Category Archives: Film Reviews

Vodoun Gods on the Slave Coast

Vodoun Gods on the Slave Coast (Sublime Frequencies SF089, 2014) is a documentary film by Hisham Mayet. The movie was shot in January 2011 during Benin’s vivid annual vodun festivities. The celebrations include sacred dance and ceremonies. Benin is the birthplace of vodun (also known as vodoun or voodoo), an ancient religion that was transported to the Americas by Portuguese and Dutch slave traders.

The vodun celebrations captured in this film include ecstatic musical performances and spectacular colorful costumes representing the cult of Sakpata, Egoun-goun, and the Zangbeto.

The DVD contains a 12-page booklet with large color photos from several vodun ceremonies in Benin.

Vodoun Gods on the Slave Coast is a fascinating document about an ancient religion that has influenced various Afro-American cultures.

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A Beautiful Musical Experience in East Jerusalem

East Jerusalem West Jerusalem
East Jerusalem West Jerusalem

East Jerusalem West Jerusalem, featuring David Broza, Steve Earle, Muhammad Mughrabi and Mira Awad (Film Movement, 2016)

The film East Jerusalem West Jerusalem is a documentary about the 8 day creative experience envisioned by celebrated Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza in East Jerusalem.

In early 2013, David Broza fulfilled his dream to record songs in the Palestinian side of Jerusalem with musicians from Palestine and Israel. The8-day sessions took place in the studio of Palestinian band Sabreen. The idea was to create a space for peace and to listen to each other with the hope that this will have a ripple effect.

Broza invited award-winning American singer-songwriter and activist Steve Earle as producer. Even though Steve Earle wrote a song called “Jerusalem” in the 1990s, he had never visited Jerusalem before.

Other guests included Israeli Palestinian singer, actress and activist Mira Awad; Palestinian cinematographer Issa Freij; Muhammad Mughrabi, Palestinian hip hop artist from the Shuaafat refugee camp; Israeli musicians Jean Paul Zimbris, Alon Nadel and Gadi Seri, along with other American, Israeli and Palestinian participants.

At the beginning of the film, David Broza sets the context for the project, showing the two sides of Jerusalem, and fascinating interviews. Broza sits on a rooftop with Issa Freij where they discuss their different experiences. Broza greets Steve Earle at the airport and later talks, jams and rehearses with him. There is also an interview with American record producer David Greenberg and several segments with Broza himself.

Some of the most noteworthy footage includes the shots of the musicians (and the filmmaker) rehearsing and having fun in the studio as they prepare for the recording sessions.

Broza chose to record in English, as a universal language, and the two local languages, Hebrew and Arabic. Although I don’t have the album, it is evident that that album has a mix of American folk music influences along with the Middle Eastern nuances of the ud, darbuka and kanun. Broza also adds a little flamenco spice that he picked up in Spain.

The film follows David Broza as he takes a night drive to the impoverished Shuafat refugee camp, the home of the two Palestinian rappers who collaborate on the album. It’s surprising that despite all the security measures nearby, the camp itself is pretty much on its own, without police or emergency services.

There are additional interviews with the Israeli and Palestinians where they describe their experiences. Many of them had never visited each others neighborhoods.

Broza also brought the new generations into the project, recording the voices of young singers representing the various communities.
Sadly, near the end of the film, Broza and Freij encounter a demonstration of Israelis who trade insults with the Palestinians, demonstrating that it’s hard to get away from politics and there is much more work to do.

David Broza grew up in Israel, Spain, and England. His musical influences range from flamenco to rock and Americana. He is also recognized for his commitment and dedication to several humanitarian causes, mostly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since 1977, Broza has released over 30 albums in Hebrew, English and Spanish, many of which have become gold and platinum albums.

In the year 2006 David Broza received the “In Search for Common Ground” award along with Palestinian musician/composer Said Murad, and in 2009 the Spanish King, Juan Carlos I, decorated him with the Spanish Royal Medal of Honor for his longtime contribution to Israel-Spain relations, and his dedication to promotion of tolerance and conflict resolution.

In 2015 Broza recorded the album “Andalusian Love Song” with the Andalusian Orchestra of Ashkelon.

East Jerusalem West Jerusalem is a remarkable project that shows how we can all get along through the language of music.

Buy the East Jerusalem West Jerusalem DVD in the Americas

Buy the East Jerusalem West Jerusalem CD in the Americas

Buy the East Jerusalem West Jerusalem CD in Europe


Ravi Shankar Live In Escondido

Ravi Shankar - In Concert: Live In Escondido
Ravi Shankar – In Concert: Live In Escondido
Ravi Shankar

Tenth Decade – In Concert: Live In Escondido (East Meets West Music, 2012)

Tenth Decade – In Concert: Live In Escondido is a video with a fascinating live performance by sitar maestro Ravi Shankar recorded about a year ago, in October 2011. Shankar looked a little different as he had grown a beard.

The concert clearly demonstrates that Shankar was still a masterful instrumentalist, who still brought passion and innovation to Indian classical music. He was joined by a set of accomplished instrumentalists, including Tanmoy Bose on tabla; Ravichandra Kulur on bansuri flute and kanjira; Parimal Sadaphal on sitar; Samir Chatterjee on tabla; Kenji Ota on tanpura, swarmandal; and Barry Phillips on tanpura.

The program on the DVD includes four pieces. The first two are evening ragas, ‘Yaman Kalyan’ and ‘Khamaj.’ They are followed by a percussion segment in which Samir Chatterjee plays an unconventional tabla set composed of 5 drums (tabla is usually a 2 drum set).

On ‘Goonga Sitar,’ Ravi Shankar uses an innovative percussive sitar technique, which he described to the audience. The DVD concludes with ‘Ragamala,’ which is a medley of various ragas, Indian folk tunes and improvisation.

The excellent quality video shows the musicians from various camera angles with Shankar as the central focus. It was made by cinematographer and director Alan Kozlowski. The concert took place in Escondido, a city north of San Diego, in southern California.

Tenth Decade – In Concert: Live In Escondido is a memorable audiovisual document of Ravi Shankar, showcasing his talent, kindness and music innovation, giving the relevance and respect that he deserved.

Buy Tenth Decade – In Concert: Live In Escondido


Renowned Salsa and Jazz Pianist Eddie Palmieri Celebrates 50 Years with DVD

Eddie Palmieri – 50th Year Anniversary DVD

Musician, composer and band leader Eddie Palmieri celebrated his 50th anniversary with a live concert filmed at the Bushnell Memorial Theater in Hartford, Connecticut. Palmieri is a legendary figure in salsa and Latin jazz. The video, which is now available, is titled Eddie Palmieri – 50th Year Anniversary DVD.

For this occasion, Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra performed many of his greatest hits. The DVD combines live pieces with interview segments, where Palmieri talks about his musical influences and evolution.

The superb band featured on the DVD includes maestro Eddie Palmieri on piano, Herman Olivera on lead vocals, Brian Lynch on trumpet, Richie Viruet on trumpet, Phillip Dizack on trumpet, Conrad Herwig on trombone, Jimmy Bosch on trombone, Nelson Gonzalez on tres guitar and vocals, Jose Claussell on timbales, Vicente “Little Johnny” Rivero on congas, Luques Curtis on bass, Orlando Vega on bongo, Joseph Quique Gonzalez on backup vocals, and Julio Salgado on backup vocals and maracas.

Eddie Palmieri – 50th Year Anniversary DVD showcases salsa and Latin jazz of the highest caliber.

On October 1, 2011 Eddie Palmieri will be headlining a concert in support of the Los Padres Foundation ’s College Tuition and Assistance (CTA) Program at 8:00 pm at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts. The program was created for Puerto Rican/Hispanic high school students in the New York City/New Jersey metropolitan area who are interested in pursuing a post-secondary education. Lehman College is located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd. in the Bronx.

Buy the DVD


Bach Recreated by His Modern Friends

Bach & Friends
Bach & Friends is a two DVD set that contains a two-hour documentary about Johann Sebastian Bach and his musical legacy and an additional bonus disc with performances.

The producer of the documentary, Michael Lawrence, interviewed and recorded numerous world class musicians from the areas of classical music, jazz and American roots music. The participants provide their insights about Bach’s music and then play versions of some of his greatest works.

The folk-rooted musicians provide some of the most intriguing renderings of Bach’s music. Hawaii’s Jake Shimabukuro shows us what a ukulele can do in the right hands. Bela Fleck skillfully adapts Bach’s music to the banjo and bluegrass sensation Chris Thile shows the capacity of the mandolin.
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Omara Portuondo Celebrates the Tropicana

Omara Portuondo

Fiesta Cubana (EuroArts 2058028, 2010)

Fiesta Cubana is a great opportunity to watch Omara Portuondo, one of the legendary voices of Cuba, still at her prime. She was recorded live with her band at the Tropicana in Havana, December 1-3 of 2009. It was a special occasion, celebrating the Tropicana’s 70th anniversary.

Even though this DVD is advertised as an Omara Portuondo video, you really get a double bill. There is a performance by Omara and her band, but there are also performances by the musicians and showgirls of the famed Cuban nightclub.

Omara Portuondo offers a vibrant and at the same time melancholic concert that includes boleros, son cubano, guajiras, mambos and jazz, with songs such as ‘Tal Vez’, ‘Amame Como Soy’, ‘Yo Vi’, and ‘La Sitiera’, as well as audience favorites like the perennial ‘Guantanamera’ and Chico Buarque’s ‘O Que Será’.
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Steady As It Goes

Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae (Lightyear Entertainment LIT-DV-56418, 2010)

While feature films like The Harder They Come and Rockers had story lines that included a good many truths about the Jamaican music industry, there are documentaries (beginning with 1977’s Roots, Rock, Reggae) which explore much of the same territory, gleaning ample dramatic effect from the music itself, the people who create it and the forces that impact it. And guess what? One such documentary is now on DVD.

I haven’t heard the corresponding soundtrack album to Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae, but if it’s as much of a delight as the documentary itself, I really must get around to it. After ska and before reggae there was rocksteady, a pulsating, urgent music that represented post-independence Jamaica settling into a groove as it was getting more conscious and celebratory in equal measure.
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Raga: A Film Journey into the Soul of India

One of the great music documentaries of the 1970s is now available on a remastered DVD. Raga: A Film Journey into the Soul of India is dedicated to the the great Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar. The celebrated musician is one of the key figures in the introduction of Indian classical music in the West. He was George Harrison’s teacher and was a friend of British violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

One of the opening scenes shows Shankar mesmerizing a large audience of young adults, including many hippies, with Indian classical music. “George Harrison became my student in the mid sixties, which certainly opened up the biggest door in all the continents for me,” says Ravi Shankar. “George was one whom I loved very much as he was so deeply attracted to our music and the Vedic culture and traditions of India.”
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Magical Time at the Night of Fairies

Daemonia Nymphe Live at la Nuit des Fées (Prikosnovenie, 2010)

I’ve always associated the world of fantasy literature and art with progressive rock. However, world music also has strong connections as represented in this DVD. French record label Prikosnovenie specializes in fairy music. That is the music that celebrates the magical creatures found in European literature and folklore. Every year, Prikosnovenie pus together a music festival called Night of Fairies (La nuit des fées) in Clisson (France) and they invite musicians who have connections with the worlds of fantasy.
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Latin Rock Storm

El Chicano - In the Eye of the Storm
El Chicano – In the Eye of the Storm
El Chicano was formed in Los Angeles in 1970 and was characterized by its long jams, full of fiery guitar work, spectacular electric organ improvisations and percussion solos. “In the Eye of the Storm” is a two DVD documentary directed by David E. Meza that follows the evolution of El Chicano. The second DVD presents the latest version of the band with a May 2008 performance at The Avalon club in Santa Clara.

The documentary combines interviews with the musicians with footage from the era about the reaction of mainstream America to the rising militancy and importance of the Chicano movement. The band in 2008 included several founding members. Line-up in 2008: Mickey Lespron on guitar, Bobby Espinosa on organ and piano, Fred Sanchez on bass, John de Luna on drums, Rudy Regalado on timbales, Jerry Salas on vocals and guitar, and Marcos Reyes on congas.

Azteca’s La Piedra del Sol showcases another Latin rock legend. While El Chicano featured primarily Mexican-American musicians from southern California, Azteca was a short-lived multiracial supergroup from northern California led by Coke and Pete Escovedo, who came from the Santana group. The large band (up to 25 musicians on stage) was based in the San Francisco Bay Area and combined rock, jazz, soul and Latin musicians.

The Azteca documentary includes interviews as well as a reunion concert at the Key Club in Hollywood in 2007. The artists featured in the reunion concert include original members Pete Escovedo, vocalists Wendy Haas and Errol Knowles, bassist Paul Jackson, guitarist Bill Courtial, percussionist Victor Pantoja, trombonist Jules Rowell and former Miles Davis and Chick Corea drummer Lenny White.

In the Eye of the Storm and La Piedra del Sol are two extraordinary DVD releases that document the wide-ranging creativity of the Latin rock movement of the 1970s.

Buy the DVDs:

Recordings by 1970s Latin rock bands:

Recordings by current artists who follow the path of the 1970s pioneers