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Exhilarating BKO

BKO – Mali Foli Coura (Buda Musique, 2017)

Mali continues to produce some of the most fascinating acts in West Africa. One if the finest in recent years is BKO. The groundbreaking ensemble is back with Mali Foli Coura, a remarkable album where Malian tradition, the blues, spectacular jembe drumming and trance-like electric distortion permeate the music.

The lineup includes Fassara Sacko on lead and backing vocals and Khassonke dunun; Ibrahima Sarr on jembe and backing vocals; Adama Coulibaly on donso-ngoni, lead and backing vocals; Abdoulaye Kone on jeli-ngoni; and Aymeric Krol on drums and backing vocals.

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2017 Holiday Music Guide

Do you remember last January when you said, “Hey, just throw all them in that big plastic bag,” and the other person did exactly that? Yeah, well it’s that time of year to face that big plastic bag of now knotted Christmas lights because the person responsible didn’t coil them neatly.

Along with the now snake pit of lights, you’ll be facing the endless list making, trying to crowbar out gift ideas from those curmudgeons in your family, preparing the assembly line of Christmas cookies and treats and rummaging through the boxes of last year’s decorations to pluck out the survivors. You know what you need? You need some Christmas music, either to get you in the holiday mood or to drown out the screaming of the person outside who just stapled his or her finger attempting to put up the new strands of lights because the cat has made a bed of the snake pit of old lights. Lucky for you World Music Central has a whole host of new and classic goodies for you to check out for your listening pleasure.

 

Reba McEntire – My Kind of Christmas

 

Looking to having yourself a merry little country Christmas? Well, you might want to check out country queen Reba McEntire’s My Kind of Christmas with tracks like “Winter Wonderland,” “The Christmas Song,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Silent Night” with Kelly Clarkson and Trisha Yearwood.

Alan Jackson has out this season Let It Be Christmas with a sweetly country version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” as well as goodies like “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells.”

Nashville session musician and Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy has put out the harmonica happy Classic Country Christmas with offerings like “O Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Tender Tennessee Christmas.”

 

Southern Rock Christmas

 

Ready to kick your holiday shindig up a notch or two? Well, you can get yourself a big old helping of 2015’s Southern Rock Christmas with sweet goodies like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by The Artimus Pyle Band, “Merry Christmas Baby” by Point Blank, “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Adam Hood, “Christmas Everywhere” by Black Oak Arkansas and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” by the Oak Ridge Boys.

There is also the compilation from Contrast Records called Santa Claus Is From the South with tracks like “Santa Is On His Way” by Bob Willis & His Texas Playboys, “Christmas Time Is A-Coming” by Bill Monroe, “Blue Christmas” by Hank Snow and for those of you remember The Porter Wagoner Show Kenny Roberts with his track “Christmas Roses.”

There’s also Bluegrass powerhouse Balsam Range’s It’s Christmas Time out on the Mountain Home Music Company label. This has got goodies like “Christmas Lullaby,” “The First Noel,” “I’m Going Home, It’s Christmas” and a kicking version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

North Carolina’s Bluegrass group Nu-Blu is ready to swing you into the mood with their digital offering Shine with sparkling little goodies like title track “Shine,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “What Child Is This” and “Mary Did You Know.”

 

Berliner Philharmoniker with Herbert von Karajan on The Christmas Album – Vol. 2

 

For a little loftier fare, the Berliner Philharmoniker with Herbert von Karajan on The Christmas Album – Vol. 2 might just hit that inner holiday spirit in the sweet spot. There are some truly lovely tracks on this recording as in “Corelli: Concerto grosso In G Minor, Op.6, MC 68” Fatto per la Notte di Natalie” -1. Vivace – Grave – Allegro,” “Pachebel: Canon And Gigue In D Major, P 37 – Arr. For Orchestra By Max Seiffert – 1. Canon,” “Torelli: Concerto Grosso In G Minor, Op 8, No. 6 “Christmas Concerto” – 2. Largo,” “Manfredini: Concerto In C, Op 3, No. 12 – “Christmas Concerto: -1. Largo (Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale)” and “Locatelli: Concerto Grosso In F Minor, Op. 1, No. 8 “Christmas Concerto” – 4. Largo Adante.”

The Decca/London label has put out Winter Songs by Ola Gjeilo/Choir of Royal Holloway/12 Ensemble. The goodies on this recording “Ecce Novum,” “Across The Vast, Eternal Sky,” “The Coventry Carol,” “Wintertide” and a sweet little version of “Silent Night.”

There’s also Joyeaux Noel French Christmas Music with Michel Corrette, Pierre Dandrieu, Christian Lambour, La Fantasia and the Arcadia Ensemble with conductors Rien Voskruilen and Kevin Mallon. Tracks include “Te Deum in D Major,” “Dixit Dominus,” “Messe de Minuit Pour Noel, H. 9: I. Kyrie” and Messe de Minuit Pour Noel, H. 9: II Gloria.”

 

Placido Domingo & Friends Celebrate Christmas in Vienna

 

Sony Masterworks has put out Placido Domingo & Friends Celebrate Christmas in Vienna. Listeners get to wallow around in the wonders of Placido Domingo and enjoy tracks like “White Christmas” with Diana Ross, “Carol of the Bells” with Vjekoslav Sutej, Sissel Kyrkjebo, Charles Aznavour and the Wiener Opernkinderchor, “I Wonder As I Wander,” “Angels We Have Heard On High” with Tony Bennett and Vanessa Williams and “Stille Nacht” with Jose Carreras and Diana Ross.

Listeners might want to check out the dulcet Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist on their season’s offering Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary. The sweet sisters offer up treats like “Christmas Proclamation,” “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” “Emmanuel,” “Adeste Fideles,” “Gabriel’s Message” and “Gaudete” and each is more and more lovely.

And, there’s more. Oh, so much more!

 

Herb Alpert – The Christmas Wish

 

If you were wondering what Herb Alpert of Tijuana Brass fame was up to – well, apparently a Christmas CD called simply The Christmas Wish. Ramping up his sound with a 45-piece orchestra, a 10-piece rhythm section and a 32-member choir, Mr. Alpert hits all the right notes with “Medley: Joy to the World/Silver Bells,” “Santa Baby,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and other Christmas classics.

Sony Legacy has dug through its archives and pulled out Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for your listening pleasure. Fans can expect oldies but goodies like “White Christmas,” “Merry Christmas Baby,” “Blue Christmas,” “The First Noel” and “Silent Night” by The King himself.

 

Smokey Robinson – Christmas Everyday

 

Even Smokey Robinson has succumbed to the pressure of the Christmas album with his first titled Christmas Everyday. Opening the “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” gets with guest artist Trombone Shorty, Christmas Everyday gets the cool treatment with tracks like “This Christmas,” “The Night That Baby Was Born,” “You’re My Present” with The Dap Kings and “O Holy Night” with Take 6.
The ever popular Celtic Woman has put out The Best of Christmas with tracks like “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night” and “Once In Royal David’s City.”

The powerhouse band the Sultans of String have put out Christmas Caravan. This is a treasure trove of goodies like “Turkish Greensleeves” with Gundem Yayli Grubu, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” with Mary Fahl, “Flight of Angels/Hark the Hearld” with Chris McKhool and Rebecca Campbell, “Celebrate the Holydays: with Sweet Honey in the Rock, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” with Ruben Blades and Luba Mason, “Himalayan Sleigh Ride” with Anwar Khurshid and “Feliz Navidad/Come on People Sing” with Alex Cuba.

David Arkenstone has put out Native Christmas on the Green Hill Productions label. With Native American flute, percussion, guitar and keyboards, Native Christmas is sweetly spare and restful with “Little Drummer Boy,” “We Three Kings,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Snow on the Mesa.”

If the classic pop Christmas is what you’re looking for you might just want to spring for the whole kit and caboodle in the 5-CD box set 100 Hits – Christmas Legends. This box set has it all from Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” to Perry Como’s “Its Beginning to Look a Lost Like Christmas” to Louis Armstrong’s “Cool Yule.” Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Mario Lanza, Glen Miller and Rosemary Clooney are all assembled her for your holiday pleasure.

The Capitol label has put out A Capitol Christmas Vol. 2 with treats like Glen Campbell’s “Blue Christmas,” The Beach Boys’s “Frosty the Snowman,” Dinah Shore’s “Jingle Bells” and Lena Horne’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

 

Dave Koz & Friends 20th Anniversary Christmas

 

Concord Records has on tap this year Dave Koz & Friends 20th Anniversary Christmas. Joined by David Benoit, Rick Braun and Peter White, Mr. Koz smooths over the holiday edges with cool offerings like “Winter Wonderland,” “Christmas Time Is Here,” “Feliz Navidad” and “The Home Medley: I’ll Be Home for Christmas/Celebrate Me Home.”

For the vinyl junkies out there the label Music on Vinyl has put out the 2-CD set of Beautiful Day: Kurt Elling Sings Christmas. Lush and smooth, Beautiful Day offers up “Sing a Christmas Carol,” “We Three Kings,” “Wencelaus,” “Little Drummer Boy” and “The Beautiful Day.”

The Cleopatra label has Blues Christmas on offer this holiday season. With tracks like Joe Louis Walker’s “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” Steve Cropper’s “Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby,” Kenny Neal’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Santa” be prepared to have all your low down Christmas needs met.

Finally, I’d like to give a nod to the Contrast Records label. This label has cleverly put out compilation recordings for the holiday season like Dig That Crazy Santa Claus – Classic R & B, Blues for Christmas – Classic R & B/Blues, Santa Claus Is From the South Classic, Boogie Woogie Santa Claus – Classic R & B/Blues and my favorite Christmas in Jail Classic with such goodies as “Christmas Eve Blues” by Blind Lemon Jefferson, “The Wrong Way To Celebrate Xmas” by Edward W. Clayborn (Guitar Evangelist), “Christmas Man Blues” by Bertha Chippie Hill, “Christmas And No Santa Claus” by Bumble Bee Slim and “Christmas Night In Harlem” by Jack Teagarden & Johnny Mercer. This has got to be the coolest way to dig into Christmases past.

So, here’s hoping your holidays are filled with music – lots and lots of music.

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Interview with Daniel Ho about his Collaboration with The Grasslands Ensemble

Ukulele virtuoso Daniel Ho talks to World Music Central about his newly released album Between the Sky & Prairie, a collaboration with Mongolian musicians The Grasslands Ensemble. The Sky & Prairie is a beautifully-crafted album produced by Wu Chin-tai “Judy Wu” (Wind Music) and Daniel Ho.

 

 

Your latest album, Between the Sky & Prairie is a collaboration with The Grasslands Ensemble. How did you come in contact with the musicians?

I had been working on world music projects with Wind Music, a Taiwanese record company, for around five years. We recorded three Taiwanese aboriginal albums and a project with Wu Man (the pipa player for the Silk Road Ensemble) and Cuban percussionist Luis Conte. Our goal was to present traditional music, untouched, in a contemporary framing. We were lucky to receive two Grammy nominations and four Golden Melody Awards (Taiwan’s Grammy Award) for these collaborations and were invited to produce an album of Mongolian music. We visited Mongolia a few times and met many wonderful musicians, which became The Grasslands Ensemble.

 

The Grasslands Ensemble & Daniel Ho – The Sky & Prairie

 

Tell us about the recording process in terms of location, rehearsing, communication and so forth.

My co-producer, Judy Wu, helped to select the music with executive producer Li Dong. I don’t speak Chinese so she also communicated my arrangement ideas to the musicians as well as scheduled the recordings.

How did this experience affect you?

I had never been to Mongolia and I am grateful that music brought me half-way around the world to experience its rich culture and breathtaking grasslands. I treasure my new friends who have been so generous with their music.

Between the Sky & Prairie is released by Wind Records, a Taiwanese record label. How was the experience?

Wind Music is a wonderful record label. I admire their dedication to preserving culture and the entire staff is so kind and thoughtful. I always look forward to doing projects with them because it is more like having fun with friends than working!

The physical version of the album is gorgeous, with a beautifully- designed hard cover book. Is this the first time you release a project like this?

Actually, all of the albums we’ve released with Wind Music look like this. We put everything we can into all aspects of our projects – the music, recording quality, graphic design, music videos and documentaries.

Will you be doing more collaborations with musicians from other musical traditions?

I don’t have any specific plans right now, but I look forward to what’s around the corner. I’ve found the greatest joy in learning about the origins of music – how sound is used to convey emotion in ways that don’t conform to our Western framework of melodic development, harmonic structure, rhythm, and form.

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

Composition is at the core of my music. I’m always trying to open my mind melodically (traditional world music is great for this because its melodies are independent of Western rules and restrictions), expand my harmonic vocabulary, and develop my ability to function in advanced rhythmic settings like odd meters and polyrhythms. African, Indian and Latin music are wonderfully rhythmic.

Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

I love Bach’s voice leading and counterpoint and use his techniques for all of my writing. Harmonically, Dave Grusin is the strongest influence on my music, and rhythmically, I draw from world music influences as well as great drummers like Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd.

 

Daniel Ho – Photo by Lydia Miyashiro

 

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

I first started recording in high school with my friend David Ho on a Tascam four-track cassette tape recorder. In the early 90’s, my first professional recordings were on 24-track, 2-inch tape recorders in studios in Los Angeles.

Around the mid-1990’s the Alesis ADAT began the revolution of affordable studio-quality home recording. From there it went to Mac-based fully editable digital recording in the mid to late 90’s. Technology quickly changed how we capture sound.

I started my record company, Daniel Ho Creations, in the mid-90’s and have recorded over 100 albums in my home studio. Without the pressure of paying for studio time, it is incredibly liberating.

Aside from Mongolian music, are there any other musical traditions that interest you?

I love all kinds of world music, though some of them would require me to be more skilled before I’d be able to collaborate effectively.

For example, I love Cuban music, but I would first need to develop my sense of rhythm before I could play with Cuban musicians.

What ukulele models are you playing now? Who builds them?

I play a Romero Creations Tiny Tenor. Pepe Romero, Jr. is a world- class luthier and the son of classical guitar legend Pepe Romero.

Four years ago, I had the opportunity to design this instrument with him. We looked at all the qualities we love about the ‘ukulele, like its portability and sound, and tried to expand on them. We came up with the Tiny Tenor, which is a full tenor scale ‘ukulele that fits in a concert ‘ukulele gig bag.

The instrument caught on over the past few years and Romero Creations is now distributed by YAMAHA in Japan. For me, this experience was like writing a song with wood. It is exciting to see people all over the world making music with an instrument we created! You can find more information about our instruments at RomeroCreations.com.

Have you even played a Portuguese cavaquinho or a Spanish timple?

No I haven’t. I’d like to though.

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

I would love to do a project with Yo Yo Ma. Working with Dave Grusin would be amazing, too. Or maybe a mandolin and ‘ukulele project with Chris Thile.

What music are you currently listening to?

I really enjoy listening to James Taylor. I love the sincerity of his songwriting and voice. But I don’t do a lot of listening. As a writer, I try to avoid getting melodies stuck in my head which could end up in something I’m composing.

What new projects are you working on?

Presently, I’m working on a comprehensive ‘ukulele program with YAMAHA music school. I’ve been a student of music all my life and I’m excited to share what I’ve learned so far. The project will launch in April 2018.

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Notable World Music Programming at Savannah Music Festival 2018

The Savannah Music Festival has announced the world music artists set to perform in 2018. The festival next year will take place March 29th through April 14th, 2018, at a number of venues throughout Savannah’s Historic District.

As usual, the festival selected first rate world music acts. Mali’s Trio Da Kali will share a bill with South African guitarist Derek Gripper (a kora music practitioner).

Malian kora maestro Toumani Diabaté is set to perform with his son Sidiki Diabaté in A World of Strings, an original production also including Brazilian music played by Savannah Music Festival Associate Artistic Director and mandolinist Mike Marshall and pianist Jovino Santos Neto (who will also play a solo show).

 

Diego El Cigala – Photo by Anya Bartels Suermondt

 

Iberian sounds include the great Dominican Republic-based Spanish flamenco singer Diego El Cigala and Portuguese fado singer António Zambujo.

Cellist Mike Block will perform with fellow Silk Road Ensemble musician Sandeep Das on tabla.

The festivals’ Latin Dance Party features the unrivaled Cuban son ensemble, Septeto Santiaguero.

Festival favorites Lúnasa (Ireland) and Tim O’Brien will team up for a concert of Irish and Appalachian-influenced music.

Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas play on a double bill with an electrifying new all-female acoustic music quartet called The Goodbye Girls.

For ticket information and the rest of the programming, including classical music, American roots music, jazz, theatrical productions and films, visit www.savannahmusicfestival.org.

headline photo: Septeto Santiaguero with El Canario

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Top American Roots Music Acts at Savannah Music Festival 2018

Savannah Music Festival has announced its 2018 programming. The festival will take place March 29th through April 14th, 2018, at several venues throughout Savannah’s Historic District.

In the American roots area, bluegrass sensations Rhonda Vincent & The Rage and Claire Lynch Band will share the stage on opening night, followed the next day by the Mission Temple Fireworks Revival with Paul Thorn Band and the Blind Boys of Alabama.

Songwriter-guitarist Margaret Glaspy is set to perform on a double bill with Argentine composer, singer and guitarist Juana Molina.

Tulsa’s John Moreland will share an alt-country bill with Nashville songwriter and guitarist Aaron Lee Tasjan.

New acoustic music projects include Hawktail and the Savannah Music Festival debut of Kittel & Co., guitarist Tommy Emmanuel plays on a co-bill with Jayme Stone’s Folklife and the original production The Voice is a Traveler features Moira Smiley and Anna & Elizabeth.

 

Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal at Savannah Music Festival 2015 – Photo by Frank Stewart

 

Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal will return to the Lucas stage as a duo and Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives are set to play Ships of the Sea, as do the North Mississippi Allstars.

Recent MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient Rhiannon Giddens will present her first theater show at Savannah Music Festival, and Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn return with music from their new album, Echo in the Valley.

For ticket information and the rest of the programming, including classical music, world music, jazz theatrical productions and films go to www.savannahmusicfestival.org.

headline photo: Rhonda Vincent & The Rage

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Caught Up In Getting Caught Up

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Ilú Keké. Transmisión en la Eritá Meta

 

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

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

 

Aurelio – Darandi

 

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

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

 

Monoswezi – A Je

 

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

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

 

Elida Almeida – Kebrada

 

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

 

Stringquake – Cascade

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

 

Astrid Kuljanic – Transatlantic Exploration Company – Riva

 

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

 

Divanhana – Live in Mostar

 

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

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

 

Various Artists – Cuba! Cuba!

 

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

 

Various Artists – Mista Savona Presents Havana Meets Kingston

 

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

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

 

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino – Canzoniere

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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Stirring Afro-Flamenco Explorations

Raúl Rodríguez – La Raíz Eléctrica (Fol, 2017)

Spanish multi-instrumentalist, composer, researcher and inventor Raúl Rodríguez has released another impressive recording titled La Raíz Eléctrica.

The new album continues Raúl Rodríguez’s explorations of flamenco, Caribbean and African music connections. On La Raíz Eléctrica you’ll find a delectable mix of flamenco, Afrobeat, Cuban son, Haitian vodoo rhythms and Andalusian rock.

La Raíz Eléctrica features a remarkable cast of guests, including Haitian musicians from Lakou Mizik, Boukman Eksperyans as well as Paul Beaubrun; American singer Jackson Browne; and other extraordinary musicians.

Raúl Rodríguez showcases his talent playing a wide range of musical instruments including two variations of the Cuban tres he came up with: the flamenco tres and the electric tres, which appears in this album for the first time.

La Raíz Eléctrica has it all: fiery percussive pieces, notable solo guitar performances and inspiring songs.

 

 

You don’t want to miss the physicals version. La Raíz Eléctrica comes with a 100+ page hard cover book with essays, photos , credits, English-language translations and a cover by one of Spain’s most talented graphic designers, Mariscal.

The lineup includes Raúl Rodríguez on vocals, tres flamenco, electric tres, electric guitar, flamenco guitar, lap steel guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals, keyboards, palmas (flamenco handclap percussion), bombo, caja, shekere, karkabas, kazoo; Aleix Tobias on drums, cajon, calabash, darbuka, bells, bendir, congas, tambourine and effects; Pablo Martin Jones on cajon, palmas, bell, kalimbas, bongos, congas, bells; Guillem Aguilar on bass; Mario Mas on electric and flamenco guitar; Domi Jr. on jembe; Peterson “Tipiti” Joseph and James Acarrier on kone (Haitian metal horns); Jackson Browne on vocals; Javier Mas on archlute; Paul Beaubrun on electric guitar; Theodore “Lòlò” Beaubrun on lead and backing vocals; Mimerose P. “Manzé” Beaubrun, Natacha Massillon, Caroline Dejean Andrus, Donier Mondesir, and Emilio Cuervo on backing vocals; Domi Serralbo and Paco Pavia on palmas; and dancer Juan de Juan.

 

 

La Raíz Eléctrica is a masterfully-crafted cross-pollination of musical styles by one of Spain’s most gifted musicians.

Buy La Raíz Eléctrica in Europe

Buy La Raíz Eléctrica in the rest of the world

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Duduk Quartet Depicts the Armenian Spirit

Jivan Gasparyan Duduk Ensemble – Yeraz (Buda Musique, 2017)

On Yeraz, Jivan Gasparyan presents a new, remarkable perspective of the ancient Armenian duduk. The album was recorded in Geghard, a medieval monastery in the Kotayk region of Armenia that is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The lineup on Yeraz is an all-duduk quartet that performs evocative and bittersweet musical pieces representing the agony, optimism and vivacity of the Armenian people.

Personnel: Jivan Gasparyan on duduk; Jivan Gasparyan Jr. on duduk; Armen Ghazarian on duduk; and Vazgen Makaryan on duduk.

Yeraz is an outstanding recording by the great maestro of the duduk joined by three equally talented duduk players.

Buy Yeraz in Europe

Buy Yeraz in the rest of the world

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Finely Crafted A Je

Monoswezi – A Je (Riverboat Records TUG1103, 2017)

Transnational band Monoswezi, led by Hallvard Godal has released another fine example of African and world fusion. A Je showcases Pan-African influences that include West African ngoni, Zimbabwean mbira, trans-African percussion; African American banjo; along with Indian harmonium.

Monoswezi is at its best when the explosive mix of global percussion, traditional strings and western musical instruments interact with each other.

Personnel: Hallvard Godal (Norway) on vocals, harmonium and clarinet; Sidiki Camara (Mali) on ngoni; Kim Johannesen (Norway) on banjo; Hope Masike (Zimbabwe) on mbira, percussion and vocals; Calu Tsemane (Mozambique) on vocals and percussion; Putte Johander (Norway) on vocals and bass; and Erik Nylander (Sweden) on drums and percussion.

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WOMAD Gran Canaria 2017 Program Revealed

Acclaimed world music festival WOMAD Gran Canaria has announced its 2017 programming. WOMAD Gran Canaria will take place November 10-12 at Parque de Santa Catalina in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Canary Islands, Spain).

 

 

The lineup this year includes:

101 Brass Band (Canary Islands, Spain), Beating Heart (UK), Bombino (Niger), Hindi Zahra (Morocco), Horace Andy (Jamaica), Kuarembó (Canary Islands, Spain), La Dame Blanche (Cuba), Miroca Paris (Cape Verde), Niño de Elche (mainland Spain), Orkesta Mendoza (USA), Papaya (Canary Islands, Spain), Profecía Crew (Canary Islands, Spain), Tu Otra Bonita (Spain), and The Brand New Heavies (UK).

WOMAD Gran Canaria also includes adult workshops led by Ripton Lindsay (Jamaica) and Ras Happa (Jamaica) as well as children’s workshops by Purple Moon (Canary Islands, Spain) and Urban Outdoors (UK).

The WOMAD Gran Canaria is supported by the City of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the Gran Canaria island government (Cabildo).

Headline photo: Bombino

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