Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Regula Curti, Founder of the Beyond Foundation and Beyond Music project

Regula Curti


The Beyond Foundation and Beyond Music project have released fascinating musical productions that bring together various world cultures. Regula Curti, founder of the two projects discusses her musical background and endeavors with World Music Central.

Can you give our readers a brief history on how you started singing and composing music?

I was born into a Swiss family. Over generations we have been practicing music and singing. Traditional folk songs were delivered to me by Grandmother and Mother. I got a broad music education from playing viola to singing and also entrepreneurial skills. In 1999 I received a Master in Music Therapy and Expressive Arts. Improvisation and finding new ways of expression on various instruments were helping to go beyond my classical music education. I started to compose and write my own lyrics. Some melodies I contributed to the Beyond albums were flowing through me at night. I would wake up and sing a melody in my phone and go back to sleep.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

My music is based on a simple melody. As a child I used to play one note for hours and hours to find the right sound and vibration. Our Beyond music is transcendental, soul nourishing and uplifting. My “Credo” in making music: “Less is more”!

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

I personally met Lord Yehudi Menuhin, one of the greatest violinist of our times. He was the first to introduce Indian music to the West. West meets East is an inspirational album by him and Ravi Shankar, the great Indian sitar player. He was encouraging me to use my voice to heal. – The Beatles have been an important influence in my life. I am fascinated by their Indian connection to Yogi Maharishi Mahesh and their studies in Transcendental Meditation at his ashram in Rishikesh, Northern India. I often spend time with my Swamiji at Mother Ganges. In India I get inspired more than elsewhere for my music projects.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

It was amazing how people took our first album Beyond as something that helped them. I started with Dechen Shak-Dagsay, a Tibetan voice, to search for corresponding prayers and mantras in Buddhism and Christianity. During work in progress we both realized how important our music could become for a larger audience. As Tina Turner became a close friend to me I ask her to collaborate. She just finished her last tour in 2009 as a rock singer when I asked her to join the Beyond music project. She strongly felt ready to contribute her spiritual side, her chanting practice and her story of growth and development as a human being to the people. Beyond – Buddhist and Christian Prayers was awarded with Platinum. Children Beyond followed and it is used worldwide as calming and enhancing music for children.

Love Within Beyond is very popular for Yoga. In the first three albums I was involved in composing and arranging. The fourth double-album Awakening Beyond was the most difficult because of the Arabic music and the new harmonies. I needed a skilled producer and composer. I was fortunate to meet Kareem Roustom, a Syrian-American composer, who just finished a composition for Daniel Barenboim and his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.


Tina Turner, Dima Orsho, Ani Choying, Regula Curti, Sawani Shende Sathaye and Mor Karbasi – Awakening Beyond


What led you to record Awakening Beyond?

The world gets more and more divided. We are all feeling the depression. The first thing we think of prayer, something beyond presidents and preachers. Awakening Beyond embraces faith and traditions and offers an elegant musical variety to heal a troubled world. We are women of six different backgrounds and cultures; the US, Israel, Syria, Nepal, Switzerland and India raising our voices to find an unitary resonance meant to lift us out of our everyday trials, towards something greater.

Our album, Awakening Beyond, is the latest in our ongoing efforts to increase dialogue, respect and engagement via education and creative projects. I feel strongly that it’s time for us to move beyond the division, into a greater spiritual connection and mutual recognition. Music is the most universal language to unite us all. Music can built bridges between You and Me, Us and Them.


left to right: Sawani Shende Sathaye, Ani Choying, Regula Curti, Mor Karbasi and Dima Orsho


How did you connect with the vocalists featured in the album?

I believe in a divine plan. All the singers and musicians I worked with have been brought to me in a mystical way. If I look back it makes me smile with gratitude to all those wonderful stories of being connected to the Beyond collaborators at the right place and time. We all share the same vision that the essence, which unites us, is pure love.

Why did you select these specific artists?

I looked into their history of family-traditions and the delivery of songs and prayers over generations. The sound of their voices had to be deeply rooted in the culture they have been born into. I was looking for an authentic vibrational sound.



If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with for future projects, whom would that be? 

Idan Raichel, Manfred Eicher, Sting, Caetano Veloso and Peter Gabriel.

You are one of the cofounders of the Beyond Foundation. What’s the purpose of the nonprofit?

Beyond Foundation, established in 2007 by husband Beat Curti and myself. It is a registered nonprofit organization supporting causes that unite cultures in the world through music to create cross culture understanding, awareness, dialog and respect. We were very fortunate in our entrepreneurial activities and want to give back.

What’s the scope of the foundation; local, regional or worldwide?

We started in the German part of Europe and expand now worldwide.

Can you tell us about some specific outcomes delivered by Beyond Foundation?

Many music productions over the years have been made possible through the foundation. In addition to cross-cultural music productions we support the preservation of the world’s heritage from Switzerland to Bhutan and across the globe by contributing to projects that bring traditional music to contemporary relevance. 

Do you have any upcoming musical or foundation projects to share with us?

In 2018 the Beyond Foundation will go “beyond the beyond” in establishing an online platform to encourage musicians worldwide to create innovative, cross-cultural music beyond borders. will become a global exchange place for like-minded musicians to meet and collaborate. We invite musicians from any genre to join, to inspire each other and to develop new Beyond music together. Beyond MUSIC projects will continue our legacy and passion in celebrating the universal power of music and creating a world team spirit of togetherness and compassion.



Interview with Merema — the winners of Russian World Music Awards 2017

Daryana Antipova: Hi Katya, we have known each other since the Kamwa Festival in 2005 when you performed with another folk band. How old is Merema?

Ekaterina Modina: Merema was created in 2010. We called it a folklore ensemble first, and it turned into an ethnographic folklore studio in 2014. We sing Erzyan and Mokshan song and recreate folk rites on the stage. We go on ethnographic expeditions to villages and record and release albums. We are engaged in collecting and preserving folklore. “Merema” means “a story, a legend” in the Erzyan language.

Daryana Antipova: Tell us a little more about the Mordovian culture- how many people in Mordovia still speak their native language?

Ekaterina Modina: Almost no one speaks our national language any more. Basically, this language is preserved in the villages of the districts of the Republic of Mordovia. Maybe there are many more of us than is officially confirmed but the Erzyans and the Mokshaans are disappearing. During the population census, people are embarrassed to say they are Erzyan or Mokshanin- they prefer to say they are Russians.




Daryana Antipova: Oh, that’s sad. It seems to me that the young generation, especially children, do not understand folk music at all…

Ekaterina Modina: We invite children to our children’s studio and a children’s ensemble. There is an amateur ensemble and there is a professional ensemble for old Mordovian songs, “Moroma”. We perform in kindergartens and in schools. Of course, it’s hard to compare and compete with modern genres in music. But if kids get to know their native ancient culture from a young age, culture becomes a part of their life. And yes, it is becoming more and more difficult to attract young people. Teenagers don’t come to our concerts anymore. Our audience is adults who have already formed their own interests. Some of them come from the village and still remember living traditions.

People in Mordovia don’t understand their own culture, because it is incomprehensible to them. The songs are strange and unfamiliar, and they don’t speak this forgotten language. But they still have a unique opportunity to listen to ancient, prolonged polyphonic singing. The songs are original and not everyone likes them, because we have a lot of dissonant chords. In our culture, we sound more like singing traditions in Georgia and southern Russia.


Merema at Russian World Music Awards 2017


Daryana Antipova: How can we attract people to authentic folklore, if it does not exist on Russian television?

Ekaterina Modina: People are not ready for this. Not everyone can understand the beauty of multi-voiced lyrical songs. We usually combine our shows with the theatre. It all depends on how you present this folklore. Make it tasty. As a collector and a connoisseur I can listen to grandmothers all day long. We go to villages in different regions of the Republic of Mordovia. I made an agreement with our local TV channel 10, and they now travel with us and film the program “The Tradition of Antiquity”. I first go on an expedition, record, watch and listen. It’s so nice and amazing, it’s not possible to convey in words, you just need to be there. This program is shown all over Mordovia. When I come to the village, maybe I can find just one song, but for the sake of this song it is worthwhile to come there and spend a few days.

Daryana Antipova: What instruments do you use in Merema?

Ekaterina Modina: In our work we use household tools — uhvat, pechnaya zaslonka, rubel (traditional Russian kitchen implements). We have our own national drum, but at the moment we have not received any support to order and have it produced. It turned out to be easier to go to the store and buy an African drum than to make our traditional one. We are not proud of this. We also play our traditional, very capricious instrument — “nyudi”. No one plays it nowadays. We have restored it and managed to have an older person show us how to play it. The tool is very impractical. It manages to play for only five minutes. Because the “tongue” is very wet, the instrument shifts tonally.

Also we are actively engaged in traditional costumes. As you can see in our photos and videos, all the costumes are authentic; we do not alter them. If you do not show costumes and do not popularize them now, then they will be completely lost and will remain only in textbooks. To fully understand the culture, you must not only hear, but still see and, perhaps, feel culture.

The Erzyan outfit consists of a bottom shirt — a ”panar” and a top robe — “rutya”. Female amulets (“pulays”) are very important in our culture. The word “Pulax” is translated as a tail. This is a woolen floor skirt, which is tied at the front. “Syulgam”, according to traditional beliefs, protects the female breast, which feeds the new generation. The Erzyans were pagans, very superstitious people, so every Erzyan wore an amulet everywhere. The bells were hung on ”pulays”, since it was believed that the ringing repelled evil spirits. They even said that you hear a Mordovian girl first, and then you see her.

Our costumes are very different from all others, even from Udmurts and Mari, Finns and Estonians. Although we are one group, we have very different costumes.


Ekaterina Modina (Merema)


Daryana Antipova: In Russia, there is little support for folk culture. How do you continue your work?

Ekaterina Modina: People come and leave my ensemble due to life circumstances or because of the low pay for culture in general. People work on their own initiative- no one would have stayed in this system if they had not been so keen on culture, folk traditions. I myself still teach at the university. During their studies, students are satisfied with their salary in ensemble, but when they graduate and receive a diploma, they don’t earn enough to provide for their family. I myself have a family and three children, so I have to work other jobs so that I can do what I love and at the same time have something to live on. This is very sad. I would like to devote myself entirely to one pursuit.

During these seven years “Merema” changed several times. Now we have six people, but one will enter the army soon. It’s also kind of difficult to find new people for our kids ensemble. The Mordovian government pays more attention to sports, and it’s important for kids to be physically fit. Mordovia is famous for athletics- we have a good sport school and kids are eager to get into it. Even my son has recently joined the football team. I tell him that he will not be able to get by on folk singing, so he should just think of it as a favorite hobby.








Interview with Afrobeat Master Femi Kuti

Acclaimed Nigerian musician Femi Kuti and his band Positive Force are set to release their new album One People, One World in February 2018 on Knitting Factory Records. Femi talked to us about his music and upcoming album.

Angel Romero – Tell us about your musical background, and how your father influenced your choice of music as a career.

Femi Kuti – Musical background is I practically taught myself everything I know by just reading and listening. And by playing in my father’s band. My father advised if I wanted to be a musician then it was best I listened to a lot of jazz music. This was difficult for me as I didn’t like jazz, he then introduced me to Moody’s mood for love by James Moody. This was really my introduction into jazz.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

My father’s influence for sure, these days my music comes from my heart and soul.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

My father and all great jazz musicians from Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and for sure most of them great jazz musicians of that era.

How is your Afrobeat different from your father’s Afrobeat?

Hard for me to describe. And if I did, most people would think I’m being critical of my father. One easy way is my music is shorter 😊.

Afrobeat has spread to many corners of the world and is still popular with many fans. How is the Afrobeat scene in Nigeria currently?

Still very relevant. Especially as things are still bad economically for majority of the people. And most young artists or bands are influenced by my father or me in a way.

Femi Kuti – One People, One World


What’s the concept behind your new album One People, One World?

That we are all one living on one planet basically. And we have to urgently understand this before we destroy our planet.

Your son Omorinmade Anikulapo – Kuti participated in One People, One World. What was his role and what did he bring to the table?

For me, he brought beauty and love; I have no words to describe. To see my son play on my album and contribute was …. true love.



What are the challenges you face as a musician, composer and father?

Being on the road missing my children, always trying to make my band understand what we are doing is a fight against injustice and corruption. Finding great melodies to keep people that love what we are doing happy and inspired and making sure my music stands the test of time.

What is your vision of what music can bring to our complex world?

Peace, love, understanding to complex issues that politicians are too afraid to talk about.

What countries will you visit on your next tour?

Hopefully everywhere. Europe, the USA, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Asia.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

I keep an open mind. I could really work with anyone or any band if time permits.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians out there?

To pick up at least one musical instrument. And music isn’t about just the fame and money. Music is as important as studying medicine, law etc.


Interview with LADAMA

LADAMA – Photo by Kevin Bay


Are you looking to continue the holiday season’s festivities into 2018? You can consider purchasing the band LADAMA’s self-titled album that was released in Fall 2017. The words La dama are Spanish for the lady and here the four women do step up. On this album, South American musical genres such as the cumbia and maracatu dance with rock and blues.

Acoustic instruments join together with non-traditional instruments, the electric guitar and rock drum. The musicians are from four countries, Mafer Bandola on bandola llanera is from Venezuela; Sara Lucas on guitar and vocals is from the United States; Lara Klaus on drums and vocals is from Brazil; and Daniela Serna on tambor alegre and vocals, a cheerful percussive drum, is from Colombia.

The band’s name comprises several first initials of the musician’s first names, La for Lara Klaus, Da for Daniele Serna and Ma for Mafer Bandola.


Ladama – Ladama


What stands out on this album though are the vocals. Sara Lucas’s deep voice is persuasive on “Compared to What” and “Night Traveler.” The former is a protest song from the 1960’s, and the vocals are direct and forceful, reminiscent of Nina Simone’s. The melody is simple, punctuated by horns. Lara Klaus’s vocals are playful and soft on “Elo.” Here the subtle, Brazilian rhythm ripples through, taking the listener back to the gentle, acoustic feeling of Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “Girl from Ipanema.”

A highlight is the track “Cumbia Brasilera” which is folk with a strong and steady undercurrent of drum. “Cumbia Brasilera” features the masterful, elaborate playing of Mafer Bandola on acoustic bandola llanera; a pear shaped guitar-like instrument. This is a lively song with the interplay of the women’s vocals coming together. It could keep dancers on their feet for a long time.


Sara Lucas (Ladama) – Photo by Kevin Bay


Recently, I interviewed Sara Lucas about LADAMA’s album and their work together as a band. Sara lives in New York City. She writes songs, and sings them to the accompaniment of her guitar.

DJL: Where are you from and what music did you grow up listening to?

SL: I am originally from St. Louis, Missouri. As a child I was exposed to a lot of jazz, blues, rock n’ roll and gospel. I grew up listening to the American songbook and folk music. I am also a classically trained guitarist.

DJL: You had your own band prior to LADAMA.

SL: Yes, I am a cofounder of a group with Ryan Seaton – Callers. We have toured internationally and released three albums.

DJL: LADAMA met in 2014 at OneBeat while touring on the road. OneBeat is a one month gathering that brings together twenty-five young musicians from across several countries, not only to collaborate, produce and perform music, but also to see how the arts can impact and engage with society. What was it like meeting at OneBeat?

SL: OneBeat is a great experimental incubator of musicians and gives them the opportunity to compose. We as women cherished the time spent together, there was a bond, a tremendous excitement in our making music together.


Mafer Bandola (Ladama) – Photo by Kevin Bay


DJL: Why this album now?

SL: We felt compelled to record the album as our music grew organically out of our experience of working together. Half of the album was recorded in four days. The music happened as we went on tour — one month in Brazil, one month in Colombia, two and half weeks in Venezuela and then one month in New York.

DJL: LADAMA’s mission is to empower women in the community, how do you do that?

SL: We are operating on two levels, one is to tour our own music and the other is by bringing music workshops to the communities that we visit like, for example, high schools. We see music as life affirming – to hear and to see is really to believe. We are four women touring across four countries, and when other women and girls see that, we hope that it will inspire them.


Lara Klaus (Ladama) – Photo by Kevin Bay


DJL: Is audience participation important to you?

SL: Yes, 100%. Our performances are sometimes didactic and always a celebration. We want people to have fun. But we want people who come to the show to leave with something too.

DJL: The track “Compared to What” is bluesy in feel, but it also has a heightened, driving rhythm. Can you tell us about that song?

SL: Yes, it was written by Gene McDaniels, and Roberta Flack sang it first in the 1960s. It dealt with the realities of that time, the Vietnam War, the President and systemic, institutionalized racism – it is a protest song that rings true today. I grew up singing in this vocal tradition and wanted to incorporate it into the music of LADAMA.


Daniela Serna (Ladama) – Photo by Kevin Bay


DJL: What is your hope for this album and for the band?

SL: We hope that people will take the album home and have their own individual experience with it, responding to it on their level. We would like the album to reach as many people as possible and hope that the band can continue to record in the United States and in each musician’s country.


It is true that these women come from distinct cultural and musical backgrounds, yet there is a genuine feeling of unity on this record. Each could stand alone as a good musician in her own right, yet they seem to have more fun playing together. They generate a certain electricity that would not be as strong if they worked independently. Their presence as a collective conveys the power that music has to unite.


Ladama (Six Degrees, 2017)



‘It is important to build an ecosystem for cross-cultural music collaboration’ – interview with Dr. L. Subramaniam, Ambi and Bindu Subramaniam

Dr. L. Subramaniam


In recent interviews arranged over a week, I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. L. Subramaniam (legendary violinist in Indian classical and Western styles), his son Ambi Subramaniam (also an accomplished violinist) and daughter Bindu Subramaniam (vocalist in Indian and soft rock styles).

Their annual performances at the Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival in Bangalore are a huge draw (see my earlier writeups from 2014 and 2012). They also teach Indian classical and Western music at SaPa (Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts).

Fusion: India and the world

Early cultural collaborations between India and the West included Uday Shankar (who also included dance). “India has two classical music systems – Hindustani and Carnatic,” says Dr. Subramaniam. He started collaboration with Western, African, Australian and East Asian musicians from the 1970s onwards.

Interpretation of music from different cultures creates harmony and peace,” he said. “Music is an expression of emotion, and successful collaboration blends knowledge with respect,” he explained.

As one of his memorable collaborations, he cites ‘Sangeet Sangam,’ performed along with vocalist Pandit Jasraj. It consists of only the aalap section and features no percussion.


Dr. L. Subramaniam


Dr. Subramaniam’s most recent project is Bharat Symphony, composed to celebrate 70 years of India’s Independence. It premiered at the Chicago World Music Festival, and was performed with the London Symphony Orchestra last month.

The movements reflect four major periods of Indian heritage: the prehistoric Vedic period, Mughal period, British colonial era, and post-Independence period,” he explained. The performances also featured Kavita Krishnamurti Subramaniam (vocals), Dhulipala Srirama Murthy (mridangam), and Tanmoy Bose (tabla).

Dr. Subramaniam’s son Ambi and daughter Bindu were of course exposed to musical collaborations right from their childhood days; they recalled seeing musicians like Herbie Hancock in their living room. “Fusion is normal,” they joked.

They explained how jazz lends itself well to collaboration with Indian classical music, thanks to the commonality of improvisation and call-and-response interaction. All three musicians have collaborated with Western folk musicians as well, from Scandinavian countries like Norway.


Ambi Subramaniam


Ambi has also collaborated with gypsy musicians on guitar, violin and cimbalon, fondly recalling some amazing spontaneous jam sessions while on tour in Europe. Vocalist Bindu cites as influences Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Al Jareau.

The group SubraMania, formed by Ambi and Bindu, released its first single and music video ‘Days in the Sun’ in 2015. The single is dedicated to the late great keyboardist George Duke, with whom they had earlier collaborated.


Technology and travel

Digital media have rapidly disrupted the music industry. “CD sales are not the benchmark for a band’s success anymore,” according to Ambi and Bindu. The Internet, however, is great for promoting music and coordinating activities around concerts.

Streaming video and audio have led to music consumption “on tap.” This applies to NetFlix as well as the Indian music app Twaang. For example, SubraMania’s debut album, ‘You Were There,’ is available on Twaang. All instructional audio content of SaPa is accessible for free on Twaang. SaPa’s initiatives reach over 12,000 students between 3-16 years old across South India.

The musicians travel around the world for recordings and collaborations. “I can compose music on the plane also,” says Bindu. “The drone sound of the engine is like a tanpura,” she jokes.


Ambi and Bindu with their band SubraMania


The future of music

The future of music is in education and collaboration, according to Ambi and Bindu, who both teach at the SaPa school. “It is important to build a good ecosystem which immerses young students in different musical traditions,” they urge.

The school gives scholarships to talented but needy students. Ambi and Bindu also urge music venues to give discounted tickets and passes for students. Musicians around the world have great respect for Indian music, all three musicians observe across generations.

While some classical musicians may look down on other forms of music, Ambi and Bindu urge listeners and performers not too be too judgemental about other genres, and appreciate how they connect to different kinds of audience. “Don’t get trapped in narrow-minded categories,” they advise.

Chase good music and focus on outstanding performances – don’t just chase social media views,” Ambi and Bindu joke. Music represents a path of growth for musicians and for society, and it is truly blessed to become a musician, Ambi and Bindu sign off. 

About the artists:

Dr. L. Subramaniam is a leading exponent of Indian classical and fusion violin, and has performed and recorded South Indian classical music as well as Western classical. His international collaborations have included Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Stevie Wonder, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Al Jarreau, Jean Luc Ponty, and Billy Cobham.




Ambi Subramaniam gave his first violin performance at the tender age of seven; he has played violin in Western and Indian styles along with Larry Coryell, Ernie Watts, Corky Siegel and Shankar Mahadevan. He has performed along with orchestras in France, South Africa and Austria.




Bindu Subramaniam wrote her first song at seven and has been performing since age twelve. She blends soft rock and jazz elements with traditional Indian music. Bindu has performed alongside artists like Al Jarreau, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Billy Cobham, Hariharan, and Remo Fernandes.


Les Moncada Chats with Joe Conzo Sr. Author and Tito Puente’s Best Friend

Joe Conzo Sr. with master timbalero Tito Puente


I feel that each musician has their own personality that goes hand in hand with the instrument they play; I also feel each musician has a friend that they are attracted to, based on personality, charisma and charm.

With a charismatic personality, Tito Puente, the legend of the timbales drums, composer and Latin orchestra leader, had his best friend: Joe Conzo Sr. from New York.

Joe Conzo is an encyclopedia, with his friendship and grand knowledge of Tito Puente: events, recordings and so much more. He is the author of a book about Tito Puente entitled Mambo Diablo.

Joe Conzo is also giving lectures at Hostos College in the Bronx, New York. The lectures and studies on Tito Puente and Latin musician legends of the past intend to make the students and public aware of these musical legacies.


Latin piano legend Eddie Palmieri with Joe Conzo Sr.


…and let’s see what Joe Conzo Sr. has to say.

Well, Joe, talk to me a little bit about your background.

Joe: I am of Puerto Rican mother and Italian father. I was born and raised in Spanish Harlem. I had 1 brother, who recently passed and I have 2 sisters.

Joe how was it that you got involved in Latin music?

Joe: Latin music was in my family, in going to candy stores as a kid, walking down the street. Home was always where Latin music was played. There were two types of Latin music, there was the Le lo lai, or country Puerto Rican and Cuban music, and there was the swinging stuff that they would play at the Palladium and at Park Palace.

There was Park Plaza and there was Park Place, both at the same location, one upstairs and one downstairs that was the place to be! It was located on 110th Street, off 5th Avenue. It is a church today.

Joe Conzo Sr. with bongosero legend John Rodriguez


(Joe was naming all the bands that used to play there, Noro Morales, Tito Puente etc and he said all the musician would congregate and talk on the corner, you would see them all out there, talking on the corner).

Joe how was it that you met Tito Puente?

Joe: I met Tito Puente in the Palladium in 1959. I ran into him, and I also went to see him. I was a frustrated conga player. Tito Puente’s music was unbelievable. I bought one of his albums for 75 cents; it was Cuban Carnival.

I really resent the word “salsa” like Tito Puente did, (it was a catch promotional word to promote the new movement of salsa music, evolving from the mambo era.)

(Joe Conzo told me that Jerry Masucci coined the word for his Fania label. I told Joe that the first time I heard the term “Salsa” was in 1973 when I was a young 15 year old FM radio DJ at the University. One of the secretaries at Tico Records, Diana Monge, used to send newsletters from Tico Records, which later became Fania Records. “In the same building,” Joe says and I agree. The newsletter sent out to the disc jockeys was called “Salsa Dice”.)


Mambo Diablo, My Journey With Tito Puente by Joe Conzo Sr.



Joe, if Tito came over to your house to visit you on an evening or such, what would Tito talk about, or what would you and Tito discuss? First of all what was Tito’s favorite drink?

Joe: Tito’s favorite drink was vodka and cranberry. If Tito came over, we would talk about anything, no set topic, just everyday things. Tito did not talk about politics, he played for 4 presidents, 2 Republicans and 2 Democrats. (Joe goes on naming the presidents, but Tito despised politicians).

What did Tito think of his band members?

Joe: Well, we would have band talk, discuss expenses, maybe cutting down the band. You know Tito had 14 mouths to feed, (laughs out loud, discussing band members), sometimes he had to cut down the band. it is hard to travel with a big band, maybe they would call some horn players and musicians on the west coast etc, to cut down band expenses.

Tito would not convert to one thing (or type of band). Tito was not afraid of competition; he was not afraid to branch out and not afraid to challenge things.

Tito did what he had to do to stay on the top, and they could not pay him to play every week in one place, although he did one time.

Tito had a mindset to improve his band, he was always writing (arranging) things and trying new things.


Joe Conzo Sr. with master percussionist Pablo “El Indio” Rosario


Joe, are you working on a new book? I heard it was about, “The Big 3”, Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez.

Joe: I started the book. You know that the Puente book I wrote took me 2 to 3 years to write.


Joe Conzo Sr., author & lecturer of Latin Music History


Well what does the future of Joe Conzo bring?

Joe: I have been lecturing at Hostos College and I will continue that. (Joe went on to tell me that Tito Puente wrote over 700 tunes and about the thousands of recording he has of Tito Puente and some live recordings of Tito Puente and also about some albums that he produced. Joe mentioned that he knew Morris Levy, the owner of Tico Records, and he stated that when folks in the studio hear that they are really impressed, due to Levy being a recording legend and owner of Birdland).

I will continue to doing the lecture series and see what life brings.

Thank you, Joe Conzo Sr., for your time and vast knowledge on the subject of Tito Puente and Latin Music. I appreciate your support for Latin Music and your support of my Facebook Percussion Site Timbales and Congas Bongo Bata and Bells, along with my son Marco Moncada.

Joe Conzo asked me why I was posting vintage pictures on my Timbales and Congas site, telling me that only he and bongosero John Rodriguez could identify the musicians in the pics, laughing that I was making him think.

Again, thanks Joe!


Granddaughter’s Notes

Zuzanna Malisz


One of the WOMEX highlights in Poland this year was for sure the opening performance of Kapela Maliszów, a family band from Poland, including the multi-instrumentalist Jan Malisz and his children, Kasper and Zuzanna. As said on the band’s official site, Jan Malisz got most of the instruments from his father, Jozef so the band called their music “Father’s notes.” I so rarely meet female drummers in Eastern Europe, especially in folk music, so from the first second I decided to talk with Zuzanna.


Kapela Maliszów


Daryana: Ok, first of all of course I would love to know your personal story of becoming a musician — how and why did you start playing, singing, which instruments and so on?

Zuzanna: I think my story has begun when I came up to this world. It’s a generational thing, my grandparents were musicians, and lots of my family members still are. They aren’t educated musicians, they are just people who love music. So, with so much genes and family I think I couldn’t have a choice… could I? I mean, of course I did but music is something that grew up with me, has been with me since I was born, and I didn’t even realize how much I was soaked by it, how much it affects my life.



My first serious instrument was piano. I went to a music school as an 8 years old child, and, it would be worth mentioning, that a music school had a huge influence on my adventure with music (and it still has). I’ve met teachers that taught me a lot, made me love classical music.

I’m not sure about singing, I believe that I started singing right after I learned how to speak. But 2-3 years ago, I started being interested how to sing properly, and, again, music school, and choir that I have been going to, has helped me to learn technical stuff.



What kind of percussion do you play? Is it a totally traditional way of playing? Does this drumming and percussion tradition exist in old folklore? Is the number of girls playing drums growing or spreading in Polish folk tradition?

Zuzanna: The drums I play are traditional polish drums called baraban (the big one) and bęben obręczowy (the small one). My way of playing is based primarily on improvisation. It’s obvious that the rhythm must be preserved but except that (and some parts in our compositions which I always play the same) the only limit is my imagination.

I always try to play to my brother and improvise with him. I can’t tell if it’s traditional way of playing, I think that in the past there also were several madmen that broke down the rhythm in every possible way… but perceived as more accurate and traditional is playing simpler and without so many wonders. The way of drumming depends on what region you play in, because it can be a little different in different regions. When I started playing drums, I listened to drummers from central Poland, so if you hear central-drumming-style in my playing, maybe that’s why.

Traditional drumming, as a traditional music was dying out few years ago, but now, fortunately, there are many young people who are interested in it, and want to resurrect it. There are also some girls that play drum pretty well and I often meet them at festivals like Wszystkie Mazurki Świata. Regarding women drummers from Eastern Europe, I don’t know any, but I hope that it’ll change soon. In general and apart from percussion I play piano, drum, sometimes trying to play guitar, I can also play on traditional Polish cello.



Why folklore? Don’t you plan to try out some other genres?

Zuzanna: Folk and traditional music have always been in our house. My parents always listened to it, and played it so I think they had a big influence on it. It wasn’t like one day we decided to play traditional music. The traditions chose us, and we had to continue it. Everything came naturally.

But, of course I listen to a lot of different genres! Jazz, indie pop, pop, rock, folk from different countries like Ireland or Bulgaria and a lot of others styles. I love listening to blues, soul, jazz, R&B singers and singing it. And, who knows, maybe this is what my future will be about. I wish it would.


Zuzanna Malisz


What’s special in working in a family group?

Zuzanna: Probably the best thing about a family band is that we all live in the same place, so we can play whenever we want.

Once, at attempt, we got angry at each other, and we were arguing a lot. And then, Kacper started to play a random melody, improvisation. With all of those emotions, we made a new song.



Please tell about your repertoire and what are your favorite songs?

Zuzanna: We mostly play our compositions, based on tradition. There are some traditional songs that we changed a little bit. All of our compositions are unique and have a nice story behind it, but my favorite is “Chodzony od Józefa” (Kacper’s composition), which is played on our grandfather’s violin. It was broken by a horse, and after grandfather’s death, our dad fixed it.


Interview with Daniel Ho about his Collaboration with The Grasslands Ensemble

Ukulele virtuoso Daniel Ho talks to World Music Central about his newly released album Between the Sky & Prairie, a collaboration with Mongolian musicians The Grasslands Ensemble. The Sky & Prairie is a beautifully-crafted album produced by Wu Chin-tai “Judy Wu” (Wind Music) and Daniel Ho.



Your latest album, Between the Sky & Prairie is a collaboration with The Grasslands Ensemble. How did you come in contact with the musicians?

I had been working on world music projects with Wind Music, a Taiwanese record company, for around five years. We recorded three Taiwanese aboriginal albums and a project with Wu Man (the pipa player for the Silk Road Ensemble) and Cuban percussionist Luis Conte. Our goal was to present traditional music, untouched, in a contemporary framing. We were lucky to receive two Grammy nominations and four Golden Melody Awards (Taiwan’s Grammy Award) for these collaborations and were invited to produce an album of Mongolian music. We visited Mongolia a few times and met many wonderful musicians, which became The Grasslands Ensemble.


The Grasslands Ensemble & Daniel Ho – The Sky & Prairie


Tell us about the recording process in terms of location, rehearsing, communication and so forth.

My co-producer, Judy Wu, helped to select the music with executive producer Li Dong. I don’t speak Chinese so she also communicated my arrangement ideas to the musicians as well as scheduled the recordings.

How did this experience affect you?

I had never been to Mongolia and I am grateful that music brought me half-way around the world to experience its rich culture and breathtaking grasslands. I treasure my new friends who have been so generous with their music.

Between the Sky & Prairie is released by Wind Records, a Taiwanese record label. How was the experience?

Wind Music is a wonderful record label. I admire their dedication to preserving culture and the entire staff is so kind and thoughtful. I always look forward to doing projects with them because it is more like having fun with friends than working!

The physical version of the album is gorgeous, with a beautifully- designed hard cover book. Is this the first time you release a project like this?

Actually, all of the albums we’ve released with Wind Music look like this. We put everything we can into all aspects of our projects – the music, recording quality, graphic design, music videos and documentaries.

Will you be doing more collaborations with musicians from other musical traditions?

I don’t have any specific plans right now, but I look forward to what’s around the corner. I’ve found the greatest joy in learning about the origins of music – how sound is used to convey emotion in ways that don’t conform to our Western framework of melodic development, harmonic structure, rhythm, and form.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

Composition is at the core of my music. I’m always trying to open my mind melodically (traditional world music is great for this because its melodies are independent of Western rules and restrictions), expand my harmonic vocabulary, and develop my ability to function in advanced rhythmic settings like odd meters and polyrhythms. African, Indian and Latin music are wonderfully rhythmic.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

I love Bach’s voice leading and counterpoint and use his techniques for all of my writing. Harmonically, Dave Grusin is the strongest influence on my music, and rhythmically, I draw from world music influences as well as great drummers like Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd.


Daniel Ho – Photo by Lydia Miyashiro


Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

I first started recording in high school with my friend David Ho on a Tascam four-track cassette tape recorder. In the early 90’s, my first professional recordings were on 24-track, 2-inch tape recorders in studios in Los Angeles.

Around the mid-1990’s the Alesis ADAT began the revolution of affordable studio-quality home recording. From there it went to Mac-based fully editable digital recording in the mid to late 90’s. Technology quickly changed how we capture sound.

I started my record company, Daniel Ho Creations, in the mid-90’s and have recorded over 100 albums in my home studio. Without the pressure of paying for studio time, it is incredibly liberating.

Aside from Mongolian music, are there any other musical traditions that interest you?

I love all kinds of world music, though some of them would require me to be more skilled before I’d be able to collaborate effectively.

For example, I love Cuban music, but I would first need to develop my sense of rhythm before I could play with Cuban musicians.

What ukulele models are you playing now? Who builds them?

I play a Romero Creations Tiny Tenor. Pepe Romero, Jr. is a world- class luthier and the son of classical guitar legend Pepe Romero.

Four years ago, I had the opportunity to design this instrument with him. We looked at all the qualities we love about the ‘ukulele, like its portability and sound, and tried to expand on them. We came up with the Tiny Tenor, which is a full tenor scale ‘ukulele that fits in a concert ‘ukulele gig bag.

The instrument caught on over the past few years and Romero Creations is now distributed by YAMAHA in Japan. For me, this experience was like writing a song with wood. It is exciting to see people all over the world making music with an instrument we created! You can find more information about our instruments at

Have you even played a Portuguese cavaquinho or a Spanish timple?

No I haven’t. I’d like to though.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

I would love to do a project with Yo Yo Ma. Working with Dave Grusin would be amazing, too. Or maybe a mandolin and ‘ukulele project with Chris Thile.

What music are you currently listening to?

I really enjoy listening to James Taylor. I love the sincerity of his songwriting and voice. But I don’t do a lot of listening. As a writer, I try to avoid getting melodies stuck in my head which could end up in something I’m composing.

What new projects are you working on?

Presently, I’m working on a comprehensive ‘ukulele program with YAMAHA music school. I’ve been a student of music all my life and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned so far. The project will launch in April 2018.


Hungarian Ensemble Meszecsinka Completes 2017 Russian Tour



Hungarian world music band Meszecsinka is back from its Russian tour. The group performed in Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Dubna and Sergiev Posad from November 2-5, 2017.

In Bulgarian, Meszecsinka means a “small moon” and comes from vocalist Annamari’s favorite Bulgarian folk song. Annamari Oláh sings in seven languages (Hungarian, Russian, Bulgarian, Finnish, English, Italian and Spanish) and one of their own. The group itself comes from two countries (Hungary, Bulgaria) and leads listeners into a wonderland, where Bulgarian and Hungarian folk lives together with Latin music and funk, Eastern and experimental.



This was my second time in Russia. I only was in Moscow 3 years ago so now I could see more details of Russia,” said Annamari Oláh to WorldmusicCentral. “Sometimes I felt I was in a movie or at home or like ’Hedgehog in the Fog’. I loved to travel between cities. The worst thing was that we hadn’t enough time for sightseeing but I got a lot of hugs, energy, unforgettable moments and words and shining eyes, gifts, and it was an incredible surprise when a couple who live in St. Petersburg, but they missed our concert on Nov. 2nd, traveled to Sergiyev Posad to see us (it’s in the Moscow region). I totally filled up with energy and this trip was inspired me a lot”.



Meszecsinka’s members are Annamari Oláh on vocal, Biljarszki Emil on guitar, Krolikowski Dávid on percussion and Vajdovich Árpád on bass guitar.



Russia is a special story for me,” says Emil Biljarszki, “ because I grew up there. I took up its music, culture and still swear in Russian sometimes even if I left it in 1982 (I was born in Bulgaria and since 1984 I’ve been living here in Hungary). I met old and new friends in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Meszecsinka tours regularly in Europe, we’ve been twice in America and it was our second time in Russia. Recently we started playing mostly in Eastern Europe and the reason is that it’s more interesting and the audience is better. Maybe we’re paid more in Germany but in Bulgaria, Russia and Poland I always feel that we’re loved. There is a short video from our Saint Petersburg backstage:
https://www. facebook. com/meszecsinka/videos/10159899375605393/

Annamari Oláh (Meszecsinka)


Our organizers Daryana, Maria and Yuri worked as magicians, they organized concerts 2 weeks before our coming to Russia exactly on dates and places we needed. For example there was a sold out concert in nuclear city of Dubna, we played for the atom workers!

Meszecsinka has performed in the biggest venues of Hungary like Millenáris or Palace of Arts and at many festivals in the country and almost all European countries.

The band tours frequently in many European countries. They visited the USA and Canada, recorded video on the Red Square in Moscow and a Balkan road movie. Their art video “Kinyílok (I open up) reached the sixth place on the video chart of World Music Network (UK) and fRoots Magazine (UK).

Meszecsinka is one of the 12 best Hungarian world music bands according to the WOMEX edition of Dal+Szerző magazine.

More about the band:


Musicians need to collaborate and promote environmental conservation – interview with Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej

Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej recently organized and performed at The RoundGlass Samsara Festival in Bangalore, focused on environmental sustainability and nature conservation. He joins in this exclusive interview from his home in Bangalore.

As part of the multi-disciplinary festival, film screenings and art exhibitions were held at the Sublime Art Gallery and National Gallery of Modern Art, showcasing art about nature. A conference was held on environmental conservation, with speakers such as President Anote Tong of Kiribati, who highlighted the disastrous climate change effects in the Pacific islands.


Ricky Kej


The Samsara Concert featured other performers as well, such as Darlene Koldenhoven and Wouter Kellerman (Grammy Award winners), Lonnie Park (Grammy nominee), Hai Phuong (virtuoso on the Vietnamese zither, dan tranh), Venugopal (tabla maestro), Raveolution String Section, Suma Sudhindra (veena exponent) and B. Jayashree (theatre actor and singer).

Ricky has won a range of awards and distinctions such as the United Nations Global Humanitarian Artist Award, Producer of the Year at the South African Music Awards, Album of the Year at the Zone Music Awards (New Orleans), Centre for Conscious Creativity ‘FutureVision’ Award (Los Angeles), Mirchi Music Awards (India), as well as ‘Pride of Karnataka’ and ‘Youth Icon of India.’

His earlier albums include The Shanti Orchestra and Shanti Samsara, as well as the benefit album 2 Unite All with Peter Gabriel (aimed at humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in Gaza). The album Winds of Samsara won a Grammy in 2015; it was a collaboration with South African flautist Wouter Kellerman. Shanti Samsara was launched at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.


Ricky Kej – Shanti Samsara


Ricky Kej – Shanti Orchestra


2 Unite All


Tracks from Shanti Samsara were performed at the Bangalore festival, which was held at the government legislative centre Vidhana Soudha. In this interview, Ricky shares his visions and insights into the connections between music, artistic collaboration, nature, spirituality and global environmental consciousness.

How do you view the connection between music and nature?

There is a deep relationship between music and nature. Music began as the sounds of nature, and early instruments were derived from nature. Only later did academic, professional, mass market and electronic elements come in.

I strongly believe that all artists have an obligation to use their work to make this world a better place. The threat to our environment is progressively getting worse. Musicians play an important role in creating conversations about our world. It is important for musicians and artists today to be on the right side of history. Art can be used to celebrate bio-diversity, and also showcase ecological impacts.



What was it like to perform at the Vidhana Soundha?

It is one thing to play at concert venues and hotels, but another thing altogether to perform right where policymakers are. That is why our recent Bangalore concert was held at the Vidhana Soudha, so that government officials could be exposed to the important messages about conservation right at their workplace.

I have always dreamed of performing at this venue and have known it right from my childhood. We began planning this festival way back in December last year.

I performed twice at the United Nations General Assembly. My work has been encouraged by India’s prime minister, and I have performed for heads of state in the audience. Music and art can go beyond speeches and pamphlets, and evoke messages at a deeper level. Musicians have the gift of art and communication.


Ricky Kej


Who are some of the music influences in your life?

My influences include Pandit Ravi Shankar, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, AR Rahman, Wouter Kellerman, Hugh Masakela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and others.



How is technology transforming your work these days?

On the one hand, technology has helped with reducing costs of production of music. Digital technology has helped promote my music and the movement for conservation. The rapid growth of technology also means you have to keep learning on the job.

While consumers benefit from getting access to lots of music, they also need to work hard at filtering what’s out there and finding what appeals to them. Many consumers are just content with getting music ‘pushed’ at them. Discovery gives thrill but takes work. Curators play an important role here.

What do you when you take a holiday from your hectic music career?

I have not had a holiday in over 11 years! What would I do on a holiday – nothing? I can’t imagine that; music is my everything, and I am devoted to conservation. Even when I am not making music, I am listening to new music.

Even during my travels I have not done typical ‘touristy’ things. I go to New York city six times a year but have yet to see the Statue of Liberty!

What kinds of collaboration are needed to promote environmental awareness?

Everything is inter-connected. The Amazon jungles are the lungs of the world, generating 20% of our oxygen. Global warming is already affecting the Pacific Islands with rising water levels, many of those countries stand no chance unless drastic action is taken today.

Society needs more spiritual balance. There should be more commitment to conserve nature, beyond mere compliance with regulations. This begins with encouraging children to think positively about nature. Scientific advice is also needed here.

That is why the Samsara Festival has been multi-disciplinary. We need more inter-disciplinary dialogue – between legislators, scientists, filmmakers, artists, environmentalists, innovators, musicians, thought leaders, industry leaders, media, change-makers and youth.

What role can India play in the environmental movement?

India can play an important role in conservation. It is a country that can make the most impact, since it is still in growth stage and can choose a sustainable path of development. The West is realizing that centuries of mis-directed development have extracted a huge toll on the environment, we need to have more environmental consciousness across the world now.

There are 350 million people in India who are entering the economic development stages, as much as the whole US population. There has to be a focus on renewable energy. India is in the Top Three countries in terms of coal reserves, but getting energy by burning coal has severe consequences.

India has an old civilization, and rich biodiversity in terms of plant and animal life. We pray to trees and animals, our gods are the natural elements. We can either screw it all up – or preserve it and lead the world with our example. We have the power to do the right thing. India needs to take leadership in environmental consciousness and be at the forefront of nature conservation.



What is your message to musicians and our audience out there?

Do what you can do conserve nature and increase environmental consciousness within you and around you. Do whatever you can within your limitations, be realistic.

There is no need to shame or shock people to change their attitude and behavior towards the environment; people may shy away from gory images of dead animals. Instead, it can be done through inspiration, creativity and positive reinforcement.