Tag Archives: Afrobeat

Artist Profiles: Dele Sosimi

Dele Sosimi

Dele Sosimi is a British-Nigerian musician born February 22, 1963 in London, England.

Dele Sosimi stands out as one of the most active musicians currently on the Afrobeat scene worldwide. Dele’s career began when he joined Fela’s Anikulapo-Kuti’s Egypt 80 (1979-1986) and then subsequently with Fela’s son Femi Anikulapo-Kuti’s Positive Force (1986-1994). In both bands he was musical director and keyboard player.

Since Fela created Afrobeat, Dele’s Afrobeat pedigreee is therefore impeccable. The music is a blend of complex but highly danceable funk grooves, Nigerian traditional music (including hi-life), African percussion, underpinning the jazz horns and solos from other instruments, as well as rhythmical singing.

Dele toured extensively around the world with Fela and Femi, re-orchestrating and arranging music and also handling the recruiting and training of new musicians. His keyboard work can be heard on Fela’s Power Show, Original Sufferhead, MOP 1 (Movement of the People), Authority Stealing, Army Arrangeement, ITT (International Thief Thief), and Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, and on Femi’s albums No Cause for Alarm and Mind Your Own Business.

Dele has also performed often with Tony Allen, the king of Afrobeat drumming. Following his first solo album “Turbulent Times” (Eko Star 2002), he was invited to select the tracks for the 3-CD compilation titled “Essential Afrobeat” (Universals Family Recordings, 2004).

He was producer and co-writer of “Calabash Volume 1: Afrobeat Poems” by Ikwunga, the Afrobeat Poet (2004). He is a central member of the Wahala Project, whose single Wahala appears on Puma’s 2006 Soccer World Cup Compilation CD. He has also featured on British rapper TY’s recent album Closer (on the track Sweating for your Salary), and his Turbulent Times is featured on The Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project (2006).

Currently based in London, Dele is an educator and instructor in Afrobeat (via his Dele Sosimi Afrobeat Foundation, and as a Visiting Lecturer in Music and Media, London Metropolitan University). Sosimi is abetted by a group of musicians, most of whom have either played with him on previous records or have gigged with him on the live circuit.

Discography:

Turbulent Times (Eko Star, 2002)
Identity (Helico Records, 2007)
You No Fit Touch Am (2015)

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Artist Profiles: Lagbaja

Lagbaja

Lagbaja is widely considered to be one of Africa’s most exciting and interesting contemporary artists. Combining sophisticated compositions with a dynamic stage show and enigmatic personality, he was a popular in Nigeria, in constant demand for live performance and ubiquitous on the airwaves. His monthly shows at his own Motherlan’ Niteclub, in the heart of Ikeja – the capital of Lagos state, sold-out well in advance.

Lagbaja – which in the Yoruba language has a simultaneous multiple-translation meaning of “somebody”, “nobody”, “anybody” and “everybody” – has always performed masked. On one level, by never revealing his human identity, Lagbaja represents the common man and the faceless voice of the masses. On yet another level, his elaborate masks and stage costumes link him to the ancient tradition of Egungun: Africa’s ancestral masqueraded spirits, who come out in times of crisis helping to guide the people towards truth and resolution.

Musically speaking, Lagbaja’s sound is unique, incorporating a range of influences from Afrobeat to Highlife, Juju, Pop, Funk and Hip-Hop. Generally his music is identified under the umbrella of Afrobeat, which is one of his major influences. Incorporating contemporary elements such as horns, guitars and keyboards alongside the most traditional of Nigerian instruments (such as Bata and Dundun drums), Lagbaja?’s music spans the generations of African expression.

He has a U.S. CD, We Before Me, on the IndigeDisc/Ryko label.

Discography:

Ikira (1993)
Lagbaja (1993)
C’est Un African Thing ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 1986)
Me (2000)
We ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2000)
We and Me Part II (2000)
Abami – A Tribute To Fela ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2000)
Africano ….. the mother of groove ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2005)
Paradise (2009)
Sharp Sharp (2009)
200 Million Mumu – The Bitter Truth (2012)

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Artist Profiles: Seun Kuti

Seun Kuti

Aftobeat saxophonist and vocalist Seun Anikulapo Kuti has kept the grace, energy and strength of his father Fela Kuti. With Egypt 80’s musicians, Fela’s legendary group, Seun plays live again the most original incarnation of Afrobeat: using the phrases, the solid brass section, the incomparable groove of African percussion and voices.

With an astonishing maturity, Seun leads with tremendous energy his band on stage, playing his father’s repertory as well as his own compositions.

Discography:

Think Africa (2007)
Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80 (Tôt ou Tard, 2008)
From Africa With Fury: Rise (Knitting Factory Records/Because Music, 2011)
A Long Way To the Beginning (Knitting Factory Records, 2014)
Struggle Sounds, EP (Sony Masterworks, 2016)
Black Times (Strut Records, 2018)

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Artist Profiles: Ayetoro

Ayetoro was formed in 1996 by Nigerian Composer and piano player Funsho Ogundipe. This band defines the sound of modern afrobeat.

Ogundipe is a jazz influenced musicians and his compositions and sounds have twice changed peoples perceptions of afrobeat in Nigeria. In 1996, his album Naija Blues was the first to experiment with Afro jazz and Hip hop when he featured Nigerian Film star and former rapper J T West on “J T’s Tale.”

Another defining moment was the critically acclaimed ‘Something Dey,’ a blues based afrobeat tune whose video -apart from being voted among the top 50 Nigerian videos in 1998- featured simple African backgrounds. It set a trend for outside shoots for Nigerian African flavored songs. The video, directed by Ogundipe himself, has clearly set the template for Ayetoro music and visual productions, one of understated posturing, offkey songs and allusive lyrics.

His love of poetry and prose comes out in the lyrics of the band’s single “Naija Blues Part 2,” from the 6000 Miles and a Minute album released in Nigeria in 2004 on his own Ebutte Metta record label. His interesting wordplay sets down visions of modern Nigeria, a place beset by its own challenges and inherent contradictions.

Ogundipe is also a jazz composer of some weight. His harmonies are modern and take afrobeat into uncharted areas. Melodic minor scales are featured on “Becklow Gardens,” a tune he wrote in honor of the block of flats he lived when in West London.

Ayetoro has been able to attract serious musicians in its two incarnations. There are presently two versions of the band. One in London the other in Lagos. Byron Wallen, the Belize / British born trumpet player and composer, is a collaborator in the London ensemble, alongside others like Nick Cohen (bass), Robert Fordjour (drums); while in Lagos, the Cameroonian guitar legend Oscar Ellimbi has played on every Ayetoro release except one.

Discography:

The Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. 1 (The Jazz Side Of Afrobeat) (2002)
6000 Miles and a Minute (2004)
The Afrobeat Chronicles Vol 2 (Flying Monkey Productions, 2006)
Asoju Oba (Flying Monkey Productions, 2014)
Irúnmolè (Funsho, 2016)
Ominira! (2017)

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Bixiga 70, Where Brazil and Africa Get Together

Bixiga 70 – Quebra Cabeça (Glitterbeat, 2018)

The Sao Paulo instrumental group Bixiga 70 is where Brazil and Africa meet. Their layered sound is explosive and energetic and all you have to do is hold on while the music takes over. With the recordings Ocupai, Bixiga 70 and III already under their belts, Bixiga 70 is ready to ride the airwaves again with their latest Quebra Cabeça set for release on October 19th on the Glitterbeat label.

The groups baritone saxophone player and flautist Cuca Ferreira explains, “From the very beginning, what we have always had in common is African-Brazilian music. Some of us come from candomblé (the African-Caribbean religion), others from jazz, reggae, dub, and everything. The whole idea of the band has been to take all these different elements that form us, from Africa and Brazil, and create a hybrid from them.”

Combining the talents of guitarist Chris Scabello, baritone saxophonist and flutist Cuca Ferreira, trumpeter Daniel Gralha, drummer Deicio 7, tenor saxophonist Daniel Nogueira, trombonist Douglas Antunes, bassist Marcelo Dworecki, keyboardist and guitarist Mauricio Fleury and percussionist Romulo Nardes, Bixiga 70 summons up an impossibly rich mix that finds space for Africa’s meaty percussive riches, Brazil’s infectious dance scene all the while sticking fingers into dub, jazz and reggae. So good luck sitting still with a dose of Quebra Cabeca.

Mr. Ferreira notes that the group’s influences often evolve out of collaboration and says, “We’ve been exposed to so much. So many of the people we’ve played with have had an impact on us, like Pat Thomas, the Ghanaian highlife singer or (Nigerian saxophonist) Orlando Julius. And then we toured and recorded with João Donato. He’s over 80 now and still playing piano, one of the icons of Brazilian music. We’ve learned from them all, they’ve made us think about what we can do with our music. Those new ideas have found their way into this album.”

The music of Quebra Cabeca is delicious from the percussion and sizzling guitar opening of title track “Quebra Cabeca” through to high energy dance track “Ilha Vizinha” through to the revolving musical theme of the Brazil soaked bold brass of “Pedra de Raio.”

We want people to relate to our melodies, to take the line a vocalist might use and play it on the horns,” says Mr. Ferreira. “Sometimes in instrumental music, the players are so good it ends up putting the listener at a distance. We make music as a celebration, a way to connect and bring some joy. We want to draw them in. We try to write something very memorable.”

The melange of sound on Quebra Cabeca is enticing and thrilling. Fans won’t want to miss out on the keyboard or trumpet sections of “Cantos” or the jazzy lushness of “Ladeira” or the dreamy mysteries conjured up on “Levante.” The quick paced “Torre” is just as delicious as the percussion and bass rich “Camelo” and as good as closing track “Portal.”

The layers of sound on Quebra Cabeca isn’t just electrifying it’s evocative and interesting. Too often listeners get hung up on the vocals, but with Bixiga 70 the nuances of turns of phrase are taken not by vocals but by instruments and it’s thrilling. Bixiga 70 adds meat to the bones and it’s all delicious.

Buy Quebra Cabeça

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Artist Profiles: Rocky Dawuni

Rocky Dawuni

Rocky Dawuni was born January 22, 1969 in Ghana. He burst onto the African reggae scene in the early 1990s as the lead singer of the Ghanaian reggae group Local Crisis at the Pan African Music Festival held in Accra. In their debut performance, Dawuni’s mesmerizing stage presence and powerful songs secured the group hero status.

Although Dawuni soon developed a following in his beloved native Ghana, he decided to leave for the United States and pursue his musical horizons. Over the next few years, Rocky spent time writing and recording, while being exposed to the many diverse forms of music abroad as well as under-studying the music business itself.

In 1996, Rocky Dawuni released his debut recording The Movement, one of the most anticipated reggae albums in West Africa. The artists’ introspective journey into social and spiritual consciousness garnered rave reviews in the Ghanaian press and spawned two hit singles, with both “Sugar” and “What Goes Around” obtaining massive Ghanaian airplay.

In the U.S., The Movement received critical acclaim and glowing praise. Mesa/Bluemoon Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, licensed “What Goes Around” and its video for release throughout the U.S. on Strictly Underground: Reggae’s Next Generation, propelling the video to climb to #3 on the Reggae Video Charts in January 1997 and introducing Rocky’s music to U.S. reggae radio.

In spring 1998, Aquarian Records / Who Dun It Records released Rocky’s second recording, Crusade, written, arranged and produced by Rocky Dawuni. The album is a sprawling philosophical journey into rhythm and soul with songs of pain, spirituality, love, revolution and redemption. From the nyabinghi tinged tropical jam, “Sweet Bright Day,” which Dawuni describes as “an invocation of the perfect day when all elements fall into place in our lives,” to a hauntingly powerful piece entitled, “Conqueror,” which highlights a traditional African kora player, Crusade is Dawuni’s musical and spiritual war promoting love, justice and righteousness. “It’s about hope in the human spirit and allowing God to empower us to attain the unattainable.”

Crusade’s first single, “In Ghana,” achieved international hit status on both radio and TV with the tune’s arresting video. Inspired by Ghana’s 40th Anniversary Celebrations, Dawuni describes the song “as a celebration of 40 years of independence…as the first black African country to attain independence, it’s a personal ode to the individual’s continuing search for freedom.” Putumayo World Music subsequently licensed “In Ghana” for their Reggae Around the World compilation CD that also includes tracks from Lucky Dube, Burning Spear and Majek Fashek. “In Ghana” was recently voted “Reggae Song of the Year” at the Ghana Music Awards 2000.

The July 1998 release of Crusade was, and continues to be, enormously successful, with tremendous media coverage throughout the African continent. In the spring of 1999, Rocky began a summer festival tour of the U.S., which culminated with a knockout live performance at the Vermont Reggae Festival to a capacity crowd of 35,000. Rocky also put in extraordinary performances at the UCLA Jazz/Reggae Festival and Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, establishing himself as one of the premier live reggae artists. Crusade firmly established Rocky Dawuni as a crucial addition to the Roots Reggae revitalization.

Rocky Dawuni, appeared live in concert at the La Pleasure Beach in Accra on Ghana’s Independence Day, March 6th, 2001. Under the auspices of Aquarian Productions and Ghana Tourist Development Co Ltd., the first annual “Rockys Dawuni’s Independence Splash” was a smash hit by all standards with an estimated crowd of over 20,000. Rocky opened the show with the ever popular “Inside Your Head” with the crowd singing along to every word. The stage was a virtual war-zone with fans fighting with security personnel to get to Rocky during his two-hour plus set.

“Rocky Dawuni’s Independence Splash” ended with a stunning rendition of Rocky’s “In Ghana,” which has become the unofficial national anthem of the country. As the sun set, Ghanaians and foreigners alike sang in unison to celebrate Ghana’s 44th year of independence from colonial rule.

“Rocky Dawuni’s Independence Splash” was planned to become an annual event to celebrate the anniversary of Africa’s first independent nation and serve as a festival to showcase music from Africa and the Diaspora.

In November of 2004 Stevie Wonder made a surprise appearance onstage at Rocky Dawuni’s concert performance at Zanzibar in Santa Monica, California. Wonder wailed on harmonica and dug into the crowd-inspired call & response vocal gymnastics on Dawuni’s Afro groove track, “Wake the Town,” from his album Book of Changes.

Rocky Dawuni

Rocky was featured on the highly successful Instant Karma: Amnesty International Campaign To Save Darfur Deluxe Edition release (Warner Bros Records) which features covers of John Lennon songs by global stars including Black Eyed Peas, U2, Christina Aguilera, Green Day, Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. In addition, Dawuni’s afrobeat “Wake the Town”was featured on video giant EA’s FIFA 2008 video game which has been released world-wide to millions of consoles.

In June 2007 Rocky and supermodel Elle MacPherson completed a June 13 -15 humanitarian tour of Ghana as spokespersons for (RED) and the Global Fund to announce the grant of 6.4 million dollars to provide HIV / AIDS treatment. (RED) was founded by U2 front man Bono and Bobby Shriver to harness the power of some of the world’s most iconic brands in the fight against HIV / AIDS.

Discography:

The Movement (1996)
Crusade (Aquarian Records, 1998)
Awakening (Aquarian Records, 2001)
Book of Changes (Aquarian Records, 2005)
Hymns for the Rebel Soul (Aquarian Records, 2010)
Branches of The Same Tree (Cumbancha, 2015)

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Interview with Afrobeat Master Femi Kuti

Acclaimed Nigerian musician Femi Kuti and his band Positive Force are set to release their new album One People, One World in February 2018 on Knitting Factory Records. Femi talked to us about his music and upcoming album.

Angel Romero – Tell us about your musical background, and how your father influenced your choice of music as a career.

Femi Kuti – Musical background is I practically taught myself everything I know by just reading and listening. And by playing in my father’s band. My father advised if I wanted to be a musician then it was best I listened to a lot of jazz music. This was difficult for me as I didn’t like jazz, he then introduced me to Moody’s mood for love by James Moody. This was really my introduction into jazz.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

My father’s influence for sure, these days my music comes from my heart and soul.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

My father and all great jazz musicians from Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and for sure most of them great jazz musicians of that era.

How is your Afrobeat different from your father’s Afrobeat?

Hard for me to describe. And if I did, most people would think I’m being critical of my father. One easy way is my music is shorter 😊.

Afrobeat has spread to many corners of the world and is still popular with many fans. How is the Afrobeat scene in Nigeria currently?

Still very relevant. Especially as things are still bad economically for majority of the people. And most young artists or bands are influenced by my father or me in a way.

Femi Kuti – One People, One World

 

What’s the concept behind your new album One People, One World?

That we are all one living on one planet basically. And we have to urgently understand this before we destroy our planet.

Your son Omorinmade Anikulapo – Kuti participated in One People, One World. What was his role and what did he bring to the table?

For me, he brought beauty and love; I have no words to describe. To see my son play on my album and contribute was …. true love.

 

 

What are the challenges you face as a musician, composer and father?

Being on the road missing my children, always trying to make my band understand what we are doing is a fight against injustice and corruption. Finding great melodies to keep people that love what we are doing happy and inspired and making sure my music stands the test of time.

What is your vision of what music can bring to our complex world?

Peace, love, understanding to complex issues that politicians are too afraid to talk about.

What countries will you visit on your next tour?

Hopefully everywhere. Europe, the USA, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Asia.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?

I keep an open mind. I could really work with anyone or any band if time permits.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians out there?

To pick up at least one musical instrument. And music isn’t about just the fame and money. Music is as important as studying medicine, law etc.

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Afrobeat Star Femi Kuti Releases Video for “One People One World”

Femi Kuti

Acclaimed Afrobeat musician Femi Kuti will release a new album titled One People One World next month. The music video for the album’s title track is now available.

“One People One World” was shot at The Shrine in Nigeria, the dancehall and concert space Femi built as a memorial to his father, Fela Kuti.

On One People One World, Femi combines Afrobeat with reggae, highlife, soul, R&B and other African, Caribbean and African American elements.

 

 

Femi recorded most of the album in Lagos, with musicians from Positive Force, and his son, Omorinmade Anikulapo-Kuti. It’s due to be released February 23, 2018 on Knitting Factory Records.

Preorder One People One World

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Caught Up In Getting Caught Up

It is a long time since I have contributed reviews to this site. The reasons are many, varied and not a matter of public record. They’re also quite boring, so you wouldn’t want to hear about them in any case. My tendency had been to write reviews in groups united by some sort of genre, style or perceived common-ground theme. But I presently find myself so far behind that the disconnected overview I am about to subject you to is the only approach that will effectively close the gap. Apologies, and away we go.

As a longtime fan of Afrobeat music, I was greatly interested when I heard that Chicago Afrobeat Project would be collaborating with drummer Tony Allen. Allen, after all, was the man behind the kit for all of Fela Kuti’s groundbreaking records and was just as instrumental (pun absolutely intended) in creating the Afrobeat style. What Goes Up (Chicago Afrobeat Project, 2017) does not disappoint. Allen’s militantly polyrhythmic drumming is as spot on as ever. He also brings the experimental feel of his recent works, so the album isn’t simply formulaic Afrobeat but rather an effective blend of contemporary textures (including measured doses of rap) and traditionally-grounded grooves.

Horns, stinging keyboards and no-nonsense vocals (largely female) share most of the upper mix with Allen’s drums, while bass, guitars and percussion provide covert menace beneath. The lyrical unrest typical of Afrobeat is very much present in songs that address racial and gender inequity, political nonsense, media trickery and the belief that the high and mighty will be toppled sooner or later. None of the tracks are even five minutes in length (another departure from the once-usual Afrobeat template) and lest you think it’s all message-laden heaviness, “Afro Party” will handily prove otherwise. If this is the current state of Afrobeat, it’s in a healthy state indeed.

 

Betsayda Machado & La Parranda El Clavo – Betsayda Machado and Parranda El Clavo – Loe Loa: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree

 

While Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Colombian and Afro-Peruvian music have all been getting their due of late, Afro-Venezuelan music hasn’t fared as well. Perhaps the level of upheaval in that nation has some bearing, but now there’s a degree of redress to be found with Loe Loa: Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree (Odelia, 2017) by Betsayda Machado and Parranda El Clavo.

Percussion and vocals are all you hear on this field recording (albeit captured with modern technology), and given that Betsayda and her many-strong ensemble are descended from escaped slaves who lived in hidden village communities, the drumming and call-and-response voices ring with an air of both celebration and defiance. This is thunderously rousing music, binding in its spell and guaranteed to raise your spirits to the highest heights. Alan Lomax is surely smiling from the Great Beyond.

 

Ilú Keké. Transmisión en la Eritá Meta

 

Similarly, Transmision En La Erita Meta (Sendero Music, 2017) is all about drums and voices, though the drums here are more than instruments. They are a trio of sacred Cuban bata, vessels of sound created to invoke and seek the blessings of the deities known as orishas, belief in which originated among the Yoruba people of West Africa and survived the slavery era. The worship system of Santeria was later syncretized with the saints of Catholicism, but purer forms of orisha worship endure in Cuba and elsewhere.

Spoken testimonies are interspersed among the 21 tracks on the CD, and if your understanding of Spanish is as non-existent as mine, the hypnotically complex pulses of the double-headed, bell-festooned bata and reverent vocal chants are all you’ll need to connect to the Divine. The disc comes with an extensive booklet that tells in great detail how the story of the particular drums used fits into the overall tradition that inspired their use. It’s as absorbing to read as the drumming is to listen to. Curl up and absorb yourself in both.

 

Aurelio – Darandi

 

Keeping close geographically as well as covering more music that came about in the age of slavery, Darandi (Real World/Stonetree, 2016) by Honduran Garifuna master musician Aurelio, captures him at his raw best. Following a performance at the U.K. WOMAD festival, he took his band to the in-house studio at Real World Records and recorded a dozen live-and-direct tracks that are a kind of greatest hits from his three previous studio albums.

Acoustic and electric guitars, bass and a pair of snare-buzzed traditional hand drums provide the accompaniment to Aurelio’s nimble voice and the glorious wraparound of his three backing vocalists. The African roots of Garifuna music resound in the highlife-like guitar chiming and feverish drumming, but Spanish and Central American indigenous elements are just as present. I’ll leave it to you to research the Garifuna origin story if you don’t already know it. I’m too busy listening to this excellent music.

 

Monoswezi – A Je

 

The liner notes of A Je (Riverboat Records/World Music Network, 2017), the latest by Monoswezi, describe them as “African-Nordic jazz alchemists.” And who am I to argue? Such wording makes my task of describing their music that much easier. I’m fairly sure this is the group’s third album, and the most immediately striking addition to their sonic brew is the harmonium, that hand-pumped organ so central to Pakistani Qawwali devotional music. The instrument gives a penetrating mystical edge to Monoswezi’s already very fine fusion of Mozambican, Norwegian, Swedish and Zimbabwean sounds. As before, I’d peg the rhythmic side of things as mostly African, though melodically it’s the punctuation of instruments like clarinet, banjo and the prior- mentioned harmonium that add the welcome Scandinavian chill and outward reach.

New to the lineup is Sidiki Camara, a calabash and ngoni (lute) player whose name I’ve seen in the credits of many a West African music album and who brings an extra layer of spark to this one. A Je is Monoswezi’s best yet, full of propulsive, hands-on percussion, adventurous but mutually perfect combinations of lead instruments (such as banjo and mbira plucking happily side-by-side) and vocals that sound like jelis singing tales of recent trips to Arctic zones and beyond. Consistently great listening through and through, so count it a must-have.

 

Elida Almeida – Kebrada

 

Closer to the African mainland (just to the west of it, specifically) we find the latest up-and-coming singer from Cape Verde, Elida Almeida. She scores on Kebrada (Lusafrica, 2017) which despite her young age finds her fully adept at the heart-stirring nuances of singing in familiar Afro-Portuguese styles like funana and coladera, mixing things up with some Latin and Caribbean inflections. Nothing revolutionary, just great music for the many out there who love the sounds Cape Verdeans have brought to the world. The fact that one of the contributing musicians is recently deceased Malagasy accordion master Regis Gizavo makes it even greater and more than a little bittersweet.

 

Stringquake – Cascade

Sometimes three pieces are all you need. Such is the case with Stringquake, whose album Cascade (Stringquake, 2016) blends Amelia Romano’s harp, Misha Khalikulov’s cello and Josh Mellinger’s percussion into instrumentals that range from intimately moody to absolutely grand. The two stringed instruments complement each other to perfection, an intertwining mesh that trades leading roles of tonal beauty while keeping pace with a percussion backdrop that includes cajon, frame drum, tabla and steel pan. You can rightly call some of this chamber music, some of it jazz fusion (like the cover of Don Cherry’s “Guinea”) and some of it world music in the not-otherwise-easily-classified sense. But it’s all beautifully, passionately rendered and stands up to repeated listens that continue to impress.

 

Astrid Kuljanic – Transatlantic Exploration Company – Riva

 

If an unconventional musical foursome is more your speed, check out Astrid Kuljanic on her release Riva (One Trick Dog Records, 2017). Her band, comprised of accordionist Ben Rosenblum, bassist Mat Muntz and percussionist Rogerio Boccato, is called the Transatlantic Exploration Company and her own background of having been born in Yugoslavia, studying music in Italy and Manhattan and finding inspiration on the Adriatic island of Cres makes the name perfectly fitting. And not surprisingly, the music fits the moniker as well. Kuljanic’s swooping, versatile vocals make her sound at home singing reconfigured traditional Croatian songs, scatty jazz pieces, samba-inspired charmers, a quirky original or two and a completely unique take on Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia.” She and her players sound like they’re having a blast and the music is again hard to classify, but the whole thing is head-spinning good. Available from www.onetrickdogrecords.com

 

Divanhana – Live in Mostar

 

Lovers of sevdah, the often-melancholic traditional music from Bosnia and Herzegovina, will rejoice in Divanhana’s Live in Mostar (ARC Music, 2017). The band sports instrumentation that only bows partly to tradition (accordion, electric piano, electric bass, drums, percussion and violin) and livens up their “Balkan blues” with jazzy breaks and klezmer-like seasonings. The achingly gorgeous lead vocals of Naida Catic (particularly on the unaccompanied “Daurko Mila”) are clearly a major asset, but the entire band rises to the occasion.

Given how crystalline the sound is, you might easily mistake the disc for a studio album until the audience reaction reminds you that a lucky bunch of folks were able to enjoy this live and direct. And the CD comes with the next best thing to having been there: a DVD featuring live performances and interviews. Get this and savor a double dose of sevdah at its progressive best.

 

Various Artists – Cuba! Cuba!

 

If your collection of Cuban music isn’t complete (and whose is?), pick up Cuba! Cuba! (Putumayo, 2017). The various artists here are mostly in classic sound mode and some are younger artists carrying the torch for that classic sound. Still, the Putumayo folks like to throw in a wild card or two, and one surprise here is the unearthed instrumental “Guajira” featuring legends Alfredo Valdes Jr. on piano and trumpeter “Chocolate” Armenteros, recorded in Peru in 1964. That track serves as a kind of guidepost for the other fine singers and players on the disc, including veterans Roberto Torres and Armando Garzon (the latter with the ever-venerable and hypnotic “Chan Chan”), Miami-based young traditionalists Sonlokos and the always invigorating Jose Conde y Ola Fresca. This one’s got sizzle to spare.

 

Various Artists – Mista Savona Presents Havana Meets Kingston

 

“Chan Chan” is also the opening track on Mista Savona Presents Havana Meets Kingston (17 North Parade/VP, 2017), a brilliantly realized Cuban/Jamaican fusion in which son meets one drop, congas patter away alongside nyabinghi drums, Spanish-accented troubadours trade off with Trench Town chanters and both sides nice up the party. Some songs are more one locale than the other and employ a key element (like deejay chatter or regional horn riffs) that make the connection, while most are seamless mashups that are simply thrilling, like veteran guitarist Ernest Ranglin joyously picking his way through “410 San Miguel” with pianist Rolando Luna nimbly matching the vibe (and that’s before the dub effects even kick in).

Some of the other participants on the album are Sly and Robbie, Barbarito Torres, Changuito, Bongo Herman, Julito Padron and a chorus of notables that includes Leroy Sibbles, Lutan Fyah and Price Alla. That’s just the tip of things. No other written words will do justice to this landmark release recorded at Havana’s Egrem Studios under the guidance of producer/arranger/keyboardist Jake Savona. Highly recommended.

 

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino – Canzoniere

 

Grandly combining Italian traditional music with jolts of contemporary Western pop, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino strike a tasty, dance-ready balance on Canzoniere (Ponderosa Music Records, 2017). CGS are one of those bands that can seemingly do it all, mixing accordion, uniformly rhythmic clatter and a reggae feel on “Ientu,” infusing “Moi” with a start-and-stop techno stomp that dramatically punctuates the traded vocals, builds simplicity into complexity in nothing flat with help from guitarist Justin Adams on “Aiora” and erects walls of sound throughout using instruments and voices that are organically and electronically symbiotic. I’m not sure if the term “mind-blowing” is still in the accepted lexicon, but this album fits that description in a most satisfying way.

 

Mary Ann Kennedy – An Dan: Gaelic Songs for a Modern World

 

Scotland’s Mary Ann Kennedy gives us An Dan: Gaelic Songs for a Modern World (ARC Music, 2017), and a very nice lot they are. Her voice is grand and soaring and the arrangements, heavy on strings and Kennedy’s own piano, match to near-perfection. The lyrics are from a combination of literary sources while the musical arrangements are again Kennedy’s work, so the whole thing has an air of tradition mixed with vision.

Those who appreciate the familiarity of Gaelic music will be spellbound even as subtleties like the South African melody that underpins “Song for John MacDonald” ring true from a world beyond. For pure beauty, you can’t beat this.

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Latin Afrojam from Chicago

¡ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat

¡ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat – Juntos (2017)

Juntos is the new album by a Chicago-based collective with rotating members named ¡ESSO! (El Sonido Sonic Octopus). The band’s sound crosses numerous musical boundaries. It’s a superb mix of Afro-Latin, funk, rock, jazz, Afrobeat, pop, reggaeton, ska, cumbia, and more.

The band features seductive rhythms and a creative brass section. On the vocals side ¡ESSO! features lead and background vocals in Spanish. There is also some less interesting, tired rapping thrown in.

The members of ¡ESSO! Afrojam Funkbeat are committed to social justice, performing for grassroots community organizations that support after-school, immigrant justice, and fair housing programs throughout Chicago and Illinois.

Personnel: Armando Pérez on guitar, bass, keyboards and vocals; Kevin Miller on saxophone; Dan Lieber on drums and percussion; Ezra Lange on bass; Diana Mosquera on vocals; Lessic Franko on percussion; Jess Anzaldúa on percussion; and Matthew Davis on trombone. Juntos also includes various guests.

Buy the digital download version of Juntos. The CD is available from cdbaby.com

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