Friday, October 29, 2010

CD Review: Galeet Dardashti's 'The Naming'

Galeet Dardashti
The Naming
Independent Release

The Persian-Jewish musical connections are showcased on Galeet's debut release. The Naming is a nod to bold and powerful women in the Old Testament of the Bible. Galeet sings with a great deal of emotion, seemingly bringing the Bible to life in song. With a smattering of Persian chants, Middle Eastern percussion, and Biblical quotes, The Naming encapsulates Galeet's ethnic roots of Iran and Israel, while currently based in the U.S. The distinctive Persian percussion with santur, qanun, and strings, accompany Galeet's mostly Hebrew language singing. The music seems to nicely bridge the past with the present without being overtly modern or wholly traditional. Galeet Dardashti is not as experimental as U.S.-based Iranian musician, Sussan Deyhim, or as traditional as Iran's Sima Bina or the Dasten Ensemble. Regardless, The Naming is a solid release of songs with a purpose and a past. Coincidentally, another purpose is to enjoy the music for what it is worth. It is a riotous journey of Biblical proportions! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: WOMEX 2010 - Sounds of the world from Copenhagen, Denmark

Various Artists
The WOMEXimizer 10

As a celebration of world music acts from around the world, WOMEX, or World Music Expo, began in 1994 to foster a global awareness of everything world music. A festival usually held in different locations each year throughout Europe, WOMEX provides a sampling of songs on The WOMEXimizer 10. In fact, the release includes twenty different musicians, sixteen vocal songs, four instrumental songs, and fourteen different languages with a running time approximately seventy-eight minutes. The eclectic musical repertoire features songs from Kamel el Harrachi, Mamer, Phonix, Yemen Blues, Svetlana Spajic Group, Maria Kalaniemi, Bomba Estereo, Danyel Waro, Tremor, Desert Slide, Dancas Ocultas, Malick Pathe Sow & Maoba, Damily, Elisabeth Vatn, OMFO, Yom, LaBrassBanda, Samba Chula de Sao Braz, and the 2010 Womex Award winner, Danyel Waro. Numerous countries are represented and the song selections are top notch. If you can't get to WOMEX for some reason, then WOMEXimize yourself with The WOMEXimizer 10. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sound of Siam - Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam [1964-75]

Various Artists
The Sound of Siam - Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam [1964-1975]

The vinyl sounds of Thailand in the 1960's and 70's signaled a rise in various styles popularized in the cities and rural areas. The music of luk krung contains a longer running time than luk thung, or country music, and it is more instrumental. Molam is indigenous to the northeastern part of Thailand and it involves faster vocals, a mouth organ (khaen), a lute (phin), and a bowed violin (sor). Despite the fairly rudimentary classification, The Sounds of Siam... incorporate psychedelic guitars, groovy bass-lines, and hints of Latin or African influences. Many of the tracks are catchy, including "Lam Tung Wai", "Lam Toey Chaweewan", "Mae Kha Som Tam", and the instrumental hit "Soul Lam Plearn". The male and female vocals are passionate, funky, and never boring. The funk-ladened "Sao Lam Plearn" is very attractive. At any rate, the folks at Soundway Records have captured the musical pinnacle of Siam's yesteryear. Numerous obscure bands never-before-released outside southeast Asia are prizes for anyone into the psychedelic, funk-driven, folk music of Thailand. A detailed 24-page booklet includes music background and band/song information. The Sounds of Siam... put the fun in funk! ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

CD Review: Paul Winter Consort

Miho: Journey to the Mountain

Built in 1997, the Japanese Miho Museum is an architectural marvel that houses antiquities from the West and the East. In addition to the historical or architectural considerations, the Paul Winter Consort recorded most of the music in the Miho Museum. Paul Winter, a saxophonist, includes numerous musicians on sarangi, sazabo, koto, frame drums, Heckelphone, English horn, oboe, cello, keyboard, bansuri flute, percussion, and bass clarinet for a relaxed listening experience. The subtle musical tones and new-age sounds incorporate vocals from Armenian Arto Tuncboyaciyan on "Love Is Not In Your Mind" and "Before It's Too Late", with Tibet's Yangjin Lamu on "Words of Wish Fulfillment". The vocals and instrumentation is modern, yet retains a traditional and majestic spaciousness as grandiose as the Miho Museum's breathtaking design. Not only does Paul Winter incorporate the obvious instruments and vocals, but also includes the soudns of elephants, whales, cicadas, and birds. Essentially, Miho... is a 'journey' unto itself with all its cascading melodies and associated arrangments. If the Earth had a soundtrack, this would be it! The seventy-eight minute running time is not a bad thing either. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Finland's Islaja

Keraaminen Paa
Islaja is the name of Finland's Merja Kokkonen. Her latest album, Keraaminen Paa (Ceramic Head), is a Finnish language album of avante-garde folk and experimental electronica. Though, Keraaminen Paa is a fairly lo-fi recording with moments of electronic instrumentation similar to Norway's Sorten Muld and contemplative vocals that are a bit more bizarre in the vein of Sweden's Sofia Jannok and Iceland's Bjork. The earthy sounds do not necessarily reflect a melodic pattern, but the shamanic beats of "Rakkauden Palvelija" contrast with the spacey, atmospheric sounds of "Ihmispuku". Islaja's voice is mysterious, haunting, and full of life. The modern folk-electronica genre in Scandinavia is widespread and varied. However, Islaja's sound also takes on similar tones and melodies with the Faroe Islands' Valravn. Basically, anyone into Scandinavian folk-electronica with ambient leanings will enjoy the slower, more adventurous tones of Keraaminen Paa. The Finnish liner notes are also translated into English. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

CD Review: Nigeria's Tirogo


Tirogo was a 1970's Afro-psych-funk group from Nigeria. First recorded in 1977, the songs of Float feature the best in psychedelic-guitar music to come out of West Africa. Rock guitar, lounge beats, and funky organ sounds emanate from all of the tracks. As an added bonus, an interview with bassist, percussionist, and vocalist Wilfred Ekanem is included in the liner notes. Float soars with Heavenly Afro-rock beats, swirling organ sounds, and groovy English vocals. The swaying sounds of Afro-funk are particularly noticeable on "Gypsy Girl" and "Let's Feed The Nation". The band members include Wilfred Ekanem, Elvy Akhionbare (lead guitar, percussion), Wilfred Iwang (drums, vocals, percussion), Fumi Onabolu (keyboards, percussion), and Godwin Debogie (conga, percussion, vocals). Anyone with a passionate interest in 70's Afro-funk and psychedelic music should seek out the groovy sounds of Float. Float doesn't sink! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Witch's 'Introduction' Is Not So Scary


Witch was a psych-rock music group from Zambia. Their songs from the first record in 1973 are released here. The psychedelic-driven songs contain equal parts of funk, blues, and folk. However, Introduction is a window into the Zambian rock music movement of the 1970's. The classic tunes are sung in English, but the underground tone is purely African. The tongue-and-cheek title track that introduces the band members and instruments with a guitar-fuzz rhythm and English vocals. "Feeling High" is a languid tune with a familiar blues rhythm. The bass-heavy "No Time" is a funky, guitar-driven song with an upbeat tempo and classic vocals. Nine tracks in all 'introduce' listeners to rare gems of Zambian rock music. Fans of funkadelic, Afro-rock music on dusty LP's from the 1970's will find Witch to be a perfect accompaniment in a fine music collection. Don't let the name scare you from enjoying the best re-issued Afro-psych-funk to come out of Zambia. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, October 24, 2010

CD Review: Diogal's 'Urban Spirit'

Urban Spirit

Born in Senegal and living in France, Diogal has bridged both musical countries into his own infectious Afro-pop selections. A seemingly uncanny musical similarity to Mauritania's Daby Toure, Diogal's musical poetry sung in Wolof is a pleasant production of catchy, contemporary songs. Urban Spirit is a lively mix of what happens when old (language) and new (contemporary production/instruments) harmoniously collide. The groovy rhythms, guitar playing, and Diogal's spirited voice sets the tone for a great musical journey. This is not your average Afro-pop listening experience. "Bok Tuma" is a lively gem with an Afro-rock outro and the final track, "Weet", is a peaceful vocal tune accompanied by guitar and light percussion. The moving "Thiow Li" is a beautiful ballad sure to catch the ears of listeners everywhere. Seek out Diogal's Urban Spirit and you will not be disappointed. ~ Matthew Forss

Monday, October 11, 2010

CD Review: Rahim Alhaj's 2-CD Set

Little Earth
UR Music

New Mexico-based, Iraqi-American Rahim Alhaj, is a composer, oud player, and pigeon farmer. The musical spirit of the Middle East is brought to life with help from various artists, including Bill Frisell, Peter Buck, Robert Mirabal, Glen Velez, Maria de Barros, Liu Fang, Stephen Kent, Yacouba Sissoko, Hossein Omoumi, and others. The Grammy-nominated Rahim provides written compositions with little in the way of improvisation. Disc one only contains one vocal track, which is sung in Portuguese by Cape Verde's Maria de Barros. The remainder of the disc contains instrumental works with classical Arabic percussion, along with kora, sitar and guitar. The varied instrumentation and diversity of the musicians signifies a unification of musical development and performance across cultures. Disc two continues the musical diversity with didjeridoo, pipa, Native American flute, and Iranian ney flute. Rahim's collaboration with Southwest musicians and others from aroudn the world clearly illustrate the world of music. In effect, Little Earth is symbolic for the close interconnectedness of human society. Liner notes include artist biographies and song information in English. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Norway Meets Iran with Skruk & Mahsa Vahdat

I vinens speil (In The Mirror of Wine)

Norway's Skruk choir and Iran's Mahsa Vahdat create symphonic songs of poetry from Sufi poets Rumi and Hafez. The songs are presented in Persian and Norwegian. The Sufi poets often combined elements of Islam, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism in their poetic works. I vinens speil draws upon the same religious influences mentioned above and it was also recorded in a Norwegian church. The mix of light percussion, bass, and piano are a perfect companion to the beautiful choral melodies and Mahsa's voice. Mahsa's angelic voice on the opening track, "Gleden Ved Ditt Kyss", sets the stage for the rest of the album. The piano is never overtly intrusive. Anyone with an interest in hauntingly beautiful church melodies, classical music, and world jazz will find the most satisfaction with Skruk & Mahsa Vahdat. Liner notes include Norwegian and Persian song translations. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, October 8, 2010

CD Review: Myanmar Meets The West

Khing Zin Shwe & Shwe Shwe Khaing
Voice Over The Bridge

Khing Zin Shwe and Shwe Shwe Khaing are both Myanmarese singers that have studied the classical and traditional songs of Myanmar's distant past. Using the Maha Gita, which is a classical work of songs praising kings as early as the thirteenth-century, the singers convey delicate moods and emotions with their angelic vocalizations. The addition of contemporary instrumentation 'updates' traditional music by immersing the listener in electronic washes of color with classical strings, piano, drums, flute, guitar, bass, and contrabass. The melding of East-meets-West is not an unfamiliar concept, though it is rare to find any music coming out of Myanmar today. Rarity aside, Voice Over The Bridge echoes the sounds of the East and the West with a sense of epic serenity. Listeners may also be interested in the film and music of the Laya Project (EarthSync, 2010), which features the music of Southeast Asia. Experience Myanmar for yourself! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Kenya's Suzanna Owiyo

Suzanna Owiyo
My Roots

Kenya's Suzanna Owiyo is a percussionist, guitarist, singer, and most importantly, a nyatiti player. A nyatiti is an eight-stringed, plucked lyre from Kenya. The nyatiti was a mainstay in the Benga music movement in Kenya beginning in the 1960's. It is related to the krar, which is a five-stringed, plucked lyre from Ethiopia. My Roots' opening track showcases the nyatiti's mesmerizing sound similar to a combination of an electrified harp with the buzzing sounds of the mbira. Her Luo and English lyrics tackle alcoholism, violence, abandonment, and faith. Her voice is as strong as Angelique Kidjo (Benin) and as sensitive as Rokia Traore (Senegal). Drawing upon comparisons throughout Africa, My Roots is more than a contemporary Afro-pop album with a crystal clear sound; it is a groundbreaking release that features an instrument never-before-played by women. A few guest musicians appear, such as Zimbabwe's Oliver Mtukudzi, Ogoya Nengo, and Makadem. Fans of East African popular music will find My Roots a very satisfying experience. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tiken Jah Fakoly's 'African Revolution'

African Revolution

A musical 'revolution' is coming out of Africa and Tiken Jah Fakoly is its leader. An Ivory Coast-native, Tiken primarily sings about politics, war, and social change. The songs are sung in French and English. The music is similar in sound to contemporaries Carlou D or Toussaint, whom also have origins in West Africa. This is modern music with a modern beat. The instrumental repertoire is extensive, and includes bass, drums, guitars, ngoni, balafon, kora, soukou, tama, yabara, banjo, ukulele, assorted percussion, and electronic elements. The final product is an ear-friendly collection of songs drawing from reggae, cool jazz, pop/rock, and French music. The swaying rhythms, hard-hitting lyrics, engaging sounds, and sincere vocals make African Revolution one of the best releases of the year! Head to the Ivory Coast for soul-stirring, musical pleasure...or your nearest music store for African Revolution. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sameer Gupta's Bolly-Jazz

A jazz drummer and tabla talent, Sameer Gupta brings us a collection of songs inspired by early Bollywood film scores. The Sanskrit album title can mean "show respect", or "welcome" in English. Namaskar is something worthy of respect and it has a very welcoming sound. There are connections with American/Latin jazz and Indian music, which I appropriately dub 'Bolly-Jazz'. Sameer is joined by Marc Cory (keyboards, ableton, piano), Pt. Anindo Chatterjee (tabla), Pt. Ramesh Misra (sarangi), Srinivas Reddy (sitar), David Boyce (sax, EFX, clarinet), Prasant Radhakrishnan (carnatic sax), Charith Premawardanan (viola), and David Ewell (acoustic bass). The music is jazzy with hints of Latin and classical, amidst a wandering rhythm sound of Indian delight. Importantly, the music does not contain any vocalizations. Anyone with an appreciation for world fusion, jazz, Indian, avante-garde, and related styles will find inner (and outer) happiness with Namaskar. Lastly, the liner notes contain English interviews with Marc and Pts. Anindo and Ramesh. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, October 7, 2010

CD Review: The Psychedelic Aliens Have Landed

The Psychedelic Aliens
Psycho African Beat

Ghana's psychedelic-funk bands of the 1960's and 70's were influenced not only by other West African bands, but American rock and soul acts, too. The Psychedelic Aliens formed in 1968 and released only three short records over the next four years. So-named for the diverse ethnic composition of the group, The Psychedelic Aliens embodied an Afro-psyche-funk sound with touches of rock and soul for an outstanding album of historical proportions. The entire album contains only eight tracks, but this is attributed to the band's few recordings. The music does not disappoint. Anyone with an interest in African music from the 1960's-70's should obtain Psycho African Beat. After all, The Psychedelic Aliens have landed and their music doesn't sound so 'alien' to any of us. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Huun Huur Tu 'Step'pes It Up!

Ancestor's Call

The galloping sounds of Tuva's throat-singing and instrumental ensemble, Huun Huur Tu, are revisited as more modernized sound palettes accentuate the group's characteristic style of ancient melodies. Keep in mind, the group's traditional instruments are still here, including the igil, doshpuluur, flute, byzaanchi, igil, and drums. The addition of the guitar eloquently steers the songs into a glorious setting of listenable comfort. For the most part, the songs are reinvented from their earlier Orphan's Lament (Shanachie, 1994), but one selection, 'Konguroi', makes an appearance from Sixty Horses in My Herd (Shanachie, 1993), as well as 'Saryglarlar' from Eternal (Electrofone, 2009). There is a slightly modernized tone to the songs without showy electronic elements or techno/dance noises. Essentially, Ancestor's Call is culled from thousands of years of throat-singing traditions for a new generation. This is a slight departure from Eternal (Electrofone, 2009), which featured the electronic wizardry of Carmen Rizzo. At any rate, Huun Huur Tu 'step'pes it up like no one else! ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, October 1, 2010

CD Review: Peruvian Collective: Pena [CD+DVD]

Pena [CD+DVD]

Pena is not an ordinary album of Afro-Peruvian music. The brainchilds behind the Pena ‘collective’ of musicians are Cory Wong and Eric Foss. Both men run Secret Stash Records in Minnesota, USA. Pena was born after a trip to Lima, Peru yielded a wealth of excellent opportunities to record several musicians over a seven-day period. Cory’s background in Afro-Peruvian songs and guitar playing allowed for many musical moments that were rather spontaneous, while meeting and rehearsing with the musicians. On Pena, Cory’s guitar is joined by Andres Prado, Eric Kurimski, Alberto, and Javier Choy on guitar, Chico Chavez (percussion), Sofia Koutsovitis (vocals), Jorge Roeder (upright bass), Jorge Perez-Albela, Manuel Vasquez, and Hugo Alcazar on cajon. The songs are lightly seasoned with South American, African, and Latin sensibilities, but they are genuinely Afro-Peruvian. A diverse blend of virtuoso performers provides introspective musicianship on every track. In the same manner, a thirty-five minute DVD accompanies the album. The DVD provides commentary from Cory and Eric, footage of recording sessions, Peruvian instrument history, and various performances of every musician included on the album. What makes Pena particularly unique involves the way it is packaged – in an attractive mahogany-colored, wood case. If you want to experience the life-affirming qualities of the Afro-Peruvian musical heritage, then look no further. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Colombia's Systema Solar

Systema Solar

The colorful soundscapes of Colombia's Systema Solar defy easy categorization. The music is largely funkadelic with a touch of Balkan brass and Afro-Latin beats amid a techno background. The vocal elements primarily eschew hip-hop or rap overtones. The dazzling instrumentation and electronic beats encompass a party-like atmosphere wherever the music is played. If the attractive CD packaging is any indication of the music's content, then you know you are in for nothing less than a magical psychedelic listening experience. Some of the tracks contain straight up beats with less dependence on vocals, while others are more lyrically driven. Still, Systema Solar is one big street party with modern sounds from the Caribbean and beyond. Overall, the varied beats of Systema Solar signify an intrepid journey of interstellar or cosmic proportions. Even village elders will be found tapping their feet and bobbing their heads to the sounds of Systema Solar. ~ Matthew Forss