Category Archives: Artist Profiles

Artist Profiles: Oleg Fesov

Oleg Fesov

Oleg Fesov is a musician from Tajikistan who composes and arranges his songs in addition to performing. Despite living as an immigrant, Fesov still feels strongly connected to his home country and his ancestors from the Pamir Mountains. His people are Badakhshani, an ethnic group of some 35 people who are divided by the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border.

Fesov had to leave his home country because of an ethnic war that had been raging there for several years. His studio and equipment were looted and Fesov had to flee to Moscow where he continues the job of preserving his country’s rich musical tradition.

The album Lalaiki Pamir presents the musical traditions and ideas of Badakhshan (Tajikistan) and the Pamir Mountains. The traditional eastern string and percussion instruments such as sitar, rubab, ud dombra, various drums and tablas play an important role in the music of Oleg Fesov combined with his intensive and emotion-loaded voice. All lyrics are in Tajik or Shugnan languages.

Oleg Fesov was discovered at the huge “Voice of Asia” festival in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan. His international exposure came when German label Blue Flame released a series of recordings with the top performers that participated in that festival. American audiences found out about Oleg Fesov in 1995 when one of his songs, “Marav,” was included in the three-CD world fusion boxed set titled Planet Soup (Ellipsis Arts CD 345) released by Ellipsis Arts and produced by world music producer and journalist Angel Romero.

Discography:

Lalaika Pamir (Blue Flame, 1993)
Lakatum ‎(Manas Records, 1997)

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Artist Profiles: Veronica Codesal

Ialma

Verónica Codesal was born on September 16, 1977 in Uccle, Belgium. She is a vocalist and pandeireta (Galician tambourine) player. Verónica grew up in Belgium in a Spanish immigrant family from Galicia. Although she’s explored a wide range of musical styles, her passion is Galician roots music.

In addition to being a member of the band Urban Trad, Veronica is also founder of the group Ialma. She also took part in Muziek Lod’s project La Maison des Petltes Musiques Cachees (led by Dick van der Harst), in the Zefira Toma project, Celtic band Camaxe and the In Kadrirs project La Paloma Negra.

She’s currently a member of Ialma.

Discography:

Palabras darei, with Ialma (Zoku, 2000)
Marmuladas, with Ialma (Zoku, 2002)
Nova Era, with Ialma (Kerua, 2006)
Simbiose, with Ialma (FOL Musica, 2011)
Camiño de Bruxelas a Santiago, with Ialma (Home Records, 2016)

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Artist Profiles: Sergiu Popa

Sergiu Popa

Born in Chisinau in 1981, Moldova, Sergiu Popa is a member of a well-known Roma (Gypsy) musical dynasty in his country. He, like several generations before him, is a virtuoso accordionist who plays not only traditional folk and Gypsy music of Eastern Europe, but is classically trained as well.

He studied at the Stefan Neaga College of Music in Chisinau (the capital of Moldova), and completed two years at the Conservatory of Chisinau before emigrating to Canada in 2002. His first musical performance in Canada was at the Drummondville Festival Mondial des Cultures, where he performed with Vatra, a Moldavian dance troupe.

In Canada, during the short time he has been here, he has been distinguishing himself as a unique, versatile and highly talented artist. He has continued to perform traditional Eastern European music with other distinguished musicians such as Sergei Trofanov, Carmen Piculeata (violinists), Romeo Vaduva (pan flutist), Vladimir Sidorov and Marin Nasturica (accordionists), while expanding his repertoire with renowned jazz singer Jeri Brown. He has accompanied Angele Dubeau’s La Pieta (performing at the Lanaudiere and Mont Tremblant Festivals in 2003 and 2004) and is sought after by the Cirque du Soleil for a possible future collaboration.

During the summer of 2005, he led a full ensemble of musicians and dancers for an outdoor public performance at the Place des Arts concert series, Les Midis du Monde. The ensemble, named Sergiu Popa and Moldomania, performed traditional music from Moldova for an audience of several hundred people.

Sergiu was featured at the 1st edition of the Romani Yag Gypsy Festival in Montreal, where he gave a workshop in Gypsy style accordion, performed and participated in the premiere of a musical theatre production called Romano Drom. He was also featured as a solo performer in the 2005 edition of Printemps des Bretelles, an accordion festival in Montreal.

In 2006, Sergiu and his ensemble performed as part of the ?soir?e d?couvertes? at the 2006 edition of the ?Festival des Musiques et du Monde?, organized by Musique Multi-Montr?al. At the festival, he was nominated for the ?toiles Galaxie prize from Radio-Canada, for up-and-coming artists.

Sergiu established a reputation for developing creative, tasteful and innovative arrangements and accompaniment; this despite having been deprived of exposure to the work of great contemporary artists from the western world (until quite recently access to music from outside the former eastern bloc was highly restricted in Moldova). He believes that traditional music has its place in the future, and that young people will embrace it as long as it continues to evolve and reflect the spirit of a living culture.

His goals are to respectfully carry on the tradition which he has inherited from his father, and also to have the opportunity of collaborating with other gifted and progressive musicians who can help him expand the boundaries of that tradition, fusing with jazz, Latin and other international influences.

Discography:

Obsession Accordéon (2006)
Tous en Accord (2014)

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Artist Profiles: Los Titanes

Los Titanes

Los Titanes has been recognized as the most representative Colombian salsa orchestra in countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, US, Canada, and in Europe. Conducted by trombonist Alberto Barros under the label Discos Fuentes, Los Titanes came to life in 1982.

A native of Barranquilla, Alberto Barros, musical director, (former musical director of Grupo Niche) pursued his academic studies in the city’s music conservatory. He also participated in other successful orchestras, namely that of Adolfo Echeverria and Pacho Galan. During that same year’s edition of the Carnaval de Barranquilla’s Music Festival, Los Titanes was awarded a Congo de Oro.

1986 was the year in which this orchestra first began recording albums, success didn’t take long to come their way. In 1989, the single “Sobredosis” topped the Salsa charts and became the most listened song of the year. From their fourth album, the title “Por Retenerte”, by Quindio-born composer Pedro Neira, became a smash hit.

Oscar Quesada, joined Los Titanes as a vocalist in 1989. Born in Barrancabermeja, Quesada first took part in a trio, through which he accumulated a number of awards, he then left to put together his own band, and finally joined the ranks of Los Titanes.

Brigido Cheverra, aka Macondo, sings Alberto Barros’ “No me Vuelvo a Enamorar” and Isaac Villanueva M.’s “Desnuda”. Macondo, born in Turbo, Antioquia, began his artistic career singing Folk and African-American melodies. Later, he took part in other orchestras and finally became a member of Los Titanes.

In November of 1989, Los Titanes traveled to the US. Their sixth release came in 1991, along with a Peruvian award as best international orchestra. In 1993, after 11 years in the music industry, Los Titanes began to be recognized as the best salsa representative by audiences in US, Spain, France, Belgium, UK, Switzerland and Latin America. “Basto una Mirada”, “Loca Pasion”, and “Dame una Oporunidad” are always awaited with expectation during any concert. These and other hits have a special place in the hearts of Salsa fans.

Los Titanes, today considered the international ambassadors of Colombian salsa, have everything that is necessary to succeed in the world of Caribbean music, and succeed they have. With their blend of a trombone driven Salsa rhythm, romantic lyrics, and accomplished vocals that have characterized their artistic style since the late 1980s.

Discography:

Los Titanes y Sus Invitados (1981)
Los Titanes (1982)
Llegaron los Titanes (1985)
Furor Bailable (1986)
Apriétala (1988)
Sobredosis de Amor y Salsa (1989)
Amor y Salsa (1990)
Tentación (1991)
En Su Salsa (1993)
Bastó Una Mirada (1993)
6a. Avenida (1994)
El Titán de la Salsa (1995)
Grandes Éxitos de Salsa (1995)
Rompiendo Esquemas (1996)
Salsa al Máximo Voltaje (1998)
Tributo a Héctor Lavoe “La Voz” (1999)
Salsa Magic (2001)
Tremenda Salsa (2001)
Salsa Super Power (2003)
Heavy Salsa (2003)
Mano a Mano (2008)
Tributo a la Salsa Colombiana Vol. 3 (2010)
Essential de Tributo a la Salsa Colombiana (2011)
Tributo a la Salsa Colombiana Vol. 4 (2012)
Tributo a la Salsa Colombiana Vol. 5 (2013)

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Artist Profiles: Jeremy Dutcher

Jeremy Dutcher

Jeremy Dutcher is a Canadian vocalist and musicologist. He is well-known for his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, that was a shortlisted finalist for the 2018 Polaris Music Prize.

A Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) member of the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, Dutcher studied music and anthropology at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He recorded Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa after researching old archival recordings of traditional Maliseet songs at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, many of which are no longer being passed down to contemporary Maliseet youth. Many of the album’s songs also include samples of the original recordings as part of the backing tracks.

Discography:

Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa (2018)

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Artist Profiles: Carmen González

Carmen González

By the time her first album came out in 1984, Carmen González Kelz was busy touring throughout South America with extended stays in France. In 1989, she returned to Ecuador and began her study of the Afro-Ecuadorian traditions of Esmeraldas.

In 1992, her group Koral y Esmeralda had its first performance. She formed the group to promote these African rooted traditions from Ecuador’s Pacific coast. The group recorded Andarele in 1994 with the help of Cuban pianist and producer, Omar Sosa and recording engineer, Alcino ‘Kiko’ Donadel.

Rather than using an anonymous air-conditioned studio, Carmen and her colleagues decided to go to the source of the music which inspired them.

The idea behind Andarele was to integrate the traditions, the sound, the feel and the spirit of Esmeraldas with that of contemporary Afro-Latin music. And in so doing, to expose Esmeraldas to the world. Local musicians, local singers, local dancers, worked alongside top professionals specially brought to the “storehouse by the sea.” All were wined, dined and generally inspired to lay down some of the best tracks of their lives.

By 1995, Carmen González was back in France, working, singing, researching, followed by trips to Cuba and Quito, Ecuador.

Discography:

Andarele (Triple Earth, 1994)
Caramba (Network, 2000)

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Artist Profiles: Alexander Abreu

Alexander Abreu

Alexander Abreu Manresa was born September 6, 1976 in Cienfuegos, Cuba. He comes from a family of nonprofessional musicians, including his grandfather who taught him to play the tres guitar.

As a boy, he wanted to be an athlete, but his mother took him to a school that tested abilities and he got the highest scores in music. Alexander started studying trumpet at age 11 and credits his mother for inspiring him to practice and pursue his career.

Originally, Abreu wanted to give up the trumpet and take up the flute, but his teachers understood his talent and insisted, predictively, that he stick to the brass instrument. At 18, the young musician moved to Havana to continue his studies at the prestigious Escuela Nacional de Arte (ENA), a breeding ground for Cuba’s best musicians. He graduated in 1994 and later would return as a professor, teaching trumpet.

In Havana, Abreu found himself at the focal point of the timba music upsurge that rocked Cuba in the early 1990s, marking an exciting evolution in the way Afro-Cuban dance music, or salsa, was performed. He played for six years with the innovative band of singer Paulito FG, one of the leading stars of the timba wave. Abreu’s skills were forged in this powerful ensemble, working together with two musicians he considers his greatest influences – Carmelo Andrés, his trumpet teacher; and producer/arranger Juan Manuel Ceruto. Several band-mates from this influential ensemble would go on to form part of Havana D’Primera, including Ceruto.

Abreu has also played and/or recorded with virtually every major act during one of the most exciting and creative eras in Cuban music. He was a member of the popular and esteemed band led by singer Isaac Delgado, who now lives in Miami.

Alexander Abreu

As a highly sought-after studio musician, Abreu has recorded with top acts in different styles, including famed dance band Los Van Van and powerful fusion group Irakere. He has also worked with poetic singer-songwriters such as Pablo Milanés and Amaury Pérez, who played trombone in Havana D’Primera. In addition, Abreu was recruited for previous all-star projects, such as the touring timba band named Team Cuba and the Grammy-winning Cuban roots recording “La Rumba Soy Yo.”

After the Cuban dance music scene started declining in 2000, Abreu traveled to Europe and spent time in Denmark, where he was invited to give master classes in trumpet and Cuban music at the jazz conservatory of Copenhagen. During an extended stay there, he joined Grupo Dansón, a band composed of Cuban and Danish musicians, serving as arranger and composer. Abreu appeared in Europe’s top music festivals and in 2002 he performed on the same stage with Sting, Lou Reed and James Brown as part of the benefit concert “Pavarotti & Friends.”

The time he spent performing abroad helped Abreu avoid the consequences of other Cuban timba bands, often considered too tailored to a home crowd and too hard for outsiders to dance to.

“I believe that to live outside of Cuba for a time has been one of the keys to the hallmark of this group,” said Abreu of his band. “Because I learned how to interact with people that don’t speak the language. I learned how to spread that same happiness and energy….You have to be precise with the rhythms and arrangements. You have to make sure that they are understandable, that they are solid, that they are clear, so that people understand.”

By 2007, Abreu was back in Havana putting together his own band. The aspiring bandleader returned home with only an developing concept, inspired by a New York salsa band he had seen in Copenhagen. There, he had watched the Grammy-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra, a group of veteran salsa musicians who came together with a common determination – to recapture some of the original sound and excitement of the great salsa bands of the 1970s. The group, led by pianist Oscar Hernandez who had played with salsa greats such as Ray Barretto and Ruben Blades, managed to generate enough nostalgia to initiate a one-band salsa revival, touring the world and recording various popular albums featuring star vocalists such as Blades.

That served as an inspiration to do something similar with session musicians in Havana,” said Abreu. “It gave me the strength to come to Cuba and say, ‘I can do it here.’ From that idea, basically, Habana D’Primera is born.”

Abreu brought together an ensemble of experienced musicians who had played with some of the best bands of that exhilarating era, a golden age of contemporary Cuban salsa and timba. Concerned about the decline of Afro-Cuban dance music, Abreu decided to continue the great tradition started by the very bands he had played with, such as Paulito FG y Su Elite and Isaac Delgado.

Since 2000, many of the leading timba stars had left Cuba, including Manolin, Isaac Delgado and Carlos Manuel, all of whom were Abreu’s colleagues and collaborators. In the meantime, young fans in Cuba flocked to foreign pop music styles such as rock, rap and reggaeton, leaving the legacy of Cuba’s rich native dance music to decay.

Alexander Abreu and Havana D’Primera

For Abreu and his new band, the challenge of generating a revival was overwhelming. No new Cuban dance band had managed to break into the top tiers of popular music acts since the turn of the century, when Cesar Pedroso broke away from Los Van Van and formed his own band, Pupy y Los Que Son, Son. Record companies, radio stations and nightclubs all focused on the latest fads, especially reggaeton which had removed salsa off the music charts. Amazingly, so many deejays had turned to reggaeton that there was no place to dance salsa in the capital of the country where the music was invented.

The crisis gave Abreu the opportunity to build a grass-roots fan base just like the timba pioneers had done at the start of the dance music movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That was known as “the special period” in Cuban history, a time of extreme economic difficulty when bands were forced to practice in the dark due to frequent blackouts and try out their material on stage due to a lapse in record production. For a while, Cuban dance music was all about the live performance, a need that helped stimulate creativity. Following his predecessors, Havana D’Primera began working live shows, building a following the old-fashioned way, one fan at a time.

Before long, fans were packing Havana d’Primera’s regular Tuesday shows at Casa de la Musica, a club and cultural center in the residential Miramar section of Havana. Even though they had not yet released a record, loyal fans memorized song lyrics from the live shows.

The weekly concerts were essential to the band’s development. Soon, the unknown band started to develop an underground buzz.

Alexander Abreu y Havana D’Primera – Haciendo Historia

Havana D’Primera recorded its first album Haciendo Historia in 2009.

In 2012, Abreu performed as an actor in the movie 7 Days in Havana, in the section “Tuesday Jam Session” with Serbian film director and musician Emir Kusturica.

The album “Cantor del Pueblo” won the Cubadisco Award in 2018.

Discography:

Haciendo Historia (EGREM, 2009)
Pasaporte (Páfata Productions, 2013)
La Vuelta al Mundo (Páfata Productions, 2015)
Cantor del Pueblo (Páfata Productions, 2018)

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Artist Profiles: Robert Zollitsch

Robert Zollitsch – Photo by Silvina Couste

Robert Zollitsch is a noted composer, producer, director, ethnomusicologist, and musical painter. His compositions weave a delicate balance of his influences, fusing together elements of dramatically different cultures into a style that is uniquely Robert Zollitsch.

Zollitsch was born in Munich in 1966. He chose the Bavarian zither (a 42 string instrument with a five octave range) as his instrument early in his childhood. His studies in music theory, both in Munich and Berlin, strengthened his abilities to create. He made a quick decision to abandon the traditional ways of playing his zither, deciding instead to develop a new style of performance on an instrument steeped in the tradition of his cultural heritage. Zollitsch has adapted this new style to a wide variety of music.

His compositions and improvisations have been performed on classical stages, as well as folk and world music festivals and jazz clubs. In 1993, after receiving a German Academic Exchange scholarship, Zollitsch began to focus on Asian music. He studied Guqin (Chinese zither) at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. From that time forth, he has continued to work on numerous projects with Asian artists. For example, in 1997, Zollitsch received a grant from the Berlin Senate to lay the foundation for the Eurasian Art Ensemble. He was bandleader for Mongolian songstress, Uma Chahar-Tugchi. His sophisticated compositions and arrangements for Uma’s charismatic voice are well known to international audiences.

Zollitsch’s experiments with vocals range from the Bavarian yodeling of his cultural heritage to the throat singing he has mastered following many trips through Mongolia and Tibet. In the summer of 1999, Robert was the recipient of the German Folk Forderpreis award for the best new Folk artist. The three pieces he contributed to the 1999 German ProFolk Forderpreis sampler CD showcase the diversity of influences that Robert infuses into his compositions.

Ever the ethnomusicologist, Zollitsch produced a landmark CD of Tibetan folk music field recordings in 1999. He continues to seek out new and innovative projects, and looks at each as an opportunity to expand on his own musical creativity as well.

Zollitsch’s first solo CD, Zwiefach (Oriente RIEN CD 31), is a musical tour of his influences and travels. The compositions paint a variety of moods, ranging from the melancholic instrumental works of Traurige Gschicht (Sad Story) to the wild, Jodler Nr. 7 (a musical collage of Bavarian yodeling, and Asian throat singing). Zollitsch has used his worldly experiences as paint, the zither and his voice as a palette, and each composition as a canvas, making Zwiefach a musical museum of his creativity.

Since 2003 Robert Zollitsch has lived in Beijing, China.

Partial Discography:

Zwiefach ‎(Oriente Musik, 2000)
Zanskar (Klangräume, 2002)
Jing Ye Si (2006)
Ye Xue (a.k.a. Night Snows, 2010)


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Artist Profiles: Gotan Project

The three principle members of Gotan Project – Parisian Philippe Cohen Solal, Swiss-born Christophe Mueller and Argentine musician Eduardo Makaroff – came together in the late 1990s through a mutual passion for the combination of sound with image, but were equally driven by the desire to successfully mix electronic and acoustic music.

They then built on a foundation of house and dub production by adding some of the finest Argentine tango musicians. The result was a blend of Parisian production with Buenos Aires tradition.

Their debut album was La Revancha Del Tango. In early 2004, Philippe Cohen Solal compiled a mix album of new tracks and remixes on behalf of the band, Inspiracion Espiracion (XL Recordings). Philippe Cohen Solal explained some of the factors that led them to make this album, which was not exactly a new GoTan Project record, but a collection of new tracks, plus GoTan Project remixing tracks and people mixing GoTan Project tracks:

“We set ourselves the challenge of bringing together past influences and present aspirations for just one hour – the Ancients and the Moderns. Indeed, what difference is there between a 40s groove, a 70s groove, and a groove for tomorrow? There is a difference in the sound quality of the recordings, naturally, but that aside, Anibal Troilo grooves, Astor Piazzolla grooves, and Pepe Bradock grooves. One is an amazing arranger, one a songwriting genius, and the other an inspired producer. Calexico, Domingo Cura, Peter Kruder, Anibal Troilo, Anti Pop Consortium, GoTan Project, Pepe Bradock, Al Shid and the voices of those Argentinean women, legendary figures, stars or unknowns, with names like Evita, Cecilia and Rita.”

GoTan Project also had a visual component. The second disc that accompanied the album included a video by their longtime visual collaborator, Prisca Lobjoy. She is a video artist and was part of the GoTan Project world since the very beginning, from the design of their first single sleeves, to the album cover and, above all, the creation of the videos, which were projected during the live shows.

The group’s third recording, Lunatico, had a decidedly stronger emphasis on the more organic roots of tango. “We really wanted to explore both tango and folkloric music from Argentina a lot further than we had before,” said Philippe. “That’s why many of the tracks are classically tango-oriented, very traditional patterns that people like (Anibal) Troilo would use.”

Discography:

La Revancha del Tango (XL Recordings, 2001)
Lunático (XL Recordings, 2006)
Tango 3.0 (XL Recordings, 2010)

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Artist Profiles: Gao Hong

Gao Hong

Gao Hong was born in 1964 in Luoyang, Henan province, China. She is a renowned composer and Chinese pipa (lute) player. Gao Hong has resided in the United States since 1994.

In 2005 Gao Hong became the first traditional musician to be awarded the prestigious Bush Artist Fellowship, and in 2012 she became the only musician in any genre to win four McKnight Artist Fellowships for Performing Musicians.

Gao’s composition for solo pipa, ‘Flying Dragon’ won the 2012 Global Music Award – Award of Excellence Solo Instrumental (Gold Medal).

Her 2015 album Pipa Potluck includes collaborations with musicians from various parts ofthe world, including banjo player Alison Brown, fiddler Matt Combs, bassist Garry West, slack key guitar viertuoso George Kahumoku, Jr., ud player Yair Dalal, and Bassam Saba.

In 2016, Gao Hong completed the first ever pipa method book written in English published by Hal Leonard, the world’s largest sheet music publisher.

Discography:

Hunting Eagles Catching Swans, with Lin Shicheng (1996)
Hui/Gathering, with Belladonna Baroque Quartet
Flying Dragon (Innova Recordings, 2003)
First Word – Speaking In Tongues
The Spirit of Nature
A Peacock Southeast Flew
Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream
Pipa Potluck – Lutes Around the World (Innova, 2015)
Chinese Buddhist Temple Music (ARC Music, 2018)

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