Malagasy Valiha Master, Sylvestre Randafison Dies at 75

Madagascar – Sylvestre Randafison, a key figure in the development of Madagascar’s most famous instrument, the valiha, passed away July 12.

Born Randafison Benjamin Sylvestre, Sylvestre Randafison was a major
influence on numerous younger musicians including Justin Vali, Rajery, Ratovo, and Doné Andriambaliha. Sylvestre Randafison was more than a musician. He was also a musical instrument maker and an ethnomusicologist at the National Academy of Madagascar. In the early ’90s he was an artist in residence at the University of Washington in Seattle.


Senegalese Kora Master Kaouding Cissoko Dies at 38

Senegal – Kaouding Cissoko, a master kora player and member of Baaba Maal’s band,
passed away on July 17th. Cissoko was a diabetic and had to watch his diet. Recently he had sought healers (marabouts) to find out why he was so ill. Eventually, Baaba Maal forced him to go to the hospital where he was diagnosed with acute tuberculosis. He was treated, but it was too late.Cissoko became a member of Baaba Maal’s band in 1991. He collaborated with
Afro-Celt Sound System, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brooks, and Ernest Ranglin.

Kaouding Cissoko recorded one solo CD, Kora Revolution(Palm Pictures, 1999). Produced by jazz bassist Ira Coleman, the recording featured Cissoko’s father, his nieces, Mamy and Sokhna, and his sister, Binta, on vocals. He had recently finished recording material with his niece, Cisse Damba Kanoute, a.backing vocalist with Baaba Maal.

Kaouding Cissoko is survived by his wife and 3 children


Abundant Latin Heat From Two New Rough Guides

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Latin Jazz

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Latin Jazz (RGNET 1089 CD, 2003)

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Salsa De Puerto Rico (RGNET 1130 CD, 2003)

It’s generally accepted that Latin jazz is rooted in Cuba while salsa’s origins are in Puerto Rico. The distinctions between the two have become a bit less pronounced in recent years, so it’s no surprise that some of the same artists appear on both of these collections. But let’s forget about defining characteristics and get to the bottom line- both discs are exceptionally good, even in a world full of Latin jazz and salsa compilations.

The Latin jazz Rough Guide has many of the greats you’d expect while avoiding tunes that have been anthologized to death. Thus pieces like the late Tito Puente’s “Spain” and “Princess” by the recently deceased Mongo Santamaria benefit from not being overexposed and provide ample rhythmic refreshment. Likewise, Eddie Palmieri’s “Our Routine” and Poncho Sanchez’s “Joseito” sound fresh by virtue of having been culled from recent albums by those artists. No, there’s no denying the biggies are represented in peak form, but it’s the lesser-knowns who come closest to stealing the show. The way Roland Vazquez and his ensemble take on the Wayne Shorter/Weather Report gem “Palladium” is a marvelous mixture of breezy and aggressive, William Cepeda scores with his blazing Afrorican style, and the Yoruba roots of Michael Philip Mossman’s orisha ode shine brightly.

There’s a curious lack of material from Latin jazz’s formative period (the days of such trailblazers as Machito), but that may well have been due to availability restrictions and is a small quibble considering the quality of what you do get.

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Salsa De Puerto Rico

Most enlightened listeners know there’s much more to salsa music than tight pants, shiny shirts and slick dancing. There’s African beats and Spanish melodies at the heart of it, and The Rough Guide To Salsa De Puerto Rico is loaded not just with tunes to work your waistline but also the down-home folkloric music that led to what we now call salsa.

The slightly brooding intimacy of Nava’s song assessing the beauty of a Puerto Rican woman seems to have little in common with the sizzling jams of Jimmy Bosch or the Willie Colon/Hector Lavoe collaborations that helped establish the mighty Fania Records label, but this Rough Guide gets the job done by emphasizing deeply rooted variety instead of just one big dance party. The selection of the songs handily showcases the beauty of the beats in ways both lavish and relatively unadorned, all sounding great.


Salif Keita Cancels North American Tour

Salif Keita - Moffou
Salif Keita – Moffou
Boston, USA – Malian star Salif Keita has cancelled his 2003 summer tour of the United States and Canada. There are few details as to the reasons behind the decision, although an unconfirmed source mentioned that the booking agent was not able to secure enough dates.

A master of West African rhythms and credited as one of the founders of the Afro-pop genre, Salif Keita is world renowned for his unforgettable live performances, soaring vocals and his emotionally-fueled songs.

Keita’s tour was scheduled to begin July 26 in Brooklyn. Other locations included
New York, Albany (NY), Montreal (Canada), Santa Mónica (CA), Los Angeles (CA), and San Francisco (CA).

His latest album is Moffou on Universal Music, released in 2002.


Colombian Vallenato Legend Dies

Valedupar, Colombia – Francisco “Pacho” Rada Batista died of natural causes late in the evening on July 16.

Surrounded by his large family and thousands of fans, Pacho” Rada was laid to rest this afternoon at 4 p.m. (local time) in the Gaira Cemetery. He was one of the last minstrels of vallenato music and the greatest performer of the “son de la escuela bajera.”

Following “Pacha” Rada’s request, he was taken to the pantheon “led by accordions.” During the funeral he was offered a farewell by his accordion playing children, the king of vallenato “Beto” Rada and Manuel Rada. The Venera brothers also played. María Gregoria Rada Oviedo sang “La despedida a mi padre” (Farewell to my Father).”Pacho” Rada also gave instructions about the songs that should be played at his funeral. These are: “El tigre de la montaña”, “Riqueza no es la plata”, “La despedida” and his latest song “Llegó la hora en que me tengo que morir” (The Time for Me to Die Has Arrived), composed just a few weeks ago.

“Pacho” Rada was born May 11, 1907.


Mali’s Blind Couple- Great Match, Great Music

Amadou & Mariam - Wati
Amadou and Mariam

Wati (Circular Moves CIM 7011, 2003)

Known as “The Blind Couple of Mali” when they first began to make a splash in their homeland and throughout West Africa, Amadou and Mariam continue to make inroads with listeners elsewhere in the world. The story of how they met at the Institute For The Young Blind in Bamako and triumphed over their visual impairments is a heartening one, but it’s their music that will get you and keep you hooked.

It’s been widely asserted in recent years that West Africa is the true birthplace of blues music, and just like fellow Malians Ali Farka Toure, Habib Koite and Boubacar Traore, much of what is heard in the songs of Amadou and Mariam fuels that contention. Their 1999 album Sou Ni Tile (on the Tinder label) was full of longing, ethereal sounds centered around Amadou’s aching guitar riffs and Mariams voice-in-the-wilderness singing taking the lead as well as harmonizing with Amadou’s gruffer tones. There was also a distinct Arabic leaning in the disc’s frequent use of Middle Eastern modes and phrasing.

The couple went in a somewhat different direction with their next one, 2000’s Tje Ni Mousso (Circular Moves), speeding up the grooves a bit and inserting a heavier Latin/Caribbean feel hinted at previously. Now, with Wati, the two let it all hang out. Amadou’s guitars ripple with authority over galloping drum and percussion rhythms, firmly anchoring bass, varied doses of keyboard, brass, flute, n’goni lute and even hurdy-gurdy and Gnawa instrumentation.

Vocally, Mariam runs the gamut between plaintive and ecstatic as expertly as Oumou Sangare or Rokia Traore, her voice equally at home front and center or sweetening the angular edges. The steady, rolling pulse of songs like “Sarama,’ “Mali Denou” and the opening “Wali De” are tucked away among rockier pieces (‘Lahilala,” “Les Temps Ont Change”) and percolating ballads that address love, faith, history and changing times. Firmly rooted in West Africa but strengthened by shadings of funk, jazz, folk, Islamic mysticism and even rock and roll, this deeply engaging work is another keeper from Amadou and Mariam.


Ghana Government to Tax Commercialized Folklore

Ghana – A second version of the Ghanaian government’s copyright administration is seeking to place a tax on any commercialize use of folklore traditions. The first version fell flat last year due to the number of clauses. The new folklore royalty tax clause would force musicians to get governmental permission and pay a tax for any Ghanaian folklore tradition, song or story appearing in their music. Calls for public opinion forums will debate the issue before the bill goes before the Ghanaian parliament.The threat of fines and jail time, associated with passage of the tax, are expected to squash the use of folk songs and ancestral stories in music and other artistic forms. Some opponents of the bill expect the tax to silence the rich culture and tradition of Ghana, in favor of free use and prominence of American culture and other foreign influences.

Music is not the only target of this folkways tax. Writers, film makers, sculptors, painters and fashion designers would be subject to the strict standards of the tax. Stories told by ancestors, songs sung by mothers and grandmothers for generations and drum poetry would all be subject to taxation if the bill is passed. Litigation and confusion are expected to tie up artistic freedom in miles of Ghanaian bureaucratic tape for some time is the copyright administration gets its way.



TJ Nelson is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing
Athena’s Shadow
<>. Set in
Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures
of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long
forgotten family mystery.  Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of
little help in her quest.  Along with her best friends, an attractive
Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading
memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot
her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931. Traversing the line between
the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to
uncover Athena’s true crime.


Rubén Blades Pursues Law Career

Ruben Blades
Ruben Blades
Panama – Renaissance man Ruben Blades once again is surprising fans and admirers with his decision to return to his native Panama to serve the people – this time as a lawyer.

Blades, 55, has racked up accolades as an actor, Panamanian presidential candidate and singer. Now, he’s putting his film and music career in order to practice law. With a degree from Harvard University in international law, Blades hopes to be of service to his country.

His film career includes roles in Robert Redford’s “The Milagro Beanfield War” (1988) and Spike Lee’s “Mo Better Blues”(1990). In his musical career, Blades won Grammys for “Escenas” (1987) and “Tiempos” (1999) in which he teamed up with Costa Rican band Editus. His musical contribution goes beyond just award-winning CDs as Blades is considered one of the originators behind the salsa movement known as Nueva Canción or New Song movement.

Blades added politics to his resume with a 1994 presidential run in Panama where he came in third.

With a promise to return to his music in the future, fans will have to console themselves that Ruben Blades is making a difference to his people and his land.


Cuba Mourns Death of Compay Segundo

Compay Segundo
(Prensa Latina) Havana, Cuba – The death of Francisco Repilado, known worldwide as Compay Segundo, covered Cuba in mourning when the news was learned by the Cubans early Monday morning.

Repilado, 95, died late Sunday night. He had been suffering for several months of a severe metabolism disorder and kidney failure. Severe symptoms, according to the diagnosis by his physicians, provoked further complications such as the rise of his PH and cretinine level and his blood was contaminated with no remedy.

Compay was a gentleman, one of the most popular figures of our music, Anibal Perez, a middle school student said on his way to the Calzada y K funeral parlor in the El Vedado neighborhood.

Afterwards, as he wished, his remains were taken to Santiago de Cuba, his birthplace, where he was buried at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery.

Some days before dying, he had also asked the Municipal Band of Santiago, with which he was once a clarinetist and regular concert member, to accompany him in the procession. With this Band he played at the inauguration of Havana’s Capitol Building and the central highway, in 1929. The sound of his clarinet gave the signal and the flag was hoisted.

A deep sadness covers the Cuban arts and cultural scene. “We are dismayed“; writers and musicians such as Waldo Leyva, José Maria Vitier and Cesar Portillo de la Luz coincided. “He was a symbol of Cuban identity, the profound Cuban identity that fed his music and was evident in the lyrics of his songs“, they stated.

Máximo Francisco Repilado Muñoz, his real name, remained at his home in Miramar until the end of his life to not lose touch with his closest memories, to continue feeling the deep smell of the sea that brought him the persistent perfume of his childhood beach in Santiago (Siboney). His friends who saw him in the last days of his life told Prensa Latina that he recovered lucidity only during brief moments. In one of those instants, he addressed them saying: “Here, fighting.”

He started his career in Cuba when he was 15 years old, when he bought his first clarinet from Ernesto Toujares along with a learning method. “I paid him“, he would recall in a recent interview, rolling cigars in a “chinchal” (small home factory) he owned. But before, when he was 12, still wearing shorts (as the fashion dictated in the period) he had already founded a sextet christened Los Seis Ases. “We were Tivolí children“, he confessed to his colleague Jorge Petinaud, in Santiago de Cuba, “and we were very popular.” He always boasted of having been one of those “musicians on the corner” who during the hardest times of economic crisis cheered people up on the streets. He also was a serenade musician who studied music theory to find ways to permit him to do what he wanted in the right way.

Compay Segundo had a brilliant career in Cuba along with Ñico Saquito, Sindo Garay, and Miguel Matamoros, “that fine-looking dark-skinned man who thought he was Gardel“, as Compay used to say. He met Benny Moré when he was a 13 or 14 year old adolescent, worked with him, saw him succeed thanks to his clear and bright voice that identified him and has perpetuated him beyond his death.

Two of his proudest moments were having sung for Pope John Paul 2nd and that his song Macusa, full of that candid sensuality he managed so well, that soft picaresque, was one of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s favorite songs.

When he arrived to a second wave of success after turning 90, thanks to the Buena Vista Social Club
project, sponsored by Cuban Juan de Marcos González and US guitarist Ry Cooder, was an extra gift of life, as an opportunity he had to take advantage of. Suddenly he became the eldest worldwide music legend. But he never lost the humbleness, modesty, and kindness that distinguished him. As one of his most fervent Mexican fans recalls: “that smile of Compay Segundo is capable of erasing all the sorrow of your life.”


Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa Dies at 77

Celia Cruz
New Jersey, USA – Celia Cruz, the most popular salsa singer, died from cancer this afternoon at 5 p.m. EST at her home in New Jersey, with her husband, trumpet player Pedro Knight, and family friends, by her side.

Celia Cruz had been in a coma since Tuesday, July 15.

On December 5th of 2002, the 77 year old singer, was hospitalized in New York. She underwent surgery to alleviate a brain injury that affected her nervous system. Celia Cruz was released a week later. Her physician advised her to take 2-3 months to rest and limit all of her engagements during that time.

Celia Cruz was known as the Guarachera de Cuba. A native of Cuba, Cruz was the legendary queen of salsa. Her more than 50 CDs showcased her talent, intensity and determination. Cruz’s fans reach over four generations breaking down racial and cultural barriers. She collaborated with an eclectic group of musicians, ranging from Puerto Rican salsa and Latin jazz celebrity Tito Puente to pop star David Byrne.

In a field so powerfully dominated by male singers and musicians alike, Celia Cruz won global recognition, numerous tributes, a Yale University doctorate, the admiration of her peers, a Hollywood star, a Grammy, a statue in the famous Hollywood wax museum, movie and theater appearances, the key to numerous cities, and the key to the hearts of music lovers everywhere.

Read more about Celia Cruz and her discography.


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