Tag Archives: Ana Alcaide

Dazzling Global Diversity at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

The Rainforest World Music Festival took place July 12-14, 2019 in Kuching, Malaysian Borneo. The location of the events was the familiar Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak State.

Sarawak Cultural Village – Photo by Angel Romero

The festival usually holds a tree-planting ceremony every year. In 2019 it was mangrove trees at Pantai Puteri, Santubong Village. This is a way to celebrate the spirit of the festival, which is held in Borneo, home to essential rainforests and diverse wildlife, including the orangutan, hornbill, proboscis monkeys, sun bears, gibbons and many other species.

Tree planting just before the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

There are various elements that stand out and make this festival unique. First, many of the festivalgoers are young. There is a mix of locals, Malaysians from others states and foreign tourists. Vietnamese musician Ngo Hong Quang pointed out to me that, in comparison, when he performs in the United States, the world music concertgoers are older. This brings up the issue of music education beyond pop culture, affordability and access to American venues.

Audience at mini-session during Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero
Friday evening audience at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Another distinctive component of the festival that catches your attention is the inclusion of Asian acts. In European and North American festivals, there is an abundance of African and North America/Europe-based acts. Asian artists are rare except for Tuvan or Mongolian throat singers, Indian classical artists and Japanese taiko drumming groups. At the Rainforest World Music Festival, you can enjoy artists from all corners of Asia. This year the programming included musicians from Bhutan, Mongolia, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Druk Folk Musician (Bhutan) at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Perhaps one of the most important effects of the Rainforest World Music Festival is that it serves as a platform that nurtures local talent. Although the festival has been highlighting veteran and pioneering local Sarawakian acts from the various communities in the past years, we are starting to see the fruits of this labor. There are promising young groups like the increasingly popular At Adau that is rooted in tradition and modernity as well.

Regarding this performance at this year’s Rainforest World Music Festival, At Adau‘s Meldrick Bob said: “We were truly honored to be part of Rainforest World Music Festival again for the third time and we did everything we could to deliver the best in our performance.

Every year, Rainforest World Music Festival consistently maintains its reputable standard of being one of the best world music festivals. For this year, there were more varieties in the festival programs which appealed to a wide range of age groups and interests. A highlight on the addition of the indigenous stage which showcased purely traditional music from different countries. Also, it’s good to mention how Rainforest World Music Festival is going green by providing water refill stations to reduce the use of plastic water bottles. So kudos for that!

At Adau at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Indeed, the Rainforest World Music Festival implemented various greening initiatives, including the elimination of plastic water bottles and the installation of water stations to refill bottles.

Meldrick Bob shared At Adau’s plans for the near future: “In the near future, we’ll try to bring Borneo to the world by introducing our music on the European stage, hoping that the world will see Sarawak’s beauty through our music. As much as we can, we are also selling our music to the festival directors, agents or any interested parties to be more familiar with At Adau and hopefully expand from there.

Our next plan is to bring back those old, or we can say nearly extinct, traditional instruments such as the nose flute and kedirek, and many more to our new songs and now slowly putting some new material for the next album. We really hope that the new generation will be influenced by playing those traditional instruments to continue the legacy of our ancestors.”

At Adau using nose flute at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The Rainforest World Music Festival has spread its roots outside Sarawak Cultural Village with an Emerging Bands stage at the Kuching Waterfront and performances at Damai Central shopping center, which is right across from Sarawak Cultural village.

The current format of the The Rainforest World Music Festival includes afternoon mini sessions at Dewan Lagenda, Iban Longhouse and Bidayuh Terraces; small capacity afternoon concerts at the Theatre Stage, the Big Tent and the Indigenous Stage; and large dimension outdoor concerts in the evening at the two larger stages: Jungle and Tree.

Fiddle mini session at The Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

The thematic mini sessions bring together musicians who share a similar musical instrument or dance tradition. For example, wind instruments, dance workshops, plucked strings, percussion instruments, zithers, etc. During the mini sessions, the musicians demonstrate how to play their instruments and at the end, all the musicians join in to perform a jam session.

Flute mini session at The Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The Theatre Stage concerts allows the audience to enjoy artists in an intimate format. For details about this year’s Theatre concerts, read the following reviews: The Remarkable Nyckelharpa of Toledo, The Captivating Sounds of Mauritius, Mongolian and Persian Hybridization at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019, The Rarely Heard Himalayan Folk Music of Bhutan, Wai Safeguards Maori traditions at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019, Fiddles of the World Come Together, and Cutting Edge Vietnamese Virtuosity and Fiery Gnawa Trance at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019.

Omid Bahadori (Seda) at the Theatre stage – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The local and regional emerging bands that appeared at the Big Teng were: Alunan Keroncong (Sarawak), Sayu Ateng (Sarawak), Barrock Ethnicity Band (Sarawak), Pinanak Sentah (Sarawak), Sanggalang (Sarawak), Bamboo Woods (Sabah), The Oriental Traditional Orchestra Kuching (Sarawak), Warisan Sape (Sarawak) and Raban Kenyalang (Sarawak).

The artists that performed at the Jungle Stage / Tree Stage during the evening included:

Friday: Iban Miring Ceremony (Sarawak), Spirit of the Hornbill ((Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo), Olga Cerpa y Mestisay (Canary Islands, Spain), Ballet Folclorico de Chile Bafochi (Rapa Nui-Easter Island/Chile), Rajery (Madagascar), Otava Yo (Russia), Suk Binie’ (Sarawak), and Kila (Ireland).

Olga Cerpa and Mestisay at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Saturday: Kemada (Sarawak), San Salvador (France), Ballet Folclorico de Chile Bafochi (Rapa Nui / Chile), Darmas (Malaysia), Macka B (UK/Jamaica), Trad.Attack! (Estonia) and La Chiva Gantiva (Colombia).

Kemada (Sarawak) at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Sunday: Kila & OKI (Ireland/Japan), Duplessy & The Violins Of The World ft. Guo Gan (China, France, Mongolia, Sweden), At Adau (Sarawak), Mehdi Nassouli (Morocco) and Tabanka (Cape Verde).

Tabanka at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

You need to plan your own festival experience because you won’t be able to see all events. The overall highlights for me were the organic Celtic trance music of Irish band Kila, as Kila and also in a collaboration with Japanese artist Oki; the captivating Vietnamese fusion of Ha Noi Duo; Olga Cerpa y Mestisay, rooted in Canary Islands traditions with influences from Latin America and mainland Spain; the masterful Malagasy valiha of Rajery; the zany contemporary Russian folk of Otava Yo; and rising Sarawakian roots band At Adau.

Kila concert at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board
Kila and Oki at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board
Otava Yo at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board
Rajery at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak tourism Board

Other high points: the exquisite transglobal fiddles of Duplessy & The Violins Of The World; the spellbinding Gnawa music of Mehdi Nassouli; the delightful Spanish and Sephardic-rooted music of Ana Alcaide and her ensemble; the Mongolian-Iranian virtuosity and mesmerizing throat singing of Sedaa; and the charming sounds of Mauravann from Mauritius.

Mehdi Nassouli at the Rainforest World Music Festival – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Without a doubt, the Rainforest World Music Festival is one of the best festivals in which I have participated,” said Ana Alcaide. “Its philosophy, organization, environment, makes artists enjoy our experience of sharing music and feel loved and valued. Coinciding with so many bands from around the planet makes this event unique, where exchange and learning naturally occur. The festival is a unique example of diversity and cultural tolerance, with an enormous amount of artistic and cultural proposals, all of them of the highest quality, and that encompass cultures from all over the world. Bravo for the Rainforest Music Festival!”

Ana Alcaide at mini-session – Photo by Angel Romero

Netherlands-based Vietnamese musician Ngo Hong Quang of Ha Noi Duo also enjoyed the festival: “I have been chatting around to talk about this Festival with my friends in Holland and in Vietnam too. It was a very interesting, international, eco-friendly, high quality and crowded festival. These complements I like to send to Jun Lin and her staff. Actually I have never participated in any World Music Festival as big as this, wonderful vibes, great audiences, and very beautiful landscapes. Congratulations!”

Ngo Hong Quang (left) and Nguyen Le (right) of Ha Noi Duo – Photo by Angel Romero

Ngo added “I think me and Nguyen Le we had so good time there and myself, I really enjoyed some of the shows and musicianship. I think not only the musicians created the success but also enthusiastic listeners who know how to appreciate the inter-cultural shows that made the festival more attractive and meaningful.

I met some of the Vietnamese audiences and they teared in front of me because of the music I played and the way I blended the traditional vibes with modern jazzy music. It was great experience for me.

If there are more chances, I would go back to perform the Vietnamese traditional music show again next year or the year after that. Would be interesting!”

Mathias Duplessy – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

French guitarist Mathias Duplessy commented: “The festival was great for us, just missed a place where to jam and meet the others musicians at the hotel.

Sape maestro Matthew Ngau at the Rainforest World Crafts Bazaar 2019 – Photo by Angel Romero

The Rainforest World Music Festival also includes a sizable World Crafts Bazaar with local and regional crafts made by artisans. You can find all kinds of really cool goodies, including many unique items. I stumbled upon one of the key musicians in Sarawakian traditional music, Matthew Ngau. He was demonstrating the traditional lute of Sarawak, the sape.

In terms of food, options have gotten even better. The Sarawak Asia Kitchen and local fingers offers Sarawakian regional options, Malaysian, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Japanese delicacies. There’s also Asian fusion options.

Sarawak Tourism Board (STB) strengthened its greening initiatives this year. The biggest effect among these initiatives was from discouraging the use of plastic bottled water. Approximately, 20,000 plastic bottles were saved. Festivalgoers brought their own empty bottles which they could fill from water dispensing stations supplied by Cuckoo.

If you are in the Sarawak area and want to experience other festivals, the Rainforest Fringe Festival is a prequel to the Rainforest World Music Festival and Borneo Jazz Festival, featuring music, art, crafts, film, photography, food, and the culture of Sarawak. The Borneo Jazz Festival takes place one week after the Rainforest World Music Festival in Miri, in northeastern Sarawak, near Brunei.

For non-music related activities while in Sarawak, visit the city of Kuching. Attractions include the Waterfront, the Main Bazaar, Chinatown, India Street, various temples, Fort Margherita, the old Court House, the Post Office and the Sarawak Museum.

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Daytrips include visits to Bako National Park and visiting the orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve.

Orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve – Photo by Angel Romero

To get to Kuching you can fly direct from Singapore, Brunei, and some parts of Indonesia or connecting through Kuala Lumpur.

for a different perspective about the festival read Unique Global Gathering at Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 by our contributor Chris Lambie.

More information is available at the following websites and links:

Rainforest World Music Festival
Borneo Jazz Festival
Rainforest Fringe Festival
Sarawak Tourism
Interview with Sarawakian Band At Adau
Bako National Park
Semenggoh Nature Reserve

headline photo: At Adau

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The Remarkable Nyckelharpa of Toledo

Ana Alcaide

Spanish vocalist, nyckelharpa player and composer Ana Alcaide performed at the RaInforest World Music Festival on Saturday, July 13 at the Theatre Stage.

Ana Alcaide

Ana’s music encapsulates Spanish traditional music, Sephardic traditions and global music influences. She and some of her colleagues live in Toledo, an ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage that used to be the capital of Spain before it moved to nearby Madrid.

Three cultures lived in Toledo during the Middle Age: Christians, Jews and Muslim Moors. Ana Alcaide draws from this deep historic well and delighted the audience in Sarawak with her captivating vocals and enthralling nyckelharpa, a remarkable Swedish instrument that has adapted well to Spanish traditions.

The band featured Spain-based musicians from Germany and the United States: Rainer Seiferth on guitar and Bill Cooley on darbuka, frame drum and psaltery; and Spanish musician Bruno Duque on clarinet and ney.

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Top Global Music Talent at Sarawak’s Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

The acclaimed Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) will be back July 12-14, 2019 for its 22nd consecutive year. Announced as bigger than ever, organizers expect over 20,000 music fans from the region and beyond as well as visiting tourists.  The event will take place at the scenic Sarawak Cultural Village in Kuching (Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo), which is approximately 50 minutes away from the Kuching International Airport.

Irish band Kila, one of the acts scheduled to perform at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019

The impressive program this year includes well-known traditional and contemporary world music acts along with talented regional and local artists. The list includes Ana Alcaide (Spain), At Adau (Sarawak), Ballet Folclorico de Chile Bafochi (Rapa Nui /Easter Island, Chile), Darmas (Malaysia), Druk Folk Musician (Bhutan), Duplessy & The Violins of the World ft. Guo Gan (France, China, Sweden, Mongolia), Ha Noi Duo (Vietnam), Kemada (Sarawak), Kila (Ireland), Kila & Oki (Ireland, Japan), La Chiva Gantiva (Colombia), Macka B (United Kingdom / Jamaica), Mauravann (Mauritius), Mehdi Nassouli (Morocco), Oki (Japan), Olga Cerpa y Mestisay (Canary Islands, Spain), Otava Yo  (Russia), Rajery (Madagascar), San Salvador (France), Sangtam Naga (Nagaland), Sedaa (Iran/Mongolia), Spirit Of The Hornbills (Kalimantan), Staak Bisomu (Sarawak), Suk Binie’ (Sarawak), Suku Menoa (Sarawak), Tabanka (Cape Verde), Talisk (Scotland), Trad Attack (Estonia), and Wai (New Zealand).

Sape (Borneo lute) workshop at The Rainforest World Music Festival 2018 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

In additional to the concerts, the family-friendly RWMF 2019 includes day time percussion tutorials and music workshops that begin as early as 11:00 am plus arts and crafts workshops, a wide-variety of food options, an interactive gathering of the tribes showcasing the region’s indigenous cultures and much more.

Percussion workshop at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

The Rainforest World Music Festival also promotes various environmentally-friendly and sustainable programs, emphasizing preservation. Through its Green initiatives, a no-plastic ruling, will be the festival’s fundamental awareness while banning entry of all plastic water bottles throughout the festival.  

Jamming at the Rainforest World Music Festival 2019 – Photo courtesy of Sarawak Tourism Board

Sarawak will host other musical events in the next weeks, including the Rainforest Fringe, July 5 – 12, just one week before the RWMF 2019 and then followed with The Borneo Jazz Festival July 19 – 21, 2019.  

All these captivating music events are organized by the Sarawak Tourism Board and endorsed by Tourism Malaysia.

Sarawak Cultural Village

For more information on the RWMF 2019 and pre-sale tickets, go to rwmf.net.

headline photo:  Moroccan musician Mehdi Nassouli

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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.

Buy A Woman’s World – Songs of Resilience & Hope

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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.

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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.

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