European Sounds Head East, West, Every Which Way

Orkestina – Transilvania Express
Orkestina – Transilvania Express (World Village 498002, 2003)

Harmonious Wail – Gypsy Swing (Naxos World 76056-2, 2003)

Nadya Giga and Their 101 Candles Orchestra (no label or number information)

Thus far, there hasn’t really been a lumped-together subgenre dubbed “European music” in the same sense that there’s been, for example, “African music” or “Latin music.” These three European-rooted releases, furthermore, lean heavily toward sounds associated with the Gypsy realm, but I would hesitate to proclaim them “Gypsy music” because of what else they’ve got going on.Beginning with a melodic forefront of double bass, accordion, violin, and gadulka (Bulgarian 13-string fiddle), Spain-based Orkestina draws on the ethnic backgrounds of its members (English, Irish, Bulgarian, Spanish) and their diverse tastes and talents.

The music on Transilvania Express is a richly arranged and exquisitely played selection of Bulgarian folk rubbing elbows with klezmer, Balkan melodies jigging and reeling to Arabic percussion and deep-seated traditions boosted by modern spirits. There are eight instrumentals and one love song here, and each contributes fully to making this disc a seriously spunky winner.

Harmonious Wail – Gypsy Swing
The back cover of Harmonious Wail’s Gypsy Swing contends that the term “Gypsy swing” is the only jazz style coined outside the U.S. I have not the expertise to confirm or deny that, but I can say that their sound, inspired by the jazz experimentation of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli in the first half of the 20th century, has a lot going for it. Gypsy passion and romanticism are very much in evidence, along with a sizable French cabaret vibe and the adventurousness of recasting familiar American songs (“Chasing Rainbows,” “Sheik of Araby,” etc.) in Gypsy jazz style.

The presence of a mandolin as the frequent lead instrument and some very tart violin playing bring a degree of bluegrass as well (this is an American band, after all). It’s mostly snappy instrumentals,
but a few smoky vocal selections add variety and color to the mix of covers and originals. A generous running time of 76 minutes allows this charmingly infectious music to work its way into you cool and slow.

Nadya Giga and Their 101 Candles Orchestra
Lastly, and somehow least likely, there’s Nadya Giga and Their 101 Candles Orchestra. Their home base is in Sydney, Australia but their sound is classic eastern European. There’s lots of galloping rhythms, brimming brass, swirling reeds and strings and yes, that Gypsy thing again. Singer Nadya Golski (originally from Poland) and Bosnian guitarist/musical director Giga Mirsad Jeleskovic are the guiding forces here, having their act together on all fronts. They even slip in an Irish folk song without turning down or radically changing the heat of their Bosnian/Croatian/Spanish/klezmer ingredients. Sizzling songs, sad songs, expert playing and lots of heart carry the album, and it’s a gem.


Better Check Your Pulse

Pulse – A Stomp Odyssey – Soundtrack from the Imax Film
Pulse – A Stomp Odyssey – Soundtrack from the Imax Film (Six Degrees Records, 2002)

There’s a lot of passion behind this global drum extravaganza, but it feels too much like the off-Broadway celebration of drums, Stomp in which it derived. Pulse fails to go off the beaten track, despite it’s large theme of spreading cultural diversity through world beats. It’s missing a few key ingredients such as Taiko drums of Japan, shamanic drums from Korea, music from the Caribbean and
Gamelan of Indonesia. In fact, with the exception of India, Asian music isn’t included. It’s the mistake that lot of world beat producers make. They call something global and then focus on obvious places such as countries in Africa, Brazil and Latin America (which ironically, is missing here).

I think we can stretch our boundaries further. Let’s focus on the positive because there are many positive vibes on Pulse and some insightful moments. First of all, we know that everything from a baby’s cry to an eagle circling in the sky contains rhythm and the most famous beat is the one that comes from our hearts or the pulse of the earth mother. I think that idea is captured on Pulse, in that rhythm is found in hand clapping (flamenco), a Native American pow wow, a Brazilian carnival, in rap music vocalizations and women chanting while they work. In that respect, Pulse becomes the musical equivalent of the film, Baraka which takes us on a visual journey around the world backed by world music. < Pulse includes drum tracks by well known drummers Steward Copeland, Mr. Bill and Mr. Ben and a Six Degrees Record favorite, Karsh Kale. NYC favorites, The Jackie Robinson Steppers team up with the Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle Corps, bringing us a mix of Hispanic and African American beats. American Indian Dance Theatre gives us an all too brief taste of pow wow drums and chants and Eva Yerbabuena emphasizes the syncopated hand claps found in Andalusian flamenco. Also found on this CD, is Brazilian carnival music compliments of Carlinhos Brown, an elephant procession from East Indian drummers of Pallavur Sreedharan. These big moments fuse with smaller moments, snatches of women chanting while they work pounding millet. Pulse most likely will please crowds, especially after the IMAX cinematic release, but I would like to see a more cutting edge approach that includes music from little known cultures around the globe. Include more indigenous musicians. Buy Pulse – A Stomp Odyssey – Soundtrack from the Imax Film

(Formerly published on Cranky Crow World Music).


2004 Annual Conference of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology

London, England – The Elphinstone Institute and the Music Research Group at the University of Aberdeen will host the 2004 Annual Conference of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, taking place from Thursday 15 April (afternoon start) to Sunday 18 April (finishing early afternoon).

Call for Papers

Theme 1: Ethnomusicology at Home
As in social anthropology and other ethnographically-based disciplines, the researcher in ethnomusicology is increasingly turning towards the home context as a relevant base for fieldwork. This approach merits close examination and discussion.
Papers should address such issues as:
… What are the methodological implications?
… Are there implicit ideological or political considerations?… What are the advantages and disadvantages of the approach?
… How does it affect fieldwork style?
… How does status as insider or outsider affect the role of the
… Is a reflexive stance more or less relevant when at home?
… In the case of a native fieldworker is s/he blinkered or more capable of significant insights?
… Where is home?

Theme 2: Transformed States
In many different cultures and contexts the music people make is dependent for its inspiration on a transformed state of mind. This may be induced by administering substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, or narcotics.

Alternatively the transformed state may come from within, through emotions or feelings, such as joy, love, grief, fear, or from religious devotion or spiritual experience. Similarly body movements, especially dance or rhythmic percussion, may be the source.

Submissions should address such issues as:
… What is the nature of the relationship between the transformed state, its stimulus, and the music?
… How does the transformed state affect musical creativity and/or meaning?
… How does music contribute to the process of altering states of mind?
… What part does social and cultural context play in shaping the transformed state / music making?

Research in Progress
There will be the opportunity for students to submit proposals for short papers of 10 minutes based on their ongoing study (whether or not pertinent to the main themes).

Pre-formed panels of 90 or 120 minutes may also be proposed.

Submission of Proposals
Abstracts of up to 300 words (extended pro rata for panels) should be submitted, preferably by e-mail to Ian Russell by 30 November 2003. In the case of postal submissions, authors should include two copies but with their identity and institutional affiliation included on one copy only, plus a copy of the text on disk to facilitate eventual reproduction in the book of abstracts.  Please also indicate (a) what audio-visual equipment the presentation will require, and (b) whether you expect to be in attendance for the full duration of the conference.  Abstracts will be evaluated anonymously by an expert panel and authors may expect to be advised of their acceptance or otherwise in the New Year.  Those in need of an earlier decision should contact Ian Russell. Papers on the conference themes should last for no more than 20 minutes and there will be up to 10 minutes allowed for questions and discussion.

With its sparkling granite buildings, Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city – a combination of historic charm, thriving economy, and cosmopolitan community. A seaport and centre for Europe’s North Sea oil and gas industries, it is home to 212,000 people. From the mile-long beach and the historic 15th century university campus in Old Aberdeen, it is less than half-an-hour to the tranquility of the nearby hills and countryside in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. Aberdeen caters for all tastes in arts, culture, leisure, and entertainment with His Majesty’s Theatre, Music Hall, and
Lemon Tree regularly attracting national and international artists. The Aberdeen Art Gallery, Maritime Museum, and Marischal Museum are all highly recommended. There are also many good restaurants and bars.

Accommodation in single or twin en-suite rooms is in King’s Hall less than 5 minutes walk from the Regent Lecture Theatre, New Kings, and the Linklater Rooms, where the formal conference activities will take place.  (Parking is available at New Kings and on the campus.) We can also offer a list of
reasonably priced local accommodation.

Evening events will include a performance of traditional Scottish ballads and music, a participatory workshop, and the traditional BFE party.  There will also be time to explore the local area with an excursion to nearby castles and glens.

Dr Ian Russell, Director
The Elphinstone Institute
University of Aberdeen
24 High Street
AB24 3EB
Tel: +44 (0)1224 272386
Fax: +44 (0)1224 272728


Pianist Hernán López-Nussa Prepares Album in Dominican Republic

(Prensa Latina – Cumbancha) Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – Cuban pianist Hernán López-Nussa disclosed here that he is currently working in Dominican Republic, in the preparation of an album of songs with local author José Antonio Rodríguez. López Nussa, famous jazz musician, stated he will go into the popular song genre for the first time, along with various Dominican musicians, including the possible participation of merengue musician Juan Luis Guerra.

The Cuban musician stated he is currently working with Rodríguez in the compilation of the forthcoming album’s repertoire, planned to be recorded and sold in Dominican Republic.Asked about this proposal, atypical on his jazz career, López Nussa highlighted that the idea came during one of his presentations some time ago at the Santo Domingo’s Casa de Teatro, where along with other Cuban musicians he recorded some song written by José Antonio Rodríguez.


Brazil Up to the Minute

Various Artists – Brazilian Groove
Various Artists – Brazilian Groove (Putumayo PUT 216-2, 2003)

Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Brazilian Electronica (World Music
Network RGNET 1123 CD, 2003)

Like many global music listeners, I embrace the electronica/techno scene with caution. When the electronica treatment is applied to sounds of Africa, the Arabic world, Latin America, Native America or what have you, all too often the intent seems to be contemporizing the music at all costs, regardless of whether or not any reasonable degree of roots tradition is maintained. Thankfully, more and more releases in the ethno/techno category (if that is indeed what they’re calling it currently) are finding a more equitable balance. It can depend, of course, on how well the electronica approach fits the music
at hand, and in that respect the music of Brazil has fared well.

Two of the more productive labels around– World Music Network and Putumayo–have modern Brazilian compilations out now, and both pack an appealing punch.

Putumayo’s Brazilian Groove takes a more laid-back path, abounding with acoustic textures getting tastefully techno-tweaked and generally minimal toying with vocals. thus notables like Zuco 103, Carlinhos Brown and Aleh have their nuances carried along rather than swept away by the electronica currents.

The familiar classic “Mas Que Nada” gets a respectful updating, a good illustration of the way this collection does the job with restraint and emphasis on the rhythmic and melodic shades that make Brazilian music great no matter how it’s buttered.

Rough Guide to Brazilian ElectronicaRough Guide to Brazilian Electronica gets off to an awkward start with Suba’s rather stiff “Sereia” (the late Suba was a great talent but this particular track isn’t one of his best).

Things improve from there, as the techno touches are splashed about with abandon but local color is given room to breathe. Ramiro Musotto’s “Caminho” benefits from the murky emphasis on surdo drums, Cila Do Coco scores with the echoey “Juntando Coco,” Suba is redeemed via a lively “Samba Do Gringo Paulista” and the chillier side of things shows up in tracks by Superagua, Rica Amabis and Macumbalada. There are moments when things get more clunky than funky, but most of the 68 minutes here range from worthwhile to cracklingly good.


CD Haila Live Storms US Market

Haila Maria Mompie  - Haila Live
Haila Maria Mompie – Haila Live
(Prensa Latina – Cumbancha) Havana, Cuba – The charisma and strength of Cuban singer Haila Maria Mompie made a sudden entry in the US market with the recording Haila Live. The US digital publication Salsa Power revealed that the Caribbean artist has imposed her style, backed by Canadian record companies that promote her.

Mompie is considered to be among the female singers with one of the most powerful ranges within Cuban music and her CD attests to it. In Haila Live she joins Cuban stars Issac Delgado, with whom she sings the bolero “Pensamiento,” and Chucho Valdes, and Mayito Rivera, singer of Los Van Van. Also participating are the David Calzado Orchestra, and Charanga Habanera, with whom she is promoting her latest productions in Japan. Dancers are able to feel “the energy and electricity” conveyed in the songs Haila and her musicians play. Haila Live includes songs like “Hoy me inclino,” “La rosa,” “Bemba colora,” “La sopa en botella,” “Sobre una tumba, rumba,” and the classics “Drume negrita” and “Que te pedi,” among others.

Buy Haila Live


The trio plays on

Vasen - Trio
Vasen – Trio


Trio (NorthSide)

Swedish folk-roots group Vasen now appears with two lineups, the original trio formed in 1989 by nyckelharpa player Olov Johansson, viola player Mikael Marin and guitarist Roger Tallroth as well as, the quartet with percussionist Andre Ferrari (1996).

Trio, appropriately titled marks a minimalist setup that offers complex musical arrangements in which the instruments are seamlessly interwoven into an aural tapestry. And like other groups that honor Swedish folk music such as Frifot, the songs on Trio also feature waltzes, polkas and even a wedding march composed for “a couple that desperately wanted to get married,” (The Ulfsunda Wedding March). While Frifot (another trio) spotlights fiddler Lena Willemark’s illustrious vocal talents, Vasen’s focus often falls on to the nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish instrument performed by the champion player, Johansson. That’s not to say that Marin and Tallroth’s talents aren’t appreciated since the synergy between guitar, viola and nyckelharpa as well as, the three performers seen on the CD ROM live performance (enhanced CD) create an atmosphere of sheer delight and innovative musicianship. After all the music they compose and perform is nothing short of a brain teaser.

In the past, when I saw photographs of the group, I would notice their stern facial expressions further enhanced by black somber clothing. My initial thought at the time was that I would be listening to music composed by sons of pastors and farmers with the Protestant work ethic tossed in for good measure. However, Vasen’s music often explores whimsical territory. Take for instance the gleeful wink and nod, Play Tag in Church or any of the valentines (tributes) to friends and family members that appear on Trio. Johansson composed Clara’s Waltz as a lullaby for his daughter. Tallroth wrote Fiddler’s Trap for one of his guitar students as well as, Tuning Bug to check the tuning on his guitar (he plays a 12 string guitar).

Many of the songs range from lyrical pastoral to lively toe-tappers. And upon each listen, the beauty of the songs seep out little by little until listener’s ears surrender to their magic.

And despite all the enchantment, I find myself drawn to the nyckelharpa. It is one of the most striking Scandinavian instruments next to the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele). Also called the keyed fiddle, the nyckelharpa slightly resembles the hurdy-gurdy (another instrument that has found a home in Scandinavian music), but the strings on the nyckelharpa are bowed instead of
played with a wheel and crank system. And the melody is played on a series of keys, something both instruments have in common. Sympathetic strings and a drone string create a buzzing sound, but unlike the hurdy-gurdy, the nyckelharpa sounds more like a fiddle than bagpipes. In the expert hands of Johansson, the nyckelharpa transforms into a musical treasure chest further embellished by
Tallroth’s guitar/bouzouki and Marin’s 5-string viola.

(Compliments of Cranky Crow World Music).


Pancho Quinto’s Percussion Quintessence

Pancho Quinto – Rumba Sin Fronteras
Pancho Quinto

Rumba Sin Fronteras (Riverboat Records/World Music Network TUGCD1031, 2003)

A true master percussionist from a land that has produced many, Cuba’s Pancho Quinto can still astound after nearly half a century of activity. Early on, he pioneered the use of bata (double-headed sacred drum) and cajón (wooden box drum) in the already heavily percussive backbone of rumba, and his deft, textured drumming continues to epitomize the best combination of tradition and innovation.

There are moments on Rumba Sin Fronteras when he handily nails the convergence points between Afro-Cuban roots and Latin jazz as well, with no small assist from guests like keyboard genius Omar Sosa (who also soars stunningly on marimba on one track here).

By and large this is a percussion and voice album, though. The African-influenced call-and-response vocals have a relaxed, conversant quality that fits flawlessly with the array of hand drums and smaller instruments. Amid multiple layers of skin-on-skin beats punctuated by wooden and metallic sounds
darting in and out, the whole thing sounds perfectly synchronized yet somehow loose and free-spirited. And when electric instruments are added, as on the rolling funk of the opening “La Gorra,” there’s a soulfulness and sensuality that the percussion props up all the more.

Kudos to the razor sharp production work of Greg Landau, one of several San Francisco area luminaries (percussionist John Santos is another) who contribute to the overall excellence here.

So how do I best describe this disc? Many words come to mind–hypnotic, exhilarating, virtuosic, hot, cool, atmospheric, etc.–all aptly descriptive but all ultimately falling short of describing how very wonderful it is. Suffice to say it’s one of the greatest percussion-centered recordings ever, and one of my top picks of the year.

Buy Rumba Sin Fronteras


Gigi in the background

Gigi – Illuminated Audio

Illuminated Audio (Palm Pictures, 2002)

This review starts with the question, where’s Gigi? The Ethiopian vocalist sensation’s talent has been relegated to a musical wash that lingers in the background of Bill Laswell’s ambient mixes. So technically, Illuminated Audio is Bill Laswell’s album. Fans of the famous dub master Laswell won’t mind, but those individuals who enjoy listening to Gigi (Ejigayehu Shibabaw) will be disappointed to say the least.

Illuminated Audio
relies too heavily on reverberated instruments, exotic beats and bass often times sounding like a studio mix waiting for the vocal tracks to be laid on top. Then again, this could be expected from Laswell who also remixed Miles Davis’ Panthalassa, Bob Marley’s Dreams of Freedom and Carlos Santana’s Divine Light. Dubbing is one thing, but remastering the masters seems like an egoist’s dream.

Thankfully, there is a former version of this CD (simply named Gigi) that features Gigi’s vocals intact and it too was produced by Bill Laswell. The master musicians who appeared on the CD Gigi including saxophonists, Wayne Shorter, Henry Threadgill, Pharoah Sanders, guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, percussionists Aiyb Dieng and Karsh Kale’s musical gifts are highlighted in bits and pieces on Illuminated Audio.

Often times, the saxophones contribute to an overall wash that is anchored by Laswell’s bass and Dieng and Kale’s acoustic drums while Gigi’s vocals float over the top similar to a fickle breeze wafting through an open window. On the track, Guramayle, Gigi’s immaculate voice graces tribal beats and on Gud Fellow, the Ethiopian chanteuse’s vocals flow thoughout a haunting musical scape. Needless to say, there are some gorgeous mixes on this CD, especially for Laswell’s devoted following.

In 1956, John Cage claimed, "In the future records will be made from records." Let’s just hope this doesn’t become the exception to the rule since dead musicians would replace the one’s that are still living, breathing and paying their bills. It’s a difficult struggle as it is competing with live musicians and as the world becomes more techno-friendly, perhaps the creme of the crop will be hollering "brother, can you spare a dime." The good news for some is that you won’t have to pay to see master musicians in concert when you can catch them performing on a street corner near you. Just throw a couple of quarters into their hats.

Originally published on Cranky Crow World Music


Extraordinary Scottish Music

Shooglenifty - The Arms Dealer's Daughter</a
Shooglenifty – The Arms Dealer’s Daughter</a


The Arms Dealer’s Daughter (Compass Records 74362 2, 2003)

Shooglenifty is an instrumental band that is creating new ways of expression for Scottish music. Unlike many other contemporary bands in the so-called Celtic genre, Shooglenifty did not find a need to use vocalists and, frankly, they don’t need singers as the band members are a phenomenal group of
instrumentalists. The groundbreaking sound of the band is based in the combination of traditional Scottish melodies and rhythms with other cultures such as their Celtic cousins in Spain, as well as African guitar, Asian impressions, rumba beats and Afro-American jazz.

But this not your typical acoustic band reworking traditional songs. Shooglenifty creates an imaginative amalgamation of acoustic and electric sounds. Fiddle, banjo, mandolin and Galician pandeiro (frame drum) are mixed with electric guitars and bass, trap drums, samples and effects. The US release is out on Compass Records, a label that has managed to license some of the finest contemporary Irish and British folk music.


Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion