Category Archives: Artist Profiles

Artist Profiles: Frontera Bugalú

Frontera Bugalú

Frontera Bugalú is a musical project developed by accordionist, guitarist, vocalist and composer Kiko Rodriguez and pianist Joel Osvaldo in El Paso, Texas in 2011. The group has become well-known for its lively música fronteriza, a combination of borderland folk, mambo and cumbia music.

The band includes members from both sides of the border, including vocalist Anabel Gutierrez and bassist Alex Ravana from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

Discography:

Frontera Bugalu (2011)
Alma de Jaguar (Frontera Bugalu, 2017)

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Artist Profiles: Les Filles de Illighadad

Les Filles de Illighadad

Tuareg act Les Filles de Illighadad comes from an isolated village in central Niger, in the outback deserts at the edge of the Sahara. The camp is only reachable through a difficult drive through the open desert and there is little infrastructure, no electricity or running water. The surrounding countryside supports hundreds of herders, living with and among their farm animals, as their families have done for centuries.

The music performed by Les Filles de Illighadad known as tende comes from a drum built from a goat skin stretched across a mortar and pestle. Tende music is developed from a few elements: vocals, handclaps, and percussion. Songs talk about the village, of love, and celebrate ancestors. It’s a musical form directed by women. Tende is a tradition for all the young girls, performed during celebrations and to pass the time at nighttime during the rainy season.

Fatou Seidi Ghali, lead vocalist and instrumentalist of Les Filles de Illighadad is one of the few Tuareg female guitarists in Niger. Using her older brother’s guitar, she taught herself to play. While Fatou’s position as the first female Tuareg guitarist is revolutionary, it is just as interesting for her musical direction. In a place where gender norms have generated two different types of music, Fatou and Les Filles de Illighadad are reaffirming the role of tende in Tuareg guitar.

Instead of the jembe or the drum set, Les Filles de Illighadad feature the traditional drum and the pounding calabash, half buried in water.

Discography:

Les Filles de Illighadad, Fatou Seidi Ghali & Alamnou Akrouni (Sahel Sounds, 2016)
Eghass Malan (Sahel Sounds, 2017)

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Artist Profiles: Nella

Nella – Photo by Sanne Gault

Marianella Rojas, better known as Nella, in Isla Margarita, an island in the Caribbean Sea, off the northeastern coast of Venezuela. Nella spent hours as a child singing over recordings by pop stars like Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion, and Mariah Carey. “I took singing lessons and was a bit embarrassed about my singing, so to hide it, I played the music very loud.” The plot worked well until her voice teacher asked Nella’s father to listen “to the student in the next room” and he was surprised to find it was his daughter.

I was 11, and from then on they were really supportive,” reveals Nella. “I was involved in anything that would come up: singing, acting, dancing, you name it. At 13, my voice started to change and without realizing, by singing to the records, imitating these divas, I was studying a lot. They were incredible teachers. I loved it. I was also into the challenges of how high I could go vocally or how well I could do certain vocal turns, and I believe that helped me develop a vocal flexibility that perhaps I wouldn’t have by just listening to Venezuelan music. Now, even when singing Venezuelan songs I don’t sound like a typical traditional singer.”

Nella moved to Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, in 2007, at age 17. And in 2011 she enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston, majoring in performance, composition and production.

She started singing in a trio that played folk music from Latin America with jazz and pop influences. “It was part of the process of rediscovering myself,” says Nella. “Once you leave your country, your roots start knocking at your door”. At that time, Nella also discovered the work of Afro-Spanish singer Buika, rooted in copla and flamenco.

“After all the vocal acrobatics I had learned, I found the importance of interpretation, of how to say a lyric,” says Nella. “I fell in love with flamenco and with that honesty between cantaor and audience. It is something I had not found in any other genre.”

It was also in Boston that an a cappella performance by Nella of a Venezuelan song, “La Negra Atilia” caught Javier Limón´s ear. “I had heard her before and thought she was really good and very versatile, but that night I heard an original way of phrasing,” recalls Limón, who is a well-known Spanish musician and producer. “She has something special, and it’s all hers.”

Nella – Photo by Nina Rodriguez

Limón, who has worked with several top singers including flamenco star Estrella Morente and fado diva Mariza, says “Nella has an Andalusian way of phrasing that is beautiful and very natural. In fact, many people assume she is from Andalusia. When she sang the title track in Everybody Knows, the Asghar Farhadi movie with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, many people thought she was from Córdoba or Granada.

Her fans now include Latin pop superstars such as Alejandro Sanz and flamenco celebrities such as Miguel Poveda.

In her album Voy, produced by Limón, Nella sings love stories such as “Fin de Fiesta” (Party’s End), an early choice and a song Limón “got from a dusty notebook and sang to me accompanying himself on the guitar,” remembers Nella. “As soon as I heard it, I said ‘This one! This one! That’s a song we must do together’.”

Other favorites include “Los Nacidos” (The Born Ones) and “Me Llaman Nella” (They Call Me Nella), her autobiographical song — written by Limón.

“We were in Colombia and I remember we needed one more track,” recalls Nella. “So we have breakfast, we talk, he goes to his room, I go to mine, and a few minutes later I get a message: ‘I got it’ And he reads me the refrain ‘I am Nella, the one with the broken voice’ And I say ‘Excuse me?!’ We get together and he sings “Above the Margarita Sea, the moon almost full …’ and I tell him ‘Javier you’ve never been to Margarita!’ And he says ‘I know, but you talk so much about Margarita, you even carry it literally under your skin, so you helped me create a story.’”

Meanwhile, the emotional “Volveré A Mi Tierra” (I Will Go Back To My Country) was written by Limón as a response to news from Venezuela. “He sent me a text and I burst into tears and told him we need to put music to it,” she says. “And as soon as I had it, I sent the mockup of the song to friends around the world and that’s how we ended up with the video, with images of Venezuelans all over the world, lip-syncing the lyrics.”

“I try to not get into politics,” articulates Nella. “Because what we are suffering now transcends politics. I don’t care which side you are on, we are all affected by the situation. One of the things that moves me the most is when after a concert people come up to me and say things like ‘Nella, I felt I was in La Guaira, at the beach, with my grandmother, having a coffee while she read me a story.’ There is no better response than that.”

Regarding her songwriter side, Nella says: “Yes, I have a lot of songs in a drawer, but right now I am very comfortable with Javier’s writing and to have someone like him writing for you is a luxury. Most important, I feel them as my own.”

The recording includes guest appearances by Spanish flamenco singer Alba Molina (the daughter of the fabled flamenco duo Lola y Manuel); string player Santiago Prieto, from Latin Grammy-winning Colombian band Monsieur Periné; and two outstanding Venezuelan musicians, cuatro wizard Jorge Glem, and singer and composer Ilan Chester, a Latin Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

“I feel these songs as if I had written them myself,” says Nella about their partnership. “They often reflect exactly what was happening in my life at the time. The music is a mix of many sources and the lyrics tell stories. I want to reach people, I want to give them more than just something to dance to.”

Discography:

Voy (Casalimón America Records, 2019)

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Artist Profiles: KOKOKO!

KOKOKO!

KOKOKO! is a collective of musicians from Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The artists are known for creating a contemporary and distinctive dance style of music. KOKOKO! uses instruments built from up-cycling cans, engine parts, plastic containers, and other trash and scrap found on the city streets.

KOKOKO!
KOKOKO!
KOKOKO!
KOKOKO!

The core of the ensemble are musical instrument makers from the Ngwaka neighborhood, Makara Bianko, electronic producer Débruit and dancers from the Lingwala neighborhood.

In the spring of 2018, KOKOKO! concluded its first sold-out European tour. In 2019, the band embarked on an American tour.

KOKOKO! Have several recordings and have collaborated with other African artists on remixes and music. The EP Liboso EP was released in December 2018 on Transgressive Records.

Discography:

Liboso (Transgressive Records, 2018)
Fongola (Transgressive Records, 2019)

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Artist Profiles: Kardemimmit

Kardemimmit (Finland)
Kardemimmit (Finland)

Kardemimmit is a quartet band of four remarkable women playing the Finnish national instrument, kantele (lap zither). The ensemble was formed in 1999 in the musical institute Juvenalia in Kardemimmit’s home town Espoo, in southern Finland.

The ensemble’s members are Maija Pokela, Jutta Rahmel, Anna Wegelius and Leeni Wegelius. The four musicians were attracted to folk music even though they also liked playing others types of music.

Kardemimmit creates and manages its own music. The artists compose, arrange, write lyrics and produce their recordings.

Kardemimmit

Together with 15 and 38 stringed kanteles, vocals have an essential role in Kardemimmit’s sound. The quartet’s original pieces combine modernity with Finnish, Eastern European and Scandinavian musical traditions. Kardemimmit incorporates Finnish reki-singing style, 19th century dance music, Perhonjokilaakso kantele playing style, Eastern Finnish ancient improvisation and early runo singing.

In 2004, the four musicians attended the influential Kaustinen Folk Music Festival. They got to see two of the finest Nordic bands, Väsen and Värttinä.

In 2005, Kardemimmit won the International Kantele Competition.

The group has released several album, including Viira; Kaisla; Autio huvila (Abandoned Villa), selected Finnish folk album of the year 2012;Onni (Happiness); and Kesäyön valo 2018. Kaisla was reissued in 2012 as The Rough Guide to the Music of Scandinavia compilation’s bonus CD under the title Introducing Kardemimmit.

Discography:

Viira (Musiikkiopisto Juvenalia, 2006)
Kaisla (Frigg, 2009)
Autio huvila (Frigg, 2012)
Onni (Kardemimmit, 2015)
Kesäyön valo (Kardemimmit, 2018)

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Artist Profiles: Girma Beyene

Girma Beyene with Akale Wube

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

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

Discography:

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

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Artist Profiles: Mames Babegenush

Mames Babegenush

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

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

Discography:

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

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Artist Profiles: Saraswathi Ranganathan

Saraswathi Ranganathan

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

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

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

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

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

Discography:

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

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Artist Profiles: Karima Skalli

Karima Skalli

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

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

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

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

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

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Artist Profiles: Bombino

Bombino – Photo by Chris Decato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bombino

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

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

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

Bombino – Photo by Ron Wyman

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

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

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

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

Discography:

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

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