Music Reviews

A Guide to the Birdsong of Western Africa [coll] – [Shika Shika]

aarbor   2/8/2023   CD, International

A Guide to the Birdsong of Western Africa is an album of music inspired by endangered birdsong. Each featured artist was challenged to make an original track using and inspired by the song of an endangered bird from their country. The album aims to raise awareness about the plight of these birds while raising funds for organizations that are working to protect them.

Ten diverse artists are featured. Guitarist Vieux Farka Touré and fellow Malian producer Luka Productions pair with the call of the Black crowned crane, which is found across the Sahel and is threatened by trapping for the pet trade. Senegalese group Wau Wau Collectif and kora maestro Lamine Cissokho, take the sound of the Yellow-casqued hornbill and integrate it into a flute-filled groove. Sierra Leone’s Refugee Allstars layer subtle chirping over the off-beat strumming of regional baskeda folk music to honor the Sierra Leone prinia. Buruntuma picks up the tempo with his clean Afro-house featuring the song of the Timneh parrot and Sensei Lo blends local electronic rhythms and melodies with sounds of the incredibly rare Ibadan malimbe. (tracks 5,7,9,10 are my favorites) AArbor

Cuba Meets Nepal (Jazz Fusion) [coll] – [Beautamous Loaf International]

aarbor   2/8/2023   CD, International

Victor Vidal Paz (who is also known as Django Mango) conceived of and produced this recording which fuses the music of Cuba and Nepal. I have to wonder why these quite different styles have not been fused before. Perhaps because it is a needless stretch. Whether or not this fusion is successful is up to the listener. Some tracks are more successful than others. The vocals are ok but IMHO don’t add anything. The Nepalese instruments add lovely color and texture. The drumming is fabulous. The piano, trumpet and sax are beautifully played. Tracks 4 and 6 are the most successful, the two styles are nicely balanced. Tracks 2 3, 8, 10 and 11 are good too. AArbor

Rodriguez, Silvio – “1968/1970 “Al Final de este Viaje…”” – [Fonomusic]

karma   1/11/2023   CD, International

1978 release by Cuban folksinger Silvio Rodriguez. Rodriguez is widely considered the leader of the Nueva Trova movement, which is Cuban folk music with social and political commentary. Rodriguez includes songs in tribute to political figures such as Che Guevara and Abel Santamaria. He also comments on the artist’s relationship to art, and the state of modern media. Lastly, he makes time on this album for songs about love and the passage of time (which he seemed oddly concerned about for someone in his 20s). Many of the tracks on this album are classics, and Rodriguez continues to record to this day.

Costa, Gal – “Fa-Tal Gal A Todo Vapor” – [Universal Records]

carsonstreet   12/19/2022   CD, International

A Todo Vapor (Portuguese for At Full Steam) is a fascinating live recording of Gal Costa from the early ’70s where she proved to be as exciting and diverse on-stage as she was in the studio. The first seven tracks feature Costa alone, accompanied by her acoustic guitar. These performances are dramatic, intimate, precise, emotional, and stunningly clear. These tracks display her voice perfectly, pushing up front Costa’s incredibly strong pipes with the urgent beauty one can only obtain from a live performance. The real treat comes in about halfway through the eight-minute epic, “Vapor Barato,” when her band joins in and turns the slow, intimate descending progression into a scorching lament with Costa wailing over the top. This intensity and incredible form continue throughout the rest of the recording; the band is tight, progressive, experimental and dynamic. Good quality recording with some poor editing between songs. If you want to hear more of Gal check out Gal (1969) in the international CDs and listen to her go totally psychedelic.

Calabar Itu Road: Groovy Sounds From SE Nigeria [coll] – [Comb & Razor Sound

aarbor   11/30/2022   CD, International

When most people think about Nigerian music, the first thing that comes to mind is Lagos—the country’s main commercial center, and the musical luminaries such as Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade and others. Nigeria has other interesting music: Igbo highlife and rock bands of the east-central region, Edo roots rhythms from the midwest, and the keening, ornamented Fulani melodies of the north.

The least known is the music of the south eastern land of the Efik and Ibibio ethnic groups in Cross River and Akwa Ibom State—the region colloquially referred to as “Calabar.” This region was one of the earliest outposts of Nigerian popular music. Its rhythms traveled across the Atlantic during the slave trade to provide the part of the foundation for Afro-Cuban grooves that would go on to influence the development of jazz, rock & roll, R&B and funk. This is 15 tracks recorded between 1972 and 1982, spotlighting rare music from “Calabar” superstars such as Etubom Rex Williams [14], Cross River Nationale [2], Charles “Effi” Duke [8], The Doves [10] and Mary Afi Usuah [11]. Most tracks are upbeat, dancey, excellent playing, and do not have English lyrics. AArbor

Bio Ritmo – “La Verdad” – [Electric Cowbell Records]

aarbor   11/28/2022   12-inch, International

An upbeat, dancey 2011 release by Bio Ritmo, a salsa band based in Richmond, Virginia formed in 1991. The name Bio Ritmo is a Spanglish word play on the term Biorhythm – the rhythm of life. Their salsa mixes Afro-Caribbean song patterns, the Cuban son montuno tradition, Puerto Rican street beats, and jazz. This 10-piece band has been around for more than 20 years and their playing is tight. All tracks delightful and worth airing, especially while dancing like there’s no one watching! AArbor

Antilles Mechant Bateau [coll] – [Born Bad Records]

aarbor   11/15/2022   12-inch, International

Afro-Caribbean roots music from the 1960s in the French West Indies. Mechant Bateau means bad or wicked boat – this refers to the slave ships that brought so many people from Africa to the West Indies.

Gwo Ka is a drum made of old salting or wine barrels which is at the center of this music and has been revived by recent generations to pay tribute to their ancestors’ suffering. The “ka” once creolized, was a powerful symbol of resistance since the colonial era. Blues and Ka represent the same battle – centuries of oppression. Jazz gives it an emancipating energy and sense of humor from established formats. It borrows from the “latin” rhythms of neighboring islands, and includes beguines with percussion-spiced tempos. There are also laid-back – but dark – ballads all sung in Creole (the French of the African descendants). This compilation takes us back to the early days of a movement of rebirth synonymous with recognition of heritage. It is the sound of identity for the descendants of the African slaves. Recognition of their identity and heritage in which all the musics from the Black Atlantic diaspora naturally intertwine. Reminding us that an original culture emerged from the holds of these ‘wicked boats’. AArbor

Black Flower – “Ghost Radio” – [Zephyrus Records]

aarbor   11/15/2022   12-inch, International

Black Flower is a 5-piece outfit from Belgium led by saxophonist / flutist Nathan Daems, which mixes Ethio jazz with afrobeat and dub. In 2016 the band was between album releases and decided to go into the studio for two days. They wanted to record unorchestrated and unrehearsed material – spontaneous compositions and new sounds that had been emerging from their improvisations at live shows. The result is Ethio jazz as I’ve never heard it before: moodier, gentler, spookier, more airy – and fabulous. Don’t miss! One of my favorites this year. AArbor

Anthology of Exploratory Music from India [coll] – [Unexplained Sounds Group]

puplaif   10/19/2022   CD, International

A curated collection of works by India-born sound artists and musicians. No two tracks are alike, though there are some commonalities among the mix. This is pensive, intellectual music made through tinkering, experimentation, and manipulation. An exploration of sound and its connection to time and place, and its simultaneous etherealness. Field recordings, artificial intelligence, and traditional instruments all play a part in expanding interpretations of life and emotion through sound. Curiously, the human voice makes a very infrequent appearance. There’s a lot of beauty to be found here, best explored through close, immersive listening.

Sound Storing Machines: The First 78rpm Records [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

aarbor   9/28/2022   CD, International

The first commercial recordings from Asia were made in Japan in 1903 by Fred Gaisberg. He was a producer and recording engineer who traveled the world making recordings for the Gramophone Company (later His Masters Voice). The recording industry barely existed at this time. These fragile discs survived: wars with Russia and China, the fire bombings during World War II, modernization, and the onslaught of Western media. They document, through a dreamlike haze of surface noise, a Japan that had just barely begun to open its doors to the rest of the world.

You’ll hear Japanese classic music like gagaku (court music) [1,8], noh drama [6?,10], solo instruments like the shakuhachi (flute) [11], shamisen (plucked stringed instrument) [2,3,4, 12, 13, 14], chikkin (a bamboo xylophone) [9], storytelling [7, 15], and folksong [5]. These recordings are a unique glimpse into an ancient culture and an important document of the beginnings of the recording industry. Sound Storing Machines spans only 9 years of recording—-from 1903 to 1912, the beginning of Japan’s homegrown record industry, and a few sides taken from Japan’s notorious bootleg 78rpm industry. AArbor

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

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