Category Archives: CD Reviews

Universal Appeal of Cuban Vocal Music

Vocal Universo – Música Universal (Ansonica Records, 2018)

Vocal Universo is an acclaimed a cappella ensemble featuring four gifted women: Martha Jacqueline Ramírez Torres, Anna Lee Carrete Ramírez, Anne Gómez Medero, and Carmen Rosa González Álvarez.

On Música Universal, the quartet uses wonderfully-crafted lush jazz harmonies to recreate various forms of Cuban music, ranging from Cuban son and conga to boleros, pop and lullabies.

Vocal Universo also venture into Brazilian music with a classic by Tom Jobim and scat singing on Neil Hefti’s Flight of the Foo Bird.

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Sara Correia, the New Traditional Fado Sensation

Sara Correia – Sara Correia (Universal Music Portugal, 2018)

Sara Correia is a young vocalist who is attracting a lot of attention in the traditional fado field. Her self-titled debut album, showcases her talent as a performer, with a powerful, charismatic voice that projects the intensity, essence and passion of fado.

Throughout the album she is accompanied by two of the finest guitarists in the Portuguese scene: Diogo Clemente on viola de fado (fado guitar) and bass, who produced the album; and Ângelo Freire on Portuguese guitar.

On a handful of tracks, light, subtle percussion is added, performed by Vicky Marques.

Sara Correia grew up in Lisbon, in a family of fado aficionados and won her first contest at age 13. She frequented some of the most influential fado houses for many years. Now, at 25, she has been given a tremendous opportunity to reveal her ability as a superb singer to a much wider audience.

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Stunning Scottish Rajasthani Synthesis

Shooglenifty and Dhun Dhora – Written in Water (Shoogle Records, 2018)

Written in Water is a fascinating collaboration between Scottish music innovators Shooglenifty and acclaimed Rajasthani ensemble Dhun Dhora. It’s a captivating fusion that brings together the Celtic traditions of Scotland and the music of Rajasthan (India). The album was recorded at the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur and in Craigrothie, Scotland.

Shooglenifty and Dhun Dhora had been collaborating for a few years and decided it was time to make an album together. The plan was to record at Mehrangarh Fort in 2016. The fort is one of the wonders of the world. It’s the former palace of the Maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur that includes one of the most important museums in India.

Sadly, a member of each band passed away so plans were postponed. Shooglenifty’s fiddler Angus R Grant died on October 2016 of cancer. Then in February 2017 the band was informed that Dhun Dhora’s dholak player Roshan Khan had died in a traffic accident.

With assistance from Divya Bhatia of Jodhpur Riff, a music festival held in the Fort each year, Shooglenifty got the permits from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust and HH Maharaja Gaj Singhji to record in the Fort.


Shooglenifty and Dhun Dhora – Written in Water

Shooglenifty arrived to India in September 2017 with producer Ben Seal and met with their Indian colleagues Dhun Dhora. Both ensembles contributed melodies and songs. They rehearsed and recorded in the 17th century Chokelao Palace, previously the Maharaja’s guest quarters.

The album pays tribute to the two musicians who died before the recording by featuring performances on two tracks recorded earlier.

The lineup on the album includes:

Shooglenifty: Angus R Grant on fiddle (track 1); Ewan MacPherson on mandolin, tenor banjo, jaw harp; Garry Finlayson on acoustic and electric 5-string banjos, EBow; James Mackintosh on drums, percussion, bass; Kaela Rowan on vocals; Malcolm Crosbie on guitars; Quee MacArthur on bass; and Laura Jane Wilkie on fiddle (tracks 2 – 8).

Dhun Dhora: Chanan Khan Manganiyar on dhol, dumbek; Dayam Khan Manganiyar on vocals, harmonium; Ghafoor Khan Manganiyar on khartal; Latif Khan Manganiyar on bhapang, morchang; Pyaru Khan Manganiyar on dhol; Roshan Khan Manganiyar on vocals (track 3); Sardar Khan Langa on sarangi, vocals; Sattar Khan Manganiyar on dhol; and Swaroop Khan Manganiyar on dhol, dholak.

Written in Water is an innovative and refreshing album where the music of two ancient and distant cultures come together with ease.

Buy the CD from beloud.co/shop/en/shooglenifty or the digital version from amazon.

headline photo: left to right: Swaroop Khan (dhol), Kaela Rowan (vocals), Quee MacArthur (bass), Sattar Khan (dhol), James Mackintosh (drums), Sardar Khan (sarangi), Ewan MacPherson (mandolin), Dayam Khan(vocals), Latif Khan (morchang), Ghafoor Khan (khartal), Channan Khan(dhol), Laura Wilkie (fiddle), Malcolm Crosbie (guitar), Pyaaru Khan (dhol).

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Alma Latina’s Tribute to African Diaspora


Julio Montoro y Alma Latina  – Black Roots

Julio Montoro y Alma Latina  – Black Roots (Tumi Music, 2018)

Cuban guitarist and composer Julio Montoro and his band Alma Latina dedicate Black Roots to the African-rooted music of South America , the Caribbean and North America.

Black Roots features one of the rising stars in Cuban music, vocalist Dayana Botello as well as guest appearances by Congolese guitarist Papa Noel and vocalist Nolita Golding.

The album is a multifaceted set that includes an effervescent mix of reggae, Afro-Cuban, funk, hip-hop, Cuban son and salsa. Unfortunately, a very melodic smooth jazz saxophone appears throughout the album. It may make the music more accessible to wider audiences, but it also makes it less appealing if you are seeking fiery Cuban music.

The lineup includes Dayana Botello on lead vocals and chorus; Julio Montoro on guitars, chorus and keyboards; Roger Reina on bass;  Yosvany Betancourt on drums, congas and  timbales; Ivan Reyes on percussion; Juan Lázaro Pompa Zamora on piano; Abel Hernández on alto and soprano saxophone; Juan Kemell on trumpet and chorus; Raul Hernandez on congas; Amaury Balzan on double bass; Leonardo Milian on piano; Javier Chacon on piano and keyboards;  Osmel Cuellar on tenor saxophone; Osmel Cruz on tres; Nolita Golding on vocals;  Papa Noel on guitar in Sambembere; Jose Luis Hernandez (El chewi) on tenor saxophone; and Esteli Roz and Maydenis Palomino on chorus.

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Delightful Chamber Sevdah

Amira Medunjanin & TrondheimSolistene – Ascending (Town Hill Colony, 2018)

Bosnian vocalist Amira Medunjanin is one of the finest performers of sevdah, a passionate musical genre from the Balkans. On Ascending, Amira takes a detour, recreating some of her previously recorded songs with a new perspective, collaborating with Norwegian classical musicians.

“Just like fifteen years ago, I still find important that our traditional music should reach, as many people as possible, so they are able to feel and understand what a beautiful soul we have” mentioned Amira “and all this time I have been intensively sharing my life with music and I felt the need to record an album which is in fact some kind of recap of my previous work. The usual thing is to publish compilation of already recorded songs that were interesting to listeners. But you know that neither I follow any trends, nor I obey the way the music industry works. With this album I am turning the new page in my life in music and hopefully I will endure until my 30th anniversary”.

“Ascending” includes the re-arranged songs; a second set of songs that were never recorded before, but Amira performed them only live; and four new songs that she had never played, nor recorded before.

The lineup includes Amira Medunjanin on vocals; the TrondheimSolistene chamber orchestra; Bojan Z. on piano and percussion; Zvonimir Šestak on double bass; Ante Gelo on guitar; Boško Jović on guitar; and Nikola Stajić on guitar.

Ascending is an exquisite recording of unconventional sevdah with a beautiful cover drawing by Azra Halilbegović.

Buy the album from townhillcolony.com/product/ascending-cd-2018

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The Seductive Burkinabe Beats of Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band


Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band – Siri Ba Kele (Sublime Frequencies, 2018)

Siri Ba Kele is the second album by Baba Commandant and The Mandingo Band, a formidable band from Burkina Faso. Baba Commandant (Mamadou Sanou) and his colleagues play music rooted in Manding traditions with a modern edge, incorporating Afrobeat, rock guitars and funk.

Siri Ba Kele contains a set of powerful songs with charismatic vocals, irresistible rhythms, hypnotic balaphone, outstanding electric guitar work, and equally good doso ngoni performances.

The lineup on Siri Ba Kele includes Baba Commandant on vocals and doso ngoni; Issouf Diabate on guitar; Massibo Taragna on bass; Mohamed Sana on drums; and Sami Kimpe on balaphone.

The album is available on CD, vinyl and digital formats.

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Excalibur Honors the Ladies


Alan Simon – Excalibur – The Ladies of the Lak

Alan Simon – Excalibur – The Ladies of the Lake (Babaika Productions/Cherry Red, 2018)

The Ladies of the Lake is an anthology of songs featured in the highly successful Excalibur series by French composer Alan Simon.

The album includes the female artists that appeared in various Excalibur recordings, some of the biggest names in the Celtic and England folk music scene: Moya Brennan (Ireland), Maddy Prior (England), Karan Casey (Ireland), Kohann (Brittany, France), Siobhan Owen (Australia), Jacqui McShee (England), Nikki Matheson (Canada), and Maite Itoiz (Spain); as well as iconic English progressive rock vocalist, Sonja Kristina (Curved Air).

The Excalibur albums combine symphonic, Celtic, pop and rock influences. Rather than traditional folk music, The Ladies of the Lake focuses on songs that have a wider commercial appeal, between pop and light classical with Celtic music touches.

The Ladies of the Lake presents a superb group of highly expressive women with distinctive vocal skills.

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Malou Beauvoir’s Haitian Tradition, Spirituality and Empowerment


Malou Beauvoir – Spiritwalker

Malou Beauvoir – Spiritwalker (Panthera Music International, 2018)

Haitian-American vocalist, actress and songwriter Malou Beauvoir celebrates her Haitian roots and vodou in Spiritwalker. The album crosses over into solid world music territory with a superb fusion of Haitian rhythms and melodies, jazz, neo-soul, reggae, funk, Cuban influences and, on “Rasenbleman,” irresistible cutting edge electronic dance music.

The song selection includes traditional folk songs and originals by Malou Beauvoir in Haitian Creole and English. “I wanted these songs that we grew up with – their values, their principles, the ideas behind them –to become hip, to become accessible to the younger generation so that we can use our own identity to express our frustration, and motivate each of us, as individuals, to bring about change.”

Spiritwalker features an international cast of first class musicians from Haiti, the USA, Cuba and Japan: Chico Boyer on bass, percussion and backing vocals; Paul Beaubrun on guitar and vocals; Sirgo Decius on percussion; Jean Guy Rene on percussion; Cheff Loncher on keyboards and programming; Axel Laugart on piano, keyboards and Spanish-language vocals; Yayoi Ikawa on piano; Hiroyuki Yamada on guitar; Jon Gordon on guitar; Calvin Jones on bass; and Gashford Guillaume on drums.

The last track, from the album “Is This Love” includes Bobby Mann on guitar; Andy Ezrin on piano; Ben Whitman on drums and percussion; and David Finck on bass.

Spiritwalker is a masterfully-crafted, captivating contemporary album rooted in Haitian tradition.

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


Salif Keita – Un Autre Blanc (Naive, 2018)

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

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

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

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


Salif Keita – Un Autre Blanc

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

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

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

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

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

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Buy Un Autre Blanc in Europe

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Anatolia’s Joyful Celebration of Turkish and Arabic Folk Traditions


The Best of Folk Music Group Anatolia (Edward Hines Music, 2018)

The Best of Folk Music Group Anatolia is a compilation that includes recordings from Anatolia’s previous three albums: Folk Songs and Dance Music of Turkey and the Arab World (1996), Lost Songs of Palestine (2001), and Middle Eastern Songs and Dances for Children (2005).

Anatolia is a world music group led by American multi-instrumentalist Edward J. Hines, whose goal is to preserve the folk,classical and dance music traditions of the Middle East.

The Best of Folk Music Group Anatolia presents a fascinating overview of the rich and varied folk traditions of Turkey and the Arab world, using a wide spectrum of traditional musical instruments performed by Hines and his collaborators.

Even if you don’t speak the language, the popular Turkish children’s song “Ali Baban’ın Çiftliği” reels you in right away with its catchy hooks. It’s a lot of fun, featuring various mimicked farm animal sounds.

The lineup includes Edward Hines on ‘ud, divan sazi, kaval, clarinet, zurna, buzuq, cura, sipsi, ocarina and vocals); Taner Okatan on saz, baglama, divan sazi, percussion and vocals; Michel Moushabeck on percussion and vocals; Jamal Sinno on kanun; Jenny Killgore on violin, kasik and vocals; Bruce Rawan on kanun; Mohammed Mejaour on nay, percussion and vocals; Saied Khoury on violin, buzuq, ud and vocals; and V. Tailan Yildiz on accordion.

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