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Music Reviews

Cantuaria, Vinicius – “Tucuma ” – [Verve/Polygram]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

Slinky sambaista songs from Brazilian-born
Cantuaria (is that his real name?’) who has
relocated in NY and is making some fine
friends; among them some of my heroes like
Mark Feldman, Laurie Anderson, Arto Lindsay
and Joey Baron who all show up on here.
Gorgeous in melody and in production (the
latter may trouble some?) The edgier things
get, the better…Arto’s noise concret solo
on the last track, a Latcho Drom(?) sample
on super-hummable “Aracaju”, little buzzing
synthsects on the piece dedicated to Riuchi
Sakamoto (who collaborated with Cantuaria
on his first solo album). If you dig this,
go check out some Tom Ze.

Dancing with the Dead [coll] – [Ellipsis Arts…]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

Imagine the line of time, somewhere on there is
one segment that demarcs your life. There is time
before that segment, and time after, together
that’s your death. As much a beginning as an end,
death envelops you and defines your life. You’ve
already survived it. Yes I have these
thoughts all the time…this album is beautiful
in sound, spirit and packaging. It provides an
excellent occasion to contemplate and enjoy YOUR
life/death. The geographical range parallels the
musical one here. Tracks, like life, are all too
fleeting. An accent on joy over lamentation. The
most eerie moment for me came in the first track,
with it’s subsurface political vendetta between
eulogizer and deceased.

Orishas Across the Ocean [coll] – [Rykodisc]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

There’s a history of death-bed Christians…
accepting Hay-Zeus…just in case. Well don’t
wait until your afterlife to get to know the
pantheon of orishas. Voodoo pops up in odd
places from William Gibson’s novels to David
Byrne’s “True Stories” to Strom Thurmond’s
recreational activities. The liner notes are
a class in themselves, check them out when
you have time (and loan me your copy of Maya
Deren’s “The Divine Horsemen”) This is mostly
chants, often sounding youthful and exuberant
and interesting backing syncopated percussion.
Evidently track 5, the Bori songs are somewhat
rare…it stood out for me.

Rodrigues, Virginia – “Sol Negro ” – [Hannibal Records]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

Virginia is blessed with a deep hollow voice,
large enough to encompass an amazing range
from joy through sorrow…often within one
long lingering note. Ballads and batucadas
all melt at her command. She captivates me
like David James of the Hilliard Ensemble,
in fact I suspect Arvo Part could write an
amazing requiem for her to sing solo. She
is an earthy angel, gossamer strength…
not so sterile as others might sound.
Reverence and passion co-existing. The
music is hyper-produced and involves a
variety of instrumentation including harp
and the berimbau (such an amazing sound…
like a more lively digeridoo). She was
discovered by Caetano Veloso.
Love this woman.

Los Camperos De Valles – “El Ave De Mi Sonar ” – [Smithsonian/Folkways]

Thurston Hunger   9/4/2005   CD, International

Few things cry passion like a ragged violin and a man’s voice
that flips up into falsetto. “El Llorar” is of staggering
beauty, all tracks demamd your attention…”Oye?” Oh, yeah!
This has as much fervor as the best punk music, and more
whistling than your average Lynyrd Skynyrd album to boot.
For more serious notes, check the fine Smithsonian liners
included herein, but seriously this Huasteca sound spikes
my ears like few other forms can. The violin sounds like it
was recorded in a brittle, slippery bottle…and the guitars
gallop, but the vocals are a great blend of taunting and
haunting. The song titles alone speak of the jagged edges
of love. One of the most blazing releases I’ve heard in a
long time…do not miss. Huasteca to the corazon.
-El Hombre del Hambre

T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo ?The Kings of Benin: Urban Groove 1972-80? [Soundway Records] (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   7/24/2005   12-inch, International

This album is a compilation of songs from the prolific but obscure West African band T.P. Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo. They have been going strong for over 40 years putting out over 50 LPs and 100 45s, but this release focuses on the years 1972-1980. Some notes on their name(s): The T.P. stands for tout puissant, or all-powerful in English. You can find them filed under various suffixes as de Cotonou Benin (pronounced be-NIN or be-NEEN), de Cotonou Dahomey (the colonial name for Benin), or just de Cotonou (the capital of Benin).

The 13 tracks on this release cover a wide range of styles, combining Afro-beat with Latin, Soul, Psychedelic, and Funk influences. The rhythm (or rhythms) of most songs is complex but generally comes down on the 1, making the music instantly accessible. Once the band settles into a groove the horns punctuate it, guitars noodle and jam with it, and vocals (in French, I think) shout into it.

It’s music for when the air-conditioning in the Master studio is busted. Perfect for summer!

If you liked the Love’s A Real Thing collection (International/CD) added a few months ago (these guys did the title track), you will certainly like this album. Drop the needle anywhere and funk out.
–Hunter Gatherer

Ondekoza, the – “Ondekoza, the ” – [Jvc Musical Industries]

Thurston Hunger   7/23/2005   CD, International

So I used to think that the world would end in a war between
Pepsi and Coke, but now I think it’s going to be two different
multi-national corpse (sic): Sony versus JVC. The actual warriors
waging battle will be Za Ondekoza versus Kodo. Fuck the Yakuza,
these people run marathons and then beat their souls out on
gargantuan drums…while wearing diapers. The fluid synchronicity of
the drumming is beyond tight, you know that sound of a quarter
wobbling and settling down…well imagine a quarter the size
of Taiwan. Sonic thunderheads have been forming for centuries.
This album also showcases shamanic shamisen’s death rattle and
dervish (#3,#2), rattle-snake shakuhachi poison darts (#5,#1,#2),

I’m ready to enlist in Za Ondekoza Nostra.

Ghana Soundz Vol. 2 [coll] – [Soundway Records]

Rococo   7/9/2005   12-inch, International

Soundway label boss and musical archaeologist Miles Cleret comes correct with another outstanding collection of funky, obscure sounds from 1970’s Ghana. It’s hard to pick out favorites on a collection as rich as this one, but I’ll give it my best shot. First up, there’s the previously-unreleased and criminally-short ‘Olufeme, – an Afro-beat love song from Oscar Sulley, who’s making his return appearance here on Volume 2. On a jazzier tip, you’ve got guitarist Ebo Taylor, also returning from Volume 1, this time with the track ‘Atwer Abroba.’ Next, Ebo Junior gets even funkier than his daddy, with some help from Wuta Wazutu, on ‘Mondo Soul Funky.’ One of my favorite keyboard sounds, the Farfisa, shows up all over this compilation and features prominently on The Sweet Talks? ‘Kye Kye Pe Aware.’ Highlife makes a token appearance on ‘Aboagyewaa? by K. Frimpong & Vis a Vis, though it’s a strikingly unusual and moody take on the genre. The fourth and final side of wax brings us a classic James Brown funk workout, courtesy of The African Brothers? ‘Sakatumbe,? and Marijata’s enthusiasm on ‘No Condition is Permanent? appears to be quite a challenge for those African VU meters in the recording studio. In a market seemingly glutted with Afro-funk compilations, let us pause and give thanks to Mr. Cleret, who continues to unearth and expose some of the most valuable music never heard outside of Africa. Please sir, I want some more!

Caribbean Sampler [coll] – [Rounder Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Another cruise through the Lower Antilles with Alan Lomax, circa 1962. This set of field recordings includes 31 selections from Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Carriacou, St. Lucia, St. Barthelemy, Anguilla, Trinidad, and Nevis. Recorded at a time when many of these islands were achieving independence from the British Empire, it was Lomax’s hope that by finding cultural commonalities among the peoples of the Caribbean, he might contribute to a postcolonial Caribbean unification. Lofty ambitions for a guy with a tape recorder. What he found and documented included a myriad of musical styles with roots in African, French, English, Celtic, Spanish, and even East Indian cultures. A remarkable musical survey with excellent liner notes.

Wimme – “Gierran ” – [Northside]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Wimme (“Vim’ -may”) Saari sings in a style known as yoik, a traditional style of unaccompanied singing from Finnish Samiland. But this CD is FAR from traditional. As on his previous (debut) album, Wimme has again collaborated with members of the Finnish ambient techno band RinneRadio to produce a totally compelling hybrid of folk and electronic music. The Samis have strong cultural ties with Native Americans, resulting in a curiously alien-but-familiar quality to the vocals. The opening track is perhaps the most dramatic, featuring shamanic chanting against a backdrop of thudding electronic beats. Other highlights include: the propulsive “Rainbow,” which recalls the sound of a jew’s harp; the aquatic dub of “Destiny;” and the 10-minute ambient opus “Angelica Archangelica.” Scattered throughout the CD are short acapella tracks which serve as a more traditional counterpoint to the experimentation elsewhere. Another stunning release from Wimme.

Pharoah’s Daughter – “Out of the Reeds ” – [Knitting Factory Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Pharoah’s Daughter creates one of those global fusion vibes that makes it hard to pinpoint origins. Suffice it to say that this sounds…exotic. Elements of Indian, African, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European traditional musics intertwine via some lovely female vocals (mostly in Yiddish), various percussion instruments, strings and reeds. Produced by Anthony Coleman, it’s “tasteful” enough to be a hit on NPR! An uncharacteristic release from Knitting Factory.

Ferrer, Ibrahim – “Ibrahim Ferrer ” – [Nonesuch]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Without a doubt, the most affecting performer in Wim Wender’s documentary of the “Buena Vista Social Club” was the 72-year-old singer Ibrahim Ferrer. Not only was his vocal talent a major musical revelation, but Wender’s footage of him reflecting on his life, as well as coming to terms with his newfound success, was especially poignant. For this first solo album, Ferrer is rejoined by producer/guitarist Ry Cooder and many of the musicians on the original “Buena Vista Social Club” album. The result is a triumphant success, a transcendant recreation of Cuban music from a bygone era.

Evora, Cesaria – “Miss Perfumado ” – [Nonesuch]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

One of the great divas of modern times, Cesaria Evora hails from the Cape Verde Islands, a former Portuguese colony off the coast of western Africa. Her specialty is the morna, a melancholy song of nostalgia, sadness, love and longing, sung in a Creole- Portuguese dialect. Nicknamed the barefoot diva, Cesaria has been compared to Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday for her world-weary style and technical mastery. MISS PERFUMADO is Cesaria’s fourth recording, originally released in 1992 to international acclaim. It is indeed a brilliant album, and not half as depressing as one might think. The music is a unique blend of styles, recalling Portuguese, Brazilian, and even American ragtime influences. And the simple arrangements (acoustic guitar, cavaquinho, and piano on most tracks) highlight the beauty and expressiveness of Cesaria’s vocals. Out of sorrow comes a stunningly beautiful album for the ages.

Bila, Vera & Kale – “Kale Kalore ” – [Tinder Records]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Vera Bila has been dubbed “the Ella Fitzgerald of gypsy music” and that moniker seems entirely apt, because this second album by Vera and her band Kale swings like a mother! No stodgy traditional folk music here; this stuff is alive and kickin’. The album is filled with original compositions, steeped in traditional gypsy music but sounding quite contemporary. The band shares vocals (and some incredible harmonies) with Vera, and back her with guitar, bass, and a whole mess of tamborines. Given the sadness of the (translated) lyrics, it’s ironic that the music is so uplifting.

Allen, Tony – “No Accomodation for Lagos ” – [Strut]

Rococo   7/5/2005   12-inch, International

Drummer Tony Allen is the most significant figure in the development of Afrobeat outside of Fela Kuti himself. A member of Fela’s band from the early days on up through the late 70’s, Allen developed the rhythmic patterns that lay the foundation for Afrobeat. This recording from 1978 was the third and final solo release that Allen recorded with Fela’s band, Africa 70. Musically it’s as strong as any Fela record, but vocally Allen falls short of the master, as he talks his way through both side-long tracks. The title track is a 17-minute political statement about a mishandled government relocation effort that occurred in the 70’s. “African Message” is a more intimate rumination on the uplifting power of African rhythms. While lacking the impact of Fela’s best work, it’s still great to have this significant and fairly obscure musical document back in print.

Afro Cuban All Stars – “Distinto, Diferente ” – [World Circuit]

Rococo   7/5/2005   CD, International

Thanks to Wim Wenders’ wonderful film portrait, the world has fallen in love with the members of the BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB. And for once in a blue (Havana) moon, mass popularity and quality music are not such strange bedfellows. This second album by Juan de Marcos’ Afro Cuban All Stars features BUENA VISTA regulars Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Omara Portuondo, and others, along with younger musicians who give the record a more modern sound. Extremely danceable and extremely elegant.

Totem ?Totem? [Vampi Soul] (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   6/28/2005   12-inch, International

Totem, from Uruguay, released their first and eponymous album in 1971. Originally on De La Planta, it was re-relased in 2004 by Vampi Soul, an interesting label that has been re-releasing vintage music – often out of print – from the 60’s and 70’s (check the insert in the album).

The genre of this music is ‘candombe-beat? a fusion of Western pop and the native Afro-Uruguayan rhythms of candombe (pronounced can-dome-bay). Candombe is played with three drums (or tambores): piano, chico, and repique. The beat came to Uruguay by way of African slaves.

The music is definitely a product of its time and the production sounds slightly dated. But they are rocking out with the extra percussion and rhythm guitar. The singing is smooth, bordering on crooning.
–Hunter Gatherer

[coll] ?Rough Guide to Afro-Peru? [Rough Guide]

Hunter Gatherer   6/4/2005   CD, International

Another excellent release from the Rough Guide series. This time it is a collection of music that was brought to Peru by slaves from West Africa and continues to evolve through their descendants.

This CD can only present us with the music, but it is important to realize that this sensual music cannot be separated from the dances that accompany it, such as The Alcatraz (track 14) in which dancers have a piece of red paper between their legs that other dancers try to ignite with a lit candle. These dances were so threatening to the Spanish colonialists that they were outlawed along with all drums.

This explains why a large wooden box, called the cajon, is the one of the important percussion instruments on this CD. The instruments are acoustic: guitar, bass, some brass. There are many different types of percussion instruments (including my favorite, the vibraslap) marking complex meters. It combines the best elements of African and South American music. Check it out.
–Hunter Gatherer

Music of the Ashanti of Ghana [Ethnic Folkways]

outlier   4/21/2005   12-inch, International

Recorded in 1976 by Verna Gillis, 2 stellar percussion pieces, 5 perc w/ women’s voices and one outstanding guitar and perc song that brings the heart of Ghana to your ears. Historical relevance is obvious but the performances are timeless. All pieces are short and
have a lively sound that will uplift any accompanied selections. Rhythm is some high odd number over 4 with substantial butt-moving influence and the pieces carry emotion of a narrative of generations of people.
3w:African Heart Rhythm
– Outlier

[coll] ?World Psychedelic Classics Vol. 3: Love?s A Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds Of West Africa? — [Luaka Bop]

Hunter Gatherer   3/28/2005   CD, International

In this amazing compilation released this month (3/2005) from David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, we are treated to music recorded in West Africa in the early to mid-70s. While the music is surely African in origin, it is under the heavy influence of the Western pop and rock sounds of the previous decade. The result is like hearing James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Latin and Cuban rhythms held up to an African aural fun house mirror.

Of course the very deepest roots of most Western music have origins in the cultures of Western Africa, and maybe this is why these twelve tracks sound so natural and strange and familiar all at the same time. The liner notes do a great job putting this in context, but the gist of it is that cheap record players, imported vinyl, and cheaper studio technology all came together to make this music possible.

All tracks are strong, so picking a track at random is not a bad way to decide. I particularly like 1 (check out the video on the CD, too), 3 (lots of yelps and call-and-response), 7 (in which a bunch of countries are scolded: ‘Do you think this world is yours? Better change your mind?), 8 (this is one of the ‘funky and fuzzy’s referred to in the title), and 10 (a little surfy and with steel drums). 4 is an instrumental.

–Hunter Gatherer

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