Category Archives: CD Reviews

A Musical Kaleidoscope from Hungary

Kiss Erzsi Music - Deladela
Kiss Erzsi Music – Deladela
Kiss Erzsi Music

Deladela (Bahia Music)

Kiss Erzsi Music makes fresh sounds in an irresistable kaleidoscope of musical
styles, topped sparkling vocals. Led by actor/singer Erzsi Kiss, the Hungarian
group has a remarkable knack for engaging rhythms, from the Middle-Eastern
flavor of the title track, to the hard-driving indie-rock sound of “Arö” to the
funky syncopated vocals of “Án Ájrere.”

Deladela is full of delightful surprises and genre-defying sounds. “Uuu,” for
example, begins with base and spare drums under a hypnotic vocal line that bears
the potential of jazz, or maybe punk.. Then the full instrumentation kicks in
with vocal harmonies, then some wild jazz drumming and a rap (or is it scatting?)
– and you’re left thinking: “How wonderful! What the heck is it?” The puzzled
wonderment continues into the next track, “Okatummate” an a capella delight of
multilayered female voices. And a complete change of pace comes with “Francia,”
a soft chanson with smooth French vocals, guitar and bass.”The unifying force in our music,” Erzsi Kiss said in a recent interview, “is language – a language which actually has no real meaning. It’s difficult to explain what this is – I’d call it a sort of musical language, because it’s born out of the laws that govern music, which can’t be ignored.”

Deladela concludes with one last flavor in the song “Reggae,” featuring a Jamaican beat but the same powerful, reedy, vocal harmonies. Kiss Erzsi Music will appeal to listeners across musical boundaries – any open-minded, adventurous music lover will return to this magical CD again and again. If, indeed, it ever leaves your CD player at all.

Kiss Erzsi Music is Erzsi Kiss (vocals), Gabi Kenderesi (vocals), Anna Szandtner
(vocals), Csaba Hajnóczy (guitar), Arpád Vajdovich (guitar, bass guitar) and
Hunor G. Szabó (drums). Five full songs are available for download at http://www.wizart.hu, including two songs from the 12-track CD and three live tracks: “Uuu,” “Tundirin,” and “Wattama Du.”

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Navajo-Dine punk

Blackfire - One Nation Under
Blackfire – One Nation Under
Blackfire

One Nation Under (Tacoho Records/Canyon Records, 2002)

What is the true definition of world music? For instance, the Navajo Dine trio Blackfire, born in the Black Mesa/Navajo Nation perform octane driven punk. It’s the sort of music that is more at home in an alternative rock venue rather than world music festivals, yet the Native American group of two brothers Clayson (drums/voice) and Klee Benally (voice/guitar) with their sister Jeneda on bass/voice attempt to bridge the gap between alternative rock and folk roots.

Both punk veteran Joey Ramone and their more traditional father, Jones Benally appear as guests on One Nation Under. And last January, Blackfire shared the stage with Malian musicians Tinariwen, Ensemble Tartit, Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Toure and the French group Lo’Jo as well as, fellow rocker Robert Plant at the Festival in the Desert (Mali Sahara Desert). According to an article on the Afro-Pop site, the Tuaregs, gave a rare enthusiastic response to Blackfire’s performance.However, 90% of the music that appears on Blackfire’s first full-length CD, One Nation Under falls into the punk category. The songs recall punk classics such as the Dead Kennedy’s, DOA, Sex Pistols and Nirvana, not only with its heavy driven guitar and angst ridden vocals, but also in its socio-political messages shouted out by disenfranchised youth.

Blackfire isn’t just influenced by punk, they have cause to express themselves through abrasive music. After all, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, indigenous people worldwide are under attack and have been for centuries. That’s not the sort of thing that bodes well with anyone and its in everyone’s best interests that their pain and frustration are communicated through music rather than bullets even if the lyrics here could never lead to world peace.

Blackfire joins other Native American alternative rock acts such as Without Rezervation, Clan/destine and Medicine Dream in reaching a new audience. While these groups explore and express themselves through alternative musical genres, they also feature traditional Native American chants and instruments in their repertoire. Traditional Navajo chant performed by Jones Benally appears on the tracks Exile and What Do You See. And Blackfire performs the Dine Gourd Dance as well as, adding Navajo chant style vocals on Downfall. The trio offers an outlet for a younger audience while speaking out against human injustice. I admire this group’s passion and dedication yet, their music would be more intriguing if they added more traditional instrumentation to their songs and evolved past their heavily charged lyrics. After all, there are many compassionate people in the world such as myself that also believe in human rights and do not wished to be barraged by angry words. Gentle spirits can evoke change too. The Dalai Lhama is just one example.

(Originally published on Cranky Crow World Music).

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Shamanic chants & murder ballads

Wimme - Gierran
Wimme – Gierran
Wimme – Gierran (NorthSide)

Garmarna – Vengeance (NorthSide)

Wimme’s second CD, Gierran features both a cappella chants (Snow Grouse, Draft Reindeer and Whirlwind which were recorded live by Smoju at club Subsirkus, Tromso, Norway) as well as, trance-inducing electronic-yoiks. I have heard three of the four CDs by Wimme, including Barru and Cuga; Gierran is the one I like best. It’s not just other worldly, it’s from another universe and if you’re
lucky, it might take you to that universe. The electronic effects provides by Jari Kokkonen, Tapani Rinne (who also performs on woodwinds and percussion), Pauli and Kajasto act as a light and spaced out frame work for Wimme’s vocal range, stretching from baritone to tenor and diving into throat-singing
territory. Matti Wallenius further enhances this exotic tapestry with ukulele and mandolinI have read a few times that the Sami people believe that their real home exists behind the sun/stars. This idea manifests with the track, Vision (Oainnahus) and this concept goes further with Angelica Archangelica, a song that recalls Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon meeting an Inuit throat singer. This is
followed by the cooky The Importance of Moss which features birds chirping and cartoon type vocals. I guess the humor brings listeners back to earth. And by the end of the recording, it is a bit of a struggle to remove your head from the Milky Way. In any case, you don’t need to be shamanic to enjoy this disc–you just need to have a mind that likes wandering and a heart that hears the call of
indigenous people.

Garmarna - Vengeance
Garmarna – Vengeance
The Swedish group, Garmarna would be no stranger to fans of global pop (folk-roots meets rock-pop). The CD-ROM video that comes with Vengeance focuses on a frenzied youthful audience as band members sweat it out on stage and vocalist Emma Hardelin stands frozen on the stage, delivering chilling lyrics. Dressed in a white gown, she resembles the doomed maidens she sings about or a Swedish Venus rising out of the sea as the waves crash around her. It is a startling image that can best describe Garmarna’s marriage of traditional Swedish roots with rock music sensibility. Yet, despite the use of electric guitar, bass,
drums and programming, we couldn’t call this Swedish rock. The songs feel more like bedtime stories for dancing and these bedtime stories feature murder ballads, tales of parted lovers and spirituality.

Musically, this quintet falls somewhere between the Swedish-Finnish groups, Hedningarna who also marries rock instrumentation with traditional music and the acoustic Gjallarhorn. And in fact, Emma and Gjallarhorn’s Jenny Wilhelm share the same honey soprano vocals, clear, crisp and haunting. No one would mistake these vocalists for sweet, although angelic does come to mind on occasion. I was
captivated by Emma’s vocals the first time I heard her singing a song entitled, Halling Jaron (which appears on this CD). I have since read the lyrics to the song which is about a tiny old mad woman that has sex with lots of lads. However the song with its primal electronic sounds, acoustic guitar that resembles David Bowie’s Space Oddity and high pitch vocals still manages to captivate my ears every time I listen to it.

Gamen (Vulture), the song featured in the music video, is the rocker and the opening track on the CD. However, I can’t say that Vulture sets the pace for the remainder of the recording, since the following track, Eucharia veers off in the opposite direction. Listeners might feel that they left a rock arena and then entered a church since Eucharia possesses a ceremonial atmosphere in which
Emma’s voice rising heavenward.

Other tracks meander in traditional territory. The murder ballad Vengeance falls into Goth-rock territory and Nine Years features a more ambient arrangement. The traditional songs, Stomped Bread features a healthy marriage between programming and acoustic instruments as does The Robber. Ink again focuses on Emma’s immaculate vocals backed by light instrumentation and Stefan Brisland-Ferner’s
hurdy-gurdy which appears throughout the CD.

Normally, I shy away from folk-roots music with pop sensibility. But groups such as Wimme and Garmarna use programming to create a backdrop for the acoustic instruments and vocals. I feel that a lot of other groups embarking into this territory could learn a few lessons from these Scandinavian groups.

(Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music. Visit the CCWM Scandinavian music page).

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Lovin’ Makina Loca

Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca – Ay Valeria!
Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca

Ay Valeria! (Mopiato Music MOPI-1991, 2003)

Congolese vocalist Ricardo Lemvo and his band Makina Loca are based in Los Angeles, but they do their share of getting around. Good thing, because in concert they’re hotter than a three-alarm fire. But if you’ve not yet had the opportunity to catch them live, you’re still in luck because their albums keep
getting better and better. Lemvo continues his association with right-hand man Jesus Perez on Makina Loca’s fourth release, Ay Valeria!!, turning the heat ever higher as always. Perez’s range as an arranger, composer, producer and instrumentalist perfectly compliments the power and emotion of Lemvo’s
multilingual voice as well as his far-reaching outlook. So while the key component in the sound remains African salsa, rich undercurrents of soukous, Lusafrican music and the Caribbean bring increased
splendor. There’s not a moment on Ay Valeria! that’s less than totally savory.

Listen to how the two versions of the title track both swing with their respective cultural dynamics, how romanticism is never sacrificed in favor of inventive rhythm (or vice versa) regardless of the songs’ subject matter, how well the originals stand alongside covers of tunes by Sam Mangwana and Bopol
Mansiamina and how a peak level of energetic fun is maintained throughout. Or better yet, just get this cd and listen. Along with Africando’s new release, it’s one of the best Afro-Latin offerings currently out there.

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As Far As

dj Cheb i Sabbah - As Far As
dj Cheb i Sabbah – As Far As
dj Cheb i Sabbah

As Far As (Six Degrees Records)

dj Cheb i Sabbah has returned with a recording that blends organic instrumentation along with dance club consciousness. Sabbah’s latest release, As Far As, features stellar international talent including Natacha Atlas, jazz trumpeter Don Cherry and the Asian Dub Foundation. However, it is the lesser known artists that shine forth on this recording. Trilok Gurtu’s Have We Lost Our Dream possesses soaring vocals and a tapestry of African instrumentation.

Malian Sekouba Bambino offers the uplifting Sinikan and Sangoma, Suzan Hendrick & the Traditional Healers give us feisty call and response vocals along with juicy polyphonic drums, Ngihawukele Thonga Lami. Don Cherry plays a muted melody along with ritual style drums resulting in a jazzy samba, Audio
Letter. And the crowning jewels here are Solace’ Saptak, floating through Arabesque ambience and Sabbah’s Hari Om Narayan with its devotional Indian vocals hovering over sitar and drone instruments.

As Far As is another travelogue album that spans three continents, featuring gorgeous instruments and nine languages while immersing its listeners in exotic sounds from North Africa, India and Africa. This fits nicely with Six Degrees Record’s mission statement, “dedicated to bringing you the best in traditional and contemporary musical excursions from around the world.” It’s always a good sign of the times, when a company is dedicated to a mission and delivers what it promises. And if you are unable to travel this summer, this CD is the next best thing. For more information on dj Cheb i Sabbah

(Formerly published on Cranky Crow
World Music
).

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Global Grooves

Global Soul
Global Soul
Global Soul (Putumayo, 2002)

Euro Lounge (Putumayo, 2002)

Putumayo’s Global Soul features an array of interesting personalities including France’s controversial R & B artist, Doc Gyneco (or Doctor Gynecologist). The name should be a deterrent in itself. Of course, the humor derives from the fact that an artist that brags about his sexual prowess still lives with his mother. Other acts of interests include, South Korean soul artists, Tasha and Bobby Kim, Brazilian funkers Fernanda Abreu and Aricia Mess, England’s multi-media artists 1 Giant Leap. The artists on the CD hail from Germany, France, Brazil, South Korea, Senegal, Tanzania, Cameroon, Italy, the US and Quebecois-Canada. Both the emerging talent and seasoned veterans (Aricia Mess, Neneh Cherry, Kaissa and Fernanda Abreu) were inspired by neo-soul musicians from the US who
in turn found their inspiration by listening to old Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and James Brown recordings. Similar to Kate Bush, China (France) signed her first album deal in her mid teens. Singing in both French and English, China offers her funky number, Time.

The multi-media duo Jamie Catto and Duncan Bridgeman (1 Giant Leap) produce a multi-cultural piece that marries Native American chants (Ulali) with rap (Speech) and soulful singing (Neneh Cherry) on Braided Hair. Joy Denalane combines her mother’s Germanic language with her father’s musical heritage (the South African marimba) on her song about spiritual awakening, It’s About Time.

This compilation features soul music with a foreign accent, meaningful lyrics and soulful sensibility as many of the artists find inspiration from their familial roots. Although the recordings are a bit slick, unique instrumentation such as the marimba on the track, It’s About Time give the songs a cutting edge above the usual fare you hear coming over commercial airwaves. If anything, Global Soul offers a unique perspective and a window to what’s happening elsewhere in the world. Globalization after all, might have flaws, but the exchange of musical culture isn’t one of them.

Euro Lounge
Euro Lounge
Euro Lounge features a collection of “chill-out classics” from Europe
while occasionally combining DJ talent from the Americas. As you would expect, the songs on this compilation fall into the cocktail lounge or light electronica categories. You will find bossa nova, salsa and shimmering Euro pop, perfect for a dinner party or get a casual get together. The DJs hail from France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Brazil, Chile, USA, Germany, Turkey, Belgium and
Macedonia.

S-Tone Inc. (Italy) track Limbe fuses groovy 60’s bass with sitar twang. Mambotur (Germany/Chile), combines fuzzy bass with salsa rhythms on Salpica. Gabin (Italy) with Sweet Sadness and Gare Du Norde (Belgium) How Was it For You? recall elements of bossa nova. Bossa Notra (Italy/Brazil) offers, Jackie, a shimmering pop song while the Spanish DJ, Mastretta’s El Ultimo Habitante Del Planeta, featuring sexy female vocals, would easily be at home on an Almodovar film soundtrack. Arling and Cameron from the Netherlands contribute Voulez-vous?, a mostly instrumental laced with sexual innuendoes.

(Originally published on Cranky Crow World Music).

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European Sounds Head East, West, Every Which Way

Orkestina – Transilvania Express
Orkestina – Transilvania Express (World Village 498002, 2003)

Harmonious Wail – Gypsy Swing (Naxos World 76056-2, 2003)

Nadya Giga and Their 101 Candles Orchestra (no label or number information)

Thus far, there hasn’t really been a lumped-together subgenre dubbed “European music” in the same sense that there’s been, for example, “African music” or “Latin music.” These three European-rooted releases, furthermore, lean heavily toward sounds associated with the Gypsy realm, but I would hesitate to proclaim them “Gypsy music” because of what else they’ve got going on.Beginning with a melodic forefront of double bass, accordion, violin, and gadulka (Bulgarian 13-string fiddle), Spain-based Orkestina draws on the ethnic backgrounds of its members (English, Irish, Bulgarian, Spanish) and their diverse tastes and talents.

The music on Transilvania Express is a richly arranged and exquisitely played selection of Bulgarian folk rubbing elbows with klezmer, Balkan melodies jigging and reeling to Arabic percussion and deep-seated traditions boosted by modern spirits. There are eight instrumentals and one love song here, and each contributes fully to making this disc a seriously spunky winner.

Harmonious Wail – Gypsy Swing
The back cover of Harmonious Wail’s Gypsy Swing contends that the term “Gypsy swing” is the only jazz style coined outside the U.S. I have not the expertise to confirm or deny that, but I can say that their sound, inspired by the jazz experimentation of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli in the first half of the 20th century, has a lot going for it. Gypsy passion and romanticism are very much in evidence, along with a sizable French cabaret vibe and the adventurousness of recasting familiar American songs (“Chasing Rainbows,” “Sheik of Araby,” etc.) in Gypsy jazz style.

The presence of a mandolin as the frequent lead instrument and some very tart violin playing bring a degree of bluegrass as well (this is an American band, after all). It’s mostly snappy instrumentals,
but a few smoky vocal selections add variety and color to the mix of covers and originals. A generous running time of 76 minutes allows this charmingly infectious music to work its way into you cool and slow.

Nadya Giga and Their 101 Candles Orchestra
Lastly, and somehow least likely, there’s Nadya Giga and Their 101 Candles Orchestra. Their home base is in Sydney, Australia but their sound is classic eastern European. There’s lots of galloping rhythms, brimming brass, swirling reeds and strings and yes, that Gypsy thing again. Singer Nadya Golski (originally from Poland) and Bosnian guitarist/musical director Giga Mirsad Jeleskovic are the guiding forces here, having their act together on all fronts. They even slip in an Irish folk song without turning down or radically changing the heat of their Bosnian/Croatian/Spanish/klezmer ingredients. Sizzling songs, sad songs, expert playing and lots of heart carry the album, and it’s a gem.

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Better Check Your Pulse

Pulse – A Stomp Odyssey – Soundtrack from the Imax Film
Pulse – A Stomp Odyssey – Soundtrack from the Imax Film (Six Degrees Records, 2002)

There’s a lot of passion behind this global drum extravaganza, but it feels too much like the off-Broadway celebration of drums, Stomp in which it derived. Pulse fails to go off the beaten track, despite it’s large theme of spreading cultural diversity through world beats. It’s missing a few key ingredients such as Taiko drums of Japan, shamanic drums from Korea, music from the Caribbean and
Gamelan of Indonesia. In fact, with the exception of India, Asian music isn’t included. It’s the mistake that lot of world beat producers make. They call something global and then focus on obvious places such as countries in Africa, Brazil and Latin America (which ironically, is missing here).

I think we can stretch our boundaries further. Let’s focus on the positive because there are many positive vibes on Pulse and some insightful moments. First of all, we know that everything from a baby’s cry to an eagle circling in the sky contains rhythm and the most famous beat is the one that comes from our hearts or the pulse of the earth mother. I think that idea is captured on Pulse, in that rhythm is found in hand clapping (flamenco), a Native American pow wow, a Brazilian carnival, in rap music vocalizations and women chanting while they work. In that respect, Pulse becomes the musical equivalent of the film, Baraka which takes us on a visual journey around the world backed by world music. < Pulse includes drum tracks by well known drummers Steward Copeland, Mr. Bill and Mr. Ben and a Six Degrees Record favorite, Karsh Kale. NYC favorites, The Jackie Robinson Steppers team up with the Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle Corps, bringing us a mix of Hispanic and African American beats. American Indian Dance Theatre gives us an all too brief taste of pow wow drums and chants and Eva Yerbabuena emphasizes the syncopated hand claps found in Andalusian flamenco. Also found on this CD, is Brazilian carnival music compliments of Carlinhos Brown, an elephant procession from East Indian drummers of Pallavur Sreedharan. These big moments fuse with smaller moments, snatches of women chanting while they work pounding millet. Pulse most likely will please crowds, especially after the IMAX cinematic release, but I would like to see a more cutting edge approach that includes music from little known cultures around the globe. Include more indigenous musicians. Buy Pulse – A Stomp Odyssey – Soundtrack from the Imax Film

(Formerly published on Cranky Crow World Music).

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Brazil Up to the Minute

Various Artists – Brazilian Groove
Various Artists – Brazilian Groove (Putumayo PUT 216-2, 2003)

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Brazilian Electronica (World Music
Network RGNET 1123 CD, 2003)

Like many global music listeners, I embrace the electronica/techno scene with caution. When the electronica treatment is applied to sounds of Africa, the Arabic world, Latin America, Native America or what have you, all too often the intent seems to be contemporizing the music at all costs, regardless of whether or not any reasonable degree of roots tradition is maintained. Thankfully, more and more releases in the ethno/techno category (if that is indeed what they’re calling it currently) are finding a more equitable balance. It can depend, of course, on how well the electronica approach fits the music
at hand, and in that respect the music of Brazil has fared well.

Two of the more productive labels around– World Music Network and Putumayo–have modern Brazilian compilations out now, and both pack an appealing punch.

Putumayo’s Brazilian Groove takes a more laid-back path, abounding with acoustic textures getting tastefully techno-tweaked and generally minimal toying with vocals. thus notables like Zuco 103, Carlinhos Brown and Aleh have their nuances carried along rather than swept away by the electronica currents.

The familiar classic “Mas Que Nada” gets a respectful updating, a good illustration of the way this collection does the job with restraint and emphasis on the rhythmic and melodic shades that make Brazilian music great no matter how it’s buttered.

Rough Guide to Brazilian ElectronicaRough Guide to Brazilian Electronica gets off to an awkward start with Suba’s rather stiff “Sereia” (the late Suba was a great talent but this particular track isn’t one of his best).

Things improve from there, as the techno touches are splashed about with abandon but local color is given room to breathe. Ramiro Musotto’s “Caminho” benefits from the murky emphasis on surdo drums, Cila Do Coco scores with the echoey “Juntando Coco,” Suba is redeemed via a lively “Samba Do Gringo Paulista” and the chillier side of things shows up in tracks by Superagua, Rica Amabis and Macumbalada. There are moments when things get more clunky than funky, but most of the 68 minutes here range from worthwhile to cracklingly good.

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The trio plays on

Vasen - Trio
Vasen – Trio

Vasen

Trio (NorthSide)

Swedish folk-roots group Vasen now appears with two lineups, the original trio formed in 1989 by nyckelharpa player Olov Johansson, viola player Mikael Marin and guitarist Roger Tallroth as well as, the quartet with percussionist Andre Ferrari (1996).

Trio, appropriately titled marks a minimalist setup that offers complex musical arrangements in which the instruments are seamlessly interwoven into an aural tapestry. And like other groups that honor Swedish folk music such as Frifot, the songs on Trio also feature waltzes, polkas and even a wedding march composed for “a couple that desperately wanted to get married,” (The Ulfsunda Wedding March). While Frifot (another trio) spotlights fiddler Lena Willemark’s illustrious vocal talents, Vasen’s focus often falls on to the nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish instrument performed by the champion player, Johansson. That’s not to say that Marin and Tallroth’s talents aren’t appreciated since the synergy between guitar, viola and nyckelharpa as well as, the three performers seen on the CD ROM live performance (enhanced CD) create an atmosphere of sheer delight and innovative musicianship. After all the music they compose and perform is nothing short of a brain teaser.

In the past, when I saw photographs of the group, I would notice their stern facial expressions further enhanced by black somber clothing. My initial thought at the time was that I would be listening to music composed by sons of pastors and farmers with the Protestant work ethic tossed in for good measure. However, Vasen’s music often explores whimsical territory. Take for instance the gleeful wink and nod, Play Tag in Church or any of the valentines (tributes) to friends and family members that appear on Trio. Johansson composed Clara’s Waltz as a lullaby for his daughter. Tallroth wrote Fiddler’s Trap for one of his guitar students as well as, Tuning Bug to check the tuning on his guitar (he plays a 12 string guitar).

Many of the songs range from lyrical pastoral to lively toe-tappers. And upon each listen, the beauty of the songs seep out little by little until listener’s ears surrender to their magic.

And despite all the enchantment, I find myself drawn to the nyckelharpa. It is one of the most striking Scandinavian instruments next to the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele). Also called the keyed fiddle, the nyckelharpa slightly resembles the hurdy-gurdy (another instrument that has found a home in Scandinavian music), but the strings on the nyckelharpa are bowed instead of
played with a wheel and crank system. And the melody is played on a series of keys, something both instruments have in common. Sympathetic strings and a drone string create a buzzing sound, but unlike the hurdy-gurdy, the nyckelharpa sounds more like a fiddle than bagpipes. In the expert hands of Johansson, the nyckelharpa transforms into a musical treasure chest further embellished by
Tallroth’s guitar/bouzouki and Marin’s 5-string viola.

(Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music).

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