Tag Archives: world fusion

Artist profiles: Strunz & Farah

Strunz & Farah

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.

Discography:

Mosaico (1982, Reissued on Selva 1997)

Frontera (Milestone 1984)

Guitarras (Milestone 1985)

Misterio (AudioQuest 1989)

Primal Magic (1990, Reissued on Selva 1999)

Americas (1992 Reissued on Selva 1999)

Heat Of The Sun (Selva 1995)

Live (Selva 1997)

Wild Muse (Selva 1998)

Best of Strunz &Farah (Selva 2000)

Stringweave (Selva 2001)

Rio de Colores (Selva 2003)

Zona Torrida (Selva 2004)

Desert Guitars (Selva 2005)

Jungle Guitars (Selva 2006)

Fantaseo (Selva 2006)

Journey Around The Sun (Selva 2011)

Moods and Visions (Selva 2014)

DVD

In Performance (2003)

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Artist profiles: Steve Shehan

Steve Shehan

Born in Fort Eustis, Virginia, Steve Shehan spent his childhood in the Florida Keys. Later he moved to Europe, living in Sweden, where he started playing professionally as a recording and performing artist. He also worked as a music therapist before moving to France.

Before focusing on percussion and composition he studied drums, bass, piano and guitar. Steve has since played with great artists such as Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Cheb Mami, Sting, Simon Shaheen, Leonard Bernstein, John McLaughlin, Brian Eno, the Gipsy Kings, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Vangelis, Richard Horowitz, Michael Brecker, David Rhodes, and Akiro Inoue, with Peter Gabriel’s band, Paul Mc Cartney, as well as well-known European and Europe-based artists such as Ricardo Cocciante, Yves Montand, Zazie Liane, Foly, Veronique Sanson, Stephane Eicher, Wasis Diop, Khaled, Lokua Kanza, Nittin Sawhney, Geoffrey Oryema, Magma, Rokia Traore, etc.

Steve Shehan composed and produced personally various soundtrack albums of films: Bye Bye / Karim Dridi Le maitre des Elephants / Patrick Grandperret, notably participated in Kirikou & L’amant.

His album “Elevations” was realized in association with the singer musician and Iranian painter Reza Derakshani taken out in June 26 was selected by FIP in 26. The duet already occurred on stage repeatedly notably in one “live at FIP” in November 26 and in February 2007 at the Sunset in Paris. He is one of three members of the Hadouk Trio which performs regularly has a big success with “Utopies” and won the 2007 French music award: best artist of the year. The trio released “Baldamore,” a CD/DVD recorded live at the “Cabaret Sauvage” in Paris.

He is also profoundly interested in collaborative research on prehistoric instruments with the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.

 

 

Discography:

April Orchestra Vol. 68 Presente Impressions De Voyages (CBS Disques 1986)

Arrows (Made To Measure, 1990)

Assouf, with Baly Othmani (Al Sur, 1994)

Indigo Dreams (Kvox, 1995)

Assarouf, with Baly Othmani (Triloka Records, 1997)

Safar – Journey (Al Sur Media 7, 1997)

Awham, with Youssef El Idrissi (Aia Music, 1998)

Alif – Love Supreme, with Omar Faruk Tekbilek (Narada World, 2002)

Elevations, with Reza Derakshani (Safar Productions 2006)

Assikel, with Baly Othmani (Safar Productions 2008)

Awalin, with Nabil Othmani (Safar Productions Naïve, 2009)

Far&Near (Sound Microsurgery Department, 2011)

Hang With You (Naïve, 2013)

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Artist profiles: Stephen Kent

Stephen Kent

Pioneering didjeridu virtuoso Stephen Kent was born in Devon, UK. Through his efforts, he has brought the ancient Aboriginal sound into a contemporary context. ‘I want to capture the essence and potential of the didjeridu and to put it on the musical map as a serious instrument with incredible versatility,’ said the composer and multi-instrumentalist. During a long career with the didjeridu, Kent has developed an approach that is unmistakably his own exploring a remarkable range of playing styles in diverse musical genres. Along the way he has amassed a catalog of over a dozen critically acclaimed albums, including four solo releases and many others with his group projects Trance Mission, Beasts of Paradise and Lights In A Fat City.

Demand for Kent’s didj work has taken him all over the world playing recording and collaborating with top artists in divergent musical arenas from Leonard Eto of Kodo in Japan to Megadrums, with Airto Moreira and Zakir Hussain to Habib Koite of Mali and back home to the Oakland Symphony Orchestra’s new work by Afro-Cuban pianist Omar Sosa.

Raised in East Africa and the UK, Kent cut his teeth in the London music scene of the late 1970s with the band Furious Pig. As musical director of Australia’s Circus Oz he found a relationship with Aboriginal culture and the didjeridu. ‘Awakening to the Aboriginal world was like my own Big Bang. For me the recreation of a musical universe on the didj the culture of one note continues to this day,’ Kent says.

After his stint in the Circus Arts, Kent focused once more on music. He began to build a career around the sound of the didj forming Lights In A Fat City in London and touring throughout Europe and North America. The group’s landmark debut CD Somewhere (1987) was the first European release of contemporary didjeridu music.

In 1991 Kent relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he co-formed the groups Trance Mission and Beasts of Paradise performing and recording to great public and critical acclaim in the U.S. and abroad.

With the ground-breaking and well-received Landing (City of Tribes) Kent embarked upon his solo career. The follow-up Family Tree (City of Tribes) is a collection of works from the aforementioned groups along withnew pieces that together trace the unique sonic journey Kent began two decades earlier.

A wholly original talent truly transcending categories Stephen Kent is an innovator on the global music scene with the ability to both trigger the imagination and transport the spirit. For the last nine years Stephen has worked to promote world music through his capacity as Thursday morning host of ‘Music of the World’ on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California.

His 2004 CD Oil & Water (Family Tree) conjures up a musical landscape in which opposites meet and where cool conversations between distinct cultures begin. ‘It’s like good cooking combining strong elements from divergent sources with music as the common language‘ says Kent.

By bringing Kent’s didjeridu together with other extraordinary musicians – Moroccan musician Yassir Chadly, traditional Scots piper Jimi McRae and the sensational Tuvan throat singer Igor Koshkendey – Oil & Water opened the ears to a new world of possibilities.

In 2008, Stephen Kent co-founded Baraka Moon.

Discography:

I Don’t Like Your Face EP, with Furious Pig (Rough Trade, 1980)
Somewhere, with Lights in a Fat City (These Records, 1988)
City Simple Harmonic Motion, with Lights in a Fat City (1990)
Ocho Elefantes (Burnt Earth Music, 1990)
Songs From the Burnt Earth (Burnt Earth, 1992)
Sound Column, with Lights in a Fat City (Extreme, 1993)
Trance Mission, with Trance Mission (City of Tribes, 1993)
Spacetime Continuum, with Terence McKenna (Astralwerks, 1994)
Landing (City of Tribes, 1994)
Event Horizon (City of Tribes, 1994)
Meanwhile, with Trance Mission (City of Tribes, 1994)
Nobody Knew the Time, with Beasts of Paradise (City of Tribes, 1995)
Event Horizon Psi (City of Tribes, 1995)
Gathered on the Edge, with Beasts of Paradise (City of Tribes, 1995)
Head Light, with Trance Mission (City of Tribes, 1996)
Halcyon Days (Fathom, 1996)
Event Horizon Tao (City of Tribes, 1996)
Family Tree (City of Tribes, 1997)
Chameleon, with Badi Assad (Polygram Records, 1998)
A Day Out of Time, with Trance Mission (City of Tribes, 1999)
Memory Ground, with Lights in a Fat City (City of Tibes, 1999)
Burundi (Musisoft, 2000)
Oil & Water (Family Tree, 2004)
Stephen Kent Live at Starwood (Starwood Recordings, 2006)
Living Labyrinths (Family Tree, 2007)
Imagination Club, with Eda Maxym (Family Tree, 2007)
The Painted Road (Family Tree, 2016)
Wind Horse (Baraka Moon Music, 2017)

DVD:

Stephen Kent Live at Starwood (Starwood Recordings, 2006)

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Artist profiles: Sheila Chandra

Sheila Chandra

Singing at her family home at age 12, Sheila Chandra discovered her voice – an instrument which has beguiled and mesmerized her audiences around the world ever since.

Born in London to a family of East Indian ancestry, Chandra resolved herself at an early age to be a singer and spent countless hours honing her voice a labor of love. But unsure how to break into the music business Chandra was ready when the chance came her way.

That chance came when Steve Coe, a writer and record producer was forming a new band as an outlet for his increasingly East Indian-influenced music. He came across an audition tape by Chandra and knew immediately that he had found his singer for the group Monsoon.

Monsoon’s first single, Ever So Lonely a song written around a raga used newly available production techniques to create a groundbreaking modern pop fusion sound. The single became a top ten hit with a quarter million sales worldwide. Yet six months later Chandra walked away from her blossoming success frustrated by a lack of artistic freedom. She came to the independent cottage industry-style label Indipop to explore her musical creativity and to learn the craft of composition.

Free to focus on her art, Chandra entered a remarkable and prolific two years with Indipop. Her solo albums for the label chronicle a profound transformation in the quality and depth of her work both as a singer and as a composer. Her subsequent years with Real World Records created another truly unique sound — forever setting a new standard in world music.

Originally released in 1984, Quiet was Chandra’s second solo album for Indipop and marked her debut as a composer. For the first time she faced the ‘blank page’ – the potentially most powerful reflector of the human soul. “I was terrified at the necessity of committing to paper or vinyl what I really thought or felt musically – I still am sometimes. I have since grown to deeply value the mental freedoms possible in the pure world of imagination that composing led me into. In it I open any social cultural or material restrictions. I can think thoughts I was perhaps unable to think of before.”

Quiet is the recording where that process began. Chandra along with a team of writers approached the album as a platform for her musical evolution and as a showcase for the possibilities she was developing as a composer and for her voice. Her goal was to force herself into a new territory to learn as a musician and writer by discovering obscure musical methods structures and elements.

Consequently, Quiet has no lyrics, the tracks untitled and the music explores a structural world of cyclic riffs and as many Eastern and Western tones and textures as Chandra could vocally bring to the work.

The album has a very different approach, acting as a prelude to Chandra’s innovative work on the Real World label. The music has strong melodies and an Indian influence but there are no dance floor drums or Indian percussion.

Originally released in 1990, Roots and Wings was written by Chandra after a four year sabbatical. During those years Chandra thought seriously about what constitutes an artist not only in terms of skill and imagination but also in terms of mastery of the self and mental independence.

Chandra’s writing also evolved with her heightened sense of artistic creativity. Already incorporating drones into her work Chandra discovered their multi-harmonics were irresistible backdrops to her solo voice. “Drones are magical things in terms of what they will allow me to do structurally psychologically and creatively.”

Roots and Wings contains the seeds of Chandra’s a cappella/solo voice style brought to the forefront on her groundbreaking Real World albums Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices and The Zen Kiss. The album also led Chandra on a series of small but significant steps to finding gateways between vocal cultures within the context of a single melodic line — a style which has since set her apart as one of the most influential and innovative world music masters.

In 2009, Chandra began experiencing symptoms of what was eventually diagnosed as burning mouth syndrome, as a result of which she is unable to sing, speak, laugh or cry without suffering intense pain. As a result of her illness Chandra retired from music. She turned her attention to writing self-help books.

Discography:

Out On My Own (1984)
Quiet (1984)
The Struggle (1985)
Nada Brahma (Indipop 1985)
Roots And Wings (Indipop 1989)
Silk 1983 – 199 (1991 – a best of album)
Weaving My Ancestors’ Voices (Realworld/USA: Caroline Records, 1992)
The Zen Kiss (Realworld/USA: Caroline Records, 1994)
ABoneCroneDrone (Realworld/USA: Caroline Records, 1996)
Monsoon (Mercury 1995)
This Sentence is True (Shakti/Narada, 2001)
Indipop Retrospective (Narada, 2003)
Imagined Village (2007)

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Artist profiles: Shammi Pithia

Shammi Pithia

Shammi Pithia is a British Asian composer and producer based in east London. Shammi follows the path of great artists such as Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh and Niraj Chag.

In 2008 Shammi released his debut E.P., Cinema for the Ears which led to the release of his album Audio Descriptive and the singles The Seeker and Pacifist Theme in 2010.

Shammi, who also plays the bansuri performs his music live around the UK with the backing of his band Flux and other artists.

Discography:

For The Ears (2007)
The Seeker (2010)
Audio Descriptive (2010)
Paredolia (2011)
Cosmic (2014)
Shadowlines, with Flux (2016)

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Spellbinding Taos

Efrén López – Stelios Petrakis – Bijan Chemirani – Taos (Buda Musique, 2017)

Taos brings together three outstanding instrumentalists representing various Mediterranean cultures. Efrén López (Spain) and Stelios Petrakis (Crete, Greece) are skilled multi-instrumentalists specialized in a wide-range of plucked and bowed string instruments. Bijan Chemirani (France) plays all sorts of percussion from the Middle East and is especially effective with the zarb and mesmerizing frame drums.

Taos is a masterfully-constructed instrumental album that combines Greek music, Medieval European and Middle Eastern influences featuring dazzling virtuosity and creativity.

Lineup: Efrén López on hurdy gurdy, saz, guitar, Cretan lauto, qobuz, ud, rabab, and percussion; Stelios Petrakis on Cretan lyras and Cretan lauto; and Bijan Chemirani on zarb,daf, bendir, dolra, riq, and calabass.

Taos is a superb album showcasing the beauty and entrancing sounds performed by Efrén López, Stelios Petrakis and Bijan Chemirani.

Buy the digital version of Taos

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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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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.

Buy A Je

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Magnificent Cantata of Peace

Steven Chesne – Sapient: A Cantata of Peace (Brahmasong Records, 2017)

American musician and composer presents a beautiful and masterfully-crafted project titled Sapient. He spent a year researching peace chants and prayers from various parts of the globe and brought them together here in this remarkable album.

Sapient includes performances representing the major religions of the world as well as lesser known ethnic groups: the words of Buddha, Lao Tzu, Jesus, Mohammed, the Sikhs, the Hindu, the Jews, the Cheyenne, the Kikuyu, and the Baha’i.

Chesne brought in talented vocalists from various parts of the world and added his magic as a composer and arranger, creating beautiful symphonic soundscapes and rhythms that accompany the exquisite vocals.

Each tradition is represented separately except for the final piece, “Nyansapo – the Wisdom Knot,” where Chesne weaves in all traditions with ease.

Steven Chesne plays the majority of the instruments. The vocalists featured are: William ‘Kymo’ Kamore; Mariani Shuilan May; Uyanga Bold; Florence Kinyua; Thomas Segen; Sudakshina Alagia; Taraneh Sakurai; Ven. Agga Mahapandita Dr. Walpola Piyananda; Ven. Bambarawane Kalyanawansa; Ven. Attidiye Pugngnarathana; Natalie Shtangrud; Steven Rushingwind; and Bhai Jaswant Singh Zira.
Guest musicians: Kourosh Zolani on santur and Amadou Fall on kora.

Buy the digital download version or the nicely-packaged CD from stevenchesne-theluminousworldorchestra.bandcamp.com

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