Thursday, August 09, 2007

Cesária Évora - Interview

Jonathan Alley interviews Cesária Évora.
Cesaria Evora's name is synonymous with the ocean. A native of the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde (off Senegal), she is the world's leading exponent of "morna", a melancholic but celebratory folk music arising from a mix of tango rhythms, British sea shanties and Angolan laments.

Evora is an unlikely star, but a bona fide international drawcard all the same. Known as the barefoot diva because of her insistence on appearing sans footwear, Evora has stridently remained herself through the peaks and valleys of her journey to success.

She began musical life singing in her local Catholic church aged 10. She had no professional aspirations until she chanced upon an attractive young guitarist and ensured she joined his band, aged 16 - proving once and for all that a mix of music and hormones transcends national boundaries.

"It was the same kind of music I still sing: it's the music of Cape Verde - morna and coladeira," she says, referring to the lighter, more playful form with distinctly more flirtatious rhythms.

Featuring a noteworthy collaboration with Senegalese singing sensation Ismael Lo on Africa Nossa, Evora's new album (her 10th) is titled Rogamar, which loosely translates as "praise the sea". Maritime imagery is central to her music.

"Cape Verde is an island. The music of Cape Verde has many influences. I sang for many foreign people in my country. During those years from 1950-60 there were many foreign ships in our ports, and people liked my music," she says.

"They compared it to blues and fado. In Cape Verde we have a mix of cultures. The sea is around Cape Verde. You see the sea wherever you go. The sea sees us! The sea is the way people come and go from the country."
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Gogol Bordello on the Henry Rollins Show

Gogol Bordello performs on The Henry Rollins Show on IFC this Friday, Aug. 10 at 11:00 PM EST. The show will repeat on Aug. 11 at 4:55 AM EST and Aug. 14 at 12:30 AM EST.

See the interview with Eugene Hütz and a web-only performance of “Ultimate.”

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Papa Wemba

A biographical article on Papa Wemba.
Papa Wemba, often called the King of Rhumba Rock, was born in Kasai, Zaire. Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba first made his mark in 1970 in Kinshasa, where he was a singer, composer, and co-founder of the great youth group Zaiko Langa Langa. In 1974 he left to form his own band, Isife Lokole, and then in '76 began Viva La Musica.

Hoping to reach a wider audience he ended up in Paris in the early '80s, bringing with him the entire line-up of Viva La Musica. Wemba's musical vision went beyond the capabilities of his seasoned Zairen rhumba rockers as he began to experiment with a wide range of eclectic sounds.

Wemba's quite a stylish fellow, a sapeur, an aficionado of fashionable, well-designed clothing. His trendy suits with big jacket, and baggy, though tailored pants, are a strange mix of Africa, Paris, and the American zoot suit. A Soukous show is always a fashion event, and Wemba is a man of great style and taste.

While the celebrated musical form known as "Congolese rumba" first took the Black Continent by storm in the fifties, this music uncannily retains its youthful visage today, as if face-lifted by some timelessly hip plastic surgeons of African popular dance music. Among the "surgeons" (ought we say sorcerers ?) who have helped the rumba protect its see- mingly eternal youth, Papa Wemba is surely one of the most inspired and influential. This man is everything we love in the Congolese man, with that typical wry combination of wit, humor, and sheer talent! What a proud son of Kinshasa, a temple of intelligence - and home to the most colorful and vivid French in the entire French-speaking world! The Origins of a Vocation to Sing Papa Wemba (né Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba) was born in the southern Congo region of the Kasaï River, as the eldest child in his family, which settled in Leopoldville, the capital of the Belgian Congo, shortly after his birth. Wemba's father had fought in the Belgian army during the Second World War, and later become a hunter. Wemba's mother was a professional mourner in traditional Congolese funerals, where Wemba had his initiation in public singing. Though the passion for music born of those encounters never abated in Wemba, his father wanted to bar him from a musi-
cal career, having planned for his son a different career as a lawyer or journalist. When Wemba's father died in 1966 the only real obstacle between Wemba and his musical ambitions disappeared. Wemba began to sing in his parish church, where he experimented with the singular shrill voice which still characterizes his style.
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An interview with Putumayo's founder Dan Storper.
Chances are if you listen to a recording produced by Putumayo World Music, you'll want to get up and dance. "Our slogan is guaranteed to make you feel good," says Dan Storper, president and founder of the company. "It's not just about that (feeling good), but it's an important part of what I think the music from other parts of the world is able to do. It helps people rise above their daily problems."

Storper, who selects the artists and songs, and determines their sequence on each CD produced by the label, didn't set out to be a music executive. In 1975, armed with a degree in Latin American Studies, he opened a small store in New York that specialized in handicrafts and clothing imported from countries like Ecuador, Peru, Boliva and Colombia. (The name of the company comes from a river and valley in southern Colombia.)

Over the years, the business expanded. By 1991 he had seven stores selling crafts and clothing from around the world, and was designing a line of ethnic inspired garments. But he was tiring of the retail business and looking for something new. He found it in San Francisco. "One day I was walking in Golden Gate Park and heard an African group performing that really knocked my socks off." Storper recalls he was so impressed by their music that he made a vow to buy their CD and start playing it in his stores.
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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ozomatli - Don't Mess With The Dragon

Ian Mann reviews Ozomatli's "Don't Mess With The Dragon".
Formed in 1995 Ozomatli are a ten strong aggregate of musicians from Los Angeles who fuse music from several traditions into one energetic whole. Their sound has the primal urgency of the best rock music but has a substantial Latin influence as well as drawing on funk, hip-hop and world music elements.

The band’s edgy energy and multi racial line up presents a vivid snapshot of cosmopolitan Los Angeles. Their music is an explosive cocktail and their performances have won them a substantial following in the US and further afield, although they remain relatively little known in the UK. However, on the evidence of this album a recent British tour should have done much to raise their profile. This is a hard gigging band who tour extensively.

With twelve tracks crammed into forty minutes there is no flab on this record. From the rousing opener "Can’t Stop" to the closing "La Segunda Mano" the pace rarely flags. The music is highly rhythmic and with two percussionists and a kit drummer it has tremendous drive. Besides conventional rock instrumentation the band also make extensive use of horns, turntables and rap vocals. It’s all in there. This is a band with attitude as encapsulated in the rapping on "City Of Angels".
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Monday, August 06, 2007

Gogol Bordello - Super Taranta

Fich Griwkowsky reviews Gogol Bordello's Super Taranta.
In this city, it's odd that not everyone knows Gogol Bordello. A punk Slav booze orchestra with acrobatic dancing girls - are you kidding me? Inside the band's chaotic coating lives a mad Ukrainian singer named Eugene Hutz - roving philosopher and one of the few modern "gypsies" to actually live up to the name. Based in New York, they put on the best live show there is. Seriously; early last year's show at the old Sidetrack was a flurry of legs, horns, accordions and near-nakedness that I'll never forget.

Bringing us to the new album, held up against the stellar Underdog World Strike of 2005.

Like its muscular predecessor, Super Taranta mixes the hooting, whistling and bootstomping of traditional Russian folk music with punchy guitars and an outright raunchy worldview. The echoey dub continues with more subtlety; it's more part of the band's general sound now, fitting the universal spirit of the seminal gypsy movie Latcho Drom. And if the whole album was as strong as the first three numbers, it'd get full marks.

Begins Hutz in his best bohunk, "If we are here not to do what you and I wanna do and go forever crazy with it, why the hell we are even here? There was never any good old days. They are today, they are tomorrow. It's a stupid thing we say, cursing tomorrow with sorrow."

And, yes, he really talks that way. The following song, "Wanderlust King", keeps up the spirit of the eternal and roving party the band's life must be.

There's a song about an uncle being an auntie, various condemnations of sedentary life and even a hilarious attack on American weddings, one-day things where the DJ is packing up his cords at 1 a.m. (A proper party is three days, as many of you know).

As always, the album can't begin to match the live show, but this is a collection of new material worth hearing. To make it really easy on you, buy the bright yellow album first.
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Gogol Bordello on the David Letterman Show 07/31/07.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Putumayo - World Hits

Kaylor Maddox reviews Putumayo's World Hits compilation.
World music rarely ventures into the realm of international recognition, but occasionally breaks from the narrow path and reaches the eager ears of the world's population. Putumayo's “World Hits” parades those successful songs in a fun, colorful compilation.

One would be surprised by how many of these international hits are recognizable, whether you're a child of the '60s, '70s, '80s, or even the '90s. The compilation starts off with an amusing reggae cover of the Temptations hit "(You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back," sporting a mellow Mick Jagger in duet with Jamaican musician Peter Tosh. The Afropop group Toure Kunda follows with the melodious hit "E'mma" and suddenly you're sent into a completely foreign world. The rolling vocals and lulling rhythm add to an overall mirthful listen.
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A Gogol Bordello's concert review.
Everyone in the crowd at the Fillmore at Irving Plaza is hot but happy, arms draped around friends – and strangers. As the beat blares, they jump in unison. It's a scene one expects to see at a Pearl Jam show rather than a concert where two of the foremost instruments are an accordion and a violin. But Gogol Bordello, a gypsy-punk outfit that has improbably become something of an It Band, takes pride in stirring up some of the craziest live shows on earth.

On stage, accordion, violin, drums, bass, and electric guitar create a high-speed punk symphony, while two masked go-go girls run around playing on washboards, drums, and fire buckets. Above the fray, Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hütz – hard to miss in tight purple pants and pointy blue shoes – strums his guitar, dances, and sings lines such as, "There were never any good old days/ They are today, they are tomorrow."
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Angelique Kidjo - Interview

Angelique Kidjo sings in six different languages on her latest album — two fewer than she speaks.

She realizes that few, if any, of her fans are as linguistically versatile, but she views differences in language as an opportunity, not a hindrance.

Kidjo, a native of Benin, a small country next to Nigeria on the western coast of Africa, said she has learned through her extensive travels that it is the music — and the emotion behind it — that brings people together, not necessarily the lyrics.

"Music is a universal language," Kidjo said during a telephone interview from her New York City apartment. "That's one of the first things I learned from traditional singers and musicians from my country — the power of music to bring people together.

"Music breaks boundaries."

Kidjo knows better than most, as she has traveled the world both as a musician and as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. When words fail, she knows she can always turn to her music.

Kidjo, a four-time Grammy nominee, will bring her exotic brand of polyrhythmic Afro-pop to the Giant Center tonight when she opens for singer Josh Groban.

Groban happens to be one of the many stellar musicians who guest-star on Kidjo's latest album, "Djin Djin" (pronounced Gin Gin).

He helps out on a cover of Sade's "Pearls," and Kidjo said they will perform the song together tonight during Groban's set.

Also featured on the album are Alicia Keys, Carlos Santana, Branford Marsalis, Ziggy Marley, Joss Stone and Peter Gabriel.

"The only one I had for sure from the beginning was Alicia Keys," Kidjo said. "Because we have worked together in the past, she expressed an interest in what I was writing and she said, 'Let's do something together.'
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Sound of the World 2007

Two reviews of Charlie Gillett's compilation.
As an introduction to the stars and new voices of world music, Charlie Gillett's Sound of the World compilations are hard to beat - a clear endorsement of an informed editorial line. Among the established artists are electro tango band Gotan Project, South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Touareg rockers Tinariwen and the fabulous Pakistani singer Abida Parveen, sadly doing Bollywood rather than her Sufi music. But there are notable new names, including Vieux Farka Touré, following in the footsteps of his late father, Ali Farka Touré, Cape Verdean singer Mayra Andrade, Andy Palacio from Belize and Mali's marvellous desert lute player Bassekou Kouyaté. The many raplike tracks get a little tiring, but that's indicative of the scene and not solely Gillett's fault.
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It may seem confusing that Charlie Gillett's latest annual compilation has exactly the same title as his 2005 set, but no matter. This is another highly entertaining guide to the best new music from around the world. As ever, some of the tracks are by established favourites, this time including desert blues exponents Tinariwen, the Gotan Project, Los de Abajo (with their wild Mexican treatment of The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum) and Andy Palacio, with a song from his intriguing Garifuna project. Then there's a reminder of the instrumental brilliance of Bassekou Kouyate, the African newcomer of the year.
Lesser-known artists include the cool and charming Mayra Andrade from Cape Verde, who can be heard both on a track from her forthcoming album and on a collaboration with local rap exponents LA-MC Malcriado (one of several reminders of the way that hip-hop is taking over the world). Then there are the oddities: the best this year is the Berlin-based collective 17 Hippies, with a gloriously unlikely, breathy burst of French chanson.
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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tinariwen - Aman Imam: Water is Life

Chris Pacifico reviews Tinariwen's Aman Imam: Water is Life.
Tinariwen's mixture of French and Tamashek in their lyrics makes their eloquence all the more enigmatically exotic. The opener "Cler Achel" sees the chanting like a vintage Bollywood film soundtrack atop supple polyrhythms. "Ahimana" is a sooty campfire hymn-a-long with clip-clopping, psychedelic rhythms and slinky mantras reminiscent of King Sunny Ade that slowly dashes upward and upward, yet is in no way a crescendo. Speaking of old world music in the vinyl vault, the brittle island dub and earthy resonance of "Toumast" and "Imidiwan Winakalin" got me digging through my crates to find my Cymande records.

Aman Iman is probably the most unfettered studio release yet by Tinariwen. Producer Justin Adams, who plays guitarist in Robert Plant's Strange Sensation, goes light on the technological touches to create a full-bodied, simmering listen.
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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Toumast - Ishumar

Robin Denselow reviews Toumast's Ishumar.
Tinariwen may have brought the rhythmic, loping desert blues of northern Mali to an international audience, but they have competition. Moussa Ag Keyna, a former member of Tinariwen, is a guitarist, singer and songwriter who was also a member of the Touareg political movement involved in the revolt against the Malian government in the early 1990s - and was injured in the fighting. In his current band, Toumast, he is joined by a female singer and percussionist Aminatou Goumar, and French and African musicians led by his producer Dan Levy, who adds anything from bass to keyboards and saxophone. The songs sound like a lighter, more western version of Tinariwen, with some fine bursts of blues guitar work and light, insistent percussion, matched by far more gloomy lyrics. Many of the songs look back to the fighting with disillusion and sadness - though there's also a fine, personal and bluesy tribute to My Camel.

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Femi Kuti -The Best of Femi Kuti

Joe Tangari reviews Femi Kuti's The Best of Femi Kuti.
Being born of greatness has its perks, I'm sure, but it seems it's mostly a burden. How does Jakob Dylan even get up in the morning knowing he's doomed to be judged against his father every time he writes a song or cuts a record? There are hundreds of children of musical giants roaming around the industry these days, working with varying degrees of success to carve out their own names separate from their parents-- Zak Starkey, the Lennon half-brothers, Moreno Veloso, Eric Mingus, and the various offspring of Charlie Haden, to name just a few. Femi Kuti is in this same position, perhaps dealing with an even more insurmountable legacy. As far as African music goes, his father Fela wasn't just Bob Dylan; to continue an imperfect analogy, he was also Bob Marley and John Coltrane, and that doesn't even take into account his political impact.

Femi of course is acutely aware of his father's towering legacy, and seems content to extend it, realizing that trying to equal it is impossible, regardless of genes. Femi had something of a head start, playing sax in his father's Egypt 80 bands for close to two decades, assuming leadership of it during his father's various politically motivated imprisonments. Though he had performed his own right for years, he only released his first solo album, Shoki Shoki, in 1998, a year after Fela's death from AIDS, in effect picking up the torch his father finally had to let fall. In the time since then he's recorded another album, contributed to records by Common (Like Water for Chocolate) and Rachid Taha (Made in Medina), opened up the Afrika Shrine, a successor to his father's iconic Lagos nightclub, and founded an organization aimed at galvanizing and educating working-class Africans, all of this between multiple world tours.

So to say he's a busy, conscientious guy is something of an understatement. He may be the son of a legend, but Femi Kuti has paid his dues to arrive where he is, and now Wrasse Records has released this compilation of material drawn from his two studio albums as an introduction. Given that it's a 70-minute disc drawing from only two albums, you can imagine that it includes the bulk of both records and it does. Being familiar with both records, I really can't think of any of the usual wounded-critic objections to the track selection-- a better introduction to Femi's modern take on Afrobeat isn't in the offing.
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Andy Palacio

Andy Palacio is a singer-songwriter from Belize who, with his Garifuna Collective, is crusading to save the threatened music and culture of a tribal people along the Atlantic coast of Central America. The Garifuna are a melting-pot population ethnically descended from native and African ancestors whom British colonizers referred to as "Black Carib."

Today, there are close to a half million Garifunas in the Caribbean, United States and Central America, but with each generation a bit of their heritage wears away. Now a Creole English is spoken by Garifunas in Belize, and American pop culture influences young Garifunas who migrate in large numbers to the United States and other countries for a better economic life.
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Balkan Beat Box - Nu-Med

Joe Tangari reviews Balkan Beat Box's Nu-Med.
That colorful jumble of instruments new and ancient, parachuting camels, Martian dirt, and bright banners on the cover of Nu-Med, the second album from Balkan Beat Box, is, to be perfectly honest, a really cheesy Photoshop job. But it is also apropos for an album that sounds like this: the band stirs klezmer, gypsy horns, surf, dub, Arab taqsim, hip-hop, funk, jazz, electro, circus music, and a few dozen other things together to make a raucous ethno/electro-acoustic gumbo that highlights the increasing inadequacy of the generic "world music" tag.

Founded by drummer/programmer Tamir Muskat and woodwind player and former Gogol Bordello member Ori Kaplan, both originally from Israel, the band gleefully adds its name to the ever-lengthening list of groups drawing inspiration from Eastern European sounds while rigorously avoiding sounding traditional. The lyrics, on the songs that have them, are in several languages, reflecting the music's transcendence of borders. The instrumentals simply revel in the collision of genres, and are played with a jazzy looseness in spite of their programmed undercarriages. "Quand Est-ce Qu'on Arrive?" even includes a sly quotation from Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" that brings the album's primary theme to the fore without saying a word.
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Chris May reviews Authenticité: The Syliphone Years and Rail Band's Soundiata.
The 1960s and 1970s are often referred to as the “golden years” of African music. As more and more African countries freed themselves from colonialism, a wave of artists emerged who celebrated their own cultural legacies rather than those validated by their erstwhile European rulers. This post-colonial generation played roots-based styles employing traditional instruments and African-language lyrics, but also embraced advances in Western technology—electric guitars and fit-for-purpose recording studios in particular.

The music was the best of both worlds and, creatively speaking, the 1960s and 1970s were indeed golden years. With hindsight, they were also special for another reason—they came before the birth of world music in the mid-1980s. Prior to the arrival of a global audience, African artists made music intended purely for African ears. But as sales figures rose in Europe and America, many artists began to tailor their music accordingly. The results were not necessarily “worse” or “better,” or even “less African,” than what came before, but they were different.

Two recent double-CD releases preserve some of the most pioneering and long unavailable West African electric music of the post-colonial, pre-world music era. Authenticité: The Syliphone Years is a various artists compilation of tracks recorded in Guinea 1965-80. Soundiata is a collection of 1969-82 tracks by Mali's Rail Band, half of them featuring the band's celebrated early vocalists, Salif Keita and Mory Kante.
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Rail Band - Belle Epoque Vol 1

Robin Denselow reviews Rail Band's Belle Epoque Vol 1.
There was a time, in the 1970s and early 80s, when the National Railways of Mali could claim to employ the best house band anywhere in Africa, at the station hotel in Bamako. After all, Salif Keita began his career with the Rail Band, and after he had left, the new line-up included another great singer, Mory Kanté, along with that inspired guitarist Djelimady Tounkara. This double CD, the first in a set of three, is a reminder of those glory days that fails to quite do justice to this legendary band. There are some historic songs here, including the sturdy, rousing Soundjata, recorded in 1972 and featuring Salif Keita's soaring vocals on a praise song to the founder of the Mandingo empire. And there's an epic, if uneven, 28-minute treatment of the same theme, featuring both Kanté and Tounkara. It's a shame that the tracks have been assembled in an apparently random order from different periods of the band's career, rather than allowing each release to tackle a specific era.

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Malouma - Nour

Paul Murphy reviews Malouma's Nour.
Imagine a conscious collision between Tinariwen and Natacha Atlas and you’ll begin to picture Nour, the superb new album from the remarkable Mauritanian singer and social activist Malouma.

She began to break taboos with songs about divorce in the 1980s and was banned in the 1990s for singing songs to unite the black and Moorish communities in Mauritania. Malouma’s activism led to her being elected as an MP to Mauritania’s upper house in January this year.

While rooted in traditional Moorish music, Nour draws widely from Arabic, African and Western forms – old and new. With this terrific album, Malouma has plugged the Sahara into the whole world and struck another blow for women’s rights in the process.
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K' Naan - The Dusty Foot on the Road

Rapper K'Naan is one of the rapidly rising stars of world music. Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, he now lives in Canada, but his experiences as a refugee and growing up in a war zone inform his lyrics with a vivid vivacity. He's a charismatic performer on stage - as witnessed last weekend in Glastonbury - and his words have a haunting poetry: "Muslims, Jews and Christians war, no one's left to praise the Lord". K'Naan's admirers include many who are not usually interested in rap music.

This strong album includes live performances captured in both Djibouti and New York, although he should find himself a better djembe drum player to improve things musically.
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