Vocal Sampling is a band where all the instruments are sung instead of played. In addition to the lead vocals and the background choruses, all the instruments of the Cuban orchestra are vocally reproduced: percussion, horns, keyboards, bass, and all the other instruments. There is no technical manipulation and no other instruments are used.
The group is comprised of six Cuban men, all accomplished instrumentalists and arrangers, who met at music school. What began as an amusing after-school game has become their full-time career.
For those new to Latin music, Vocal Sampling is a highly entertaining introduction to the rhythms and styles of Cuban music: guaracha, boleros, rumba, son and swinging salsa. For those familiar with this genre, the group always brings amazement and a smile of delight. Similar to the doo-wop groups of the United States, Vocal Sampling was formed after school and between classes, standing on the sweeping lawns of Havana’s National Superior Institute of Arts. Poney Gross, of Belgium’s Zig Zag World, met the group in Cuba while they were still students, and encouraged them to continue this approach. He arranged several European tours for them.
Very soon they began to be noticed by artists such as Bobby McFerrin, Peter Gabriel and David Byrne. Gabriel brought them to his Real World Studios in Bath, England, where they recorded two songs and Byrne included one of their earliest recordings on his Luaka Bop compilation, Diablo Al Infierno.
In 1992 the group met producer team Sammy Figueroa and Rachel Faro, who arranged for them to be signed to Paroli/BMG Music of Cologne, Germany. Faro Figueroa Productions produced the group’s first album, which attracted the attention of Sire Record’s president Seymour Stein, who immediately began steps to acquire the master. The first album, Una Forma Más, released in 1995 on Sire/Elektra Records and Warner worldwide, was a musical journey through Cuban musical culture, demonstrating several styles of classic Cuban music.
In 1995 the group made an historic tour of the United States where they were an instant success in San Francisco, New York and Puerto Rico, attracting the attention of luminaries such as Paul Simon and Carlos Santana. Since then, they have continued to tour throughout Europe and Latin America, invariably garnering multiple encores and rapturous receptions.
In the summer of 1996 they were invited to appear at the 30th Montreux Jazz Festival as the special guests of Quincy Jones for his 50th anniversary. In 1997, they were invited for a 3 weeks tour in Japan. Vocal Sampling released their second album, De Vacaciones (East West), produced by Rachel Faro and the band. De Vacaciones is almost totally comprised of original compositions and arrangements in a modern salsa style and is sure to be recognized as one of the most amazing a cappella achievements in many years.
In late 1997 the band, created by René Baños, Abel Sanabria and Reinaldo Sanler, included Jorge Núñez, Renato Mora and Oscar Porro. This artistic restructuring was executed in order to increase the musical quality of the band and to widen their potential, for example in the field of classical singing.
In 1999, the band went to Japan, Venezuela, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Isle of Reunion, Canada, Mexico and all over Europe. In October they made a special concert for the first “World Music Award” at the World Music Expo (Womex) in Berlin.
In February 2000 they recorded a new CD called “Cambio De Tiempo” and created a new show under the direction of Katina Genero (Italy). In August 2000, Vocal Sampling had a sold out performance at the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms late night concert. In December 2000, the band signed with Decca records for the international release of “Cambio de Tiempo” in 2001.
Why Should Your Heart Not Dance is an independent release by New York-based, female a cappella world music ensemble Asaran Earth Trio. The trio was assembled by Brazilian vocalist, percussionist and graphic designer Anne Boccato. She recruited Artemisz Polonyi from Hungary and Astrid Kuljanic from Croatia.
Initially, the three artists traded songs from their countries’ traditions, but soon they ended up incorporating folk songs from other regions.
During Asaran Earth Trio’s live performances, the artists encourage audience participation by passing handmade musical instruments crocheted from plastic bags and invite the audience to sing along with them.
Why Should Your Heart Not Dance features jazz-infused traditional songs from the United States, Macedonia, Hungary, Portugal, Brazil, Italy, Bulgaria, Spain and a few originals as well. The songs include vocals and percussion accompaniment, no other instruments. The songs have a rootsy, live feel, with few studio effects like reverb that are commonly used in modern recordings.
The three musicians have solid jazz backgrounds. Polony explains that improvisation is essential to Asaran Earth Trio: “It’s a foundation we can return to in difficult passages, and a way of finding new expressions. We leave a lot of opportunities built into arrangements.”
Anne Boccato indicates that her goal in life is “to write things that groove, even when those things are very complex. It has to feel good.”
Why Should Your Heart Not Dance features outstandingly expressive vocals by Asaran Earth Trio, an ensemble that soulfully explores folk music traditions from various corners of the world.
Finnish vocal music wizards Tuuletar have anew single titled Uho. The four talented women once more perform all vocal and percussive sounds with their voices. The Uho disc features the new track “Uho” plus two tracks from a previous album. “Uho” mixes traditional forms with hiphop.
Tuuletar stand out when they mix regular vocals with their vocal effects. The rapping doesn’t add much value. In fact, song 2 “Tuu Keraa” from “Tules Maas Vedes Taivaal” is more attractive, where the quartet combines classic vocals with something tha sounds like electronic dance music performed with vocals.
Likewise, track 3, “Odotan,’ is excellent, combining traditional influences with modern beats.
An exquisite a cappella album by Finnish quartet Tuuletar. The all-female ensemble sings original compositions inspired by classical music, Finnish folk music, pop and electronics. Even though I mentioned electronics, the quartet doesn’t use electronics. Instead, one of Tuuletar’s members performs the beat box, the vocal emulation of a drum machine.
Even though the four members of Tuuletar are Finnish, they met at the Royal Academy of Music in Denmark. The four artists became friends and created one of the most fascinating a cappella ensembles in the current international scene. Their sound has elements of tradition, but they also sound fresh and contemporary, with gorgeous Finnish-style harmonies that world music fans love, and the beatbox that makes Tuuletar’s music very appealing to younger generations.
Members include Venla Ilona Blom on vocals and beatbox, Sini Koskelainen on vocals, Johanna Kyykoski on vocals, and Piia Säilynoja on vocals.
The ensemble’s album is titled “Tules Maas Vedes Taivaal” (On Fire and Earth, in Water and Sky) that refers to the four elements and their common resonance.
“Tules Maas Vedes Taivaal” was recorded in the United States in a studio specialized in a cappella recordings. The result is a splendid, state of the art vocal recording by four very talented young musicians.
Okay, I am going to lapse into my inner icky fangirl for a moment or two. One of my favorite record labels, the Oslo, Norway based Kirkelig Kulturverksted and one of my favorite producers, Kirkelig Kulturverksted’s very own Erik Hillestad have put out The Sun Will Rise with the stunning Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat.
For anyone who has read some of my reviews I have a longstanding devotion to female Iranian singers like Ms. Vahdat, her sister Marjan Vahdat, Azam Ali, Parisa and Mamak Khadem.
With a voice that is as rich as it is expressive, Mahsa Vahdat is the certainly the gold standard for Iranian vocalists and so it comes as no surprise that Ms. Vahdat would craft and entirely a cappella recording. What is the real surprise of The Sun Will Rise are the extraordinary lengths Ms. Vahdat, Mr. Hillestad and crew took to dazzle listeners.
Delving into a wealth of poetry from likes of Forough Farrokhzad, Rumi, Saadi, Mohammad Ebrahim Jafari, Aref Ghazvini and others, Ms. Vahdat takes her hauntingly graceful vocals on the road to record a cappella in venues like the barrel-vaulted mausoleum of painter Emanuel Vigeland at The Emanuel Vigeland Museum in Oslo, Norway; the Eglise Saint-Claude in Provence, France; the Iglesia de Santa Maria in Requena, Spain; and the Palacios Nazaries in La Alhambra in Granada, Spain; as well as venues in Poland and Turkey. Restricted from performing publicly in Iran, Ms. Vahdat chose to seek out those ancient places where her vocals would rise up ancient walls, age worn bricks and history steeped ceilings. The effect is glorious.
With snippets of the captured sounds of passing birds, water trickling through fountains and the occasional bell, The Sun Will Rise is quite simply strikingly lovely. Ms. Vahdat’s achingly poignant vocals echo throughout The Emanuel Vigeland Museum on opening title track “The Sun Rises” so that the listener can’t help but be enchanted.
Moving through such tracks as “My Eyes Brim with the Sea” with lyrics taken the 14th century poet Iranian Hafez at the Eglise Saint-Claude in Provence to “Show Your Face” with poetry from the 13th century Persian poet Rumi and sung in the Iglesia de Santa Maria in Spain to “The Pair of Your Hair” with poetry from the 11th century Persian poet Baba Taher and recorded in the Crimea Memorial Church in Istanbul, Turkey, The Sun Will Rise is enchanting.
Completely devoid of gimmicks or artifice, Ms. Vahdat’s vocals implore, revere and appeal to the greater grace on each of the 21 tracks of The Sun Will Rise.
Listeners are treated to everything from the wideness of cathedral spaces to the most intimate of spaces with equal measures of clarity of sound and the impassioned splendor of Ms. Vahdat’s vocals.
Stunningly spare, Mahsa Vahdat never sounded so richly worked as in this recording.
Insingizi, Black Umfolosi, Iyasa, Afrika Mamas, Amadaduzo and Blessings Nqo – Best of African Mbube (Arc Music EUCD 2643, 2016)
In the seminal text, “Tristes Tropiques,” Claude Lévi-Strauss argued that the “savage” mind has the same structures as the “civilized” mind and that human characteristics are the same everywhere. His thoughts have proven useful to anthropologists and sociologists for several decades now in dividing societies and communities into perspective-based subgroups for analysis. He is also a good ally for world music listeners, who require some interpretational basis that transcends unique cultures and different languages.
“Mbube” means “lion,” in Zulu. Zulu culture venerates hunting and fighting prowess, as opposed to agricultural skills. When 20th Century realities forced the sons and grandsons of revered warriors to seek livelihood in coal mines and industrial settings, they became strongly interested in retaining the core of their culture in song.
Poor men living in camps or semi-permanent hostels had few instrumental resources, but had one another’s voices, and so a musical form built on loud and powerful a cappella four part harmony, accompanied by dancing, evolved. When Solomon Linda improvised the first 15 notes of a song called “Mbube” during a 1939 recording session with the Evening Birds, the subgenre’s formal framework was defined.
Most listeners will not know exactly what the artists on “Best of African Mbube” are singing about on most of the release’s 20 selections, but will recognize that they are celebrating heroes and celebrating as heroes.
That upbeat attitude is something to seek, enjoy and share. This record and releases by the artists represented on it are very much worth adding to one’s music collection.
Award-winning ensemble A Filetta was formed in 1978 in the northwestern city of Balagne in Corsica by adolescents united by their passion for Corsican polyphony. The group’s name means fern. The repertoire ranges from traditional to sacred and profane songs.
For a number of years, A Filetta has exported its polyphonies abroad.
Machja n’avemu un altra (1981)
Cun tè (1984)
Sonnii Zitillini and In l’abbriu di e stagioni (1987)
A U Visu Di Tanti (1989)
Ab’eternu (1992) Una Tarra Ci He (1994) Passione (1997) Intantu (2002) Si Di Mè (2003) Bracana (Harmonia Mundi, 2008)
Mistico Mediterraneo, with Paolo Fresu and Daniele di Bonaventura (ECM, 2011)
Di Corsica Riposu, Requiem pour deux regards, with Daniele di Bonaventura (2011) Castelli (Harmonia Mundi/World Village, 2015)
“A Filetta, voix corses” by Don Kent (Éditions Montparnasse, 2002)
“Trent’anni Pocu, Trent’anni Assai”, a documentary by Cathy Rocchi and a concert at the Oratoire de Calvi (Harmonia Mundi, 2009)
Sub-Saharan African vocal harmony CDs are like cats; it’s hard to find an ugly one. That does not mean that some are not better than others, though, and this one is. The rich sound for which ARC is noted is in possibly its best format with this sort of South African Mbube-style a cappella music.
Afrika Mamas is good and has a remarkable handle on combining traditional and even conversational elements with strong vocal rhythm. It is a product of the 21st Century, certainly, but harks back to the tradition of Solomon Linda and His Evening Birds, circa 1939.
The lineup includes band leader Ntombifuthi Lushaba on soprano vocals, Patricia Bhe Shandu on alto and lead vocals, Sibongile Nkosi on bass and lead vocals, Ntombizethu Joyise on soprano vocals, Sinegugu Khoza on soprano and lead vocals, Fikile Mhlongo on bass vocals, and Sister Zungu on bass vocals. Tshepo Bryce Maimela and Sipho Mbel played percussion on several tracks.
An outstanding, upbeat release from a subgenre full of strong competition.