Composer, multi-instrumentalist, global traveler, and musical
instrument collector Stephan Micus is an extraordinary musician who creates
mesmerizing musical pieces. White Night is dedicated to the experiences that
take place at night, under the moonlight.
“I’ve always been inspired by moonlight,” says Stephan Micus about White Night. “Often I go walking, swimming in the sea or, best of all, cross-country skiing when the moon turns the snow into millions of diamonds. Moonlight for me has a special magic.”
Micus plays a wide-range of musical instruments although on this occasion he focuses on the evocative, oboe-like Armenian duduk and the captivating, trance-like kalimba (a lamelophone or thumb piano used across Africa that is known as sanza and mbira in other places) along with his familiar 14-string guitar.
Throughout his travels, Micus collects musical instruments. On White night he plays kalimbas he collected in Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia and Ethiopia. “These are old and unique instruments,” he reveals. “Most of them I found in remote villages and so each one has its own story connected with the people I met, with the landscapes and these memories help me create the music for them, something an instrument bought in a shop could never do. In most cases I change the tunings according to the music which evolves when I start improvising on them. My first kalimba I bought in Tanzania some 26 years ago.”
Stephan indicates that when he travels, he takes a kalimba
with him on his journey. It is a versatile instrument to carry. It is small and
doesn’t bother anyone. This allows Micus to keep composing melodiess and
rhythms even if he is on the road.
White Night is hard to classify musically. It is a marvelous one-man chamber ensemble that performs melodic, atmospheric world music and inspiring chanting with influences from Armenia, Botswana and many other parts of the world. There is a masterful intertwining of moods, bringing together the melancholy of the duduk with the cheer of the kalimba.
I’ve had trouble accepting the (no doubt overstated) contention that compact discs are rapidly becoming a thing of the past or, in the opinion of some, already are. Granted, the number of CDs dropping through my mail slot has decreased (which is one reason why I haven’t reviewed any for this site in many months), but the flow certainly hasn’t run completely dry. So with all due gratitude to the forbearance of World Music Central and those who continue to bless me with shiny circles of sonic discovery from around the world, here’s my take on some that have engaged my ears of late.
African rhythms have been successfully combined with the Celtic music most closely affiliated with Ireland, but to the best of my limited knowledge, African and Scottish music hasn’t had a proper melding. Boston’s Soulsha is out to change that with Carry it On (Soulsha, 2019).
Funky, bagpipe-laden melodies swirl their way into hot breaks punctuated by sabar and talking drums, invitations to celebrate and dance are plentiful, equal measures of Western and African musical language are apparent in both music and lyrics, and there’s not a single track here that won’t move you literally and/or in spirit. You’ll hear grooves with origins in Scotland, Senegal, New Orleans and the inner city, and the brief interludes between some of the tracks only hint at the next burst of pure joy to come. Highly energetic and highly enjoyable throughout.
The latest discovery in the seemingly endless succession of great musical treasures from Cape Verde is Laço Umbilical (Lusafrica, 2019) the debut album by Lucibela. She’s got that kind of lilting, longing vocal style brought to the world by Cesaria Evora and the many that followed, and the bubbling, mainly acoustic accompaniment alongside her matches with swaying perfection. Influences of Brazilian samba and the wider Lusophone world are many, making this a lovely addition to the Cape Verdean canon.
Longtime Swedish trio Väsen is back with Rule of 3 (NorthSide, 2019). Their combination of acoustic guitar, viola and nyckelharpa (a keyed, bowed traditional Scandinavian instrument) is as winning and evocative as ever, as much for the way the three of them blend into one exquisitely crafted wall of sound as for the way they ably support each other when one of the three is prominent. There are no vocals on these 15 original tunes, just a triad of gents wielding their instruments with unencumbered, nothing-to-prove expertise suggestive of everything from folkloric dances to loosely structured jazz and quiet afternoon chamber music. Savor this at your leisure and then feel free to savor it all over again (which you’ll likely want to do).
New Yorker Benji Kaplan and Brazilian Rita Figueiredo, both accomplished musicians on their own, combine to form the duo of Benji & Rita on their self-titled, self-released (2019) first album. Fans of classic Brazilian styles will take an instant liking to this, and the abundance of strings and reeds in the arrangements are often employed to create sweetly moody interludes between passages where the rhythms kick in. Rita’s richly textured vocals engage from the start, Benji’s arrangements and guitar are as first rate as his compositions (please tell me I’m not the only one who hears melodic nods to “In the Hall of the Mountain King” on “Zenite e Nadir”), and topical sentiments like the anti-war “Memorial Day” take things even higher. It’s quite an impressive and wide-ranging debut, sporting roots in Brazil and branches in many other places. I hope this twosome stays and plays together for a long time.
Another Brazilian voice kicks off the compilation Acoustic Women (Putumayo, 2019). Fernanda Cunha’s heart-stroking samba is a perfect start to a very fine set of songs by ladies hailing from various points. Some were already familiar to me, some not. I needed no reminders as to the greatness of Spain’s Buika or France’s Francesca Blanchard, and discoveries like the Arab Spring testimonial of Lebanese singer Tania Saleh, the wistful harmonies of Welsh collective Bendith and Canan Uzerli’s splendid German/Turkish duality are ear-openers of the highest order. Another in a long series of keepers from Putumayo, Acoustic Women scores big by spotlighting an intriguing selection of artists and maintaining an air of delicate but sturdily crafted beauty. It’s just under 33 minutes long, but not a moment is wasted.
The musical attitudes of singer/guitarist John Westmoreland were shaped by the passing of his musician grandfather, his partial Finnish heritage, several American folk icons and a stint in Senegalese kora player Diali Cissokho’s band. It all adds up to Cast Fire (self-released, 2019) by the band that bears his surname, Westmoreland. Even before I read the same comparison in the promotional material, what I heard in Westmoreland’s sound reminded me of Leonard Cohen: sung/spoken vocals, a dose of mysticism in the lyrics, a certain degree of aloofness, etc. What could have been a straight up folk rock album is given a “world” overtone with additions like subtle African percussion, charango, the aforementioned kora and some unconventional, unhurried rhythms. A cover of “All Along the Watchtower” feels a bit thrown in, but original material like the soul-searching realities of “Open Your Eyes,” “By and By” and the title track run deep and satisfying.
Trinidadian trumpeter Etienne Charles turns dour demons into dancing angels on Carnival: TheSound of a People (Culture Shock Music, 2017, released 2019). Trinidad’s carnival celebration includes many a devilish character to remind humankind of the ills we’ve inflicted on each other, and Charles performs a kind of musical exorcism on them by combining tightly structured jazz, freewheeling Afro-Caribbean beats and the basics of bamboo, iron and steel percussion into an ecstatic mashup that’ll get your jumbies jumping like crazy. This is an absolutely fantastic release that words can’t adequately describe. Just get it.
And if You Will Come to Me(Cumbancha, 2019), the latest from Israel’s Idan Raichel, finds him in very good form. A keyboardist, composer, producer and programmer of formidable skill, some of his works have nonetheless come across as a bit cold. Not so here. Featuring guest musicians and sounds from Bulgaria, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Japan and Niger, the album is an innovative and melodically pleasing series of tracks that blend global elements into Raichel’s Hebraic sensibilities with grace and style. It’s dance music, meditative music, unity-promoting music, roots music and cutting edge music seamlessly rolled into one, and it all stirs the heart and hips from the get go.
Best described as indie pop world music, Man Made Fire (self-released, 2019) by Petit Celine is a sometimes quirky, ferociously catchy set of songs created by a multilingual chanteuse who cares less about categorization and more about accessing the emotions that link us all. Whether sizing up the human condition in all seriousness or musing about a dude in a wine bar, Celine hits target after target on songs that borrow from jazz, rock, blues, techno, cabaret and more. But regardless of what the songs borrow, they never fail to give back to the listener a heap of both fun and food for thought.
Anyone who has dipped an ear into the musical wonderlands crafted by Dead Can Dance knows that the journey down these fantastical rabbit holes can be gloriously fierce and wholly satisfying and their latest offering Dionysus is certainly no exception. Following up on releases like Spiritchaser, Anastasis, Into the Labyrinth and Aion, the dynamic duo behind Dead Can Dance Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard have chosen the ritual and rites of Dionysus as the creative jumping off point for their latest musical journey. Dionysus. You know, the Greek god who’s got the goods on wine, wine making, fertility, ritual euphoria, religious ecstasy and theater. That Dionysus.
There’s no need to start brushing up on your Greek mythology or crafting a fennel staff topped with a pine cone; the music on Dionysus is all about that mysterious, well-trodden path of rite and ritual, plucking sounds that bubble up from the earth or snagged straight from the wind.
For this recording, Mr. Perry lures listeners with an array of collected sounds from around the globe like belled goats from Switzerland, a beehive from New Zealand and bird calls from Brazil and Mexico. Paired with Dead Can Dance familiars like frame drums, flutes, whistles, soaring vocals that might well have been snagged from the air and soul-stirring rhythms, Mr. Perry adds a daf or Iranian frame drum and a fujara or Slovakian shepherd’s flute to his musical cauldron.
Divided into two acts, each with several tracks that flow into one another, Dionysus opens with ship and surf sounds on “Sea Borne” before evolving into mélange of drums, hand claps, fabulous horns and vocals and you’ve magically arrived at the beginning of your own ritual backed by electronica and soaring vocals. Like all fantastical musical journeys there’s always a bit of surrender to the direction of the music.
Dionysus turns next to the “Liberator of Minds,” a lush landscape of percussion instruments, flutes and whistles with a decidedly Middle Eastern flair before giving way to “Dance of the Bacchantes,” a piece that quickly finds ritual ecstasy by way of intense drumming and female vocals and ululations that’s fierce and delicious.
Turning to Act II, is where Dionysus hooks listeners further by way of “The Mountain” where the ritual continues with pipes against mysterious electronica, ethereal vocals, including some from Mr. Perry himself, and a backdrop of rite-inducing percussion.
At the mountain top, listeners are ready for “The Invocation,” preceded by belled goats and the wind before evolving into some truly spectacular vocals laced by bells and zither-like instrument. The retreat to “The Forest” is just as stunning in that familiar musical cross-cultural Dead Can Dance mix of vocals, percussion and electronica.
The journey ends with “Psychopomp” that opens with rattles, birdsong and ritual rhythm before taking on a dreamy slide into an otherworldly place where vocals twine around rattles and birdsong.
Dionysus is everything you want in a Dead Can Dance recording – rhythms rooted to the earth, vocals plucked from under the wings of swooping birds and that savage grace only music can capture for us mere mortals.
Additional artists from Malawi, Jamaica and Haiti have been revealed in the final set of acts for the 27th annual Africa Oyé festival this summer: Gasper Nali, Jah9 and Wesli. The festival will take place in Liverpool’s Sefton Park on June 22-23. Africa Oyé celebrates the music and culture of Africa and the Diaspora.
With a vocal style that has been likened to Ella Fitzgerald, and a contemporary freshness in the same style as Erykah Badu, Jah9 has become somewhat of an icon for the Jamaican movement known as ‘The Reggae Revival’. Her philosophy, spirituality and unique ‘jazz on dub’ style has traveled across Europe and beyond since her debut album New Name launched in 2013 to wide acclaim.
Making a welcome return to the festival after his 2016 set was cut short due to travel difficulties, is the multi award-winning Haitian star, Wesli. His music aims to give a new mainstream life to rhythms and instruments that he says have been neglected as Haiti faces an increasing amount of global commercial music and culture.
Rounding off this final wave of artists is Malawian one-man-band Gasper Nali. Gasper is a Kwela roots musician from the small town of Nkhata Bay on the shores of Lake Malawi. Playing a one-string, homemade, 3-metre-long Babatoni bass guitar with a stick and an empty beer bottle, together with a cow skin kick drum, he creates dance-inducing Afro Beats.
The final list of artists join a line-up that already includes The Garifuna Collective, Horace Andy, BCUC, Moonlight Benjamin, Sofiane Saidi & Mazalda, Carlou D and OSHUN, as well as Liverpool emerging stars Tabitha Jade and Satin Beige who make up the ‘Oyé Introduces’ program.
Africa Oyé’s Artistic Director said of the final set of artists: “These three artists really represent the diversity of the festival line-up that we strive for each year. We’ve got a breaking female reggae star, a one-man-band with instruments he’s crafted himself and an international award winning star returning to our stage; artists representing Africa, the Caribbean and the wider diaspora – it’s a perfect final wave of live acts for this year’s festival and I can’t wait for everyone to see them perform.”
As well as the international offering of live music on the main stage, festivalgoers will also be able to eat and drink their way around the world with a range of food vendors and traders’ wares on offer in the Oyé Village.
Canadian Quebecois band Le Vent du Nord has been busy lately with touring throughout the USA and a collaboration album with their colleagues De Temps Antan titled Notre Album Solo. Territoires is the band’s ninth album and it is another masterful work.
Le Vent du Nord combine a modernized vision of traditional
Quebecois roots music with evocative Celtic music. The five musicians deliver
dazzling instrumental musicianship, wonderful arrangements and the classic Quebecois
call and response vocals and foot tapping beats. The group also uses musical
instruments that are not typically found in Quebecois music, the hurdy gurdy
and the bouzouki.
“We’ve really added a bit of groovy stuff to this album,” says fiddler André Brunet. “Several songs have a riff with a bouzouki and bass. We’ve left things more open, skipping the answers in the traditional call and response sections and putting a bit of effects on the lead vocal. The sound turned out really rich.”
The current lineup includes Nicolas Boulerice on vielle à roue (hurdy gurdy), piano and vocals; Simon Beaudry on bouzouki, guitar and vocals; Olivier Demers on fiddle, bombarde, guitar, foot tapping and vocals; Réjean Brunet on bass, melodeon, bombarde and vocals; and André Brunet on fiddle, foot tapping and vocals.
Angelique Kidjo – Celia (Verve/Universal Music France, 2019)
As a young girl, Angelique Kidjo was inspired by Cuban singer and salsa star Celia Cruz. Angelique’s new album, Celia , recreates some of Celia’s most popular songs. It is also a celebration of Afro-Latin music as it includes salsa, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian material.
For this recording, Angelique sings in Spanish and chose some of the most Yoruban-influenced songs by Celia Cruz. Angelique’s band features well known musicians from Benin, the United States, the UK and Nigeria, including Nigerian Afrobeat trailblazer Tony Allen on drums, American musician Meshell Ndegeocello on bass, British jazz outfit Sons of Kemet, and acclaimed Beninese act Gangbé Brass Band.
Celia is a colorful and beautifully-delivered tribute to one
of the essential vocalists from the 20th century.
Les Amazones d’Afrique have released a new single titled ‘Amazones Power‘ (Real World Records). The current lineup includes some new faces, including female musicians from West Africa, joined by additional artists from Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Guyana, Spain and Algeria. Also featured are the male voices of Douranne and Magué from the Parisian band Nyoko Bokbae.
The group’s message is still loud and clear: Violence against women must stop. Women must be able to realize their potential and not be held back by the dominant patriarchy. ‘Amazones Power’ tackles these issues head on. “Never again, silence, violence. I want to live and to be free.”
Les Amazones d’Afrique’s debut album République Amazone came out in 2017 on Real World Records . The ensemble features three generations of women, who sing out in unison, calling for a future without the threat of female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual violence, lack of education and forced marriage.
The group will return for a series of concerts throughout Europe this summer.
Germany’s largest world music event, Rudolstadt Festival, will take place July 4-7, 2019. The opening concert on 4 July will be a tribute concert dedicated to splendid female artists from the worlds of jazz, folk and blues. Sing The Truth is a project by three women who are themselves acclaimed for their extraordinary voices – Lizz Wright, Angelique Kidjo and Cecile McLoren Salvant – with drummer and producer Terri Lyne Carrington acting as musical director.
Three days later, the closing concert will feature alternative country pioneers, the Cowboy Junkies from Canada, who have raised the bar with their slow motion blues and folk sounds.
The massive line-up at this year’s festival includes 300 concerts,
workshops and discussions. One of the standout acts is the Herbert Pixner
Projekt from South Tyrol. This quartet from the Alps transcends all sorts of
musical borders with their mastery of flamenco, tango, gypsy jazz and rock
riffs, and is in high demand in the German-speaking world.
Presently, one of the most sought-after Icelandic musicians
is Ólafur Arnalds with his sound collages made up of art, music and technology.
A new figurehead of Afro-Brazilian women is Luedji Luna, who
frequently serves up her songs addressing social problems with laidback tunes
enhanced with elements of both jazz and R&B.
South African singer-songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou, who launched her career by busking in Berlin, will perform poetry with a touch of jazz, summing up the music of South Africa.
Die Höchste Eisenbahn, who will be releasing their third
album this summer, also began their successful journey in Berlin by pairing
catchy melodies with zeitgeisty humor. Then there’s the unique project Small
Island Big Song, whose members come from island nations in the Pacific and
Indian Oceans which are literally threatened with extinction by climate change.
Musical contrasts from Iran
To represent Iran, this year’s special guest country, the Rudolstadt Festival has selected nine ensembles and devised a richly contrasting program. It ranges from performances based on centuries-old traditions to music driven by current political protests. “The festival intends to convey that there’s a vibrant cultural scene in Iran striving to find its own way and make itself known internationally,” declared program director Bernhard Hanneken. In Rudolstadt, Iranian artists will also be given a forum to talk about their lives, their circumstances, and their opportunities for artistic expression.
On the opening night, the band Damahi will be performing a
pop-oriented fusion of Iranian and world music genres. One of Iran’s most
prominent musicians is tar and setar player Hamid Motebassem, who is also a
noted composer. At Rudolstadt, he will be presenting compositions such as his
orchestral work Pardis accompanied by the Thuringian Symphony Orchestra from
Saalfeld-Rudolstadt. What’s more, they’ll be joined by one of Iran’s best-known
women‘s voices, Mahdieh Mohammadkhani.
There is another expressive female singer in the Hamnava Ensemble, which hails from Bushehr in southwest Iran on the Persian Gulf. Baran Mozafari is one of the few women endeavoring to take the female vocal styles from the region into the 21st century.
Tar virtuoso Ali Ghamsari from Tehran represents a subtle,
innovative variety of classical Persian music. By contrast, Shahin Najafi’s
current program is a powerful contemporary blend of jazz, blues, rock and
Persian folk songs.
Apart from the performances by the nine Iranian ensembles,
there will be discussions with the artists during the festival and a
wide-ranging symposium with topics including the status of women in Iran, the
social aspect of Iranian music, Persian poetry, record production and
New partnership: The EBU Folk Festival in Rudolstadt
With the Rudolstadt Festival being held for the 29th time in 2019, this year marks the start of a new partnership with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The EBU will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of its own Euroradio Folk Festival by presenting selected musicians in Rudolstadt.
This partnership has been initially set to run for three years, meaning the Euroradio Folk Festival will also provide a forum for various facets of the European scene at the Rudolstadt Festival in 2020 and 2021. Both sides hope for lasting collaboration with Graham Dixon, the EBU’s Head of Radio, even talking of a new chapter in the European Broadcasting Union’s history: “Despite the wide participation and high quality of performance, until now, the EBU Folk Festival has never enjoyed a long-term home. From now, working together with the well-established festival in Rudolstadt provides an opportunity to pool our resources.”
This summer, editorial teams from 16 EBU member states will
be taking part together with artists from their respective countries. They
represent a wide variety in every respect, ranging from the 23-strong Finnish
SibA Folk Big Band to solo accordion performances by Yegor Zabelov from Belarus
and Otto Lechner from Austria, both of whom perform in their own distinctive manner.
Nineteenth-century dance music will be fronted by Husistein-Musik from
Switzerland while at the opposite end of the spectrum, avant-garde Polish group
Polmuz will be taking the concept of folk music in an experimental direction.
The International Songwriting Competition (ISC) has announced its 2018 winners. The winners in the world music category are:
B Prasanna, Subu
ISC received almost 19,000 entries this year from almost 140 countries. Prizes include more than $175,000 in cash and merchandise.
Dubai-born Komal Rizvi is a Pakistani actress, singer-songwriter, and a TV host. She is well-known for her songs in Coke Studio (Pakistan). Her recordings include Komal Rizvi and Komal.
B Prasanna, is a Chennai-based multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer. His musical influences include world music, pop, jazz fusion and rock. His colleague Subu is a lyricist.
Harouna Samake is Mali’s leading kamale n’goni player. He has performed ands recorded with Salif Keita, Blick Bassy, Bella Flick, Etienne Mbappé, and Bassekou Kouyate. He has a solo album titled Kamale Blues (One World, 2018) .
For the first time in the competition’s 18-year history, the Grand Prize is awarded to an R&B song – as well as to artist/songwriters from Nashville, Tennessee. The ISC bestowed its highest honor to R&B artist Reginald Lamar Williams Jr., (aka R.LUM.R) and artist/producer Josh Hawkins (aka Super Duper) for their co-written song “Frustrated.” The Grand Prize includes $25,000 (USD) cash and over $30,000 in merchandise and services.
“With R&B being such a dominant force in today’s music landscape, it is exciting that an R&B song is the Grand Prize winner for the first time in ISC. We are thrilled to acknowledge R.LUM.R and Super Duper, two artists who exemplify the present and the future of songwriting in this genre,” says ISC Founder and Director, Candace Avery.
ISC is sponsored by: Art & Lutherie By Godin Guitars; Berklee College of Music; Celebrity Access; Eventric; Gig Salad; Lurssen Mastering; Merch Cat; Musician Wellness; Musicians Institute; oneRPM; PreSonus; Pro Tour Nutrition; Shubb Capos; SongU; Sweetwater; The Tracking Room; Tunedly; Vocal Eze; and Westone.
Amina, the second album by the Belgium-based world music collective Refugees for Refugees is the number one album in the May 2019 Transglobal World Music Chart.
The Refugees for Refugees ensemble includes acclaimed musicians from Syria, Tibet, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Belgium. After the debut album ’Amerli’ in 2016, 10 of the musicians that took part in the recordings formed a band under the artistic direction of Tristan Driessens.
The line includes Asad Qizilbash (Pakistan) on sarod; Aren Dolma (Tibet) on vocals; Fakher Madallal (Syria) on vocals and percussion; Kelsang Hula (Tibet) on dramyen and vocals; Mohammad Aman Yusufi (Afghanistan) on dambura, vocals; Simon Leleux (Belgium) on percussion; Souhad Najem (Iraq) on qanun; Tammam Al Ramadan (Syria) on ney; Tareq Alsayed Yahya (Syria) on ud; Tristan Driessens (Belgium) on ud.