Back in the closing years of the 20th century, when the Buena Vista Social Club ruled the international roost, Cuban music was all the rage. Now, two decades on, an Australian musician/producer is not only following the footsteps of the great American facilitator Ry Cooder, who guided that collective’s high-selling Havana-recorded album, award-winning documentary and sell-out overseas tour, but he’s also taking an extra bound by blending son, salsa and rumba with reggae, dancehall and dub from Cuba’s Caribbean island neighbour, Jamaica.
In what is a mighty musical and logistical achievement that he’s claiming as a world-first, Melburnian Jake “Mista” Savona has amassed a star-studded cast that includes both lauded Buena Vista players and reggae royalty. His Havana Meets Kingston concept has already yielded an album and several world tours.
Surprisingly, Savona says no master plan is involved, and he insists it is all the better for that. “To be honest, the whole project hasn’t been quite as pre-meditated as it may seem from the outside … and I believe this is actually what makes it so special. It evolved step-by-step over many years. The seeds were planted well before I had even envisioned the possibility of bringing together Jamaican and Cuban musicians in Havana.”
The project had its genesis back in 2004 when Savona made his inaugural visit to Jamaica to record Melbourne Meets Kingston, the first album-length collaboration between Australian musicians and Jamaican vocalists. That led to a series of return trips between 2004 and 2013 for further recordings.
He says the turning point came after a friend returned from a 2014 trip to Havana with some persuasive photos, and he realised a visit to Cuba was well overdue. “When I looked at the map I couldn’t believe how close the two islands are — literally only a few hundred miles apart. I was heading to Jamaica in April that year for a quick promotional trip, so I decided to visit Cuba for ten days or so.”
Savona fell in love with the people, music and culture. “Towards the end of the trip, I was sitting in a cafe in Havana, a great place called Chanchurello. They were playing a CD of traditional Cuban rumba, mainly percussion based. I was daydreaming and imagining how the sounds of Nyabinghi drums from Jamaica would sound mixed with the rumba. I realized it would be very special to mix the two styles, and wondered if it had ever been done before.”
After returning to Kingston a few days later, he bumped into the veteran Jamaican percussionist Bongo Herman, who convinced him to setup a recording session that night at Tuff Gong, Bob Marley’s studio in Kingston. Drummer Sly Dunbar was there, of the world-famous rhythm section, Sly & Robbie. They ended up recording until sunrise. “He loved my piano playing, and I, of course, was amazed by his musicianship.”
Following some research on his return to Australia, Savona realised there had never been a project bringing Jamaican musicians into Cuba or vice versa. “I started to think how it could be done. I called Sly and he loved the idea, and he gave me Robbie’s phone number in Miami.” He also called Bongo Herman and Winston ‘Bopee’ Bowen, one of his favourite Jamaican guitarists. “Everyone was saying ‘yes’ without hesitation, and it just felt like a project that wanted and needed to happen.” So Savona started to look at how it might be organised.
A year later — in June 2015 — the
producer flew seven Jamaican musicians into Havana. They had 10 days booked at
the famous Egrem Studios, where the Buena Vista Social Club recorded their
“It was an incredible 10 days,” he recalls. “I hoped to record one or two tracks a day to complete a fifteen-track album, but we actually recorded enough material in that time for almost three albums. The energy and inspiration was incredible. I had prepared sketches for all the songs, and these master musicians took the arrangements into hyperspace.”
Havana Meets Kingston has continued to exceed Savona’s expectations. “This project is so much bigger now than just my initial vision. It’s a joyful celebration of Caribbean music and culture that’s opening new doors for everyone involved. With our introductory music video going viral earlier this year, it’s also inspiring a lot of new tourism to the Caribbean.”
Looking back at the logistics of the exercise, Savona says the knowledge he gained from previous trips to survey Kingston’s music scene gave him the confidence to organize the Jamaican side of things. With his Cuban experience limited, he enlisted the help of Melbourne percussionist Javier Fredes, a master conga player, who, having lived in Cuba, had a deep knowledge of the musical landscape there.
“I couldn’t have organized the sessions in Havana without his help,” Savona admits. “The biggest unknown for me was Cuban immigration, which is somewhat of a mystery. Did we have the right visas for the Jamaican musicians? Would Cuban customs mind that we were bringing so much musical and studio equipment into Havana? Thankfully, this side of things went smoothly, and once we had everyone safely in Havana, I knew we were good to go.”
The only real issue that Savona encountered in the studio was that the Jamaicans didn’t speak Spanish, and the Cubans had very little English. However, once the musicians were sitting with their instruments, he says the language barrier simply melted away.
When the Jamaican musicians returned to Kingston, there were more sessions in both Havana, Santiago de Cuba and later on in Kingston to complete the recording. Savona also later travel led to London to record with one of his favorite reggae artists, singer Randy Valentine.
The project leader spent close to a year on the arrangements and mix downs, utilizing this time to also find the right record labels for his album. “Although at times I realized I was working quite slowly, I didn’t want to rush anything. Now, I have no regrets because we needed this time to actually fit all the right pieces of the puzzle together.”
All up just over 60 musicians were used on Havana Meets Kingston. “Famous older legendary musicians are playing alongside young new talent, some of who had never been in a recording studio before,” he points out.
“I had no idea in the beginning that I would be able to work with such legends as [Jamaican guitarist] Ernest Ranglin, or Barbarito Torres of Buena Vista fame. Recording at Egrem Studios, he says, gave his album some of the same unique, “warm woody-room sound” that helped the eponymous Buena Vista Social Club release to become a huge seller around the world in the late 1990s.
Savona strongly refutes any notion that
revamping songs such as ‘Chan Chan’, ‘El Cuarto de Tula’ and ‘Candela’from the revered Buena Vista album with
beats, raps and manifestations of reggae amounts to any disrespect.
“That album is incredible; it was recorded over twenty years ago but stands the test of time. However, roam the streets of Old Havana today and all you’ll hear are Cuban bands in the bars and hotels mostly rehashing the ‘same old’ classics. Although this is what many tourists want to hear, it’s not great for the evolution of Cuban music. Music will lose its relevance and passion if it’s frozen in time. We made the Havana Meets Kingston album with so much respect for the roots music of both islands, involving many of the same legends that play on these old classic recordings.”
In order to blend together rhythms as
diverse as Jamaican reggae/dancehall and Cuban son/rumba, Savona prepared
sketches of all the songs, focusing on what he describes as interesting chord
changes and strong funky riffs.
“I left them quite open, rather than preparing overly complicated charts. This, in hindsight, is the best thing I could have done, because it meant the musicians could really get inside these songs and breathe, rather then being glued to the written music. It also meant they could easily imbue the music with their own style and touch.” As a result, he says, the songs evolved quickly and came alive in unexpected and exciting ways.
One goal was to bring the sounds of Jamaican soundsystem culture together with the virtuosic Afro-Cuban jazz traditions. “Robbie Shakespeare’s incredible rolling bass lines made this possible,” says Savona. “His playing mixed with the Cuban percussion of Yaroldy Abreu, Oliver Valdés and Changuito to really bring the sounds of the Kingston and Havana streets together in a way never heard before.”
Savona reports that both Sly and Robbie were fantastic to work with: “They’re very relaxed and confident in the studio. They were happy to take my musical direction, and at the same time bring their own style and sound to my arrangements. They’re an integral part of the album for so many reasons — no one plays like them.”
The first Havana Meets Kingston album, which comprises predominantly fresh original compositions, presents a bona fide mix of musical cultures that’s relatively free of studio artifice. As Savona says: “It’s all about the performances, and less about the post-production, which I’ve kept as simple and natural as possible. You could argue that contemporary music is becoming increasingly sterile, with the focus in pretty much all genres now on post-production and auto-tuned, synthesised vocal performances, which I believe actually stifle and repress deeper human expression. For me music should be about uplifting people, not brainwashing them.”
What Aussie festivalgoers saw on stage
at WOMADelaide and elsewhere on the 2018 tour was the core band that played on
the initial Havana sessions. Besides key vocalists, English-Jamaican Randy
Valentine and Cuban Francisco ‘Solis’ Robert and Brenda Navarette, one of
Cuba’s rising singers, the 15-piece line-up in Adelaide included Sly &
Robbie, Jamaican guitarist Bopee, the legendary Cuban percussionists Yaroldy
Abreu and Oliver Valdés and the great trumpeter Julito Padrón. Laud player Barbarito
Torres and virtuoso pianist Rolando Luna of Buena Vista fame were other world-renowned
Cuban musicians in the line-up.
Savona is justifiably proud of the fact that it was his stewardship that facilitated Jamaican musicians flying into Cuba to record and collaborate with Cuban musicians for the first time. He says a combination of political, social, economic and linguistic reasons conspired to prevent that in the past. “Additionally, both islands have such potent and unique music scenes that they’re really captivated by their own music to a large degree. Until two years ago, there were no exchange programs between the islands. Jamaica’s music industry is its biggest export, and yet the government still doesn’t invest in it properly. There’s not even a museum in Jamaica dedicated to their incredible contributions to the world’s music.”
The financing of such an expensive and ambitious project as Havana Meets Kingston was problematic: “As a full-time musician, with a variable income to say the least, there was no way I could have financed this on my own,” he concedes. “But, I was very fortunate to have so much assistance along the way to bring this dream to life.” Savona managed to submit what turned out to be a successful application for an Australia Council ‘International Pathways’ grant in the nick of time. That, he indicates was pivotal. A Kickstarter campaign raised funds to take a film and photographic crew to document the project in Havana. “A few generous friends of mine were also happy to lend me money to help with the final mixing and mastering stages later on.”
Savona concedes there are still some outstanding debts from Havana Meets Kingston, but he’s confident in time that his project will become fully self-sufficient. He plans to tour the live show elsewhere around the world, including free outdoor concerts in Jamaica and Cuba. The second volume of the album is on the drawing board, along with a documentary, and a third installment of the record is expected to follow at a later date.
“What amazes me about this project,” says Savona “are the synchronicities that kept happening, again and again. Looking back, I can see these countless little miracles that happened along the way that made it all possible. It just felt like an idea that wanted to happen, a project that wanted to be born. And all these great musicians loved the idea of the project. That’s what made it all possible.”
While there’s understandable pride in local music circles that an Australian is behind a project as bold as Havana Meets Kingston, Jake Savona stresses that it’s first and foremost an international collaboration. “This is an album by Jamaican and Cuban musicians, and it is an album for the people of Jamaica and Cuba, first and foremost. This is the real strength of the project.”
• The above interview first appeared in Rhythms, Australia’s only dedicated roots music magazine.
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.
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 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 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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
With Observations by Catalina Maria Johnson, Neva Wartell, Brice Rosenbloom
In these convulsive times, we affirm
that the performing arts are a force, and that as a field, we can and will
navigate and drive change together. – Mario Garcia Durham, APAP President & CEO
Despite the current, troubled, and uncertain times in the United States, the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) served to rally and infuse thousands of its members and attendees with measures of inspiring and positive energies during its 62nd annual conference at the Hilton in New York City (January 4-8).
The world music and jazz conferences and showcase offerings in particular continue to be bellwethers of change and developing trends for all the performing arts in the country. Their combined focus was social justice.
Part I: Observations, Reflections
20 years ago, when I first started to attend APAP’s world music themed
preconferences just before September 11th, 2001, the gathering or room of
attendees held little racial or ethnic diversity. Slowly but surely this has changed and
continues to change. Increasing numbers
of “people of color” and from various ethnic origins, notably from younger
generations – including agents, presenters, producers, artists, and newer world
music industry thinkers and leaders – are starting to populate the by now
branded Wavelengths preconference as participants or audience members.
a one-stop newsletter about
Wavelengths that summarizes the whole event, including links to all the panel discussions.
“What Happens at Wavelengths: Takeaways from 2019’s World Music
keeping with this year’s Wavelengths theme, “Acknowledgement of Land”, the
Canadian-based First Nation Anishinaabe singer and activist, ShoShona Kish
delivered a compelling keynote address about the Indigenous peoples of North
America. The impact of her talk
resonated throughout all the APAP showcase events I attended. Her words underscored more than the
torturous, disenfranchised past and present of the Indigenous peoples of North
America. They also held hope and beauty
through her call for global social activism in the coming years for future
generations. Listen to her speech here, starting at 18 minutes into the video
most challenging and painful issues of Indigenous peoples have recently
dominated the media due to a horrible incident of incendiary racial
confrontations in America. Anti-immigration rhetoric is getting louder. At the same time, the first Latin American
Indigenous actress has been nominated for this year’s best actress Oscar in
Hollywood. This is the UN International
Year of Indigenous Languages. The United States has just left UNESCO, the world’s
great and indispensable organization, promoting peace and hope through
culture. What could all this mean?
Leadership in the arts is key.
media colleagues offer their interrelated thoughts:
Catalina Maria Johnson: Land
In this century, as we gather in
countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S. it is becoming
more customary to open events and gatherings by acknowledging the traditional
inhabitants of the land.
It is the impact of this small verbal
gesture that we discussed as part of our Wavelengths “Impact and Integrity” panel, which
was focused on developing best practices for our world music community. On the
one hand, to say a few words that over time can become stale and perfunctory
may be perceived as an insignificant effort in the light of the enormous harm
done to traditional societies across hundreds of years of colonial/settler
imperialism; we barely understand the depth of those wounds and are very far
from comprehending what needs to be done to heal them and move forward
Yet, to come together as communities
to create and experience art is one way in which we celebrate and share our
common values. In the current political climate, words of hate have vomited
forth in public gatherings, rallying and emboldening dark forces. As the
philosopher/linguist Wittgenstein said, “The limits of my language, are the
limits of my world.” Today, more than ever, words matter. We can wield words as
instruments capable of creating and shaping different ways of moving through
our lives; we can advocate traditions that honor truth.
Additionally, as we reflected upon in
our panel, a simple land acknowledgement is a seed of possibilities that can
blossom into concrete actions. The words can serve to raise our awareness of a
respectful relationship to the land, honor those that came before us, and
become a an organic part of fostering a vision of protecting the earth that
ties into concrete actions that can be undertaken as a world music
community—-such as efforts like the Earth
Muse Collective to eliminate single-use plastic water
bottles at our concerts and festivals.
Yet, let us not be fooled into
thinking that the acknowledgment in and of itself will be enough and lead us to
reconciliation and some kind of utopia. It is important to understand the
long-standing history that has brought each of us to reside on the land, and to
understand what our role is within that history. Land acknowledgment should be
approached as one way to consider our own place in the story of colonization
and of undoing its legacy—-because as has been pointed out, there is no
point in repeating words to atone for a crime that we are still committing.
And so, let me conclude by
acknowledging that I live on the ancestral lands of the Peoria, Potawatomi and
the Miami. And you? Take a moment to research and
acknowledge the original peoples of your place of residence, then make a
commitment to act and honor the vision those words represent.
Maria Johnson is a tropical being living in Polar-Vortex-loving Chicago who
stays warm by listening to hot, hot music and sharing these grooves through her
radio show and podcast, Beat Latino,
as well as writing for NPR Music, Billboard, Downbeat and others.
Neva E. Wartell: Whose World Is It,
An ethnomusicologist and cultural
activist since the 1970s, by now I’m a senior member of the global music
community that gathers every January at the Wavelengths: APAP World Music
Pre-Conference in NYC. The two days of panels, workshops and presentations never
fail to provide inspiration and food for thought, along with the opportunity to
reunite with colleagues, and to encounter new musical discoveries. Having
attended every year since the first, some dozen years ago, I found the 2019
edition to be the most engaging and thought-provoking yet. I also found myself
infused with a powerful sense of optimism for the future of the world.
Why? Because clearly the world is in
For me, one of this year’s most
important markers was the generational shift in attendance and participation –
and even more significantly, what such a shift represents: a changing social
landscape, which by its nature creates a changing consciousness, which in turn
This shift was reflected in both the
topics of discussion at Wavelengths and the artists chosen to perform at
globalFEST 2019. It’s no surprise that conversations and performances shared
themes such as respect for the land, acknowledgment of cultural roots,
assertion of identities, and demand for respect as human beings on this shared
and suffering planet. Addressing these subjects is necessary and overdue – a
very positive indication that a new generation is preparing to take the lead.
What kind of world have we left for
them? The generation before mine created a music industry built on assumptions
of white supremacy and male privilege. My generation took those power dynamics
to the next level, inventing genres and marketing strategies, exploitative
practices, and an insider/outsider mentality that gave birth to an amorphous,
culturally myopic category called “Other”, which became the convenient home of
The new generation stepping forward
represents all things labeled “Other” – the lovechild of “World Music” mated
with “No Known Genre” equals every genre in the musical universe – both the
cause and the effect of our changing social landscape.
They have every right, and so many
reasons, to reject our constructs. Young musicians I meet these days are
urgently aware of climate issues, economic issues, race, ethnicity, gender and
other identity issues. They know the power of music as a vehicle for achieving
social justice. And growing up in a digital environment and an increasingly
do-it-yourself music industry, more and more artists are adept at handling
their own business.
Many are from families who migrated
from elsewhere, wanting only to assimilate into the dominant culture. But this
generation is utilizing the dominant culture to express their “otherness” –
celebrating the same cultural roots their parents left behind while making it
relevant to their own context, creating a whole new cultural reality in their
As award-winning musician and
composer Rhiannon Giddens said in a recent interview with The Root: “I’m not interested in
trying to do a hip-hop track to try to ‘reach across the aisle.’ I’m like,
‘This is our aisle.’”
The next generation is here, and they
are unapologetically reclaiming the world. ‘Nuff’ respect.
Neva” E. Wartell is an ethnomusicologist, producer and cultural activist.
Formerly with WBAI-FM and Radio Soleil in NYC, she currently works for WGXC community radio in NY’s Hudson
Valley region, where she lives with two cats, a dog, a turtle, the turtle’s pet
fish, and Pepe the Pig. She was the DJ for the very first globalFEST
Globalfest 2019 Awards
was the second year Globalfest presented awards
“that celebrate those that excel in the
small but crucial global music field in the USA, too often with little
recognition…. The annual awards will be presented to artists and members of the
field who have been instrumental in making significant, longstanding
contributions to the performing arts landscape in the USA through risk taking,
addressing cultural diversity and diplomacy, cultural activism, helping to
keep, transmit, and extend the world’s ancient traditions, commitment to
working with local communities and making a difference to the greater American
performing arts landscape as well as other areas.”
note about the honoree Leigh Ann Hahn,
programming director of Grand
Performances in Los Angeles. Marco Werman, host and producer with PRI’s
The World, presented her with the Impact Award. She used her moment in the spotlight during
the awards ceremony to draw attention to the ongoing, terrible genocide of the
Uighurs in China. She urged activism on
their behalf. The entire situation concerning the Uighurs is an unfolding
New York Times recently reported, “According to the
United States State Department, between 800,000 and two million people, or up
to 15 percent of Xinjiang’s Muslim population, have been incarcerated in a
growing network of more than 1,000 concentration camps.”
has been systematic targeting over the past few years by the Chinese government
to detain influential Uighur musicians, writers and critics, and cultural
activists in those concentration camps.
One of the greatest Uighur artists, Sanubar Tursun, Leigh Ann presented
at Grand Performances in 2016, has been detained. It will take massive efforts by governments,
human rights organizations, and all interested in the world’s Indigenous
populations to mount campaigns to oppose and counter this genocide.
GF Impact Award Honoree: Leigh Ann
Leigh Ann Hahn, who started at Grand
Performances in 1992, is an endlessly creative and innovative programmer. She is a leading figure in the world music
performing arts field who has done a remarkable job producing free programs
that pay homage to her beloved LA and its diverse communities with global
breadth, depth and power. Her programs
are uniquely multidisciplinary and frequently shine a musical light on
significant historical, political and social events.
GF Trouble Worldwide Award Honoree:
Matthew Covey and Tamizdat
Tamizdat, founded in 1998 by Matthew
Covey and a group of musicians, has become a critical organization in the
performing arts and cultural exchange fields.
Tamizdat’s work facilitates cultural exchange by easing the burden of
the visa process for artists entering the U.S through their programs: legal
visa assistance, outreach, the Artist Mobility Forum, The White Paper Project
and other activities. Their mission is
motivated by the conviction that the international mobility of culture is
fundamental to a healthy and progressive global civil society and their work
has enabled thousands of artists to perform on stages across the country.
GF Pioneer Award Honoree: Lee
Lee Williams has worked
professionally as a venue booking agent, promoter, and non-profit arts leader
since 1982, playing a defining role not only in the music culture and community
identity of Bloomington, Indiana, but also as a champion of world music in
North America. A co-founder of the Lotus
World Music & Arts Festival and founder of the non-profit Lotus Education and
Arts Foundation, Lee served as Director of Lotus from 1995 to 2013 and as
Artistic Director from 2014 through his retirement in 2017. He also co-led the creation of the Midwest
Consortium, a professional block-booking network for world-music presenters that
now includes peers from across the US and Canada.
GF Artist Award Honoree: Mighty
83 year-old Slinger Francisco, better
known as Mighty Sparrow and affectionately dubbed The Birdie, is the unrivaled
Calypso King of the World. With a career
that spans over 60 years and counting The Sparrow is one of the most important
living exponents of one of Caribbean music’s most important traditions, known
for a combination of politics, daily life, humor, innuendo and dance music.
Sparrow continues to translate his witty island authenticity to the world, in a
one-man demonstration ot the role that culture plays in uniting humankind.
Part II: APAP World Showcase Notes
conference is the best occasion of the year to sample favorites of promoters
and agents from all over North America and beyond. There are so many superb acts going on
simultaneously, you literally need to be in several packed venues at once on
any given night. These were some of my favorites.
Africa Yetu & Mateo Productions presented one of the best
programming feats in this new year known as “The Soukous/Champeta Project” at S.O.B.’s nightclub. They co-billed the classic soukous group,
Zaiko Langa Langa from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and one of the most
popular champeta groups, the Bazurto All Stars from Colombia. Musical cousins, Zaiko Langa Langa celebrates
its 50th anniversary while the Bazurto All Stars was formed just 10 years
ago. Their generational and historically
related genre contrasts – reaching as far back as the early 70s – were
revelatory. The dance energies were
contagious and at maximum levels of audience enjoyment. However, the club’s poor sound engineering
marred the overall quality of their performances.
Mundial Montréal, North America’sWorld
Music Summit, held their annual 7th edition “Mundial
On the Road” APAP showcase in partnership with the DROM nightclub. Theirs is
one of the most popular and “thoughtfully curated” showcase evenings during the
conference. And always cram-packed.
Drawing from Canada’s vast cultural diversities including their
Indigenous First Nations, and stand out international artists, Mundial
Montreal’s annual 9th edition summit will take place in Montreal, November
19-22, this year.
year the Mundial + DROM roster featured 5 Canadian groups with Afro-Cuban,
Colombian, Mexican, and Balkan roots.
Two others were from southern Italy and Haiti/New York. I caught the last two acts: Lemon Bucket
Orkestra from Canada and Malou Beauvoir from New York.
Lemon Bucket Orkestra is a Balkan brass band uniting Ukrainian, Russian, Macedonian, Serbian, Romanian, and English languages in performance. Their songs covered many subjects with thrilling, high-energy paced rhythms with deep folk soul. A walk down a village street arm in arm with a girlfriend; wishing the audience a good night; sibling rivalry; love and loss.
stunning musical moment was Marichka Marczyk’s solo “Zajdy, Zajdy” – “My heart stopped as in a dream”. She sang with such sorrowful passion, the
club room seemed to fall into a swoon of silence. A well-known Macedonian song beloved all over the Balkans, a woman sings
at twilight to a tree: “Let’s cry together, you for your falling leaves and me
for my lost years. Your leaves will grow
back, but my years will never return…”
In their triumphant, rousing finale, the band trooped off the stage into
the audience playing their strings, brass, and thumping percussion in gleeful
The Haitian-American singer Malou Beauvoir known for her international jazz career, surprised with entirely new music from her recent album “Spiritwalker” – where she explores her Haitian roots. Her buoyant performance celebrated and conjured the healing Vaudou spirits of her heritage. She professed her faith in their power to awaken and bless humanity. To protect us. To guide us all to peace and harmony. Paul Beaubrun from Boukman Eksperyans lineage and her partner in the recording, appeared with her superb band from Haiti, New York, Japan, and Cuba. The whole night reached an ecstatic musical moment when Paul and Malou sang their pop hit version of one of Haiti’s deep Vaudou songs by Toto Bissainthe, “Rasanblemen”, or the “rassemblement” of spirits – to honor and comfort victims of oppression and slavery. It was also a prayer and plea for world unity.
in all, Winter Jazzfest continues to grow and expand phenomenally. This year, its 15th anniversary, the festival
extended well beyond APAP’s official dates over 9 days. Within the thematic framework of social
justice, the focus was gender equity with over 140 groups, 12 venues, and close
to 750 participating musicians.
(Disclosure: Much as I intended to see many more showcases following
APAP, I was hit by the flu.)
look forward to Winter Jazzfest each year for many reasons, especially the
Despite the feat of producing multiple differing jazz genre showcases
all over lower Manhattan venues, the sound engineering is almost always
perfect, as you sprint from stage to stage. I’m not forced to pull out earplugs
to deaden overly aggressive or amateurish engineering. I find it impossible to
review good shows when the sound levels are deafening or imbalanced. (Lighting
is another issue…) Brice Rosenbloom, the founder-producer, and his team deserve
highest kudos for the foremost crucial aspect of live music: excellent sound
always a well-organized and invaluable program booklet that gives you all the
basic festival information with venue maps, artist personnel and
instrumentation, and good thematic introductory notes: In his tough-minded essay-manifesto,“Why Have
We Been So Ass Backwards?”, Brice reflects upon last year’s Winter Jazzfest
conversation at The New School on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “Jazz and Gender: Challenging Inequality and
Forging a New Legacy”. Here are some
Terri Lyne Carrington moderated the
panel featuring activist and professor Angela Davis, bassist Esperanza Spalding, journalist Lara
Pellegrinelli, trumpet player Arnetta Johnson, and pianist Vijay Iyer.
Terri Lyne Carrington started by
asking the panel, “Considering the role jazz and jazz musicians have played in
social justice movements why have we been so ass backward in this one with
regards to women?
Angela Davis reminded the 600-person
audience that we are witnessing the beginning of the era of women; “There was
the amazing women’s march, millions of women all over the world rose up against
the Trump administration and the message was when women rise up, the whole
world rises up with us.” Davis then reiterated Carrington’s quandary, “It’s
kind of bizarre that in the jazz community that has been so responsible over
the decades for major contributions to social justice for doing civil rights
work before the civil rights movement was born;
it’s kind of amazing that the jazz community isn’t leading the rest of
us with respect to issues of patriarchy.”
Journalist Lara Pellegrinelli echoed
these concerns when witnessing the #metoo and #timesup movements: “I was
watching this movement gain momentum, women in the media, and women in
Hollywood, and all these women in other spheres of labor stepping forward and
outing their oppressors. And I was
watching and asking myself when it it going to happen [in jazz]?”….
Today, with individual actions and
music as the spark, it still takes the whole community – including men – to
bring about change. Vijay Iyer challenged that “men can have feminist thoughts
but what are they doing about it?” Carrington shared a quote from Jack
DeJohnette: “Artistry is artistry no matter what the gender is. It’s time for women to take their rightful
place as equals in our predominantly patriarchal society. Now more than ever is a time for my gender to
stop being part of the problem and embrace being part of the solution.”
As many musicians echo strong
messages in their music and offer a soundtrack to the movement, we have seen
real ripples of change over the past year towards progress in the jazz
community. This progress is absolutely
vital to countering the bitter reality of blatant sexism pervading the jazz
community (and overarching music industry)….
Winter Jazzfest is proudly among the
first wave of adoptees of We Have Voice; and their Code of Conduct was
distributed to all 140+ performing groups and to all participating venues to be
posted in artist dressing rooms. Winter
Jazzfest is also a proud member of Keychange.
Last year Vanessa Reed proposed that we become of the first U.S. based
festivals to sign the Keychange pledge of gender balance in programming by
2022. We are proud to have achieved that
mark with both our 2018 and 2019 festival lineups.
There is still much more we can do
and intend to do moving forward. While
we reached Keychange’s gender representation goal, we are far from being fully
gender balanced. With nearly 750
musicians performing at this year’s Winter Jazzfest, 129 are women. While we have taken steps towards gender
equality in programming the next step is for bandleaders to also commit to more
gender inclusivity in their groups.
In solidarity, we are committed to
supporting progress and we hope to further inspire our colleagues, audiences,
and artists to feel these ripples of change and to take the individual action
necessary to forge a true movement of inclusivity in our jazz community. –
I am delighted that the Era of Women is happening. I believe Brice’s gender equity activism is one of the most notable and influential developments in the entertainment industry. Mainstream media is beginning to reflect this. Women journalists and radio hosts have cause to rejoice.
Ndegeocello, this year’s Winter Jazzfest’s artist-in-residence, with her
ensemble, delivered a fire and brimstone version of her tribute to James
Baldwin, entitled “No More Water, The Fire Next Time, Auditory Portion”. The
set began with a live recording of James Baldwin’s talk, “The Artist’s Struggle
for Integrity”, given in 1963 at New
York City’s Community Church.
It seems to me that the artist’s
struggle for his integrity must be considered as a kind of metaphor for the
struggle, which is universal and daily, of all human beings on the face of this
globe to get to become human beings. It is not your fault, it is not my fault,
that I write. And I never would come before you in the position of a
complainant for doing something that I must do… The poets (by which I mean all
artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers
don’t. Statesmen don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only poets…. (partial quote).
hovered at Le Poisson Rouge’s rear stage supplying a fierce bass undertow to
the band’s smooth R&B jazz grooves and choir-like gospel harmonies. Her ensemble unleashed a celebratory
testimonial to civil rights’ call to action and consciousness-raising for all
the marginalized in song and spoken word.
Staceyann Chin, the performance poet, condemned white supremacy’s
exploitation and hatred of black people.
Her righteous fervor intensified as she voiced the pain and anger of the
black woman’s centuries-long bondage and victimization. Redemption lay in her cathartic fury.
proclamation, “No More Water, The Fire Next Time!” Baldwin’s rallying cry
against injustice, carries even more power today after 56 years – through
Meshell Ndegeocello’s extraordinary summoning of his spirit.
Inspired by Paco de Lucia, Richard Bona, Cameroonian bass player and singer, has been performing his newer flamenco project “Bona De La Frontera” in Europe over the past few years. Le Poisson Rouge was a Winter Jazzfest American debut. Leaving aside his past Afro-Cuban explorations, he has plunged into flamenco’s passion. Judging from the wild elation of the crowds, a recording seems imminent. In unison with Antonio Rey on flamenco guitar, Mara Rey cantaora, Paco Vega on percussions, Richard Bona’s rippling bass lines were a love serenade to southern Spain’s deep soul tradition.
Flamenco’s laments and sorrows progressed in heart-skipping, clapped and tapped rhythms by the musicians as Bona called out the untitled songs, “Rumba Uno”, Rumba Dos”… The dramatic tension built slowly and erupted in finale when the “bailaora de flamenco” Pedro Cordoba took center stage during the last two songs. Showmanship was at a zenith, as Cordoba whirled and stomped at dizzying pace. The whistling, cheering crowds were enthralled. No one wanted to leave.
memorable highpoint of all the APAP showcases I attended was Winter Jazzfest’s
“Duologue” concert – title of the current Quincy Jones produced release– by
Cuban jazz stars, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and percussionist Pedrito Martinez. Their live performance together at SubCulture
surpassed their recording in improvisational brilliance. Most of the evening’s repertoire, drawn from
the album, was a thrilling opportunity to experience superlative musicianship.
head constantly bobbed in counterpoint as his fingers sped over the piano keys,
skimming spidery delicate passages or pouncing with muscular syncopation. His ability to produce liquescent, bell-like
tonalities, complex trilling ostinatos involving arpeggio-like chromatic
scales, and flourished phrasings was sheer listening pleasure.
Martinez was the perfect balance in their conversation, a unified rhythmic
totality, as he switched between Cuban percussion and his drum set with
precision and elan – spelling out the project’s Cuban Santeria spiritual
foundations. Rodriguez in spontaneous
surprise, invited the flamenco star Antonio Lizana onstage. Lizana’s vocals
wailed and implored for a few moments, recalling Spain with nostalgia. The duologue ending riffed on a timba rhythm
with echoes of an Andalusian melody.
Still can’t get over that showcase, it was so good.
promotes outstanding examples of the world’s cultural diversities. 2019 was its 16th edition. We don’t have a bona fide world music
festival in New York City like Chicago’s city-wide World Music Festival, for
example – although there are several excellent world music promoters here. Globalfest’s attraction lies not only in its
international scope, but its consistent levels of quality. (Although there seemed to be a few new-venue
sound issues this year.)
a tough job for the producers to represent and showcase “the world” so
successfully each year in a compressed format – 11 or 12 acts over 5 hours.
Increasingly difficult visa challenges included. The producers are mission-driven. Shanta Thake, one of the co-producers, also
served this year as an APAP Conference Co-Chair. During the APAP opening plenary introductions
she paraphrased Martin Luther King Jr.: “We are bending the arc of history for
justice.” That could just as well be the
motto of Globalfest.
year’s showcase of 11 acts was a glorious mix of rhythms and melodies from
India, Palestine, South Africa, Mozambique-Ghana-Senegal, Ukraine, Canada’s
First Nation Tobique, Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Tennessee and New Orleans. It took place at the Copacabana nightclub
over 3 floors.
were several examples of today’s “freedom voices”. Cha Wa from New Orleans started off the
evening with a rousing blast of 2nd line brass-driven Mardi-Gras parade music,
a few of its band members dressed in Native American feather headdress
regalia. With their strutting, funk
rhythms, they celebrate and honor the early Native Americans who took in and
protected captive Africans during the days of slavery. South African B.C.U.C. (Bantu Continua Uhuru
Consciousness) seems almost beguilingly cool and hip in their recordings,
drawing on South Africa’s danceable ethnic rhythms. But their performance was an explosion of
righteous protest and fierce resistance.
The room was boiling with their forceful lyrics and pounding beats.
47 Soul played one of the most popular dance grooves over the evening. The group’s Arabic techno-dabke with its syncopated, sinuous
step-dance rhythms electrified the jumping crowds. Their lyrics called for
unity, equality, freedom. By contrast,
in classic Latin dance mode, Cuban Orquesta Akokan held sway with signature
Afro-Caribbean mambos and son cubanos harking back to the 40s and 50s and salsa
dura from the 70s – while thoroughly captivating in their contemporary big band
brightness. Theirs holds a vast history
of cultural pride, triumph over social struggles, and the sacred rhythms of
from Johnson City, Tennessee, and steeped in the great traditions of African
American spirituals and blues, Amythyst Kiah’s deep, tempered vocals with her
melismatic wails cast a neo-folk spell among all present. When she switched from her guitar to her
banjo, she noted that the instrument has its roots in West Africa’s fretless
ngoni lute. A rising star, she preserves
memories of the long, musical journeys from Africa to Appalachian traditions by
African Americans with effortless style, grace, and conviction not heard in a
Tobique First Nation’s Jeremy Dutcher’s recent album “Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa” won Canada’s 2018 Polaris Music Prize. A classically-trained tenor, composer, and musicologist, his determination to help preserve, dignify, and honor his rapidly disappearing Indigenous Wolastoq language is a worthy cause. There are fewer than 100 speakers of the language today. His set, sung in Wolastoq, was moving, emotional, solemn, as his operatic vocals dramatized his long research into the traditional music. He celebrated his culture with songs about honor, a chief’s installation, a wedding dance, canoeing, and water spirits. Bravo to Globalfest for its activism in being part of what may become an Indigenous linguistic and cultural renaissance in North America.
are passing through a dark period.
The precise role of the artist… is
to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we
will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to
make the world a more human dwelling place. – From James Baldwin’s 1962 essay,
“The Creative Process”
Fado music is the heart of the Portuguese soul. It is one of the oldest urban folk music styles in the world. Some say it came as a dance from Africa in the 19th century and was adopted by the poor on the streets of Lisbon. Or perhaps it started at sea as the sad, melodic songs created by homesick sailors and fishermen.
Whatever its origins, fado’s themes have remained constant: destiny, betrayal in love, death and despair. A typical lyric goes: “Why did you leave me, where did you go? I walk the streets looking at every place we were together, except you’re not there.” It’s a sad music and a fado performance is not successful if an audience is not moved to tears.
All fado is dominated by the sentiment known as saudade. While there is no precise English definition for this word, it may be translated roughly as ‘yearning.’ Essentially it describes the soul of the music and is the measure of understanding that passes between performer and audience.
By the early twentieth century, fado had become popular in the everyday life of Lisbon’s working class. It was played for pleasure but also to relieve the pain of life. Skilled singers known as fadistas performed at the end of the day and long into the night. Fado was the earthy music of taverns and brothels and street corners in Alfama and Mouraria, the old poor sections of Lisbon. (Another strain of fado, Coimbra fado, was favored among university students and professors.)
The fado is normally sung by men or women and accompanied by one Portuguese guitar and one classical guitar, which in Portugal is called viola. This song reached its golden era in the first half of the 20th century, when the Portuguese dictatorship of Salazar (1926-1968) forced the fado performers to become professional and confined them to sing in the fado houses and the so called “revistas”, a popular genre of “vaudeville”.
The main names of that period were: Alfredo Marceneiro, Amalia Rodrigues, Maria Teresa de Noronha and guitar players Armandinho and Jaime Santos.
From the 1940s until her death in 1999, the towering figure of Portuguese fado was Amalia Rodrigues. She was the diva of fado, worshiped at home and celebrated abroad as the most famous representative of Portuguese culture. When she died the country’s prime minister called for three-days of national mourning. Such is the hold of fado over the people of Portugal.
The essential element of fado music is saudade, a Portuguese word that translates roughly as longing, or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. Fado flowers from this fatalistic world-view. It speaks of an undefined yearning that can’t be satisfied. For Portuguese emigrants fado is an expression of homesickness for the place they left behind.
Like other forms of deeply moving folk music such as flamenco, American blues, Argentine tango or Greek rembetiko, fado cannot be explained; it must be felt and experienced. One must have the soul to transmit that feeling; a fadista who does not possess saudade is thought of as inauthentic. Audiences are very knowledgeable and very demanding. If they do not feel the fadista is up to form they will stop a performance.
Fado can be performed by men or women, although many aficionados prefer the raw emotion of the female fadista. Dressed in black with a shawl draped over her shoulders, a fadista stands in front of the musicians and communicates through gesture and facial expressions. The hands move, the body is stationary. When it is done correctly, it is a solemn and majestic performance.
Aside from the Lisbon fado there is another completely different form of this song, sung by the students of Coimbra University whose ancient roots can be found in the medieval songs called trovas. Here the subjects are mainly love, friendship and nostalgia. This form of fado reached its most famous period in the 1950s and 1960s when names like Edmundo Bettencourt, Luis Gois, José Afonso and the musicians Artur Paredes, Carlos Paredes and Antonio Portugal among others, combined new forms and lyrics to a song which was limited to student circles.
The traditional accompaniment for the fadista is a Portuguese guitar, or guitarra, a 12-stringed instrument, and a bass guitar, or viola. Sometimes a second acoustic guitar is added. In recent years, fado recordings have added piano, violin and accordion, instruments which sometimes accompany the music on the streets of Lisbon.
Today the younger generation in Portugal is respectful but not dedicated to fado. However, a new generation of young musicians have contributed to the social and political revival of fado music, adapting and blending it with new trends.
Contemporary fado musicians like Misia have introduced the music to performers such as Sting. Misia and fadistas like Cristina Branco and Mariza, Amelia Muge, Antonio Zambujo, Ana Lains, Ana Moura, Joana Amendoeira, Katia Guerreiro, Mafalda Arnauth, walk the fine line between carrying on the tradition and trying to bring in a new audience.
One of the biggest names in the new generation of male fado singers is award-winning Marco Rodrigues.
2018 saw the rise of a new fado revelation, Sara Correia, who released her debut album Sara Correia.
(Sources: World Music Central, World Music Institute, World Music Network)
Coimbra Fado is a genre of fado originating in the city of Coimbra, Portugal. This fado is closely linked to the academic traditions of the University of Coimbra and is exclusively sung by men; both the singers and musicians wear black capes during performances, the remaining part of the students outfit. It is sung at night, almost in the dark, in city squares, streets, or fado houses. (source: Fado group Verdes Anos)
The following artists perform fado or fado-influenced music: Ala Dos Namorados, Almaplana, Amélia Muge, Ana Laíns, Ana Marina, Ana Moura, Antonio Chainho, Antonio Zambujo, Armenio de Melo, Bicho de 7 cabeças, Camané, Catarina Cardeal, Cristina Branco, Custodio Castelo, Duarte, Grupo Cancao de Coimbra, Joana Amendoeira, Jorge Fernando, Katia Guerreiro, Lula Pena, Mario Pacheco, Madredeus, Mafalda Arnauth, Maria Amelia Proen, Mariza, Melian, Mike Siracusa, Misia, Nem Truz Nem Muz), Ramana Vieira, Sonia Tavares, Teresa Salgueiro, Verdes Anos – Fado group, Cuca Roseta, Yolanda Soares, Raquel Tavares, Gisela João, Claudia Aurora, Carla Pires, Marco Rodrigues, Joana Rios, and Sara Correia.
Have you been staring at those cans of green beans in your pantry and wondering if you can wrap up the lot as a gift for your grandma; your inner self whispering seductively, ‘grandma likes green beans’ in hopes of striking at least one name off your Christmas gift list?
Have you caught yourself rifling through the kitchen junk drawer, the top shelf of the linen cupboard or the deepest, darkest part of the closet where the ugly sweaters go to die in desperate desire to finish Christmas shopping while still dressed in your flannel pajamas?
When you find that baby shower gift for that woman in your office you didn’t know all that well and ditched the shower anyway still wrapped on the shelf in the garage, do you think to yourself, “Well, I’m sure someone on my list has a baby and maybe they’ll appreciate the yellow duckie paper” just to cross off another name?
Has the idea of regifting lost its shame and is now a challenge to see if you can remember who not to give what gift you got last year?
It’s easy to slip into a desperate dash in the season of synchronized shopping, scooping up items you don’t really need and no one in your family will want. That said, let me just say one world to you – music.
Music is the answer to all your holiday shopping needs.
There’s music itself. Certainly, there’s a favorite recording for each person on your list this year. With digital music, it becomes super easy to create collection of music for friends and loved ones. Whipping up a personal playlist of love songs for the special someone for each year of your relationship or favorite hymns from childhood for a dear auntie or just popular tunes from your teenage years for a best friend are easy and quick.
There’s musical instruments, kits for beginners, music making software, books about musicians, sweet musical gifts for lulling baby to sleep, music posters, music on socks and scarves, music instrument jewelry, music documentaries and music on CD, DVD and vinyl… That’s were the World Music Central Gift Guide comes into play. For the next couple of days, World Music Central will have a revolving list of musically-inspired gift ideas for every person on your list. Picking the perfect gift of music is simple as a scroll through our gift guide.
It can be hard to summon up that holiday mojo when the weather’s turned mean, your five year-old won’t wear anything other than the Batman costume he put on for Halloween and the forced merriment of newscasters about the upcoming holiday season makes your teeth hurt.
There’s cookies to be baked, parties to be planned, presents to buy and you’re feeling harassed instead of ho-ho-ho. There’s no use claiming the holidays just sneaked up on you either considering the displays of Christmas decorations hit the shelves about ten minutes after the five year-old slipped on the batsuit. What you need is some holiday music. Good thing we’ve got the rundown on some 2018 playlist holiday treats.
I’m not exactly sure you’ll want to start out your foray into the wonderful world of Christmas with William Shatner on his Shatner Claus release (B07HNFZ5LS), even with Brad Paisley’s help on “Blue Christmas” or Joe Louis Walker’s help on “Little Drummer Boy,” but this CD is amusing as hell.
There are little warm fuzzies on this recording unless you plan to pull that Christmas sweater over your head. What Shatner Claus does have is musical masters like Henry Rollins, Rick Wakeman, Todd Rundgren and Iggy Pop lending their talents to Mr. Shatner’s interpretation of holiday classics like “Winter Wonderland,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night.” And, I do have to admit that Shatner’s version of “Feliz Navidad” with Dani Bander is a scream.
Also, out on the pop Christmas scene is John Legend with his A Legendary Christmas (B07JL9P74R) with guest appearances by Stevie Wonder on “What Christmas Means to Me” and Esperanza Spalding on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Snazzy jazzy tracks like “Christmas Time Is Here,” “The Christmas Song” and “Please Come Home for Christmas” have a sweet Nat King Cole feel.
Even rocker Eric Clapton has got the Christmas spirit with his release Happy Xmas. Clapton offers up tracks like “White Christmas,” “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday,” “Home for the Holidays,” “Lonesome Christmas” and the bluesy “Merry Christmas Baby.”
For world music fans there’s Putumayo Presents Joy to the World with sweet little goodies like Nossa Bossa Nova’s “The First Noel,” Frederick de Grandpre’s “Noel Avec Toi,” Jan Luna’s “Winter Wonderland,” Lynn August’s “Christmas by the Bar-B-Que,” The Mighty Diamonds’s “Frosty the Snowman” and Leon Redbone’s “Christmas Island.”
One of my favorites has to be Natt i desember (Night in December) by Iver Kleive and Knut Reiersrud from our friends at the Kirkelig Kulturverksted label. Stunning and deeply atmospheric Natti i desember is chocked full of goodies like “A kom, a kom, Immanuel,” “Stille natt,” “A Betlehem, du vesle by” and “Bjelleklang.”
Recorded at the Haderslev Cathedral in Denmark, this recording is a lush listen into some familiar songs of peace and praise of the season by way of a Nordic take.
Kammerochester Basel offer up the classical recording Porpora: Il verbo in carne (Christmas Oratorio on the Sony Classical label. This Christmas oratorio by Nicola Porpora tells the Christmas story by way of the Chamber Orchestra Basel under the direction of Riccardo Manasi featuring soloists Roberta Invernizzi, Terry Wey and Martin Vanberg.
Listeners looking for a classical take on Christmas and some superb vocalists are sure to enjoy this offering.
As a nod to the kickoff of their November 27th Holiday Caravan Tour, two new songs “Mardi Gras for Christmas” and “Alone for Christmas” are available for download as additions to their original 1998 Christmas Caravan recording. Surely “Mardi Gras for Christmas” will have the joint jumping at any holiday party.
Lushly backed by Ms. Savall’s Baroque ensemble Hirundo Maris, this recording is simply lovely with delights like “El Desembre congelat,” “Mitt hjerte alltid vanker,” “Wexford Carol,” “Kling no, klokka,” “Rug Muire Mac Do Dhia” and “Stille Nacht.”
Greg Herriges leads StellaRoma members Michal Bissonnette, Rundio, Pooja Goswami Pavan, Abhinav Sharma and Tatiana Riabokin on their Revel & Ritual. This is truly a recording for all seasons as StellaRoma takes listeners on a journey of holiday music from around the world.
A song for the Hindu Holi Festival of Colors (“Garuda/Khelat Rang Holi) or a song celebrating the Japanese Spring Cherry Blossom Festival (“Sakura, Sakura”) or a song for the Muslim holy day of Ashura (“Ashura”) make this recording delightful.
Fans might want to check out the season appropriate Basque song of the Annunciation “Birjina Gazetto Bat Zegoen,” the traditional Hebrew song “Sevivon, Sov Sov Sov” done up in a neo-Klezmer style or the 16th century Spanish Christmas carol “Foom, Foom, Foom.” There’s also version of a traditional Ukrainian New Year’s song called “Shchedryk.”
Available on the ARC Music label, this recording brims over with guitar, oud, violin, viola, cello and contrabass wrapping the mysteries of Hanukkah by way of tracks like “Maoz Tzur,” “Khanike, Oi, Khanike,” “Kita’l Tas,” “Akht Kleyne Brider” and “L’Chvod Chanukah.” This recording is a real treat.
As a sequel to theirWintersongs, the glorious voices of Kitka vocally travel from Bulgaria on “Collage of Koleda Carols” to Russia for “Zapovedi blazenstv/The Beatitudes” to Latvia for “Kur bijati ziemassvetki” to Ukraine for “Sco v pana khazjajna.” Taking listeners on a musical journey through Balkan, Slavic and Caucasian regions, Evening Star is holiday celebration, our earthy ancestors calling and a meditation all in one.
Throughout September and October, the Spanish-speaking nations and Hispanic residents in the United States celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) in the United States. Other countries celebrate the Dia de la Hispanidad (Hispanic Heritage Day).
During the monthlong Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, the United States honors the culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. World Music Central has put together a list of recent recordings that showcase the diversity of Hispanic music.
Old-School Revolution is an irresistible album by the Hip Spanic Allstars, a new supergroup that brings together members of iconic bands Santana, Tower of Power, Spearhead, and Los Mocosos.
The multinational band celebrates and updates the exciting music made in the 1970s where Spanish Caribbean salsa and Latin jazz met rock and African American soul and funk.
One of the most exciting artists out of Cuba is Eme Alfonso, a talented artist that grew up in a family of groundbreaking musicians, Grupo Sintesis. Her album discography includes Eme (Colibrí) and Voy. Eme has been releasing a series of mesmerizing videos with her latest songs, including:
Cuba is also a land of extraordinary pianists. This is year there has been a wave of albums by some of Cuba’s finest, who combine jazz and Cuban roots music: Alfredo Rodríguez – The Little Dream (Mack Avenue MAC1130, 2018), Dayramir González – The Grand Concourse (Machat Records, 2018), and Un Día Cualquiera by Harold López-Nussa (Mack Avenue).
Cuban pianist and composer Omar Sosa has a new album with fellow Cuban vocalist and violinist Yilian Cañizares titled Aguas, scheduled for release on OTA Records on October 5, 2018. Afro-Cuban roots meet Western classical music, and jazz.
The legendary Cuban guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Eliades Ochoa (of Buena Vista Social Club fame) has released a delightful instrumental album with Cuban guitarist Alejandro Almenares – Dos Gigantes de Música Cubana (Tumi Music, 2018).
One of the iconic Cuban albums of the 1990s, A toda Cuba le gusta (World Circuit) by Afro-Cuban All Stars has been remastered and reissued on vinyl.
Canada-based Cuban musicians Okan (Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne) have a debut EP titled Laberinto, scheduled for release October 19, 2018. Okan mixes fusion jazz, traditional Cuban music, Mexican influences and jazz swing.
With 127 million residents, Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country. The Mexican diaspora has brought mariachi music, norteño and son jarocho to the United States. Mariachi Herencia de México, formed by students from Chicago’s Mexican-American neighborhoods has a new album titled Herencia de la Tierra Mía (Heritage of My Land).
The charming self-released album features iconic Mexican American world music artist Lila Downs, Mexican mariachi star Aida Cuevas and Mexican harp virtuoso Ivan Velasco Herencia de la Tierra Mía includes sones, passionate boleros and a delightful jarocho medley. It was produced by acclaimed Spanish producer Javier Limón, director of the Mediterranean Music Institute at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Mexican vocalist Magos Herrera (currently based in New York) celebrates Ibero-American (the music of Spanish and Portuguese countries) culture on her new album Dreamers (Sony Music Masterworks). Magos Herrera collaborates with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider. This is not a chamber jazz album, but rather a cross-genre recording where Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider invited guest percussionists on flamenco and global percussion, and flamenco star Miguel Poveda.
Magos Hererera performs songs with lyrics by renowned songwriters and poets and writers, including Octavio Paz, Rubén Darío, and Federico García Lorca. It’s a fascinating production with exquisite arrangements.
Son jarocho, with its captivating guitars and poetic lyrics combines the basic roots of Veracruz’s Mexican musical culture: Spanish guitars and poetry, indigenous rhythms and Afro-Caribbean influence. New York-based Radio Jarocho and acclaimed Veracruz musician Zenen Zeferino have released Rios de Norte y Sur.
A different take on son jarocho is the remarkable Fingertip Carnival, a collaboration between Chinese pipa (lute) maestra Wu Man and son jarocho ensemble Son de San Diego.
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has released the self-titled album Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles. This groundbreaking all-female ensemble has served as a role model for Hispanic women in music. This is classic spirited mariachi at its best. The album includes a 44-page booklet with notes in English and Spanish.
The highly romantic boleros are very popular across the Spanish-speaking nations. A form of rootsy guitar-based bolero has developed in Mexico’s Costa Chica region bordering the Pacific Ocean.
Gary Nuñez & Plena Libre have been touring extensively with their explosive mix of Puerto Rican plen and bomba, salsa and jazz. Amores en el Camino (Love’s Journey) is their 2018 album. The album was originally scheduled for release in 2017, but it was moved to February 2018 due to Hurricane Maria and the subsequent disaster in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón has released Yo soy la Tradición, his eleventh album. Yo soy la Tradición was commissioned by the David and Reva Logan Center for the Arts and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. It is a set of 8 chamber compositions for alto saxophone and string quartet that include Zenón and the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet.
Puerto Rican-Peruvian act Zemog El Gallo Bueno (Abraham Gómez-Delgado) has combined three of his releases on YoYouMeTú Volume 3. Zemog El Gallo Bueno makes an eclectic cocktail of sounds that includes cha cha ch, salsa, guaracha, rock, funk and electronics. The album will be available November 9, 2018.
Peruvian band Dengue Dengue Dengue has a new mini-LP titled Semillero released September 2018 by On The Corner Records. The 6-track recording includes a mix of electronic music with Afro-Peruvian coastal rhythms and healing chants from the Huni Kuin people of the Amazon River.
Galicia in northwestern Spain is a land of pipers, traditionally male. The trailblazing Susana Seivane is one of the finest bagpipe players of her generation. She has just released her fifth album titled Fa.
Also from Galicia is the grand folk orchestra called SondeSeu, an orchestra featuring folk music instruments such as zanfonas (hurdy gurdies), bagpipes, flutes, drums, fiddles and vocalists. The new album Beiralua features special guests on vocals and bagpipes.
Galician experimentalist and multi-instrumentalist Mercedes Peón reconstructs tradition with a mix of electronics, rock, traditional acoustic instruments, sampled sounds, and fascinating vocal experimentation on her new album titled Deixaas.
Argentine pianist Juan Carlos Cambas has been living in Galicia since 2002. He has released “Almas en el viento / Música Argentina de raíz“. Juan Carlos Csambos has been exploring the music of countries where large numbers of Galicians emigrated to: Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil and Uruguay.
Argentine tango and Portuguese fado come together on Tango Fado Duo (Sorel Classics). The album features Portuguese guitar virtuoso, Pedro H. da Silva and bandoneon maestro Daniel Binelli. Together, they delve into two of the most passionate musical genres in the Hispanic and Lusophone world.
American keyboardist Stu Mindeman collaborates with Chilean musicians on the exquisite Woven Threads, mixing jazz, Chilean music and global rhythms.
Folk music band Aljibe, from Central Spain, explores the music of the Rio Tajo (Tagus River) basin on Agua. The band presents reconstructed traditional music from Castile and other regions. The CD is housed in a beautifully-packaged hard cover 144-page book with vintage photos and lots of details about the songs selected.
Chano Dominguez started as a progressive rock keyboardist with Andalusian rock band Cai and has become one of the leading flamenco jazz pianists. His most recent album is a collaboration with Spanish jazz bassist Javier Colina: Chano & Colina (Sunnyside, 2018)
Colombian singer-songwriter Marta Gómez released La alegría y el canto (Aluna Music), an album featuring well-known musicians from South America, Cuba and Spain.
Brazilian music is the focus of Colombian singer-songwriter Chabuco’s 2018 album Encuentro. It’s a nicely-crafted encounter between the tropical music of Colombia and Brazilian music, featuring Brazilian musicians.
One of the hottest musical styles in New York’s Hispanic community was bugalú (boogaloo), a hybridization of Latin Caribbean music and African American influences. New York City-based band Spanglish Fly has renovated boogaloo and released Ay Que Boogaloo! (Chaco World Music) earlier this year. This time Spanglish Fly ventured beyond boogaloo, adding bolero, New Orleans funk, swing jazz, Arabic chants, and other innovations.
Los Texmaniacs plays the border music of Tejas (Texas), Tejano music. Their latest album Cruzando Borders (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2018) brings together Spanish, Mexican and American country music roots. Guest includes Lyle Lovett and country singer Rick Treviño.
Orquesta Akokán – Featuring José “Pepito” Gómez (Daptone Records) is an encounter between a big band collective of Havana’s finest musicians and musicians from New York’s Latin music scene with mouthwatering mambo as the common language.
Various string instrument masters appeared live at a festival in the Czech Republic and recorded Strunk Nad Oslavou – Strings over the Oslava River 2016 (Indies Scope, 2017). The lineup included Germán López, one of the finest timple (a small Spanish guitar from the Canary Islands) players in the Canary Islands, Spain; along with Italian guitarist Antonio Forcione; Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita; and Czech mandolin virtuoso Martin Krajíček.
Makrú, a band from the Mission District in San Francisco combines skillfully Colombian and Caribbean music, flamenco, rock, Middle Eastern flavors and much more on – Tu Mission (Makru Music, 2018)
Canadian flute virtuoso Ron Korb celebrates the music of Latin America and Spain on World Café, featuring Cuban and Canadian musicians with a mix of melodic jazz, tango, rumba flamenco and other influences.
Paraguayan harp player Carlos Reyes collaborates with Brazilian guitarist and vocalist Badi Assad and American blues guitarist on Blues & Latin, a combination of blues, smooth jazz and South American sounds.
Los Romeros: Royal Family of the Spanish Guitar by Walter Aaron Clark (University of Illinois Press, 2018) is an depth look at the leading Spanish guitar family in the United States, the Romeros. The family tradition was started by Spaniard Celedonio Romero who emigrated to the United States in the 1950s.
Millenia before the invention of the screw, he screwed his perceptions down, tightening and focusing all the sensory pressure he could bring to bear on the essentials of the moment. His eyes locked onto the pig, willing the arrow to go to that one spot behind the animal’s shoulder. Nerve endings were shut off except in his fingertips, which retained the feeling of the string just released, and its tension, through which he knew the strength of the arrow shot he had just released, its range, drop and penetrating power.
He smelled and tasted the creekside forest in which he hunted, its humidity reflecting both effect on his bow and arrows and the weather he’d face bringing his kill back to the clan and its lush growth of plants on which the animal fed creating anticipation of rich, fatty meat. His ear, cocked toward the game and hoping to hear the thwunk of his arrow, had brief leisure to enjoy the melodic, decaying vibration of his bowstring, settling back into rest after propelling his arrow.
She, too, was narrowing and aiming all her senses at that moment. Her eyes searched for the best shade of gray green and the best height for picking mallow stalks among the various creekside reeds and weeds, and they abetted her bare soles, on which she concentrated to judge a firmness of mud that allowed for easy plucking of plants and decent footing.
Pulling a mallow up from the muck slowly, to keep roots attached, she cracked the stalk, smelled the break, then licked it to test its quality as an herbal medicine. As she did so, a rising breeze blew across unevenly snapped reeds she’d used to pull herself forward through the mud, and she heard a combination of discordant notes.
He, another he, pulled a crude coracle onto a sandbar. Surveying his possessions and the little world in which he would overnight, he saw the round vessel, skins stretched over a wooden frame and covered with fat, the extra fat and provisions wrapped in other skins and animal bladders, a large hide used as a blanket, his paddles and stone tools, sand, mud, driftwood branches, sticks, and stumps.
Like the aforementioned woman, he judged the earth with his feet to find the driest spot on which to sleep. Arranging his property, he smelled the meat and berries on which he would dine for freshness, then dropped his paddle against the upended skin boat to hear good tautness to test the craft’s soundness for the next day’s journey.
The pig’s scream, the deep beat of the paddle against the skin boat and the reeds’ haunting wail coincided, more or less, up and down the creek, making them aware of one another. The hunter’s success being the loudest and most dramatic sound, and he being the middle of the three, he became the center of attention for all. As he finished his kill, he looked around and prepared to defend it, at need, from the strangers he knew were nearby. They warily approached, the boatman wading near the shore and the medicine woman approaching warily down the opposite creek bank.
Out of bowshot, they sized one another up in relative safety. There were no tribal differences then, nothing greater than fighting over food, and since the pig was more meat than the lone hunter could possibly carry back to his own clan, that was not an issue. In innocence and pragmatism, they accepted without any barter, threat, or palaver that they would eat and camp together that night.
Only the boatman had anything like a camp. The sandbar was fairly dry, open enough to let the breeze blow insects away and possessed of old, easily ignited wood for a fire. They could make fire.
Using simple syllables and gestures, they agreed to gut the pig together and push the carcass into the creek, then wade together, allowing the current to wash the creature’s blood away, taking it to the sandbar, where further butchering and then a roasted meal could take place.
Once there, they displayed their resources to one another in dusk light, gradually replaced by firelight. Both men had striking stones for making fire. The woman had a collection of gathered herbs, both medicinal and culinary, as well as salt, as well as the snapped, hollow reeds she had snatched up out of curiosity when the three had accidentally announced their presence to one another. The boatman had an assortment of shells and brightly colored stones, some strung on leather cords as necklaces.
The coracle was a marvelous, magical thing to the other two, who walked around it, rubbed their hands across its surface and, with permission, hit it tentatively with the boatman’s paddle. All tested the hunter’s bow, after he bragged on its potency, and enjoyed testing the string by plucking. The men tried to imitate the sound they’d heard from the woman’s starting position and pointed at her with hands outstretched at waist level, palms up, to ask her what had caused it. She held up her handful of uneven, hollow reeds and passed her hand over it in the sign for wind, but her explanation was unclear, and so she blew across them, and another near-melodic noise came forth.
The trio’s conversation was necessarily limited by paucity of vocabulary and mutually understood gesture, but they could and did seek for explanation of the world around them, the little world of the fire-lit sandbar, with the tools available to them. They took turns plucking the bow, beating the coracle and blowing the reeds.
They experimented and learned that the bowstring, pressed with a stiff finger or pig bone at different places along its length, yielded different sounds from the plucked portion beneath the blocking device. They noticed that the reeds could be rearranged into different combinations of exposed lengths and that blowing over them in those different combinations produced higher or lower sounds. The coracle, beaten mainly by the boatman, it being his property and greatest treasure and he living by the rhythm of his paddling day in and day out, was incorporated for rhythm.
Percussionists tend to believe that the first manufactured instrument was a drum. String players are confident theirs was the first tool of music. Wind instrumentalists are certain reeds and wind were our earliest cultural inspiration. Perhaps, after all, it was a band.
There are not so many ethnic [folk or world music] festivals in Russia. Most of those I wrote about a year ago do not exist or will be held every two years, like the Taibola Festival and White Noise, skipping 2018. Also, many have not yet published their promo with the line-up announcement 2018, but it doesn’t prevent people from planning their trips and buying tickets in advance.
27 – 29 of July, Perm region
Kamwa festival celebrates 13 years old this year, and this was the first ethno festival I attended in my life 13 years ago. I always compare other festivals I go to with Kamwa. The festival is held in an unrealistically picturesque place – in the museum of wooden architecture of Khokhlovka, a few kilometers from Perm. All Russian ethno-musicians and many foreign ones performed here, for example, Trad.Attack!, Oratnitza, Vedan Kolod, Merema, Sattuma, Namgar, Volga, Kila, Authentic Light Orchestra and many-many others.
9 – 11 of June, Tula region
The biggest multi-genre festival of Russia. This year more than 70 bands from around the world will perform within 3 days on Wild Mint: Mgzavrebi, Mujuice, OLIGARKH, Aveva, but not so many folk bands as before.
Folk Summer Fest
20 – 22 of July, Kaluga region
Saltatio Mortis, The Rumjacks, Russkaja, Heidevolk, Kalevala, Spire, Teufelstans, Nytt Land, Gilead, Midvinterblot, and more than 50 other bands from all over the world mostly playing pagan metal or Viking folk.
Nebo I Zemlya
8 – 12 of June, Tyumen
There you’ll be able to participate at 700 master classes, to listen to over 200 invited speakers with lectures on health, relationships, needlework, business, cultures from all over the world, 400 events for children, 50 concerts Russian and foreign artists; Holi holiday, fire shows and many other things.
1 – 5 of August, Nizhni Novgorod
WAFEst – this is Water-Air-Fire-Earth-festival! This is not a purely musical festival – there are fire shows, master classes, the quality and quantity (more than 400!) are unprecedented, so you can call it educational too.
13 – 15 of July, Shushenskoe
Since 2003, Shushenskoye has become a place of unprecedented musical, ethnic, cultural leisure for thousands and thousands of guests, whose number and geography increases every year. The first name of this festival was Sayan Ring, later changed into Mir Sibiri, now the biggest ethno festival in Russia.
19 – 22 of July, Altai
International EcoCultural festival WhatEtno it is three-day event, consisting educational and cognitive meetings dedicated to world music, festival also organizes tours for musicians in Siberia.
18 – 22 of July, Republic Tuva
XIX International Festival of Live Music and Faith “Ustuu-Huree -2018” will be held in Chadan of the Republic of Tuva from 18 to 22 July. Festival was established in 1999, during the realization of the idea of restoring the ruins of the once magnificent Buddhist temple Ustuu-Huree.
24 – 26 of August, Bashkortostan
This is the chance also to visit one of the biggest (and almost endless) lakes in Bashkortostan, the lake Aslykul. There is no entrance fee, the festival made by volunteers and enthusiasts. Tribal mood and a lot of beautiful fire shows with live folk and electronic music.
Solar Systo Togathering 2018
17 – 21 of May, Saint-Petersburg
Quite small and private festival that annually changes its location. This year, the “ecological meeting” Solar Systo Togathering took place on the picturesque shore of the Finnish Gulf, 120 kilometers from St. Petersburg towards Primorsk. This year’s headline includes Ikarushka, Testo, Noid and many other folk-electronic projects.
Voice of nomads
20 – 21 of July, Buryatia Republic
International Music Festival near Baikal lake. Invites local stars like Namgar as well as International world music stars like Casuarina from Brazil, the bands from Mongolia, China, Ukraine, Hungary, Norway, USA, Japan, Belgium, Brazil, Zimbabwe, France come there regularly.
St. Patrick’s Day. How exactly did the Catholic patron saint feast day of the the people of Ireland, a relatively small island in the North Atlantic, evolve into a worldwide celebration? With festivities and parades in communities large and small that traverse from United States to Australia from Germany to Argentina from Japan to South Africa, the logical answer of course is the ability of the Irish to pick up and move to wherever the road takes them with all the mitigating factors of migration mixed in like famine, disease and oppression. By why this extravaganza of green? Some might point to mass marketing with promises of barrels of beer, a good time party and a lively parade in those dark days that mark the lull between Christmas and the genuine start of spring. The spread of St. Patrick’s Day by way of the cross pollination of culture seem so reasonable, so rational, so plausible.
But the Irish in me wants it to be us. The Irish in me wants it to be our storytelling, our music, our dance. Yes, the Irish in me wants it to be the utter surety that “if you knew us, you’d like us,” which I’m not sure if it makes us charmingly likable or just a wee bit obnoxious. Those not quite spring days of March seem a good time for us heathens in the Northern Hemisphere to settle in with a pint against the backdrop of a sweet tune and listen to someone’s Da tell a story that couldn’t possibly be true, but then again it just might. See, I have no doubt that there’s a Irishman out there, right now, that’s looking at a lovely woman and saying, “Ah, Mo stoirín, you remind me of a girl …” before weaving a fantastical tale. Perhaps that’s the real lure of St. Patrick’s Day.
To lure you in further let’s find some music for your St. Patrick’s Day and there is indeed some fine music this year to tempt you.
There’s the standard St. Patrick’s Day fare of Celtic Thunder’s Celtic Thunder X with tracks like “Sons of Light,” “Toora Loora Lay” and “The Wild Rover.” While a little overblown and a bit more commercial pop than I personally prefer, their version of “Lannigans Ball” is lively.
The late 2017 releases of Voice of the Celts and The Voice Within by Dulaman follow along the same vein, but “Dulaman,” “On Raglan Road,” “Sally Brown,” “The Sally Gardens” and Na Ceannabhain Bhana” are worth a listen. Also, Celtic Woman has put out Homecoming – Live From Ireland for Susan McFadden, Mairead Carlin, Eabha McMahon and Tara McNeil fans.
The Gap of Dreams by Altan is certain to set your Celtic heart all aflutter. The stunning bright and beautiful recording is full of the goodness of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh’s vocals and fiddle, Ciaran Curran’s bouzouki, Daithi Sproule’s guitar and vocals, Mark Kelly’s guitar and vocals and Martin Tourish’s piano accordion. They threw in Tommy McLaughlin on keyboards just for kicks. On The Gap of Dreams fans get a dose of “The Gap of Dreams/Nia’s Jig/The Beekeeper,” “The Month of January,” “Nion a’ Bhaoigheallaigh” and “The Tullaghan Lasses/The Cameronian/The Pigeon on the Gate,” as well as “Cumha an Oileain” and the sweetly simple Mark Kelly composition “Port Alex.”
Equally delicious is the third offering Stri by Gaelic singer Maeve Mackinnon. Fans will want to check out this for tracks like “Iomaraibh Eutrom,” “Roisin Dubh,” “Dh’fhalbh Mo Run air an Aiseig” and “O Mo Cheist am Fear Ban.”
Fiddle fans will want to check out From Within by fiddler Eric Ryan-Johnson. This artist self release is packed with goodies like “Jigs: The Beginning/A Boy & His Dad/The Yelping Dog,” “Air: The Farmer of Florence,” “Reel: The Morning Cup,” “Air: February 23” and “Reels: The End Is Near/ Bound to Break.” And if that wasn’t enough sweet Celtic fiddle goodness for you, he’s also got The Wonderful Day on tap with treats like “Hornpipes: The Wonderful Day/The Bee’s Wings,” “Jigs: Knights of St. Patrick/Hast to the Wedding/Father O’Flynn’s,” “Air: Melody for Meredith Keefe,” “Reels: Bag of Potatoes/Blacksmith’s Reel/Castle Kelly” and “Reel: Coffin Ships.”
There’s Celtic Crumble’s Echos of Ireland with tracks like “Carry Me Home,” “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” “The Twins of Ballina” and title track “Echos of Ireland” to tempt fans.
Perhaps, a mixed bag of tricks will tickle your fancy. Well, then you might want to try out ARC music’s Discover Celtic Music. There are some real treats here with Aryeh Frankfurter’s “The Morning Dew,” Golden Bough’s “The Wren Boys/Gavin’s Hornpipe/Honeysuckle,” Noel Mclourghlin’s “The Hills of Connemara” and Mary Ann Kennedy’s “Air Leathad Sleibhe.” There’s also Gwyneth Glyn’s “Cwlwm,” Yvon Etienne’s “Si j’ai le courage,” Os Rosales’s “Muineira a Gatuxa” and Sian James’s “Mwynen merch.” Good stuff.
Pure Records has released Avenging and Bright by Damien O’Kane. Don’t let the goofy cover photo of Mr. O’Kane scare you off because this Northern Ireland singer and musician goes down silky smooth like the perfect pint on offerings like “Boston City,” title track “Avenging and Bright,” “All Among the Barley,” January Man,” and “Dancing in Puddles.” Mr. O’Kane’s vocal against piano, guitar and tenor guitar makes for some fine contemporary fare.
Perhaps one of my favorites has to be the Danny Diamond’s Elbow Room. This fiddler extraordinaire has played previously with Slow Moving Clouds and Morga, but on Elbow Room Mr. Diamond wows listeners simply by the shape and breadth of his own solo fiddler’s soul. Whether you’re a newbie listener or a seasoned Irish fiddle devotee, it’s easy to fall under the spell Mr. Diamond weaves on tracks like “Maureen from Gibberland,” “The Pinch of Snuff,” “Watching the Evening Grow,” “The Blackbird” and “Johnny Cope.” This is truly a fiddler’s delight.
The String Sisters have out Between Wind and Water. Irish vocalist and fiddler Mairead Ne Mhaonaigh, Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Annbjorg Lien, the American fiddler Liz Knowles, Shetland fiddler Catriona MacDonald, the American fiddler Liz Carroll and Swedish fiddler and vocalist Emma Hardelin have turned out some fine tunes on Between Wind and Water with jaunty tracks like “The Crow’s Visit,” “Hjaltland” and “Late Night in Forde.” Fans get morsels of sweetness like “Wind and Rain,” “Det bor I mina tankar” and “Mo Nion O.”
Another stunning fiddle recording is An Choill Uaigneach by Theresa Kavanagh. Hailing from Donegal, Ms. Kavanagh dazzles listener with the bright wildness of the fiddle on such tracks as “The Wild Swans of Coole/The Abandoned Meadow,” “Jocelyn’s/Grainne’s Jig” and “The Sword of Light/Secrets of the Willow,” and title track “An Choill Uaigneach” or “The Lonesome Forest” is elegant.
For Celtic fans looking for a little something off the beaten path might want to check out Plantec’s Live at the Festival Interceltique Lorient. These Breton Celtic rockers dole out a ferocious performance on this recording. Full of Breton bombard, guitar and synthesizer and programming, this is a definitive kick in the pants to any sweet version of “Danny Boy.” Recorded at the 2017 Lorient Inter Celtique Festival, Plantec’s Odran and Yannick Plantec and Gabriel Djibril kick some Celtic rock ass with tracks like “Croissant de letiez,” “Speedwell,” “Koun” and “Feulz.”
Another off the beaten path choice might be Celtic Rock Opera series recording “Excalibur IV The Dark Age of the Dragon” with music, lyrics and concept by Alan Simon. If you need a backing soundtrack for your noble quest down the highway or to the grocery store, well, here’s your music. Recorded with the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague, this recording rocks out with electric guitars, drums and keyboards, as well as mandolins, Celtic harps and big bold vocals. It features Moya Brennan (Clannad), John Helliwell (Supertramp), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Michael Sadler (Saga),and Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep).
Brona McVittie’s We Are the Wildlife is a lovely contemporary Celtic folk collection. Her sweet vocals on “Where the Angels Wake You,” “The Flower of Magherally“ and “Molly Brannigan” are intimate and mesmerizing. Add in Myles Cochran on “The Vast and Vague Extravagance That Lies at the Bottom of the Celtic Heart” and you definitely have a winner.
If atmospheric and ethereal is what you are looking for you might want to check out the Irish harpist Aine Minogue’s In the Name of Stillness Celtic Meditation Music. Ms. Minogue set us a serene loveliness from opening track “In the Name of Stillness” and through tracks like “Home of Belonging,” “In the Name of Solitude” and “Quiet Absence.”
Mary Ann Kennedy has An Dan: Gaelic Songs for a Modern World out on the ARC label. The Scottish singer has tracks like “Seinn, Horo, Seinn,” “Sith na Coille,” “Iain Againn Fhin” and “Air Leathad Sleibhe” on tap for listeners.
If Ulileann pipes, bouzouki, bodran, fiddle, flute and cello are on your wish list for the season, then you might want to take a listen to John McSherry’s The Seven Suns. A 2016 release that some how passed us by is bold and infectiously delightful. With tracks like “Dance of the Siog,” “The Atlantean,” “Sunrise at Bealtaine,” “The Golden Mean” and “The Cloghogle,” Mr. McSherry, along with fellow musicians Sean Og Graham, Niamh Dunne, Michael McGoldrick and Sean Warren, will have you and yours feting until the wee hours.
Another 2016 out on the Compass Records label that somehow also passed us by that is well worth a listen is Doolin‘ by the band of the same name. Doolin’ is a fine time and rollicking good fun with tracks like “Mary’s Jigs,” “Sailing Across the Ocean,” “The Road to Gleanntan,” “Wind Her Up” and “The Galway Girl.”
There’s also The Irishman’s Finest Collection by John Duhan. Starting out his career at the age of 15 as the front man for Limrick’s 1960s rock group Granny Intentions, Mr. Duhan would later turn to his own writing and solo recordings like The Voyage, Just Another Town and To the Light, as well as having some of his songs recording by heavyweights such as Christy Moore, The Dubliners and Mary Black. On The Irishman’s Finest Collection, Mr. Duhan lays bare the Irish soul by way of tracks like “Just Another Town,” “The Voyage,” “All I Need” and “The River Returning.”
Should musicians like Irla O Lionaird, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes and Thomas Bartlett mean anything to you then you should drop whatever bit of nonsense you are doing and run around in a circle of delight. A bit of girlish screaming and arm waving wouldn’t go amiss either. If you hadn’t guessed these five musicians have out on the Real World label The Gloaming Live at the NCH . And let me say this recording is lovely, lovely and even more lovely. Be prepared to be entranced by the opening fiddle lines of “The Booley House,” through the sweet charms of Iarla O Lionaird’s vocals on “Cucanandy” and “The Sailor’s Bonnet” to the very Celtic magic of “The Pilgrim’s Song” and “The Rolling Wave” and all the way to the very end of “Fainleog.” You want this CD. You need it. Your very connection to all that expresses the sweetly joyful sorrowful Celtic soul depends on it.
Recorded at Dublin, Ireland’s National Concert Hall, The Gloaming Live at NCH is breathtakingly good, so good it’s hard not to feel a little giddy over this elegant work of voice, piano, Hardanger d’Amore, guitar and fiddle. You don’t even need to think about, just get it.
Finally, let me say that in regards to St. Patrick’s Day that I’m glad to know that we Irish aren’t hoarders of the holiday. There’s enough Irish to go around. That frothy pint doesn’t care a whit if you are saint or sinner. The fiddle tune doesn’t care if your are ferocious or feckless. You could be fool or faerie folk and you would still be welcome for what the Irish call comhaltacht – fellowship. So, settle in and listen to some good music and maybe somebody’s Da will tell you a story.
Headline photo: The Gloaming
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