New Reviews: April 2008
Reviews by Matthew Forss
World Music Network
The follow-up to their Introducing album, Desert Crossroads, continues Etran Finatawa’s musical journey through the Sahara and beyond. The band’s manager, Sandra van Edig, and producer Paul Borg, discuss the success of the group, the recording process, and reveal other intimate tidbits about the band in the liner notes. A welcome addition is the explanations for the songs and English lyrics in the liner notes. Track 2, “Kel Tamasheck”, is a song about culture of the Tuareg people. The guitar riffs and communal vocals sound similar to some of Tinariwen’s music. You will find instrumentation in the vein of other popular North African groups, like Tartit, Tinariwen, Toumast, and others. However, a few instruments unfamiliar to some include the odilirou flute, doudandou, azakalabo and akayaure. The music of a tea ceremony is also included. Some of the tracks are acoustic treasures, like Track 3 (“Iguefan”). Fans of Etran Finatawa will be more than satisfied here. Begin your global wanderings in the Saharan desert and say hello Niger’s premiere group.
The traditional folk music of Germany is reinvented with the sounds of 17 Hippies. Their release, Heimlich, is a collection of original compositions and incorporates the sounds of Klezmer, gypsy, jazz, Russian, Latin, classical, country, folk, and bluegrass. Every track is a different musical journey, but all follow in the same path. If the band’s name came from the number of instruments they play, that number would be well above 17. Some of the instruments included are sax, Jew’s harp, harmonium, oboe, bouzouki, ukulele, violin, trumpet, banjo, accordion, kalimba and others. Some of the songs contain contemplative elements of a soundtrack quality. Vocals are in English, German, and French. Liner notes include lyrics in English, German and/or French. Interestingly, Heimlich, which means “covert”, will not be a secret for very long! Sing on!
African Street Party
World Music Network
Compiler John Armstrong showcases the musical creations of African street music. This is contemporary music from around Africa, including Mali, Mozambique, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Angola, Congo, Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya. Some of the more popular artists include Vieux Farka Toure, Massukos, Ricardo Lemvo, and Fatai Rolling Dollar. As with most party music, this is also dance music. Catchy guitars, brassy and jazzy beats, and funky styles makes this CD a must-have. Of course, this CD is rather limited in scope and only contains 11 tracks and about as many artists. Thankfully, John’s know-how and musical ingenuity are more than evident on this compilation. A top-notch recording for African music fans everywhere!
Ultimate Musical Adventures
World Music Network
With a global music label like World Music Network, it was only a matter of time before they compiled the most diverse song selections from previously released rough guides into one inviting package. The result is Ultimate Musical Adventures, which features tracks from previously released Rough Guides including Salsa Clandestina, Salsa, Bhangra Dance, Yodel, Latin Funk, Latin-Arabia, Bellydance Café, Israel, Bollywood Gold, Indian Lounge, West African Gold, African Blues, and Planet Rock. The contemporary surf music of Cambodia’s Dengue Fever and New York’s Cuban Cowboys are both quite similar, despite the divergent musical origins. The pulsating and catchy beats of Indian music are quite evident on “Captain Bhangra Da” and “Chandni O Meri Chandni”. A special treat is “Special Rider Blues” with a duet between Corey Harris and the late-Ali Farka Toure. Of course, a musical adventure would not be complete without sampling the music of the Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, or Southeast Asia. Definitely something for everyone here. A 20-page catalog of all World Music Network releases is included.
Anthology of World Music: China
Rounder’s collection of classical music from China includes a previously unreleased track by Wu Wenguang on qin (zither). Six other tracks feature three other important musical instruments in Chinese history, including the zheng (board zither), pipa (plucked lute), and xiao (end-blown bamboo flute). Seven long tracks are devoid of vocals and mostly include solo instruments on each track. A 29-page booklet describes the songs, the history of Chinese music, a musical instrument glossary, Chinese vocal music, and musician biographies. A perfect album for fans of classical Chinese music.
Anthology of World Music Africa: The Dan
The traditional music of the Yakouba and Gio tribal groups sing in the Dan language. The Dan inhabits northeastern Liberia and west-central Ivory Coast. This collection of 20 songs showcases the culture of the Dan people. Various festival music, women’s songs, sword-dances, harvest songs, hunting songs, and others, highlight the forest-dwelling culture. Instrumentation is rather rudimentary with bone flutes, rattles, drums, trumpets, and harps. The vocals breathe life and energy into the music. An extensive 21-page booklet describes the Dan people, the instruments, and the songs on this compilation.
Anthology of World Music Iran
The timeless music of Iran’s classical works is interpreted for today’s audience. The tradition remains paramount in the various modes, poems, and religious texts. This 2-CD set includes 10 long tracks that includes the poem of Saadi, and variations on historical modes: Dashti, Segah, Isphahan, Chahargah, and others. Instrumentation is disciplined and emotive and includes the kemanche, sehtar, dombak, tar, santur, and nay flute. Vocal parts are sung by Golpayegani and Zabihi. A 21-page booklet is included with notes on the history of Iranian music, English translations of songs, pictures, and notation examples.
Anthology of World Music Africa: Music From Rwanda
Rwanda’s three groups, the Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa, possess a rich musical culture. The songs of each group on this compilation were recorded in the 1950’s. Instrumentation includes bone flutes, fiddles, hand claps, drums, zithers, and sanzas. The strong vocal traditions out of Africa are equally represented. There are religious, pastoral, and tribal songs. A 17-page booklet describes the history of Rwandan music, the instruments, musical tracks, notation, and pictures. A perfect introduction to the music of Rwanda. Let Rounder be your musical tour guide!
Huong Thanh & Nguyen Le
The subtle ‘beauty’ of the fourth album from Vietnamese-born and Paris-based singer, Huong Thanh, seemingly defies description. Her voice possesses warm and inviting tonal qualities of an ethereal nature. Nguyen’s work as a producer, guitarist, arranger, and co-composer adds his own musical expertise on the tracks. Of course, Southeast Asian musical instruments are present, but the rhythms are a combination of Vietnamese folk and Western jazz. The instruments include guitar, koto, 16-string zither, dan bau, bamboo flute, trumpet, sax, balafon, udu drum, bass, piano, and others. Some of the songs are rather upbeat, but most have a laid back approach. This is a positive quality that allows the listener to be carried along like a water lily drifting effortlessly down a river. If Huong is the flower, then Nguyen is the undercurrent. Fragile Beauty is an appropriate title that instills the beautiful and fragile nature of the music. It may be fragile, because it is perfect. Huong’s endearing vocals and Nguyen’s production handiwork makes Fragile Beauty a work of art that will definitely stand the test of time. Fans of contemporary Southeast Asian folk and Western jazz will find Fragile Beauty most rewarding, but that doesn’t mean everyone else should pass it up. Try Fragile Beauty today! Song titles in English, French, and Vietnamese.
Mahsa & Marjan Vahdat
Songs From A Persian Garden
Iranian songstresses, Mahsa and Marjan Vahdat, bring us Songs From A Persian Garden. The CD was recorded as a private charity concert in Tehran, Iran on May 22, 2007 for the support of disabled Iranian and Afghan children. Mahsa and Marjan also play the daf drum and are accompanied by setar, guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards. The songs are steeped in tradition, with lyrics borrowed from well-known classical poets Hafez, Rumi, Tahereh Ghorratolein, Mohammad Jafari, Ali Akbar Sheida, and Mansour Hallaj. All of the tracks are very moving with beautiful melodies. The instrumental parts are equally enthralling. The sporadic claps of applause at the ends of the songs remind us that this is a live recording. The recording quality is excellent and the liner notes provide song information in Farsi and English. Listen to the Vahdat’s and you will be transported to a Persian garden.
Think Global: Native America
World Music Network
Native American music conjures up images of ceremonial gatherings, pow wows, rain dances, and flute music. Your thoughts would be confirmed with Oxfam’s release Think Global: Native America. This is Native American music for today’s generation. However, the songs do not waver too far from traditional roots with airy flute playing, chants, spoken words, and drum beats. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s upbeat rock song lends a contemporary feel to the album. Walela’s ‘The Whippoorwill’ adds a soothing tune of drum, rattle, and ephemeral vocals. Additional songs deal with issues surrounding harvests, contests, prayers, water, and peyote. The last song by Joanne Shenandoah, provides a touching ending to an unforgettable release. Also, World Music Network contributes to Oxfam activities with each purchase of an Oxfam album.
Calcutta Chronicles: Indian Slide Guitar Odyssey
World Music Network
Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya’s re-invention of the slide guitar has become the leading instrument in his repertoire. His slide guitar playing style is very similar to the ancient sitar of traditional Indian music. The sitar is absent from this recording, but Debashish is accompanied by ektara, tamboura, tabla, and rhythm guitar. This recording is the result of decades of musical influence growing up in Calcutta. Some of the songs are reflective of his earlier days, while others are contemplative and classical. Still, others are vibrant and contemporary, but each song remains true to his soul and his passion. The slide guitar seems to fit perfectly amongst Indian musical traditions. Debashish is a sincere purveyor of the musical art. Nine long instrumental tracks showcase his talented range of musical expressivity. Liner notes include song information. Let your feet do the sliding to the nearest music store for your copy today!
Rough Guide to Klezmer Revival
World Music Network
Klezmer music is characterized by an energetic dance rhythm traditionally performed at celebratory events. However, Klezmer Revival showcases the diverse talent and big players in this musical genre. Of course, you will hear the brass band with strings, but also hear slower songs. Female and male vocals are included. Some of the more popular performers include Frank London, Joel Rubin, The Klezmatics, and Chava Alberstein. This is the result of age-old tradition and a new generation of globally in-tune listeners. Fans of Klezmer, waltz, big band, lounge, folk, and jazz should come along and join the Klezmer revival!
Matthew J. Forss graduated from Lakeland College-Sheboygan, Wisconsin in
2005 with a B.A. in Biology. He will graduate with an M.Sc. in Exercise
Science in May 2007 from Northern Michigan University-Marquette, Michigan.
He is pursuing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Goddard
College-Plainfield, VT. Since 1998, he has collected numerous
musical instruments and CDs from around the world. In 2000, he wrote a paper
on Mongolian ethnomusicology, entitled: How Does Music Play An Important
Role In The Life And Culture Of Mongolia? Currently, he has collected over
400 CDs that represent over 180 different countries. His general interests
include ethnomusicology journalism and researching the
traditional/contemporary ethnic music of various cultures from around the
world. His specific, geographic areas of study include the traditional and
popular music from Central Eurasia (especially Mongolia, Uzbekistan and
Azerbaijan), North Africa (especially Mali, Mauritania, Western Sahara,
Libya and Morocco), Scandinavia and Pacific Islands (especially New Zealand,
Solomon Islands and New Caledonia). He also enjoys studying Uzbek, Tamasheq,
and German linguistics. In November of 2000, he accepted the position of
writing World Music CD reviews for this site.