Music Reviews

Moti, Loksagarnaan – “Gujarati” – [EMI (India)]

billiejoe   11/4/2015   12-inch, International

Indian folk singing and zitar and drumming and wind instruments. Alternating female and male vocalists in Indian language I can’t identify. Bob your head to these bollywood styles. The only thing I could find out about this is that Gujarati means someone from Gujarat.
— Billie Joe Tolliver

Forty Martyrs – “Armenian Chanting From Aleppo” – [Electric Cowbell]

billiejoe   9/30/2015   12-inch, International

A Capella religious chanting. One side only. Lyrics written in Armenian and translated to English. The way he is singing and using his voice reminds me of latin catholic chants. Liner notes have history of the church and the Armenian genocide. Same vocalist on each track, Reverend Yeznig Zegchanian. This album was released just this summer.
— Billie Joe Tolliver

Tessier, Yves – “French Troubador Songs of The 12th and 13th Centuries” – [Elektra-Stratford Reco…]

humana   9/28/2015   10-inch, International

If you like Southern France, iambic meter, lutes, Gregorian chants, then you’ll love this. The liner notes highlight the history behind the courtly poets of Southern France (the troubadours) who expressed their reverence for women and the love they inspire in vocal music sometimes accompanied by lute (on this record, Mildred Clary plays the lute). Tessier himself composed the music in the tradition of the 12th and 13th centuries, since musical notation for these ballad-like songs did not exist. Some songs just feature Tessier’s voice, and those definitely sound like Gregorian chants. Others have the lute setting. Enjoy.

Indian Music of The Southwest [coll] – [Folkways Records and Service Corp.]

Hemroid The Leader   9/17/2015   12-inch, International

Songs, with and without drums. Recorded by Laura Boulton, groundbreaking female ethnomusicologist. Album released in 1941.
“The Indian sings with his jaws only slightly open and there is very little change in the position of his jaws or lips while singing.” “Nonsense syllables are common.” Pure melody, no fixed scale, and only occasional heterophony. “When a soloist performs, it is not because he has a beautiful voice and wants to give aesthetic pleasure but because he has a song which has particular value or power.” The singing and drumbeat patterns coincide but do not match. “It is necessary to put aside … fixed concepts in order to understand.” Our predecessors on this land used these songs to deliver rain, prosperity, and victory in battle.

Related: Littlefeather, Kyle. Unconquered Spirit: Chants and Trances of The Native America (Int’l CD)
Also on Smithsonian/Folkways: Classic Southern Gospel (coll. Country CD)

Authentic Indian Dances and Folklore [coll] – [Kimbo Records]

humana   9/11/2015   12-inch, International

We have Carole Howard (Princess Wa-Be-No-Que of the Chippewa tribe) to thank for this uniquely enriching album that details the folklore behind and the steps to four dances of great importance to the Chippewa Native Americans. Chief “Little Elk” (AKA Eli Thomas) explains to an interviewer what the significance of these dances is to his people, who hail from an area of Michigan near Mt. Pleasant. Chief “Coming of Thunder” joins Chief Little Elk in the chants and authentic drumming of the Corn Dance, the Rain Dance, the War Dance, and the Strawberry Dance. A written instruction booklet is included, but I recommend listening to each dance all the way through to get the full experience of it. This is one of those rare treasures that you hope will never get lost.

Kyoto Nohgaku Kai, The – “Japanese Noh Music” – [Polygram]

Hemroid The Leader   9/2/2015   12-inch, International

In the 6th century, ancient music and dance came to Japan from the Kingdom of Kudara in what is now Korea. In the 8th century the Chinese circus came to Japan, with acrobatics, pantomime, and comedy. These influences, in combination with indigenous rituals related to the passing of the seasons or cultivation of rice, form the basis for Noh theater, which took on its present form in the 14th century.
Noh theater troupes are led by a Grand Master and all members are blood relatives or adopted. Sons reprise roles of their fathers. Small gestures are mimicked through generations, eventually commanding much of the audience’s focus. The audience is made up of the Shogun, feudal lords, sophisticates and wealthy commoners.
This record features members of the Kyoto Noh Theater, designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the Japanese government in 1957. It may seem like not much is going on. A wooden flute plays an ancient pentatonic melody, taiko strike here and there, a woodblock plays a slow roll as characters enter and exit the scene, dancers move in exact synchronization. The main character wears a wooden face mask, an ornate robe, and speaks in Old Japanese. A ceremonial tone pervades throughout.

Qwanqwa – “Volume Two” – [FPE Records]

Morada   9/2/2015   12-inch, International

Qwanqwa play an assortment of traditional Ethiopian music with an experimental twist, side B being distinctly more so. They seek opportunities to play to as many demographics as possible. Attempting to mitigate the infinite factors limiting attendance at club shows, they organize concerts in remote places and unique situations.

Francis The Great – “Ravissante Baby” – [Hot Casa]

humana   6/11/2015   12-inch, International

What were you doing when you were 7? Francis Mbarga was exercising his musical creativity as a budding afrobeat/funk/disco artist. He was born in Paris to parents hailing from Cameroon (to which Francis eventually returned), and when Francis said he wanted to get involved in the music scene, his parents provided the means. Read the liner notes to get the full, fascinating story. Enjoy the jazzy, upbeat music and the adorable vocalizations of this young prodigy who is fluent in French, English, and African dialects.

Valenca, Alceu – “Molhado De Suor” – [Sol Re Sol Records]

Thurston Hunger   6/11/2015   CD, International

Reissue of a 1974 Brazillian beauty. Honestly I don’t know if
this is considered true Tropicalia but it hits a lot of those
happy buttons for me, folksy percussion, wood thunks and those
boingy springy sounds (like on #4), lots of acoustic guitar
and other strings, thin like a mandolin, or ramshackled and
bending (like on #5). Nimble electric basslines, just about
ready to dance around, even on the slower, happier, lazier
songs. Tracks flecked by flute too. Love the sweet sourness
of songs like #9 “Dente de Ocidente” even without speaking
the language, you can hear the playfulness in the title.
Or on #8, again without knowing the what the portugese
tongue is telling you, it’s rapid-fire tickling your ears
That track and others have some big production that sits
just fine next to the more ragged playing and singing and
on that rapid-fire staggering stacatto “Papagaio do Futuro”
there’s even coughing, and something about gasoline. It’s
a huff and puffer with a nice electric bumble bee guitar
coming in alongside some soaring choruses! Wow! That ability
to mix polish and passion is so key to this release, which
really is tremendous or should I say “Fantastico” which
apparently is where some folks like my co-workers first
came across Valenca on a Sunday night TV show. Every track
here is a must, Scott and Sol re Sol shining strong!
-Thurston Hunger

Ata Kak – “Obaa Sima” – [Awesome Tapes From Africa]

Thurston Hunger   5/29/2015   12-inch, International

The tale of the tape, is just as awesome as the tape itself.
Liner notes talk of tracking Yaw Atta-Owusu around the globe
from his homeland of Ghana, where ATFA label leader Brian
Shimkovitz first heard these sounds on cassette, to Germany
and Canada and finally back to Ghana. Ata Kak (little twin,
as Yaw is a twin) has a delivery that feels familiar to
old school rap devotees, he gets some sweetly simple
back-ground female vocals (the mighty Lucy Quansah in
dubbed triplicate) and Ata Kak just punctuates the beat
with his Twi (a Ghanian dialect) language styling. Inserting
some hah-hahs, and other rapid fire syllables. My American
ears would squeeze English inappropriately but still fun
out of these songs. Backing music is pretty cheesy R&B
riffs, light Chic guitar and loads of synth. The background
vocals feel like they come with dance moves on “Medofo”
and “Moma Yendodo” the latter, I swear the girls are
saying, “Put me on the door” and Ata Kak is busting a
Scoobie Doobie Doo move. “Yemmpa Aba” seems like its
pitched past the speed limit, and there’s some “funky”
business going on, and a jump around hyperactivity.
“Bome Nnwom” is a dizzy instro, breathless and vocalless,
with some quick swipes at psuedo-scratches. An A+ for an
OG (Originally Ghanian) B-Boy!
-Thurston Hunger

Radio Vietnam – “Radio Vietnam” – [Sublime Frequencies]

Thurston Hunger   5/7/2015   CD, International

For richer and from Porest! Another Sublime installment of
smuggled radio from foreign shores, Mark Gergis doing the
honors recently, 2013-14. His role as editor, curator and
titler of these tracks cannot be underestimated. Suave
seamless dreams, some to bust your seams with laughter,
others to break borders down in other regions. Cognitive
dissidents, and “This Land is Your Land” planted like a
frazzled frag while an unknown DJ refs American roots music
(spreading like weeds?) Check out “Medium Wave Youth Choral
and String” some glorious indigenous sounds that lead you
down a forest path to be blindsided by a sonic billboard with
neon sounds and hyped up samples in “Hit Zones.” People
sneezing and coughing, “all over vietnam” as another sample
says… then a nastier virus hits with “luxury is personal.”
So there’s jump-cut joy a la AM Hanoi, and I have to say it
sounds like people over there really give a Vietnam damn
about radio (in the US, are too many folks phoning it in,
present company excluded or executed as appropriate?) #7
speaks of the origins of “Cam Huong,” it has smooth Molam
moments, and maybe it could be a Neung Phak practice tape
for their next record. Then it goes dial flicker flipping
with excitable cyclo’s and psycho DJ’s. Some conversations
pass like kidney stones in your funny bones, Italian dance
voyeur charms on the towering “Message to the Age of Twenty.”
“Home Village Identity Event” has a brief language lesson (a
classic Porest move, wish it had gone on longer and not just
because I feel in love with that young ladies voice.) Take
a staycation in KFJC’s studios and airlift this into cars
and homes and gasoline station candy shops in the Bay Area!
Oh Mai Goddess, it’s a good time waiting to happen.
-Thurston Hunger

Chemirani, Djamchid – “Improvisations Au Zarb : Classical Traditions of Iran” – [Harmonia Mundi France]

Thurston Hunger   5/6/2015   CD, International

tight and tuned notes from his zarb ( a singled sided classical
Persian percussion instrument)m but also produced two sons who
share the beat of their father, Keyvan and Bijan. This album was
recorded when the boys were quite young, Djamchild’s playing
is dynamic, drifting distant and popping closer to your ears,
quick fills of all fingertips and then a squeezing of a
single note for a few beats. The squeezing always gets me
with percussion and the concluding track has strong examples
of that. The lead off track, and indeed many of the pieces,
feel like they are pushing you on into something, hard to
resist, but as you realize they are instrumentals you forget
about a spike fiddle or santur flying in and appreciate the
musicality over the math-measured counting. Track 4 is a zarb
duet with Jacques Marcovich, while they sync up a lot, there’s
also and some nice ping-pong playing on the skins as well as
in the ears via headphones, bouncing off each other. Part of
me found this disc a bit dry, hoping for the splash of a fountain
of sound, but maybe that’s my modern mind, this surely is
the echo of history. -Thurston Hunger

Travelling Archive, The [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Naysayer   5/6/2015   12-inch, International

Sublime Frequencies: you know the formula, and it’s a good one. This time field recordings of music from Bangladesh, India and the Bengali diaspora set the stage for the team of Moushumi Bhowmik (writer and researcher) and Sukanta Majumdar (sound recordist) to give us ten samples of folk music from Bengal. This is huge undertaking and trying to clarify the multitude of sections, areas, groups etc of Bengal is, of course, impossible to do on 2 sides of vinyl. What we are given is a sampling of some unique sounds of places most of us will never visit. This album was supposedly a response to critics calling foul on Sublime for cultural tourism and what “Wire” magazine stated “for decontextualizing and exoticizing its global musics.” This release comes with a link to The Travelling Archive website that offers a more academic approach, crediting artists, areas of performance, describing instruments, explaining purpose, etc.
Starting off with the sounds of the market place, the record lets us listen on on a variety of singers, musicians, and instruments. Older women sing “The Boatman’s Song” and “Song to Goddess Kali”. The recordings are somewhat scratchy and remind the listener of past days of field recording landmarks Alan Lomax and Smithsonian Records. The rest of the sounds come out clearer. There is drone played on the ektara, choral singing with hypnotic riffs, solo work and some music that almost sounds like a bluegrass jam session. The two pieces by Baul singers are fascinating if only for the uniqueness of the Bauls themselves.
Their mystic religious beliefs are expressed through an oral tradition of singing that goes back centuries.
Enjoy these pieces, each possibly an introduction to you of something new and surprising.

Camaron Y Mamoncillo [coll] – [Tumbao Cuban Classics]

abacus   5/4/2015   CD, International

after three years performing with his trio of two guitars and maracas/clave, Miguel Matamoros decided to expand his group into septet and then orchestra form: adding trumpets, clarinet, percussion, bass and piano. music popularly performed in clubs and hotels throughout Cuba and the Americas leading up to the revolution, this is classic in the afro-cuban styles of son and bolero. music for dancing and lounging alike, perfect for basking in any hot sun.

De Dionyso, Arrington and Lima Jari Sakti Rasyit – “Unheard Indonesia: Pancak Silat Situbondo” – [Psychic Sounds]

abacus   4/23/2015   12-inch, International

dagger wielding trance mania: dancing around tireless gamelan hypnosis; between taunting horns and leering double-reeds; a lone bass clarinet roars in and outside the center, absorbing the chaos of its context and lashing it back in vehement discourse. the ebbs and flows of conversation are there, but the content transcends idiom. a universality of tradition.

Good Ones, The – “Kigali Y’ Izahabu” – [Dead Oceans]

humana   4/12/2015   12-inch, International

Jeanvier Havugimana, Stany Hitimana, and Adrien Kazigira survived genocide in Rwanda, and they sing about love, peace, and their lives on this album which was recorded on a friend’s back porch during the summer of 2009. Only two guitars accompany their voices, flowing through their lyrics (which are translated on the insert) like a cheerful, positive river. Truly a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Their voices weave together so companionably. Enjoy.

Very Be Careful – “El Millonario” – [Downtown Pijao]

abacus   3/16/2015   7-inch, International

native Los Angelanos Very Be Careful have been hitting the streets with Colombian vallenato-style cumbia since 1998, recording several albums and bringing their party all over the world. traditional styles with a sun-scorched urban countryside flair, this is dazed and sweaty warehouse party music to keep you dancing till 2AM; the B-side is more of a light-hearted celebration while the B-side is more brooding, misterioso y peligroso. tenga cuidado es muy caliente

Tlapa La Thella Ka Ribaneng – “Senna Le Rebotsa” – [L.V. Production]

abacus   3/15/2015   Cassette, International

Famo is a music from Lesotho originally developed by the Sesotho miners in South Africa, played traditionally with concertina or accordion against some sort of string instrument and percussion; the band here letting loose over programmed drum beats and setting the zydeco-like accordion party on fire for the group ululation and rapping to take over. this music was orginally played in the illegitimate back-alley taverns, music to let off steam after a long days work or to speak out against societal oppressions. the tracks as a whole sound pretty similar but individually offer a unique sound largely unheard by American ears; culturally a story to be told of the influences of colonialism on traditional styles.

Prates, Jose – “Tam Tam Tam” – [Trunk Records]

Naysayer   3/11/2015   CD, International

Rarely is the story about an album as good and interesting as the album itself, and vice versa. This is that rare case. “Tam???Tam???Tam!” is a unique reissue (put out by the stellar Trunk Records) whose original LP version from the late 50’s is a rare one. For collectors, this is the Holy Grail and the Golden Ticket of 1950’s Brazilian music all wrapped up into one. The music is arranged and composed by the little known Jose Prates. The music was used for this traveling Brazilian dance show called “Brasiliana”. Produced by Polish entrepreneur Miecio Askanasy, and taken all throughout South America, Europe and Israel during the 1950’s, the productions were recorded to create the album full of music and song. The album, originally released in 1958, became a rare collector’s item and the rest of the story of how it turned into this CD, equally fascinating, is told in the CD’s liner notes.
So why is this so important other than being a fetish for obsessive record collectors? The answer is in the listening. This is really the missing link between earlier Brazilian music and what would become late 60’s and early 70’s contemporary Brazilian sound. It’s the foundation for what we hear now. Not being well versed in these sounds, I first listened to it blind, not knowing what this was about. It reminded me of the soundtrack to “Black Orpheus”, to the music of Mardi Gras in Rio, to Yma Sumac, to Ricky Ricardo, to Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 performing “Mas Que Nada”. These are the reference points from growing up in the 1960’s. Looking back to the reviews and notes, yep, track 3 sure enough has the roots of what will become “Mas Que Nada”. And the rest seems to let us know of what is to come. Congas start out the first track setting the tempo, along with woodwinds, flute, piano. Remember, this is music for a stage show so the larger band is present, but sounding more like a nightclub act. Then the vocals kick in. Solo vocalist, Ivan de Paula, comes on strong, sounding almost operatic, almost affected, almost Paul Robeson like. His deep bass holds so much of it together. The female and male chorus participates in call and response as well as whole group, almost chant like singing. The percussion is lush. And driving. You can feel the pound of the piano. And the maracas. And the whistles. Where are the bird calls? Where is Martin Denny? The track list lets us know which is a macumba, a candomble, a batuque, a lament, a samba. It’s a lesson if you don’t know. This is essential listening. Don’t throw your back out when you start dancing around your room.

Nippon Girls 2 [coll] – [Ace Records Ltd./Virgin]

Naysayer   2/25/2015   12-inch, International

I mean come on, really? Do I actually need to review this? Japanese! Girls! 1960’s! Groups Sounds Boom! Go-go pop! Beat girls!
Mini Mini skirts!
This is Nippon Girls 2 ( as in, “Where is Number 1? I need it! And there is a Number 3! I need it!). This collection of 12 hits from 1966 to 1970 is superb fun. As the cover says “Japanese Pop, Beat & Rock ‘N’ Roll”. That’s “N”. All female led. Surf guitar influences abound. Simple four four time. Twangy guitars sometimes playing on Japanese traditional music themes. Big British and American influence. Lots of cymbal. Slow. Fast. FRUG!!!!!!!!!
Read the amazing liner notes. Play this to death. If you don’t get it, don’t talk to me.

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