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.
Their Greatest Hits (Heartbeat 11661-7575-2, 2002)
For whatever reason–maybe because they didn’t sport dreadlocks or have a militant name–the Maytones tend to be overlooked when one speaks of the initial surge of Jamaican roots reggae in the 1970s. Also, in a time when the vast majority of reggae groups that emphasized harmony singing were trios, the Maytones were a duo. Leave it to Heartbeat Records, who excel at releasing contemporary reggae as well as crucial reissues, to remind us all of how much more a prominent place in reggae history the Maytones ought to have. Lead voice Vern Buckley and harmony singer Gladstone Grant blend flawlessly over rhythms laid down by an epic cast of Jamaica’s finest players. The songs–“Holy Ground,” “Judgement a Come,” “Money Worries,” “One Way,” etc., are mostly of the roots and culture variety, though the angelic quality of Buckley’s and Grant’s voices wrap superbly around a few love songs as well. The disc features some extended dub mixes with guest toasters including the late great I Roy, and the production work of Alvin Ranglin crisply accentuates both singers and players. Fans of such groups as the Mighty Diamonds, the Heptones and Justin Hinds and the Dominoes will love this, but roots reggae adherents in general won’t want to be without it. (www.rounder.com/heartbeat)
Even in the darkest days of apartheid, some of the most defiantly beautiful music came from South Africa. Today, the nation remains troubled and the music remains beautiful. Alexandra Township, just outside Johannesburg, is a place where music has long flourished despite poverty, oppression, limited resources and nothing like the same level of dubious fame affiliated with places like Soweto (though Nelson Mandela once went into hiding there).
Listening to the Alexandra Youth Choir (first established in 1988), the feeling of gospel-fervor faith in the face of adversity is evident, along with the enduring power of traditional Zulu, Sotho and Xhosa songs.
The 20 selections here showcase considerable range, from glorious call-and-response to sweet surrender spirituals and foot-stomping testimonials. There’s some perfectly suited instrumental accompaniment here and there, but the majority is just harmonious voices singing as one mighty force. A perfectly wonderful CD, full of passion and power that gets to the very core of you.
The Naxos World label hasn’t been in existence for very long, but quality releases such as this show that their future is likely to be very bright.
The first volume of this series, 1996’s Ambiances du Sahara, was a sprawling treasure chest of music from the vast regions covered by the world’s largest desert. The critical praise it received was considerable, and the recently released second volume takes another bountiful trip around the same countries to come up with a further load of riches. Africa’s Saharan countries create music as enjoyable as it is subject to analysis- the likelihood of it being the basis of American blues, its Arabic roots, etc.
Desert Blues 2 starts off with strong selections from Majid Bekkas and Boubacar Traore, featuring melancholy guitars and vocals winding around nervously tapping percussion. Gradually, over the set’s two-disc length, the songs run a gorgeous course between bright and celebratory and solitary and very bluesy indeed. The same multiple facets as volume one are in evidence, along with the same balance of familiar and lesser-known names. Plenty of calabashes and n’goni lutes are heard, but there’s also bottleneck guitar spacing out alongside kora, Tuareg and Gnawa sounds that keep the journey a spiritual one, music that could’ve come from the Mississippi Delta if not for the growly non-English lyrics, ancient pentatonic scale riffs serviced by modern dance grooves and loads more of the same kind of diversity you’d expect to come from and area roughly the size of the U.S.
A fair number of the songs are by women, and the set is also reflective of their artistic emergence from certain countries and cultures where their role has been secondary. There’s a lot going on here, and anyone who bought the first volume with the thought that there must be much more will find out how right they were. Reves D’Oasis will refresh and rejuvenate you like bountiful flowing water found in the midst of barren desolation.
After several trial recordings together, R. Carlos Nakai and Nawang Khechog have succeeded in combining their visions of music for meditation and peace. On the same road for many years, the two flutists – Nakai on cedar and Nawang on bamboo – have pursued peace, contentment and joy through their music, Nakai from the West and Nawang from the East.
Nakai has found his way using his Native American background solo and with scores of collaborations. Nawang has until recently walked the path solo composing pieces based on Tibetan philosophy for TV and film scores. Now the two have found success in their expression together. William Eaton’s unique harp guitar provides the network of notes for them to bond to.
Will Clipman’s acoustic percussion grounds the group. The chanting in both Native American and Tibetan adds focus to an already meditative album. This album breaks new ground in its spiritual aim, and it is well worth noting that with it, the distance between the ancient Native Americans and the Tibetans has grown smaller.
The variety of themes, influences and musical arrangements is astounding in this collection of pieces written for the theatrical production Codice Atlantico by the Italian composer and arranger Antonio Paolo Pizzimenti.
Pizzimenti is well known for his work in Italian advertising, radio, TV, and soundtracks. Working mostly behind the scenes as a sound engineer for the Italian star Eugenio Finaldi, ane The Memphis Horns, he has also added his musicianship to albums by Roberto Vecchioni and Banda Isiris.
Lead mostly by keyboards and percussion, and using everything in his repertoire from bagpipes, organs, and heavy drums each piece is very unique and enjoyable. Even without seeing the theater piece, one can appreciate the complexity and density of this music. Drawing on Celtic, African, Italian folk music, Middle Eastern and Latin themes, the music is arranged to draw the listener in, dance and sing, and then go on with life – such is the ideal of life in Italy.
Yat-Kha is the latest project of Albert Kuvezin from Tuva, Siberia, who started his career in music by playing electric guitar along with his Deep Purple records during the Soviet era. As a hint of the format of this album, Albert appears on the cover wearing his electric guitar over his heavy Siberian coat.
A diversion from the folk music of Tuva seen in so many places – on recent European rock albums, throat singing is used to evoke a raw energy. The Bulgarian Choir Angelite sang with members of Huun Huur Tu. But this album goes the next step, getting away from the uniqueness of the style and featuring great songwriting, superb musicianship and a real sense of humor. On a few songs, Albert is joined by Sailyk Omnum, who sings in the bluesy Tuvan women’s style. Band members include the venerable Aldyn-ool Sevek, who toured for many years with the Sayani Ensemble, Tuva’s Official Folk Singing and Dancing Group. This is the next chapter in Tuvan music.
Iveta Kováĉová, Dagmar Podkonická and Jana Ryšerová met at the Prague Conservatory, all interested in Roma (gypsy) musical heritage. According to Iveta, they explored their roots together at her home, and found much to sing about. Their sound compares well with the Scandinavian vocal group Varttina in their range and accomplished vocal quality. Harmonies are not as complex and close as the Bulgarian Women’s Choirs or as simple as some Caribbean ditty, but find their own center in each song.
Their arrangements sensibly feature the wonderful timbre of the three voices. No one singer dominates, but each carries a unique sound, identifiable, and, after a while, you’ll be listening for your favorite. And when blended together, they sound sweet.
What makes this album super smart is their top notch band who coax rhythm and meaning out of every beat. Using a truckful of folk and electric instruments, they keep the songs lively, modern and fun, even when the lyrics are repetitious or nonsense. Very fun music to listen to on your way anywhere.
From his days as featured singer with the Rail Band and Les Ambassadeurs through his high-profile solo career, Mali’s Salif Keita has possessed one of the world’s greatest voices. Still, he has made his share of uneven albums. While 1999’s rockishly disappointing Papa left him no place to go but up, Keita’s latest release triumphs not only in comparison but in its own right.
Moffou , easily Keita’s best since his 1987 landmark Soro, is a feast of acoustic instruments, spiritually soulful singing, richly subtle rhythmic undercurrents and an African roots sensibility unlike anything this remarkable singer has embraced in a long time. There are a couple of voice-and-guitar tracks on which Keita’s slightly raspy, Islamic-inflected tones effortlessly cut to the marrow, songs where the nuances of rhythm and melody are so tightly entwined as to be virtually inseparable, and one irresistible dance jam, “Maman,” with a solidly airy groove that will have remixers scrambling for their knobs.The instrumental backing includes the sharply attuned work of longtime guitar collaborator Kante Manfila along with a crafty balance of flutes, accordion, n’goni lute, varied percussion and more. Moffou. Other recordings available: Remixes from Moffou
Even if your global music collection is fairly extensive, chances are you don’t own a great deal of music from Niger. It just so happens that the music of Niger hasn’t been as widely recorded and distributed as that of some other African countries in the same general area (Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, etc.), and if the high quality of Alatoumi is any indication, it’s a shame.
Mamar Kassey (the name sounds like one person, but it’s a band) play deliciously twangy roots music not unlike what you’d hear coming from other lower Saharan regions, but it jumps with a passion very much its own thanks to a tightly intertwined mix of modern guitar and bass sparring intensely with not-so-modern lutes, flute and percussion.
Some of it is as funky as can be, but the disc is incredibly alive in its more thoughtful moments as well. Lead vocalist/flutist Yacouba Moumouni’s voice has a wailing Arabic keenness to it, and on songs like "Dommo," it straddles the rising and falling rhythms and hair-standing-on-end female background vocals with style and grace. His sparse but deft flute work is nice too, helping to bring out the intricacies of instrumental passages where shades of Senegalese m’balax and Nigerian juju are heard.
Alatoumi is terrific from start to finish, easily one of the best African releases of the year. Anyone who may have regarded Niger as a non-presence on the music map had better seriously change their way of thinking.