Category Archives: CD Reviews

A Rough Guide To The Music Of France

Various Artists

A Rough Guide to the Music of France(World music Network RGNET 1111, 2003)

Back in the mid-70s I heard a lot of the French band Malicorne featuring, among others, Gabriel Yacoub. They sang and played music from various parts of France, utilised instruments which were sometimes unfamiliar and were a totally mesmerising experience.

Now Yacoub has a presence on this wide-ranging compilation. One of his two pieces is Le Garcon Jardinier a song from his Malicorne days. And I have to say his voice has grown even better with the passage of time. His other track, La Mariole, doesn’t actually feature him. He wrote it and invited various bagpipers and hurdy-gurdy player, Gilles Chabenet to perform it. It is a fascinating sound both solemn and uplifting at the same time and it’s prompted me to go back to investigate Yacoub’s more recent work.So what else is there ? The quintessential voice of Edith Piaf, supported by orchestra, chorus, accordions, the whole works. It may sound a little dated but it is still attractive. At the other extreme, Massilia Sound System combine turntables/electronics with oud and rap on a reggae-ish workoput, Mefi. They mix influences comfortably and their sound is undeniably contemporary, reflecting something of this multi-cultural nation. Striving to sound contemporary, according to the cd notes, Les Ogres De Barback are a young band whose impassioned singing and spirited accordion are very listenable but not what I would have called very contemporary.
There is a great deal of variety elsewhere: an adapted Latin liturgical text sung acapella by Corsican band A Filetta, a lively example of a bourree from 1935, some gypsy guitar and violin from Romane and Angelo Debarre that swings like crazy and acknowledges Django Reinhardt’s influence. Of course no French compilation would be complete without a Breton presence. Here it is provided by pipe band Bagad Men Ha Tan who let loose the inimitably thrilling skirl of the bombard and pipes. They are joined by Senegalese drummer, Doudou N’Diaye Rose who lends it an extra force. Another Breton staple is the call and response singing, kan ha diskan, here represented by mother and daughter Eugenie Goadec and Louise Ebrel. It is a fine example of the genre – the Goadecs have been doing this for years! It is good to hear the tradition being kept alive.

For anyone wanting a sample of French music this is an interesting and diverse set covering both native traditions and the other cultural influences that colour France’s musical output.


Celso Fonseca – Natural

Celso Fonseca - Natural
Celso Fonseca

Natural (Six Degrees Records, 2003)

Since its creation by Antonio Jobim in 1957, bossa nova has conjured up images of waves caressing the shores of Rio de Janeiro’s chic beaches. When American jazz musicians Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd caught on to the new Brazilian music wave, bossa nova became an international sensation, especially after shy housewife Astrud Gilberto sung the 1959 hit, The Girl from Ipanema.

Bossa nova with its flat low key vocals, syncopated guitar strums and shimmering piano has become associated with Brazil, often ending up on soundtracks of Brazilian films. This seductive and poetic music composed by honey voice singer-songwriters has been revamped through a new generation of Brazilian composers including Celso Fonseca. And evidence of this new wave of bossa nova melodies can be found on Fonseca’s fifth album, Natural (debut CD in the US).

Fonseca might be a new name in the States, but the singer-songwriter-guitarist is an established artist in Brazil who has produced, performed and arranged music for American Carlos Santana as well as, some of Brazil’s hottest talent including Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Marisa Monte, Virginia Rodriguez and Bebel Gilberto. Fonseca along with Ronaldo Bastos’ CD Juventude: Slow Motion Bossa Nova received a Latin Grammy nomination in 2002.

Perhaps, Natural with its slick production performed by a small ensemble including pianist Daniel Jobim (Antonio’s grandson), master percussionist Robertinho Silva (from Milton Nascimento’s band), acoustic bassist Jorge Helder (Chico Buarque’s group) and guest vocalist Cibelle (She’s a Carioca) will garner a Latin Grammy in 2003.

Natural includes original bossa novas along with a 1950’s cool jazz standard, The Night We Called It A Day and bossa nova classics such as the seductive duet, She’s a Carioca in which Fonseca’s velvety smooth voice slide into Cibelle’s (Suba) stylishly flat vocals. She’s a Carioca recalls Astrud Gilberto’s days in the limelight with its soft and breezy approach. The original composition, Slow Motion Bossa Nova nods to the Grandfather of bossa nova, Antonio Jobim and at times, Natural sounds like one of those bossa nova classics compilations. Fonseca never wavers in his loyalty to the bossa nova’s origins, although at times, you can’t help but wish he would take it up a notch or two.

As it is, Fonseca’s Natural fits in well with a collection of samba and bossa nova favorites. It’s jazzy, smooth, seductive and eloquent while pointing to a new generation of Brazilian jazz and pop musicians as well as, preserving a significant moment in Brazil’s musical history. (As it appears on Cranky Crow World Music).


Wimme Barru

Wimme – Barru

Barru (Northside, 2003)

One listen to Wimme’s fourth release Barru (wave) and we can only wonder if Sami yoiker Wimme Saari has been listening to Bauhaus, Joy Division and Skinny Puppy recordings since elements of all those groups appear on Barru.

This followup to Cugu, features heavier programming, and sadly the usual woodwinds as well as, musician Tapani Rinne are absent on this release. However, ukulele, mandolin, acoustic guitar, banjo and baglamas performed by the multi-instumentalist Matti Wallenius still embellish the mix.

Guest vocalists Liisa Matveinen and Tellu Turkka also contribute talent on njavvi, inka and durban.

Barru seems like the darker cousin of Cuga and it works as a backdrop for Wimme’s immense vocal range. One minute he’s chanting like a Navajo singer while the next he’s growling like a wolf guarding it’s kin or hooting like an owl on a chilly night.

The opener, njavvi (torrent) acts as the most playful song on the CD, light in tone and bouncy similar to Texas on the Cuga CD. Inka falls on the murkier side in which Wimme yoiks with raspy growls. On gorzi (waterfall), Wimme’s tenorial yoiks cascade over lush music and programmed beats.

Fadnu feels dark and industrial recalling the early days of 4 AD records and Bauhaus. The yoik with its heavy electronic programming reflects on its arctic roots. Goalki (calm) Wimme switches back and forth between guttural bass and falsetto as he yoiks over an ethereal synthesizer wash. The dissonant cearret (arctic tern) again recalls early 4 AD recordings. Boares rieban (old fox) features low growls over frenzied drum beats. Durban marries Navajo chants to electronica.

While yoiking is a traditional style of singing of the Sami people, Wimme’s composes contemporary yoiks
backed by modern technology. Traditional yoiks were sung by shamans and usually with no instrumentation or an animal skin drum accompanying the yoiker. Yoiking along with the Sami’s spiritual practices were banned by Christians, but have resurfaced in parts of Scandinavia, but apart from liberal minded musicians, the world music community and the Sami people, yoiks are still frowned upon and prohibited in some regions.

Buy Barru

Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music


Binfen by Murat Ses

Murat Ses

Binfen (Clou Records, Clou-002, KALAN Music, Peacework Music)

A wonderful synthie-based masterpiece by Murat Ses, a keyboard player and composer with strong Eurasian electronic elements. His LP ‘Danses et Rythmes de la Turquie d’hier à aujourd’hui’ was awarded Grand Prix du Disque by the Charles Cros Academie in Paris, France back then in the 70’s…

The albums AUTOMATON, (Slave with Ewer Device), BINFEN (feat.Tan), and CULDUZ all released in the 90’s, are parts of a trilogy with the concept: “The Timeless and Boundariless Context of Culture and Civilization”.
His musical background has its roots in Eastern Mediterranean, Levantine, and Central Asian cultures and musics. Big experience in electronica and ambient. This album is a fusion of ethnic timbres and fine electronics.

Some liners about this unusual story:
BiNFEN was a scientist (even a madhead) who lived in Istanbul (the capital of the
Ottoman empire) in the 17th century. He had a concept of building him some
sort of wings which should enable him to fly across the Bosphorus. This guy
was a genius and he really managed to achieve his plan and flew from one
side of the channel to the other. The Ottoman ruler of that time sponsored him and when Binfen had managed the flight (the first man ever, about 300 years before the Wright Brothers and even about 100 years before the Montgolfier Bros!!), he was deeply impressed but on the other hand afraid that this genius could be very dangerous for the stability of the empire. So Binfen was sent into exile in Spain. My favorites on the album: Before Midnight, Usturlab, 1000 Akche, Binfen, Drift, Mare Imbrium (only track by Tan, Murat’s son)


Buenos Hermanos – Ibrahim Ferrer

Ibrahim Ferrer – Buenos Hermanos
Ibrahim Ferrer

Buenos Hermanos (Nonesuch/World Circuit, 2003)

If someone told me that Ibrahim Ferrer possessed the ability to charm a bird out of a tree with one song I’d believe him. The proof is in Buenos Hermanos, Ferrer’s latest CD on World Circuit-Nonesuch Records. Of Buena Vista Social Club fame, Ferrer, in his mid 70s, sings with a mature voice that’s still smooth and silky, with none of the cheap gimmicks overused by other singers intended to demonstrate to an audience how hard they work. It is Ferrer’s charisma and love a good song that shines through that makes each song on Buenos Hermanos sparkle.

On  Buenos Hermanos, Ferrer teams up with recognized Cuban greats Chucho Valdés on piano, Orlando “Cachaito” López on bass and Manuel Galbán taking turns on piano, organ and guitar. Producer and famed musician, Ry Cooder, slips in some slick licks of his own on electric guitar, while his son, Joachim Cooder, plays drums. As an added surprise, the Blind Boys of Alabama lend their lovely sound to the track entitled No Tiene Telaraña. All in all it is still Ferrer’s show.

Title track “Buenos Hermanos” doesn’t disappoint with Galbán on organ, Cooder on electric guitar, punctuated by some pretty fabulous saxophone playing and the call of a Chinese cornet. “La Musica Cubana” is a tribute to the fathers and mothers of Cuban music with a delightful call and response ending, honoring the likes of Orestes López, Lilí Martínez and Tito Gómez. Slow, dreamy numbers like “Naufragio,” “Perfume de Gardinias,” “Mil Congojas” and “Fuiste Cruel” are sure to entice the most reluctant dancer out onto the dance floor. “Hay Que Entrarle A Palos A Ese” is a lively number with an organ solo by Manuel Galbán and a brass section that demand mention, and the English lyrics of this song printed on the liner notes are well worth a read.

With the political climate such as it is and Ry Cooder on the U.S. government’s bad boy list for violating the Cuban Trade Embargo with the Buena Vista Social Club project, this might be the last we hear of these kinds of U.S.-Cuban musical collaborations for a while. Buenos Hermanos and Cooder’s recently released Mambo Sinuendo with Manuel Galbán might just have to hold us until we find ourselves in saner times. The shame is that the artists that appear on CDs such as  Buenos Hermanos and Mambo Sinuendo are good, too good to be held as political hostages.


Souad Massi

Souad Massi - Deb
Souad Massi – Deb
Souad Massi


Everything about this CD is aurally pleasing. She sings in a flawlessly charming voice, draws on her Algerian roots as well as Andalusian flamenco and Brasiian percussion. Flutes and lutes abound mellifluously, it is extremely well recorded and does the difficult job of achieving an exemplary second album. So what is the problem?

Well for me it too often strays into blandness. It rarely excites me for all its perfection. Am I being churlish? I hope not.

For example the opening track has a cello setting the mood before her voice swoops and glides effortlessly over some subtle percussion. It is a pleasing combination, there’s no doubt of that. It’s just that it tends to wash over you after a couple of listens. A friend, listening to her, described it as world muzak. I wouldn’t go that far but in places it is dangerously close to sounding like very superior background listening.

That said I do like Yemma with its splashes of violin and oud to colour the hypnotic melody. The dark tracings of cello, coupled with acoustic guitar make Le Bien et Le Mal memorable too.

But at times I felt that this was an attempt to produce a sort of all-purpose world music album. I’m all for variety but this seems to attempt too much and as a result there isn’t a strong sense of personal identity evident. I was left feeling vaguely dissatisfied but I’m sure others will feel entirely differently and it will sell millions. 

Buy Deb, and her other albums, Mesk Elil, and Raoui.


The Music Of The Balkans

Various Artists
The Rough Guide To The Music OfThe Balkans (RGNET 1127)

I’m always amazed when I receive cds from the Rough Guide series. They target an area of the planet and in 70 or so minutes present the diversity of a region in all its diversity.

This cd certainly covers a wide area. Music of the Balkans includes contributions from around 7 countries and is evidence of both unity and diversity. This is music which has endured divisive religious, political, linguistic and ethnic differences and conflicts. It continues to thrive. Here you will find plenty of brass bands, especially from those gypsies who traverse the region. There are several to recommend. Romania’s Fanfare Ciocarlia are a 12 piece band that merge Balkan folk roots with dazzling energetic improvisations.
Boban Markovic Orkestar hail from Serbia and feature Markovic’s mercurial trumpet .They sound a little like speeded -up reggae. There may be few solos but there are shades of jazz colouring native influences.If all this energetic blowing seems exhausting there is some respite in Angelite, a collection of some of the purest voices I’ve heard from Bulgaria. But if that doesn’t float your boat then there is some Balkan Ethnotrance. It comes from Kristi Stassinopoulou – a Greek Grace Slick. She paid her dues in some Jefferson Airplane – esque bands. Look out for her band’s ‘Echotropia’.

Albania hasn’t always been the most accessible region. How many Albanian bands can you name ? Still the unadorned voices of Ensemble Tirana are breath-taking and their polyphonic chorale is a brief but sublime closing piece.
This cd is another reminder that there is still plenty of world out there in which to go on making exciting discoveries.


The Mahotella Queens

The Mahotella Queens

The Best Of – The Township Idols (Wrasse Records Wrasss. 098)

One of the things I most associate with the Queens, apart from their own impassioned vocals, is the coarse growl of Simon Nkabinde Mahlathini. So when I received this I was delighted to find an old favourite of mine, Jive Motella, included. It was lovely to hear the Lion of Soweto juxtaposed with the glorious three-part harmonies of the women.
He is featured on several tracks here in this celebration of their history and it provokes both sad and joyful feelings. Sad, because there will be no more such unions. But listening to Zibuyile Nonyaka or Thina Siyakhanyisa is as exciting an experience as you’re likely to find in the wide field of African music.

But before I forget, this is a review of the fabulous Queens. It spans the range of their albums, both with and without Mahlathini, and mixes the rhythms of South African tribal music with jazz and gospel influences. They call it mbaqanga, from the Zulu word for cooking pot. There is even a reggae influence on I’m In Love With A Rastaman which is full of swagger and bounce. Truly up-lifting. Equally buoyant is Kumnyama Endlini from their latest cd.

There are plenty of examples of the Queens’ close harmonies but one of the most memorable is the closing track Dilika Town Hall, a traditional song that features their unaccompanied voices. You can feel the purity and power that makes any other instrument redundant.

A couple of tracks don’t do them justice, like Women Of The World, which sounds diluted, bland even. But most of the album is great to hear again. They still sound as fresh as ever, keeping alive the sound and spirit of ‘the indestructible beat of Soweto’.


Live Releases by Masters of Roots Reggae

Burning Spear- Live at Montreux Jazz Festival 2001 (Burning Music Productions BM 314, 2002)

Culture- Live in Africa (RASCD 3270, 2002)

Burning Spear and Culture are two of the most unwaveringly committed practitioners of Jamaican roots reggae the world has ever seen. Their continued global popularity is exemplified in numerous ways, including the strength of their live performances.Burning Spear (born Winston Rodney) has nearly 35 years of reggae stardom under his belt, and despite being rather gray in the dreadlocks these days, he shows no signs of throwing in the towel. From the start, his music has focused on the African repatriation philosophy of Marcus Garvey and the power of reggae as a uniting, healing force. Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival is a solid sampling of his mesmerizing, shaman-like onstage persona as he runs down a selection of mostly older material. As always, his backing band (including, crucially, a horn section) is top notch, deftly nailing the main body of each song as well as dropping into tight dub passages while Spear himself spaces out on percussion. The songs, including such classics as “Man in the Hills,” “Slavery Days” and “Columbus,” remain true to the intensity of the original recorded versions, though Spear frequently re-configures the vocals with scat spontaneity and chanted emphasis on key lyrics. He remains one of reggae’s greatest singers, laconic and understated at times, soaringly authoritative at others. Burning Spear has made several high quality live albums over the years, and this one easily assumes a place in his prolific and impressive body of work. (E-mail:

Though they remain a harmony trio, Culture has become increasingly synonymous with lead vocalist and songwriter Joseph Hill. Hill also emphasizes the importance of Marcus Garvey and African roots, but where Burning Spear often comes across as a stern teacher, Hill is more like a lively Rastafarian street preacher. Recorded at a reggae festival in South Africa, Culture’s live disc scores high marks also, as much for including songs from all phases of their career as the hard-hitting strength with which they are delivered. Hill engages the audience like an old friend, giving shout-outs to Nelson Mandela and radiating good vibes at every turn. The sound is a little ragged at first, but by the time Culture launches into a fervent “Disobedient Children,” things are locked up tight and you’ll be in the spirit and in the groove just as surely as if you’d been there. Loose, energetic and full of fire, this is a mightly testament to the power of live reggae. (


Barahúnda – Al Sol de la Hierba


Al Sol de la Hierba (Nufolk, 2002)

Barahúnda is part of a growing number of Madrid contemporary folk bands. The group draws most of its inspiration from various Spanish folk music traditions and the Sephardic diaspora. Barahúnda was initially led by singer Helena de Alfonso and stringed-instrument specialist Miguel Casado (he left the group after the recording). The all acoustic band features Helena de Alfonso’s outstanding Medieval, Sephardic and Spanish folk vocal stylings combined with various Spanish and Middle Eastern string instruments, along with superb zanfona (Spanish hurdy gurdy) work, all accompanied by Spanish, Middle Eastern and Indian percussion. The pieces included in this recording include original compositions as well as Medieval Galician-Portuguese cantigas, Arab Andalusian music, jotas from Zamora and Burgos, a Breton tune, and Sephardic lullabies and love songs.