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Music Reviews

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.

Perspectivas [coll] – 33RPM

Cousin Mary   1/18/2020   7-inch, International

In Paris, Luis Briceno recorded interviews and music that were broadcast in Chile 2013-2016 featuring musicians from before the 1973 coup d’etat that toppled Allende’s government. There is an “old is new” theme to this album (1) that these musicians of the past will be new to many Chileans and (2) that the old flexidisc format within this book will be new to many who play it.

The music is very enjoyable and the sound quality is surprisingly good. It features flutes, guitar, drum and vocals in Spanish. Just flip the page to the disc that you want, put the book on the turntable, and drop the needle! More here https://vimeo.com/269718583

Haku – “Na Mele a Ka Haku” – [Aloha Got Soul]

humana   1/5/2020   CD, International

Frank Tavares is Haku, Music and Drama Department Chairman of Maui Community College (at least at the time of the first release of this, in 1975). As someone who would love to be on Maui full time, I find this an interesting CD. It’s electronic and strange, with poems recited in Japanese and stories narrated, roosters clucking, and classical Hawaiian Ipu (a gourd percussion instrument). The last couple of songs sound Hawaiian to me, and bring to mind breezes swaying through palm trees and mellow feelings of toes digging into warm sand. Take a little trip and listen.

Drums Over Afghanistan – [Tempo]

aarbor   12/18/2019   10-inch, International

This record is from the era before Ethnomusicology turned recording of ethnic and folk musics into cultural documentation and preservation. There is an element of that here, except the liner notes are anything but scholarly. They describe the journey of the recording expedition to Afghanistan. The red vinyl is wonderful but hardly scholarly. The drumming is wonderful be sure to work it into your set. – AArbor  

Valera, Kiki – Vivencias En Clave Cubana – [Origin Records]

aarbor   11/13/2019   CD, International

This is Kiki Valera’s Debut solo album. He is a Cuban master of the Quatro a 4-stringed chordophone now living in Seattle. He is a member of the Familia Valera Miranda – a century-old music dynasty which is known for Son Cubano, the infectious Cuban call and response song form which blends Spanish (song style and meter) and African (rhythm) musical traditions. Valera was exposed to Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery and Chick Corea through cassette tapes while in school and those jazz inspirations influence his cuatro solos. Valera is joined here by childhood friend, reknowned Cuban vocalist Coco Freeman. Valera and his ensemble pair 12 original songs with lovely instrumental work – put on your dancing shoes. AArbor

Anderson, Laurie / Choegyal, Tenzin / Smith, Jesse Paris – Songs From The Bardo – [Smithsonian Folkways]

aarbor   11/13/2019   12-inch, International

In Buddhism the “Bardo” is the period between death and rebirth. Tibetan Buddhists believe that when someone dies, their consciousness wanders through the Bardo for 7 weeks (49 days) before transitioning to a new life. The consciousness of the newly deceased becomes aware of and accepts the fact that it has recently died, and it reflects upon its past life. Here Laurie Anderson is your guide through the Bardo reading passages from The Tibetan Book of Dead (The Bardo Thodol) which is translated into Enligsh by Tenzin Choegyal. Feel the unknowable expanse of the Bardo through vibrations from various resonant instruments. Add a meditative set to your show while you reflect on your life.  Perhaps new inspiration will appear… AArbor

Ag Oumbadougou, Abdallah – Anou Malane – [Sahelsounds]

aarbor   11/13/2019   12-inch, International

Originally released on cassette in 1995, Anou Malane is one of the first studio recordings in the Tuareg guitar genre. Recorded in Benin with Nel Oliver, a West African producer known for his work on a number of seminal boogie and Afro-funk records, this release combines the Tuareg guitar sound with programmed drum effects and backing synthesizer, transforming Saharan political ballads into Afro-boogie anthems. The resulting album became a classic and pushed Tuareg guitar (and the rebellion) into the public consciousness. This reissue is first time the album has been distributed outside of Niger as well as the first time it has been released on vinyl or digitally. You’ll notice the “flickering” melody jumping from vocal lines to guitar lines which is typical of Tuareg guitar music. AArbor  

Primitive Music of Africa [coll.] – [Mainstream Records]

aarbor   10/30/2019   12-inch, International

From 1964 these recordings were made by the “Denis-Roosevelt Expedition” – lead by Armand Denis and Lela Roosevelt who visited the Congo and the territories of Ruanada and Urundi. This is primarily music of the peoples of the Congo: Bahutu, Watusi, Babira, Manbetus, Pygmies, Mambuti and others. The term “primitive” is a misnomer! The sounds and rhythms here are very sophisticated. The Pygmies’ liquid sound is very notable and worth playing [B1, B5]. The other groups’ polyrhythms are well worth a listen, are the Circumcision rituals [B3, B4] which are well-documented on the back of the album. AArbor

Los Panchos – "Contigo Aprendi Mis Numero 1" – [Sony Music Distribution]

Hemroid The Leader   10/23/2019   CD, International

Los Panchos

Twenty #1 smashes, 1948-91. Boleros and romantic ballads from Los Panchos, one of the top trios of all time. Formed 1944 in NYC. Soon after, they had a dedicated timeslot on XER-AM, Mexico City’s top station. International tours, movie appearances, millions sold. Varied orchestration: some with strings, others sparser.

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