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Music Reviews

Music From Saharan WhatsApp [coll] – [Sahel Sounds]

karma   9/23/2022   12-inch, International

I’ve been a fan of the record label Sahel Sounds for a while now. They brought to the global stage excellent artists such as Mdou Moctar. They have outdone themselves with this latest compilation. In 2020, the label invited artists from the Sahel (southern Sahara) to message them songs via WhatsApp. They released 11 EPs of Saharan WhatsApp that year. This album includes selections from each EP.

The tracks were almost always recorded at the artists’ homes, on budget and “obsolete” phones that cost less than dinner at Olive Garden. The tracks are raw, unbalanced (some have less “sound mixing” and more “whatever the phone’s mic could pick up”) and full of background noise (in one track there’s definitely a conversation in the next room) – but this is an intimate link to a wild, innovative music region full of tradition and experimentation.

My favorite track is by Veyrouz Mint Seymali, who is trained in Mauritanian classical music. Honorable mentions go to the love song by Amaria Hamadalher (of Les Filles de Illighadad), griot traveling bard music by Oumou Diabate and Kara Show Koumba Frifri, social commentary by Bounaly, and traditionally nomadic Wodaabe rock by Andal Sukabe.

Tabaamrant, Rayssa Fatima – “Tyaghlaghalt Ou L’Echo De L’Atlas” – [Harmonia Mundi France]

aarbor   9/7/2022   CD, International

This is Rwais music. It’s similar to the itinerant troubadors of the European Middle Ages, but more like the West African Griot tradition. Rwais are Berbers from South Morocco. Like the Griots they are the guardians of oral tradition, poems, songs, stories. Their songs tell of the evolution of Moroccan society. Rwais performances are about show and entertainment – they are considered professional musicians. Fatima Tabaamrant grew up as an orphan, never attended school, lived in a rural environment. This most likely informs her poetry/songs. She is the first woman to lead her own troupe and sing her own poems. Her subject matter is cultural, social or moral order. The 7 tracks here follow a Rwai performance with an opening instrumental, Salutations, 4 tracks of songs and a farewell instrumental. AArbor

Nouri & Le Groupe Traditionnel Gnaoua – “Dalali” – [Culture Press]

aarbor   9/7/2022   CD, International

An excellent album from Nouri and the Gnawa (traditional) group. They are from North Africa. The Gnawa are an ethnic group who were brought to Morocco as slaves, their ancestry is traced to sub-Saharan West Africa. Gnawa music mixes classical Islamic Sufism with pre-Islamic African traditions, whether local or sub-Saharan. Gnawa musicians also practice healing rituals, with apparent ties to pre-Islamic African animism rites. In Moroccan popular culture, Gnawas, through their ceremonies, are considered to be experts in the magical treatment of scorpion stings and psychic disorders. They heal diseases by the use of colors, condensed cultural imagery, perfumes and fright. The 7 tracks here which were released in 2000 are traditional but sit well in modern ears. Don’t Miss! AArbor

Sangare, Oumou – “Timbuktu” – [World Circuit]

aarbor   9/7/2022   12-inch, International

Oumou Sangare is from Mali and well known for her feminist views. This is her latest release (2022). She visited the U.S. in 2020 and got caught in the COVID lockdown. She decided to stay in Balitmore, bought a house and started writing and recording songs for this album. From the U.S. Sagare sings words of praise and caution to the folks back home in Mali, especially its women. Sangare has been rising above setbacks for most of her life. To help her single mother – abandoned by her father – to make ends meet, she sang in the street to raise cash at the age of 5. Sangare went on to win a pre-Kindergarten singing competition and embarked on a career that saw her touring the world. Now she is an iconic performer and successful businesswoman who owns hotels, businesses and a car company in Mali. Accompanied by a chorus of vocals and traditional African instrumentation. Sangare creates a sound that sounds ancient but lives comfortably today. AArbor

Os Paralamas Do Sucesso – “Severino” – [EMI Records Ltd.]

aarbor   8/31/2022   CD, International

This is Os Paralamas Do Sucesso’s 7th album from 1994 produced by Phil Manzanera – it is considered to be their most experimental album. Os Paralamas is a 3-piece Brazilian rock band. As you listen to the songs you’ll notice that the introduction to each track is different than then rest of the track.

Queen guitarist Brian May makes a special appearance on this album, providing guitars for track 6. Other musicians of interest include Linton Kwesi Johnson (dub poet of Windrush generation – London is the Place for Me) and Tom Ze [track 7]. The album’s cover was drawn by a famous schizophrenic artist from Northeast Brazil: Arthur Bispo do Rosário. AArbor

Kasirossafar, Mohsen / Mitev, Veselin – “Ditirambi” – [Hermes Records]

aarbor   8/31/2022   CD, International

Mohsen Karossafar is Iranian and is the percussionist here. He lives in Rome and works with many known musicians and composers including Ennio Morricone. Veselin Mitev is from Bulgaria. Here he sings the vocals, plays the gaida (Bulgarian bagpipes), and the kaval (Bulgarian flute). This is modern music which melds ancient Indo-European musical cultures creating atmospheres informed by legend. AArbor

Lightning Over the River [coll] – [Music Collection International Ltd.]

aarbor   8/3/2022   CD, International

This is a collection of Congolese Soukous Guitar style music. Soukous comes from the French word ‘secouer’ which means – to shake – as in shake your bootie.This is definitely music that makes you want to dance. Soukous came from the Cuban rumba – a creation of African slaves who mixed their own traditions into the music of their Spanish overlords. By the mid 20th century the rumba returned to Africa where various cultures used it to create colorful local varieties. Note that the opening passage can include a workout for the singer(s), and in the middle there is often and upbeat section called a sebene where the featured guitarist gets to show off their playing. Here are 10 tracks showcasing a variety of musicians and styles. Enjoy! AArbor

Taha, Rachid – “Diwan 2” – [Wrasse Records]

aarbor   7/27/2022   CD, International

Rachid Taha’s work has been in our library for 30 years. Diwan 2 from 2006 has Taha singing with an all-star lineup of musicians. The song lyrics are in French or in Arabic. He’s Algerian and grew up in France. His musical style has been called “Rock and Rai”. He wanted to sing the songs that influenced him and pay homage to his culture. On Diwan 2 the first two songs are from Blaoui Houari [2], a major star in Algeria in the 1950s, and Mohamed Mazouni [1], whose Ecoute Moi Camarade was discovered by Taha in his parents’ attic. They are updated with classy, rhythmic production work from Steve Hillage, making use of anything from hand drums to sweeping strings. Taha proves that he can handle slinky, declamatory songs and ballads. The best tracks are the two written by him and Hillage, [5,7] with the reed flute and percussion driving on his urgent vocals. AArbor

Skank – “radiola” – [Sony Music Distribution]

aarbor   7/20/2022   CD, International

Skank are white boys from Belo Horizonte, Brazil who’ve been recording and playing together since the early 1990’s. Radiola from 2004 was their first compilation album. It includes only four new songs, including the Gilberto Gil cover “Vamos Fugir”. There’s also a Bob Dylan cover “I Want You”. The cover artwork is a painting by the Los Angeles artists the Clayton Brothers. Skank started out intending to mix dancehall with traditional Brazilian styles, but what you’ll hear on this release is closer to Britpop and the local style called Clube da Esquina. AArbor

Camelspotting [coll] – [EMI Hemisphere]

aarbor   7/20/2022   CD, International

A lovely collection of music from all over the Middle East: Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen… all tracks have vocals. The music is by newer artists in a traditional style. Very danceable – you’ll find this album in my playlists for the bellydance segment of my show for the last 20 years. AArbor

JeConte and Mali Allstars, The – “Mali Blues” – [Soulnow Records]

aarbor   6/22/2022   CD, International

They met at the Festival in the Desert: American JeConte (vocals and harmonica), harmonica player and rhythm guitarist Boubacar Sidibe, n’goni player and electric guitarist Adama Drame, percussionist and calabash player Mahamadou Kone and bassist Sekou Bah. This release was recorded in 2012 in Bamako, Mali during a coup d’etat. The intent is to preserve the music and culture of the people of Mali and to raise money to support them during a difficult time. The musicians are heavy hitters, the music is lovely but it’s a bit too shiny/overproduced and missing the grit of an authentic African recording. Some tracks sound bluesy but others are sound more like Afropop. AArbor

DakhaBrakha – “Na Mezhi” – [Self-release]

aarbor   6/7/2022   CD, International

DakhaBrakha is a Ukrainian folk quartet which combines the musical styles of several ethnic groups.
Created at DAKh Center for Contemporary Art, DakhaBrakha is led by Vladyslav Troitskyi . It was born as a live theater music crew. Members of DakhaBrakha participate in the Centre’s other projects, notably in the all-female cabaret project Dakh Daughters. You’ll hear driving drum rhythms, cello and accordians played for rhythm and to create atmosphere. Their voices are lovely and haunting both in singing and building the mood of the music. Almost reminiscent of Les Mysteres des Voix Bulgares but more haunting in a very Slavic way. AArbor

Kahn, Daniel and The Painted Bird – “The Butcher’s Share” – [Oriente Musik]

aarbor   6/1/2022   CD, International

Daniel Kahn hails from Michigan, went of U of M, and now lives in Berlin. His band is called The Painted Bird – they play primarily klezmer style music. Kahn coined the word “Verfremdungsklezmer“, meaning “alienation klezmer music”, to describe their music. The group describes their music as “a mixture of Klezmer, radical Yiddish song, political cabaret and folk punk”, and it has been compared to the music of Tom Waits and Woody Guthrie. Some of the songs are written by Kahn, but many are adaptations of poems and songs by Jewish authors frequently with socio-political themes. AArbor

Mohammed ‘Jimmy’ Mohammed – “Takkabel!” – [Terp Records]

aarbor   6/1/2022   CD, International

Jimmy Mohammed is blind. He’s from Ethiopia and loves to sing the songs of Tlahoun Gessesse, one of the most famous heroes of Ethiopian music. Gessesse’s songs were his “main source of inspiration and comfort” during a very difficult early life. In Ethiopia the words of the songs matter more than the music, the arrangement or the singer’s voice. Here Jimmy is accompanied by Mesele Asmamaw on the electric Krar, a 6 stringed lyre/harp, Asnake Gebreyes on drums and backing vocals, Hen Bennink on drums and Getachew Mekuria on saxophone. AArbor

Tam, Phuong – “Magical Nights: Saigon Surf Twist and Soul -’64-’66” – [Sublime Frequencies]

puplaif   5/25/2022   CD, International

Phuong Tâm was one of the first Vietnamese singers to record rock and roll music. 

As a young girl, she was intrigued by the rock and roll sounds emanating from a nearby neighbor’s radio and she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a singer. 

In her teenage years, she began performing at Saigon nightclubs, where she met and connected with other Vietnamese musicians. Together they wrote, recorded, and performed original Vietnamese rock and roll songs incorporating surf, twist, soul, and other influences. Phuong’s powerful voice brings both grit and sweetness to these songs about love and loss. 

In 1975, Phuong and her family fled Vietnam, ultimately setting up roots right here in San Jose. Thanks to some serious digging and collaboration spearheaded by Phuong’s daughter Hanna, we’re able to enjoy Phuong’s musical legacy today. Magical Nights revives 25 of Phuong Tâm’s songs, recorded in Vietnam from 1964 to 1966, and re-gifts her music to the world after nearly being lost to the forces of cultural erasure. 

Talbot Brothers of Bermuda, The – “Talbot Brothers of Bermuda, The” – [Maaula Records]

aarbor   5/18/2022   12-inch, International

The Talbot Brothers of Bermuda were a musical group based in Bermuda that were among the most popular calypso performers of the 1950s. The band was composed of brothers Archie (lead singer, acoustic guitar, harmonica), Austin (acoustic guitar, harmonica), Bryan, a.k.a. “Dick” (tipple, a large, 10-stringed ukulele), Ross, a.k.a. “Blackie” (electric guitar) and Roy Talbot (bass), and their cousin Cromwell “Mandy” Mandres (accordion). Their sound is a variation of Trinidadian calypso in a smooth melodic style influenced by popular music. They performed and recorded cover versions of calypso classics in addition to their own originals, and were a popular attraction in local hotels. This record was originally released in 1958. AArbor

Spence, Joseph – “Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing” – [Smithsonian Folkways]

aarbor   5/18/2022   12-inch, International

Joseph Spence, who died in 1984, was a Bahamian guitarist and singer. He is well known for his vocalizations and humming while playing the guitar. A number of musicians, including Taj Mahal, the Grateful Dead, Ry Cooder, and Olu Dara,were influenced by and have recorded variations of his arrangements of gospel and Bahamian songs. Spence played calypso, blues, folk music and sacred songs. He played a steel-string acoustic guitar. Nearly all of his recorded songs have a guitar accompaniment in a drop D tuning. You’ll hear his magnificent voice (singing and kind of scat singing) moving bass lines, interior voices and a driving beat that he emphasized with foot tapping. He adds blues coloration and calypso rhythms to achieve a unique and easily identifiable sound. This album from 2021 is the latest recording to be released of his work, making a total of 4 released after his death. His sister Edith Pinder and her family also sing on some of the songs here. The recordings are from 1965 (the peak of his career) his only New York concert, at his cottage in Nassau, Bahamas, and at Peter Siegel’s (producer/recording engineer) apartment in Manhattan. AArbor

Barrio Manouche – “Aires de Cambio” – [doubleOone]

aarbor   5/11/2022   CD, International

Barrio Manouche is a very international acoustic ensemble from San Francisco. They play music inspired by the places they come from and have lived: Spain, France, Brazil, French Canada and the U.S. Their music is also inspired by those who have come before and their nomadic spirits. They use music to describe the world as they see it. Of note here is “musical guest” Mallar Bhattacharya (sarod) and Hilan Chaudhuri (tabla) who join them on the title track [5]. This is their first recording from 2018. Barrio Manouche has been recognized for its surprise concerts, innovative style, complex technique, and its passion for musical improvisation. Their intercultural musical fusions start with Latin/French Jazz and then add in Brazilian beats, a bit of Flamenco and even Indian music. AArbor

Les Filles de Illighadad – “At Pioneer Works” – [Sahel Sounds]

aarbor   4/27/2022   CD, International

Les Filles de Illighadad, Tuareg women who play guitars and combine both tendé (women’s music) with the guitar music played by their male neighbors, have graced our airwaves since their first album. This album, recorded in 2019 in Red Hook (Brooklyn), NY at the Pioneer Works arts center – rather than out of doors in North Africa, is their latest offering. The sound is meditative, but tender. It takes Tuareg guitar music (sometimes called desert blues) brought to the West by breakthrough artists from the region like Mdou Moctar, Bombino and Tinariwen, and fuses it with tendé. The result is repetitive and hypnotic, and conveys something spiritual and solemn but also has a sense of joy and playfulness that goes back to the music’s roots in village life. AArbor

Trovesi, Gianluigi and Coscia, Gianni – “In Cerca di Cibo” – [ECM Records GmbH]

aarbor   4/6/2022   CD, International

The unlikely ensemble of clarinet and accordion is what you have here. Gianluigi Trovesi plays clarinets of all sizes and Gianni Coscia plays accordion. It’s kind of a union of jazz and folk music – jazzed up versions of well-known Italian folk melodies. Umberto Eco, who wrote the liner notes, an essay called “Devils in Music”, says “Coscia and Trovesi know how to contaminate a piece without damaging its unity and without sacrificing the listener’s chances of recognizing the [original].” I don’t get all the musical references but you can enjoy the music without getting them. btw In Cerca di Cibo means looking for food. AArbor

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