Sunday, March 28, 2010

CD Review: Sa Dingding's "Harmony"


The Chinese and Mongolian-influenced Sa Dingding is no stranger to musical success. Her previous album, Alive (2007), was a preview of things to come. Harmony is an extension of Alive and is the product of Sa Dingding's musical maturity. The incorporation of contemporary beats with traditional instrumentation give Harmony a richly-textured musical adventure. The fairly polished production is similar in tone to what Te Vaka did for the South Pacific, or what Huun Huur Tu did for Mongolia. Harmony is a mix of global pop, electronica, fusion, and dance music. There is no void of catchy 'harmonies' as well. Though not for the ethnic purists, Harmony is one of those albums that reveals more of itself with each listen. Sa Dingding sings in Mandarin, Sanskrit, English, and her own self-created language. Most of the songs contain liner notes in English. Great job...again! ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, March 26, 2010

CD Review: Kandjha Kora's "La guinee"

Kandjha Kora is kora player, singer, and guitarist, Kandia Kouyate. The 2009 album is rightly titled from his homeland of Guinea, Africa. The compositions and vocals are high quality and very enjoyable. This is largely a contemporary recording of Afro-pop. Though, there are plenty of rich sounds and textures to digest with ease. The electronic programming adds a level of polishing that never interferes with the traditional instrumentation. In fact, the few instruments that are utilized are never over-bearing or misused. The music never really goes into rap, rock or spoken word directions. However, the music tends to skirt ever so closely to the creative edges of the aforementioned genres. Still, La guinee is a favorite and popular release of Guinean and African music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ba Cissoko's "Seno"


Guinea's-own kora master, Ba Cissoko, is joined by Sekou Kouyate (kora, vocals), Ibrahima Kouyate (bass), Laurent Rigaud and Ibrahima Bah (percussion), and Abdoulaye Kouyate and Kandia Kouyate (vocals). All the songs on Seno are bright and cheery with groovy rhythms teeming with melody and vivacity. This is not a traditional album, but it does incorporate the kora as a centralized instrument in all of the compositions. The style is rather modernized Afro-pop. At any rate, Ba Cissoko's contemporary song creations are fun to listen to. There is an intimate jazzy and trippy feel to some of the songs. Seno is an indelible album of great significance in the world of kora music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: ElectroDunes "Saharian Vibes"

Saharian Vibes

ElectroDunes' 2006 release, Saharian Vibes, is a global dub-beat adventure with a laid-back reggae-inspired groove with the sounds of French and North African influences. This is the electronic sound sweeping the European and African continents. There is a mix of lounge, downtempo, trip hop, dub, and electronica with Arabic vocals throughout. This is not a rai or traditional folk album. Saharian Vibes is the soundtrack for life in France and North Africa. In fact, many of the songs are perfect beats for an urban film score. Nine tracks of instrumental and vocal tunes are included. If you are into dub-reggae, electronica, trip hop, downtempo, lounge, French, or North African music, then Saharian Vibes should be on your radar. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, March 21, 2010

CD Review: Urna's 2001 "Jamar"


Mongolia's Urna performs her signature vocals on Jamar. In this case, Mongolia's national instrument, the morin huur (horsehead fiddle), makes an appearance, unlike on her other recordings. In addition, a zither, percussion, and throat-singing is included, too. Jamar is closely aligned with elements of Chinese folk music, which results from Urna's global wanderings over the years. It is an engaging journey, a movie soundtrack, a day on the steppes, and a peaceful river of harmony, style, and rhythm. A particularly interesting track is "Grandmother and I". It features a spritely rhythm, good tempo, folk-roots elements, lively vocals, and catchy sounds. The zither sounds similar in tone to a cross between a piano and acoustic guitar. Jamar is a trans-global recording primarily inspired by the historical roots of Mongolian and Chinese music creations. Urna is easily one of the best recording artists to emerge out of Mongolia. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, March 19, 2010

CD Review: Urna's 1999 "Hodood"


Hodood, or "in the steppe", is a more traditional, yet somewhat modernized recording with various instrumentation, awe-inspiring vocals, and spacious sounds. Hodood is a perfect journey through a Mongolian and Chinese musical history. This album includes a little throat-singing, spoken word, and a sheng, also known as a mouth organ. A drum, zither, and cello to round out the instrumental repertoire. Urna's vocalizations are indicative of some European and Scandinavian folk-roots music. However, Urna's voice is distinctly Mongolian. One highlight of many is the track, "Sangjidorji", which is a rather poignant song about one of the most famous Freedom Fighters from the Ordos (southern Mongolia). The incredible quality of the music and production reminds the listener this might be a Real World Records release. In fact, it is difficult to believe all the sounds on Hodood do not incorporate some type of electronic instrumentation. The mix of shamanic sounds, haunting vocals, cool instrumentation, attractive packaging and detailed liner notes in English, Mongolian, and Chinese, make Hodood a remarkable album of contemporary Mongolian music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Urna's 2005 release "Amilal"


Mongolia's Urna Chahar Tugchi is a master of song and voice. Her pleasant singing is reminiscent of Tibet's Yungchen Lhamo and Namgyal Lhamo. Amilal, which means "life", is a glowing album of Middle Eastern and Central Asian sensibilities with the zarb, violin, daf, and udu comprising the instrumental repertoire. Urna's vocals are sung in Mongolian. Additionally, the liner notes include Mongolian, English, and Chinese song translations. The songs are not influenced by the electronic and modernized, Western sounds of most contemporary recordings coming out of Mongolia today. Furthermore, Amilal does not contain any throat-singing or presence of the national folk instrument, the morin huur fiddle. Amilal strikes a balance between a cascade of vocals and sparse instrumentation. At any rate, one can hear the airy expanse of the Mongolian steppes melding with the glorious voice of Urna. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Izaline Calister's "Speransa"


Hailing from the Netherlands Antilles island of Curacao, Izaline Calister brings the music of the Lesser Antilles to life on Speransa. The album title, which means "hope", is an introspective album of breezy island songs with a classic jazz sound. Of course, Latin and flamenco elements are present, though the music is more closely related to Venezuela, Brazil, or the Cape Verdes. Izaline sings in her native language of Papiamentu, which is comprised of a mixture of Creole, Portuguese, Spanish, English, and African languages. Throughout the album, Izaline's voice carries a range of tones, but effortlessly accompanies the guitar, flugelhorn, piano, percussion, and bass. The shining tracks are "Awa", "Speransa", "Jung", "Preteksto", "Kadena Enkanta", and "La La La". Izaline is prepared to bring the music of Curacao to the rest of the world, along with her four other solo albums. This is easily one of the best world music albums I have ever reviewed. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, March 12, 2010

CD Review: Nguyen Le's "Saiyuki"

Nguyen Le

Saiyuki is a transglobal and cross-cultural product of Eastern and Western influences. Vietnam-born Nguyen Le's guitar work is lively, spirited, and rich in rhythm. He is joined by Japan's Mieko Miyazaki on the koto and shamisen. Mieko also provides vocals, along with Prabhu Edouard on tabla and percussion. A special guest star is India's bansuri flute-maestro, Hariprasad Chaurasia. The entire album has an improvisational feel with scatting vocals, ethereal synths, and progressive-jazz undertones. Anyone familiar with the superb guitar playing abilities of the late-Shawn Lane and his work with Jonas Hellborg will find comparisons to Nguyen Le's guitar and Prabhu's tabla playing. "Mina Zaki" is a track evocative of Thomas Newman's 1999 American Beauty film score. In an age when fusion often results in a musical "con-fusion", Saiyuki dispels this connotation and raises far above a typical fusion releases. The subtle nuances, various instrumentation, and haunting, but beautiful, rhythms, encapsulates the essence of the Asian, Indian, and Western-inspired album. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, March 7, 2010

CD Review: Ethiopia's Meklit Hadero

On A Day Like This...

San Francisco-resident and Ethiopian-native, Meklit (pron. muh-kleet) Hadero, is a groovy, sultry, and poetic vocalist that transcends traditional genre borders. The entire album is poignant, laid-back, and inspirational. Meklit composes eight original songs on this album. One cover song, "Feeling Good", by Anthony Newley and Bricusse is included. The only other cover song is a traditional Ethiopian song, and the only song sung in Amharic, celebrates the rural life. It is originally written by Ethiopia's legendary musician, Mahmoud Ahmed. Meklit's voice and acoustic guitar playing are joined by upright bass, oboe, clarinet, sax, piano, viola, ney flute, cello, and other assorted instruments. The music is perfect for lounging and takes on an almost Brazilian/samba sound in parts. A Sade-like vocalist, Meklit creates a new form of music that borrows classic big band elements, R&B, jazz, folk, and easy listening influences. On A Day Like This... is highly recommended any day of the year. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, March 5, 2010

CD Review: Rounder Records 40 Years In The Making

Various Artists
Rounder Records 40th Anniversary Concert

Recorded live, for the most part, at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee on October 12th 2009, the 40th anniversary celebration of Rounder's existence showcases a wide array of folk, rock, blues, jazz, bluegrass, cajun, and roots music from some of the labels most iconic musicians. You will hear performances by Alison Krauss, Irma Thomas, Steve Martin, Minnie Driver, Bela Fleck, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas, and the downtempo-jazz queen, Madeleine Peyroux. Over 2,000 albums have been released by Rounder Records, including many in the international genres. However, this concert does not feature any musicians representative of the world music genre. Still, the album is a lively showcase of instrumental and vocal music that should be heard and enjoyed by all. If you are fans of the musicians mentioned above, then this is an especially important gift for you. For everyone else, the Rounder Records 40th anniversary concert is one for the ages and a symbol of American folk music at its best. The liner notes contain short biographies of each artist, along with some song information. Most of all, CD royalties will be donated to the Grammy in the Schools programs under the auspices of the Grammy Foundation. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Algeria's Hasna el Becharia

Hasna el Becharia
Smaa Smaa (Listen Listen)

The follow-up to the incredible 2001 album, Djazair Johara, Smaa Smaa, which means "listen listen" is an album born out of an innate connection with the Saharan desert. The result is a slightly more intimate and mature mold than the previous album. Algerian-born, Hasna, primarily plays the three-stringed guimbri instrument on both albums. The guimbri is an iconic instrument in Gnawa trance music. The guimbri's subdued lute tunings are played without frets, but metal rings are often added for a different, metallic sound with each strum of the fingers. The songs are sung in Arabic by Hasna, with instrumental accompaniment on the violin, darbuka, guitar, and bass. Hasna is accompanied by a few back-up singers on several tracks. Overall, Hasna has created yet another beautiful album of music from the sands of North Africa. The colorful digipack artwork and liner notes are in French and Arabic. ~ Matthew Forss