World music for kids is a great way to introduce children to
musical diversity and learn about geography and other cultures. Mainstream media provides a very limited, skewed
view of music with only exposure to commercial pop and hip hop. Two recent world
music-flavored releases are directed towards kids.
Putumayo Kids Presents… Kid’s African Party (Putumayo World Music, 2018) is a compilation of animated songs with catchy vocals and rhythms that represent various parts of Africa and invite children to stand up and dance.
The album includes Sam Mukoro’s Nigerian reggae; Afropop
from Takeifa (Senegal) and Aldebert ft. Matar Sall & Joyce Tape (France/Senegal/Ivory
Coast); American lounge band Pink Martini playing a funk version of famous
South African song Pata Pata; the East
African charm of Jabali Afrika (Kenya); the great highlife guitar lines of Babá
Ken Okulolo (Nigeria); Zambian Afropop from Larry Maluma & Kalimba; Berber
pop by Majid Soula (Algeria); excellent chimurenga highlighting the mbira and
guitar of Chris Berry & Panjea (USA/Zimbabwe); and Sharon Katz & The
Peace Train introduce kids to swinging South African music, highlighting the pennywhistle.
The physical CD version of Kid’s African Party is way more fun than the digital edition, featuring dancing kids and animals; colorful illustrations; biographies of the artists with geographical and cultural information that parents can read to the kids; and a short glossary of African music styles and instruments.
The other album, Coloreando Dos, by Colombian songwriter and instrumentalist Marta Gómez introduces traditional Spanish-language songs for children from Spain and Spanish-speaking America adorned with exquisitely-crafted Latin American rhythms and Marta Gómez’s captivating vocals and guitar.
The CD version of Coloreando Dos is beautifully-packaged with lyrics in Spanish and translations to English, multicolored illustrations. On the down side, the liner notes make a nonsensical reference to this album featuring Colombian Spanish rather than Spanish. Any Spanish-speaking person, from any country, will be able to understand the lyrics perfectly. Some Americans (the album was released in the USA) seem to be obsessed with highlighting differences between Spanish from various nations, when they are really minimal.
Born in Ostrava, in the Czech Republic, the young Marta Topferova moved with her family to Prague, where she began her musical career at age 8 singing in the Miadi children’s chorus, whose repertoire was mostly classical and folkloric pieces. As a child she studied piano and guitar, and got her own first guitar at the age of thirteen. Prague may have been an unlikely place to fall in love with Latin music, but for Marta, that was where she first encountered the music that would change her life. “My parents had Chilean friends who had given them a collection of Inti-Illimani records,” she says. “They became my favorite records as a kid. In those days (the Communist era), it was still hard to get a lot of music; but I know if it had been possible, I would have searched out a lot more Latin music.”
Eventually, she did just that. After emigrating to Seattle with her family as a teenager in the 1980s, Topferova found herself gravitating towards the Hispanic community and teaching herself Spanish. “It was just me, my mother and my sister and I felt isolated, thinking I would never go back to my country. Then I met Hispanic friends at school and that community drew me in. It was like a second home. Through those friendships I penetrated Latin music and culture more deeply.”
In her teens Marta sang with The Seattle Girls’ Choir for four years. Later, she would major in music and dance at Bard College in New York. Marta also began to get serious about her guitar playing and researching Latin American music, searching out rare folkloric recordings and finding the originators of the styles she loved. “I’ve always loved the rhythms and genres of Latin America,” Marta says. “Son, trova & bolero… I’m definitely inspired by the folkloric styles, but my own music is difficult to classify.” In fact, the music that Marta plays today is the result of years of study, apprenticeship and travels that took her to Spain, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
In Spain, Marta lived in Morón de la Frontera, a cradle of flamenco in Andalucia, where she studied flamenco at its source. In Mexico, Marta gained one of her first onscreen experiences when she performed on Fiestas Patrias, a popular television program shot in Merida. Her travels also brought her to Havana’s famous casas de la trova – those bastions of Cuban traditional music – where she soaked up decades of Cuban musical genius.
After a short stay in Miami, Marta moved to New York in 1996, where she immersed herself in the burgeoning Venezuelan and Colombian communities. She acquired a Venezuelan voice teacher who introduced her to Venezuelan vals, gaita and merengue, and began performing duets with Lucia Pulido, who in turn introduced Marta to Colombian joropos and musica llanera. Eventually she traded in her guitar for the smaller, higher-pitched Venezuelan cuatro, and began to incorporate these new styles into her repertoire.
For anyone who doubts the authenticity of a Czech woman playing Latin American music, Marta offers this response: “People only question me if they don’t know me, but once they hear me and realize that I study this music very seriously, they’re usually very convinced. Really, music travels the way we do nowadays, and borders can’t keep people in or out anymore.”
Marta explains that it’s difficult to categorize her music. “I suppose I’m kind of a part of the nueva trova movement,” she laughs, “but I’m reluctant to call it that.”
Poetry is a big inspiration for Topferova, too. “I speak English everyday, but I mostly read poetry in Spanish and Czech,” she explains. “Garcia Lorca and especially the Argentine poet Atahualpa Yupanqui have been very important to me. I’ve always loved Lorca, a lot of his work was inspired by flamenco, and I’ve always identified with gypsies, since so much of my childhood and adult life has been so nomadic.”
In 2000 she recorded Sueño Verde for Circular Moves/ Rykodisc (the album wasn’t released until 2003) with her former partner, guitarist Enrique Lopez. The album won critical praise, and gave audiences their first taste of Marta’s luminous songwriting and impressionistic lyrics.
With her 2005 release, La Marea, (“The Tide”), Marta was joined by an impressive pair of seasoned musicians, Colombian harpist Edmar Casteneda and drummer Chris Eddleton. “I’m very proud of this record,” Marta says about La Marea. “It brings together so many different experiences that I’ve lived through and images and ideas I cherish. I’m also very pleased with the arrangements and personnel. I feel very lucky to have been joined by so many wonderful guest players – violinist Jenny Scheinman, flutist Yulia Musayelyan, French horn player Chris Komer, pianist/accordionist Angus Martin, bassist Pedro Giraudo and percussionists Neil Ochoa and Urbano Sanchez. I’ve worked with all of them over the years and they’re good friends. Everything came together so naturally, I couldn’t have planned it better.”
Marta Gómez started her musical studies at the age of six in her native Colombia when she entered the Liceo Benalcazar choir, becoming its soloist for ten years. In 1993 Marta moved to the capital of her country to continue her musical studies at the Javeriana University before entering the Berklee College of Music in 1999.
In 2001 Marta recorded a self-titled CD and in 2003 she released Solo es vivir, chosen by The Boston Globe as one of the 10 best albums of the year. Marta not only traverses a whole range of Colombian cumbias and bambucos, Argentine zambas, Cuban sones and Peruvian landos but she also writes the kind of melodies and refrains that translate across whatever language she is singing in.
Marta Gomez and her group perform a repertoire composed entirely of original songs based on a fascinating variety of rhythms from all over Latin America including Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Argentina mixed with jazz and pop elements.
Originally from Colombia, the singer started to compose songs exploring her roots, but when she met Argentine musicians Julio Santillan, Franco Pinna and Fernando Huergo, (Los Changos) they decided to share their musical backgrounds to create a distinctive blend of music that reflects the sound and culture of South America.
American world music showcase producers globalFEST have announced a tour featuring some of the finest young Latin music artists based in the United States. The tour, called globalFEST: The New Golden Age of Latin Music is part of globalFest On The Road’s productions. The artists featured include Las Cafeteras from East Los Angeles (California), Orkesta Mendoza from Tucson (Arizona) and Flor de Toloache from Brooklyn (New York).
The tour is divided into two sections: February 1 – March 3 concerts will feature a double bill with Las Cafeteras and Orkesta Mendoza; and March 7 – March 15 shows will include a double bill with Las Cafeteras and Mariachi Flor de Toloache.
The six-member ensemble Las Cafeteras began as a group of students at Eastside Cafe, a community space in East Los Angeles, where they learned to play son jarocho, a traditional music style from Veracruz rooted in Spanish, African and indigenous traditions. Veracruz is a state in the Gulf of Mexico. All of the band’s members are children of immigrants.
Las Cafeteras features traditional Mexican folk instruments including the jarana, an 8-string guitar; the quijada, a donkey jawbone (which serves as a percussive scraper) and a tarima, a wooden platform for dancing. While rooted in son jarocho, Las Cafeteras incorporate other music elements. It’s a combination of styles and sources that serves to deliver socially conscious lyrics, in both English and Spanish.
“We’re organizers. We’re movement kids,” said band member David Flores in a recent interview. “But we don’t say we’re political. We say we’re storytellers. It’s just not the mainstream story.”
They have released two recordings. Their song “La Bamba Rebelde”, a politically-charged remake of “La Bamba” (perhaps the most famous son jarocho) from their CD It’s Time (2012) became a theme song for the telenovela Bajo El Mismo Cielo on the Telemundo network. Las Cafeteras’ second album, Tastes Like LA, featuring the song “If I Was President”, was released in April 2016.
Las Cafeteras includes Daniel French on vocals, jarana; Enrique Chi on guitar; Denise Carlos on vocals, jarana, zapateado; José Cano on drums, cajón; Hector Flores on vocals, jarana, zapateado; Gloria Estrada on bass. From 2/11 through 2/18 concerts, Enrique Chi will be replaced by Chrisol Lomeli (vocals) and Xocoyotzin Moraza (requinto). For the 3/15 concert, Enrique Chi will be replaced by Jorge Mijangos (requinto, vocals).
Orkesta Mendoza, originally founded by singer and guitarist Sergio Mendoza in 2009 to play a 20-minute tribute set honoring Cuban mambo king, Dámaso Perez Prado, is an elegant sextet that plays a high-energy combination of mambo, cumbia, psychedelia and rock. The Orkesta´s music, arranged to suggest a big band with a touch of lo-fi electronics, speaks of a borderless world in which US culture and Hispanic traditions come together.
“I think it has to do with being near the border,” explained Mendoza, who also toured and recorded with Calexico, in an interview with the online magazine Rhythm Passport. “I grew up in Nogales, Sonora. Living in Mexico exposed me to cumbia and many regional styles of Mexico, such as mariachi and norteño. When I was 7, I moved to Nogales, Arizona. I started getting into American music and that is where the mixture of cultures begins.”
“From about 12 to 24 I completely forgot about Latin music. I studied a bit of many styles of music during that time. A little jazz, salsa, ska and a lot of classic rock and roll. I took a little bit from all the styles I had played and that’s how I started Orkesta Mendoza. Today we just want to rock more. Of course, it is Latin-based, but we like turning up our amps and consider ourselves a rock band.”
¡Vamos a Guarachar! (Let’s Party!) is the band’s most recent release and an invitation to dance with a mix of styles that goes from surf rock to mambo and pop rock.
Orkesta Mendoza includes Sergio Mendoza on vocals, guitar, keyboards; Brian López on vocals, electric guitar; Sean Rogers on bass, vocals; Marco Rosano on trombone, clarinet, accordion, keyboards; Quetzal Guerrero on violin, electric guitar, vocals; Jaime Peters on drums, programming.
Flor de Toloache
Winners of a 2017 Latin GRAMMY for their album Las Caras Lindas (The Pretty Faces), the all-female Flor de Toloache will partner with Las Cafeteras for the final segment of the tour, beginning March 7th in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The band was founded in 2008 by Mexican-Dominican violinist, vocalist, composer and arranger Mireya Ramos, who grew up in Puerto Rico listening to her father’s mariachi records, and Cuban-American vocalist and vihuela-player Shae Fiol. It started as a trio featuring harp, violin and vihuela (a small guitar-like instrument) before becoming a full ensemble. The members hail from diverse cultural backgrounds including Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Australia, Colombia, Germany, Italy and the United States.
In 2015, they were nominated for a Latin GRAMMY for their self-titled debut, which paid their respects to traditional mariachi music while also adding their own R&B influences. The name Flor de Toloache, (toloache flower) alludes to the white flower of the Datura, a toxic plant known as a love potion in Mexican folk legend.
Flor de Toloache includes Mireya Ramos on violin, vocals; Shae Fiol on vihuela, vocals; Julie Acosta on trumpet, vocals; TBC on guitarrón, vocals.
Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah, originally from Costa Rica and Iran respectively, have pioneered a new expression for the acoustic guitar. Bringing the cultural riches of their native lands to their highly virtuosic rhythmic and improvisation-rich original compositions these “fieras de la guitarra” (“wild animals of the guitar”) have profoundly influenced guitarists everywhere creating a new genre.
Jorge given his first guitar at age 6 grew up in a Caribbean environment, playing flamenco and classical guitar, incorporating jazz, Afro-Latin and Latin American folk forms. Ardeshir Farah was raised in Iran and England and also played guitar since childhood focusing on popular music and improvisation. Both began performing professionally in their early teens.
The travels of his diplomat father brought Jorge to the United States while Ardeshir arrived as a student of architecture. Fortune and music brought the two together when Ardeshir came to see Jorge perform with his Latin jazz-fusion group Caldera (which put out 4 albums on Capitol). When the two guitarists subsequently met it was instantly obvious that they were brothers of the guitar from opposite ends of the earth. They quickly prepared a repertoire began performing and recorded their first project ‘Mosaico’ in 1980.
Although record companies at that time were not yet ready for this exotic new music, jazz radio embraced it enthusiastically and the duo caught the attention of Milestone with whom they put out two CDs in the early 1980s ‘Frontera’ and ‘Guitarras’.
The intimate audiophile recording ‘Misterio’ was commissioned and recorded by Waterlily Acoustics in 1989. Following this came the phenomenally successful recordings ‘Primal Magic’ (1990) and ‘Americas’ (1992) on Mesa/Atlantic which won Billboard’s World Music Album of the Year and a Grammy nomination respectively.
The artists then started their own record company Selva as an artist-friendly alternative to the majors and put out ‘Heat of the Sun’ (top 1 Billboard World Music chart) and ‘Live’ the artists’ first live performance recording. Strunz & Farah received back the rights to ‘Primal Magic’ and ‘Americas’ which were re-released on Selva, an indepent label owned by the artists and distributed independently.
On Stringweave, Strunz and Farah are accompanied by guests such as Indian violin master Dr. L. Subramanian. Puerto Rican cuatro virtuoso Edwin Colón Zayas. Persian violinist Bijan Mortazevi and many others.
Born in Santurce (Puerto Rico), Tito Rodríguez moved to New York City as a teenager in the 1930s. After various jobs singing with a number of top groups he formed the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra, the most danceable Latin band in the dance-fever era. It was built around the voice of its leader, a versatile performer of every style of Latin music.
For several years, Rodríguez’s dance band starred at the legendary Palladium club and he had successful international career as a chart-topping singer of romantic songs.
In 1973, suffering from cancer at the age of fifty, he was rushed to the hospital after leaving the stage from a headline appearance at Madison Square Garden and died days later. Although he passed away, his legacy continues to burn bright through his recorded music as showcased on this new release.
In 2009, Fania released a double CD compilation, selected by the well-known New York discographer Harry Sepúlveda. Tito Rodríguez: The Man and His Music includes tracks that were digitally remastered from the original master tapes.
Founded in 1999 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Los Pinguos (the Penguins, in Spanish) perform a spicy mixture of Latin rhythms utilizing Spanish guitars, Peruvian cajon (box-drum) and richly harmonized vocals. The group is led by led by guitarist and composer Adrian Buono.
After developing a strong following in the nightclubs of their native city, the band moved to Los Angeles in 2001 in search of international success. They soon began playing at local venues, private parties, film industry events and even on the streets. Their devoted work ethic, coupled with engaging live shows and endearing personalities, has made them one of the most popular Latin groups in Los Angeles today.
The lineup on Regardel includes Adrián Buono on guitar and vocals; José Agote on guitar; Santiago Fefe Lee on bass; Pablo Medina on Hammond organ, piano and vocals; Pablo Correa on drums; Mariano Dugatkin on bandoneon; Juan Manuel Leguizamón on percussion; and Mermans Mosengo on bass.
The 4th edition of the Iberoamerican showcase EXIB Música 2017 will take place in Portugal once more. The 2017 event will be based in Évora with additional activities in Arraiolos and Montemor-o-Novo. The expo focuses on the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries in the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas. It will be held June 7-10, 2017.
The program will be based on the premises of the Expo: impulse, commitment, diversity, industry and identity.
The program will feature 18 showcases from all Iberoamerica as well as 12 Off-EXIB concerts representing the music of the Portuguese regions. The expo will include a professional area with booths to disseminate information and generate networking.
The 4th edition of EXIB Música comes with important international collaborations as well as reflections on the space of musical management in the Creative Economy.
The program will also include the launch of projects, laboratories on music, meetings, masterclasses and documentaries of Ibero-American music.
Amelia Romano – New Perspectives (indie release, 2017)
American harpist Amelia Romano plays a mix of instrumentals and songs on New Perspectives, scheduled for release later this month. I was drawn to her instrumentals, which is where she shows her talent as a harp player and composer.
Romano’s music combines blues, jazz, classical and Latin American music elements like joropo from Venezuela, Argentine tango and Mexican-style bolero. She likes to explore unpredictable rhythms from Latin America, a region with a remarkable harp tradition, although she breaks stereotypes by playing what is normally a man’s instrument.
Amelia Romano enjoys using her beautiful cobalt blue harp to extract new sounds, textures and also as an attractive visual element.
With New Perspectives, Amelia Romano shows great potential as a genre-defying composer and arranger.