Category Archives: Film Reviews

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.

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Recordings by 1970s Latin rock bands:

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


No Travel Restrictions for Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia

Rainforest World Music Festival organizers assured international world music fans that there are no special travel requirements. "For those travelling from outside Sarawak, please note that there is no travel restriction into Sarawak and Malaysia at this present time despite of the travel advisories on the Influenza A(H1N1), " said Ben Jimbau, festival Chairman. "For the latest update on the situation, the Ministry of Health, Malaysia,, provides comprehensive updates on the current situation. We, on our part, will continue to update you all on the latest situation, should there be any."

The 2009 edition of the Rainforest World Music Festival, , held July 10 to 12 in Sarawak Cultural Village (Sarawak, Malaysia), includes well-known bands such as the Saint Nicholas Orchestra from Poland, Poum Tchack (France), Dazkarieh (Portugal), Inti-Illimani (Chile), Jouhiorkesteri (Finland), Moana & The Tribe (New Zealand), Muzsikás (Hungary), Noreummachi (Korea), Sekaa Jaya Jenggala (Indonesia), Red Chamber (Canada/China), Zawose Family Africa (Tanzania), Oudaden (Morocco), Jeff and Vida band (USA). They will be joined by some of the finest Malaysian bands like AkashA, Asika, Kinabalu Merdu Sound and Lan-e Tuyang.

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Extraordinary DVD Celebrates Paul Simon’s Roots Music Excellence

 Paul Simon And Friends
Paul Simon And Friends
American singer-songwriter showed his interest in world music early in his career. Before many other musicians jumped in the bandwagon, his music reflected the folk traditions that went beyond the United States. One of such pieces was the Andean inspired hit song "El Condor Pasa." Later, Paul Simon popularized South African and Brazilian music with the albums Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints.

In 2007 the Library of Congress in the United States invited a group of renowned international musicians to honor Paul Simon as the first recipient of the Gershwin prize for popular Song. His guests and Simon himself (sometimes solo or with some of his friends) perform Simon’s most memorable songs. The event was videotaped and is now available in a DVD with 5.1 Surround Sound titled Paul Simon And Friends.

The list of guests is quite impressive, a "dream team" that includes major figures in the world music and American roots music: alt country’s Lyle Lovett; bluegrass stars Alison Krauss, Shawn Colvin and Jerry Douglas; reggae icon Stephen Marley, the late Miriam Makeba (a clip from 1987), South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo, James Taylor and the Dixie Hummingbirds, Buckwheat Zydeco, George Harrison (from the TV show Saturday Night Live in 1976); Gospel singers Yolanda Adams and Jessy Dixon; Dianne Reeves, Latin music star Mark Anthony, Paul Simon’s old friend and collaborator Art Garfunkel; Stevie Wonder on harmonica, vocals and piano; contemporary composer Philip Glass; and even a clip of The Muppets.


Although the entire DVD contains fabulous music and performances, some of the highlights include Paul Simon with his longtime collaborators Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the jamming performance of "Love Me like a Rock" with Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and the Dixie Hummingbirds. Paul Simon And Friends is an extraordinary document of the music of one of the finest American singer-songwriters of the past four decades.

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Afro-Cuban Infectious Energy

Juan de Marcos
Juan de Marcos
Cuban musician and composer Juan de Marcos Gonzalez deserves more credit than he gets. Not only did he put together the renowned Afro-Cuban All Stars, but he was also an essential figure in the development of the popular Buena Vista Social Club. But his talent goes even further. Juan de Marcos Gonzalez composes his own material.

Although his ensembles play many Cuban classics, Juan de Marcos Gonzalez has added new songs to the Cuban popular music songbook.

The CD and DVD double set by Juan de Marcos Gonzalez with Afro-Cuban All Stars, titled Absolutely Live (DM Ahora! Records and GG & LL Records), offers a fabulous opportunity to experience the energy and passion of one of the finest ensembles of Cuban musicians.

The DVD includes concerts in Japan at Tokyo’s Zepp and The Hague’s North Sea Jazz Festival (The Netherlands). The Japan performance holds special significance because it is the last concert performed by veteran singer Manuel "Puntilla" Licea, who was one of the musicians involved in the Buena Vista Social Club band.

The combination CD/DVD will be available exclusively during the 2009 USA Tour at concerts and at select online retailers. Get a copy of this boxed set if you can. Absolutely Live will captivate you with its infectious energy.


Reliving the Golden Age of Cajun Music

Dedans le Sud de la Louisiane
Dedans le Sud de la Louisiane
This essential film about Cajun and Creole culture in southern Louisiana that was made in 1972 is now available on DVD. The Dedans le Sud de la Louisiane documentary focuses on the background of the French speakers in Louisiana, as well as their music and daily lives. The artists that appear on the film are part of what some have called the Golden Age of Cajun music. Some of the biggest names of the time are featured in live performances, jams and also in their daytime jobs. The impressive list includes Nathan Abshire, Alphonse Bois Sec" Ardoin, Clifton Chenier, the Balfa Brothers (Rodney & Dewey), Zachary Richard, and Canray Fontenot, many of whom have passed away.

French director Jean-Pierre Bruneau shows the melting pot that was formed when French-speaking white Acadians, expelled from Canada by the British,  mixed their culture with other Europeans and the Black Creole community. The archaic French spoken in the rural areas of the Louisiana bayous was not the purest, but it managed to survive despite the increasing influence of English in the area.

This film is now a classic and a fascinating portrait of the music of southern Louisiana.


Fiery Sun Stone

Azteca Piedra
Azteca – La Piedra del Sol
The early 1970s saw the rise of several Latin rock bands that incorporated Afro-Cuban and other Latin American music elements. Santana is the best known and  its leader Carlos Santana is still an influential figure. Other groups like El Chicano, Azteca, Malo, Tierra and Sapo were short lived although they left an important legacy. One of those band, Azteca, got back together in 2007 and played a concert on September 15th at the Hollywood Key Club. The live performance was recorded and has now been released as a CD (From the Ruins) and DVD (La Piedra del Sol)

Despite the Mexican sounding name, Azteca’s Latin American influences are closer to Cuba. The group combines the fiery energy of rock guitar played by Bill Courtial with a spectacular rhythm section featuring virtuoso timbalero Pete Escovedo, conga master Victor Pantoja, the drum kit wizardry of legendary jazz and rock drummer Lenny White and the bass work of Paul Jackson. The brass section played an important role in Azteca, which made it very different from Santana, which rarely used brass. The brass section featured in the 2007 reunion includes Jules Bowell on valve trombone, Melecio Magdaluyo on flute and sax, Mario González on trumpet and Alex Murzyn on sax and piccolo. The characteristic electric piano sound is added by Murray Low.

Although Azteca’s sound features lots of outstanding jams, with impression percussion solos, Azteca’s vocals were a very important element. They added a jazz and soul element to the group’s sound. For the live recording, Wendy Haas, Pete Escovedo, Errol Knowles and Victor Pantoja provided the vocals.

Buy the DVD La Piedra del Sol.


War of the World

War - Greatest Hits Live
War – Greatest Hits Live (Avenue Records R2512351, 2008)

War- a world music band? I’d testify to it in a court of law. Their mixture of soul, rock, jazz and blues with Afro-Latin and Caribbean rhythms was groundbreaking for its time (paving the way for groups like Ozomatli) and they managed to turn equal measures of fun and social consciousness into pop chart success. Forty years after first forming, they’re still out waging their musical campaign with a largely reconfigured lineup under the leadership of singer, keyboardist, composer and original member Lonnie Jordan.

This live DVD, shot in Anaheim, California late in 2007, is a testament not only to how timely their songs continue to be but how well they still connect with a crowd after all these years. Beginning with the expanded lament of “The World is a Ghetto,” they waste no time laying down and holding on to a righteous vibe through such classic hits and monster jams as “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” “Ballero,” “Gypsy Man,” “Spill the Wine,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” and of course the East L.A. anthem “Low Rider.

Listening to these songs now, it’s easy to pick out such influences as reggae, flamenco and boogaloo- genres I didn’t know existed when I first started listening to War’s music as a kid in the ‘70s. So now I think of these guys as a foreshadowing of and stepping stone towards becoming the world music head I am today. My only minor gripe is that the band’s onstage antics get a little too excessive near the end. It’s great that they all get to solo extensively, but I’d have preferred to see and hear another one of their chart-toppers (like the conspicuously absent “Summer”). Still, this is a whopping good presentation of an ever-great band. The sound and camera work are clean and flawless, the music is both serious and party-hearty and this is one War in which everyone comes out a winner.

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Galician Focus Night at WOMEX 2008

 Xose Manuel Budiño
Xose Manuel Budiño
The music of Galicia (northwestern Spain) will be showcased tonight at WOMEX in Sevilla (Spain). Three of the best current Galician roots music acts will perform at the official WOMEX venues.

9.30pm. Mutenrohi concert at Plaza de España, pavillion 2.

11.00pm. Xosé Manuel Budiño concert at Plaza de España, pavillion 2.

00.45am. Narf concert at Teatro Lope de Vega.

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Into the Mystic

Sufi Soul: The Mystic Music of Islam
Sufi Soul: The Mystic Music of Islam (Riverboat Records TUGDVD001, 2008)

Wijdan: The Mystery of Gnawa Trance Music (Possible Pictures/Mondomix MO103, 2007)

The fanatical dark side of Islam gets a lot of media coverage nowadays, to the point where it’s easy to forget the genuinely spiritual, let alone aesthetic, aspects of the faith.

These two films, at once revealing, educational and entertaining, tip the balance toward an image far-removed from suicide bombers and radical mullahs. Both get deep into the heart of their subjects and both will appeal not only to global music aficionados, but also to anyone wanting a greater understanding of the complexities of the Muslim world.

Directed by Simon Broughton (editor of the fine world music publication Songlines) and written/hosted by William Dalrymple, Sufi Soul: The Mystic Music of Islam takes a look at a minority sect within Islam and how they regard music as an essential link to God. Familiar sights and sounds such as Turkey’s Whirling Dervishes and the qawwali music popularized by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan are examined along with lesser-known Sufi forms from India, Syria and Morocco.

Also brought to light are the common grounds between Islam and Christianity (Sufism itself having developed in large part from Christian monasticism) and the way Sufi ideology blended with traditional music in various places to create unique hybrids. The film furthermore makes a convincing case of showing Sufism’s impact on the modern world. “I believe music can correct the image of Islam,” states Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour. Maybe it can and maybe it can’t, but given that the 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi was the best-selling poet in America in the 1990s and seeing how Muslims and non-Muslims alike dance to the Sufi/techno fusions of Turkish musician Mercan Dede, it sure as hell seems like it can lend a helping hand.

Not surprisingly, hard-line Muslims regard Sufis and their music as a threat. As to the exact reasons, well, that question is left unanswered: at one point in the documentary Dalrymple asks a group of music-condemning Muslims why they consider music such a sin. Their spokesman simply dismisses Sufis as “wrongdoers” without elucidating further. It’s a telling moment and there are many like it, from performance footage to more intimate musical interludes to the role of women in the proceedings. Extras on the DVD include extended songs featured only in snippets in the main documentary, though I wish more of N’Dour’s spine-tingling performance at the Fes Festival of Sacred Music were added. Even so, this film is excellent in every respect.

Wijdan: The Mystery of Gnawa Trance Music
In Wijdan: The Mystery of Gnawa Trance Music, specific religious connections are not at the forefront of the story. But Sufi Islam is the primary faith of the Gnawa, descendents of enslaved black Africans taken from the Malian empire to North Africa 300 years ago who now live mainly in Morocco and Algeria.

The film documents a meeting between Sibiri, an Animist musician from Mali and Brahim, a Moroccan Gnawa musician. The two discover shared roots in the music they play and in the spiritual foundations of the lila, the sacred ceremony that brings the Gnawa closer to (and bonds them more harmoniously with) the spirits within.

The circular, trance-inducing rhythms of Gnawa music, played primarily on the three-stringed guembri bass lute and metal castanets called qarqabas, have become an increasing source of fascination and inspiration among non-Gnawa musicians in recent decades. Wijdan goes a long way toward showing how and why, exploring the intensity and pure ritual physicality of the sound and the impact it has on those who embrace it, including the families of Sibiri and Brahim as a joint concert in Paris is organized.

The film never fails to engage or fascinate and is highly recommended for those seeking an in-depth look at Gnawa culture. Listeners who’ve been drawn in by the Gnawa elements in the music of such bands as Nass Marrakech and Orchestra National de Barbes should seek it out as well.

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Watch the video trailer for Sufi Soul


Paradise Lost Namgyal Lhamo’s Sensational Video

Namgyal Lhamo
Namgyal Lhamo
Tibetan singer Namgyal Lhamo’s latest music video ‘Chang Yare’-Paradise Lost is spellbinding. If you thought that Tibetan music was just about ethereal loops that blended with spiritual chanting or if it was just a hash of contemporary sound and ethnic pop. Shed the blinker!

2007 saw the release of her traditional album "Pure"-which was well taken in by the critics and "The Enchanted Land" -which had its moments with the stunning ‘Changkha’; but here comes the Zenith-Pointer; Netherlands based award winning Tibetan singer Namgyal Lhamo’s latest offering is a thumping portrayal of what talent does to itself when left floating in still waters and finds musical rafts of real pedigree to help drift it ashore.

She is arguably the most gifted Tibetan traditional singer in the world and "The Nightingale of Tibet" has expanded the canvas and teamed with the creative genius of British rockers Marco Pirroni and Chris Constantinou- who are now "The Wolfmen" to create this musical piece which is intriguing, hopeful and at times disturbing. Pirroni (ex Adam and the Ants, Siouxsie and the Banshees) and Chris (De-Niro of the Ants) Constantinou are icons of new wave/post-punk sound and were pioneers of the British Neo-Romantic Art rock movement of the early 80’s.

They score with Lhamo on ‘Chang Yare’ from her upcoming album ‘Highland Supernova’ to create Future-Rock. Intelligent, Progressive and evolved sound that snakes it’s way through the explosive voice of the Tibetan singer to back up a video that speaks truly from the heart. Carefully crafted by Indian filmmaker Arvind Iyer and Produced by Frenchman Achille Forler, ‘Chang Yare’-the video is alternative, gritty and dark. It has its moments of truth!

Lhamo’s singing is emotional, gripping and stark and her control is the hook.
The music video is woven together in a concept that is a sure delusion killer. ‘Chang Yare’ is sensitive yet assertive in it’s treatment and the fabulous Namgyal Lhamo has surely arrived.