elevenshadows musicblog

 

music that makes my ears wiggle

---2002--

V/A "Tribal, Folk, and Cafe Music of West Africa" Pearl/Pavilion Records
recorded in 1950 by Arthur S Alberts, this 2-CD selection of music from the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Guinea, and Marshall Island is an interesting compilation of field recordings that are startlingly high sound quality. They transport me to another place, almost making me feel like I am there. You'll hear tribespeople of the Ivory Coast driving evil spirits out of the moon with chants and frenzied drumming, Fanti coast villages, Sudanese wandering minstrels, Nigerian balophones, harps of the Liberian bush, and coastal "calypso". I thoroughly enjoy everything on this disc except for the piano compositions of Howard B. Hayes, but this most likely a matter of my own personal tastes. It's a bit jarring on this collection for me. The follow-up single-CD compilation in this Arthur S. Alberts series, the aptly-titled More Tribal, Folk, and Cafe Music of West Africa, is also highly recommended, perhaps even more so, if only for that opening song, the beautiful "Malinke" from French Guinea, one of my favorite songs from any African compilation of field recordings.

 

V/A "Sounds of West Africa: The Kora & the Xylophone", Lyrichord
If you like kora and xylophone -- and who doesn't? -- you'll love this compilation of music from the Lobi and Dagarti tribes of North Ghana and the griots of the Gambia and Senegal. Lyrical and melodic xylophone solos and ensembles, like a fast-moving brook over smooth rocks, with and without chanting, raw enough to satisfy field recording fans ("gotta be raw sounding to have that air of authenticity!") but hi-fi enough to please others. Track 3 has a beautiful, skillfully played kora groove with sparse drum accompaniment providing the sole accompaniment for a male vocal -- a truly lovely song. Other beautiful kora songs abound, all skillfully played as well. Very good compilation.

 

"Ethiopiques 11: Alemu Aga (beguena)", Buda Musique
Commonly known as "King David's Harp, although according to the liner notes, the beguena is actually not a member of the harp family, but is instead an oversized ten-string lyre with strings made of sheep's gut. The instrument has a very low, droning plucked sound with a very characteristic buzz caused by vibrations of leather lanyards placed between the bridge and the strings, the vibration not unlike a tambura. Alemu Aga sings in a low, quiet voice, almost as if trying not to wake someone sleeping in the next room. Most of the songs sound very similar, but the sound is instantly likeable and quite unlike any other compilation in the highly-acclaimed Ethiopiques series.

 

"Timeless: Ali Akbar Khan & L. Subramaniam", Universal Music India Pvt., Ltd., 2002, Made in IndiaPeaceful, melodic, more contemplative ragas played with notable restraint by Ali Akbar Khan (sarod), L. Lubramaniam (violin), Zakir Hussain (tabla), and Ramnad V. Raghavan (Mridangam). Part of the Universal Music Masters Collection, I purchased this CD in an Indian music store, as it is not widely distributed among non-Indian stores in the United States. Very spare in instrumentation, Zakir Hussain doesn't even enter until almost eight minutes into the first raga, and even then, enters slowly. Two long ragas fill this disc, taking their time as if awakening slowly from a deep slumber with a sweetness characteristic of the best Carnatic (South Indian) music.

 

V/A "The Rough Guide to Bollywood", World Music Network 2002; V/A "The Kings and Queens of Bollywood: Classic Sixties Indian Film Themes", Nascente 2001
As you probably know, India's Bollywood, located in Mumbai (Bombay), churns out far more films per year than the United States. Many of these films combine action, romance, comedy, and singing, something that Western audiences can find disconcerting at times. "The Rough Guide to Bollywood" focuses on love songs from the '70s through relatively recent films, including several from famous Indian composer R.D. Burman (including "Yeh Dosti Hum Nahin" from one of my favorite Indian films, "Sholay"). Beautiful sweeping Bombay string sections, groovy basslines, catchy melodies sung by sometimes females (often nasally) and males, with unexpected saxophones, surf guitars, jazz drumming, marimbas, traditional Indian percussion, and electronic synthesizers forcing their way into the song, increasing the fun factor.

Even more playful is "The Kings and Queens of Bollywood", a compilation of 1960s filmi scores. The sheer fun and eclecticism of this compilation transcends the sometimes slightly rough recording quality. The mixing of styles is even more apparent on this compilation. Indian composers thought nothing of throwing Indian folk music, Latin, jazz, and Western pop, and Middle Eastern influences into the soup. The first song, from 1968, begins with a big band arrangement and fun sing-along counting. The second song, also with Asha Bhosle, the queen of Indian filmi music, continues the fun with a Latin-influenced rhythm and the occasional surf-style electric guitar interruption. Both compilations have a playfulness that is refreshing and contagious.

 

V/A "The Women of Rembetica", Rounder 2000
Rembetica is the music of the Greek underworld, the music if the hashish den and the brothel, banned by many, and ignored by the upper class. Most of the Rembetica music on this compilation originated in the cafes of the Greek and Turkish port cities of Asia Minor before the Great Catastrophe. Companies of santouri (hammered dulcimer) and violins sang for the entertainment of the public, often in the open air. The music drew on not only ancient Greek music, but also Byzantine and Islamic influences. In 1922, after the Great Catastrophe, over one and a half million people were forcibly moved from their homes and exchanged after the war between Greece and what is now Turkey. These people were forced to live in refugee camps and shantytowns in the south and Thessaloniki in the north. Their music melded with Greek music, which introduced the bouzouki, and came under harsh censorship by the Metaxas Dictatorship just before World War II, but enjoyed some popularity after the War. "The Women of Rembetica" features this exotic melding of influences in an outstanding compilation of music originally recorded in the 1930s.

Featured here is several songs from Roza Eskenazi, the daughter of Jewish emigrants who moved to Thessaloniki where there was a large Jewish community before it was virtually wiped out during the war. Roza recorded almost 500 songs in the 1930s, and continued to record after the War. Rita Abadzi, a great rival of Rosa Eskenazi, and Marika Politissa, two other notable singers of this period, are also featured on this compilation, as well as Anna Stellakis, Angelitsa Papazoglou, Yeoryia Mittaki, and others. This excellent disc conjures images of late-night debauchery, smoke-filled hashish dens, and the droopy-lidded musicians who played Rembetica as these singers sing tales of hookahs, good time girls, hash, burning libidos, cabarets, deception, love's aches, and midnight encounters. A beautiful, heady, evocative disc.

 

Electric Light Orchestra, "ELO's Greatest Hits", CBS
Proof positive that I am just not cool. This compilation of eleven '70s hits has these unbelievably gooey songs have stuck to the roof of my brain. I was surprised at how many of these songs I recognized. Vibrant and infectious and kitschy! And what a yummy string section! Deliciously catchy pop chamber music with clever arrangements and Beatlesque pop structures - I simply "Can't Get It Out of My Head". Beautiful songs such as "Livin' Thing", "Sweet Talkin' Woman", and "Telephone Line" make me bob my head and feel like a genuine pop geek.

 

V/A, "Nigeria 70: The Definitive Story of 1970's Funky Lagos" 2001 AfroStrut
2-CD set -- 3-CD set if you include the extra documentary CD -- of Nigerian funk from Lagos Island, arising out of the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti, Ginger Baker's state-of-the-art 16-track recording studio in Ikeja (Paul McCartney and Mick Fleetwood were making the pilgrimmage down to ARC Studio to record there), American soul music, funk, jazz, and other African and Western influences. The two CDs of music are consistently groovy and laid-back all the way through. Some tracks, such as Sunny Ade & His African Beats' "Ja Fun Mi (Instrumental)" have heady synthesizers and guitars delay-slapping across the soundstage that almost make one wonder if they are outtakes from "My Life In the Bush of Ghosts". Tony Allen & His Afro Messengers "No Discrimination" also has extended jams of startlingly simple simplicity, but contain subtle groove variations in the bass and drums that are mindblowingly cool. I've listened to quite a few afro-funk compilations, and this is by far the vibiest and best I've heard yet. Unbelievably groovy, and highly recommended.

 

Alan Lamb"Primal Image/Beauty" 1995 Dorobo
Electronic sounding ambience, yet recorded with no additional processing. Alan Lamb recorded the sound of the wind rushing through telephone wires in this absolutely stunning field recording, creating what has got to be some of the finest ambient music I've heard in a long time. Ever-evolving, complex, and engaging, this music occurs, according to Alan Lamb, because "the natural frequencies of the wire are determined by the integer harmonics of the fundamentals in very long wires such as telephone wires, which are also very thick (3mm)" thus creating a fundamental that is "well below 1Hz". With a fundamental this low, only the higher harmonic frequencies are audible. Fascinating, and as well, an absorbing listen.

 

"Music of Mangkunegaran Solo I" 1994 World Music Library
Another fine release from this Japanese label (see the Gengong, Balinese Jews' Harp review in 2001). This is one of my favorite Javanese gamelan recordings, mostly because of its extraordinary beauty. The gamelan instruments played here are believed to have the magical power to produce rain.They must have other magical powers as well, as this is one of the most beautiful tones I've heard from any Indonesian gamelan instrument. According to the notes on the front cover, "their mysterious sounds in which richness and sensitivity live together is realized in full detail only in the biggest Pendapa (a special hall designed for gamelan music) in Central Java." Slow and very relaxing, this is the kind of disc that you can easily leave on all day.

 

Sexteto Tabala "Colombie: Les Rois Du Son Palenquero" 1999 Musique Du Monde
Afro-Colombian music from the Caribbean coastal town of Palenque de San Basilio. This fugitive slave village was isolated from the rest of Colombia, isolated from the Spanish slave traders. Sexteto Tabala are the descendants of the peasants from this village who decided to add a Colombian flavor to Cuban son (the sort of music that Buena Vista Social Club made famous). This music, however, is created without the use of guitars or horns, using primarily drums, bongos, maracas, and a marimbula, which produced the double-bass type sounds. Hypnotic rhythms, beautiful vocals, this is a another fine example of Afro-Latino music (Eva Ayllon's "Music Negra", an Afro-Peruvian CD, is another -- reviewed here in 1998), and shows decidedly more African influence than son or most Afro-Peruvian music. Highly recommended, and almost impossible to stop playing!

 

V/A, "Turkish Delights: Beat, Psych, and Garage" Grey Past Records
Turkish rock music from the '60s. A Turkish national newspaper organized a large contest that would help young amateur bands gain publicity. The parameters created were that the bands had to compose songs in Turkish or arrange a traditional tune, and perform this in a Western style with Western electric instruments. Very unique and catchy. Fans of 'Cambodian Rocks" and other compilations of this ilk will especially enjoy this collection.

 

V/A "Love, Peace & Poetry: Japanese Psychedelic Music" Normal Records
Excellent compilation in a series documenting psychedelic music of the '60s and '70s from obscure sources around the world. Japan was no stranger to the influences of Western psychedelia, and do it better than most. While not as immediately odd or humorous as "Cambodian Rocks", this features some very unique interpretations of psychedelia, from the hyperactive Foodbrain, with its relentless bass and guitar, to the poppy psychedelia of The Mops. Very much recommended, as is another in the series, "Asian Psychedelic Music'. Both compilations concentrate on the more "song-oriented" material, eschewing bands such as The Taj Majal Travellers and their sparse, spacey improvisations.

 

V/A "Frozen Brass: Asia #1" 1993 Paradox
Interesting compilation of brass bands from Nepal, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In times of colonialism, European soldiers, traders and missionaries were often accompanied by brass bands, with Western habits and music forced upon the natives. Of course, as is natural, the natives of the country eventually put their own spin on these brass bands, often performing their own songs on these instruments. Having experienced bands at wedding receptions in rural Andean Peru and seeing wedding processions in India (an example of the latter can be heard on this disc!), I've often wondered how many other cultures have been influenced by the brass band. This disc in part answers that question, with much more to come. Especially fascinating was the Musikong Bumbong, a bamboo kazoo orchestra recorded in the Philippines, in which all of the instruments are bamboo replicas of brass instruments. Traditional Newari (Nepalese) folk songs and combinations of Javanese gamelan orchestras mixed with western military instruments can be heard as well. Not for everyone, but for those select few.

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