Baka Beyond – A Celtic Heart With the Beat of an African Drum

Baka Beyond – East to West
Baka Beyond

East to West (Narada World 72435-43725-2-0)

It’s been a decade since Baka Beyond’s Spirit of the Forest, a landmark collaboration in which eclectic English guitarist Martin Cradick and his vocalist wife Su Hart traveled to Cameroon to meld the rhythms and voices of the forest-dwelling Baka people with acoustic guitar, mandolin and some studio tweaking to produce an ethnic/folk/global hybrid that still sounds inspired. Once Baka Beyond evolved into a true recording and touring band, their music began to take on a distinctly Afro-Celtic feel.

On East to West, the violin, pennywhistle and uilleann pipes that combine with an array of African percussion don’t sound particularly groundbreaking, but it sure is a great fit. The interplay is sweetly evident during the instrumental passages, where the jig-and-reel melodies compliment the intricate rhythms (and vice versa) with a symbiosis that is all at once joyful, sensual and invigorating.

Cradick’s guitar and mandolin still provide much of the sparkle while Hart’s vocals (particularly on the lighthearted “Ra-Li-O” and the pensive “Silver Whistle”) suggest sounds emanating from a pub in the middle of a rainforest. Baka Beyond has indeed moved beyond- Baka percussion and vocals played only a minor role in the creation of this disc. Still, the band remains dedicated to improving the quality of life for the Baka, paying royalties for use of their music and assisting charities connected to their cause. So while East to West is a highly enjoyable album, it’s also the latest step in a crossing of cultures that will continue to benefit all involved.

Buy East to West

[Editor’s footnote] Read the following article about the Baka’s new nightclub in the jungle: Nightclub in the Jungle

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Africa-Pella by Alain Nkossi Konda

Alain Nkossi Konda - Africa-Pella
Alain Nkossi Konda – Africa-Pella
Alain Nkossi Konda

Africa-Pella(Afrikool Music Productions–Germany, 2003)

While there is plenty of folk roots music coming from the African continent, a multitude of African pop artists hailing from the Diaspora have also appeared on the scene including such artists as and others too numerous to mention here. And in fact, new genres have been created for African pop to distinguish it from its folk-rootsy cousins. Newcomer Alain Nkossi Konda is a member of a new generation of Afro-pop artists in their 30’s and blending modern technology with African rhythms and sensibilities. This new generation of musicians appears more interested in love and relationships than previous generations that explored spirituality and social issues. That seems to be the case on Nkossi Konda’s Africa-Pella, a recording that marries stylized African beats and guitar with warm programming, resulting in pleasant light pop that will please listeners who would rather walk on a road paved with commercialism, that the old dirt road of the ancestors. That’s not to say that Africa-Pella lacks sincerity or passion, but is most likely the product of Congolese musician spending most of his years in one of the world’s music capitals, New York City where a musician can’t help, but be shaped by the pop music industry. His penchant for entering songwriting contests has also led him on the road to commercial success. He was the first artist to sign to Harry Belafonte’s Niger Records label (Palm Pictures). However, Konda is manning his own ship and destiny. True to his animal namesake, (Nkossi means “lion” in the Kikongo language), Konda too has a lion heart going boldly where other musicians fear to tread and his only safety net comes from his familiarity with pop structure and African music. Yet, the tracks on Africa-Pella leap frog into various genres ranging from Marley anthemesque Middle Passage and Let Me Hold You to the funky Bolingo and the haunting chamber piece, Flame and the Wind. The opener, Unconditional Love (winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, 2003) and the radio-friendly Manuela also appeal to Konda’s songwriting talents.

The music here is fresh-face and overly slick at times. It sometimes suffers from an artist trying to tame the musical force. Konda could certainly benefit from working with musical collaborators and a talented producer while finding his true musical roots as opposed to cribbing off of pop musicians that came before him. There’s an original voice waiting to be released, if only he would give up control and tap into it. As it is, with so many African pop artists releasing CDs with a pop emphasis, we might grow weary of this genre in the near future.

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Hassan Hakmoun To Tour Canada

Moroccan Gnawa Music Master Hassan Hakmoun, recipient of this year’s American Federation of Independent Music (AFIM) Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album for The Gift
(Triloka Records) will embark on a tour of Canada beginning July 18 at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.

Whether onstage, or visiting with friends in a small apartment, as Hakmoun sings and plays himself into a trance, people around him seem not too far from a trance-like state themselves. The pentatonic scale and driving rhythm of the Sintir are instantly appealing and familiar to Western audiences. The music of the Gnawa, like much American popular music, is built from elements borrowed from West Africa. Clawhammer banjo enthusiasts will also find commonality in the percussive style of plucking the Sintir.

Tour dates:

Hassan Hakmoun On Tour.

7/18/2003 Toronto ON Harbourfront Centre (416) 973-4000
7/19/2003 Ottawa ON Ottawa International Jazz Fest
7/20/2003 Montreal QC Nuits d’Afrique (514) 499-9239
8/15/2003 Vancouver BC Wise Hall (604) 734-7907
8/16/2003 Salmon Arm BC Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival (250) 833-4096
8/17/2003 Salmon Arm BC Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival (250) 833-4096

For more information about the roots of Hassan’s music, read Gnawa Music .

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Sones Jarochos from Veracruz

La Bamba - Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
La Bamba – Sones Jarochos from Veracruz

Washington, DC, USA – Smithsonian Folkways has released a new album of sones jarochos from the Mexican state of Veracruz, La Bamba – Sones Jarochos from Veracruz (Smithsonian Folkways 40505, 2003).

Jarocho describes both the people and culture of the southern coastal plain of Veracruz, home for more than two centuries to one of Mexico’s most exciting musical traditions, the son jarocho. Although son jarocho is lesser known abroad than other Mexican styles such as corridos, cumbias and rancheras; songs such as “La Bamba,” “Cascabel,” and “Siquisirí” occupy a major spot in Mexico’s musical folklore.

José Gutiérrez, Felipe Ochoa, and Marcos Ochoa, raised on the tropical ranchos of Veracruz’s interior, are three of the most accomplished ambassadors of the modern-day son jarocho tradition. They play complex, hard-driving rhythms on the Veracruz harp and on the guitars called jarana and requinto, and sing high-pitched vocal melodies brimming with wit and regional pride. They have toured Europe, the United States, Central America, and Mexico, while in Veracruz they continue to enliven weddings, baptisms, public events, and celebrations of all kinds.

Buy La Bamba – Sones Jarochos from Veracruz.

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Brazil at Jazz en la Costa, Spain

Jorge Ben Jor
Jorge Ben Jor

Almuñécar, Granada, Spain – This year’s theme of the Jazz en la Costa festival is Brazil. Several top Brazilian guests will be performing there: Jorge Ben Jor, Ivan Lins and Rosa Passos.

The festival takes place in the Mediterranean town of Almuñécar, located in the Granada coast, in southern Spain. The venue is the Parque el Majuelo, next to the ancient Phoenician ruins and right under the Arab castle.

For more information go to: Jazz en la Costa

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CD Review: Au-Dela Des Mots by Alan Stivell

Alan Stivell



Au-Dela Des Mots
 

(Disque Dreyfus FDM 36224-2, 2002)

It is many years since Renaissance of the Celtic Harp brought Stivell’s work to my ears. He made links between Breton and the music of Ireland, Scotland and Wales and stood up for his own language and culture. I liked both of these facets and still do. Now I have his 21st album, all instrumental and featuring a number of different harps among less traditional devices like loops of electronic soundscape.
The opening and closing track, La Harpe, L’Eau, Le Vent gives you some idea of his territory. It is an impressionistic journey full of rippling harp textures recalling wild coastlines and Atlantic breakers crashing over rocks. There are a number of pieces like this, suggestive of landscape and climate.

Another instrument that complements the harps is the Irish, or uilleann pipes.These are featured along with wind and waves on two of the versions of La Celtie et L’Infini. They are used to even greater effect on Goltraidhe or Music In The Scale Of Sorrow, as their lament skirls over Stivell’s richly atmospheric plucking. It is very moving and evocative, as is Et Les Feuilles Repousseront, which is rendered in more prosaic English as Winter’s End. The shimmering chords and chiming strings are suggestive of hope and respite from hard fingers gripping the land. Sorry, it just brings out the poet in me!

Another renowned harpist inspired Demain Matin Chez O’Carolan in which Stivell successfully re-creates both the delicacy and swagger of the great blind Irishman’s tunes. Whistler and piper, Ronan Le Bars, adds further colour to a lovely melody.
Though Stivell’s priority is still Celtic music it is possible to hear diverse influences from the blues, Spain and Africa. These are blended seamlessly showing what he prefers to call natural similarities between the musics.

If at times there are slight leanings to a Celtic Ambient style it is still miles away from the blandness of Celtic Chillout or Celtic Cafe terrain and I’d certainly recommend it.

Buy

Au-Dela Des Mots

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Tamburaland Festival

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA – Tamburaland Festival is a festival of tamburica music featuring 10 top tamburica orchestras from across North America. The event is held at the Millvale Croatian Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 7th, 2003, 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm.

Artists featured include The Jerry Grcevich Tamburitza Orchestra, 8601, Kontraband, Momci, Mark Spisic Tamburica Orkestar, Veseli, Trubaduri, Skrseni Glas, Sanjari, and the Saint George Combo.There will also be a special appearance by dance ensemble Kumovi who will perform one number during the official program.

For more information about tambura music, visit
http://www.tamburaland.com

For information about the festival, visit

http://www.tamburaland.com/events/tlandfestival/index.html

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Sonora Carruseles, US Tour

Sonora Carruseles - Heavy Salsa
Sonora Carruseles – Heavy Salsa
Los Angeles, USA – The popular Colombian salsa group Sonora Carruseles will be touring the United States again in June and July 2003. Tour dates will be posted online at SalsaArtists.com.

Carruseles is known for their hit songs “Micaela”, “Lola”, “Arranca En Fa” and their newest hit “De Una Vez Gozando”.

This popular Colombian salsa group came into the tropical scene performing Afro-Caribbean rhythms, including a traditional style known as salsa brava, originated in the 1960s. Formed in 1995 by composer/producer/conguero Diego Galé and Mario Rincón, and backed by the record label Discos Fuentes, the group became a boogaloo and original salsa revival, taking over Latin America, the U.S., and Europe after releasing 1998’s Heavy Salsa and 1999’s Salsa Y Fuego.

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Regional Youth to Dance with Cuban Musicians

Adalberto y Su Son - Para Bailar Casino
Adalberto y Su Son – Para Bailar Casino
(Prensa Latina – Cumbancha)Singer and orchestra director Adalberto Alvarez announced that he is working on a cultural recreation project to be launched soon while preparing a dance music CD whose title will be used in a television program.

In “Para Bailar Casino” (To Dance Casino), a song which will be the theme of a live summer TV program with performances by orchestras and Casino dances; I even include the voices of the dressing room director, he stated. TV director Victor Torres and I conceived the program.

The new CD marks another moment of renovation in Adalberto y su Son orchestra with the incorporation of young musicians and new singers. Adalberto, the Gentleman of Son, is heading the Organizing Committee of the 1st International Gathering of Casino Dancers to be held at the 14th Festival to be held in Matanzas and at the Varadero tourist resort, from August 8 to 11, with participation of dancers from all continents.

The Music Institute, Havanatur and CIMEX Corporation are sponsoring the event that arrives in time to impede that this choreographic dance style created spontaneously in the late 1940s is materialized in other countries prior to Cuba.

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