New Reviews: June 2008

Reviews by Matthew Forss

Sarah Aroeste Band
Aroeste Music

The music of the Sephardic Jews is rather underrepresented in today’s world music market. However, Sarah Aroeste and her band are going to change that. Sarah’s vocal traditions come from Spain and the Mediterranean region. In fact, she sings in Ladino, which is a Castilian Spanish language of the Sephardic Jews. Sarah’s remarkable vocal sensibilities and tonal range probably stem from her operatic musical training at Yale University. Their second album, Puertas, incorporates traditional rhythms with elements of flamenco, Arabic, fado, rock, jazz, and Portuguese folk. Many of the tracks include piano, oud, darbouka, bass, electric guitar, drums, and strings. Puertas, which means “doors”, is appropriately titled because it is the ‘door’ that opens one to modern Sephardic music. Moreover, the album cover features Sarah with a key around her neck, as she represents the ‘key’ to the ‘door’ of this musical adventure. I invite you to come along on this musical journey and leave the door open wide for others to follow well into the future.

Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Anthology: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan 1948-1997 [4 CD]
Navras Records

The great late-Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is honored in this impressive four CD collection. These songs were recorded live in London on December 14, 1989. Nearly 4 hours of music and 14 long songs sum up the collection. Some of the songs are sung in Farsi, Hindi and Punjabi, though Nusrat also was known for singing in Urdu and Brajbhasha languages. This collection was released to commemorate the 10 year anniversary after his death. Some of the songs are, “Maulah Ali Maulah Ali”, “Allah Hoo Allah Hoo Allah Hoo” and “Araj Sun Leejo Mori”. His musical accomplishments were record-breaking, as he is still the most recorded voice in Qawwali music covering 120-some albums. Each CD contains liner notes of song translations into English. Every Nusrat fan should have this timeless collection in their musical library.

Aruna Sairam
Divine Inspiration
World Village

Aruna, a Mumbai-native and vocalist of South Indian Karnatic classical music, graces the tracks on this album. Her classical repertoire extends back to the 8th century on “Pachai Mammalai”. Though, the songs reflect the Hindu tradition of Bhakti, which is the highest path of spiritual enlightenment. This tradition dates back to the 6th century. The instrumental selection is slightly different from the more commonly-heard, at least for North American audiences, North Indian Hindustani music. The violin, mridangam drum, thavil barrel drum, ghatam earthenware pot, tanpura, and tabla are featured in true Karnatic fashion. Some smaller percussion instruments include talam (hand cymbals), Bengali khol drum, dicki tarang drum, morsing mouth harp, and a steel strip with metal jingles. At times, Aruna’s voice melds perfectly with the drone of the tanpura or sound of the violin. She sings in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, and Sanskrit. The entire album runs about 70 minutes in length. Each song is a musical adventure with transcendental properties that are certainly of a ‘divine inspiration’.

Ammasu Akapoma Group
The Music of Ammasu: Brong-Ahafu, Ghana 1976
Country & Eastern Researcher Bengt Berger and his wife went to Ghana in the 1970’s to study West African music and found the Akapoma band. The Ammasu Akapoma Group provided ceremonial and funeral music around the Dormaa-Ahenkro area in the Brong-Ahafu region of Ghana. The songs are recorded in the field and include choruses of male and female singers, metal percussion, and drum beats. Bengt includes notes on the musical styles, instruments, and history of the tunes in the liner notes. Overall, 17 tracks represent the groups musical culture. The group primarily sings about death, when in fact, their songs are quite life-affirming. Other topics include drinking, dancing, children, hunting, social relationships, and justice. Though rather limited in scope, the Ammasu Akapoma Group appeals to field recording enthusiasts and casual listeners of authentic music from a seldom heard musical culture.

James King
Gardens In The Sky: The Bluegrass Gospel According To James King
Rounder Virginia’s bluegrass ‘king’, James King, brings us 18 tracks of music in the Christian tradition. Beautiful melodies and guitar picking make James a noteworthy recording artist. He plays the guitar and sings, while the fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and bass accompany him. Some gems on this album include, “Will He Wait A Little Longer”, “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Here Anymore”, “Message For Peace”, and more. Many of these tunes are remakes of classics, but they are uniquely King’s. Some songs are somber; others happy; but all proclaim the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. For inspirational guidance, I highly recommend Gardens In The Sky.

Group Doueh
Guitar Music From The Western Sahara
Sublime Frequencies

The success of last year’s 1,000 LP release pressing of Guitar Music From The Western Sahara took the musical world by storm and left fans wanting more. In this case, the fans will be pleased to find the same music on this recently released CD. Group Doueh (pronounced “DOO-WAY”) formed in the early 1980’s in Dakhla, Western Sahara. The group performs unbridled guitar tunes backed by tidinit, t’bal drum, keyboards and vocals. This is mostly a family effort, as Doueh’s wife Halima plays the t’bal; his son plays the keyboards; and his friend Bashiri joins in on vocals. Though, their music has been compared to early Jimi Hendrix. This is pure Saharawi music for the modern era. The musical production took place at Doueh’s compound in Dakhla, which gives the recording a raw and organic feel. Overall, the music is similar to the contemporary guitar music of Mauritania, Morocco, Mali, Niger and Libya. The opening track, “Eid For Dakhla”, is an anthem for the Saharawi people. The final track, “Cheyla Ya Haiuune”, is a catchy guitar driven song with clearer vocals than other tracks. Similarly, the guitar playing shines on this song. Without the work of Sublime Frequencies and Hisham Mayet, the music of Group Doueh would never have been made possible to the rest of the world. An 8-page insert discusses the beginnings of Group Doueh with photos from the group’s personal archive and liner notes by Hisham Mayet. A truly rare recording that will likely sell out as fast as the LP version.

Radio Myanmar (Burma)
Sublime Frequencies

The music of Myanmar is a national treasure rarely heard beyond its borders. Radio Myanmar (Burma) showcases the pop music, historical music, advertising jingles, government statements, news bits, and other cultural oratory. In essence, this provides a great cross-section of what one may find on Myanmar radio stations. A remarkable selection of tracks, numbering 44 in all, was recorded by compiler Geoff Hawryluk in 2007. Many of the songs were produced between 1994 and 2002. The result is a mix of sporadic static-tinged rock/pop songs, classical music, TV commercial songs, and even an Avril Lavigne cover of “Complicated” in Burmese! Some tracks are in English, while others are in Burmese. Additionally, the music was recorded from Yangon a year before the region was recently devastated by Typhoon Nargis. Unfortunately, the songs are not recorded in their entirety, but rather sampled to adequately represent the musical culture of Myanmar. Do yourself a favor and ‘tune’ into Radio Myanmar.

Carmen Souza
Connecting Cultures

The soft vocals of Cape Verde’s Carmen Souza, brings us a refreshing tropical musical adventure. The airy, yet slightly raspy, vocals match the accompanied instrumentation. Born into a Christian family, Carmen infuses Creole and Portuguese elements in her songs. She also plays guitar and piano. Some of the songs are perfect when lounging on the beach, or relaxing at your nearest jazz club. Carmen’s lyrical maturity reflects a more intimate look at her life than her previous projects. In fact, Verdade, which means “truth”, is an excellent title that explains the incredible authenticity of her music. Speaking of truth, I would not be lying when I can say I highly recommend this release for your Cape Verde collection.

Muyngarnbi: Songs From Walking With Spirits
Djilpin Arts

The indigenous music from Australia’s Arnhem Land is now available on CD thanks to the Aboriginal Corporation Djilpin Arts. The songmen, Roy Ashley, Micky Hall, Victor Hood, and Jimmy Wesan, reveal the stories and laws of the elders in song. The vocalists are joined by fellow Aussie’s Ross Hannaford on guitar, Michael Hohnen on double bass, and Tony Floyd on drums/percussion. They provide an innovative take on aboriginal music without losing the cultural traditions of the songmen passed down for thousands of years. The instruments create a jazz/rock/funk style that is quite appealing and never annoying. The Western instrumentation works well because the entire musical project was an improvisational experience without the restriction of sheet music. Consequently, the combination of Western instruments and aboriginal vocals fit perfectly together. You will not find a didjeridoo on this recording. A DVD also accompanies the CD and covers the making of the songs in the ‘field’. Aboriginal music fans will love Muyngarnbi.

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.