Tag Archives: Ana Alcaide

Timelessly Crafted Songs of Resilience

Various Artists – A Woman’s World – Songs of Resilience & Hope (ARC Music, 2018)

Songs of Resilience & Hope highlights songs from triumphant female singer-songwriters, composers and instrumentalists. These flourishing artists celebrate the hardiness of women throughout the world who have demonstrated the ability to recover rapidly from hardships.

The enduring concept world music album, rooted in traditional music crosses geographical and language boundaries, incorporating singers from India, Spain, Ethiopia, Colombia, Russia, Portugal, Serbia, Madagascar, the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa.

The artists include Marta Gómez, Minyeshu, Hanitra, Lenka Lichtenberg, Khiyo, Ana Alcaide, Maria Ana Bobone, Bilja Krstić, Folk Group Arinushka, Ceumar, Kiran Ahluwalia and Afrika Mamas.

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Artist Profiles: Ana Alcaide

Ana Alcaide

Ana Alcaide is a Spanish multi-instrumentalist, composer and music producer who carries out research on ancient traditions and cultures.
At the age of seven she took up classical violin and began her lifelong journey in music. She studied at the Getafe Conservatory of Music (Madrid province) and later at Lund University (Sweden).

She has received formal scientific and musical training in several countries (Spain, Sweden and Mexico) and holds a biology degree with a specialization in botany from the Complutense University in Madrid.

Her investigative spirit has led her to carry out a wide range of projects, including the study of mushrooms found in the Baja California Desert and the filming of bird nests in Scandinavian forests. It is this same determination that fuels her desire to research ancient musical instruments and repertoires.

After being awarded a biology scholarship in 2000, Ana traveled to Sweden where she first laid hands on the nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish instrument that dates from medieval times. Attracted by the complexity and depth of its sound, Ana taught herself how to play the nyckelharpa on the streets of Toledo (Spain), far from its traditional setting.

In 2005 she returned to Sweden to further pursue her music studies and to specialize in this Swedish folk instrument. During this time she was also influenced by other musical traditions and began studying other instruments and vocal techniques.

She graduated from Malmö Academy of Music (Bachelor in Performing Arts) after successfully completing an individualized program (Individual Project) in which she focused on world music, combining her interest in traditional music with the study of more modern techniques. This has allowed her to construct her own path as both a performer and a composer.

As a result of her profound connection and experimentation with the nyckelharpa, Ana published her debut album Viola de Teclas in 2006. She has played a pioneering role in introducing and popularizing the nyckelharpa in Spain.

Her second album, Como la luna y el sol, was the result of the final degree project she completed while at the Malmö Academy of Music. This album offers listeners Ana’s unique vision of traditional Sephardic music.

In late 2009 she compiled her first three years of work on the DVD Ana Alcaide en concierto, which was filmed in a historic Jewish temple (Synagogue of ‘El Tránsito’ – Toledo, Spain) alongside her usual collaborators.

In 2012, after taking time off to have her first child, Ana released her third album, La cantiga del fuego. Composed during her pregnancy, this album marks a major turning point in her professional and personal life. La cantiga del fuego is inspired by the ancient Sephardic traditions with stories about impossible love between Jews and Christians, ancient Toledo legends and the exile voyages of the Sephardim.

Ana has been able to balance her studies and music projects with her life in Toledo, where she decided to settle in 2001 to resume her music studies. This city where Christians, Jews and Muslims used to live in harmony is a daily source of inspiration for Ana and greatly influences her music, which is commonly described as the ‘Toledo Soundtrack’.

La cantiga del fuego reached the top of the World Music Charts Europe in 2012. Originally a self-release, the album was picked up by British label ARC Music for international release.

Discography

Viola de Teclas
Como La Luna y El Sol
La Cantiga del Fuego (ARC Music, 2012)
Tales of Pangea, with Gotrasawala Ensemble (ARC Music EUCD 2601, 2015)
Leyenda (ARC Music EUCD2647, 2016)

Website: www.anaalcaide.com

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Tradition and Getting Around it

Being a self-styled traditionalist doesn’t mean my musical tastes are so staunch that I shun any sonic adventurousness that steps over traditional boundaries. Cross the line into an over-reliance on gimmickry (which can take the form of too much technology or pop pandering for commercial purposes), and you’ve lost me. Taking chances by mixing traditions or styles in ways that leave musical integrity unscathed? You’ve got my attention.

 

Aziza Brahim - Abbar el Hamada
Aziza Brahim – Abbar el Hamada

 

Aziza Brahim, a Sahrawi woman who was born in an Algerian refugee camp as the war over the Western Sahara region was raging, doesn’t exactly go in for traditional Sahrawi music on Abbar el Hamada (Glitter Beat, 2016). Having lived and studied in Cuba and currently a citizen of Spain, some of her songs have an expected, and very welcome, Iberian and Latin edge. She even sings in Spanish for much of the album, the title of which refers to rocky desert landscapes and subject-wise deals with activist concerns like the ongoing plight of the Sahrawi.

The disc also digs into a measure of the “desert blues” sound that many Saharan musicians have become known for, as well as a few galloping rhythms that suggest a more laid back version of Senegalese m’balax (which has always had its own Latin flavors).

 

 

Brahim isn’t as frequent in her use of wailing, undulating tones as a lot singers with Arabic roots tend to be. Her approach is more pensive, but she sharpens her tone when needed, and partly because she also plays the bowl-shaped tbal drum while she sings, her voice fits the grooves as naturally as the grooves themselves, be they acoustic or electric. A stunning release all around.

 

Ana Alcaide - Leyenda
Ana Alcaide – Leyenda

 

She’s already a groundbreaker for use of the Swedish nyckelharpa (keyed viola) in the music of her native Spain, and now Ana Alcaide takes things a few steps further with Leyenda- World Music Inspired by Feminine Legends (ARC Music, 2016). Female folkloric characters from various cultures (including Spain, Mexico, China, Scotland and Alcaide’s own imagination) are celebrated in songs that range from lullaby-like softness to ritualistic and pulsating.

Nyckelharpa, baroque guitars and bouzouki are sweetened with other strings, reeds, percussion and celestial production values that surround Alcaide’s gracefully penetrating vocals and construct a pair of instrumentals that seem to tell otherworldly tales without any words at all. This is music that could serve as a soundtrack for any ancient or modern fantasy worth conjuring, or bring about just enough of a dream state to take you blissfully away from reality for a while. Either way, it’s stunning.

 

Money Chicha - Echo En Mexico
Money Chicha – Echo En Mexico

 

Chicha, the Peruvian-originated, organ-tweaked, fuzz guitar-laden psychedelic style of music with similarities to Colombian cumbia and Jamaican dub, continues on its revival path courtesy of Austin-based band Money Chicha. Their debut album Echo En Mexico (Vampisoul, 2016) is an irresistibly throbbing beat fest where unyielding layers of Latin percussion support keyboards, guitars and bass that are as trippy in their wall of sound as they are intertwined in their tightness. And tightness is indeed the key.

The chicha sound is one that must not lag in its skipping rhythms or spot-on melodic mesh that weighs in somewhere between surf rock, alternative Latin, Andean tradition, the ghost of Arsenio Rodriguez and music that simply wouldn’t appeal to polite society in Lima, Bogota or, well, Austin. Money Chicha go their own way by eliminating vocals entirely and giving the tracks a subtle funk push with a little extra breathing room among the instruments, resulting in a disc that satisfies to the frenzied max.

 

Nii Okai Tagoe - West to West
Nii Okai Tagoe – West to West

 

Lovers of African drumming and African music in general will happily tune in to West to West (ARC Music, 2016) by Nii Okai Tagoe. He’s a master of many a drum and percussion instrument affiliated with the Motherland and treads a beaten (beating?) path away from tradition by lacing his danceable pieces with horns, keyboards, violin, harp, bass and guitar.

Some unexpected turns are taken with arrangements as well, such as the blues sway of “3 Monkeys.” Not surprising for a gent who’s played with outfits as diverse as Baka Beyond and African Head Charge. This sort of thing has been done before, but Tagoe certainly does it spot-on.

 

Baird Hersey & Prana with Nexus - Chiaroscuro
Baird Hersey & Prana with Nexus – Chiaroscuro

 

A very different take on percussion and its relationship to the human voice can be heard on Chiaroscuro (Bent Records, 2016) a collaboration involving Baird Hersey & Prana with Nexus. Nexus is a virtuosic percussion ensemble; Prana is a group of singers who all specialize in singing two pitches simultaneously. That dual pitch knack helped inspire Garry Kvistad of Nexus to invent the vistaphone, four octaves worth of chimes gathered into one instrument and the perfect companion to the harmonic series scale of notes that the singers use to achieve their second level of vocal prowess.

The grandiosely-titled tracks on the album (“The Rituals of Dusk,” A Crown of Radiant Fire,” etc.) combine orchestral drums, gongs, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, voices and the debuting vistaphone to create music that I can only describe as equal parts refined and primal, rhythmic and atmospheric, structured and seemingly spontaneous, eerie and comforting, earthy and not of this earth. Repeating patterns of percussion and wordless voices ascend to mesmerizing heights and hover there, exploring in sonic terms the disc’s titular concept of light and dark contrasting yet harmonizing.

The three concluding compositions (including a mind-and-ear-altering Balinese monkey chant) are voices unaccompanied and lose nothing in the absence of their percussive counterparts. So is this disc the pinnacle of traditional music, the complete lack of it or something else altogether? Get it and decide for yourself. And prepare to be spellbound.

 

9Bach Anian
9Bach – Anian

 

I don’t know a great deal about traditional Welsh music and thus can’t say how closely 9Bach adheres to it with their latest release, Anian (Real World, 2016). But I am quite taken with the shimmery emotiveness of singer/pianist/composer/lyricist Lisa Jen’s lead vocals, as well as the sparse yet very sturdy support her bandmates offer on guitar, bass, percussion, harp, hammer dulcimer and harmonies.

 

 

While some of the instruments used reportedly stray from tradition, the end result is a perfect fit, with modern production adding a kind of cool mist to softly enveloping music that often has a melancholy, longing feel offset by pure beauty. Anian is one to savor repeatedly.

There’s also a bonus disc, Yn Dy Lais (In Your Voice), that features Welsh-influenced poetry and storytelling rendered in English by the likes of Peter Gabriel and Rhys Ifans. It’s meant to make the nuances of the Welsh language more accessibly artsy and is worth a listen, but the lovely sounds on the first disc are the true reason to get this album.

 

Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars - Gulfstream
Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars – Gulfstream

 

A world away but still bringing tradition to a different level, Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars take music with roots as old as the Louisiana bayou itself and jolt it full of rock, soul, blues, zydeco and funk energy. Gulfstream (Octavia Records, 2016) is a swampy, sultry, swaggering, sizzling slab of deep-south musical gumbo that will delight anyone who loves the celebratory sounds of New Orleans and Lafayette and appreciates the need to cool down for a ballad like the Aaron Neville-ish title track. It’s a party, albeit from the heart.

 

Richard Bona - Heritage
Richard Bona – Heritage

 

Richard Bona, the “African Sting,” melds his smooth Cameroonian roots music with the sounds of Afro-Cuban band Mandekan Cubano on Heritage (Qwest Records, 2016). African and Latin musical traditions have been best friends for a long, long time thanks to their shared origins, and Mandekan Cubano’s piano, dual percussion, trumpet and trombone lineup expertly underpins Bona’s joyous salsa-infused numbers and his softer side. Primarily a bassist but adept on numerous instruments, Bona adds unexpected touches like electric sitar to the range of Afro-Latin delights that comprise a very fine release.

 

Luisa Maita - Fio da Memoria
Luisa Maita – Fio da Memoria

 

Brazilian music, a familiar world staple for decades, has more recently been fused with electronica to degrees that some traditionalists have accepted and others rejected. Put me in the former category. It’s telling that Luisa Maita waited six years since her first album to put out a followup; perhaps she wanted to see how the Brazilian/electronica scene would play out in the interim. Her sophomore release Fio da Memoria (Cumbancha, 2016) has the breathy, sensual feel that’s nearly a given when it comes to female Brazilian singers, and the tunes roll out on a foundation of grooves rooted in samba, even if they’re not always rendered on organic instruments.

Maita’s steamy sentiments translate well, as the sung-in-English “Around You” demonstrates, and she’s got some stories of substance to tell, like “Na Asa,” a musical tale of dreams realized. Fio da Memoria is a keeper for sure, but Maita’s vocal mix of subtle and searing would benefit even more from backing that likewise balances real and electronic sounds equally.

 

Various Artists - The Rough Guide to Ethiopian Jazz
Various Artists – The Rough Guide to Ethiopian Jazz

 

If you need a reminder of how well traditional Ethiopian music meshes with jazz, The Rough Guide to Ethiopian Jazz (World Music Network, 2016) will handily serve. Trailblazer Mulatu Astatke kicks off with the horn-heavy proclaiming of “Gamo” and things jump ever further back into the Swinging Addis feel of the 60s and 70s from there.

While at only 9 tracks the collection can’t cover the whole spectrum, what you get is choice. Serpentine instrumentals are the bulk of it, including NYC’s Budos Band providing impressive overseas translation of the sound, but the soulful vocal thrills of Tlahoun Gessesse and Gabriella Ghermandi show just how large a role male and female voices also played (and play) on the scene. A superb sampler.

headline photo: Richard Bona

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Most Beautiful Songs of the World

Various Artists - The Most Beautiful Songs of the World
Various Artists – The Most Beautiful Songs of the World

Various Artists – The Most Beautiful Songs of the World (ARC Music EUCD2648, 2016)

The Most Beautiful Songs of the World is a selection of beautiful world music songs from various parts of the globe. “There’s more to a blue-jay than any other creature. He has got more moods, and more different kinds of feelings than other creature; and mind you, whatever a blue-jay feels, he can put into language. And no mere commonplace language, either, but rattling, out-and-out book-talk – and bristling with metaphor, too – just bristling! And as for command of language – why you never see a blue-jay get stuck for a word. No man ever did. They just boil out of him! And another thing: I’ve noticed a good deal, and there’s no bird, or cow, or anything that uses as good grammar as a blue-jay. You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does – but you let a cat get excited, once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you’ll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw.

Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use. Now I’ve never heard a jay use bad grammar but very seldom; and when they do, they are as ashamed as a human; they shut right down and leave.” – Mark Twain, from “Jim Baker’s Blue Jay Yarn”

Twain had a sense that understanding and appreciation of song predates speech. World music listeners, enjoying songs with lyrics in languages they do not speak, are much like Twain listening to a blue jay, having to dig deep into their own sensitivities to find the rewards they know are there. Because it predates human speech, a portion of song appreciation resides beyond the human part of Mind, in the mammalian part. How, for example, does the song relate to the listener’s primal mating call? Concepts of Beauty are, after all, woven inextricably into our urge to propagate. A jazz performer might call this the “Go to the fourth and multiply” theory.

This introduces world music. An effective mating call from the dry Sahara would not be the same as one from less open, more humid environs, as different pitches travel better through different climes. The part of song that relates to ancient food gathering varies with the crops, as well, so a rhythm that implies an ability to stalk and call wild birds down to nets would not augur well for the singer’s ability to move down rice paddy rows in tandem with others to harvest that grain crop. These and similar cultural memories reside in each listener and form the foundation for his or her judgment of the beauty of every song heard.

No one will find all 28 songs on “The Most Beautiful Songs of World Music” double-disc to be beautiful. People are too individualistic for that. Most will, however, be wooed by most of them, and that is an impressive accomplishment for ARC’s artists and catalog. Perhaps intended as part as an anthology introduction to a number of artists from all over the globe, this release is also a two-hour philosophical debate between representatives of various cultures as to what comprises Beauty.

The artists featured include Clannad, Seckou Keita, Kate Rusby, Brian Kennedy, Capercailie, Ana Alcaide, The Red Army Choir, Marta Gómez, Arinushka and Linas Rimsa, Hanitra, Petru Guelfucci, Lenka Lichtenberg, Vusa Mkhaya, Ceumar, Lidojosoais & Ieva Akuratere, Khiyo, Gong Linna, Maria Ana Bobone, Klapa Cambi, The Kambarkan Folk ensemble, Tango Orkesteri Unto, Joji Hirota, Perunika Trio, Nataliya Romanskaya & Kirmash, Techung, Russian Folk ensemble “Balalaika”, Bomas of Kenya, and Divanhana.

The Most Beautiful Songs of the World is well worth owning.

Buy The Most Beautiful Songs of the World in the Americas

Buy The Most Beautiful Songs of the World in Europe

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Music Inspired By Legends and Mythologies of Female Beings

Ana Alcaide – Leyenda (ARC Music EUCD2647, 2016)

Ms. Alcaide sets high hurdles for herself. Beginning a few years ago when she mastered the Swedish nyckelharpa and adapted it to late medieval Iberian Sephardic music, she has tackled musical challenge after musical challenge. With “Leyenda,” she spotlights the myths and vestiges of an ancient, matriarchal world, examining the feminine aspects and strengths of a number of cultures.

As the great writer and observer of the human condition, H. G. Wells, put it in his “Outline of History,” “ … and opposed to the Old Man, more human and kindlier, was the Mother, who helped and sheltered and advised.

The psychoanalysis of Freud and Jung has done much to help us to realize how great a part Father fear and Mother love still play in the adaptation of the human mind to social needs. They have made an exhaustive study of childish and youthful dreams and imaginations, a study which has done much to help in the imaginative reconstruction of the soul of primitive man. It was, as it were, the soul of a powerful child. He saw the universe in terms of the family herd. His fear of, his abjection before, the Old Man mingled with his fear of the dangerous animals about him. But the women goddesses were kindlier and more subtle. They helped, they protected, they gratified and consoled. Yet at the same time there was something about them less comprehensible than the direct brutality of the Old Man, a greater mystery. So that the Woman also had her vestiture of fear for him …”

This is no collection of padded fairytales for children, but more a series of clear reminders, anthems and odes to the too-rarely spotlighted strengths of that half of Humanity. As on her past releases, Ana Alcaide here, on the twelve songs on “Leyenda,” meets the goals she sets for herself with exquisite planning and playing. A good gift for others and for one’s own music collection.

The lineup on Leyenda includes Ana Alcaide on vocals, nyckelharpas, keyboards, percussion, rural voices, atmospheres; Bruno Duque on whistles, moxeño, xaphoon, ney, dulzaina, and rural voices; Paul Castejón on keyboards, hang drum, backing vocals; Rainer Seiferth on acoustic, Baroque and Spanish guitars, and bouzouki; Wafir S Gibril on accordion and backing vocals; David Mayoral on the following percussion instruments; t’bel, tambourines, frame drums, darbuka, riq, castanets, sagal, daff, zarb, salad bowl, cowbell and caxixis; Rengo Ruggiero on hurdy gurdy, vocals; Bill Cooley on psaltery, Medieval lute, santur; Jan Grimbergen on oboe d’amore; Isabel Martin on backing vocals; Laura Fernandez Alcalde on backing vocals; and Oreka TX on chalaparta.

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A Musical Pangea

Ana Alcaide and Gotrasawala ensemble -  Tales of Pangea
Ana Alcaide and Gotrasawala ensemble –
Tales of Pangea
Ana Alcaide & Gotrasawala Ensemble

Tales of Pangea (ARC Music EUCD 2601, 2015)

Not content with her regular challenge of utilizing her good classical violin training to perform medieval Spanish and Sephardic music on a Swedish nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle), international award-winning Ana Alcaide goes outside her already-huge box to collaborate with Indonesian musicians here, commemorating a hypothetical fusion of elements into a musical “Pangea,” that being the name of a super-continent that existed before continental drift gave us the diverse world we live in today. This sort of goal would be far beyond the reach of most players, but Ms. Alcaide seems able to “cover her checks” on musical mergers and stretches. And hyphens.

The balance of rhythm and lead is not that to which most listeners are accustomed. She lightens simple percussion parts while heavying up the sympathetic resonance of nyckelharpa to create a solid foundation for intricate treble melodies. There is considerable resonance and ring throughout the release, using the studio mix as a crucial instrument or even section of its own. It works and is hypnotic.

There are traditional Indonesian flutes tuned outside the Western scale, and they hit the microtones that, as Muddy Waters put it, “fall between the cracks in the piano keyboard.” Thelonius Monk, a world music devotee, compensated for what he perceived as a gap in the musical scale by teaching himself to hit two adjoining piano keys lightly but in tandem. “Tales of Pangea” addresses the same issue with studio strategy.

It is a good record to have for vocal training, meditation, massage and preparation for spiritual and deeply intellectual pursuits.

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Sundanese Nyckelharpa Adventures

Ana Alcaide and Gotrasawala ensemble -  Tales of Pangea
Ana Alcaide and Gotrasawala ensemble –
Tales of Pangea

Ana Alcaide

Tales of Pangea (Ana Alcaide TP01/ARC Music, 2015)

We received two versions of this album, the original Spanish edition and the international release by Arc Music. Ana Alcaide is the remarkable Spanish world music artist who uses the traditional Swedish instrument called nyckelharpa to explore the musics of Spain, the Mediterranean and beyond. On this project, Ana traveled far away to Southeast Asia to collaborate with Indonesian musicians.

Ana Alcaide spent time in West Java (Indonesia), collaborating with local musicians to develop a fusion on Eastern and Western influences. The project came about when Franki Raden of Gotrasawala Festival invited Ana Alcaide to collaborate with Sundanese musicians. Ana worked with a collective of local musicians that was named Gotrasawala Ensemble.

The recording sessions took place in Bandung (West Java) and San Martin de Valdeiglesias (Madrid) with a mix of original compositions by Ana Alcaide, Rudi Rodexz and traditional pieces. The result is a beautiful set of melodic musical pieces where the distinct flavor of Asian bamboo flutes, percussion, vocals and zithers meets the European folk and classical traditions, jazz, and the mesmerizing hurdy gurdy-like sound of the nyckelharpa.

The lineup on Tales of Pangea includes Ana Alcaide on nyckelharpa; Bill Cooley on psaltery, ud, clay pot; Novi Aksmiranti on vocals; Rudi Rodexz on bansing (bamboo flute), kecapi (Indonesian zither), Hang drum, vocals; Riky Oktriyadi on kendang (barrel drum), selentem (gamelan metallophone), frame drums, hand percussion; Rudini Zhiter on kecapi (Indonesian zither); Iman Jimbot on suling (bamboo flute), vocals; and Ray Sandoval on Spanish guitar.

 

 

 

Tales of Pangea is a splendid album by a groundbreaking artist in the current world music scene.

Buy Tales of Pangea in North America

Buy Tales of Pangea in Europe

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What’s That Thing You’re Playing?

Van-Anh Vanessa Vo -  Three-Mountain Pass
Van-Anh Vanessa Vo – Three-Mountain Pass
One joy of being a world music head is discovering the many and varied instruments that are used to make music around the globe. Yes, “discovering” is too lofty a word for what’s new to me but old hat to countless people from another culture. Still, coming across the sound of an instrument that I’d previously never heard or never listened to closely is reason to celebrate.

Vietnam’s Van-Anh Vanessa Vo demonstrates astounding proficiency on the danTranh, a 16-string zither that bends and shapes notes in a manner similar to the Japanese koto, and the monochord danBau. Her album Three-Mountain Pass (Innova, 2013) is a fully realized traditional/classical/avant garde trifecta of solo and group pieces that unveil the possibilities of her chosen instruments boldly and beautifully, matching the virtuosity of the Kronos Quartet at one turn and the thunder of Japanese taiko drumming at another. With source material ranging from 18th century Vietnamese poetry to contemporary French minimalism, the music sends your mind to places it’s never been and will long to revisit. And prepare yourself for the best recorded use of the hang drum thus far. (www.vananhvo.com)

International edition of Ana Alcaide's Como la Luna y el Sol
International edition of Ana Alcaide’s Como la Luna y el Sol
Here’s an idea: Spanish Sephardic music that uses the Swedish nyckelharpa (a keyed fiddle) as the primary lead instrument. Toledo-based Ana Alcaide pulls it off with a passion on Como la Luna y el Sol (ARC Music, 2013, originally released in Spain in 2008). Drawing upon musical traditions from Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece, Morocco and the Orient and filtering them through a pre-1492 Jewish sensibility, Alcaide puts her unique spin on songs that dance and dream their way along a journey of achingly gorgeous melodies, rhythmic subtleties and visionary innovation that incorporates instruments from various locales (saz, sitar, bansuri, kalimba, etc.).

Excelling as both a player and a singer, Alcaide is in stunning form on this gem. International edition of the album available here: Como la Luna y el Sol. Spanish edition of the album available here: Como la Luna y el Sol

Shanren - Left Foot Dance of the Yi and Other Chinese Folk Rock Anthems
Shanren – Left Foot Dance of the Yi and Other Chinese Folk Rock Anthems
While I’m not the rock and roller I used to be, I can appreciate the rebel rock spirit that spills forth from Left Foot Dance of the Yi (Riverboat Records/World Music Network, 2014), the international debut of the band Shanren from China’s mountainous southwestern region. The group’s members began listening to imported rock and roll when it was still contraband, and a spin of their album shows that they’ve absorbed a thing or two from other genres. But they keep it real in their own way, melding Chinese tradition with thumping rhythms and lively vocals.

The Jamaican-flavored “Thirty Years” and “The Crab” are catchy and surprising, as are the bluegrass-like title track and “Song of the Wa,” which sounds as if it came from a remote village that just latched on to hip hop. Such Western instruments as guitar and bass are heard in the arrangements, but it’s the prominence given to four and three-stringed lutes (xianzi and qinqin) and indigenous flute that fit the bill and make the disc a quirky, enjoyable one.

Also built on a foundation of Chinese tradition, Orchid Ensemble takes the two-stringed fiddle known as the erhu, mixes it with the zheng (a movable-bridge zither) and then goes a bit wild card by adding marimba and other risky percussion to the mix that comprises Life Death Tears Dream (self-released, 2013). Though some of the pieces meander a bit, the threesome comes up with truly spine-tingling stuff including the hypnotically spectral title track and lengthy conclusion of “Ghostly Moon,” seamlessly straddling the ancient and the modern. Challenging, but definitely rewarding.

Runa - Somewhere Along the Road
Runa – Somewhere Along the Road
Okay, the mandolin isn’t as obscure as the other instruments I’ve indiscriminately lumped together here, but a good reminder of its once-exotic status can be heard on Runa’s latest, Somewhere Along the Road (self-released, 2012). Besides, it isn’t just the instruments that matter; the way they’re used matters also. And while the music of Runa is identifiably Celtic, their use of non-Celtic percussion is refreshing, as are the jazz and Americana leanings in their re-configured traditional tunes that also make good use of guitar, fiddle, bodhran and uillean pipes. Not sure how this very fine CD escaped my notice at first, but I’m highly recommending it now.

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Sephardic Music Sensation Ana Alcaide Releases En El Jardin De La Reina Video

Ana Alcaide
Ana Alcaide
Vocalist, songwriter and nyckelharpa instrumentalist Ana Alcaide has released a new video for her delightful song ‘En El Jardin De La Reina’ from her critically acclaimed album La Cantiga del Fuego.

Alcaide’s music draws on influences of magnificent Toledo, Spain and the Sephardic traditions of the city. She uses a wide range of world music instruments like the oud, santoor, bouzouki, mandola, medieval lute, darbuka along with her own playing of the nyckelharpa and Celtic harp. The final result is a sumptuous and intricate musical landscape.

Previous recordings include Viola de Teclas and Como La Luna y El Sol

Buy La Cantiga del Fuego

Related story: Interview with Rising Sephardic and World Music Performer Ana Alcaide

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La Cantiga Del Fuego

Ana Alcaide - La Cantiga Del Fuego
Ana Alcaide
La Cantiga Del Fuego
Ana Alcaide

La Cantiga Del Fuego (Arc Music EUCD2417, 2012)

The more unique an artist’s path to self expression is, the more heroic and delightful is the result. Ana Alcaide expresses herself with, to quote Wikipedia, “a nyckelharpa (literally “key harp”, plural nyckelharpor), sometimes called a keyed fiddle, … traditional Swedish musical instrument. It is a string instrument or chordophone. Its keys are attached to tangents which, when a key is depressed, serve as frets to change the pitch of the string“. Okay, that’s off the beaten path in itself, but here’s where it gets really good — She uses her nyckelharpa to play music, as her label puts it, “inspired by the journey of the Sephardic Jews and the city of Toledo.”

So meet Olga at the casbah, but not before dusk on Saturday. There is a hint of the exotic, Moorish flavor to her music, but none of the minor key drone one would expect of klezmer, another Jewish musical form. This is the sound of fresh air, hope and excitement, of packing for a better life, of pageantry and rhythm.

It is easy to say that it is good and stimulating, but not particularly easy to describe. For that, readers, please visit the album’s website, arcmusic.co.uk/shop/lacantigadelfuegoanaalcaide-p-1069.html take it from there.

You can also read an interview with Ana here: Interview with Rising Sephardic and World Music Performer Ana Alcaide

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