Thursday, April 30, 2009

CD Review: Sacred Music of India

Various Artists
Sacred Music of India
Silk Road Communications

This recording is a collection of live performances recorded during the Global Event of the World Festival of Sacred Music in Bangalore, India from April 9-16, 2000. The event was organized by Tibet House, Cultural Center of H.H. the Dalai Lama. In fact, a short foreword and speech by H.H. the Dalai Lama is included in the liner notes. Unfortunately, the speech is not on the CD. Yet, nearly 50 pages of text accompanies the CD in an attractively-illustrated, hardbound package. 12 tracks feature contemporary and traditional instrumental and vocal music from Sri Lanka in the South to Tibet in the North. The usual instrumentation of Indian music is present, including, tabla, tala, harmonium, sarangi, dholak, ektara, flute, and more. All liner notes are in English. The vocals are superb and very lively at various points. If you want to experience a live recording of the best sacred music from india, then sit back and enjoy the engaging melodies traditional Indian music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Go Ga-Ga For Raga

Silk Road Communications

For anyone looking for meditative or contemplative raga music, then stop no further. Shivoham is the name for Aparna Panshikar (vocals), Bhargav Mistry (sarod), and Debashish Upadhyay (keyboards). This album celebrates Shankara -- one of the great mystical poets and philosophers in India's history. There are 6 long tracks that feature sparkling and tinny sounds of the sarod, with the added beats of tabla, too. Aparna's glorious vocals add a nice touch to the music. Her voice fits quite naturally with the instrumentation and overall tempo. Shankara's 6 core beliefs of a worldview are included in the liner note book. In fact, there are nearly 50 pages of text, photos, and illustrations throughout the book. The liner notes contain song lyrics in Romanized Sanskrit and English, with commentary in English. Shankara is steeped in centuries-old tradition, but is nevertheless, a very original and contemporary album. If you want to relax, then you've come to the right place. ~ Matthew Forss

Book Review: Folk Songs From Uttar Pradesh

Laxmi Ganesh Tewari. Folk Songs From Uttar Pradesh. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd, 2006. x + 333 pp. Glossary, bibliography. ISBN 81-246-0354-5. $27.50, hardbound.

Anyone interested in researching the folk music of the world will be particularly surprised with this new book from professor, ethnomusicologist, and author, Dr. Laxmi Ganesh Tewari. However, the focus of the book is exclusively Uttar Pradesh, and would be most beneficial to researchers in this geographic region between Northern India and neighboring Nepal. The book opens with a 15-page introduction, which provides a good foundation of the historical and cultural significance of the music, as well as the author's interest in the subject. There are 5 chapters devoted to each group of songs, including: Bhajan (prayer/religious), Ceremonial, Seasonal, Jhonjhi-Tesu Festival (see link for more info), and Miscellaneous. A total of 261 folk songs are included in English, Hindi, and Romanized Hindi languages. This is a perfect book for lyrical or poetic study of the songs, as only lyrics are provided without musical notation, analysis or commentary. Essentially, the songs speak for themselves without the need for added notes or unnecessary commentary. A helpful key for transliteration is included, with a glossary and short bibliography that attests for the region's scant amount of literature on the subject. The only drawbacks: lack of index, no song titles, and absence of accompanying CD. To be fair, the songs are numbered, and may or may not have had titles. Also, Dr. Tewari produced/recorded a CD titled Indian Folk Music from Uttar Pradesh (Lyrichord LYRCD-7452) in 2006, from field research from 1972-1999. This is a highly recommended companion for listening to some of the songs in the book, and it is one of the very few commercial recordings of music from Uttar Pradesh. For a more advanced study of the songs from a musicological perspective (notation, poetic meters, etc.), the researchers should look elsewhere. Overall, Dr. Tewari presents a thorough exploration of the folk songs from Uttar Pradesh with a relatively inexpensive work, as most ethnomusicological books on specific locations tend to be very pricey - over $100. However, it will be difficult for many to find any significant research on the music of Uttar Pradesh, without consulting Dr. Tewari's 30+ years of experience in ethnomusicological studies. This is a great book for the casual music traveler and researcher of Central/South Asian studies.

Dr. Tewari is a Professor of Music at Sonoma State University, California. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

CD Review: Love From Baghdad

Various Artists
Give Me Love: Songs of the Brokenhearted - Baghdad, 1925-1929
Honest Jon's Records

For anyone interested in high-quality historical recordings, Give Me Love... is a true gem for such connoisseurs. This compilation features music from the Iraq region and it is completely void of contemporary electronic beats and arrangements. However, the music was first recorded in the 1920's for 78 rpms. The sound clarity is superb throughout the CD. This is Arabic folk music that features characteristic, male and female vocals and the violin, zurna, lute, and various percussion. Some of the music is from Kuwait and Bahrain. 20 musicians are featured. The music of a classic era in Kurdish history is not to be missed. It is a real treat to discover early, recorded music. Do yourself a favor and enjoy the flavorful tastes and sounds of the Middle East with Give Me Love: Songs of the Brokenhearted... ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Nuyorican Boogaloo

Various Artists
Boogaloo Pow Wow: Dancefloor Rendez-Vous In Young Nuyorica
Honest Jon's Records

Boogaloo Pow Wow... is a window into the Latin-dance sound of New York City in the 1960's. An array of styles permeate the album's tracks. Everything from salsa, Afro-Cuban, son, mambo, pachanga, cha-cha-cha, jazz, bolero, and other styles representative of the Latin diaspora. In a way, these aforementioned styles frequently emerged as mixed-musical entities from contemporary American pop music. The soulful and groovy sounds of Willie Rosario, Tito Rodriguez, Willie Bobo, Chuito Velez, and many others showcase the 60's style of nuyorican music. Essentially, the music of the Caribbean -- notably Puerto Rico -- found a home in New York City and an audience across America. Boogaloo Pow Wow... is a remarkable album of vocal and instrumental tunes of historic proportions. A great album for anyone interested in America's early Latin music genres. Your feet will applaud it! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Calypso From...Africa?

Various Artists
Marvellous Boy: Calypso From West Africa
Honest Jon's Records

Many of us familiar with calypso music can conjure up images of a lively carnival band amid white sandy beaches, sky-blue ocean waters, and swaying palm trees on an island anywhere in the Caribbean. We would be right, but calypso music extends far east of the Caribbean to the shores of West Africa. Marvellous Boy... is an album that presents us with 1950's calypso music from that region. The musical styles of highlife, jazz, and band music also overlap with the characteristic calypso groove. The calypso tunes on this recording come from the countries of Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria. Some exciting artists, such as Famous Scrubbs, Bobby Benson, Roy Chicago, E.T. Mensah, and others, represent major fixtures in the calypso scene of the 50's. The accessibility of calypso music from Africa should appeal to Caribbean and Latin music fans. Anyone looking for a high-quality, nostalgic release of traditional music will dance a happy beat for the 'marvellous' Marvellous Boy... ~ Matthew Forss

Monday, April 27, 2009

CD Review: The (electro)-Cafe Svetlana

Cafe Svetlana
Essay Recordings

The electro-Balkan tunes of producer and DJ Ahilea Durcovski has brought out the best tracks for lounging, dancing, and everything else in between. A mix of male and female vocals accompany the downbeat, Balkan tracks. A hint of Klezmer brass and Transylvanian folk permeates the album. The groovy beat of 'O Mangas' is reminiscent of something recorded by the folks at the Sublime Frequencies label. This is modern folk music with an electronic backbone. In fact, the name Cafe Svetlana is taken from a legendary musical club of the same name in Vienna. Thanks to Ahilea, the secretive music of Cafe Svetlana is now a global presence. The instrumental beats are quite infectious and never dull or flat. This is adventurous music for the adventurous listener. Clearly, one of the best recordings of 2009! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tibet's New Voice

Namgyal Lhamo
Silk Road Productions

Appropriately titled, Pure is a masterful display of vocal prowess and sensual instrumental sensibilities. Namgyal's voice is filled with emotion and a high degree of fluidity. In short, it is a perfect accompaniment to the dulcimer-like instrument, plucked lute and atmospheric elements. There are two instrumental tracks that should satisfy anyone interested in Central Asian and Chinese folk music. Additionally, a 16th and 17th century song conveys the traditional spirit of Tibet's distant past. Even though Namgyal lives in the Netherlands, her voice and spirit are still in Tibet. Anyone familiar with Yungchen Lhamo or Kelsang Tethong will thoroughly enjoy all three of Namgyal's available recordings. Pure is slightly more traditional than The Enchanted Land... album. Nevertheless, make an effort to acquire this contemplative and moving album of Tibetan music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tibet's Trip-Hop Temptress

Namgyal Lhamo
The Enchanted Land...
Silk Road Communications

The Heavenly-voice of Namgyal Lhamo is as majestic at the Himalayan range of her Tibetan homeland. This is a contemporary release of piano infusions, electronic trip-hop elements, and atmospheric washes of light, sound, and color. The Enchanted Land... is a work of incredible creativity and artistic direction. The traditional background of the music is brought into the forefront through Namgyal's Tibetan vocals. Yet, the lack of traditional instrumentation does not spoil the musicality of Namgyal's music. Yes, there are classical comparisons, but also folk, jazz, and trip-hop. Though, it may be a stretch to point out similarities in musicianship to the group Enigma, but it's not too difficult to believe. Most of the tunes are musically engaging with a good dose of abstractiveness for the listener. This is ideal for the global music fans that follow anything by Ronan Hardiman (Ireland) and Nuklearte (Italy). Experience transcendence today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mali's Abdoulaye Djoss Diabate

Abdoulaye Djoss Diabate
Mulatta Records

An ambassador of Malian music, Abdoulaye Diabate looks for musical inspiration from his ancestral lineage. The Griot tradition has been one of the most recognizable exports of African musical commodity. Abdoulaye's vocals and instrumentation resembles the contemporary sounds of Zimbabwean or Central African music. In a way, Abdoulaye's Malian heritage has been passed down from generations, and Abdoulaye respectfully creates a magical, musical idiom. The instrumentation repertoire is quite engaging. The balafon, calabash, flute, kora, and other percussion permeate the celebratory tracks. Lyrically, the songs include tales of love, praise, society, children, and tolerance of working in establishments and clubs that serve alcohol. Sara comes from a song of the same name about a bride that does not want to be in an arranged marriage. Overall, Sara is a strong recording with good vocals, instrumentation, and catchy tunes. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CD Review: Mamer - Eagle

Real World

Born in China's northwestern Xinjiang province, Mamer has been a pervasive figure in Chinagrass music: a blend of traditional Kazakh folk music and Chinese bluegrass. Mamer plays the guitar, dombra, sherter (plucked lute), Jew's harp, and dabel drum. He is joined by members of his band, IZ, on ghijek, kobyz, and sybyzghy (end-blown flute), as well as Mongolia's Hanggai, Grammy Award-winning musician, Bela Fleck on banjo, and a bonus track by the late-Hector Zazou. On Eagle, the ethnic elements of traditional, nomadic cultures encounter contemporary musical production and innovation. The throaty vocals of Mamer float gently alongside folksy instrumentation. In fact, the whole musical package is aptly named Eagle, because, it soars high like an eagle. Everyone who listens to Mamer will find themselves floating with excitement. It's that good. ~ Matthew Forss