New Jersey, USA – Artistic director Adam Rudolph reunites with his longtime collaborator and mentor Yusef Lateef in the live 2-cd concert recording In the Garden, performed by the Go: Organic Orchestra, jointly released on the artists’ own Meta and Yal labels (distribution by City Hall & North Country). Since 1988, hand percussion innovator Adam Rudolph and the legendary multi reed master Dr. Yusef Lateef (ex-Dizzy Gillespie/ Charles Mingus/ Cannonball Adderly) have developed a process of composing collaboratively, and have recorded 12 albums together.
Their long history of exploring and creating innovative means of composing together fully ripens in In the Garden, the third concert recording of Adam Rudolph’s Go: Organic Orchestra.In the Garden was recorded live in concert on March 1 & 2 of 2003 at the Electric Lodge in Venice, California. Rudolph improvisationally conducts the 22-member Go: Organic Orchestra, utilizing themes and cues which he and Lateef composed. This large woodwind and percussion ensemble includes elder master artists Bennie Maupin, Alex Cline, Munyungo Jackson and Ralph Jones, as well as musicians from classical, improvising and world music backgrounds. Percussion and woodwind instruments from around the world are orchestrated with Western clarinets, flutes and saxophones. In the Garden was created using unique compositional approaches including Rudolph’s concept of “Cyclic Verticalism,” and Lateef’s concepts of “Clustonics” and triple diminished and hexatonic scales. The pieces were composed with traditional Western notation as well as graphic scores and grids, and conducted with a series of hand signals developed by Rudolph.
“Nanna” is an improvised duet with Rudolph on handrumset and Lateef on tenor sax. “Morphic Resonance” features a viola/ flute/ percussion quartet composed by Lateef, alongside a flute quintet and a viola solo composed by Rudolph, which contextualize improvisational solos by Yusef Lateef on flute and Bennie Maupin on bass clarinet. The theme to “Lobelia, Euphorbia, Rock” was composed by Rudolph; it has a melody for three clarinets and a flute composed by Lateef; and it features solos by Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet), David Philipson (North Indian bansuri flute) and Pablo Calogero (bass flute). The eleven minute “Amanita,” composed and performed by Rudolph in a 63 beat rhythm cycle, features solos by Lateef on flutes & tenor sax.
Unprecedented and uncategorizable, the music on In the Garden draws from sophisticated 20th century European compositional techniques, as well as African and Asian scales and instruments. These enchanting sonic environments are rooted in the creative American improvisational tradition, which Dr. Lateef has termed “autophysiopsychic,” meaning music which derives from the physical, spiritual and mental self. This ambitious and powerful project achieves an extraordinary freedom and unity, brought about through discipline and diversity.
Collaborations of Yusef Lateef & Adam Rudolph have fascinated and delighted audiences throughout North America and Europe with performances at the Northsea, San Francisco and Montreal Jazz Festivals. “Double Concerto” premiered at Symphony Space in New York City in 1988 with the Eternal Wind ensemble. “Double Concerto #2,” for 20 musicians, was performed at the California Institute of the Arts in 1989. “The World at Peace,” for 12 musicians, was commissioned in 1995 with a grant from the Meet the Composer/ Rockefeller Foundation/ AT&T Program in partnership with the National Endowment of the Arts. “Beyond the Sky,” for 8 musicians, premiered in 2000 at Lincoln Center in New York in honor of Dr. Lateef’s 60 years of performing.
New York, USA – The Gerard Edery Sephardic Song Book is now available. The highly anticipated song book by Sephardic singer/composer/guitarist, Gerard Edery, contains 40 musical gems from the Sephardic oral tradition. It includes ballads, songs of courtship, love and marriage, as well as liturgical pieces honoring Elijah the Prophet, Abraham and Moses, among others.
The song book also includes a 17 track accompanying CD, Ladino pronunciation guide, lyrics and translations, and a forward by renowned author/storyteller, Peninnah Schram. The songs are arranged in an easily readable format that highlights melody and guitar chords with suggested accompaniments. The collection includes both familiar and lesser known pieces such as Montañas Altas, Shalom Alechem Señores, La Roza Linda, Cuando El Rey Nimrod, La Comida La Mañana, Eli Eliyahu, Tus Cavellos Seda Son, Dúrmite Mi Alma and many more.
Flamenco music was born, and still lives, among the scenic green hills of Andalusia in southern Spain.
In recent years, however, some performers have moved beyond both the geographical and the stylistic boundaries of traditional flamenco to incorporate
a variety of new styles into their work. Paco de Lucía and Madrid’s Ketama have garnered critical praise – and the wrath of purists – with their jazz-influenced
recordings, while the Gipsy Kings have wedded pop to flamenco to win fans worldwide. Other performers have turned inward, searching for the obscure origins of flamenco, in hope of inspiration. What they have found are pervasive Arab influences, touching everything from the style of performance to the very
rhythms and scales of the songs themselves. And what they have produced as a result is a fusion of Spanish and Arab traditions that is both interesting and
The Arab roots of flamenco run deep. Though some scholars believe the word flamenco means “Flemish,” others think it is a corruption of the colloquial
Arabic felag mangu, meaning “fugitive peasant” and derived from a root meaning “to flee.” The term came into use in the 14th century, and was first applied to
the Andalusian Gypsies themselves, who were called either gitanos or flamencos.
Flamenco music dates back to the Middle Ages, a time of turmoil in the Iberian peninsula. The once-mighty Muslim kingdoms of al-Andalus were in a state
of slow but steady decline, while the Catholic powers of central and northern Spain steadily pushed south. The borderlands between the Muslim and Christian
realms were the scene of vibrant cultural exchange and artistic cross-pollination. Flamenco was born in these marches where Arabs, Jews, Christians and gitanos mixed freely.
The cante flamenco, or “flamenco song,” is characterized by lyric vocals, improvised dance and strongly rhythmic accompaniment. Although lighter forms
later developed, classic cantes jondos (“profound songs”) explore themes of sadness, pain and death. The cantes originally featured purely rhythmic
instruments or were sung a cappella, but the guitar came to be the principal flamenco instrument during the 19th century, when gitanos began to sing and
dance professionally in cafés and bodegas.
It was during this period that the term flamenco came to be applied to the gitanos’ music, and the rules and forms of the classical flamenco were established. Some 60 standard cantes from this period survive today, encompassing a variety of moods and themes.
Over time, however, a split developed between “classical” flamenco and the folk gitano style. Master musicians like Sabicas and Carlos Montoya raised
classical flamenco to a true art from with their expressive virtuosity, but less gifted singers and guitarists often sacrificed emotion for technical precision.
Carefully choreographed flamenco “spectacles” also narrowed the opportunity for improvised musical solos and dancing, leading some aficionados to charge that
flamenco, as an art form, was stagnant.
In reaction, many turned to the gitano tradition. Looser, less polished and more open to change than their classical flamenco counterparts, gitano artists
expressed the passion that is central to flamenco. Their style included fiery guitar improvisation, jaleo – complex rhythms hand-clapping, guitar-slapping,
finger-snapping and vocal outbursts – and the tradition of duende, the deep emotional participation of the performer.
As flamenco artists and critics began to explore the elements of gitano performance, they rediscovered the rich Arab influence in flamenco. The artform’s basic building blocs – sung poetry and music – were borrowed from the Arabs and Berbers who ruled al-Andalus from 711 to 4192, when the Moors were
expelled from Spain. T.B. Irving notes in his book The World of Islam, “Gypsy music and cante jondo go back to the zajal [sung Arabic lyric poetry] and
the five-tone scale.” The percussive elements of jaleo are still found in the folk music of North Africa and its reliance on drums, tambourines and
hand-clapping. The vocal conventions of flamenco can also be traced back to Arab precursors. For example, the vocalizations “Ay-ay-ay!” and “Ay-li-li!” are found
throughout gitano performance, usually in introductory or transitional passages, and come from the traditional refrains of blind Arab mendicants, “Ya ‘ain!” (O
eye!) and “Ya lail!” (“O night!”) respectively.
Indeed, cultural historian Lois Lamya’ al-Faruqi found few elements of flamenco untouched by Arab music. “The ornamental melodic style, the improvisatory rhythmic freedom, the sometimes ‘strange’ (to Western ears) intervals, the segmental structure, and the repeated excursions from and returns to a tonal center are some of the features that indicate Arab influence on cante flamenco,” according to al-Faruqi.
Exploration of flamenco’s Arab ancestry was reinforced by the rise over the last six decades of andalucismo, or Andalusian cultural nationalism. The 1930’s
saw the beginning of a re-evaluation of al-Andalus and the place of Arabs and Muslims in Spanish history and culture, as well as of Spanish ties to the Maghrib. “Previously, southern Spain had turned its back on North Africa,” according to Khalid Duran of the Free University of Berlin. “Those few [Spaniards] who had an idea of the greatness of Islamic Spain liked to believe that it was due to some very special kind of noble Arab from somewhere in the East, perhaps Damascus. Moroccans [they believed ] were nothing but uncouth tribals revolting against Spanish civilization.” Andalucismo grew steadily during the long dictatorship of Francisco Franco and truly blossomed after his death in 1975. Since that time, Spaniards have come to a new appreciation of al-Andalus and of Arab and Islamic culture.
The search for the sources of flamenco, and the rise of Andalucismo, bore fruit in the 1980’s and 1990’s with a series of stunning musical collaborations
between Spanish and Moroccan artists. Most of the Spanish participants are individual performers, including some of the most prominent singers and
guitarists working in the gitano style.
The Moroccans are mostly musical groups, principally the orquestas andalusi of northern Morocco. Like flamenco, Andalusi music had both classical and folk
traditions. Classical Andalusi music, whose forms were set down in 11th-century Cordoba, came to North Africa with the exiles of al-Andalus, and is
characterized by the nawba, a suite of music in a single melodic mode which grows progressively faster and includes sung poems. While Andalusi orchestras
are grounded in the classical nawbat, they also have been influenced heavily by Arab and Berber folk music, and often move easily between these “great” and
“little” musical traditions.
Musicians from both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar find in these joint performances a way to discover their musical roots, remember their cultures’ past triumphs and tragedies and explore their common heritage. The resulting Hispano-Arab music is extraordinary. Sinewy flamenco guitars lines weave between
the plaintive tones of the kamanjeh, a kind of Moroccan violin, underpinned by the frenetic clatter of castanets and a bedrock of darabukkahas, or Arab hand
drums. Lyrics are sung in both Spanish and Arabic, occasionally overlaid in a melding of languages and styles. For their selections, the artists have drawn on
both the flamenco and Andalusi repertoires, and play cantes flamencos and traditional Maghribi folk songs with equal dexterity. Attempts at musical
“fusion” often result in mere cacophony, but the roots common to flamenco and Andalusi music – and the abilities of the musicians involved – have allowed
these Hispano-Arab crossover efforts to attain majestic heights.
While much of this cross-cultural exploration has been done in informal sessions or live performances, several flamenco-Andalusi recordings have been
produced. Among the best are the collaborations of José Heredia Maya and Enrique Morente with the Orquesta Andalusi de Tetuan and Juan Peña El Lebrijano’s
powerful work with the Orquesta Andalusi de Tanger. All three recording exhibit the beauty and passion that can flower when top artists meet to exchange musical ideas and inspiration.
While much ground remains to be covered within the Arabo-flamenco tradition, some folk musicians are striking out on a different tack. The Valencian folk
group Al Tall has teamed up with the ensemble Muluk El-Hwa from Marrakech to explore the music of al-Andalus itself. The two groups have set Arabic and
Catalonian poetry from the 11th to 13th centuries to the rhythms, melodies and instruments of the western Mediterranean to produce appealing and inventive
Hispano-Arab musical collaborations are both an attempt to revivify existing art forms and a reassertion of Andalusian-Arab Mediterranean traditions. Vincent
Torrent of Al Tall declares, “There is a special kind of Mediterranean sensibility and aesthetics. We believe…that a place must be found for this mode
of expression, particularly since we’re subjected to a veritable invasion by other aesthetics and sensibilities.”
Though flamenco performers and Andalusi musicians began their collaboration as a way to explore their own artistic pasts, they also have charted a path to
an exciting musical future. Along the way they have produced some outstanding music, broken down long-standing cultural and historical barriers and
demonstrated – in an era where some see only a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West – that there is room for cooperation and creativity.
[From Saudi Aramco magazine, November/December 1994 issue. Reproduced courtesy of Saudi Aramco Magazine.
London, England – The Environmental
Justice Foundation has organized a world music event in aid of EJF’s human
rights and environmental projects in developing countries. African Summer takes
place on 7 November 2003 at The Garage on Highbury Corner, London, and features
two acclaimed acts, Modeste and Zuba.
Modeste Hugues was born in Madagascar. His music and Malagasy
songs have generated a devoted following in London. Modeste played acclaimed
sets at the Womad festival in 2002 and 2003. More info at www.modeste.co.uk.
Zuba has been described as “One of Britain’s Best World Music Acts.” The band’s members hail from Liberia, Uganda, Scotland, France and Spain. They recently supported Manu Chao at the Edinburgh Festival and have played with Papa Wemba, Femi Kuti and the Afro Celts. More info at www.zuba.co.uk. Also appearing will be Algerian DJ KADERhttp://www.saadoun.com.
All proceeds from the event will go to the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), a registered charity dedicated to empowering people in the world’s poorest countries to protect their environment and defend human rights. EJF provides training and equipment enabling partner
organizations to document and expose environmental and human rights abuses, promoting peaceful solutions, sustainable alternatives and leaving a lasting legacy.
Tickets are £10 and are on sale now from the credit card hotline 08701 500 044
(24hour), from 0870 906 3777 or online with Ticketmaster (with booking fee).
There is no booking fee if bought in cash at Astoria box office (157 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0EL 020 7434 9592). The venue has a 550 capacity.
(Prensa Latina – Cumbancha) Havana, Cuba – The charisma and strength of Cuban singer Haila Maria Mompie made a sudden entry in the US market with the recording Haila Live. The US digital publication Salsa Power revealed that the Caribbean artist has imposed her style, backed by Canadian record companies that promote her.
Mompie is considered to be among the female singers with one of the most powerful ranges within Cuban music and her CD attests to it. In Haila Live she joins Cuban stars Issac Delgado, with whom she sings the bolero “Pensamiento,” and Chucho Valdes, and Mayito Rivera, singer of Los Van Van. Also participating are the David Calzado Orchestra, and Charanga Habanera, with whom she is promoting her latest productions in Japan. Dancers are able to feel “the energy and electricity” conveyed in the songs Haila and her musicians play. Haila Live includes songs like “Hoy me inclino,” “La rosa,” “Bemba colora,” “La sopa en botella,” “Sobre una tumba, rumba,” and the classics “Drume negrita” and “Que te pedi,” among others.
Ali Jihad Racy was five years old, at his mother’s knee, when he fell in love with music. “She played the violin. She used to help me put my fingers on the right spots.” A smile rounds his square face. It was from those gentle first lessons that Racy set off on his continuing exploration of traditional Arab music.
Now, the 51-year-old University of California ethnomusicologist is regarded as one of the world’s top experts on Arab music, credited with the preservation of centuries-old regional traditions. More than
that, he is a composer and musician in his own right. His performances on the ‘ud, buzuq and nay throughout the United States and the Arab world have introduced traditional Arab music both to western audiences and to a new generation of ArabsThe list of Racy’s achievements suggests a high-energy
personality: advanced degrees in musicology from the University of Illinois; hundreds of performances, including at New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; compositions for films and television, including the 10-part British series The Arabs; and countless articles on Arab music.
Yet just hours before a recent performance in New York, Racy, gray-haired and stocky, is serene. Wearing a muted sport coat, tie and a crisp ivory shirt, he looks as if he belongs on campus in Los Angeles, rather than on stage.
He talks about his childhood in south Lebanon, where his mother and two uncles were violinists. “In my village there were many musicians. And my father, Salam al-Rasi, was a storyteller, and he had enormous influence on me,” he recalls. His father was also a folklorist, author of 10 books on folk literature, much of it collected locally. With his two brothers, Racy performed on Lebanese television and radio for several years.
War dispersed his family to England, the Arabian Peninsula, and the United States. “When I play in the Middle East now, a lot of older musicians who come to listen see that I am preserving traditional music that they feel is endangered in their own countries.” Racy’s voice is matter-of-fact. “But I also see a lot of the musical tradition still thriving, and younger generations of Arabs, all over the world, do appreciate their musical heritage.”
Racy matured as a musician in Beirut, where one of the most valuable lessons he learned, he says, was how, during a concert, improvisation flows from the relationships among the performers. Just as important, he adds, is the rapport between musicians and audience. In Arab concerts, he explains,
listeners participate with delighted cries and exclamatory gestures, creating a sort of dialogue, ore even communion. “In our tradition, these music connoisseurs were called sammi’ah. Without such individuals to respond, an Arab-music concert loses its soul,” Racy says.
His doctoral dissertation looked at the impact of the recording industry on the musical life of turn-of-the-century Cairo, a time when the recording of Arab music began to alter what had been largely an unwritten tradition. “A lot of musical traditions stay alive without musical notation –
some, in fact, despite notation,” Racy smiles. “Ironically, traditions that have notation seem to have changed more than those that are oral.”
As a few years ago Racy and his wife, Barbara, a dance ethnologist, clinical psychologist and photographer, recorded music and folkloric traditions in Qatar and United Arab Emirates, at the invitation of the Arab Gulf States Folklore Center in Doha. His work included research into the
traditional healing ritual that uses music and dance.
That led Racy to his current examination of the ways music is used to create and sustain altered states of consciousness, or ecstasy. For the last few years, he has been at work on a book about the art of tarab, which deals with the emotional effect of music.
Racy’s subdued manner becomes animated when he turns to his instruments. He cradles them like children. Rising from his seat, he lifts his honey-colored buzuq off the bed and clasps it to his heart. His strong fingers hover over the instrument’s taut steel stings and, as he strums, the rich sound fills the room. Resonant chords hang for a timeless moment before they fade.
“I perform tow particular music traditions,” Racy says. “One is the rural folk music I learned as a child – poetry singing and the folk instruments played at weddings. And the other is the urban music one finds in the eastern Arab world.” <
In composition and performance, Racy also enjoys fusing the traditional Arab sound with other musical traditions through concerts and recordings with groups from diverse traditions. Recently, the distinguished Kronos Quartet, a Grammy-winning experimental ensemble, premiered Racy’s Zaman Suit, which he wrote specifically for Kronos based on the ageless traditions he knows so well.
“It’s amazing how these world blends are bringing vitality to the music scene,” Racy says. “I have never recorded with such a variety of musicians – jazz artists, rock groups! – as I have in the last few years.”
All this cross-pollination indicated to Racy a broadening of American musical taste. “We’re living in a very interesting and lively time for all music,” he says.
Hours later, night has fallen and a run-down church off Washington Square is filling with aficionados who have come to hear Racy perform with Simon Shaeen and Mansour Ajami, both also noted Arab musicians. Talking the stage, Racy shed his sedate professorial air like an old skin; he even appears taller, more imposing, as if he has expanded physically. No longer shy and mild-mannered, Racy the performer radiates, captivating his audience and sweeping it with him on his musical journey. It is a journey he began a long time before this night, and which he will continue long after we have all gone home.
From Saudi Aramco magazine, September/October 1995. Reproduced courtesy of Saudi Aramco magazine.
Mariem Hassan expresses herself naturally in Hassania, the language of the Saharawis, but has serious difficulties with Spanish. That’s why she has rarely agreed to be interviewed. This is why this interview, reproduced from a long encounter with Carmelo Lattassa, has double value.
“We have our language (Hassania, closely related to the Berbers of Mauritania). The Mauritanians have the same music that we do but ours is more modern. They have the haul (aboriginal rhythm and form) as we do. Our songs are different because we talk of our problems since we fled from the Sahara, songs of the
children crying because their fathers went to war and never came back. They talk about the women whose husbands and fathers went to war, never to return, they talk about the deaths, of life, of politics, of god, of our land to which we hope to return.
I have a song about my brothers. It’s called “Tus Ojos Lloran” (Your Eyes Cry) and talks about my brothers and my father. One afternoon, in a rehearsal, a friend of mine came. She called me away to tell me that my brothers were dead. So, I cried and after that I started to sing. When I wrote the song, I thought of my brothers, in the time we lived in the Sahara, climbing the mountain with them, entering our jaima with them, talking with them, living with them, and I ask myself “where are they?After the Spaniards abandoned the Saharawi colony, the Western Sahara was occupied by Morocco and Mauritania. The Saharawi people fled to Algerian lands and founded the S.D.A.R. (Saharawi Democratic Arab Republic, recognized by 76 countries).
The Mauritanian perseverance ceased, but even today, we are waiting for a referendum on the land, occupied by the Moroccan government. The Saharawis confronted the military occupation, but the Moroccan army superiority brought many deaths to the Saharawis.
When I have problems, I say: “Mulana (God), help me.” Life is like that. If someone has problems, if someone is ill, someone is dead, someone lives well, someone lives badly, someone has problems with his family, his government, his work, life goes on. For example, if my husband died, did I die too? No, I have
to think about how I should live and how my children are going to live in the future. That’s how it is.
You, the Westerners, have walls to hang your portraits. We, instead, live in cloth tents. When it rains, the water gets in the tent and wets the mats and everything. When it is cold, it’s really cold. (In the desert, temperatures can reach below freezing point.) Most of the people have nothing to heat the tents with. When it’s hot, it can reach over 43 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) and that makes life really hard.
We cook all the dry foods: lentils, beans, and things like that because they last longer. Then we go to the wells to look for the water to cook it. The water is really salty, but that’s what there is. We make the bread, the food and everything with the hands and we all live inside the jaimas, the mother, the father, the children and the one who comes to visit.
When I started to compose, I didn’t have an instrument with me, only a drum. Before, we sat in circles and sang for ourselves but each year we do more things. We go out and do it differently. Now we gather Shueta, Mudleila (Saharawi singers) and me, together with two guitar players and compose. But when I’m alone, I compose only with a drum. I do the lyrics and then the music, like this, until the song comes out. Sometimes it works well, sometimes badly, like this. I only write the lyrics. The music is by heart.
A poet sees a woman, and describes her and makes a poem, but I don’t, I do things singing. Before the war, we did songs of love and beautiful things but the war and the lack of our land made us talk of more important things about the kids, the martyrs, the war.
The haul has really strict rules of memory and interpretation. The contemporary singers usually write the lyrics but the rest of it is still being done in the old way. The accompaniment is with the tebal, a drum of about 60 centimeters in diameter, made of a dug out wooden bowl and leather from the skin of a camel or goat. It is played with the hands, almost exclusively by women, producing a dry and deep sound at the same time.
From its origin, they used the tidinit, an instrument of dug out wood and a leather lid, similar to a four-stringed guitar. Since some time ago, the guitar is used in the songs because of its harmonic richness. It’s interpreted from the forms of the tidinitthat’s why it sounds so different and is especially difficult for the Westerner, accustomed to the classical guitar.
When I sing for someone different than my people, I feel happy, always happy. And when the audience applauds, I do it better, with more joy. I was married two times. My first husband didn’t want me to sing or to do these cultural things. When I got married, it was in the old way he talks with my family, my brothers, but
not with me. I gave him three sons but I didn’t like his attitude. He didn’t like me to do anything, neither singing, nor working in the wilaya, so I told him that I couldn’t continue this way. Then, he signed a letter saying that he released me because the woman cannot separate from the men by Islamic law (Sharia).
But I chose my present husband first ,you have to build the love and then the rest. We participate in everything the men do because our Islam is easy, it’s not an imposed Islam. I travel many time out of the wilaya, to different countries and my husband sees it as normal. When I return I go back to my other work, as a nurse. I always think of returning to the occupied Sahara. I only think of return.
The interview with Carmelo Lattassa ends with this illustration:
Mariem’s Spanish is simple and limited. She had great difficulties to answer the questions. When she was asked for the first time if she found poetry in everyday life, she answered, “When I’m in the camps, I get up at seven and get the children ready for school. Sometimes I leave the lentils in the kitchen and ask
my neighbor to take care of them. Then I go to work, and when I return, I find the kitchen burnt. Then, I do couscous, I do rice, preserves with milk…”
Courtesy of Nubenegra. Translated by José Ocaña and Tess Mangum-Ocaña. Edited by Angel Romero
jaima is a large desert tent. Pronounced ha-ee-mah
The problems following the invasion of Iraq seem to have awakened the Bush administration from a slumber on the need for debt relief (We’re shocked! Shocked!). But the problem of developing-world debt has long been on the mind of others, including the Jubilee organization. Imagine paying 38% of your income just to service your debt. But don’t get me started; we’re here to talk about the music of debt.
Yes, the issue now has an all-star soundtrack, thanks to the efforts of new indie label Say It Loud. Featuring a stellar lineup of musicians (most from Africa and Latin America), Drop the Debt is simply great listening. And even if you’re an amazing polyglot (songs come from 14 different nationalities), you won’t feel like anyone’s hitting you over the head with a guilt skillet. The closest thing to an anti-debt anthem is “The Third World Cries Everyday,” a richly orchestrated, mostly-English song by Africa South, an amazing constellation of musicians including Oliver Mtukudzi, Louis Mhlanga, Suthukazi Arosi, Khululiwe Sithole.
The rest of the CD is even better. It kicks off with the deep reggae mood of “Baba” by the combined forces of Tiken Jah Fakoly (Ivory Coast) and Tribo de Jah (Brazil). Brazilian vocalist Chico Cesar shows just how fast and percussive Portuguese can be sung on the folksy “Il faut payer (devo e não nego),” a collaboration with the Fabulous Trobadors of France. Bringing in Latin sounds is “Cosas pa’ pensar” by Colombia’s Toto La Momposina with a fabulous horn section. Cameroon’s Sally Nyolo combines with Shingo2 of Japan for the drum-and-voice tune “Tilma (remix).” Like turntablism? You’ll dig French group Massilia Sound System’s “Osca Sankara.” If funk is your thing, “Argent trop cher (money’s too expensive)” by Tarace Boulba of France and Ablaye Mbaye of Senegal will definitely help you get a groove on.
Lyrically, the CD stays on topic, though each song highlights a different aspect of the debt burden. The translations give a sense of the widespread problems. Senegal’s El Hadj N’Diaye sings “For 40 years we’ve been repaying / A debt that endlessly grows / … We even say we’ll never be able to pay it back / That it’s planned that way.” Zedess (Burkina Faso) sings “Even a democratic president / Who wants to lead his country out of poverty / Comes up against the policies of the technocrats / Who decide the priorities.”
Massilia Sound System’s “Osca Sankara” includes samples of a speech given on debt relief by Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara, shortly before his assassination in a coup. Other songs take a more personal look. Tiken Jah Fakoly and Tribo de Jah’s “Baba” laments a farmer who works hard but realizes no profit when the harvest is in. Congolese artists Faya Tess & Lokua Kanza look to the future in “Bana”: “This land belongs to our children / It’s in their name that we demand the debt be canceled / and the accounts revised….”
This is a great CD that just happens to champion a great cause as well. All the tracks are exclusive to this release, and with a variety of styles and consistently high energy it’s bound to have wide musical appeal. Get it as a wide-ranging survey of contemporary world music or as a political statement. But get it.
Okay, just one last word on selective debt relief. Read this statement from the conservative Heritage Foundation, and ask yourself why they and “President” Bush aren’t including Senegal, Burkina Faso, Columbia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, and other poor countries in their push for debt relief. Just substitute one of those countries for “Iraq” and see if it fits as well: “If Iraq’s debts are not forgiven, the Iraqi people will be financially crippled for a generation, or even generations, eliminating any prospect of a growing and prosperous Iraq. If European and Arab leaders truly want to help the people of Iraq, the best way to demonstrate this would be by easing the debt burden.”
This comparatively young country has musical roots and traditions that go back hundreds of years taking in Sufi songs and the classical ghazal whilst also embracing sounds that come from modern film music and pop. This cd, like many of the Rough Guides, offers a very worthwhile taster.
Going back to the older traditions of Sufi poets, Pathane Khan, with minimal accompaniment, praises his master in the words of Punjabi mystic poet Kwadja Farid. This is a fine start to the album, solemn but uplifting. In a stronger rhythmic style Abida Parween also draws on Sufi song, combining two in one on Yaar Di Gharoli. Again the devotional content is central and the live context of the performance adds to the immediacy and passion as she delivers her message. The ghazal form has several airings on the cd and the one I find most moving is by Farida Khanum. She has a very deliberate way of conveying the song’s meaning, restrained and intimate, her plea for a lover to linger is convincing, even though I have no knowledge of the language she uses.
A transcendent experience, perhaps. A male ghazal singer, Medhi Hassan, also makes a strong impression. He is joined by tabla and sarangi for his version of Thumri In Raag Desh, which tells of the pain suffered in separation. His voice and sarangi echo each other in the melody’s undulations.
There are also examples of purely instrumental music whose fairly prosaic titles belie their beauty and elegance. My favourite is from Sultan Muhammed Channe & Shah Wali. Traditional Pashtoun Song – that’s the title – showcases the rahab, a four string lute that has a peculiar resonance, at times like the oud but often more like a banjo.
Of contemporary sounds Vital Signs are probably the most pop orientated though Sajad Ali and Faakhir also display Western influences alongside more traditional/classical roots.
No compilation of this sort would be complete without the voice of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Aj Rang Hai Hai Maa takes us right back to the beginning, well at least 700 years, having been composed by qawwali’s founder, Hazrat Amir Khusrau. It is sung with the typical exuberance and celebration we expect from the great man. His voice takes off on an unimpeded lyrical flight leaving me, at any rate, with a sense of both joy and loss. It is a fitting end to a varied and vibrant selection.
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