizilok.

Bahar get another hit of folk with “Arabam Kaldi’a” by Mahsui Serif. Tracks like “Dünyalardan Şen Bahar” and “ Sevdiğimi Seçtim” are as close to time travel as you are likely to get. Closing with a song about “the possibilities for humankind to better itself,” “Ana Baba Bacı Gardaş” sticks neatly to not only the sound of the 60s but also the roots of political message in Anatolian rock and folk music, and that’s no comfortable feat today in President Erdogan’s Turkey.

Bahar‘s blast from the past psychedelic/rock vibe might seem out of place, but the state of world right now might just feel the need for some solid rock rhythms and protest vocals, dig it? Also, kudos go to Ramazan Can for the wildly rich cover art. The description far out comes to mind.

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Houssam Gania’s Trance Ritual Music


Houssam Gania – Mosawi Swiri

Houssam Gania – Mosawi Swiri (Hive Mind Records, 2019)

Sometimes the best music is the result of misery. Think about it, a good number of rock songs revolve around the miserable cuss with anger issues going out to kick some ass and break the law. Gospel songs are all about being a miserable sinner seeking salvation or the miserable rejoicing after getting salvation. Folk songs are rife with a litany of the miseries of the average Joe and the need to stand together to fight The Man. Blues, well, the blues dole out miseries left and right, anything from your woman left, your man left, your dog don’t want you and Santa ain’t giving you anything for Christmas.

Country music is equally steeped in miseries. But interestingly enough music makes it possible for those miseries to heal. In essence, music becomes a balm. No matter the misery, the affliction, the landscape or even the weather there’s a piece of music with your misery written all over it, ready to cauterize the wound.

This has been the way since we humans started gathering in fire-lit circles armed with drums and flutes. Of course, Western musical traditions used to heal are downright puny in comparison to the deep well world music traditions have on tap for putting the sick and suffering to rights. From the healing vibrations of the classical Indian raga to the sacred business of Native American drum circles to the potent rhythms of African shamanic drumming and all the magical songs, chants and rites across the globe, humans have bent the will of voice and instrument as response to miseries real and imagined. We still do this.

One of those following that path is Houssam Gania, the Moroccan guimbri player and singer, who also happens to be the youngest son to the late Maalem Mahmoud Gania. Delving into the rich musical ceremony of the Gnawa, Mr. Gania’s recording Mosawi Swiri, available on the Hive Mind Records, dazzles listeners with songs from the Musawiyin Suite, part of the trance ritual music invoking master of sky and sea spirits Sidi Musa.

Joined by brother Hamza Gania and fellow qraqabs (cast iron castanets) players and singers Mohamed Benzaid, Khalid Charbadou and Amine Bassi, Mr. Gania takes lead on vocals and the guimbri, the three-stringed sintir of the Gnawa people on Mosawi Swiri.

Opening with the lush “Moulay Lhacham,” listeners are treated to guest musicians on guitar, keyboards and drums from the Atlantic fishing port city Essaouira region. This track is marvelously meaty with call and response vocals and the persistent rhythms of qraqabs edged with sleek jazzy guitar lines. Stripped bare of guitar, keyboards and drums, Mosawi Swiri takes on a respectful traditional feel as it moves through “Moussa Barkiy,” “Mosawi Swiri” and “Lah Lahrbi Ya Molay.”

For newbies to Gnawa music, the rhythmic clatter of qraqabs might come across as a little startling, but falling into its revolving rhythm enhances the trance ritual effects of the music. Vocals led by Mr. Gania and responses from backing singers along with the intricate thrumming of guimbri easily become voices from the earth, sea and sky.

Hypnotic, Mosawi Swiri encourages the Gnawa trance ritual effortlessly. I don’t know if I personally had a djinn (genie) problem, but I enjoyed the journey of Mosawi Swiri as I’m sure other world music fans seeking a musical ritual to ease their miseries will as well. I’m guessing if you’re a smirking little shit in a Maga hat you might want to steer clear.

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Bassekou Kouyate’s Impeccably Crafted Music

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba – Miri (Out Here Records, 2019)

Over the years Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba have dazzled fans with recordings like Ba Power (2015), Jama Ko (2013), I Speak Fula (2010) and Segu Blue (2007), so it can come as no surprise that Mr. Kouyate and the members of Ngoni Ba are back at it, serving up some equally fabulous music on their fifth studio album called Miri (meaning dream or contemplation in the Bamana language) from Mr. Kouyate’s original label Out Here Records.

Dipping into topics like love, family, friendship and current struggles over ethnic differences, power and climate change, Mr. Kouyate puts a finger on the pulse of Mali and an every changing world and gives it to us good by way of impeccably crafted music and singsong vocals.

Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba – Miri

Miri proves rich and rewarding Malian fare from the opening track “Kanougnon” with its sweet vocals and oud by guest artist Majid Bekkas against the intricate delicacies of ngoni on this searching for love song. Equally delicious is “Deli,” a song about friendship that boasts some outstanding percussion. Joining Mr. Kouyate on his own lead ngoni and Ngoni Ba members Amy Sacko on lead vocals, Abou Sissoko on medium ngoni, Madou Kouyate on bass ngoni, Mahamadou Tounkara on doundoun, tama and yabara and Moctar Kouyate on cabasse on the track “Kanto Kelena” is vocalist Habib Koite. Fans get a dose of Cuba on “Wele Cuba” with guest singer Yasel Gonzalez Rivera from the group Madera Limpia.

Title track “Miri” is a stunning instrumental track. Interestingly, the track is based on the Mr. Kouyate’s experiences as a child playing by the Niger River near his hometown Garana. Musically, Mr. Kouyate struggles with the easy memories of playing by the river with Mali’s current struggles with the Islamist movement, falling tourism and climate change that has dried out parts of the Niger River. It is through the music that Mr. Kouyate dreams of peace in his country.

There are other goodies like the twangy touches of Mr. Kouyate’s bottleneck slide ngoni on bluesy “Wele Ni” with vocals by Abdoulaye Diabate, some fiery percussion and ngoni lines on the track “Konya” and the rich vocals of Amy Sacko on the bluesy “Nyame,” a song urging respect your family and your family’s heritage with some extra help from guest fiddler Casey Driessen.

Guest singer Afel Bocoum appears on the “Tabital Palaaku,” a song about the conflicts between herders and farmers and the ethnic struggles that go along with struggles over land use in the wake of climate change. Miri closes out with an homage to Mr. Kouyate’s mother on the track he named after her called “Yakare.” Ms. Sacko gives voice to Yakare and her 13 children and a life of singing.

Miri is a true treat and all about the big dreams, small pleasures, love, friendship and hardship of Mali.

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The Blistering Scrumptious Sound of Kel Assouf

Kel Assouf – Black Tenere (Glitterbeat Records, 2019)

World music fans looking for a desert blues/rock fix get their wish on February 15th with the release of Kel Assouf’s Black Tenere. To be released on the Glitterbeat Records label, Black Tenere is the follow-up recording to Kel Assouf’s 2016 release of Tikounen and the 2013 release of Tin Hinane. Burning bright with Belgium based, but Nigerien born, front man and guitarist Anana Ag Haroun, Belgium jazz drummer Oliver Penu and Tunisia born keyboardist Sofyann Ben Youssef, who also took on producing the album, Black Tenere is a razor sharp call of the Kel Tamashek or Tuareg culture as well as a blistering delicious addition to Kel Assouf’s sound.

Black Tenere thrives on potent duality where homage is paid to the Kel Tamashek (Tuareg) traditions and current struggles for independence and a contemporary delving into Western rock influences like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Queen of the Stone Age with some European electronic soundscapes tossed in for good measure.

Noting that, “These days I’m a Belgian when I’m in Niger and a Nigerien when I’m in Belgium,” Anana Ag Haroun says, “My musical tastes didn’t change but they are expanding further thanks to my different encounters and my curiosity. Black Tenere is a rock album. It’s a choice to give a more original touch that builds up the identity of Kel Assouf and differentiates it from the other groups of Ishumar music. For me the music has to travel and it has to be open to other sounds so that everyone can listen to the messages it carries.”

Black Tenere opens with fiery “Fransa,” replete with call and response vocals, guitar, keyboards and the familiar rolling rhythm, taking on the complexities of French intervention and squaring that with the state of their own nomadic way of life. “Fransa” gives way to the hard rocking “Tenere” with some truly kickass drumming, guitar licks and keyboards. “Alyochan” is just as amazing with driving drumming. “Tamatant” is where Black Tenere takes a sharp left turn to land listeners into dreamy electronic soundscape. The guitar licks seem to be suspended in space and the vocals soulful.

The electronica is part and parcel to Mr. Ben Youssef’s influences, his own work on AMMAR 808, a Pan-Maghreb futurism and the Stockholm Stureparken Studio where Black Tenere was recorded.

Mr. Ben Youssef explains, “Stureparken is a studio owned by musicians, one of them is a friend and fellow producer. The thing that is special about the studio is that it has a huge collection of keyboards, synths, guitars, basses and drums as well. All of them are vintage instruments, with some being rarer than others. The idea was to have more choices of good or weird sounding instruments. We were trying to find some special sounds and kept experimenting around that idea.”

He goes on, “I have been a rocker since my teens. I was trying to translate the Kel Assouf trio into a sound half way between its Nigerien roots and 70’s rock, but also stoner rock, which is a music I played for many years. The rhythmic parts and synths show something from my electronic alter-ego AMMAR 808. I tried to tie together my disparate influences: electronic, ambient and rock. It was a natural thing to do after playing with Kel Assouf for all these years. The sound of the album is inspired from the musicians and their personalities, including myself.

Black Tenere swings back into rock grooves with “America” and “Amghar” before delving into the deliciously trippy “Ariyal.” This track doesn’t really start, but unfolds by way of opening cymbals and drums before electronica and keyboards take over and finally guitar lines emerge. By the time the full throat of the song emerges “Ariyal” is all savage coolness. Perhaps one of my own favorites on Black Tenere is “Taddout.” With spacey electronica and keyboards opening into lanky, open sky guitar licks and rolling rhythm “Taddout” comes across as preciously personal as intimate vocals sing about desert life with the lyrics”

I follow the traces of antelopes,
I live in the desert and its storms,
my favorite flower is that of acacia. It’s called Tabsit.
Its perfume is that of freedom and loneliness,
Far from the tumult of city life.

It is Anana Ag Haroun who sums it up, “Music is a weapon of war without violence. It is a claim for justice and it is also the soul of humanity. It brings together human beings from different cultures and different languages and from different countries. If we were to invest more in culture today and less in weapons, the world would be different. Music is peace for our souls.

Buy Black Tenere

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Urna and Kroke, a Well-Designed Collaboration

Urna and Kroke – Ser

Urna and Kroke – Ser (Urna Chahar-Tugchi / Uct, 2018)

One would think that teaming up a singer born to nomadic herders on the Ordos grasslands of Inner Mongolia and a Polish band known on the world music scene for their forays into Klezmer, Jewish music, folk, jazz and fusion as an unlikely mix or, perhaps, just unadvised. Good thing for us that vocalist Urna Chahar-Tugchi and Kroke band members Tomasz Kukurba (viola, percussion, vocals and flute), Jerzy Bawoł (accordion) and Tomasz Lato (double bass) are cleverer than any of us.

The recording, Ser, out on the Urna Chahar-Tugchi/Uct label is simply stunning. Conjuring up a seamless expanse of evocative musical imagery by way of new takes on traditional songs and freshly penned tracks, the Mongolian singer and the Polish band make for a perfect match.

Ser is an elegant collaboration that opens with the traditional song “Zandan Hureng (My Sandalwood Brown.” Framed by the Mr. Kukurba on violin, Mr. Bawoł on accordion and Mr. Lato on double bass, Urna’s vocals soar like a bird and adding some equally impressive vocals by Mr. Kukruba makes the track sweeter. Ser just get better with an accordion opening on “Nojiyaa” and Urna’s lovely vocals, but one can hardly go wrong with a song where the opening lyrics are “On the banks of the Green River a horse waits.”

Title track “Ser” is another stunner in its simplicity of vocals and double bass written by Urna and Mr. Lato. The jazzy simplicity on this track woven out of voice and double bass is achingly lovely. Equally delicious is “Baigal Dalai (Infinite Nature)” another track written by Urna.

Ser further unfolds with traditional song “Undur Uul (On the Summit of a High Mountain) that thrums as if on the back of a horse riding across the grasslands. “Jigder Nana” is a sweetly sassy number that downright catchy with some jazzy interplay between vocals, accordion, violin, double bass and some snappy percussion. It’s simply impossible not to wowed by tracks like”Shirdegiin Chaidam (Flowers of the Steppe)” the charming “Altan Altan Jigjuuhai (Golden, Golden Little Bird)” and a capella track “Erdenis (My Wishes for Humanity).”

Finely worked tracks like “Jergelgeen/Kukurna (Fate Morgana)” a piece written by Urna and Mr. Kukurba, where the melding of vocals against a kaleidoscope of viola and electronica proves the power and depth of this collaboration, where the work is done and there is nothing left but to fly. It’s an ethereal soulfulness.

Ser is your lush ride across the grasslands.

Buy Ser.

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As The Winds Die Down


Kelly Thoma – As The Winds Die Dow

Kelly Thoma – As The Winds Die Down (Kelly Thoma, 2019)

Part and parcel to the group Labyrinth, as well as the Labyrinth Musical Project, member of the Ross Daly Quartet and the Tokso Folk String Quartet, Greek musician and composer Kelly Thoma has added a new recording to her two previous solo works Anamkhara and 7Fish. Music fans looking to dip into the riches of Greece will revel in the musical landscape of As The Winds Die Down.

In addition to composing the music for As The Winds Die Down, Ms. Thoma regales listeners with her incomparable lyra playing. Joined by singer Vassilis Stavrakakis, lauto player and singer Giorgis Manolakis, percussionist Giannis Papatzanis and percussionist, saz and tarhu player Ross Daly, Ms. Thoma conjures up a vibrant sound.

The music of As The Winds Die Down is tapestry of elegant lyra lines, rich percussion and dazzling runs of lauto. Alive with dizzily swirling tracks like opening track “As The Winds Die Down,” “Kotylies of Armanogeia” and “Madness and Reason” with slower elegant tracks like “Rain,” “The Tree’s Song” and “Your Dark Side” As The Winds Die Down shimmers and glows with talents of these musicians.

As The Winds Die Down is equal parts electrifying and poignant. The only unfortunate aspect is that some naughty person provided no translations of the song lyrics other than just the titles. Certainly, there must be some kind of story behind a track titled “Madness and Reason” or “Your Dark Side.”  Without a press release or any sort of explanation why this music is meaningful or what the songs are about I’m afraid As The Winds Die Down tells only half the story in its current form.

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Un Autre Blanc Showcases the Perseverance And Musical Mastery of Salif Keita


Salif Keita – Un Autre Blanc (Naive, 2018)

For more than 50 years the Malian singer/songwriter Salif Keita has become the cornerstone of Afro-pop music, pumping out stellar recordings like Seydou Bathili (1982), Soro (1987), Amen (1981), Papa (1999), Moffou (2002), Folon…The Past (2010), Anthology (2011) and The Lost Album (2017).  On February 15th, Mr. Keita will add another recording to his already considerable discography with the release of Un Autre Blanc on the Naive record label. 

The title Un Autre Blanc or Another White is a reference to the trials and tribulations Mr. Keita has faced through his albinism – a condition thought to be a sign of bad luck or misfortune by his Mandinka culture.  A glorious testament to his endurance and musical mastery, Mr. Keita embraces Un Autre Blanc

Dr. Cherif Keita, Mr. Keita’s cousin and biographer, and a professor at Carleton College explains, “When some people sing, they create social change. Salif changed the old ways in Mali, our relationship to musicianship, to classifying people. Because of his condition, he had to latch on to what he could do to survive in a harsh environment in Bamako. Music became his salvation.”

With a wealth of world tours, recordings and collaborations that include the likes of Carlos Santana, Joe Zawinul, Vernon Reid and Esperanza Spalding, Mr. Keita has proved the gold standard for fans around the world.


Salif Keita – Un Autre Blanc

With Un Autre Blanc, Mr. Keita prepares for retirement, but not before a final musical statement wrapped so tightly with his own identity as a persistent call for acceptance and an embrace for all of our differences, as well as a call for an end to conflict.

I’m a white man with a deep black African soul, and I have accepted that. Now you have to accept that difference and that contrast,” as Mr. Keita firmly puts it.

Opening with “Were Were,” a tribute to monumental figures like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Sekou Toure, Un Autre Blanc launches listeners into the riches of Mr. Keita’s familiar vocals and musical joyfulness. Brimming over with guitars, kora, n’goni, keyboards, horns, balafon and sassy backing vocals Un Autre Blanc is a treat.  If that weren’t incentive enough to take a listen then maybe Angelique Kidjo and rap artist MHD appearing as guest artists on the raucous “Itarafo” might temp listeners. Nigerian singer Yemi Alade appears on sweetly worked “Diawara Fa.” 

Ladysmith Black Mambazo takes a turn on a wonderful track titled “Ngamale.”  Ivory Coast reggae star Alpha Blondy joins Mr. Keita in closing out the CD on the reggae goodness of “Mansa Fo la.”  Fans should also checkout tracks “Syrie,” “Tonton” and Mr. Keita’s tribute to the beauty of a Fula woman on “Bah Poulo.”

Un Autre Blanc is just another feather in Mr. Keita’s hat and just as brilliant as the very first feather.

Buy Un Autre Blanc in North America

Buy Un Autre Blanc in Europe

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2018 Holiday Gift Guide – Day 5

More gift ideas…

Scully Men’s Music Note Embroidered Retro Western Shirt


Scully Men’s Music Note Embroidered Retro Western Shirt

Eat Sleep Drums T-Shirt long sleeve


Eat Sleep Drums T-Shirt long sleeve

Music Keyboard Scarf


Music Keyboard Scarf

Jstyle Jewelry stainless steel Best Friend Puzzle Pendant


Jstyle Jewelry stainless steel Best Friend Puzzle Pendant

Soulbreezecollection Treble Clef MusicNote Brooch Pin


Soulbreezecollection Treble Clef MusicNote Brooch Pin

Stevie Wonder Ltd. Edition Platinum Record Display – Memorabilia Wall Art


Stevie Wonder Ltd. Edition Platinum Record Display – Memorabilia Wall Art

Whimsical Watches Unisex G0510002 Violin watch


Whimsical Watches Unisex G0510002 Violin watch

MarryAcc Vintage Music Guitar Head Belt Buckle


MarryAcc Vintage Music Guitar Head Belt Buckle

On This Date In Music: A Day to Day History of the Music that Inspires Us and the Artists Who Create It


On This Date In Music: A Day to Day History of the Music that Inspires Us and the Artists Who Create It by Michael Walter. Paperback.

Hank Williams Country Music legend poster


Hank Williams Country Music legend smiling in Stetson 24×36 poster

Baby Night Light, AnanBros Remote Control Star Projector with Timer Music Player


Baby Night Light, AnanBros Remote Control Star Projector with Timer Music Player, rotating star night light 9 color option

Kungyo Vintage Guitar Shaped Decorative Hooks


Kungyo Vintage Guitar Shaped Decorative Hooks

Think Fun Compose Yourself Music card game


Think Fun Compose Yourself Music card game

Mother Goose Club Bluetooth Sing Along Portable MP3 Player


Mother Goose Club Bluetooth Sing Along Portable MP3 Player
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2018 Holiday Gift Guide – Day 4

Even more goodies…

Fairwin Bluetooth Beanie Hat


Fairwin Bluetooth Beanie Hat – smart wireless music beanie for men and women, with earphones

Numark Party Mix

Numark Party Mix – starter DJ controller with built-in sound card and light show, and DJ software included for download

Shag Wear Women’s Large Clutch Vegan Faux Leather Wallet


Shag Wear Women’s Large Clutch Vegan Faux Leather Walletwith zipper coin pocket

ShirtLoco Men’s Got Music hoodie sweatshirt


ShirtLoco Men’s Got Music hoodie sweatshirt

Gootrades Musical Note Key Ring


Gootrades Musical Note Key Ring

2018 Greatest Pop & Movie Hits Songbook For Piano


2018 Greatest Pop & Movie Hits Songbook For Piano

Use4 Black Music Note Piano Luggage Tags


Use4 Black Music Note Piano Luggage Tags

G GEEKEEP Music Activated LED Strip Lights


G GEEKEEP Music Activated LED Strip Lights16.4 ft/5m 12v color changing rope lights pulse to beats of music

HST Fashion Unisex Canvas Rucksack Vintage Computer Laptop Backpack


HST Fashion Unisex Canvas Rucksack Vintage Computer Laptop Backpack

Wingostore 30 Notes Hand Crank Music Box


Wingostore 30 Notes Hand Crank Music Box

ZUNON Treble Cufflinks & Tie Clip


ZUNON Treble Cufflinks & Tie Clip

My Brain is 99.9% Song T-Shirt


My Brain is 99.9% Song T-Shirt

Creative Motion Guitar Desk Lamp, 24.5-inch


Creative Motion Guitar Desk Lamp, 24.5-inch

Music Law: How to Run Your Band’s Business paperback


Music Law: How to Run Your Band’s Business paperback
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