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Music Reviews

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

Rough Guide to Afro-Peru [coll] – [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

World Psychedelic Classics Vol. 3: Love’s A Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds Of West Africa [coll] – [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

Lekan Animashaun — ?Low Profile (Not For The Blacks)? — [Honest Jons] — (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   3/20/2005   12-inch, International

This is classic Nigerian Afrobeat music by baritone sax player and then leader of Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, Lekan Animashaun. Originally recorded in 1979, this LP was re-released by Honest Jons Records in 2004. Copies of the original album are exceedingly rare because harassment from the Nigerian government delayed its release and when it was finally released it wasn’t promoted very well.

The release contains two songs about 11 minutes long, one on each side. Both tracks settle into a groove with scads of horns, scads of percussion, bass, guitar, and organ. Different instruments step forward to add their thoughts and then recede back into the music. Then some lyrics are shouted by men and answered by a female chorus. Rinse and repeat.

The lyrics are translated into pidgin English, which is to say enough English to get the point across.

The first song Low Profile (Not For The Blacks) is a reference to a statement by General Obasanjo. Commenting on a rise in robberies by armed bandits, he helpfully suggested that people keep a low profile.

Se rere is an exhortation to be good and act right, similar to what Dr. Laura does at the end of her show each day.

Three word review: Nigerian Soul Stew

–Hunter Gatherer

The Secret Museum of Mankind Vol. 5 [coll] – [Yazoo]

jack soil   3/6/2005   CD, International

24 ethnic musical masterpieces spanning the globe – stops include Peru, Italy, A
rmenia, Finland, USA, India and more. Artists range from small girls choirs, to
soloists to elaborate village orchestras. Instruments include: fiddles, porcelain
cups tuned with levels of water, voice, zither (boxed harp), and syrinx (pan
pipe). Each track was remastered from 78s (with a little work done to get rid of
surface noise – fortunately, some of the surface noise character remains. The
time frame is similar to the last installments 1925 – 1948. This is another
excellent collection and definitely deserves to be in the KFJC library. Nearly
extinct old world sounds for a not so new world order.

Cambodian Rocks [coll] – [Parallel World]

Mac   3/5/2005   CD, Format, International

In the mid 60’s the American music scene was invaded by the British. By the late 60’s America was invading Cambodia. Surf, psych, pop, rock, and soul found their way into the country and out came the Cambodian flavored songs on this CD. Mad guitar riffs, catchy melodies, and weird vocals (all the singing is in Cambodian) go beyond mere imitation. Though inspired by the American greats, they manage to find their own sound, and it rivals the best garage bands America had to offer. The various rock sounds merge in ways no Americans explored, and the high pitched female vocals on half the tracks and occasional odd instruments add a truly Cambodian sound. None of the artists are named and no liner notes are given. The tracks were collected from old cassettes (see story on back). Highlights include the covers of Fleetwood Mac’s Black Magic Woman (T5) and Them’s Gloria (T13). Burned forever into my mind is the hilarious imitation of James Brown on T8. In a place with war just across the border and a political coup at home, these musicians found in rock music a way to escape and have some fun. The passion with which they play is reflected in their music, and it can blow you away. Sit back and have a rockin’ good time, courtesy of Cambodia.

Molam : Thai Country Groove from Isan [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Thurston Hunger   2/21/2005   CD, Format, International

Wham bam thank you Molam…by way of Sublimers
Bishop and Gergis. The inviting splashisness
of the package exceeded only by the sounds on
this. “Husband Drunk, Wife Drunk” is amazingly
intoxicating, the first time I heard it, felt
like a 20 min track, I just dove into it. It
has the short of hypnotic shuffle of reggae,
with banks of secret-spy keyboards and the
spousal vocal interplay works towards a great
yet brief harmony. “khaen” appears throughout
(#1,4,5,10,12-4) like a call to a coronation.
That and the crazy soap opera shout-abouts
were both featured in the most recent Neung
Phak/Sun City Girl “event” The shout-abouts
are #2,8,11. #11 has an accidental hiphop
intro giving way to brittle flying guitar that
has the energy of a classic garage legend.
This is music spawned of the crossroads but
having taken its own true root. You can listen
and hear: ska, ethiopian funk, bachelor pad
keys, driving psych… This may just be the
sublimest of them all (so far…).

Andersen, Steindor “Rimur” [Naxos World]

Thurston Hunger   2/13/2005   CD, Format, International

Centuries old Viking-style old skull rap…or “rime.”
Instead of braggadiccio, the Nordic tack is to denigrate
one’s skills (poetic and amorous) before launching into
the tale. See liner notes for more details. To today’s
American ear, these vocalizings will sound vaguely like
gregorian chants, but with more “wobble” to ’em (maybe
the rhyming?) Tracks 16 and 18 are softened by strands
of harp. #12 floes over an icy bed of subdued (subzero?)
digeridoo. #14 is the only duet, sure wish there more
it was my favorite. One for the ages…and Sigur Ros
fans as well (that group has helped revive interest
in these form of expression.

At the Court of the Mwami – Ruanda [SWP Records]

Thurston Hunger   2/13/2005   CD, Format, International

Back in 1999, Andy Moor of the Ex turned me on to this
label, we did an on-air special on it and interviewed
Michael Baird back in Holland…Michael was born in
Zambia, and through luck and labor had obtained access
to the International Library of African Music which was
founded and largely stocked by Hugh Tracey. Hugh traced
almost all of Africa and did so over 50 years ago, he
returned with recordings that are unbelievably pristine.
You can hear his voice on the throw-away first track,
then a dry flood of drums. Pretty amazing dropping in
and out of beat. Listen to #5, that’s no simple rhythm.
Vocal pieces are even more fulfilling for me, often
a chorus gets a wobbly drone to it (recall Tenores di
Bitti esp #19, one thought is that the Tutsi’s largely
featured here did come down from Ethiopia, hmmm?). Men
and women both are recorded by the way, though I’m not
sure if ever together. #15 has a musical bow, like the
berimbau or kalimboo or whatever the Gnawa Hawa play,
it jabs a song along so well! Drums return towards the
end, this time with Hutu’s doing the honor.

Traore, Rokia “Bowmboit” [Nonesuch]

Thurston Hunger   2/13/2005   CD, Format, International

Quiet Griot? Gorgeous voice from this daughter of Mali. She
also accompanies herself on guitar throughout (and evidently
was guided by Ali Farka Toure), but the string instrument that
stands out is the ngoni. It sounds like a lighter, more fluid
form of harp (as played here by Andra Kouyate). It does some
of that gnawa halwa tight picking, which fits in so well with
the bevy of percussion on most tracks. So the music sort of
flicks along, while her voice just floats. She dubs in a lot
of the background vocals, and thus it really does sound like
one mind singing through many mouths. #8 is the most wistful
ballad, too sad for drums. The “kids” from Kronos turn up on
the #5 and #10 but end up taking her voice out of the sonic
wild, and those pieces end up feeling a tad less inspiring.
Note #10 stops at 6:09 in, hidden track starts at 6:57

Radio Java [Sublime Frequencies]

Thurston Hunger   2/13/2005   CD, Format, International

Third sublime installment in the audio odyssey from Alan
Bishop. He always records radio when travelling. Alan
provides editing by both dialing live for displacement
(#7’s great start) and computer cutting after the fact
for crash comparisons. Unlike the first two releases,
this is pretty much radio collage. Sometimes he lingers
on a flavor (like Sundanese sounds on #1) other times
it’s a blast of Radio Nacional. We get everything from
underwater gamelan stylings (#5 2 minutes in or so)
to another weird soap operatic drama that ends with
a captivating double-vocal chant on #3 about 5 minutes
in to westernized commercial sounds, check #4 about 4
minutes in (cool chime rinses). #4 is probably my
favorite, there’s a karate chop section of state-run
radio that seems like a noise outing, very odd broken
spoken sections, and ending that’s extra-terrestial.
Solid noise on #7 as well. Cheesy metal at the onset
of #6, Bon Scott alive and in exile? That cut is
amazing too, with gooey banter between DJ’s. Pretty
much a grab bag, most radio collage in the US and
UK is played for laughs (People Like Us, Wayne
Butane). This really is different, and rewarding.

Radio Phnom Penh – s/t (Sublime Frequencies)

outlier   2/9/2005   CD, International

Radio Phnom Penh – s/t (Sublime Frequencies)
More radio transmissions from SE Asia courtesy of Alan Bishop, this time from Cambodia. Authentic Asian 60’s pop with somewhat tribal beats sound underneath. The feel of classically trained musicians having fun in pop expressions of celebration. Lack of production quality is outweighed by the crisp execution of pop constructions that are probably well known by all in the village for generations. Familiarity to the point of an unstrained memory of passages that give a flowing sound around tightly arranged and performed tunes. If you liked Neung Phak’s “Tui Tiu Tui”, why not get a taste of the real thing !
– Outlier

Folk & Pop Sounds of Sumatra Vol. 2 [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

lombard   2/8/2005   CD, International

This is another release (pulled together in November 2004) from Sublime Frequencies that collects musical gems from around the world. Sumatra’s been in the news lately in the weeks following the December 2004 tsunami, so it’s nice to harken back to some less tragic times and hear Sumatran folk and pop music circa 1960s through the 1980s. It’s quite a range, from Indian-style pop to more sedate folk with simpler percussion. Strings, psych, crazy pop, and some nice female vocals. Track 11 is a pleasant folk song with male and female vocals. (added 2-8-2005)

-Cynthia Lombard

I Remember Syria

Thurston Hunger   1/29/2005   CD, Format, International

More sublime slide shows of sound, this time with some aid
coming from Porest’s Erik Gergis. Besides dizzying cultural
doppler effects, this release is strengthened by some man in
the street recordings. Bizarre bazaars, popular politics
and mucho mujahadeen. On the road to Damascus we get what
almost sounds like a rap over machine gunned beats; sirens,
cellphones and other forms of prayer; transactions and
transglobal underground conversations and middle-eastern
sonic youth radio. The excerpts of young boys singing are
just tough and vibrant. The deeper in, the Greater Syria
you get. Outstanding pop pieces, outspoken Arab Women in
Focus and a not-so-out aleppo sitting in cinema. Radaio
Tartus sounding like a cross-over point between worlds
and frequencies created naturally. There’s more unnatural
doctoring on some of the tracks, but scintillating…
Ali Dada.

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