Saturday, September 29, 2012

Bringing Everything to the Table: Israeli Pop Icon Rita Turns Persian Family Heirlooms into Jubilant Calls for Peace and Celebration on My Joys

Israeli star comes to the U.S., Mexico, and Canada with new album and with a stunning live program, November 2012
Some artists take great risks, challenging political and cultural assertions, while still managing to bring audiences joyfully to their feet.
Rita, Israel's foremost pop voice, has done just that on her latest album, My Joys (2012). The dynamic and sultry singer has made a quiet statement against saber-rattling bluster and political oppression, bringing the distinctive pleasures of her Persian family's songs and celebrations to life with striking, fresh arrangements. Her stirring, upbeat renditions of classic Persian songs in Hebrew and Farsi, though banned in Iran, are quietly being sold in underground music shops. Gratitude has poured in from Iranian fans, despite the risks involved.
Digging into her memory and experience, choosing songs she has hummed and treasured since childhood, Rita shows how Persian songs, reframed to reflect a lifetime of pop inventiveness and rock energy, can softly but firmly shift the conversation, in Iran and in Israel. And now Rita continues her gentle, joyful push for understanding, bringing her nine-piece, wildly diverse band to the U.S. and Canada in November, 2012, including concerts in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Miami, New York, Toronto, Mexico City, and DC . Rita will bring her star qualities—the charisma and intensity of a born performer, her Hebrew and English hits as well as her latest Persian works—to bear, backed by an ensemble playing everything from electric guitar and accordion to kamanche (Persian spike fiddle) and folk flutes.
"I grew up in a real mix of cultures and flavors, and I try to bring those songs and memories to the place I am now, as a strong woman who has passed through so many things," Rita reflects. "I have the knowledge and strength to stay very true to myself, and from there, to fly with that. This is an amazing place to be as an artist. I am bringing everything to the table with this project, everything I've learned about music and emotion and happiness."
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After struggling with a challenging personal crisis, Rita found herself in the studio, working on her next Hebrew-language album, a work that promised to be yet another hit for the seasoned star. Yet mid-stream, the classically trained vocalist, actress, and pop-chart fixture gave in.
She would shelve what she was working on. Instead, she was going to record her dream album. In Farsi.
Rita had come with her family to Israel from Tehran when she was only a girl, but she recalled both the vibrant childhood world of her life there, and the songs that came with her family to their new home. Rita's musically gifted mother would play the frame drum and sing after Friday supper, and the whole family sang regularly for fun or at family events. The experiences came back to Rita as she felt her way forward, an experience listeners can grasp firsthand on tracks like the festive, earthy "Mobarak Baad," which features Rita's relatives.
"I was following my soul, but I didn't know where it was leading me, where the fire and wind were going," recalls Rita. "I found myself going through the records that my mother brought from Iran, taking out the albums she was always listening to when we were first immigrants here in Israel. The songs were so familiar to me. We sang them at home, at celebrations, at weddings. I was so connected with them that I started to collect those songs and rehearse them."
Songs like the rollicking wedding song, "Shah Doomad," a classic few have dared to cover in Iran since it was composed because of the song's jazzy roots and risqué (by official Iranian standards) lyrics. Or the touching "Dar in Donya," a song Rita always sang together with her favorite uncle, who stayed behind in Iran when her family emigrated.
Though she adored them, Rita had always hesitated to record these beloved songs, not sure how her trademark vocal style would blend with the more traditional Persian approach. But as she dove into the repertoire, she felt the right approach springing out of her. "I had to go back to a very innocent place to sing those songs," Rita recalls. "It wasn't that I tried; it just burst out like a child in me was singing."
She also discovered the right sound to back her voice, effortlessly and joyfully. Rita had collaborated with Eastern music-inspired rockers The Mind Church (Knesiyat Hasekhel), who asked her to sing a song in Moroccan Arabic. Rita, in response, had showed them a Persian song. Their work together turned out so beautifully and flowed so naturally that she knew where to turn as she began to approach her heritage. (The Mind Church's Ami Rice & Ran Almaliah produced My Joys.)
In addition to the rock stylings of the popular Israeli band, Rita drew together a diverse group of musicians, such as a kamanche (traditional Persian spike fiddle) performer born in Dagestan, Mark Eliyahu, and members of the hip Central Asian musical powerhouse, The Alaev Family. "The musicians are not Persian, but they are from all over the world. It's like a little mini-Israel, all in a rehearsal room. I let them learn the songs and then I started to take the songs apart," Rita explains.
The band adds just the right touch of distortion and drive to Rita's passionate interpretation of "Beegharar," or perfect moments of crystal-clear piano for torch-song touches on tracks like "Shane." Bursts of nearly Balkan brass ("Shah Doomad"), dancing reeds, and sparkling struck and plucked strings propel Rita's buoyant, engaging voice, bringing both rootsy, organic sounds and pop panache to the table in equal, clever measure. It's a sound that proves equally powerful live.
"I wanted our versions to be completely different and not traditional in their sound, to hit hard and keep the energy up," notes Rita. "We started to have so much fun in the studio. We were smiling and dancing, feeling like we're really going through a remarkable journey together." These good times translate into riveting live shows, and, slowly and softly, have begun to address the great divide between two countries, getting Iranian music fans to search out and thank the Israeli singer.
"Don't send bombs," Rita smiles, when thinking about the impact of her music in her former homeland. "Send me!"

Into the Labyrinth: Complex Compositions, Traditional Sonorities Unite Musicians from America and Greece

Revered Crete-based composer-performers Ross Daly and Kelly Thoma of Labyrinth join exploratory string duo Teslim (Kaila Flexer and Gari Hegedus) and powerhouse female vocal ensemble Kitka in a variety of live concert programs and musical workshops throughout California, October 14-28, 2012.

When Bay Area violinist and composer Kaila Flexer, one half of Teslim, first heard Ross Daly on the radio, she immediately changed courses to find his recordings at a local store. With her Teslim collaborator and fellow devotee of Eastern Mediterranean music, Gari Hegedus, she marveled at Daly's musical intensity and fluidity, the freshness of his approach and the integrity and depth of his transformational, multi-cultural artistic vision.

Although of Irish descent, Ross Daly defies ethnic classification. From a very early age, Daly discovered that music was, in his own words, "the language of my dialogue with that which I perceive to be sacred." This dialogue eventually led him to studies and collaborations with many great masters of the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Widely traveled, Daly has been based on the island of Crete for decades. Universally recognized as one of the foremost experts on the island's rich musical traditions, he established the Labyrinth Musical Workshop in the town of Houdetsi, a unique educational institution and ethnic instrument museum staffed by international master musicians and dedicated to the study of the world's modal music traditions.

After several years of studying and performing Ross' compositions here in the U.S., Flexer and Hegedus dreamt up a project to collaborate with Daly and his musical partner, Kelly Thoma. Both Daly and Thoma are masters of the lyra, a pear-shaped bowed instrument found on Crete, to which the enterprising musicians have added an additional fleet of sympathetic strings. Uniting as composers and collaborators, the quartet of players of multi-ethnic string instruments began to craft and explore music that springs and departs from the traditions of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Kitka, the female vocal ensemble that has opened so many ears to the beauties of Eastern Europe's vibrant harmony singing traditions, had been issued an intriguing challenge by supporters in UC Santa Barbara's Classics Department: create a new program of Greek music in their polished yet passionate style.

"Being close friends of Kaila and Gari, I knew about Teslim's plans to bring Ross and Kelly from Crete to California for a collaborative composition project," explains Kitka's executive director and vocalist Shira Cion. "I thought that a blend of ethnic string instruments and Kitka's voices would make for a gorgeous concert experience and was thrilled when Ross, Kelly, Teslim, and the good folks at UCSB were excited by the idea of presenting a shared program of original compositions and traditional songs from Greece. Once we committed to bringing the show to Santa Barbara, we knew we wanted to share it with our audiences at home in the Bay Area as well."

Kitka's contribution to the performances in Santa Barbara (October 19), Santa Cruz (October 26), and Oakland (October 27) will include new arrangements of folk melodies deeply infused with centuries-old vocal techniques; haunting ancient polyphonic songs in bluesy-sounding pentatonic scales from the mountainous Albanian border region of Epirus; odd-metered dance tunes with strident Balkan-sounding dissonances from Greek Macedonia; and intricately ornamented unison odes drawn from a variety of sacred and secular sources from the Greek islands.

Ross Daly, Kelly Thoma, Teslim, and Kitka invite listeners to join them on a journey of unexpected musical pathways and crossroads. Inspired by the diverse facets of traditional music of Greece and the Near East, these performers offer routes to a core sonic experience that defies easy geographic categorization.

This project is supported, in part, by generous grants from Meet the Composer, American Composers Forum, The Musical Grant Program (a program of San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music), Individual Artist and Organizational Assistance Grants from the City of Oakland Cultural Funding Program, The California Arts Council's Creating Public Value Program, and the University of California Santa Barbara's James and Sarah Argyropoulos Endowment in Hellenic Studies.

Bright Beasts: Lost Bayou Ramblers Burn Down Roots, Build New Rock Sensibilities on Mammoth Waltz

Louisiana's freethinking rockers' wild and beautiful album now out on vinyl

A big hulk of a sound, once frozen in time, now busting out. A rumbling thing of the past, returning in all its glory to stampede through amps and grit and forgotten anthems, stomping merrily out of Louisiana.

Lost Bayou Ramblers have this beast by the tusks: They show how Louisiana's oldest roots have major life and legs. Their raw, sparkling tunes span underground Cajun and Francophone traditional songs to their wild and wooly originals on Mammoth Waltz, now on heavy-weight vinyl (release: October 23, 2012).

With striking skill, the Ramblers have taken obscure echoes of the past and run them through delay pedals, their own wandering musical sensibilities, and rock attitude featuring a characteristically diverse gang of musical contributors—Louisiana legend Dr. John; fiddling and a throatsinging cameo by Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano ("Bastille"); and vocals by French star and Oscar-nominated singer Nora Arnezeder and by actress and chanteuse Scarlett Johansson—the album is rollicking and rough, sweet and intriguing by turns.

"We're exploring all the possibilities, exploring our options," explains singer and guitarist Cavan Carruth. "It keeps our music relevant, and it keeps us interested. It also keeps the crowd interested."

"I feel more and more, the more I listen to the old stuff that really intrigues me, that if they had the technology we have today, they'd be even further out than we are," exclaims singer, songwriter, and fiddler Louis Michot with a smile. "They were blending all the pop styles they heard with their grandparents' French ballads. It was all nursery rhymes and rock and roll."

A life-long musician and purveyor of local lore, Michot writes and belts songs with a keen, quirky sense for bricolage, for putting old, odd pieces together to make something beautiful.

He found the music and words for the opening anthem, "Le Réveil de la Louisiane" (with support from Dr. John), thanks to an elder substitute Louisiana French teacher. To The Ramblers' knowledge, this is the first time the song has ever been recorded. Like the album's dancing namesake, Michot, Carruth, and the Ramblers put the disparate together: the title references both the Cajun hotspot of Mamou—"mammoth" in French—and the massive tundra creatures.

Michot has plenty of other striking remnants and suggestive hints to work with. Louis grew up fiddling, along with his brother, accordion builder, and Rambler accordionist Andre, with Les Freres Michot, a family band with firm ties to tradition. Carruth and drummer Paul Etheredge (ex-Young Heart Attack) have added in their rough'n'tumble, rock'n'roll sensibilities to create the double-time waltzes, raunchy notes of vintage rock, and a curious rhythmic sense that turns two chords into a deep groove. "Croche," named for this musical Cajun sweet spot, is a shout out waltz to this unexpected mix.

"'Croche' is a super funky waltz, inspired by old, fast rhythms, and it really gets at why we love playing Cajun music: It's so funky and unique," explains Michot. "It's croche; it's different. Even if it's just two chords, there's complexity in it. You can't just play it like a country song. The changes of the song come when you least expect them. It's like it's improvised but it's together. It sounds like you're interpreting things, but that's how the song goes."

How the song goes is often open to new sounds, be they intensely rock or seriously electronic (like the unexpected yet harmonious "Coteau Guidry Reprise," an electronic rethink of Michot's earthy and spontaneous "Coteau Guidry"). Taking cues from everyone from producer Daniel Lanois (whose haunting French-Canadian ballad "O Marie" comes wonderfully unhinged in the Ramblers' hands) to producer Korey Richey (currently working with Arcade Fire on their upcoming album), the group's open-ended feel for the possibilities hidden in the music has won them a Grammy nomination and spots in soundtracks like this year's Sundance darling Beasts of the Southern Wild.

"I always feel like the Cajun music I hear from the 1950s has that old rock and roll, that raw attitude," explains Carruth. "It's dirty, raucous, meant for clubs and dance halls. They were on the verge of burning down the joint they were playing in. We're an extension of that. We're saying, hell, let's use that. Let's do our own thing with it."

Friday, September 28, 2012

Trusting the Muses: Classical Skills and Indie Thrills Abound on Real Vocal String Quartet’s Four Little Sisters

In a Bay Area rehearsal room, four musicians are finding each and every sound their instruments can produce. One classically trained but pop-minded string player grabs her phone and records the sound of a bow tapping the violin tailpiece, then running sideways over the cello fingerboard.

This is no new chamber piece or avant-garde excursion, but extended technique in service of the perfect string quartet arrangement of the Regina Spektor song "Machine."

For Real Vocal String Quartet, this kind of exultant exploration comes with the territory. Whether crafting a moving homage to a favorite Malian diva or creating a new version of an old Cajun chestnut, the Quartet finds new entry points and new expressions based on years of dedicated training and eclectic listening. Coming out of recent work with Feist, the improvising, singing string quartet shines on Four Little Sisters (release: October 16, 2012), a lush collaboration between four distinctly skilled musicians and arranger/composers.

Always listening for the classical resonance in pop, jazz, and traditional music—and for the indie delights hidden in seemingly straight-laced instruments—the Bay Area quartet has further blended their styles, playing, and voices, for a decidedly accomplished follow-up to their striking debut. They harness the richness of technically stunning and passionate string performance, with the airy resonance of four perfectly melded voices, in pieces that are evocative and quirky, lyrical and percussive by turns.

Their vibrant creativity comes to live stages along the West and East Coasts this autumn, including stops in New York, Boston, DC, and the Bay Area.

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As listeners from Coachella to concert halls have discovered, RVSQ's voices may be sweet and light, and their playing inspired and precise, but their repertoire is refreshingly unexpected.

Their work is full of swinging honey bees and stealth-classical Brazilian gems (Gilberto Gil's "Copo Vazio"); Racy Louisiana folk tunes ("Allons a Lafayette") and the greatest hit of George Washington's favorite dancer—composed by a German dwarf ("Durang's Hornpipe"); covers of Dirty Projectors ("Knotty Pine") and Swedish fiddle music with a little twist of klezmer ("Falling Polska").

"Because we do our own arrangements and it's so open, I always have one antenna up, wondering if this or that song or tune would work," explains violist Dina Maccabee. "Whenever I hear something that's rich harmonically, I file it away."

For the players, it's a unique forum for musical ideas and pieces they've loved for years, pieces that engage their classically honed ears yet offer other expressive horizons at the same time. "I've lived with certain favorites for years and years" notes violinist Irene Sazer, an original member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, who arranged the classic Blue Note track "Sweet Honey Bee" for the new album. "Duke Pearson's piano swings so hard and is so pristine and clear at the same time. It just blows me away. It's just such an iconic and beautiful tune. We do some improv at the end, and everyone gets space to do it."

This improvisatory spirit—mixed with the group's uncanny ability to sing evocatively while playing at a high level—guides the ensemble's ongoing evolution. Founded seven years ago to perform compositions by Sazer (whose original "Homage to Oumou" pays her respects to the Malian singer), RVSQ has morphed into a collaborative effort, united by a shared ethos of close listening, exploration, and even a curious coincidence: the women of RSVQ are all youngest sisters (hence the album title). The group has broken away from the more hierarchical patterns typical of classical ensembles to become more like a band, with each musician obsessively imagining and working out ways to play a deliciously diverse repertoire with a serious penchant for folk idioms, as well pop and indie rock.

"I am a big pop music fan so I want to bring more of that to the band," cellist Jessica Ivry recounts. "For whatever reason, I was obsessed with The Dirty Projectors'/David Byrne song, 'Knotty Pine,' and I was listening to it in the car constantly. One night I came home and though it was late, I decided I was going to figure it out for string quartet." Ivry did, and with help from the rest of the band, even came up with a way to capture the challenging feel of the drums using rhythmic chops.

These innovative solutions and ideas unfold in long, thoughtful rehearsals, where the players push each other and their instruments and voices to find both pitch-perfect precision and the right, wild and edgy moments to do their diverse material full justice. This time together—and the back and forth it engenders—has created one tight ensemble.

"We're more of a coherent group now, and we put in a lot of time rehearsing," says violinist Alisa Rose (who arranged "Machine" and composed the bluegrass-inflected "Elephant Dreams" for the album). "The pieces are very much in motion, and we always want to rearrange things, not just rehearse them. Pieces continue to change and evolve, which is an interesting aspect of our quartet."

"We trust each other's muses," Sazer smiles. "We really live up to that trust."

A Free Heart: Puerto Rico’s Hijos de Agüeybaná Let the Rootsy, Afro-Latin Spirit of Bomba Flow on Agua del Sol

A beat of the drum summons a dancer's move, sparks a singer's imagination. This is the heart of bomba, Puerto Rico's vibrant Afro-Latin tradition. Based on the scintillating dialogue of booming barrel drum and dignified dance, on spontaneous but deep statements that go beyond language, bomba, created by African slaves centuries ago, lives on in community gatherings, on terraces and in backyards, and on stages.

Thanks in part to Hijos de Agüeybaná, deeply committed, creative practitioners of bomba's broad rhythmic and expressive possibilities. The group presents the music's rolling, graceful rhythms ("Bandido"), thoughtful lyrics ("Te Invito"), and contemporary potential ("Saludo al Sol") on Agua del Sol (Tumi Music; U.S. release: September 25, 2012).

"Bomba is what you live, what you see, your actual life," explains drummer, singer, dancer, and lyricist Otoqui Reyes. "It's about what you feel at the moment."

"Something happens, and you improvise," adds drummer Ángel Luis Reyes, Otoqui's father and first bomba mentor. "You find inspiration right then and there. You make it happen."

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Bomba was born when a diverse group of Africans found themselves forced to work the sugar plantations of Puerto Rico. From different places, speaking different languages, they found a common means of expression and release in drumming, dancing, and singing together. This new musical lingua franca became bomba. It remained popular after Emancipation, when traveling groups would carry the big barrel drum, smaller secondary drum, and trunks with percussion and costumes from place to place, holding all-night, rum-fueled sessions on beaches or in yards.

Its origins in Africa and in the great movement of Africans throughout the Caribbean tie bomba to other Afro-Latin traditions from Haiti to Cuba, sharing beats, instrumentation, and even terminology. But in Puerto Rico, bomba developed a wonderful local texture and character, and continues to be a moving and meaningful response to life on the island.

Two of Hijos de Agüeybaná's members discovered its power and relevance, and have dug into its past. Drummer, multi-instrumentalist, and researcher Ángel Luis was raised in New York City in a musical family who played in a band together. Yet he first heard bomba at a photo shoot as a young man. He was immediately blown away.

"I thought it was African music. I was stunned to hear it was from my island, from my home," he recalls. He soon found himself returning to Puerto Rico, winning over sometimes reticent bomba elders, interviewing dozens upon dozens of veteran musicians and dancers to learn more about how, when, and why the music was performed.

His son, Otoqui, grew up dancing bomba from the very start; his mother danced while pregnant with him. Gently introduced to the tradition and mentored by his father, Otoqui turned away from bomba as a teen and got into break dance. "I realized hip hop wasn't my music, that break dancing wasn't my culture," Otoqui recalls. "I thought about it, and decided I wanted to change people's minds. I wanted to teach my friends that they needed to learn our music."

Though incorporating other Latin and international contemporary elements into their music and bringing a wide sonic palette to its pulse and feel, the Reyes and the other performers in Hijos de Agüeybaná have an uncanny ability to transmit the rootsy beauty, and the gracious culture of bomba. At the core is the evolving interaction between drum and movement, a dialogue that the group captured on the album.

"To find that feeling, sometimes you bring the dancers to the studio. Sometimes you imagine the dancer in your mind," Otoqui says. "Sometimes you just bring your feeling into the drum. The drum itself speaks; it talks to people."

The inspiring gesture and potential of dance pervades the songs. Otoqui wrote "Te Invito" as a lovely, heartfelt explanation of bomba's creative pleasures to his hesitant sweetheart, a visual artist. He urges her to feel the dance floor is a canvas and her feet are brushes (she was eventually won over and now dances bomba). "Ohami" was sparked by a friend's evocative dancing, movements that sent Otoqui from behind his drum dashing for his notebook to jot the images down. "Agua del Sol" celebrates the role of homebrewed rum in bomba celebrations, how it warms the heart and moves shy participants from the sidelines to the dance floor.

But bomba is about more than good times; it's about dignity. "Ask any elder and they will tell you: Bomba is respect. You have to have respect throughout, for the drums, for your partners," Ángel Luis notes. Yet this respect doesn't stymie creativity; it helps channel it, finding new ways to make old beats dance and sing.

"Bomba is your heart expressing itself freely," Ángel Luis smiles. "It's the letting go. Letting it flow freely and reach out to the world."

Slashed Speakers and Blinding Faith:Striking Clarity and Epic Distortion on Konqistador’s Electro-Global Return, Suada

Slowly, secretly, figures emerged from underground, from under water: the self-blinded saint, the woman warrior, the stranger named Persuasion. Speaking in half a dozen languages, uniting dozens of instruments and countries, layering moment on moment over the course of years, the images arose and broke into tracks, words, melodies.

They came to Konqistador, an electronically boosted, globally enriched collaboration, as music bathed in biting distortion and trembling on the delicate edge of gut strings. The project, spearheaded by the Canadian duo of Elizabeth Graham and Reginald Tiessen, can grab the hardest, grittiest industrial beats by the horns or turn around and seduce with the gentlest of gestures. Emotional and sonically complex, Suada (release: September 18, 2012) links everything from long-lost Kenneth Anger soundtracks to Afghan poetry, from Lebanese holy women to Turkish street musicians.

A chronicle of a global journey from Australia to the U.S.-Canadian border, from the Bosphorus to the Balkans, the album's blinding light and deep shadows suggest epic vistas and intimate breaths, searing strength and profound sorrow.

"We were between Istanbul and Detroit and had just left Melbourne," explains Graham, describing the project's global wanderings. "I was feeling lost, thinking this album was never going to see the light of day. Then, I realized all the women I met on our travels were digging for some sort of hope, incessantly digging for a treasure in a mound of dirt. All while everyone around her is saying, 'You can't, you won't, you never will.' But you have to listen to yourself. You have to stick to your guns."

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One day, Tiessen walked out of a Detroit thrift store with an old Hammond organ and took a razor to its flimsy paper speakers. The resultant eerie rumble would eventually resound in shadowy Bucharest studios, through midnights in Melbourne, in massive cellars below Istanbul.

"It was a crappy organ with fluttering, slashed, dirty speakers," Tiessen recalls, "but it had this new, distressed sound, the beginning of bridging electronica with a grittier, more organic rock drive, something we had been wanting do to for a while."

From the slashed organ sprang Konqistador, with several hard-hitting albums. Life took the Graham and Tiessen to Australia, where they pursued both their blues and rock lives and tried to develop Konqistador in new ways. Though they gathered an ever growing following Down Under and across Eastern Europe, the duo restlessly explored new approaches, alternatives to the balls-out intensity of their earlier work.

Random encounters began suggesting new roads. A late-night DJ with a shift at the Melbourne radio station where the band practiced handed them a copy of Lucifer Rising, the blistering yet ethereal soundtrack for the Kenneth Anger film of the same name. Its dark yet sparkling sonic imprint made its mark on Konqistador's evolving sound.

At roughly the same time, Graham became friends with an Albanian woman with the curious name of Suada, literally "persuasion."

"I started thinking about the centuries-old idea that women have a special persuasive power," reflects Graham. "Not in a malicious way, but that women can use their influence for good, especially through music and dance. That was the underlying theme, to get at Suada, to find that whole emotive side in what had been very masculine music." Stories of striking, defiant women resonated, becoming intense, building tracks. "Rafqa" tells the tale of a Lebanese saint who expressed her faith by removing her eyesight, an ultimate sacrifice to her vision of God.

To tell these tales, Konqistador longed to bring in sounds that strayed far beyond the standard power trio or rock quartet. The Rays began collaborating with producers like Janin Pasniciuc, an icon of the Romanian electronic music underground. They began consulting with veteran dark electronic/industrial producers from Dave Ogilvie (Skinny Puppy) to Jacob Hellner (Rammstein). They learned from master film orchestrators and composers, like fellow Detroit-area oud (Arab lute) and kanun (Turkish zither) player Victor Ghannam (Xena: Warrior Princess, Spartacus)

But the biggest leap forward came with yet another international move. Intrigued by the musicians and people they encountered on tour, the Rays took the ultimate plunge: "We found ourselves living in Istanbul. We didn't want to start playing around samples, with drum loops," Tiessen recounts. "We moved there because we decided if we were going to dabble in world music, we're going to do so at the highest level. We set ourselves up there for two years, after touring in Turkey extensively for more than seven years. We immersed ourselves in the culture."

The intertwining sounds and journeys resound on tracks like "Brancovan," born on three continents. "It started with a rock riff in Detroit, then Hugh Crosthwaite, an Australian composer and expert on baroque music, orchestrated it, help build the soundscape. It had to make its way east and north again, into a dungeon-like studio in an Istanbul neighborhood near where a lot of the street musicians perform every day. They have dark pasts, some rough habits. That's where it found its darkness, in this 4,000-square foot basement below the city." There, the rippling sounds of a street musician's kanun crossed the brass blasts of an experimental jazz trumpeter, playing full force in that great resonant space.

The community that Konqistador slowly eased into in Istanbul, with its emphasis on exchanging experience and mutual respect, proved the perfect infusion of energy for the project's long-languishing songs and slow-burning disillusionment. After returning to Canada, Konqistador's core members continued to reach out to musicians they met in subways, in housing projects for recent refugees.

Gifted young musicians like Cihat Ozturk, a musical prodigy and youthful baglama (traditional long-neck lute) player, whom Konqistador supported in his petition for asylum, helping the musician record a song he later performed at his immigration hearing. This kind of collaboration became a natural, if unexpected, moment in Konqistador's evolution. "Without knowing it, we went about making this album as diverse as possible to pay respect to all the people we had such meaningful encounters with," Tiessen muses. "In more cognizant way, we want to build on this, creating a live performance which will include these young, often female musicians," newcomers to North American who have often gone unsung.

"These musicians are invisible here, even if they are somebodies in their own country," Graham continues. "We want to find a way to incorporate these émigré musicians into the project, and into the broader musical conversation here."

Ungrounded Fuzzbox: The Late, Great Malian Electric Guitar Maverick Lobi Traoré Returns on Vinyl

In a dim, gritty club, pedals and distortion blasting, Malian music changed.

The man behind the intense, unheralded shift was Lobi Traoré, a player often compared to Jimi Hendrix thanks to his bold bending of his roots, his maverick music making. Captured live during incandescent sets at Bamako clubs before his untimely death in 2010, Bwati Kono, soon available on heavyweight vinyl (Kanaga System Krush; release: October 1, 2012), made its mark on the global blues and rock scene.

"He had a very heavy electric style which was a radical departure from most Malian music," explains producer and long-time Malian music researcher Aja Salvatore. "When he passed, lots of people realized what a groundbreaker he was. I am so happy I got to see him live, when he was at the top of his game."

Thanks to production guidance on his early recordings from revered Malian blue guitarist Ali Farka Touré, Traoré became a musician's musician. He caught the ears and performed with artists as diverse as Bonnie Raitt, Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and Jackson Browne.

"What I love about Lobi's playing is how hypnotic, bluesy, and emotional it is—absolutely his own style, but in direct line with the deep, modal Delta blues I love," Raitt commented. "He was a rising star, carrying on the soulful, improvisational style of Ali Farka Touré and John Lee Hooker."

Traoré crafted a truly original sound reinvigorating electric modal Blues with the kind of African improvisational phrasing that gave the style its flavor to begin with. Tracks explode with stunning raw guitar solos over complex African rhythms, weaving between Lobi's haunting vocal tales.

"One of the great things about this recording, something that makes it great for listening on vinyl is that you get a feel for what Lobi sounded like live. He played electric, gritty stuff, with lots of feedback," explains Salvatore. "Other recordings cleaned up his guitar, which disguised some of his greatness." This grit promises to hook vinyl lovers, from vintage African funk fans to listeners coming to African sounds via rock.

Traoré's hard-hitting, dirty sound was powered by a deep soul, something Salvatore got to see over the years as he worked with Lobi in Bamako. "He was a soft, sensitive guy, in many ways," Salvatore recalls. "He would smile and joke with you, but always had that sadness in his eyes. He had to express those blues."

To reflect Lobi's musical world and artistic vision, KSK has commissioned delicate yet strikingly intense cover art by Northern California paper artist, Tahiti Pearson (, and reordered the tracks, to provide a more satisfying and new vinyl listening experience. Volume 1 of 2, this release features six tracks from the original album, to be followed by Volume 2, which will include several unreleased and bonus songs.

Planetary Calm: Putumayo’s World Yoga Finds the Global Sound of Restorative Relaxation

Yoga is global. Throughout the world, people of all ages and backgrounds are practicing yoga to relax and rejuvenate and musicians are creating music to accompany it. This planet-wide interest in the age-old Indian practice inspired World Yoga (Putumayo World Music; release: October 16, 2012).

Drawing on contemplative sounds from Wales to Tibet and Armenia to Uganda, this collection leads listeners to deeper relaxation and connection with life. With an engaging balance of more traditional yoga sounds—mantra-based pieces with Indian elements—and unexpected acoustic gems from Africa and beyond, World Yoga reflects the practice's planetary impact and grace.

"Yoga has become a global experience, and we wanted to expand the music beyond the traditional soundtrack," explains long-time yoga instructor and musician Sean Johnson, who advised on the album and contributed the beautiful chant "Ramachandra." "We tried to reflect yoga's full geographic scope."

Created from Putumayo's massive music library and tested in Johnson's New Orleans yoga studio, World Yoga follows the same arc as a yoga class. It begins with a call to focus and quiet the mind and body, thanks to the lush, evocative voice of Gambian-British singer Sona Jobarteh ("Reflections"). Later tracks offer more dynamic moments, without breaking the flow or concentration. And the album closes with deeply relaxing songs such as Tibetan-Nepalese singer Kelsang Chukie Tethong's "A Prayer to Dispel Sickness and Harm," designed to accompany the more meditative period of practice

These songs hail from disparate yoga, musical and cultural traditions, such as the Kundalini tradition as expressed through Mexican singer Mirabai Ceiba's "Ong Namo." They may flow from regional roots (the Welsh electronic folk of 9Bach) or display an electronica kick (DJ Drez's "Floating Sweetness").

"I can't recall ever feeling so relaxed as I have while listening to the tracks on the collection," says Putumayo Founder Dan Storper. "Whether driving in traffic or dealing with work-related stress, these songs helped transport me to a much more peaceful and happier state."

The diversity of World Yoga reflects yoga's ability to transcend borders and cultural barriers, to move people of different backgrounds. The music promises to turn a daily commute or next round of yoga practice into a meditative yet energizing experience.

The Path of Nuance: Wahid Finds New Ways to Make Age-Old Instruments Speak on Road Poem

The oud (Middle Eastern lute) and its frequent companion—delicate, tuneful percussion—can simultaneously evoke subtle moments and intense drama: the reflections of a conqueror, the joy of an eloping bride, the faded beauty of an island village.

The California-based instrumental duo Wahid has taken full measure of this subtlety, thanks to a keen sense of their ancient instruments' sonic possibilities.

Wahid unites two seasoned jazz, rock, and world musicians—Dimitris Mahlis (oud) and Chris Wabich (frame drums, percussion)—who have performed and recorded with a veritable who's who of the Los Angeles music scene. After crossing paths many times, the two sonic explorers found new ways to make their instruments speak. Together, they draw on deep layers of delicate expertise laid down over centuries.

Captured live on Road Poem(release: September 25, 2012), their dynamic dialogue embraces improvisation and contemporary ideas, while gracefully reflecting Eastern Mediterranean traditions. These roots, expressed with worldly flair, find full expression in duo's purposefully intimate arrangements.

"With larger ensembles, you often face a density problem," explains Wabich. "Traditionally, our instruments have a lot of nuance. You have to have enough space, enough stillness to really get at that."

Wahid takes this poetic nuance on the road, performing in late September and early October on the West Coast, including the Bay Area and Napa, CA.

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"There's something so liberating about a dialogue between two people," reflects Mahlis. "The more you play music, the more you realize that there's an inherent dynamic in ensembles of different sizes. A duo is liberating. You can turn on a dime."

Wabich and Mahlis have a history of great musical nimbleness. A student of Turkish oud master Ustad Necati Celik, Mahlis has played with global stars from Bollywood composer extraordinaire A.R. Rahman, to jazz trumpeter Freddy Hubbard to popular Greek performers like Dionyssios Savoppoulos, and Thanassis Papakonstantinou, when not contributing to major feature film soundtracks. Wabich has recorded with everyone from Leonard Cohen to Ludacris, and performed with a diverse range of international lights, like Turkish legend Omar Faruk and revered jazz vocalist Mark Murphy.

When the two accomplished, versatile players met during rehearsals for a large-scale, full-on jazz fusion project, they struck up a friendship, meeting up occasionally to practice together. The sessions soon evolved into a serious collaboration, one that satisfied their shared longing for a different, deeper approach to their instruments.

"We're drawing on Byzantine modes and the Turkish maqam (scale and melody) system in our compositions," Mahlis notes. "I grew up hearing traditional Greek and Byzantine liturgical music, as my father was Greek Orthodox cantor. That tradition is all vocal, without instrumental accompaniment, but the melodic structures and intervals are the same as Turkish classical music."

This background has inspired not simply the harmonic or modal basis of Mahlis's compositions, but a key guiding element at their heart: the evocative, singing melody. "In my composing, I'm always looking for a melody that moves me. In Eastern music, we have a richness of melody, whereas in Western composition, we have made great strides in harmony. I'm trying to bring those elements together, using the strength of the melody. I look at each string on the oud as a vocal cord. That changes the intonation and phrasing."

This nexus of the personal and the historical, of emotive melodic and complex harmonic structures, lies at the heart of Wahid's instrumental originals. Mahlis reflects on his father's evocatively named village on the Greek island of Rhodes ("Looking for Paradhisi") and puts the duo through its paces tracing the madcap, emotional elopement of lovers ("Steal the Bride"). Wahid can summon the imagined musings of that still controversial Macedonian conqueror ("Alexander's Regret"), the bittersweet and defiant life of a fearless Greek composer ("The Outcast," dedicated to the life and work of Mikis Theodorakis), the graceful divinity of a god in repose ("Indra Reclines").

Performing as a veritable one-man-band—where quartet of bass and percussion players would traditionally play—Wabich's highly in-tune bass frame drumsadd another, spirited dimension to Mahlis's dignified playing. He finds a shifting rhythmic complement based on traditional beats for every melodic element of "Steal the Bride," lending the piece a drive reminiscent of Balkan wedding music. On pieces like "Protoleia" ("First Light"), Wabich finds a subtle, funky bump that augments the oud's rich exploration of a Turkish maqam mode.

A central part of Wabich's approach is the highly in-tune frame drums he has perfected. "The way frame drums are traditionally made and played is always out of tune," Wabich says. "You can approximate the pitch, but as you bring the drum closer to the body, it goes flat, as much as a half-step off. The drums I made are really oversized for the note I need. You need to have more tension on the drum so that the harmonic is finally in tune and really close to a perfect octave. I don't' have to mute the sound to prevent that out-of-tune moment. The sound can naturally decay."

Technical savvy and traditional grounding aside, Wahid have gained a deep sense of each other's musical thoughts, which leads to fluid, gorgeous improvisation and a profound live experience for performers and audiences.

"Chris and I have developed our own dialect," Mahlis muses. "We can read each other very well. And there's a place I go to when we're playing together that makes me dig deeper.

"The liberating part of Wahid is also very difficult, and we're always asking how we can find perfection in this music," Wabich adds. "Sometimes things start flying around, we get off the ground, and audience members get to an intense spiritual place when we play. And so do we."

The Delicate, Powerful Breath of the Past: Living Legend Tasamaburo Bando Leads Kodo, Finds Inspiration on Japan’s Sado Island

The visceral intensity, the athleticism, of taiko drumming in the hands of a master group like Japan's Kodo may feel like the polar opposite of kabuki theater's controlled, nuanced performances. Yet when Kodo announced it had found a new Artistic Director in kabuki icon Tamasaburo Bando—often referred to simply as "Tamasaburo"—it made perfect sense.

They both draw on the deep well of traditional Japanese culture, rooted in a long lineage and sense of place that bring unflagging precision and profound personal commitment to their work. It runs through the explosive power of a giant booming drum stroke and through the most delicate of hand motions, though the harvest celebrations and demon dances to the most refined and urbane stages.

Now their joint labors are coming to America in early 2013, with a tour that will feature several re-envisioned and new pieces guided by Tamasaburo's distinct aesthetic and deep experience.

Tamasaburo, known for his stunning, subtle onnagata (female roles), grew up in a kabuki family, steeped in the art form's complex movements, visual language, and painstaking stagecraft. A performer since his early teens, the actor rose to prominence, winning a worshipful following worthy of a Hollywood star. He wowed arthouse fans by performing in films by revered European directors such as Andrzej Wajda. He was recently declared a Living National Treasure, one of the highest honors bestowed on prominent Japanese citizens.

Yet the master performer decided to devote himself to an artistic venture located in one of the remotest places in Japan—Sado, an island the size of Okinawa off Japan's northwest coast—to work with the world's preeminent drumming ensembles, Kodo.

"I have been visiting Sado Island regularly for the past ten years to work with Kodo, directing the performances, as well as appearing on stage alongside the ensemble," Tamasaburo reflected in a recent statement about his work with Kodo. "Through my involvement with these productions, I realized the importance of confining yourself to one specific place to train. Getting away from the city where you are surrounded by technology, you face yourself, come face to face with your purest form. In the natural surroundings of Sado, you can experience a rare opportunity to get back in touch with your own soul and can even sometimes feel the concealed breath of ancient times on your own skin."

Tamasaburo and Kodo have felt this breath on Sado. The island saw an influx of new inhabitants when gold was discovered during the Edo period, as well as several centuries of artists and intellectuals in exile, extraordinary men banished by Japan's rulers for political reasons. "Many cultures in turn came to Sado on thousands of ships from all over Japan. That made the island's culture very complex and interesting," notes Kodo member Jun Akimoto, who has worked with the group for over a decade.

Though intimately tied to the cultural developments on the rest of Japan, remote Sado has retained an astounding level of traditional culture, roots that express themselves in everyday moments. Across the island, for example, foodways long forgotten elsewhere on Japan still thrive, from tiny home noodle parlors to the freshest of sushi. Prized sake is brewed from hand-planted and –harvested rice—agricultural practices learned by every Kodo apprentice to deepen their understanding of traditional culture.

On this unique foundation, Sado Island became a haven for artists seeking a different, more communal approach to creativity and tradition in the mid-20th century. Growing from a dedicated community of seekers, Kodo has developed its own way of life, trained hundreds of apprentices, built a remarkable arts village. In Kodo Village, not only do musicians gain intense discipline, commitment, and an enviable skill set; they also work in the fields, perfect their practice of the traditional tea ceremony, or help build sustainable and sleek furniture in the village's workshop.

This organic totality of artistic vision attracted Tamasaburo, who happily set aside urban life for the quiet, almost magical remoteness of Kodo Village. The seasoned artist has grasped his new role as an opportunity to challenge himself, Kodo's performers, and his audiences more deeply. Tamasaburo envisions Sado's isolation as a way to connect with some of the performing arts' most vital currents.

"Human beings cannot exist without nature," he reflects. "That is why we use the arts to communicate nature, and it is only when we become free from impeding thoughts that we can become one with it. Facing the taiko, having acquired sufficient technique and control, players can forget their body, awareness, desires, hopes, and egos the moment they reach that state of oneness, and everyone who is present will share that indescribable sense of transcendence."

V/A - To What Strange Place : The Music Of The Ottoman-American Diaspora, 1916-1929

Before the Golden Age of Americana on Record, immigrants from the dissolving Ottoman Empire were singing their joys and sorrows to disc in New York City. The virtuosic musicians from Anatolia, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Levant living in the U.S. who recorded between WWI and the Depression are presented here across two discs, along with a third disc of masterpieces they imported as memories on shellac-and-stone. The intermingled lives and musics of Christians, Jews, and Muslims represent Middle Eastern culture as it existed within the U.S. a century ago.
A fascinating, new view of American Folk Music. Compiled by IAN NAGOSKI. Designed by Susan Archie.

V/A - Bed of Pain: Rembetika 1931-1955

The deep, dark hybrid music born in the urban slums of Greece, rembetika is often referred to as "the Greek blues," for its heroic, blunt truth-telling in the face of suffering. This collection of heavy songs from the style's "golden era" in the years surrounding WWII includes many of the "heavy-hitters," great and revered singers and composers, but also includes many obscure artists, including several from the influential American diaspora. For fans of the style, if offers brilliant lesser-known pieces and for the uninitiated, it cuts to the heart of rembetika's no-bullshit swagger, grief, and fierce beauty.

V/A - What Remains of Eden: Anatolian & Levantine Musics, 1928-1952

Coincident with the birth of the modern Middle East in the 1920s-50s was a flurry of recording activity in Cairo, Istanbul, and among the diaspora of the Eastern Mediterranean in the United States. These 15 tracks originate from Istanbul through the heart of Anatolia to Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, spanning the classical to the folk, from cafes to courts, from the joyous to the plaintive, and many distinct ethnicities (Arab, Armenian, Assyrian, Greek, Kurdish, Maronite, Roma, and Turkish), celebrities and unknowns alike, each with a unique, palpable focus and intensity, each with a powerful story to tell.

Khansahib Ustad Abdul Karim Khan - 1934-1935

Even now, 75 years since his death in 1937, Abdul Karim Khan remains the most revered and admired Hindustani singer of the early 20th century. His influence and legacy continue to pervade Indian music. His voice, elastic, mercurial, and almost impossibly sweet, and his unique style, broadly nationalist the time of the rise of the Independence movement and popularly alluring while still expanding on the refinement and technique of the centuries-old court music from which he had come, was best-preserved at recording session in Bombay in the mid-30s, from which these ten exquisite performances were drawn.

Marika Papagika - The Further the Flame, the Worse it Burns Me: Greek Folk Music in New York City, 1919-28

The Greek singer Marika Papagika was one of the best-selling immigrant performers in the US of the 1920s. Her records were often deeply emotive, full of dignity and grace, ambition, heart-rending sorrow and resignation, and nostalgic patriotism for the world she left behind. This album of eleven songs (drawn from the 250 performances s he left behind from her career in America) from deep in 19th century Greek folklore and pan-Ottoman Eastern Mediterranean experience showcase her extraordinary voice, accompanied by some of the best musicians of the New York Greek scene. 

V/A - Brass Pins & Pearls: International 78s

A collection of radiant music from around the world compiled from 78rpm discs from the first half of the 20th century. Originally released at two LPs (A String of Pearls in late 2009 and Brass Pins & Match Heads in early 2011), each LP reacted directly to the early deaths of musician-friends of compiler Ian Nagoski and asked, "What is the value of the life of one musician?" The complexly interwoven performances are visceral and lifelike outpourings of strong emotions and outrageous feats of virtuosity. Musicians, famous and unknown alike from staggeringly varied backgrounds, together give the impression of the goodness, wonder and mystery of music itself. These 25 tracks span nearly as many cultures and languages but flow seamlessly as one human voice.

Lights and Bold Action: Lo’Jo Dramatic Journey from the Sahara to the Caucasus and Back (to Anjou) on Cinéma el Mundo

Night is giving way to a new day. Crickets scratch the satin-dark tropical air. We could be on Reunion Island, in Bamako, deep in the Caucasus.

Then a gentle pulse seeps over the horizon like the dawn. The journey begins. The destinations, the ports and havens of wonder along the way are multicolored and richly painted. Over an hour later we arrive at the final act. The song "Au Debut," growled in sage tones by singer and composer Denis Péan, brings us back to where we began, to a night that's giving up its fight with the dawn, to the beginnings of time.

This is Cinéma el Mundo (World Village; U.S. release: October 9, 2012). A world full of image, color, sound, and story--and a striking group of musical guests, from British rock maverick Robert Wyatt to desert blues guitar master Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (Tinariwen) to avant-global cellist Vincent Segal (Chamber Music). It's all there: a woman called Lila who leaves before dawn, the mosques that form a string of pearls around the neck of Algiers, two rusted hulks in the port of Buenos Aires, a blue titmouse in an instant of pure air, dragons sliding over roofs above the market in Vientiane, dreadlocks in an Occitan passageway, the flow of people escorted through a neighborhood of flies by a proud fanfare of stars.

2012 is Lo'Jo's thirtieth year of existence, and Cinéma El Mundo is their tenth album. The band was born on the margins, in and around Angers, the city that slumbers securely in a crook formed by the Maine and Loire rivers in the west of France. They have stayed on the edges ever since, musically, geographically, philosophically. "To live on the margins is just a way of remaining true to one self," Péan says. "There was a time when it seemed as if it was very hard to exist far from Paris. Right now it only seems like an immense advantage."

But their fecund province, with its gentle skies and rolling hills, its marching vineyards and wide lazy rivers is no prison for vegetative attitudes and small-mindedness. Anjou has bred big dreams in Lo'Jo, dreams that have transported these musical adventurers to every point of the compass, and back. Their trunk full of sounds and instruments is thickly plastered with the labels of their travels; The southern Sahara, where they helped to organize the very first Festival in the Desert in 2001, and subsequently launch the international career of the Touareg poet-guitarists Tinariwen; Tbilisi and the Caucasus, where their Babel Caucase caravan stopped over en route to Chechnya; The Reunion Islands in the southern Indian Ocean, just one of Lo'Jo's many homes away from home.

From all these horizons, Lo'Jo bring sounds, instruments, experiences and friends back to the blank canvas of their native land. "I come from a region where there is no specific musical culture, no folklore," Péan says. "So I make fire out of every kind of wood." The band's musical DNA is so complex and intertwined that your only reward for trying to sequence it will only be frustration and sterile science. What matters is the living breathing whole. Lo'Jo sound like the harmony that the builders of Babel Towers sought but never found, like Nino Rota on a non-stop round the world ticket, like the antidote to globalization's reductive evils, like a hymn to variety, to the human circus in all its incarnations. To listen to one of their albums is to travel with the heart open, always fresh to bitter-sweet wonders, not possessing but praising, savouring everything along the way.

When Péan sings he could be the shamanic twin of Tom Waits or the Gallic poet brother of Johnny Cash in his late American Recordings phase. Violinist Richard Bourreau brings the rigors of training at the Angers Conservatoire to the job of arranging and plotting all that chaotic inspiration, of fixing without killing. Bassist and double bassist Kham Meslien and drummer Baptiste Brondy nail down polyglot rhythms only to release them once again. The Nid El Mourid sisters, Yamina and Nadia, are the Berber cousins of the B52s, vocalist vagrants roaming the outer fringes of Europe, the lush hills of Georgia, the red dirt roads of Mali and the brown bare backs of the Atlas mountains. This sextet is the nucleus around which countless liberated radicals have orbited for moments of magic during the past three decades; Robert Plant, Robert Wyatt, Tinariwen, Justin Adams, Reunion Island maestro René Lacaille, Georgian panduri legend Nias Diasamidze, cellist Vincent Segal, electro-rocker Guillaume Asseline and many more.

The place where Lo'Jo's strange and unclassifiable musical flora is nurtured and grown is a huge rambling former farm house sitting between two noisy expressways, surrounded by fields not far from Angers. It's called 'La Fontaine du Mont' ('The Fountain on the Mount'). There, outside the kitchen door, under a canopy of sunlit leaves, the table awaits guests from the occident, the orient and all points in between. "It's a cosmopolitan house," Péan says without a boast, "made in the image of a dream or a utopia just out of reach. The traveller finds his place of rest, food always on the table, with an organisation based on an ecological perspective, a communal life. It's a place on which encounters pivot. It's an open book for children."

It's also where Cinéma el Mundo was captured in its entirety and where, to use one of Péan choicest phrases, "sounds were harvested in their moment of grace," a process deftly facilitated by producer Jean Lamoot. Brought up in Africa, Lamoot is a name to conjure with in his native France, a man who has mid-wifed albums by a jaw-dropping array of talent from Noir Désir to Alain Bashung, Salif Keita, Nneka, Souad Massi, ONB, Mano Negra and Vanessa Paradis. A deep knowledge of African music, rock and chanson made him an ideal choice of producer for Lo'Jo and able to capture the delicate colours, the fragile shapes and shy intricacies of their music. "He's very humble, fragile even," explains Péan, "but totally determined if he sense the moment is right."

There at La Fontaine du Mont, in a barn turned studio and musical laboratory attached to the main house, the scenes of Cinéma el Mundo took shape. Collaborators came and went, in person or on tape; Menwar , Gan Guo, Andra Kouyate, Vincent Segal, Stephane Coutable, Ibrahim and Eyadou from Tinariwen, Niaz Diasamidze, Robert Wyatt, with their strange menagerie of instruments, their little glass shards of colour and sound, all welcomed and seduced by atmosphere of Lo'Jo's home base. To Péan, Robert Wyatt was something of a returning hero. "The album Rock Bottom left an indelible mark on my adolescence," he says. "It's like a spring that is never exhausted, a great big gift of existence."

And over the music, Péan painted his words which, to him, are like "the fossils of signs and symbols preserved in the amber of a song." In Denis Péan, France has something of a Loire valley Pablo Neruda or Dylan Thomas, whose Llaregub Hill is the entire world. He's has published several books of poetry in his time, as richly coloured and linguistically sourced as Lo'Jo's music. "I like poetry because it's something completely unsellable," he says. "You can't earn a living from it, which has the effect of purging the number of competitors. It's a precise craft, like that of a stone cutter." Half of Lo'Jo's magic lies in their lyrics, a fact which presents a fair challenge to those who barely scraped through their French exams at school. But it's a mountain worth the climb, dictionary in hand, Google translate at the finger tips. It's the key to Lo'jo's inner sanctum, the one full of sliding dragons, defeated towns in their indecent mornings, where Madame Carnaval presides in her moment a grace and people carry their treasure and their tut in the same bag, selling their last few coins for a handful of snow.

It's the place where Cinema El Mundo was born, shot by shot, take by take, scene by scene. Have a little patience and Lo'Jo will take you there. –Andy Morgan

Lo'Jo releases new album Oct 9

Recorded in a French barn between two expressways, Lo'Jo's new release Cinéma el Mundo (Record label: World Village) exudes Saharan blues, unshaven French jazz, ancient cosmopolitan roots, and hazy Euro-pop.  Lead vocalist Denis Péan will remind you of the shamanic twin of Tom Waits.  Among those beyond the 30-year-old sextet proper are a wide array of contributing pilgrims who traveled to aforementioned barn to make their imprint on this album including Vincent Segal, members of Tinariwen, Robert Wyatt and more.