Cris Aflalo celebrates the music of Xerêm

Cris Aflalo

Só Xerêm (Tratore, 2003)

Bahia, Rio and Sao Paulo dominate a lot of the music that is produced in
Brazil. Little by little, the sounds from other regions are managing to generate
, a singer from São Paulo, is playing a leading role in the
project to celebrate the musical achievements of her grandfather, Xerêm, a
talented Brazilian composer, whose musical career goes back to long before the
40s during the golden age of radio in Rio de Janeiro.Xerêm’s music was rooted in traditional regional music from the northeast of
Brazil, such as baião, xote, embolada and côco. Cris Aflalo has added innovative
arrangements to her grandfather’s songs and is now introducing his songs and the
beats of northeastern Brazil to new audiences.

the CD


The raï man returns


(Universal AZ/UK:Wrasse Records, 2004)

Here comes the latest album (and by far the best recent release) from the

. This is an album which will go down well with the home crowd.
Stylistically, Ya-Rayi
is a return-to-roots and we’re sure it will appeal
as much to the new global audience he’s garnered over the last 4 or 5 albums as
it will back home in Algeria. The big sound of his rocking band remains but its
excesses have been tempered. Simple, spicy arrangements set into a fine
production (mostly by the accomplished Philippe Edel) come together in a set of
10 fine new songs which delivers all of the passion of this world superstar with
all of the cheese removed.

This is raï as we know it of old, back in those heady mid-80s when the cheb
(kid) from Oran first emerged on the European scene courtesy of the wonderful
French-based Horizon Records (sadly long gone). It feels like he means it when
he declaims so passionately on the subject of the 2003 Algerian earthquake – ‘La
terre a tremblé – he’s not just going through the (e)motions as he seemed to be
doing on recent live appearances. Amongst other welcome guest appearances
Marseilles-based North African Jewish piano man Maurice el Medioni joins Khaled
for ‘H’mama’, shimmering with memories of a long-ago time. The easy ambiance of
the overall sound and atmosphere of Ya-Rayi
is sure to gather the maestro
an even larger fan base.

Buy Ya-Rayi


Acid X, funk with the smooth contemporary Rio sound

Acid X - Uma Geral
Acid X – Uma Geral
Acid X

Uma Geral (ST2 Music 50036)

Acid X started life as a Beatles cover band in Rio clubs. And they continue their love affair with British music in their new incarnation by drawing inspiration from the Acid Jazz style that spawned bands like Jamiroquai and the Brand New Heavies.

The music here is not as overtly jazz-funky as ‘Emergency on Planet Earth’ or ‘Dream on Dreamer’. Most of these are straightforward pop songs garnished with a sprinkle of jazzy trumpet or violin and delivered by Helena Cutter’s sensual and quintessentially Rio de Janeiro voice, which floats effortlessly through the catchy verses and choruses and over the staccato rhythms.

The title track is typical – opening with rhythm guitar and keyboards reminiscent of Los Amigos Invisibles before drifting into a predictable but pleasant round of verses and choruses over a danceable backdrop. Tracks like ‘Na Estrada’ are written to the same formula, whilst ‘Angel y Demonio’ and ‘Ouvindo Orixas’ are sung in Spanish and with their homages to DLG style salsa rap and trip hop are presumably aimed at the Latin club scene.

This is the band’s first release. Although it is largely a pot pourri of the cool and sellable, tracks like ‘Dicionário’ and ‘Schultznietsin is Down’ suggest that Acid X have the potential to develop into an exciting band; perhaps the first to fuse tight jazz funk with the smooth contemporary Rio sound typified by Marisa Monte. Even if they fail to do so they deserve to bebought in large quantities.


Tuscan roots meet Flamenco, Bossa and Celtic sounds

Livio Guardi & Wilson Montuori

Diomede (independent, 2003)

This creative duo of Italian guitarists plays laid back evocative music which
includes influences from various Mediterranean lands. The beautiful songs that
feature vocals by Guardi shoe the Tuscan roots of the Italian group. But there
are also Spanish influences, with the use of handclapping percussion, which is
known as palmas in Spanish. There is even a bit of American folk, with the use
of harmonica and banjo, Brazilian bossa nova and a tribute to
and Django Reinhardt. The instrumentals are delightful and feature Guardi and Montuori playing 
variety of stringed instruments, including guitars, mandolin and bouzouki. The
bouzouki adds an Eastern Mediterranean feel to some of the pieces as a tribute
to the music of Greece and Turkey. The two multi-instrumentalists are
accompanied by bassist Andrea “Lupo” Lupi, percussionist Valerio Perla and
flautist Arcadio Barascchi.


Oriental lounge suits

Orient Expressions

Divan (DoubleMoon Records, 2004)

One thing you might not say about lounge music is that it’s gritty; the
expression somehow does not fit the style. Yet, strangely, OE manage a funky,
d’n’b-fuelled, laid-back up-front kinda lounge which demands you unslump from
that lumpy sofa and sit up and listen. Opening with a short intro track peppered
with Eastern influence and underpinned by an awesome electronic ambience the
album quickly launches into action with a simmering down tempo vehicle,
‘Ehmedo’, for vocalist Aynur Dogan whose searing performance melded with ud, sax
& beats is powerfully reminiscent of
Fateh Ali Khan
’s collaboration with Norwegian saxman Jan Garbarek. ‘Istanbul 1:26am’ is every bit as atmospheric as its title suggests, slinky
synths snake around sinuous darbuka percussion, leading us to another glorious
blast from band member Richard Kramer’s saxophone. Plenty of highlights follow,
not least a further track – ‘Dera Sor’ – featuring Dogan and more vocal
revelations in the form of Adile Yadirgi on ‘Kerkük Divani’. A personal favorite
comes mid-album – the tripped-out’n’dubby ‘Beats of Pera’, complete with
excellently executed oud solo, has much to hold the attention. With ten tracks
totalling roughly 60 minutes augmented by the shorter, atmospheric, ‘Intro’,
‘Interlude’ and ‘Outro’ the trio of DJ Yakuza (GTA anyone?), Cem Yildiz and
Richard Kramer create a long and very satisfying fusion of Middle-Eastern,
jazzy, urban (if we must) lounge. Producer Murat Uncuoğlu clearly brings much to
the sound, ensuring that we all remain ensnared in the potent musical spell
woven by DoubleMoon Records.


Oh, Suzzana

Suzzana Owiyo – Mama Africa
Suzzana Owiyo

Mama Africa (ARC Music EUCD 1875, 2004)

My first taste of Suzzana Owiyo came via the song “Kisumu 100” on World Music Network’s The Rough Guide to the Music of Kenya. Such a delightful piece of music it remains- a song in celebration of a town’s centennial, full of quirky rhythms, wheezy Brazilian-like effects and vocals at once authoritative and frisky.

I was resolute in my desire to track down more of Suzzana Owiyo’s music, and subsequently blessed by the arrival of this CD (eponymous when first released in Kenya and retitled Mama Africa for wider release by ARC Music in the U.K.).

Owiyo is of Luo descent, sharing her people’s passion for social activism and artistic expression despite their minority status. Her singing may put you in mind of Tracy Chapman (a comparison that’s been made in the press already), or perhaps a more sedate Angelique Kidjo or Sally Nyolo in a pensive frame of mind.

In any case, her singing fits the generally sparse, direct nature of the arrangements, which run refreshingly contrary to the slickness of some modern Afro-pop. Two versions of “Kisumu 100,” one a more bottom-heavy dance mix, open and close the album and the rest of the songs do not suffer in contrast. Some center around non-flashy guitars, just enough percussion to establish a groove and recurrent violin and flute sounds.

Even when funk or dub reggae textures are applied (as on “Suna Ka Ngeya” and “Lek Ne Wounda” respectively) there’s nothing obtrusive to clash with Owiyo’s husky and oddly sensual singing. Highlights include “Ngoma,” with propulsive drumming that suggests gazelles on the run, an English-language tribute to a loving grandmother on “Masela” and the steadfast title song. Actually, the whole thing’s quite good, showing a rising star of African music in fine singing and songwriting form.


Spain’s latest flava

Amparanoia - Rebeldia con Alegria
Amparanoia – Rebeldia con Alegria

Rebeldia con Alegria, best of (independent, 2004)

Another sure-fire star of the world music scene finally gets a proper airing outside of her native Spain. The fabulous Amparo Sánchez fronts a rattling good band of (mostly) acoustic musicians with clear leanings towards flamenco, Latin and Cuban influences. Sánchez pulls off lyrical switches from Spanish into English with some style and the lively rhythmic performances, imbued with salsa power and Iberian subtlety, push the music into an irresistibly danceable format. With 5 albums and sundry other
appearances to choose from this selection features 3 tracks from the ’97 debut, El Poder de Machin, 1 from ’99 release Feria furiosa, nothing from the 2000 (turkey?) Los Bebesones, 4 from Somos viento (2002) and a further four from the latest, Enchilao.A lovely collaboration with US-Mexican band Calexico, ‘Don’t leave me now’, opens like a Gotan Project tune and drifts along beautifully in a jazzy eurolounge style.

The punchy Dolor dolor’, from ‘Enchilao’, also came out as a single and tracks from that release – ‘Alerta’ and ‘Trabajar’ – also feature here. With a total of 16 tracks from a guaranteed Summer 2004 sensation (they’re covering Europe on tour) it’s hard to go wrong…


Champeta Criolla

champeta star Louis Towers


Champeta Criolla (criollo and criolla means Creole) is an Afro-Colombian music style and dance from Cartagena and Barranquilla, in the Caribbean coast.

The champeta is a hybrid style made up of the rhythms of the Caribbean, Cumbia, Compás, Soca, Calypso, Reggae; combined with the sounds of several countries of the African continent, such as Soukous, Mbaqanga, Bikutsi, Highlife, Juju and Congolese rumba. They were intertwined and gave way to a new style in the barrios (districts) of Cartagena (Colombia).

The lyrics are usually satirical. It is also known as terapia criolla. Its birth was favored by the Festivales de Música del Caribe (Caribbean Music Festivals) that were held in the past. Also, in the 1960s, sailors coming from Africa arrived to Cartagena, bringing with them albums bought at various ports during their nights of folly. There were recordings by Prince Nico Mbarga (Cameroon-Nigeria), the Oriental Brothers (Nigeria), Tabu Ley Rochereau & Mbilia Bell (Congo), and a long list of the Highlife masters. Thanks to these anonymous travelers, coastal Caribbean Colombia had thousands of youth who dreamed of forming their own groups to play Soukous and Highlife in the streets.

Local DJs added their influence by playing original African hits, combined with champetas, in the parties where they turned tables.  “Picos,” sound systems, sometimes mounted on trucks and vans introduced introduced recordings from Africa and the Caribbean, genres such as highlife, afrobeat, compas, and soukous.  Later, the AM and FM radio stations began to do the same during their regular programming or with specialized shows.

The first Champeta pioneers appeared in the 1970s. During the Golden Age of the Colombian hippy movement, Wganda Kenya was formed. The leader was one the current international salsa kings, Fruko. A few years later, Joe Arroyo arrived with his La Verdad orchestra. It took over and continued the exploration with a fusion of salsa, soukous & Haitian compas.

Champeta, as a musical phenomenon, began to be accepted by the remaining social strata of the city, different from the one that gave it birth. The social prejudices of the people who form those social circles are giving way in the face of the overpowering force of this rhythm. The most famous champetas are listened to and danced to with less modesty in the social clubs, discos and family dances in the great city of Cartagena.

The name of this musical movement, Champeta, was demonized in its early stages by some of its critics in Cartagena, due to the social prejudices that through time have been rooted in it. Champeta came from the lower classes and critics alleged that even its name came from the brawls, that with a knife known as champeta, were started by people attending sound system dances in the various barrios.

Another version is that its origin comes from the Creole language. Champeteaux means something characteristic of the people. It would be reasonable to say, therefore, that the musical movement known as champeta means Music of the People.

Champeta is a sleeping giant that woke up in the face of the music world, without any backing from the cultural authorities. Today, champeta is part of the hits in the playlists of several tropical format radio stations in the Caribbean city. Even if only a few admit it, Joe Arroyo  is the king of Champeta because most of his inspiration comes from African music. However, the irrefutable fathers of this music are the black maroons from the San Basilio village of Palenque, near Cartagena. Viviano Torres with his group Anne Swing, Justo Valdés & Son Palenque, the group Kussima with Hernán Hernández. Without them, this musical movement would not exist today.


Vacile Efectivo de la Champeta Criolla: A New African Music from Colombia


In 1998, Palenque Records was formed with its first album, Champeta Criolla- New African Music From Colombia- Vol. 1. It was the first Champeta record published outside the Caribbean.

A group known as Champeta All Stars has toured Europe since 2002. Some of the bigger names are Boogaloo, Louis Towers, “El Razta,” and Melchor Perez.

The Dance of the champeta

In their public performances, each artist is usually accompanied by female Creole dancers who, initially, learned to dance soukous, influenced by African artists (Yondo Sister one of the best) who came to the Festival de Música del Caribe and by watching the music videos brought from Africa, Europe and United States brought by Cartagena music producers, who traveled to those places to seek original recordings that they later used in the picós (sound systems) and turned into exclusive songs that could not be found in the local record stores. Later, these Creole dancers opened the way to their creativity and they invented their own form of dancing the champeta, with novel forms such as la camita (the bed), la borracha (the drunk), etc.

Champeta recordings

* Vacile Efectivo de la Champeta Criolla: A New African Music from Colombia ((Palenque, 2003)
* Champeta Criolla, Vol. 2 (Palenque, 2003)
* Reyes De La Champeta (Yoyo, 2005)
* Colombiafrica – Voodoo Love Inna Champeta Land by Mystic Orchestra (World Music Network/Riverboat, 2007 )
* Palenque Palenque! Champeta Criolla & Afro Roots in Colombia 1975-91 (Soundway Records, 2010)

This article includes material kindly provided by Mr. Manuel Reyes Bolaños, translated by Angel Romero. Additional sources include Champeta Criolla International, Soundway Records, and World Music Central. [updated January 3rd, 2018]


Favourites. 60 years on, an anthology of the great Brazilian Poet Chico Buarque

Chico Buarque - Favourites. 60 years on
Chico Buarque – Favourites. 60 years on
Chico Buarque

Favourites. 60 years on (Wrasse Records Wrass112)

People often talk of Caetano as the Dylan of Brazil. But if this is true of anyone it is Chico Buarque. Like Dylan, Buarque took a traditional music form, the Samba Cançao (sung samba) and used it for political protest. But whilst Dylan’s protests were overt, Buarque’s were disguised – sung portraits of individuals from the masses showing how oppression infused their daily lives. ‘Pedro Pedreiro’ describes a man from the northeast waiting longingly for a train – using it as an image for
his long wait for death, or the unlikely betterment of his life. ‘A Banda’ describes the joy of Carnaval which when over gives way to the sadness and drudgery of a life in which Brazilians were banned even from singing together in bars or playing Capoeira. Copies of ‘Apesar deVoce’, dedicated to the President of Brazil, Emílio Médici, were seized in record shops and Buarque was imprisoned and exiled.

Tom Jobim once called Chico ‘a genius of the Brazilian race, a depository of popular Brazilian culture. A great poet, a great musician, a great lyricist, a great everything’. That he has not attained fame abroad is solely because of the essentially lyrical nature of his music. It is shameful that this compilation not only fails to include translations of his lyrics but even mistranslates the
titles of many of his songs. Unless you speak Portuguese the CD will sound like a selection of joyful, foot tapping sambas, which nonetheless make great listening.

Buy Favourites. 60 years on


Mad Sheer Takes Hendrix to Samarkand

Mad Sheer Khan

Samarkand Hotel, Live at Le Triton 2002 (Le Triton TRI 03507, 2003)

It is hard to classify this recording. It is world music, but also dreamtime psychedelia, and simply an incredible jam. Mad Sheer Khan has taken legendary rock songs like “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan; “Stone Free,” “Purple Haze,” “Voodoo Chile,” “Fire” and “If 6 was 9,” by Jimi Hendrix; and “Changes” by Buddy Miles, plus a handful of original pieces, and has recreated them with an unconventional jam band. Mad Sheer Khan leads the ensemble, playing an amplified dilruba (a bowed instrument from India). Khan explains, “Using extreme distortion in the use of  acoustic
instruments, we achieved his [Jimi Hendrix] wish of freedom from the space in
which a lot of people are forced to live in. Hendrix was an electric shaman and
liberator. He was the first to use masterfully the parameters of distortion and
space. He was the first to exorcize the fear of machines and developed
frequencies until he made them sound like sirens. He made the sounds of bombs in
Vietnam and sung with a deep and sweet voice about love
.”Mad sheer Khan’s collaborators play Indian tabla, African drums and drone instruments such as the harmonium and tanpura. The effect is a metamorphosis of rock songs into trance-like dilruba improvisations that sounds like an electric guitar processed with distortion effects. The album’s title makes a reference to the ancient Silk Road route that crossed Central Asia.

Mad Sheer Khan was born Mahamad Hadi, in Algiers in 1955, of mixed Persian and Arabic origin. He studied in France, where he now lives. His experience of being steeped in three different cultures has enabled him to develop fruitful relations between these varied influences. His oriental roots are apparent everywhere in the rhythms, colors, scales and sources of inspiration of his music. His aim is to go beyond the worn-out image of the ‘exotic East’, and in order to achieve this he constantly seeks points of contact between a western-inspired oriental culture and its counterpart, an oriental-inspired western culture. Mad Sheer Khan strives to give his music a wide range by juxtaposing ideas from both classical and folk music, developing them in compositions in which classically urban and rural styles exist side by side.


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