KFJC 89.7FM

Music Reviews

Alefa Madagascar! (Salegy, Soukous, and Soul From The Red Island) – [coll] – [Strut]

aarbor   9/16/2020   CD, International

An outstanding 2019 release from Strut which showcases the popular music of Madagascar during a heyday of Malagasy popular music. Most recordings from Madagascar are traditional instruments and music, this one is not. Salegy is a fast tempo local dance based on 5/8 and 12/8 rhythms [tracks 1, 4]. Soukous  is from the Congo, brought into Madagascar’s music in the ‘60’s via the radio,  along with music from Kenya, South Africa and Mozambique.  At that time the newer styles and instruments replaced many of the traditional ones. Be sure to check out the Behind the Scenes Alefa Madagascar! Video on Youtube. The liner notes give a very rich and well researched guide of music in Madagascar. AArbor    

 

   

Trans-Global Underground – “Yes Boss Food Corner” – [Ark 21]

aarbor   9/9/2020   CD, International

Trans-Global Underground (or TGU) are from England. They are (by their own admission) “notorious from mixing musical styles and rhythms with a total disregard for musical genres, technological barriers and common sense. They create a unique space where cross-cultural musical diversity thrives.” Here the sounds are electronics with Asian and African music styles. This release is from 2001 and features Zulu vocalist Thobekile Doreen Webster [2,4]. Two British-born Asian musicians: sitarist Sheema Mukherjee and percussionist Gurjit Sihra are a part of the band’s lineup on this release. Natacha Atlas was off doing her own thing at the time of this recording.

AArbor

La Musica Della Mafia [coll] – [Pias America Classics]

mickeyslim   8/31/2020   CD, International

The song of a life of crime, tunes of prison life, music of the Mafioso.

This music here has been passed down for many generations. It was recorded and sold at open-air markets, which most Italians found offensive because it glorified mafia life. Kind of similar to the public outcry toward gangsta rap in the ’90s. At first listen, these songs feel like whimsical sometimes optimistic folk tunes, drifting from the beaches of Sicily, over the mountains of Calabria, to the gulfs of Campania.

Once you take a look at the lyrics sheet, however, you find yourself in back alleys, jail cells, and funeral processions. Whether singing of honor, family, or grief, these songs take you into an underground world filled with death and glory. The instrumentation takes on several forms, with any combination of guitar, accordion, tambourine, scacciapensieri (better know to us as a jew’s harp, a staple in traditional Sicilian music), and more.

Do not miss the liner notes with this release, if only for the translated lyrics. Enjoy!

100 Beats – Arabica [coll] – [DCD Music]

aarbor   8/19/2020   CD, International

4 glorious CDs of Arabic music: Grooves, Lounge, Chill and Café. It’s kind of an auditory encyclopedia of contemporary Arabic music. It’s not traditional Middle Eastern music. It’s more DJ and dance-oriented. AArbor

New African Composers Vol. 1 [coll] – [Limitless Sky]

aarbor   8/19/2020   CD, International

This is music primarily from Tanzanian artists recorded in Dar es Salaam. Tanzania is in East Africa, south of Kenya. Mt. Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania. The music has elements of both East and West Africa. 5 artists are showcased here: Ndala Kasheba [2,6,9,12], the Achigo Band [4,7], Garikayi Tirikoti [3, 10], the Yekete Beat Band [1,5,8], and Delphin Mununga [11]. These outstanding musicians are “composers” although they are primarily working musicians. Tirikoti is a mbira carver – an artisan, who has created new tunings for his instrument. The label, Limitless Sky Records is about releasing and promoting music recorded in Tanzania. Check out the variety of sounds and enjoy!  AArbor  

Larson, Dr. Pete & His Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band – “Dr. Pete Larson & His Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band” – [Dagoretti Records]

aarbor   8/12/2020   CD, International

Dr. Pete Larson is an epidemiologist who now resides in Ann Arbor, MI. He went to Nairobi,Kenya from 2014-2017 to work on public health issues and immersed himself in the music scene there. He also was enchanted by the Nyatiti -an 8 string lute/lyre played by the Luo people in West Kenya and learned to play it. Before going to Kenya, Larson was a guitarist who played in various rock and noise bands. The heart of this music is Larson’s Nyatiti which offers circular melodies for the other musicians to play with, around and in. “There is no beginning and end in traditional Kenyan music,” says Larson, so the performances are improvised pentatonic jams, not practiced sets. “You set the tempo and the rhythm pattern, and other musicians join in.”  AArbor    

King Kwela Featuring Spokes Mashiyane – "King Kwela" – [Artone]

aarbor   7/15/2020   CD, International

King Kwela is Spokes Mashiyane, a master of the Penny Whistle from South Africa. As a young child he tended his father’s cattle and to fend off boredom became a master of the reed flute. When he moved to Johannesburg to work as a domestic servant, one of his first purchases was a penny whistle which he mastered as well. While jamming on a street corner he was spotted by a talent scout. Don’t hesitate to play this – all  tracks tuneful and worth a spin. AArbor

Moctar, Mdou – "Ibitlan" – [Sahelsounds]

Thurston Hunger   5/27/2020   7-inch, International

Mdou Moctar, c’mon even his name rocks! Mdou (aka Mahamadou Souleymane) was introduced to KFJC by this same fantastic label on the Music From Saharan Cellphones Vol 2 collection, let that be an inspiration to anyone worrying about how the pandemic will impact music, sound will always survive, silicon chips swirling around the desert! Along those lines, apparently this single was to be a limited edition 2020 tour offering, but fortunately this record and songs are unstoppable. The Agadez sound often leaves listeners agog, side A of this does not disappoint, dizzying spin start by Mdou alone, the band then jumps on board – spirited singing doubled by rhythm guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane, drives Mdou up higher both in voice and on the guitar later in the song, possible dual lead but I suspect it’s Mdou overdubbed and double-fuzzed.
Side B follows that lead with an anthemic, surging number. No vocals
on this one, so a good chance to appreciate the rhythm section, drummer
Aboubacar Mazawadje strikes that snare launching each spiral;
then Mazawadje and Michael Coltun on bass tumble through to the next
round. But make no mistake, Mdou is the Prince here, hammer-on/hammer-off guitar trills reign in a bluesy way, with touches of red.
Pretty amazing that he built his first forbidden guitar, and these days it seems like Agadez is ground-zero for Fender.
Driving modern psych from Niger by way of Sahel Sounds.

-Thurston Hunger

String of Pearls – International 78s [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

aarbor   5/20/2020   12-inch, International

The first release on Canary Records, a sub-label of Mississippi Records. Each track is an old 78 recording from a different country, social, religious, or ethnic group. The performers came from every economic class. Their people were oppressed or oppressors. They barely survived the upheavals of their times or floated above them. They were recognized for their musical gifts and were showered with love for it, or they made a living, made some music and that was that. “They were trained virtuosi performing for people in the know or played in funky dives, or they sang when the occasion called for it – or all of the above. Their influence lives on today, or their names are forgotten. They played something novel and forward thinking, or something comfortable and familiar, or something popular in its time and since lost, or something nostalgic and anachronistic even in their own day. A very mixed bag of performers and performances in an attempt to retell worthy stories. Should be an amazing label. AArbor

King Sunny Ade & His African Beats – “Bobby” – [Sunny Alade Recordings]

aarbor   5/20/2020   12-inch, International

King Sunny Ade was born into a Nigerian royal family. In his musical evolution he started playing in a highlife band then formed his own band, which has changed names several times over the years. This album is from 1983 when his band was called the African Beats. Bobby is “Bobby” Benson another Nigerian musician who died in May of 1983, to whom King Sunny is paying tribute with the suite on the B side of this record. Benson’s music was African melody with a Latin beat. But that sound is not reflected in the music here. Ade’s sound is a gentle griot style with modern instruments including pedal steel guitar, synthesizers, keyboards etc.  AArbor    

Jain, Sunny – Wild Wild East – [Smithsonian Folkways]

aarbor   3/11/2020   CD, International

Sunny Jain is the leader of Red Baraat a Brooklyn-based Indian-style street band and an up and coming player in the NYC music scene. When I read that he had a new release on Smithsonian Folkways I was curious, and after listening to the first few tracks and reading the liner notes, I was completely hooked by the passion of this release: it’s very personal- it tells about his life [don’t miss the family pictures in the liner notes]. Jain grew up in Rochester, NY as the child of East Indian immigrant parents. He writes in the liner notes about his confusion in 1st grade when learning about the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims and the “Indians”, and the numerous Cowboys and “Indians” stories. Here he plays with these themes: The “Indian” on Western terrain, Cowboys and Immigrants [2]. Morricone and Bollywood [5,6,9], South Asian rebels [7], Spirituality [10], his childhood [8] and other musics which influenced him (jazz, surf, post-punk) [1,3,12] He wonders which side is he on? [4]The music plays with Indian words and instruments mixed into Western songs. On track 4 a Muslim rapper decries the way he’s treated in post-911 America. This is an album that brings tears to my eyes as the child of immigrant parents in 21st century America. Even though my family comes from a different continent, I’ve felt those feelings too. – AArbor  

Purna Loka Ensemble -“Metaraga”- Origin Records

Medusa of Troy   3/11/2020   CD, International

For those well-versed in Indian classical styles, Western improvisation and geometric progressions in music, the album “Metaraga” is a fascinating melding of math and music, eastern and western music. For those who don’t recognize all of the influences within this album, it is an interesting blend of sounds and tempos, with two violins (mathematician-violinist Purnaprajna Bangere and David Balakrishnan from Turtle Island String Quartet), bass (Jeff Harshbarger) and tabla drum (Amit Kavthekar).

The livelier tracks are the first two, especially “Syzygy”. Track 6, “Alabama,” is a cover of John Coltrane’s “Alabama,” featuring clarinet (Robert Walzel). The last two songs of the album are traditional ragas. These are slower, contemplative pieces that fit in cooler, acoustic portions of sets.

Konan, Antoinette – Antoinette Konan – [Awesome Tapes From Africa]

aarbor   2/26/2020   CD, International

Antoinette Konan is from the Ivory Coast and she is known as “The Queen of the Ahoko”. The Ahoko is a 3-piece wooden (scraped) idiophone handmade from a thin, ribbed, flexible stick; a smaller chunk of wood is rhythmically scraped against the ribbed stick. She originally learned the ahoko to distinguish herself from other musicians. She put the ahoko on the map when she re-introduced it as a part of 20th century popular music. This album was originally released in 1986 and was re-released last year by Awesome Tapes From Africa. Here you’ll hear the ahoko with a roaring backdrop of synths, bass guitar and drum machine.  – AArbor  

Mikidache – "Kauli/Words" – [Long Distance]

humana   2/23/2020   CD, International

Mikidache makes this Comorian music from Madagascar the treasure that is is. His rich vocals, percussion, guitar, and oh, yeah, the fact that he wrote most of the songs make them the amazing, uplifting works that they are. Accordion and flute are among the instruments that bring this traditional Malagasy music to your ears. Enjoy every minute.

Njava – "Vetse" – [EMI Hemisphere]

humana   2/23/2020   CD, International

Named after their father, Njava, whose name means “lightning,” this band of three brothers and two sisters (who came from 15 siblings) had its origins in Madagascar and then moved to Belgium. The sisters are responsible for the majority of the rich vocals, while the brothers provide the amazingly upbeat instrumentation (Dozzy has the chops on guitar). The title track, Vetse, means to hope, to feel, to laugh, to share, and I can honestly say that most if not all of the tracks on this CD inspire this sentiment. I dare you not to dance.

Ekuka – Ekuka – [Nyege Nyege Tapes]

aarbor   2/19/2020   12-inch, International

Ekuka is Ekuka Morris Sirikiti a griot from Northern Uganda, who plays the mbira (a metal thumb piano), and is the ‘musical grandfather’ to a whole generation of rappers and producers from Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. These are recordings that listeners made of radio broadcasts at a time (during the reign of General Idi Amin) when Ekuka didn’t have access to recording studios.  As a result there’s some distortion – but the mbira seems to shine through the murk. Lo-fi vintage recordings of a griot master with a remix by Ekuka as the last track. AArbor

Brel, Jacques – ‘Poetic World of Jacques Brel, The’ – [Philips]

Lord Gravestench   2/12/2020   12-inch, International

Jacques Brel was born in 1929 to a wealthy Belgian family. He moved to Paris as a young man and eventually became a singer and songwriter, achieving fame across French-speaking Europe by the late 50s. Brel is credited with taking the traditional French popular song (or chanson) out of ‘La Vie en Rose’ sentimentality and into more cynical territory rich with wordplay, social satire, and dark humour. Outside of the francophone world he was a cult figure in the 1960s, even captivating a young Scott Walker, who went on to cover many of his songs.

Brel could be pretty grim, but on this 1970 compilation for American audiences you mostly get the lighter side. There is bitterness here, but nearly every song is humorous, or at least playful in approach. Highlights include the mockingly misanthropic ‘Les Singes’ (The Monkeys) (A4) and the evergreen romantic comedy balled ‘Madeleine’ (B1). The bleaker aspects of post-war European existence, dealt with more explicitly in other of Brel’s songs, are present as mere subtexts here while his characters drink, flirt, daydream, and social-climb. However, more sombre moods can be found on ‘Seul’ (Alone) (A6) and ‘La Statue’ (B5).

Some arrangements are more elaborate than others, but the piano is more or less a constant. Brel, of course, has a great set of pipes, whether or not you can understand his words (the LP has helpful side-by-side French and English lyrics). The material on the B-side seems to be live, as there is applause between tracks. Dreamy.

Divo, Orlann – "Samba Em Paralelo" – [Whatmusic Holdings Limited]

humana   2/9/2020   CD, International

From out of obscurity comes this snappy samba CD from songwriter and singer Divo, whose original goal was not to sound like Jao Gilberto. With these samba de balanco songs, Divo succeeds in defining his own singing style and songs that pull at the listener’s feet instead of just appealing to the ears. Read the interview within the CD sleeve as you dance around listening to this gem.

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