Michel Camilo was born into a musical family and played accordion before switching to piano at the age of nine. In 1979, he arrived to New York, where the self-taught student of American jazz, continued his studies and made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985. After three years as a member of Paquito D’Rivera’s band, in 1988, Camilo released his self-titled Epic debut. The album became an instant success and held the top jazz album spot for eight consecutive weeks. His next recording, On Fire, was voted one of the top three Jazz Albums of the Year by Billboard and 1990s On the Other Hand was a top-ten jazz album.
In 2000, Camilo’s Verve release, Spain, with Spanish flamenco guitar maestro Tomatito, won Best Latin Jazz Album in the first-ever Latin Grammy Awards. Camilo also appeared on the soundtrack CD for the acclaimed Latin jazz film Calle 54, directed by the Oscar-winning Spaniard Fernando Trueba.
2002 marked a special year for the ever-versatile Camilo with the release of two albums, one classical and one Jazz. In February, Decca released his Concerto for Piano & Orchestra, Suite for Piano, Strings and Harp & Caribe, to celebrate his guest appearance with the NSO conducted by Leonard Slatkin at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and in March Telarc released Triangulo.
August 2003 marked the Telarc release of Live at the Blue Note, featuring Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez on drums and Charles Flores on acoustic bass. This two-CD set captures the quintessential Camilo “sound” live for the first time. Camilo called upon drummer Horacio ‘El Negro’ Hernandez to bring his rich Cuban roots and spirit, which he expresses unlike any other drummer. The 1997 Grammy Award winner performed and recorded with legends such as McCoy Tyner, Carlos Santana, and as a member of renowned Latin ensembles like Tito Puente’s Tropi-Jazz All Stars, El Negro has earned a renowned reputation as one of the most powerful and versatile players in the current musical scene.
Bassist Charles Flores played and inspired the best, while continuing to challenge himself and his peers in new artistic directions. A graduate of Cuba’s prestigious Escuela Nacional de Arte, Flores has performed and recorded with Juan Pablo Torres, Steve Turre, Jane Bunnett and the BBC Orchestra in London masters. While in Cuba, Charles was recruited by one of the most important figures in the history of Cuban jazz, pianist Emiliano Salvador. In addition, Flores was also the bassist for the groundbreaking Cuban fusion group AfroCuba and for Salsa sensation Isaac Delgado.
French Toast (Electric Bird, 1984)
Why Not? (Electric Bird, 1985)
Suntan/In Trio (Electric Bird, 1986)
Michel Camilo (CBS Portrait, 1988)
On Fire (Portrait, 1989)
On the Other Hand (Epic, 1990)
Amo Tu Cama Rica (1991?) Rendezvous (Columbia, 1993)
One More Once (Columbia, 1994)
Two Much (1996)
Thru My Eyes (Columbia, 1997) Spain (Verve, 1999)
Piano Concerto, Suite & Caribe (Decca, 2001) Triangulo (Telarc, 2002) Live at the Blue Note (Telarc, 2003)
Solo (Telarc, 2004)
Rhapsody in Blue (Telarc, 2006) Spain Again (Emarcy, 2006)
Spirit of the Moment (Telarc, 2006)
Mano a Mano (Emarcy, 2011) What’s Up? (Okeh, 2013) Live in London (Redondo Music, 2015) Spain Forever (Universal, 2016)
Oriental Mood won the contest for best world music band in Denmark in 1999. The band Mood has a very broad experience, allowing it to play classical Turkish/Arabic music in one moment , and Afro-Arabic or Balkan-inspired in the next. In Oriental Mood, elements from musical traditions of Turkey, Balkan, Kurdistan, Morocco, Egypt and India blend together with western music-styles, creating their own special “world sound”.
Oriental mood was formed in 1991 and has been touring in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Holland, Italy and Egypt.
Lars Bo Kujahn started as a fusion jazz drummer, but soon took interest in Balkan -and Middle Eastern music. He lived for many years with one leg in Copenhagen and the other in Cairo, where he learned Arabian drumming. He also learned how to play the Arabian harp: qanun.
Claus Mathiesen plays clarinet and has roots in experimental rock and Balkan-music. He started playing Middle Eastern music when he got in contact with Turkish musicians in the beginning of the eighties. He studied and traveled in Turkey and the Balkans. Mathiesen frequently performs with Turkish singer Fuat Saka.
Frank Juul is one of the few westerners who really learned how to play the Indian tabla. He studied art during a five years stay in Benares, India. In Oriental Mood, he transfers the Indian playing-techniques to the middle-eastern rhythms. He also plays with Fuat Saka Band.
Marco Spallanzani is a fusion jazz guitarist with a big love for world music. He´s educated at the rhythmic conservatory of Copenhagen. He plays saz (Turkish lute) as well.
Niels Lichtenberg is a new member of the band. He plays bass and is a specialist in Brazilian and Latin music. Educated at the rhythmic conservatory ofi Copenhagen.
Yasar Tas is a Turkish Kurd with a big passion for eastern world music. He plays saz, ud, zurna, nay and percussion.
11. Toko Telo – Diavola – Anio
12. Eva Salina & Peter Stan – Sudbina: A Portrait of Vida Pavlović – Vogiton
13. Sonido Gallo Negro – Mambo Cósmico – Glitterbeat
14. Samurai Accordion – Te – Visage Music
15. V.A. – I’m Not Here to Hunt Rabbits – Piranha
16. Okra Playground – Ääneni Yli Vesien – Nordic Notes
17. Orquesta Akokán – Orquesta Akokán – Daptone
18. Goran Bregović – Three Letters from Sarajevo, Opus 1 – Decca / Wrasse
19. Sopa de Pedra – Ao Longe Já Se Ouvia – Turbina
20. Son Palenque – Kutu Prieta pa Saranguiá – Palenque
Ross Daly and Kelly Thoma – Lunar (Labyrinth, 2017)
Lunar is a superb 2-CD album by influential musician, composer and Crete-based world traveler Ross Daly and one of his most distinguished students, Cretan artist Kelly Thoma.
Most of the music on Lunar consists of mesmerizing and circular original compositions by Daly, who is deeply inspired by the musics of the Eastern Mediterranean, primarily Greece and Turkey, and Central and South Asia.
Ross Daly is a multi-instrumentalists who plays a wide range of musical instruments from Greece, Turkey, Afghanistan and other parts of the globe. One of his specialties is the lyra and Afghan rabab. On Lunar, Daly is joined by Kelly Thoma on soprano lyra and percussionists Saam Schlamminger, Marija Katsouna and Zohar Fresco on bendir frame drums. The fascinating sound of the bendir is a perfect fit for Daly’s music, creating an overall spellbinding effect.
World music ensemble Atash will be performing today in New York City along along with the St. Stephen’s Global Ensemble. Roberto Paolo Riggio, Atash’s musical director, violinist and composer discussed the project with World Music Central.
On Monday, April 23, Atash and The St. Stephen’s Global Ensemble will be performing at New York’s Carnegie Hall. How did Atash connect with The St. Stephen’s Global Ensemble?
John Moon, who is also a violinist in the group, is the Director of Orchestras at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, where he’s been for 20 years or so. Several years ago St. Stephen’s commissioned me to write some music for the group, for a European tour they were doing, which culminated in my writing a piece for oud and orchestra. It turned out to be a hit with the ensemble, and the school, and I was asked to revise it a few years later for another tour, adapting to the changing instrumentation of the group. Again the school loved the project, which brought the students into contact with concepts that they otherwise might not have gotten to explore, such as improvisation, eastern approaches to playing, and modern techniques.
After taking a chance on going in this unconventional direction at the school, we saw involving Atash as a natural progression. We’ve both felt so privileged to get to work with this kind of group for all these years, Atash is such a unique combination of talented and masterful musicians from varied traditions. John realized it was an untapped resource that could offer his students exposure to something extraordinary that would be a great experience for them. So he put me to work scoring our music for the ensemble for another European tour, which happened last year. And he was right. It was a great experience not only for the students, but also for all of us. He submitted video from the tour to Mid-America, and they wound up inviting us to play in Carnegie Hall. So, of course, it was back to writing for me, for a larger group of students this time, including several keyboard players and percussionists in addition to the strings and winds. And here we are.
What’s the concept behind Global Harmony, the work that you’ll be presenting in New York?
The concept is really an expression of what Atash itself is, at its core. We are musicians from very different backgrounds who are united by our love for music, and our desire to create. It’s a microcosm for what’s possible in the world – that is, bringing people from different cultures, different countries, different religions, different ages, different socioeconomic backgrounds, together and creating something beautiful together. Although I am the main composer, responsible for the ultimate shape and structure of the compositions and, especially, for the orchestral arrangements, every stage of the project includes collaboration, whether it has to do with other members’ contributing specific lines or melodies, or parts, or with decisions made in the execution stage. Even when I am alone writing, I write in response to input that I get from the various members of the band and from the students, and also keeping mind what I know about their abilities, capitalizing on their strengths but also looking for areas where I think they can be pushed beyond their comfort zones. While the music is structured and parts are fully written out, there are also varying degrees of improvisation involved, and some moments where I don’t write anything out but expect them to create their parts.
From a music education standpoint, the students are learning about how music is actually put together in the modern world. Instead of merely learning the mechanics of playing their instruments and reproducing what’s written on a sheet of paper in front of them, they’re learning more about how music is actually created, how it may be adapted, how they might interpret or transcend the written page. They’re learning in a broader sense what it means to be a musician. Because this music is ours, all of ours, and because of the approach we take, each participant has an ability to shape it in their own way, within certain parameters, of course. And they’re learning about how to discover what those parameters are, how to develop a sense of taste and elements of style. Global Harmony is about making music that may contain the blood of various traditions, but grows up to be its own person with its own traditions unto itself, something that everyone involved in can enjoy and feel that they belong to.
How does this project differ from Atash’s regular music?
In substance and execution, not too much. It sounds different, of course, because now we’ve got an orchestra with us. It’s more lush, more intricate. We have to take certain things into consideration that we don’t normally. When it’s just the band, one of us can veer off in a different direction in the moment, based on what he’s feeling, knowing that the other band members will not only follow him but also be able to converse musically with him, spontaneously. We’re all very used to that, and are quite good at connecting with each other telepathically in that way. Whereas, with these arrangements and the large group of students, we now need to explore what can be done within a structure that’s a little more contained. However, we still have freedom. Everytime we play these pieces, they’re different.
The students have had to learn to adapt to our approach at the same time that we’ve adapted to following a stricter form. It’s not unlike the way the Egyptian orchestras of the black and white films of the last century operated. In other words, while following a score which encapsulates an overall structure, there is still a great deal of flexibility. There are moments when the members of Atash may slightly alter the form, which the orchestra must catch and deal with in a musical way. They are learning what it means to think like a musician – like a composer, arranger, a side man, a member of a band, an improviser. And although we help guide them through doing this in the rehearsal process, a lot of what they do turns out to be somewhat innate, which is a great discovery to make for them as students, and for us as educators.
Is this a one-time project or are there plans to continue the collaboration with The St. Stephen’s Global Ensemble?
I think this is going to be ongoing for Atash, but not limited to working only with the St. Stephen’s group. We’d like to do this with lots of different groups around the country and around the world, both student and professional. Every time it will be different, it will be fresh, because the people will be different, and each group of people will leave its own imprint on the music. Every performance will be a totally unique experience.
Can you give our readers a brief history on how Atash was formed?
In a nutshell, Atash emerged from a pre-existing group that was called the Gypsies, which had been started by our singer, Mohammad Firoozi, and another great artist living in Austin, Oliver Rajamani, in 1996. Jason McKenzie and I joined the group shortly after it was formed. The group went through various personnel transformations, and Oliver left to do his own thing at one point, leaving the “musical director” position open, which I moved into. After going through a lot of changes, in 2001 a five-member core emerged which included – in addition to Mo, Jason, and myself – John Moon and Dylan Jones. At that point, around 2001, we decided to break away from The Gypsies’ mold and call it Atash and make the group more of a collaboration, with a sound that embraced more of the diversity within the group.
From that point, we have only grown in size, with new members generally being added, but none ever really leaving the group. In other words, it’s more of a brotherhood, or a family, than a musical act. We don’t play with everyone who is a member of the group all the time, but there are a number of people we consider to be members whom we play with whenever there is an opportunity that presents itself.
People like our old friend Christian Fernandez, who lives in France, or Fareed Haque, who lives in Chicago; Elias Lammam and Abbos Kosimov in California; Michael Ibrahim in Detroit. But there’s a core of around nine players based in Austin now.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
The essential elements of our music are:
1.) of course, the international aspect, but also the idea of expertise. We not only have musicians who come from different cultures and traditions, but the musicians we have come from deep within those traditions. I would even say that they are masters in those traditions.
2.) The collaborative aspect. We make our music together. Sure, there are usually one or more people who can claim to be the primary composers of a particular song or piece, but it gets transformed and evolves as it gets taken up by the group. It gets “Atashified.” And many of our songs wind up having everyone’s fingerprints on the composition. We have to make music that satisfies ourselves, with all our varied tastes, so we’ll either hash things out in the writing process, or it will start to change in fundamental ways through performance, through individual members feeling something in the moment and adding it to the piece, and it winds up sticking. Really both things often happen.
3.) The sound itself, I think, is very distinct and recognizable. We’ve got Mohammad’s voice, which is a unique Persian voice. It’s not a classical Persian voice, but more a voice from the street, like a flamenco singer. Very rich, but also very primal. The strings have that sort of earlier 20th century Egyptian sound, or even old Hollywood or Bollywood sound, very lush and ornate. Sophisticated, yet sensuous.
The shimmer of sitar, and Indian elements like tabla, and the rawness of west African and Middle Eastern drums wrapped in the energy of rock and roll drums and somewhat jazzy, somewhat hip-hop upright bass. It’s a sound that if you dissect it is actually quite eclectic, but somehow comes across as very organic and cohesive, unified as if it comes out of one tradition, its own. I think this is because we meet in the mystical space of all traditions, where we have access to everything, but we let it be guided down a particular path that seems to come from a divine source.
4.) The dance of improvisation. I put dance and improvisation in the same sentence because I think they are divinely linked, especially in our music. It’s very difficult not to dance to our music. But what’s amazing is that, no matter where in the world we play, we inspire the same kind of free, individualistic and communal improvisatory dancing – because we are improvising. Every show is an improvisation, though we may play the same songs from one show to another, and it is inspired by the connection we feel with each other, and with our audience. We’re very popular with the “ecstatic dance” community, and many people have told me that they consider going to hear our music, and dance, to be a sort of ritual. And it connects a lot of people from all sorts of different backgrounds, which I love.
5.) Mystical poetry. Mohammad, our singer, is very influenced by the Sufi poets of several hundred years ago – Khayyam, Rumi, Hafez, etc. He often uses their verses or adapts them, or composes his own, inspired by these poets.
Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
This would be a very long list. I think in the beginning, Mo and Oliver were inspired a lot by groups like the Gipsy Kings, qawwali singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and Rai singer like Cheb Khaled. However, we sort of opened the Pandora’s box when we turned into Atash. Ali Akbar Khan, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Ravel, Satie, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, Radiohead, Bob Marley, Dimi Mint Abba, John Coltrane, Willie Nelson, James Brown, Cat Stevens, Fairuz, Paco de Lucía and Camarón de la Isla, Ojos de Brujo, Fela Kuti, Bob Dylan, Youssou N’Dour, Ali Farka Toure, John Cage, Shakti, Ravi Shankar, Philip Glass, John Lee Hooker, of course, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, my teachers Simon Shaheen and Pandit Ram Narayan… I mean really, I wouldn’t know where to begin or stop.
Tell us about your recordings and your musical evolution.
Our first recording as Atash was in 2003, called Republic of Love. Our next recording was a live recording from our “Global Harmony Concert Series,” and was called Global Harmony, released, I think, in 2007 or something. It’s out of print and I believe the masters are lost. Our next album, Everything Is Music, was released in 2013 or 14, I think. I think we’ve just gotten better at what we do over the years.
We’ve been together a long time. As time goes on, I think what we see is the voices of each member of the group growing stronger, in terms of writing. We’re each finding who we are more and more, and honing the craft of weaving those voices together to create a coherent whole.
How’s the current world music scene in Austin?
The Austin world music scene is small, but very eclectic and strong, and has been for decades! (Did you know that Hamza al-Din was once a part of it, back in the 1970s? And Alan Lomax was born in Austin!) Austin’s a big university town, and a big music town, and career musicians often play in a variety of genres, so all kinds of people are connected to the world scene, even if their primary scene is a different one. And people who predominantly play international music also get hired to play in a variety of different genres, some more conventional than others. It’s a very musically promiscuous scene. (I said musically!) People in Austin take live music for granted, because it’s always there, everywhere. It’s like the air we breathe. Every place of business is potentially a live music venue. Almost every local restaurant at least has a stage. You wouldn’t believe how many opportunities there are to hear live music in all kinds of places you wouldn’t expect!
I once counted that the local paper had listings for sixty shows on a Monday night, just a Monday night! And that’s just what was listed. For this reason, I think Austin musicians understand the idea that music has to move you. It doesn’t have to be pretentious or exclusive, it just has to move people. That’s what we call authenticity, whereas in other places people might think of authenticity, in world music especially, in terms of musical pedigree or purity with relation to a tradition, adherence to particular rules of style. In Austin, that is not what we mean by authenticity. In fact, that can be very inauthentic if it’s something that forced. For us, authenticity means playing music from the heart. It can be informed by tradition, of course! But to be authentic it should not feel that it’s removed from who you are. It should sound like your voice, your spirit. Music that stirs the emotions and moves the body. Rumi, the 13th century mystical poet who is one of the primary inspirations to our singer, Mohammad, once wrote, “We have fallen to a place where everything is Music!” That pretty much describes Austin.
What musical instruments do you use?
Two violins, oud, sitar, flamenco guitar, upright bass, jembe, tabla, darbuka, kanjira, congas, drumset, and Persian vocals. This is the core of the instruments we use, but anything is fair game, especially when we’re in the studio.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with whom would that be?
There are many people I’d love to collaborate with, too many to start listing, but one thing that really interests me, as someone who began working in classical music when I was very young, is bridging the gap between what we do and the classical world. Although I have immense respect for western classical music, I do think that there’s something lacking in the training. You often find musicians who are incredibly talented who are scared to death of improvisation. That was not the case for me when I was growing up, mainly because I found practicing etudes and composed pieces too boring to stay with for very long. I’d work for a little while on a piece, but then find myself improvising. I loved playing, but I didn’t love that kind of practice.
When I discovered things like Indian music and Arabic music, I wound up taking to it quite naturally, because learning the music involved a certain degree of learning how to invent, and experimentation. I’d like to help classical musicians have this experience. I dream that one day there will be trained musicians who are literate in a more broad base of styles and approaches, who can adapt to a broader set of musical circumstances, including improvisation where it is called for. I mean, I think there are already a lot of musicians like this, but I don’t think it’s yet become a part of musical training. I’d like to be someone who helps to make that happen. There’s a sound that I associate with those old orchestras that I mentioned earlier, that I’d like to try and cultivate again. A sound where the individual musicians have a bit more flexibility and freedom to be individuals while still melding their sound with the people around them in a pleasing way that works, and creates a richer sound. I’d like to do this with youth as well as professionals and amateurs, all over the world!
Do you have any upcoming albums or projects to share with us?
We’re in the beginning stages of our next album. We’re also planning a whole new set of orchestral arrangements for a tour of Spain next year. I’d like to start working with more groups, and perhaps even creating an orchestra of our own, with players from all sides of the cultural, educational and economic spectra.
Luis Muñoz, composer, arranger and percussionist, was born in San Jose, Costa Rica. Coming from a very musical family, Luis showed an early interest in the arts and spent his youth performing in rock and jazz groups. In 1972 Luis entered the University of Costa Rica where he studied both Architecture and Music. He studied privately at the National Music Conservatory and with the principal flutist of the National Symphony Orchestra.
In 1974 Luis emigrated to the United States and there completed his Degree in Music Composition at the University of California, Santa Barbara, under the tutelage of British composer Peter Fricker. For the last 30 years Luis Muñoz has written music for educational and sports documentaries, animation films, radio and television jingles, dance and theater. In addition, Muñoz has worked as a music producer and arranger, as well as a percussionist for numerous artists such as Airto Moreira, Etta James, Flora Purim and Jim Messina.
Luis Muñoz has made numerous recordings of his music throughout the years. In 1980, commissioned by the Costa Rican government, Muñoz wrote and recorded Costa Rica-Costa Rica. Luis donated all the proceeds generated by the sales of that recording to the Red Cross in Nicaragua, a nation at the time desperately trying to heal itself from the effects of a devastating civil war. In 1988 he signed with CBS Records and recorded La Verdad.
In 1996, Fahrenheit Records released The Fruit of Eden, co-produced by Dominic Camardella. It marked Muñoz’s debut in the US. In 1998, Muñoz brought listeners a more progressive and exotic expression on his next endeavor, Compassion, continuing to evolve as an innovative force in instrumental music.
“I grew up in Costa Rica, which is right in the middle of the American continent,” he said, “and being in a place where every form of Latin music merges really had an impact on me. Coming from a large family that included amateur instrumentalists as well as professional composers, my involvement with music started at a very early age. I was constantly being exposed to the plentiful, multi-faceted world of Latin American music; the pleasure, inspiration and joy that came from that experience were very important factors in my decision to become a composer.
I remember listening to the songs of Chilean Victor Jara and Violeta Parra; the voices of Mercedes Sosa and Milton Nascimento; the Argentinean Tango; the music of the Andean “Altiplano.” I loved the music of Brazil, with the pulsating rhythms of the samba, the maracatu, the partido alto and the baiao, plus the gentle beauty of the bossa nova; the cumbia from Colombia, the merengue from the Dominican Republic, the calypso from Trinidad, the norte?a and ranchera music from Mexico, the bomba and plena from Puerto Rico and the music of Cuba. Cuban music, with it’s deep African roots, has offered the world the gifts of the rumba, the cha-cha-cha, the son montuno, songo, mambo, guaracha and guaguanc?, creating beats to which the entire world now dances.”
Muñoz continues, ” … In loving and appreciating these styles of music I grew up with, I would soon realize that there was much more yet to be discover. Early on I remember being exposed to the music of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, which ignited my unquenchable thirst for jazz. Then, during my early teens, the” British Invasion,” and music from groups like the Beatles would introduce me to a new type of music and culture from other parts of the world. Naturally, as a student at the Music Conservatory of the University of Costa Rica, I found myself deeply intrigued with the classical music repertoire. Bach, Ravel, Chopin, Stravinsky … the influences were many and varied. I was in awe of the vast emotional spectrum of classical music. The passion and depth, the rapture and relevance, the sheer magic that can only be found in some of the greatest works ever written.”
Muñoz’s album Vida includes special guests Jonathan Dane and Adolfo Acosta (Tower of Power) on trumpets, Randy Tico (Airto Moreira) on electric bass, world renown classical bassist Nico Abondolo, Brian Mann (Larry Carlton) on accordion, Kevin Winard (Sergio M?ndez) on percussion, Ron Kalina (Linda Ronstadt) on chromatic harmonica and Charlie Bisharat (Strunz & Farah) on violin.
Marta 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.
Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Shao Rong first broke with tradition when she moved to Japan (she is currently living in Tokyo), although she maintains an allegiance to the Chinese lute which differs from the Japanese version. Although similarly shaped, the Japanese lute is more rhythm-oriented and played with a fan-shaped pick while the Chinese instrument stresses the melody and is plucked with the fingertips which are covered with special artificial nails.
Shao’s second move away from tradition is that she plays mostly modern compositions on her recordings. In addition, she utilizes a combination of ancient instruments – guzheng (a Chinese zither invented thousands of years ago, now normally with 21 strings), erhu (a very old two-string Chinese lute played with a bow, originally constructed to imitate the human voice, and known in Japan as the niko), dizi (a small Chinese flute from the Tang Age two-thousand-years-ago) and shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute) – mixed with modern Western instrumentation like piano, guitar and bass.
In 1998, Shao was chosen by the Japanese Agency of Culture to join Tempyo-Gafu, an Asian ancient-music ensemble, which performed special concerts at the United Nations and in major U.S. cities including New York, Washington and Los Angeles (the show was televised in Japan).
Rong was allowed the high honor of playing an extremely valuable thousand-year-old five-string pipa, the oldest one in the world which makes it a national treasure. Rong usually plays the pipa in the “Rinshi” style using all five fingers to create a tremolo effect which makes the instrument sound to Western ears like a mandolin one moment or a banjo the next.
Shao always excelled at music and by the time she entered college, she was considered one of the top musical prodigies in all of China. She began taking piano lessons when she was five-years old and started lute lessons at age ten. When she was in her second year of junior high school, a new music school was established under the wing of the Beijing National Central Music Institute. Shao, along with 20,000 other students, took the entrance exams which only 12 passed. Of those, five were selected to attend this special university. Shao Rong was one of those chosen. At the Central Conservatory of Music in Bejing, she studied under the legendary pipa player Professor Liu Dehai, whose mastery was regarded as a national asset of the country.
After graduating from college, Rong returned to Shanghai in 1987 and joined the National Folk Music Band as a featured soloist, and she won a top award (“The Artistic Excellence Prize”) as one of the outstanding artists at the Shanghai Arts Festival. “In order to experience a fresh environment for my music,” says Rong, “I decided to move to Japan.” In 1989, she enrolled at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music which led to her appearance in the Shiki Company production of “Madame Butterfly” in 1990 as both a pipa player and an actress. After graduation, her performance schedule increased.
In July 1998, she performed as a soloist with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in the Japanese premiere of “Marco Polo,” an opera by one of China’s leading composers, Tan Dun. This led to an invitation from the Sapporo Symphony for her to appear as a soloist in a performance of “The Great Wall” by Japanese composer Ikuma Dan in April 1999. In July of that year, Rong had the honor of performing the world premiere of Tan Dun’s “Concerto for Pipa and String Orchestra” at the Pan Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo which won Shao worldwide attention as a musician and led to performance requests from all over Asia, America and Europe. She also played at the Asian Composers Conference in Yokohama, and gave another Japanese premiere of Tan Dun’s work at the Suntory Hall Summer Festival. In addition, Shao is a part of the unique Li-Hua Ensemble.
On Shao Rong’s Orchid album, she is joined by various musicians including Jia Peng Fang on erhu and Naoyuki Onda on acoustic piano. The album was produced by Pacific Moon’s acclaimed recording team of Kazurnasa Yoshioka and Seiichi Kyoda. Kyoda wrote all of the tunes for the album with the exception of “Precious Moon” (which was based on the famous old Chinese classic song “Yue Er Gao”). Orchid begins and ends with two different versions of the tune “Wild Rose,” the first featuring the lute with piano and erhu, and the second placing the pipa sounds alongside acoustic guitar.
“I tried many new musical techniques on this album,” says Shao. “There are different styles in the playing of the lute. One is ‘bukyoku’ which is a very fierce, aggressive way of playingand the other one, ‘bunkyoku’ is a gentler type of playing….for the first time during these recording sessions, I played the lute with other instruments which are all of western origin like guitar, piano, bass and drums.”
I can’t help from getting a little thrill from a band that sounds like they trekked off into the wilderness or down to the crossroads for a bit of inspiration and returned with something wholly different. That seems to be what U.K.-based band The Turbans did, except they actually retreated to a farmhouse in Northumberland. Dipping into fingers into gypsy, Balkan, flamenco, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean musical traditions, The Turbans have conjured up a sound that their Kurdish percussionist Cabbar Baba has rightly called “music from manywhere,” with band members rooted in the music of Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, Iran, Greece, Spain and England. Their self-titled debut recording The Turbans will be available today, April 6th on the Six Degrees Records label.
The band’s Oshan Mahony recalls, “For this album we all went together to the farmhouse where I grew up in Northumberland. We all contributed about thirty songs. Some were traditional sounding, others were poppy. When ou have a classical violinist playing an Indian raga you create something really weird and new.”
And, nothing could be further than the truth on The Turbans. Possessed by a kind of feral grace and a sleek savageness, The Turbans weave a sound that is intricately explosive and hypnotically delicious so that dervishes or a raucous gypsy band might approach with more than a little trepidation. The sound is wholly global where strange and familiar coexist.
Comprised of violinist Darius Luke Thompson; percussionist and vocalist Cabbar Baba; oud player Maxim Shchedrovitzki; davul player and vocalist Pavlos Mavromantakis; electric guitarist and vocalist Miroslav Morski; bass guitarist, trombonist and backing vocalist Fred Stitz; electric guitarist Moshe Zehavi; cajon player and classical guitarist Pablo Dominguez; ney, kaval and clarinet player Kansia Pritchard; saxophone and bansuri player Madhav Haridas and Oshan Mahony, The Turbans packs a punch with additional musicians and backing vocals so the sound is rich and full. It doesn’t hurt that the group snagged master mixer Jerry Boys who has worked with the likes of Buena Vista Social Club, Ali Farka Toure, Shakira, Toumani Diabate and the Kronos Quartet, as well as World Circuit’s Tom Leader to master The Turbans.
The real cleverness of The Turbans is that the group allows one genre flows easily against another creating an kind of improvisational feel where tracks flow without sounding over polished. Opening track “Riders” is ripe with Middle Eastern influences and a joyful exuberance, while tracks like “Sinko Moy” delve into a subterranean mysteriousness. “Zawi” is all whirlwind goodness with some kickass guitar lines thrown in for good measure as is the lanky lines of “Samia.” “Kansianitsa” is rich with woodwinds and percussion, while “Aman” is all flamenco lushness. There are also goodies like “Hamouda” with its call-and-response vocals and guembri in this nod to the Gnawan and the lushly worked “Chubby” with its Chaabi influences. There’s also the raucously infectious brass laced “Madhavski Horo,” the sultry ney of “Ruuah” and carnival feel goodness of closing track “Hackney.”
Mr. Mahony says of the group’s dynamic, “Every single person in this band has such a strong fire inside them. I know so many good musician in this city, and even around the world, who play perfectly, but when they play they don’t release the passion of the music. Everyone in this band has so much fire.”
Thankfully we can hear and feel the fire of “manywhere” from here.
Ivan Tucakov was born in 1978, in Belgrade, Serbia. He grew up in Turkey and Serbia. Throughout the years, he also traveled to Spain, Portugal, Mexico and Peru in search for new inspiration. He currently lives in Canada.
Ivan founded of the music collective called Tambura Rasa. The music is a unique combination of energetic world fusion music that mixes elements of Afro-Latin, Flamenco, Middle Eastern, Irish, Indian Classical, Balkan, Gipsy, Jazz and many other musical forms.
The Tambura Rasa Collective in its standard form consisted of Ivan Tucakov on the guitar, Tarun Nayar on tablas, Suzka on the violin, Mike Michalkow on percussion, and Brian Poulsen on guitar and John Bews on bass.