Guinean Jali, Keba Bobo Cissoko, Passes Away

Africa – The great Keba Bobo Cissoko, master jeli passed away on February 8th, 2003.

Keba was born and raised in a jeli (also known as griot) village in Guinea Bissau. He lived the traditional Jali life until he moved to Guinea in the early eighties. In Conakry, he was a member of the Ballets Africains and of the Ensemble Instrumental National. He was a founding member of the Merveilles d’Afrique and toured the world with these ensembles. Since 1996, Keba established himself as one of the greatest kora players and singers in the United States, teaching and performing all over the country. He was the leader of Tamalalou, an ensemble dedicated to perform his music. He participated in many groups and recordings; among them: Reginald Yates, Maimouna Keita, Feraba and Fula Flute.

Keba, as soloist and as leader of his group Tamalalou, was featured on the Smithsonian Folkways compilation: Badenya, Manden Jaliya in New York City.

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Manteca Releases Global Hip Hop

London, England – British label Manteca, specialized in world music compilations, has released Global Hip Hop – beats & rhymes, the nu world culture (MANTCD048). The artists featured are: Delinquent Habits, Positive Black Soul, Sultan Tunç, Daara J, Câmbio Negro, Sonido Acido, JJC & 419 Squad, Sona Family, Clotaire K, Yéli Fuzzo, Zombo, 113 – Voix Du Mali feat. Oumou Sangaré, X Plastaz, Sadahzinia.

Hip Hop is one of the most popular music styles in the world today. As producer Phil Meadley writes on the liner notes: “Although hip-hop can be seen as the quintessential voice of black America alongside soul and R&B, its appeal outside of the U.S. is as far reaching as the earth is round. No other style of modern music has crossed so many cultural and geographical boundaries.”
The album was compiled by Phil Meadley, a journalist, DJ and cross-cultural collusionist. He currently writes for The Independent newspaper, in Great Britain.

Other recent hip hop compilations include The Rough Guide to African Rap and Spanish rap compilation Esto es hip hop on the Boa label.

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Sauti za Busara Swahili Music Festival

Stonetown, Zanzibar, Tanzania – This week marks the beginning of Sauti za Busara (Swahili = Sounds of Wisdom),
a 3-day weekend cultural extravaganza of music, theatre and dance, showcasing
the very best of Swahili musical and artistic traditions – from the past,
present and future.

The theme of this new festival in East Africa is Swahili Encounters,
presenting a diversity of performing arts all rooted in Swahili language and
traditions. Contemporary and traditional styles will be represented, alongside
exciting new fusions and included will be some of the finest groups from the
region and Swahili diaspora.

The 2004 inaugural Festival takes place in historic Stone Town, on the magical
and welcoming islands of Zanzibar, Tanzania, from 13th -15th February, 2004.Celebration of the diverse regional cultural traditions will be through
performances combined with opportunities for learning, creative meetings and
collaborative workshops. The shows and workshops will provide a challenging but
vibrant forum for promoting dynamic artistic combinations and juxtapositions,
bringing together unexpected but related combinations of ngoma styles, taarab,
kidumbak, hip-hop (bongo flava), popular dance music and new and exciting
fusions. Artists will be selected according to quality and excellence and
relevance to the themes of the Festival, being Swahili Encounters and Sounds of
Wisdom (Sauti za Busara).

The festival is organised by Busara Promotions – a non-governmental, non-political
and non-profitable organization registered in Zanzibar. Sauti za Busara is one
of its many regional events taking place throughout East Africa as part of the
Swahili Encounters initiative as supported by Ford Foundation.

The mission of Swahili Encounters is “to encourage audiences to celebrate
pluralism of cultural and religious diversity; to promote and develop
opportunities for musicians and performing artists along the Swahili coast and
islands to connect, learn and perform together; and to develop regional artistic
cooperation, for the social, cultural and economic growth of East Africa and the
Swahili region
”.

The coastal – Swahili – people of Kenya and Tanzania have always enjoyed one of
Africa’s most diverse societies. The East African coast has been on the trade
routes of Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia for centuries. Here the
religious, linguistic, artistic and musical voices of Arabia and Asia have met
and blended with the traditional forms of inland Africa and later with the
cultures, voices and faiths of colonial Europe.

In recent times this eclectic society has continued to absorb new influences.
Since the liberalization of the media (and, in Tanzania, the markets also) in
the 80s and 90s, young generations have embraced the pop music styles of the
global north, now using hip hop and rap to frame the Swahili poetry that has
always been the heart of local music.

In the events of the Sauti za Busara festival program, Busara will consciously
reposition side by side the different and contrasting expressive voices of
Swahili culture. At a major open public venue in Zanzibar’s historic Stone Town,
the festival will showcase the music of traditional black Africa – such as
various styles of muziki wa dansi and ngoma dance and song – alongside more
Arabic- influenced styles including taarab, or will stage new hip-hop Swahili-language
rap styles “bongo flava” juxtaposed with mystic and religious music. By bringing
together contrasting musicians, and audiences, from different religious and
ethnic backgrounds, Busara intends to engage public recognition and appreciation
of Swahili culture’s broad base of enriching tradition and artistic expression –
in an open and non-threatening environment. Furthermore, the festival provides
diverse musicians with an unprecedented opportunity to learn and perform
together.

During the week before the 2004 festival Busara Promotions collaborates with the
Dhow Countries Music Academy to
present a series of music-based workshops and masterclasses. For latest
information contact:
Busara Promotions, PO Box 3635, Zanzibar, Tanzania. Phone: +255 747 428478, Fax:
+44 8701 321190. E-mail: busara@zanlink.com
or busarapromotions@lycos.com.

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46th Grammy Awards

Los Angeles, USA – The 46th Grammy Awards winners were announced Sunday, February 8th, 2004. The award for best traditional world music album went to Sacred Tibetan Chant by The Monks Of Sherab Ling Monastery (Naxos World), while the contemporary world music award went to Voz D’Amor (Bluebird) by Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora.

The Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album went to Buenos Hermanosby Cuban musician Ibrahim Ferrer (Nonesuch Records) and the Best Salsa/Merengue Album went to Regalo del Alma by the late Celia Cruz (Sony Discos).

Other awards of interest to the world music audience include:

Best Latin Pop Album


  • No Es Lo Mismo
    by
    Alejandro Sanz (WEA International)

    Best Latin
    Rock/Alternative Album


    • Cuatro Caminos
      by
      Café Tacuba (MCA Records)

    Best
    Mexican/Mexican-American Album


    • Afortunado

      by Joan Sebastian
      (Musart/Balboa
      Records)

    Best Tejano
    Album


    • Si Me Faltas Tu
      by
      Jimmy González y El Grupo Mazz (Freddie Records)

    Best
    Traditional Blues Album


    • Blues Singer

      by Buddy Guy
      (Silvertone Records)

    Best
    Contemporary Blues Album


    • Let’s Roll

      by Etta James
      (Private Music)

    Best
    Traditional Folk Album


    • Wildwood Flower
      by
      June Carter Cash (Dualtone Music Group)

    Best
    Contemporary Folk Album


    • The Wind

      by Warren Zevon
      (Artemis Records)

    Best Native
    American Music Album

    Best Reggae
    Album

    Best Polka
    Album

    For the
    complete list of winners, go to:
    http://www.grammy.com/awards/grammy/46winners.aspx

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Good Things by Paco de Lucía

Paco de Lucia - Cositas Buenas
Paco de Lucia – Cositas Buenas
Paco de Lucía

Cositas Buenas (Universal Music Spain/Verve-Blue Thumb 80001939-02, 2004)

It has taken five years for the renowned Flamenco guitar master from Spain to release a new album and it has been worth the wait. After living several years in the Mexican coast, de Lucia has returned to Spain. He has moved to the historical city of Toledo, about an hour south of Madrid, and he has reconnected with Spain’s thriving Flamenco scene and gotten inspiration from Toledo’s ancient Christian, Arabic and Sephardic musical roots.

Cositas Buenas (Good Things) includes several bulerías, one of the most difficult to perform flamenco styles for guitar players. Although mainly instrumental, some of the pieces include some of the hottest young Flamenco vocalists, such as Montse Cortés, Potito, Diego El Cigala, Tana and Paco.Thanks to CD recording technology, the buleria “Que Venga el Alma” has united the voice of legendary singer Camarón de la Isla (who passed way a few years ago) and the guitars of Paco de Lucía and Tomatito. Gypsy guitarist Tomatito is another legend in the world of flamenco guitar. He was Camarón’s accompanist for many years and is one of Spain’s most famous guitarists.

Paco de Lucía plays lead Flamenco guitar on all the songs, accompanied by percussion, including palmas (Flamenco handclapping) and cajón (the Afro-Peruvian box instrument that has been adopted by many New Flamenco artists in Spain). Nevertheless, he also plays other stringed instruments, which are less common in Flamenco music, such as the Spanish lute, bouzouki and mandolin.

The last track on the album is “Casa Bernardo,” a rumba that shows another of de Lucía’s passion: jazz. It features American trumpet player Jerry González, who now lives in Madrid.

Buy Cositas Buenas

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Homeland Security proposes increases in fees for immigration applications

Washington, DC, USA – In a February 3rd press release, the
American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) 
criticized the proposed changes in immigration application fees.

Statement of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on Proposed
USCIS Fee Increase and the President’s Proposed FY 2005 Budget:

“The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) bureau of the Department
of Homeland Security today proposed increases in fees for immigration
applications of up to 55%. These fees cover almost all of the bureau’s expenses.
However, at a time when the quality of service is at an historic low, increases
of this magnitude are difficult to justify. Processing backlogs have reached
crisis proportions, while the agency wastes resources revisiting issues already
resolved and harassing honest petitioners with requests for paperwork unrelated
to their immigration eligibility. Making matters worse, the public’s only
available avenue to resolve government errors and problems is a contractor-run
800 number that has proven to be useless to deal with these issues. Adding insult to injury, the proposed fee increase would force applicants to pay
for these failures. As USCIS loses files, errs on more and more applications,
and provides no viable avenue to resolve problems, lawsuits to force action have
increased. The proposed budget for USCIS factors the costs of these suits into
the fees by proposing a surcharge to pay for them. The Equal Access to Justice
Act mandates that government agencies pay certain costs when they take a
substantially unjustified position in litigation. USCIS proposes to evade this
law by forcing the very people who are harmed by its actions or inaction to pay
the costs of the agency’s unjustified positions.

The Department also has announced that it intends to outsource the immigration
information officer (IIO) function and factors into the proposed fee increase
the cost of conducting an expensive study of this problematic initiative.
Despite numerous problems associated with contracting out the deeply flawed 800
number system, the USCIS budget would mandate that applicants pay the costs of
this study to expand this failed concept to cover all user assistance functions.

In January 1998, the Commissioner of the INS, USCIS’s predecessor, stated that
the fee increase announced at that time would not be implemented until applicant
wait times started to decrease. Today, no such reticence is shown. Even though
the ordinary wait times on many applications are double or triple today what
they were in 1998, USCIS offers no such concession to those who must pay
increasing amounts for deteriorated service. AILA urges the Director of the
USCIS to follow the example of his predecessor and demonstrate good faith by
foreswearing the fee increase until the pandemic backlogs throughout the agency
are noticeably decreased.

The Bush Administration’s proposed FY 2005 budget for USCIS only deepens our
concerns with the $140 million included for the bureau. Such a sum recognizes
neither current challenges nor realities. AILA long has supported direct
Congressional appropriations to supplement user fees: USCIS adjudications and
security checks are in the national interest and such appropriations are
necessary to ensure a rational and predictable funding stream. The President’s
proposed budget is going in the wrong direction. The $140 million marks a 41%
reduction from the inadequate $236 million the bureau received in FY 2004.
Furthermore, Administration spokespersons have indicated their goal of covering
costs wholly with fee revenue. AILA calls on the Administration to conduct a
study to determine what level of funding is necessary to adequately support
USCIS’s adjudications functions, eliminate the backlog, and put this bureau on
sound financial footing. Both the Administration and Congress need to step up to
the plate and recognize that the current funding system is deeply flawed and
needs to be changed.”

Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides its
Members with continuing legal education, information, and professional services.
AILA advocates before Congress and the Administration and provides liaison with
the DHS and other government agencies. AILA is an Affiliated Organization of the
American Bar Association.

Related stories published at World Music Central:


Slamming the Door Shut
and

Homeland Security Forces Cancellations of Paco de Lucía Concerts
.

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And in This Corner of the Sahara…

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco
Various Artists – The Rough Guide to the Music of Morocco (World Music Network, RGNET 1128 CD, 2004)

Malouma – Dunya
(Marabi Productions 46806.2, 2003)

Closely following their Rough Guide spotlighting Egypt, World Music Network now crosses the Maghreb to give Morocco a likewise hearty once-over. Morocco is where northern Africa meets southern Europe- not only in a literal geographical sense, but via centuries of artistic and cultural exchanging. Though a
foundation of Berber indigenousness remains ever strong, Morocco’s music also benefits from the riches of Arabic, Jewish, Spanish and other influences. Those riches are evident in all 71 minutes of the disc, from fusionists Nass
Marrakech
(who manage to seamlessly fuse Brazilian percussion and Bulgarian fiddle with Gnawa trance music) to the rebel mysticism ofNass El Ghiwane and the almost dangerously hypnotic percussion-and-voices
offering by Bnet
Marrakech
.

The obligatory rap-flavored track by U-Cef and Dar Gnawa has an odd but effective sense of time and space, but most of the tracks emphasize traditional over modern. A wise approach, considering how profound an impact events like the 1492 expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain have had on Moroccan music. (The liner notes, always very informational in the Rough Guide series, go into greater detail on such things.) While a truly exhaustive musical overview of Morocco would be the stuff of multiple volumes, the condensed look this cd brings will both bliss you out and prime you for further exploration. Recommended.

Not far south of Morocco lies Mauritania. There’s not a lot of Mauritanian music readily available, though the work of such artists as Dimi Mint Abba, Sedoum Ehl Aida and Aicha Bint Chighaly has seeped out here and there. Malouma Mint Moktar Ould Meidah (who thankfully goes simply by Malouma) is a Mauritanian woman whose grinning countenance on the cover of her album Dunya seems both shy and enticing.

At first glance you feel as though some very special music must lie within, and as it turns out, it does. Throughout these songs you’ll hear the same sort of African blues shuffle prominent in the sounds of neighboring Mali, percussion not unlike that which propels music of the Senegambian regions and
the recurring use of an instrument called an ardin, which sounds and looks like the Mauritanian equivalent of the kora. In other words, those who know and love west African music will find much to love here.

So what sets it apart? Well, the pop touches are integrated well- electric guitar solos are curtailed at the right moment, modern keyboards stay in the background, etc. And then there’s Malouma’s voice. It’s an imperfect one, and she does not have the same reach as many notable African divas. But that’s what I like about it. Whether she’s belting it out punchy and direct, intensely overlapping with her backup singers or wailing in classic Islamic-rooted style, she sounds unfailingly real and sincere. And since she’s the composer and/or lyricist of much of the material, the reality that she’s singing from the heart is that much more apparent.

Dunya is just plain great contemporary African music. Recorded in the Mauritanian capital of Nuakchott and mixed in Paris, it achieves that right blend of tradition and cutting edge and makes it sing.

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The Rough Guide To Bollywood Legends: Lata Mangeshkar

San Francisco, USA – The Rough Guide series presents this week a recording, The Rough Guide to Bollywood Legends: Lata Mangeshkar
(RGNET1132CD), by Lata Mangeshkar, the queen of Bollywood; bhajans and raga-based filmi.

South Asia’s film industry is renowned for the volume of its outpourings.
Bollywood – the Bombay-based centre of the Hindi-language film industry – long
ago overtook Hollywood in terms of output and, many suspect, also in terms of
influence and worldwide market penetration. Very likely, as the lights dim and
color shatters the darkness, one voice will cut through the silence, and this
will be Lata Mangeshkar’s. Whether singing a bhajan (a Hindu devotional hymn), a
liltingly romantic song about rebirth or a raga-based film hit, she is one of
India’s greatest vocalists and one of the pre-eminent and most popular singers
of our age. In the entire history of Indian film song, the greatest playback
artist of either sex, the one that has reigned the longest, the one that
everyone looks up to, is Lata Mangeshkar.

The oldest of five siblings, Lata was born in 1929 in Indore, Madyha Pradesh.
Lata appeared as a child actress in several Marathi pictures and within a month
of her father’s death in 1942 she had begun to work to support the family. They
moved from Pune to Kolhapur before ending up in Bombay in 1944, the epicenter of
the wartime Hindi-language film industry. In between 1947 and 1949 the Bombay
film industry was transformed and during this period Lata was one of several
up-and-coming playback singers. In 1949 Lata sang the playback for a song that
was to launch her career. She sang ‘Aayega Aanewala’ for Kamal Amrohi’s
directing debut Mahal, which was one of the year’s biggest box-office successes.
Until this time playback singers were a secret albeit an increasingly leaky one,
but so many people requested ‘Aayega Aanewala’ that Radio Goa broke the taboo
and started naming Lata as the playback singer.

‘Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya’ is taken from Mughal-E-Azam (1960), a film that for
generation after generation has fired people’s imagination. This film is a
sumptuous re-enactment, that reunited Lata and the commanding classical vocalist
Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, albeit it only in the opening credits. Lata has recorded
duets with the cream of India’s male playback singers, including Abhijeet, Manna
Dey and Kishore Kumar. ‘Yeh Dil Diwana Hai’ from the film Ishq Par Zor Hai
(1970) is a chance to hear Lata singing with Mohd. Rafi, the male artist who
Lata has recorded the most duets with.

‘Inhi Logon Ne’ is a song from Kamal Amrohi’s film Pakeezah (1971), one of the
greatest musical melodramas in the history of world cinema. This was Amrohi’s
last film, and it was hugely successful. Lata rose to the challenge with ‘Inhi
Logon Ne’, which makes shimmering use of footwork and ghungroos (ankle
bracelets) as a rhythm component. The title song to Raj Kapoor’s film ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ (1978) and its other songs proved to be massive hits. The film
examined love in its sacred and profane, inner and outward forms. The legend is
that Kapoor was so smitten by Lata’s voice that he regarded her as the living
embodiment of Sarasvati, the Hindu goddess of music and learning, and developed
this film as a vehicle for her vocal skills.

In ‘Sare Shaher Mein’, from the film Alibaba Aur Chalis Chor (1980), Lata sings
a duet with Asha Bhosle – her sister with whom she has sung the most female
duets with. Asha’s second husband, R.D. ‘Pancham’ Burman, composed this song.
‘Yara Seeli Seeli’ is taken from S.S. Gulzar’s film about rebirth Lekin (1990),
which brought the talents of the Mangeshkars together. Hridaynath wrote the
music, Lata produced the film, and Asha, Hridaynath and Lata all did playback.
Lata’s father, Dinanath, died oblivious to the fact that he had founded the most
successful musical dynasty in Indian musical history. ‘Kuchh Na Kaho’ is taken
from Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s film 1942 A Love Story (1994). This film gripped the
popular imagination in a way that transcended everybody’s expectations and
produced timeless, melodious songs.

The Rough Guide to Bollywood Legends: Lata Mangeshkar provides a glimpse into
the huge talents of an artist who until 1991 was listed as the world’s
most-recorded artist in the Guinness Book Of Records. Ken Hunt, a full-time
freelance writer, broadcaster and translator specializing in music, compiled
this album.

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Ninna Nanna: Children\’s Lullabies

Monserrat Figueras

Ninna Nanna (Alia Vox AV 9826)

From the moment a baby is born, lullabies are a mother’s indispensable ally in soothing her child for whom everything in the big, wide world in new and frightening. The baby recognizes in the song his mother’s voice, her presence and her expression. The intimacy of the moment creates a space rich in ancestral symbols, in which words and music create a bond of pure emotion and truth. It is in this space that the child experiences his first dialogue, his first story, his first contact with the teachings of tradition, experience and culture, which over time build into an essential part of our collective memory.

Whoever sings a lullaby is moved by a desire to give of their very best, which in itself is an expression of love, and so the child begins to experience the essence of life.
–Monserrat Figueras, Nina Nanna artist’s introduction

Figueras’ words constitute one of the best distillations in pure emotional terms of the meaning and purpose of the children’s lullaby as a musical form.This is another extraordinary recording by Montserrat Figueras, the extraordinary Spanish vocalist who specializes in medieval music. Here she has produced–with an ensemble composed of most of the members of Hesperion XXI–an album of children’s lullabies from around the globe: Portugal, England, Greece, Morocco (Sephardic), Algeria (Berber), Estonia, Israel, Spain and others. The origins of the songs range from the 16th to the 21st centuries. Figueras’ voice is an amazing instrument, pure, strong, high and lively. On this album, her performance is front and center and the musicians play supporting roles, which is entirely appropriate for an album focusing on the pure simple melodies of the children’s lullaby.

In response to my glowing review of Hesperion XXI’s Secular Music of Christian and Jewish Spain: 1450-1550 (Virgin veritas x 2) published at Rootsworld, an academic expert in Sephardic music took me and Figueras to task for her “operatic” vocal style, which would have been far removed from the simple, unadorned folk performance style these songs would have originally enjoyed. No doubt this criticism may be true. But I am as interested in aesthetic beauty as I am in cultural authenticity. And Figueras’ performance is masterful and convincing (at least to me).

One of my favorite songs is Nani, Nani, a Berber lullaby from Algeria. Figueras uses her most sprightly vocal cadence to convey the lively melody of a song whose lyrics are quite mournful:

I met my brother, Sleep
And he asked me:
‘What do you carry on your back?’

The moon is very sad.
I asked her:
‘Where is happiness?’
And she answered:
‘Happiness is with others.’

I carried the moon on my back
And I walked and wept.
‘Moon, you are hungry,
You are sleepy,
All of nature shivers with cold.’

I met Sleep,
And he asked me
What I was carrying on my back.
I answered that I carried
Nothing but the moon.
And he said:
‘Rock her to sleep, rock her to sleep.’

The following Sephardic lullaby (from pre-1492 Spain, but first collected later in Morocco) is actually a song about marital infidelity cleverly disguised as a lullaby:

Lullaby, lullaby
Hush little child.
Mam’s little boy
Will grow up tall.

Go to sleep my sweetheart,
Sleep, apple of my eye.
Your daddy is coming
And his spirits are high.

Open up, good wife,
Open the door,
For I come home weary
From ploughing the fields.

I will not open up.
For you are not weary.
I know that you come
From another new love.

She is no more lovely
Nor worthier than I,
And the jewels that she wore
Are no better than mine.

This brings us to another element of the lullaby. The lyrics in an otherwise simple melodic form can take on great subtlety and complexity when they belie (as they do above) the simplicity of their musical accompaniment. Above, the mother begins with the conventional soothing words to her infant. But her last two verses reveal an unstable family relationship beset by infidelity. What is striking here is that the mother in the midst of lulling baby off to sleep is giving voice to her deepest insecurities, fears and sorrows; emotions that the child cannot begin to understand. In a way, the lullaby is the child’s introduction to the pain and complexity of adult life. It is the beginning of a life’s education. Joachim Steinheuer’s album notes comment that this lyric is an:

introspective monologue on the part of the singer as she evokes her own personal circumstances in the presence of a young child who does not yet have a command of language is a frequently recurring theme in the lullabies of many countries.

Another example of this is William Byrd’s Come, Pretty Babe:

Come, pretty baby, come, pretty babe,
Thy father’s shame, they mother’s grief:
Born as a doubt, to all our dole,
And to thyself unhappy chief:

Come lullaby, come lullaby,
And wrap thee warm.
Poor soul, thou think’st no creature harm,
Poor soul, thou thinks’t no creature harm.

Alas, here is a child surely born to a world of woe. Yet somehow the beautiful melody of the song will ease the pain and suffering to come.

A 19th century folk music collector quoted one particular Piedmont mother characterizing the lullaby thus:

each mother sings in her own way, guided by her memory and the inspiration of her own heart (a sa memoria, e cunforme na’ su coro).

Beautifully put.

One of the most beautiful melodies on this CD belongs to Arvo Part’s contemporary (2002) Christmas lullaby in which he sets Luke 2:2 to music. The melody is stately and gorgeous. The interplay among the musical accompanists (viola de gamba, psaltery, triple harp and santur) and Figueras is wonderful to behold. What is especially interesting about this song is that it was one of two specially commissioned by the album’s producers for inclusion on this record.

On reading the liner notes for the song Numi, Numi Yaldati (‘Sleep, Sleep My Child’), the Hebrew text has inexplicably been converted from its proper left-to-right direction to an incorrect right-to-left direction. The Hebrew text also completely omits the final verse (while the other translations of the same song do not). I don’t understand how a production which sought the authenticity of quoting the original Hebrew text could not muster enough skill to display the text properly in the liner notes. To understand how this appears to a Hebrew reader, imagine how English text would look if it was turned on its head to read left-to-write. It would read like gibberish.

But let no one say that this mistake detracts in any way from the supreme grandeur of Figueras’ musical accomplishment on this recording. If you enjoy lullabies, children’s music or just plain wonderful music, buy it.

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Talking to Mpambara

He keeps on his black winter jacket, zipped chin-high, throughout the interview.
Even after 24 years of living in Minnesota, he still likes to wrap himself up in
the remembered heat of his native Uganda, where he lived in Mbarara, bordering
Tanzania and Rwanda. Mpambara, a jazzman, also likes to wrap his American based
music with the flavor of African rhythms and instruments, and the engaging
melodies and rich variety of languages of his homeland.

Arriving in Platteville, Wisconsin in 1978, MP attended the University of
Wisconsin, pursuing a degree in mineral engineering. “[The move was]
challenging in that I had to make adjustments that I had not anticipated. Of
course there was the initial and unavoidable culture shock. Things were done
differently, from driving on the right, people actually did not drink tea,
weddings without dowry–I could go on forever. In all though, the freedom that
prevails here made all those differences not so important. Because, after all,
freedom means you can adopt or ignore anything
.”About this time, MP decided to pursue his dream of being a musician and played with the band, Sweet Taste Of Africa. After performing for a couple of years, he joined Shangoya, also as a bass player. MP contributed to the recording of their album, Red Pants Jam.

He met and married his wife, Dr. Blanche Mpambara, in 1982. “After having
a new baby, I really determined I could not travel as much anymore, with the
added responsibilities of fatherhood, I decided instead to study music at the
University of Minnesota
.” Twenty years later, their son, Kaita, sits in on
my interview with MP, inserting praise and accolades whenever MP falls silent
about his many accomplishments.

MP dips his fingers into a variety of concoctions, turning out an eclectic
mishmash of musical products. In addition to playing with a variety of bands,
Mpambara composed the music for two aerobic videos produced by Maria Nhambu Bergh, an aerobics guru, originally from Tanzania. He also composed the tunes used in an advertisement jingle for a major local grocery chain.

For six years, MP was involved as a bass player for Sounds of Hope. This last venture
brings children from developing countries together to form a single choir and
perform throughout Minnesota. “We sometimes had to learn and perform music
from all over the world, depending on how many countries were represented

says MP. Though creative differences compelled MP to move on, “I will always
maintain it was a great experience,
” he says.

MP also had the opportunity to work and tour with Kanda Bongo Man, an
international music icon. Bongo Man is originally from Congo, now living in
England.

MP’s sole CD, Hail To The Chief, (BINA, 1996), features ten songs
either written or co-written by MP. With titles such as Ngali, and Nawuliranga
and Elongi Ya Fifi, the essence of the album is rooted in traditional folk music
indigenous to Uganda and surrounding countries. Songs are sung in Kinyankole,
MP’s first language, as well as Lingala and Swahili. Some of the instruments
used are native to Africa, others are more universal, such as guitar, flute,
keyboard, and MP’s instrument of choice, his Fender bass. The title song, Hail
To The Chief, includes a spoken word refrain in English, with a definite hip hop
influence reflected in the call and response and pounding drive throughout.

This coming summer, MP will travel to Zanzibar to once again participate in a
music festival. Usually held the first week in July, this recently launched
event includes traditional music such as taraab and ngoma. The music of the
countries Africa, Arabia, and Asia are also included. “Zanzibar has an annual
cultural festival that celebrates music from the Island and also other types of
music. I am hoping it will happen this summer, but again, until I actually sign
a contract, it is in the making,
” MP told me. At this festival, MP plans to
release his next CD, Errade.

By Susan Budig, originally written for Mshale,
the African Community Newspaper

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