Monday, February 20, 2006

Sergio Mendes - Timeless

The fusion of hip-hop and bossa nova is certainly not new.

DJ trio Bossacucanova combined dance beats and Brazil's jazz-imbued retro sound on 1999's "Revisited Classics" - to snazzy, sizzling effect.

"Timeless," bossa nova king Sergio Mendes' first album in 10 years, carries on this burgeoning tradition of urban renewal splashed with elements of Brazilian '60s pop.

It's not necessarily timeless, but it works, and well.

You can find the article here

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Interview with Amadou and Mariam

South of the Malian capital of Bamako is a large, dusty compound that is home to one of the country's only two schools for the blind. There's a picture of a man with a stick, and a series of single-storey buildings painted in much the same orange-pink colours as the earth on which they stand. There are more than 100 children here, some attending lessons, others sitting outside the dormitories, where they sleep crammed together on pieces of well-worn foam rubber.

It was here that Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met 29 years ago, at the start of one of the most extraordinary success stories in African music. Now, recognised as celebrities even in a city famed for its musicians, they have come back to the school. They are smartly dressed, but look like pop stars in their designer dark glasses ("Phillipe Stark", I'm told. "Specially made") as they tour their old classrooms. They are here to discuss a series of major international events they are planning to help the school, including a fund-raising concert in the school compound that will involve everyone from Manu Chao to the West African rap/reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly, along with their son Sam and his political rap band, and even members of the original school band with whom Amadou and Mariam started out.
"Parents bring blind children here and then never come back to see them. It's like throwing children away," Idrissa Soumaoro, former teacher and bandmate tells me.

Yet for Amadou and Mariam it was very different. They not only flourished at the school, where they were married three years after meeting, but used the skills they learned to launch their career. Their 2004 album Dimanche a Bamako has sold nearly 500,000 copies, reaching number two in France's pop charts. The duo are about to embark on a major UK tour, and success in the World Music Awards looks guaranteed with nominations for album of the year and African act of the year.

Amadou is delighted. "I love English music and started out listening to Alvin Lee, Eric Clapton, David Gilmour and Bad Company, trying to find a link between them and our Bambara culture. Getting an award means that the English have understood what our music is about."

You can find the full interview here
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Tony Allen - Home Cooking

Nigerian master-drummer Tony Allen was the powerhouse behind the late Fela Kuti's bands Africa 70 and Egypt 80. By general consensus, he invented the devilishly complicated, deceptively simple-sounding rhythm that came to be known as Afrobeat. It's said that Fela needed four drummers to replace Allen when the two musicians eventually parted ways and from this record it's not hard to see why.

Blur's Damon Albarn seems to find his way onto a number of African records nowadays. Whilst association by fame can do nothing but good for African record sales, the actual artistic point of his inclusion as singer on this session's opener, 'Every Season', is questionable. Although Albarn makes a perfectly good fist of his guest spot, the tune is a success despite the celebrity presence, not because of it.

This is the key to the whole album. Although Allen brings in fresh elements to his time-honoured sound in order to attract a broader audience (another example is the convincing rapper Ty), it's still the deep afrobeat grooves that leap out here. When the rich horn section locks into Allen's supernaturally powerful percussion the whole comes into its own.

You can find the review here

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Womadelaide 2006

Back in 1992, when Adelaide became part of the world music circuit with the first Womadelaide festival, the complex rhythms, the melodic riches and the variety of music on offer were something of a mystery to the general population.

In the 14 years since, Womadelaide has grown into an annual institution and with it has come a larger, more knowledgeable audience for the world music that it promotes. Even outside of the festival, acts from Africa, Europe and South America now tour Australia more often than they did 15 or 20 years ago.

Our world music credentials were given a boost last week when it was announced that the Australian National University in Canberra is to be home to the International Council for Traditional Music for the next three years. This 59-year-old body for the promotion, playing and study of music from across the world was established in London in 1947 and was based in Europe for 33 years, and then in the US until this year.

These developments, says Womadelaide program director Rob Brookman, reflect Australia's increasing willingness to embrace forms of music that stretch beyond the mainstream of rock and pop. Record advance ticket sales for this year's event would seem to strengthen his point.

"That's liberating for me as a programmer," says Brookman, who yesterday headed to New York in his other role as general manager of Sydney Theatre Company, whose production of Hedda Gabler is about to open there.

"I suppose it makes a difference being able to say now that we can bring in Orchestra Baobab in 2006 and know that they will be greeted with the understanding in our audience that these guys are of enormous stature in their native Senegal and that they should be regarded as something special to see.

"On the other hand, back in 1992 they may have said, 'We really want to come because Crowded House are playing."'

Orchestra Baobab, one of Senegal's most enduring and hardworking bands, are a good example of the talent that will be on display in Adelaide next month and also of the cross-pollination of styles that makes world music a movable feast.

The group formed in Dakar in 1970 and their music was informed by a number of styles including - through political alignments between the two nations in the 1950s and '60s - Cuban dance music.

Their traditional rhythms and songs were to some extent overtaken in the '80s by the mbalax dance rhythms popularised by Senegal's most famous musical export, Youssou N'Dour, but the group has enjoyed a resurgence of late and their insistent groove will be one of the Womadelaide highlights, Brookman says.

Also from Africa comes Guinea's Ba Cissoko, who combine the traditional and the modern by using an electric and an acoustic kora, a 21-stringed African harp, and set that unusual mix to often frenetic dance rhythms.

Other drawcards include English-Indian dance innovator Talvin Singh, South Africa's veteran diva Miriam Makeba and Jamaican legend Jimmy Cliff.

Brookman says the willingness of musicians to experiment and incorporate other forms, other cultures, into their music is one of the most rewarding aspects of the festival.

"There was a time not that long ago when hip-hop was the domain of a few cool dudes on the west coast of America," he says. "Now you can hear it in the music of Europe and, of course, in African music."

You can find the article here

Tony Allen - Lagos No Shaking

Honest Jon's Records is fast becoming a haven for treasures left-field, lost and overlooked, and has given Allen his head and let him do Lagos No Shaking. Recorded over 10 nights in the Nigerian capital, the record effortlessly proves that this older generation can still show the Afrobeat way. As might be expected, the album is rhythmically faultless, the percussion being allowed to breathe in its own space, while the horns are reassuringly rude, and the guitar figures conjure a trance for a dance, if you will.

Lagos No Shaking plays host to a handful of guest vocalists, including highlife maestro Fatai Rolling Dollar and diva Yinka Davies, and while that might present the idea of a Buena Vista-esque rolling revue, it's actually the record's only real failing, with some performances - largely those in English - like Morose and Losun, found wanting in execution. Where Fela made a virtue of communicating in English pidgin-style, these just strike a wrong chord.

But that minor grump aside, Tony Allen's return is all anyone could wish for. It's hot and heavy, exhausting in the best possible way, and as funky as hell. It's literally in a league of its own as the dance record of the year so far. A legend still going where others could only hope to tread.

You can find the review here

Friday, February 10, 2006

Bebo Valdes wins Grammy for Bebo de Cuba

Pianist Bebo Valdes Wins GRAMMY Award in "Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album" Category for Bebo De Cuba, A 2-CD/DVD Celebrating Cuban Big Band And Jazz Traditions

Marks Valdes' fifth GRAMMY in 3 years, following two for El Arte Del Sabor (2002) and one for Lagrimas Negras (2005), featuring Flamenco vocalist Diego El Cigala.

Legendary arranger / composer / bandleader Bebo Valdes has won the GRAMMY Award in the "Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album" category for his Calle 54 Records release, Bebo De Cuba, during the 48th Annual GRAMMY Awards held on Wednesday, February 8, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Bebo De Cuba was co-produced by Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba, whose stylish 2000 Miramax documentary and live music film Calle 54 brought a wide range of jazz-influenced Latin music styles to the big screen for the first time, and Nat Chediak, Cuban music historian and founder of the Miami Film Festival. The production features Bebo Valdes fronting a full big band on one CD, Suite Cubana and a smaller ensemble on the other, El Solar de Bebo. Both sessions feature a veritable who's who of the Latin jazz world. The companion 23-minute DVD, New York Notebook, complements the music through interviews with Valdes, and video vignettes of the still spry pianist reminiscing while he walks the streets of Manhattan, interacting with the musicians, conducting the groups, and playing piano.

Bebo De Cuba is indeed a celebration - not only of the enduring popularity of a music tradition that has held a global audience in a trance for over half a century but of the endurance and the undiminished creative spirit of one of the idiom's more important practitioners. With the passing in recent years of such contemporaries as "Chico" O'Farrill and Mario Bauza, Valdes stands as one of the last of a generation of multi-talented Cuban musicians who played central roles in defining the state of Cuban music today. Bebo De Cuba, a truly singular release in every regard, is the consummate tribute to a master musician whose influence on the music of our time will remain a topic of discussion for decades to come, Bebo Valdes.

Bebo De Cuba also received a 2005 Latin GRAMMY for Best Latin Jazz Album.

You can find the full review here

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Echu Mingua by Anga Diaz

Latin music begins with the drum. It sings, dances, composes, improvises and tells the story of the song. Many of our favorite tunes are melodies transposed from the murmurs of a talking drum. But only a few drummers are allowed to "lead" the band - names such as Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaría. This month, in its now annual parade of releases, the World Circuit/ Nonesuch team who brought you the Buena Vista Social Club presents the Europe-based Cuban percussionist Angá Díaz.

Díaz's new album is called "Echu Mingua," after the Yoruban god Elegguá, often thought of as the guardian of the crossroads, sometimes the trickster. He's the one who haunted Robert Johnson's dreams, made Thelonius Monk get up from his piano and spin slowly in place. Díaz calls "Echu Mingua" a "religious service" of sorts, and it serves the purpose of guarding the crossroads between Cuban son, rumba, jazz, hip-hop and maybe even what Izzy Sanabria once called "salsa."

A gifted conga player, Díaz has an impressive track record: He began with the legendary Afro-Cuban jazz band Irakere; put in time with jazz experimentalists Steve Coleman and Roy Hargrove; anchored Juan de Marcos' Afro-Cuban All Stars; and made a singular impression on bassist Orlando "Cachaíto" López's 2001 solo effort, one of the best Buena Vista spin-off albums. Díaz's presence contributed greatly to that album's forward-looking avant-garde edge.

"Echu Mingua" has a similar, live- in-the-studio feel to "Cachaíto." The resulting music is decidedly "Freeform" (the name of a hip-hop-inflected jam session), with several stops and starts in rhythm, style and influence. Tracks such as the flamenco-tango inspired "Ode Mar- tima" seem better suited for experimental dance than salsa, and "Conga Carnaval" sounds like Los Van Van partying on a Brazilian tour.

You can find the full review here

Bajofondo Tango Club

Bajofondo Tango Club, a tango-meets-electronic-music project directed by Gustavo Santaolalla, came aboard Friday in the Allen Room as a satellite event in Lincoln Center's festival for the Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov.

Mr. Santaolalla is a leader in the international movement to widen pop music: an Argentine rock musician who in the 1990's became one of the world's great record producers - Café Tacuba's brilliant "Reves/Yosoy" is sufficient proof - and more recently one of the film industry's favorite soundtrack composers. (His score for "Brokeback Mountain" is an Academy Award nominee this year.)

You can find the full review here

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Interview with Emmanuel Jal

No singer in the world fits the label "soul rebel" better than the Sudanese rapper Emmanuel Jal, who launches a UK tour in Manchester this month. This former boy-soldier now sings in the service of the Christian church. His album Ceasefire, nominated for a BBC Radio 3 world music award, is, he says, "my way of passing on the message that has been in my heart for a long time: simply, peace and love. Our land is big, and there's plenty for people to share. We don't have to kill each other."

His voice is light, sincere and boyish as he talks about his short but eventful life. His earliest memories are of war songs: "Men chanting, women ululating, songs to celebrate victory, and to console them for the loved ones they lost." The drum-backed music of the villages was a peaceful kind of rap, he says, but in his town the music was for war.

You can find the full interview here

Bob Brozman, Blues Reflex

What happens when someone creative enough combines Delta blues with music from the Pacific Islands? The result is Bob Brozman's Blues Reflex. Even though the adjective "eclectic" linked to music has been used so much that it's been killed, left to rot, then buried, dug up, cremated and reformed with water and glue 10 times over, the style of Blues Reflex is just that: eclectic.

You can find the full review here

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Debashish Bhattacharya, Calcutta Slide Guitar

Now here's a great musical idea. Take the gorgeous musical tradition that is Indian raga - with all its richness, complexity and subtlety - and, instead of playing the raga on a sitar, play it on specially modified instruments based on the Hawaiian slide guitar.

You can find the full review here