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Wholehearted Songs of Solidarity

Ferhat Tunc – “Kobani” (KKV, 2016)

Kurdish-Turkish singer-songwriter Ferhat Tunç dedicates his new album to Kobani, the northern Syrian city that was devastated by ISIS terrorists. Ferhat Tunç has made many politicians uncomfortable with his songs. In the album “Kobani” he expresses his solidarity with Kurds, Alevis, Yazidies and Armenians, by recording songs about their stories, their suffering and pain.

Although the album contains Turkish and Kurdish influences, the majority of the album contains pop and soft rock arrangements that target a western audience.

Ferhat Tunc has assembled a collection of original songs and an Armenian folk song, singing in Turkish, Kurdish and Armenian languages. On one song he is joined by celebrated Mari Boine, who represents an ethnic minority in Scandinavia with a history comparable to the Kurds in Anatolia.

The album was arranged by Osman Ismen with assistance from Knut Reiersrud. The lineup includes Ferhat Tunc on vocals; Knut Reiersrud on electric guitar; Alp Dogan Tureci and Rune Arnesen on drums and percussion; Øyvind Kristiansen on piano; Eyup Hamish on ney; and Ertan Tekin on duduk. A string ensemble from Istanbul and a youth choir from Oslo also participated in the recording.



“Kobani” illustrates the suffering of the peoples of the Middle East through a collection of heartfelt songs that feature the exceptionally expressive vocals of Ferhat Tunc.

Buy Kobani


Manno, the Accomplished Political Troubadour

Manno Charlemagne is one of Haiti’s greatest singers. His albums are all gems of Haitian culture rooted in informed political expression – in place – but open to the world; both wise and beautiful.

In 1957, Francois Duvalier became president of Haiti. In 1963, he proclaimed himself president for life. With his second presidency came an eventual complete control of Haitian space and life. This included music. No music could publicly go against his self-declared ‘revolution’. Duvalier’s complete control of Haitian space and life was not new. It was a Neo-colonial, not in the racial sense but in an administrative sense.

St-Domingue, colonial Haiti, was typically led by a military leader. He established political, social, and cultural ‘order’. That control led to the banning of some african dances and musical practices in order to establish order. Toussaint Louverture, not the liberator of Haiti but the person who established the first instance of national (a ‘black’ nation that wanted to end slavery) independence, without territorial independence, (I.E. Jean-Jacques Dessalines’s Haiti is a project that goes past black independence) also banned certain musical practices by banning the use of drums. Alexandre Petion, the first Haitian president, banned the African choir, a choir that is present in Vodou as the Hounsi choir. And so on and so forth.

Not only did Duvalier stop others from singing, but he also introduced his own propaganda through song.




president a vie..”

(duvalier ..

duvalier ..

duvalier ..

president for life ..”)

“yon nonm konsa

chita chita l

na p enmedel ..

(a guy like that

is sitting comfortably

and u’re bothering him..”)

“mache pran yo duvalier

mache pran yo ..

(get them duvalier

get them ..”)

se le nwa se le nwa

tout tan ou la

neg new toujou o pouvwa ..

(“it’s the black the black

as long as you are here

black humans will always be in power ..”)

Starting with his first album Manno et Marco, Manno brought back sung political sentiment to Haitian space and to political life.  He’s released 5 albums so far.

Manno Charlemagne began his career during Jean Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship, at great personal peril. Songs such as “Pouki”, written by internationally renown Haitian writer Lyonel Toruillot, ask burning political questions like why things are not separated 50 / 50 and that Haiti is a forest and has lions and tigers told and still tell of Haitian life.

Manno’s music is much more than just political. It’s beautiful. It’s easy to hear Manno’s aesthetic in Italian madrigals and in west African griot song, in terms of the depth of the artistic intent. His aesthetic is very close to the latin american Nueva Trova without being it. It is a product of the terroir all the while looking out to the world.

It’s important to note that Manno is not a Prometheus however, though he was the first of his era to sing political troubadour songs. Haitians, immigrating back to Haiti, brought back the guaracha from Cuba and founded the contemporary Haitian Troubadour tradition. He belongs to the tradition. But, he surely brought politics and intellect to a form of music that normally sang romances like no one else.

Manno Charlemagne, the political troubadour, has accomplished.


Musical Eye-Opener to Refugee Crisis

Various Artists – The Long Road (British Red Cross, 2016)

With proceeds going to the British Red Cross UK Refugee Support Service and with help from the Arts Council England, producer Ethan Johns, engineer Dom Monks and executive producer James Gaster, The Long Road is musical eye-opener to the present refugee and asylum seeker across the globe.

Singer, former Led Zeppelin front man and The Long Road contributor, Robert Plant says, “We have a worldwide international catastrophe – talking about it is one thing, doing something about it is another. The position we are in, it’s paramount we all do our best one way or another to help.”

With just five short tracks, most of the artists compiled for The Long Road have skin in the game from the desert blues group Tinariwen and their founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib at one time a child refugee himself to the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars who made it a practice to support refugees during the civil war in Sierra Leone to artist and producer Adam Bainbridge who once worked as a Red Cross refugee services volunteer.

As a refugee or a witness to the hardship and devastation refugees and asylum seekers face or simply a person of conscience, The Long Road is all about lending a helping hand through music.

Producer Ethan John says of the project, “I wanted to get involved because I thought this was a story worth telling. This is a very special opportunity to create an album with a narrative that helps more people understand the realities of being a refugee and the journeys that people go through.”

Opening the familiar strains of the desert blues, Tinariwen takes on “Ker Algahalam Mas Tasossam” or “Why Is the World Silent?”

The Long Road turns spare and poetically potent with “Who Are You?” with the beat poet Scroobius Pip and the soulful vocals of Congolese Didier Kisala.

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars ramps up the goodness with the brightly reggae tinged “World Peace,” before giving way to the darkly delicious “The Blanket of Night” offered up by Robert Plant.

Kindness closes The Long Road with the story of a Syrian refugee Ayman on “A Retelling.”

We so rarely get the opportunity to be force of change by listening, but The Long Road gives music fans just that opportunity and it would be silly not to take the chance of positive change.

Buy The Long Road CD in North America

Buy The Long Road in Europe


The 3rd Annual Havana World Music Festival Begins Today

The 2016 Annual Havana World Music Festival, produced by the National Center of Popular Music and the Cuban Institute of Music kicks-off today, March 26 in Havana, Cuba. The concerts will take place March 26 and 27 at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), a multi-purpose venue from the Ministry of Culture created by Cuban rock and media artist, X Alfonso.

Featured international acts include underground flamenco act Juanito Makandé, mestizo music star Sergent García, calypso innovators Kobo Town, Centavrvs (electronica), and top Cuban artists Yoruba Andabo and Yelsy Heredia.

In addition to the main music festival, Havana World Music Festival and Copperbridge Foundation extended program began March 21 at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) hosting creative workshops, lectures, planned and spontaneous jam sessions, and exclusive performances.

Copperbridge Foundation, an American non-profit organization with the mission to promote cultural and educational exchange through the medium of artistic expression, supports Havana World by publicizing this cultural event that represents the creative, open-minded side of modern Cuba.

Artist Lineup:

Yoruba Andabo (Cuba)
Juanito Makandé (Spain)
Sergent García (France)
Centavrvs (Mexico)
Kobo Town (Trinidad y Tobago – Canada)
Yelsy Heredia (Cuba – Spain)
Daniela Spalla (Argentina)
Vox Sambou (Haiti – Canada)
Yissy & Bandancha (Cuba)
Carolina Camacho (Dominican Republic)

For more information visit: www.havanaworldmusic.com


Adana Wins Octaves de la Musique 2016 Award

Armenian-Turkish-Belgian ensemble Adana is the winner of Octaves de la Musique 2016 award in the world music category. The band aims to reconcile Armenian and Turkish cultures and is led by Armenian-Belgian Vardan Hovanissian (duduk) and Turkish-Belgian Emre Gültekin (saz, vocals). The rest of the ensemble includes Belgian musicians Joris Vanvinckenroye on double bass and Simon Leleux on percussion.

Adana recently performed at Babel Med Music world music showcase in Marseilles, receiving a standing ovation from the audience. People stood up at the end of the showcase to give them an ovation. An exceptional performance that shows the interest in this project reconciling Armenian and Turkish cultures.

Octaves de la Musique are the awards presented every year to artists living in Belgium (Wallonia-Brussels). They are handed out by professionals (booking agents, artist managers, record labels, artists, institutions).

Upcoming concerts:

Sines Festival (Portugal)
Philharmonie du Luxembourg (Luxembourg)
Rumi Fest (LV)
Festival Parfums de Musiques (France)
Le Salon du Bleu Café (Switzerland)
Ethno Port Festival (Poland)
Festival de Wallonie (Belgium)
La Chapelle de Verre (Belgium)
Düsseldorf (Germany)
Köln (Germany)
Brugge (Belgium)
Bern (CH)
Gent (BE)

Photo credit: Adana photo by Fabienne Pennewaert


Cuban Musical Roots Propelled Into the Future

Gilles Peterson’s Havana Cultura Band – Havana Club Rumba Sessions (Brownswood Records, 2016)

The British DJ, record label owner and producer Gilles Peterson is mastermind behind such recordings as the Jazz Juice Street Sounds recording series, Acid Jazz and Other Illicit Grooves, Black Jazz Radio, Gilles Peterson Digs America: Brownswood USA and Gilles Peterson Presents Sonzeira Talkin’ Loud, as well as countless other recordings including remixes Raphael Gualizzi ‘Reality & Fantasy,’ Seu Jorge ‘Burguesinha,’ Meshell N’Degeocello Friends and Chambao Duende Del Sur. If that weren’t enough, Mr. Peterson has worked with such artists as Mala, Ghostpoet, Lefto, Simbad and helped advance the careers of Jamiroquai, Roni Size and Erykah Badu.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Mr. Peterson has launched a new series called Havana Cultura, this three CD set comes complete with a feature length documentary directed by Charlie Inman. Opening the series with Havana Club Rumba Sessions, out on his own Brownswood Records label, Mr. Peterson kicks off this series with a kickass selection of remixes that is savagely cool.

Remix fans get more than the standard worked over tracks where the soul of the original is lost. No, these remixes walk that razor’s edge of maintaining original integrity and fashioning something new. Exploring the guaguanco, yambu and columbia roots of the rumba, Havana Club Rumba Sessions pools a collection of tracks by some of Cuba’s premier rumberos and turns them inside out with an equally impressive set of remix artists. Of course with the Cuban percussion supplied by the likes of Joel Driggs Rodriguez, Barbaro “Machito” Y. Crespo, Ramon Tamayo Martinez, Yovani Diaz and Lucumi, it’s hard to go wrong.

Opening the sultry and delicious “Yambu” with vocals provided by the lovely Dayme Arocena and remixed by Japanese masters Daisuke Tanabe and Yosi Horikawa, the Rumba Sessions delves deep into the meaty richness Cuban music has thrived and flourished on with its dazzling array of African rhythms and roots.

Motor City Drum Ensemble takes on “La Rumba Experimental” that is just crazy good with sleek jazzy sensibilities and plushy keyboards. Havana Club Rumba Sessions just gets better with additions like quick paced, vocal studded remix of “La Plaza” by Poirier, the thrumming goodness of “Havana Sessions” laid down by Pablo Fierro and the sizzling “Rumba Version” by Al Dobson, Jr. Tenderlonious’s remix of “Rumba Tierna” is indeed a standout, as is the richly worked “Yuka Music” by Mo Kolours.

Havana Club Rumba Sessions makes the masterful remix a thing a beauty. These remixes bridge the gaps between tradition and innovation without losing a single thread of the music’s very roots, where the past’s musical roots are propelled into the future without losing the very music traditions that was so captivating in the beginning.

Havana Club Rumba Sessions allows for the Cuban to shine through brilliantly against the riches the remix artists bring to the table and the combination is stunning.

Buy the digital version of Havana Club Rumba Sessions


Heavy Mardi Gras Indian Funk Sound with Modern Recording

Cha Wa – Funk ‘n’ Feathers (Upt Music, 2016)

Superb New Orleans multi-ethnic band Cha Wa brings together the vibrant Mardi Gras Indian tradition and irresistible polyrhythmic funk beats. Although the ensemble has been around for several years, carrying out numerous live performances, Funk ‘n’ Feathers is Cha Wa’s first album. “Cha Wa” is a slang phrase used by every New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian tribe, indicating “We’re comin’ for ya.”

Cha Wa injects street funk into New Orleans classics such as Dr. John’s “All On A Mardi Gras Day” and “Jock-A-Mo” (also known as ‘Iko Iko’). The group is led by singer and percussionist Honey Banister and drummer Joe Gelini. Honey Banister is a member of the Creole Wild West tribe. He appeared in the wonderful HBO series Treme. Gelini moved to New Orleans after graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Joe saw the Mardi Gras Indians appearing on Mardi Gras day to parade down Dryades Street. “I was hooked,” says Gelini. “It’s a spiritual thing. It’s more than the music.”

Cha Wa
Cha Wa

The lineup on Funk ‘n’ Feathers includes Irving “Honey” Banister on lead vocals and tambourine; Spy Boy J’Wan Boudreaux (grandson of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles) on lead vocals and tambourine; Joe Gelini on drums, percussion and background vocals; John Fohl on guitar and background vocals; Sheizo Shibayama on guitar; Stephen Malinowski on organ; Yoshitaka “Z2” Tsuji on acoustic and Rhodes piano; and Norwood “Geechie” Johnson of the legendary Wild Magnolias on bass drum and background vocals.

Special guests include: Haruka Kikuchi on trombone; Irving Banister Sr. on rhythm guitar; producer Ben Ellman on alto saxophone; Dave Crawford on lead vocals; and Colin Lake on lap steel guitar.

Upcoming concerts:

03/31- Lafayette’s – Memphis, TN
04/01- Blue Nile [Album Release Show] – New Orleans, LA
04/07- French Quarter Fest – New Orleans, LA
04/10- d.b.a – New Orleans, LA
04/21- Ogden Museum of Southern Art – New Orleans, LA
04/23- New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – New Orleans, LA
04/30- French Broad River Festival – Asheville, NC
06/04- Michael Arnone’s Crawfish Festival – Augusta, NJ

Buy Funk ‘n’ Feathers


Fama denke: An old Malian song

“Fama Denke” is a traditional Malian song to make a note of.

One of the joys of traditional Malian music is that its corpus is a repertoire that spans thousands and thousands of years; some songs let us into the psychologies and mentalities of humans living in historical conditions that we cannot fathom who first composed these songs. The fact that the song continues to be sung is the icing on the cake. Not only are we let into ancestral psychologies and the mentalities but we along with others enjoy being let in. Some old songs are just incredibly beautiful however obscure their lyrics may feel. One such song is “Fama Denke.” Malian heavyweight Ballake Sissoko, amongst many other greats, has interpreted it on his album Tomora. “Fama Denke” translates to “Son of the King.” It is a song that reminds a fallen Prince to keep his composure despite having to face capital punishment because of his betraying his father in 1898, as West African Kingdoms had all fallen into the hands of colonial powers.

Ballake Sissoko - Tomora
Ballake Sissoko – Tomora

The prince in question’s name is not fully agreed upon. Some say that his name was Diaoulé Karamoko and others say that it was Djale-Karamorgho. What’s agreed on is that he was the son of Almamy Samory Toure, who belongs to the same lineage as the Guinean ex-President Sekou Toure. Almamy Samory Toure founded a short lived Empire, the Islamic Kingdom of Wassoulou that encompassed parts of present-day Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Samory Toure is a considered a major figure in West African political history because of his conquests. Diaoulé was sent by has father to be an Ambassador in France and when he returned, he had conceived of his own projects and began to influence the Empire’s army. He was put to death b popular verdict.

“Fama Denke” begins with a display of instrumental prowess before any of lyrics are sung. The griot then proceeds to sing what sounds like a lament but is not. The Kora playing is generally easier to fall into then the words, given how removed the lyrics are from contemporary life. It is not a universal song that speaks to average conditions and that’s what’s fascinating about it standing the test of time. It is incredibly composed and a gorgeous song more so than anything else.

There are traditional several ways to play “Fama Denke”. The most traditional “Fama Denke” is played on a Kora in Sauta tuning or Tomora Meseng tuning. Both Sauta tuning and Tomora Meseng tuning are traditional ways to tune a Kora and are used to reflect local dialects. Tomora Meseng is meant to be a thinner pitch than the Tomoraba, the oldest way to tune a Kora.

Both Sauta tuning and Tomora Meseng are Eastern Gambian tuning, though Malian players most likely brought the tuning with them during their migrations. “Fama Denke” can also be played on two balafons as a purely instrumental song. Finally, the song “Fama Denke” gave birth to the more popular song “Kana Kassi,” which translates to “Do Not Cry,” a song which much more attuned to contemporary life that is often sung as a lullaby or even as a love song.

The song Fama Denke is a great listen and a great introduction to the end of the West African 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Most of all, however, it is a beautiful composition that has stood the time because of its magnificence.

Headline photo: Ballake Sissoko


Yeominrok, a Thrilling Musical Journey

E-Do – Yeominrok (Pony Canyon Korea, 2015)

Every once in a while I get the musical version of a kick in the pants and Korean musical ensemble E-Do’s Yeominrok, out on the Pony Canyon label, is that kick in the pants, smack to the kisser, punch to the gut and audible gobsmack all rolled into one. A brilliant, edgy, quirky blend of traditional Korean musical sensibilities, jazz and rock, Yeominrok is thrilling musical journey.

Fashioned out the talents of chulhyungeum (iron-stringed zither) player Kyung-hwa Ryu, drummer and percussionist Chung Lim, Korean drummer and percussionist Min-soo Cho, electronic bassist and contrabassist Jung-chul Seo, daegeum (pipe) and taepyeongso (double reed wind instrument player Young-Sup Lee, with additions of keyboardist Seung-hwan Yang, vocalist Tae-young Kim and daegeum player Young-goo Lee.

Yeominrok is both exotically surprising and fantastically expressive. Bridging the gaps of Korean traditional music, jazz and rock, as well as sliding in elements of Indian classical traditions, Yeominrok takes the musical version of a flying leap and soars far and wide into the wonders of fusion.

Starting off in a deceptive kind of quiet with “Bird of Oblivion,” it soon becomes apparent that the listener is in for a treat with the twang of metal strings, the sweet strains of flute and the occasional ting of a bell. This track builds up a sweet tension like waiting that moment in time when a bird takes flight while still trying to take in the beauty of the bird.

Yeominrok just gets better with the quick paced “Road” with its driving rhythms, sweeping flute and delicious tapping percussion. Jazzy and clever “The Brave Moonlight,” possesses a subterranean coolness, while “Kanwondo Arirang” proves edgily masterful with rock percussion and vocals.

Leaning heavily on a measured, restrained Korean traditional feel, “Bohoeja” is just as delightful. Closing “Ayrtthaya” with its percussion opening is a little deceptive as the piece flowers into a lushly dreamy track while still threading that explosive percussion through the track before the track gives way to a jazzy whirlwind complete with reedy pipe.

Yeominrok is one of those wonderful recordings where the silence between notes is just as important as the notes themselves, where delicacy brushes up against the fantastical and where the listener is led down the musical road that’s mined with rich and wonderful surprises.

Buy the digital version of Yeominrok


Captivating Chants from the Desert Sands

Aziza Brahim – Abbar el Hamada (Glitterbeat, 2016)

Western Saharan musician and activist Aziza Brahim explains, “I’m not able to separate politics, cultural and personal concerns. So, the focus of my music is all of these areas at the same time. Political, because of its commitment to the denunciation of social injustice. Cultural, because it searches for new musical ideas. Personal, because it expresses the worries of a person that aspires to live with dignity in a better world.”

For Ms. Brahim taking on the issues of today’s refugee crisis is both personal, having been raised in a Saharawi refugee camp in the Algerian desert and a fuel for the creative process for her latest recording Abbar el Hamada or Across the Hamada, out on the Glitterbeat label.

Conjuring up the familiar bluesy revolving rhythms of the Sahara and poking at the powers that control the flow of migrants and refugees, Abbar el Hamada is an expressive, yet restrained, call for compassion with Ms. Brahim’s plaintive vocals against a backdrop filled with plumy guitar lines and neatly worked African percussion.

With the 2012 recording Mabruk with Gulili Ma and the 2014 release of Soutak to her credit, the Saharawi singer has fashioned a smoothly produced recording with Abbar el Hamada, enveloping the desert blues in the warm, rich percussion of West Africa.

Recorded in her adopted home of Barcelona, Spain with producer Chris Eckman, Senegalese percussionist Sengane Ngom, drummer Aleix Tobias, Malian guitarist Kalilou Sangare, bassist and arranger Guilem Aguilar and guitarist Ignasi Cusso, Abbar el Hamada is possessed by a kind of laid back bluesy intensity that is captivating.

Beyond the message, Abbar el Hamada doesn’t rely on sharp edges, but instead enfold the message in a sleekly worked sound as with opening “Buscando la Paz” and the revolving rhythms of “Calles de Dajla.” Darkly lush tracks like “El Canto de la Arena” and “Mani,” with guest guitarist Samba Toure, are real treats with the sorrowful vocals of Ms. Brahim working their plaintive appeal against a quiet kind of blues.

“La Cordillera Negra” is another standout track with its subversive Spanish flair, slinky guitar lines and, believe it or not, a real percussion solo that is rich and rewarding.

Closing track “Los Moros” is just as delicious with its camel plodding across the desert rhythms and moody feel.

Abbar el Hamada is testament to Ms. Brahim’s social activism, as well as her ever increasing collection of fans, proving that while the road may be difficult music can lighten the load.

Buy Abbar el Hamada