Konono N° 1 - Congotronics (2004)

«This amazing record is the product of utility, coincidence, and accidental discovery as much as it is a product of academic deliberation, and it manages to sound old and traditional even as it is refreshingly (even radically) new and avant-garde. Konono No. 1 was formed in the 1980s by a group of Bazombo musicians, dancers, and singers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to play traditional likembe (thumb piano) music in the streets. They soon discovered, though, that they needed amplification to be heard and – this is where the story of this album really begins – they took a DIY and utilitarian approach by building their own amplification systems out of junked car parts, magnets, and other flotsam. Once assembled, the system produced a huge hum that Konono No. 1 embraced as part of the sound of the group. At the center of everything were three amped-up thumb pianos tuned to three different registers, and coupled with all manner of pots, pans, whistles, and brake drum snares for percussion and with the vocals blasting through megaphones, all embedded in the huge buzz and hum of the homemade PA system, the group accidentally created a sound that was at once both ancient and traditional and yet eerily akin to experimental 21st century electronica. Congotronics is Konono's second album (the first was a live outing entitled Lubuaku), and while it was ostensibly recorded in a studio setting, it sounds wonderfully live and immediate, as if the dozen members of the group were standing on a busy street corner like some Congolese version of a second-line Mardi Gras band, only with thumb pianos instead of horns. Musical themes emerge and reemerge in the various tracks, and what sounds initially chaotic and random is revealed to be nothing of the sort, giving the whole album the feel of a ragged, joyous suite. Part traditional, part African rhumba, part smart avant-garde electronica, Congotronics is the sound of an urban junkyard band simultaneously weaving the past and the future into one amazingly coherent structure, and not only that, you can dance to it. This is the band Tom Waits has been looking for all his life.» (AMG)

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The Park

Govi - Guitar Odyssey (1997)

«Every so often, a musician emerges who is quite unlike any that have come before; a musician that reflects not an imitation of styles and tones, but who embodies the entire spectrum of styles in such a unique way that "categorizing" is impossible. Guitarist Govi is one of those artists. A native of Germany, Govi spent eight years living in India. "My approach comes from the meditative and creative environment I experienced while living in India as well as playing with musicians from many different cultures and backgrounds," he says. It was there that Govi started playing the mandolin, mandola cello, sitar, bouzouki, charango and the 8-string ukulele. While in India, he also established a friendship with prominent German new age artist, Deuter. Their mutual admiration and respect led to Deuter co-producing Govi's debut album Sky High throughout which Deuter can be heard playing flutes and keyboards. […]

Govi describes his compositions as "the natural and inevitable result of moving deeply into the wellsprings of my creativity. My music is a reflection of my vision of life rather than mere notes on a sheet," he adds. The result is a deeply mystical quality that is both jubilant and pensive, music that ultimately reflects the dimensions of the human spirit in all its complexity and simplicity.
Judging from the accolades, fans are being taken to new heights of their own by Govi's uplifting melodies. Currently living in Hawaii, Govi contends that the overwhelming response he has received from listeners worldwide is heartening and keeps him going. […]

Govi sets the spirits soaring and the hips swaying on Guitar Odyssey, an intoxicating blend of guitars sweetened with breezy South American pan pipes and sensual rhythms. With a treasure chest full of tracks encompassing the high spirited 'Sails of Joy,' the soulful rhumba of 'Treasure Bay,' and the romantic tenderness of 'Your Lingering Touch,' Govi's virtuosity is showcased on Guitar Odyssey, a truly joyful adventure.» (Real Music)

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Sorten Muld - Mark II (1999)

«A Danish trio, Sorten Muld consist in the main of Ulla Bendixen's very traditional voice mixed with a pile of samples and electronics masterminded by Henrik Esben Munch and Martin Dossing Ottosen. A number of studio players are tossed in for good measure, but they contribute only bits and pieces to the whole. The principle behind the group, and this album, is the re-envisioning of Nordic folk song, combining the traditional texts and melodies with a variety of modern production techniques. This kind of thing has been done for other branches of folk music, of course, but this effort has a wonderful tone to it that stems from Bendixen's powerful voice; there are moments when she carries the music directly across from raw folk roots to soaring techno-pop without losing the folk edge for an instant. Definitely one of the best techno-folk productions around.» (AMG)

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Jóhann Jóhannsson - Englabörn (2003)

«Jóhann Jóhannsson è uno dei più apprezzati compositori e performer della nuova scena musicale del Nord Europa, tra i fondatori della Kitchen Motors, il collettivo di musicisti e artisti islandesi da cui provengono popolari band quali múm e Sigur Ros. Dal 1999 è attivo con una delle band di rilievo della Kitchen Motors, l’Apparat Organ Quartet, con cui si è esibito in importanti festival in Europa e negli Usa. Inoltre, Jóhannsson è noto per le sue collaborazioni interdisciplinari, in particolare con il teatro e la danza […]. Ricerca e sonorità visionarie, paesaggi sonori rarefatti, un continuo confronto tra strumenti legati alla cultura musicale accademica e le nuove tecnologie dell’elettronica, un gusto spiccato per i primi sintetizzatori e tastiere “vintage”, un uso personale delle voci, siano esse naturali o “elettroniche”, sono alcune delle caratteristiche più evidenti della proposta di Jóhannsson. Englabörn, pubblicato nel 2002 dall’etichetta inglese Touch, è stato il suo primo disco solista, una serie di brani brevi per un ensemble composto da un quartetto d’archi, piano, tastiere, glockenspiel e percussioni. A questi strumenti Jóhannsson combinava l’uso dell’elettronica in un’elaborazione palpitante e di grande fascino, spiazzante per le sue soluzioni, come nel brano iniziale, “Odi Et Amo”, dove le liriche latine di Catullo sono affidate al canto di una voce di contro-tenore realizzata attraverso il computer.» (Vjingit)

«Englabörn, Jóhann's first solo album, is derived from music he originally wrote for an Icelandic play of the same name. For the CD release, the music was revised and restructured to make it stand as a work on its own and not simply function as a collection of cues. Performed by string quartet, piano, organ, glockenspiel and percussion, these elements were processed and manipulated, with him adding delicate electronic backgrounds to the otherwise entirely acoustic recordings. One song, “Odi et Amo”, is a setting of Catullus's famous poem and the album received a very strong critical reaction» (Beggars Group)

«This first solo album from Jóhann Jóhannsson is absolutely beautiful, and it has only become more so over the past few months, sustaining me for long periods of time when other music just wouldn't do the trick.» (Pitchfork Media, full review here)

German review here.

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Tinga Tinga School (Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania)

Hemed, The Port of Dar Es Salaam


Afro Celt Sound System - Volume 1: Sound Magic (1996)

«The traditional music of Western Africa and Ireland is fused into a seamless blend by Afro Celt Sound System. The band's exciting performances have become a popular attraction at the WOMAD festival in Reading, England, since 1995, while their 1996 debut album, Volume 1, remains one of the most successful examples of cultural exchange. Afro Celt Sound System bring together top-ranked musicians, including traditional Irish vocalist Iarla O'Lionard, uillean pipers Davy Spillane (Moving Hearts) and Ronan Browne, whistle player James McNally (the Pogues), Kenyan nyatiti player Ayub Ogada, and Baaba Maal bandmembers Kauwding Cissakho and Massamba Diop. Jo Bruce, the son of British bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce (Cream), rounds out the group on keyboards and electronic programming. Several tracks on the band's debut album […] featured members of Shoonglenifty on mandolin, bongos, banjo, guitar, and fiddle.

You may never have thought of Celtic and African rhythms as complementing one another, but this very interesting effort takes both idioms into new territory with some engaging results. The outcome is a sort of hip-hop jig and reel, like the Chieftains meet the Chemical Brothers. Massamba Diop's masterful talking drum creates an exotic pulse under Myrdhin's fine Celtic harp, and it sounds like a party at some global crossroads. Indeed, the most fascinating aspect of Afro Celt Sound System's Volume 1: Sound Magic is the very real sense that a common language can be found between any cultures, no matter how divergent they may seem. This effort is worth a listen just for its audacity alone.» (AMG)

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Tinga Tinga School (Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania)

Juma, Birds

The Rough Guide: Australian Aboriginal Music (1999)

«This collection of tribal, ambient, and folk music by Australia's aboriginal artists and tribes is an interesting snapshot of the various indigenous faces of Australia. Listeners will find much of the famed didgeridoo, sometimes as the cornerstone for tribal dreamtime rituals, sometimes leading the melodies in modern electronic pop music, sometimes setting the dark, ominous tone for ambient music. Highlights include Archie Roach's melodic folk tune "Native Born", a sweet lament about the loss of aboriginal land and culture; Gapu's "Celebration" with Rachel Nehanda Woods's lovely chant; and Ruby Hunter's "Kurongk Boy, Kurongk Girl". But make no mistake, the Rough Guide folks include enough traditional tribal chant to please those looking for authentic Australian aboriginal music. An excellent, comprehensive introduction». (Karen Karleski, Amazon)

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Tinga Tinga School (Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania)

Haruka, Kariakoo Market

Zanzibara, Vol. 2. - 1965-1975: L’âge d’or du taarab de Mombasa / Golden Years of Mombasa taarab (2006)

«The second entry in Buda Musique's overview of the Tanzanian-centered music scene covers seven popular acts who recorded for the Mzuri label, run by M.J. Shah, who also recorded the bands in a simple but clear and effective one-microphone set-up in a warehouse behind the shop he owned in the major port of Mombasa. As the subtitle indicates, the range covers about ten years of time, with focus on a style called taarab, explained in detailed fashion in the liner notes, noting its origins as a mix of African vocal and rhythmic styles mixed with instruments from many locations, as well as other influences that notably include Indian movie musicals. Another Indian stringed instrument has a beautiful, key role on many of the songs – the tashkota – first known in Japan before gaining popularity in the subcontinent, then carried to Mombasa from there. Shah claimed to have electrified the tashkota when recording groups to better capture the haunting, delicate tones it produces, and on many songs throughout it has a well-deserved lead role, somewhere between a high-pitched sitar and a balalaika. Taarab songs have a slow, almost seductive feeling to them, and the elegant singing of such figures as Matano Juma and Ali Mkali (the latter's "Masikini Macho Yengu," or "My Poor Eyes," has a particularly sad beauty to it, appropriate to the lovelorn lyrics) match the music very well. Arrangements can be busy but are rarely high-speed or hyperactive; if anything, this feels like an equivalent of bossa nova for another coast, delicate and reflective rather than party-up songs. Accordion is another prominent instrument on many songs and, mixed with the distinctly Bollywood stylings audible throughout, the disc results in a captivating collage that well deserves a wide listen.» (AMG)

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Yemen: Musiques des Hauts-Plateaux / Music of the High Plateaux (1997)

«Ne serait-ce que pour son premier titre, ce disque mérite toute notre attention. Il commence en effet par trois minutes de sons subjuguants enregistrés à Sanaa, la capitale du Yémen, lorsqu’aux premières heures de la journée, les muezzins donnent de la voix. Sensation intense, s’il en est ! Suivent des poèmes chantés et des danses que l’on peut entendre dans les villes ou les campagnes. Le oud, le mizamâr (clarinette double en roseau) et les percussions sahn, tâsa, marfa et tabl sont de la partie. Ces percussions métalliques, jouées aussi bien par les hommes que par les femmes, comptent pour beaucoup dans l’attrait singulier que suscite la musique populaire yéménite. Enregistré sur place, ce florilège nous séduit comme la reine de Saba a charmé Salomon!» (Routard)

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Ahmed Abdul-Malik - East Meets West (1959)

«The late Ahmed Abdul-Malik was one of the first musicians to integrate non-Western musical elements into jazz. Best known to jazz listeners as a bassist with Thelonious Monk, Randy Weston, Coleman Hawkins, and many others, he made a few records as a leader, with this one being his most exotic and also the hardest to find. The Brooklyn native was of Sudanese descent; in addition to playing bass on this interesting blend of Middle Eastern instruments with those from the world of jazz, he also plays oud, the forerunner to the lute. The musicians on Malik's eight originals vary from track to track. On the mournful "La Ibky (Don't Cry)," Malik's oud shares the spotlight with a tenor sax (either Benny Golson or Johnny Griffin) plus trumpeter Lee Morgan. "Rooh (The Soul)" features the 72-string kanoon (which is sort of a brittle sounding and much smaller harp) played by Ahmed Yetman, along with Malik's arco bass and the droning violin of Naim Karacand. The Middle Eastern instruments are absent during "Searchin'," which is sort of a hard bop vehicle featuring trombonist Curtis Fuller and Jerome Richardson on flute, along with the tenor sax. "Takseem (Solo)" omits the jazz instruments; the slowness of the variations of the music and rather piercing vocal make it harder for Western ears to comprehend. Not a release of interest to everyone but, for the most part, this fusion of vastly different styles of music is quite enjoyable; it's obvious from the start that the musicians were enjoying themselves as it was recorded. This long out print LP will be difficult to locate.» (AMG)

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Pictures of Greece: Mykonos

Courtesy of JTC

I Mericani - Death Folk (1996)

An incredibile Switzerland-based group between Folk and Avantgarde, Zappa and Carosone. Another fine offering from my friend Giuliano.

«I Mericani comenzaron en 1992 como una banda exclusivamente acústica (violín, banjo, acordeón, saxo, contrabajo y percusiones). Los primeros años fueron una enriquecedora experiencia a través de las diferentes ambiciones musicales de sus miembros. Simultáneamente, empezaron a tocar por las calles para escapar del aburrido sonido de un local de ensayo.
El tamaño de este grupo cambia constantemente con la colaboración de numerosos artistas internacionales. Tienden a ser naturales, conscientes, coherentes y estimulantes. Sus puestas en escena son performances para todo tipo de público. Música enérgica, tradicional y pop psico-folk incitando a la danza. Conciertos sin tregua dedicados a cada espectador.
Más de 700 conciertos desde 1992 en Suiza, Italia, Francia, Slovenia, Croacia, España, Alemania, Austria y Canadá avalan esta banda, así como un montón de composiciones y actuaciones para radios, TV, películas, teatro, danza y perfomances.» (Atiza)

«Legendarny CD, legendarnej i kultowej formacji przekręconej muzyki folkowej, weselnej i kabaretowej. Zmysłowe swawole, ekspresyjne eskapady, szalone pomysły, hipnotyzujące napięcia emocjonalne, przekorna liryka, wirtuozeria, magia.» (Ars2)

«Open group svizzero che ha prodotto della musica sinceramente impossibile a descrivere: un grosso lavoro di esplorazione e scoperta della musica popolare, arricchito di un’irrefrenabile voglia di divertimento e (soprattutto) di dissacrazione. I musicisti, tra cui Steve Buchanan sono tutti eccezionali, capaci di passare con disinvoltura dalla tradizione ticinese a Renato Carosone. Non un’altra jazz/folk/punk band: molto di più, molto di diverso, molto di meglio.» (A)

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Ba Cissoko - Sabolan (2004)

«Given his reputation in Europe and his native Guinea, as well as his pedigree, the debut from kora player Ba Cissoko and his group arrives with plenty to live up to. For once, though, all the hype is more than justified. There's plenty of dance music on hand here; all of it from the Manding tradition, but given a healthy, and sometimes daring edge that makes it contemporary without being deliberately modern. Cissoko himself plays acoustic kora, and his skill is quite breathtaking. But things take a tilt into the unknown when the band's other kora player, Sekou Kouyate amplifies his instrument. While you know it's still a kora, the things he does with it turn it on its head — it's little wonder he's been called the Jimi Hendrix of the instrument. The sound becomes totally new, exciting waterfalls of notes that are palpably thrilling. The rhythm section of bass and percussion anchor it all, and keep the groove going quite effortlessly. This is trail-blazing, purely West African music of a kind not heard in far too long, and completely irresistible.» (AMG; click here for the artist’s biography)

«Deux koras, une basse et des percussions portés par quatre jeunes Guinéens, griots d’héritage formés à Conakry,à présent Marseillais à temps partiel: voici Sabolan l’incandescent premier album de Ba Cissoko. Un son urbain groovy décapant, aussi précurseur que celui du Mory Kanté des jeunes années...» En savoir plus...

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Ruela, Babel [for Babe(b)logue]

More at Neo Artes

Diana Baroni & Sapukai - Son de los Diablos: Tonadas afro-hispanas del Perù (2002)

«On sait que le recherche de Diana Baroni cible les intonations justes, au carrefour du respect des indications des manuscrits abordés, et de la pratique encore actuelle dans la rue péruvienne. De fait, qui a assisté au carnaval de Lima, serait frappé de retrouver ici les consonances et la vitalité rythmique pourtant vielles de plus de deux cents ans. La « danza de carnaval » : son de los diablos qui donne le titre de l’album est le parfait révélateur de cette tentative réussie. En plus d’une attention particulière à l’expression, aux accents, les instrumentistes recomposent un instrumentarium superbement ciselé, théâtral, précis. Des partitions écrites par Don Balthazar Martinez, évèque de Trujillo (une cité de la côte nord du Pérou) qui fut fasciné par la richesse des chansons populaires du XVIIIème siècle, Sapukai ressuscite l’esprit de la musique, musique habitée par les percussions et le grain de la harpe et de la voix, celle de Diana Baroni, véritable instrument fluide et imagé. Il faut beaucoup de liberté dans le geste, et d’imagination grâce à la culture et la connaissance des populations dont il est question, pour dépoussiérer ces anciennes chansons populaires, pour leur redonner vie. La musique de ces valses créoles péruviennes baroques nous rappellent que l’art est ici fruit des métissages entre esclaves noirs, colons espagnols et indigènes andins. Nostalgie de Vals peruano (flûte et harpe, jubilatoires respectivement de Diana Baroni et de Lincoln Almada). Souvent la rage cadencée compense une douleur d’ancienne mémoire, celle des esclaves et des indigènes soumis aux lois de la colonisation.Insouciance tout apparente qui inspire une superbe berceuse (Zana negra), ou des sections au dramatisme quasi théâtral (No, Valentin) Par « tonada », il faut comprendre une chanson jouée et dansée. Le choc des cultures s’exprime totalement dans ce brasier des rythmes et des balancements pointés. Ni vraiment baroque au sens classique du terme ni musique du monde, le présent album ouvre une voie médiane, celle du baroque populaire tout aussi honorable que la musique des salons. Or les grands compositeurs, de Haendel à Bach, de Vivaldi sans omettre Lully, ont souvent puisé dans les chansons de la rue pour écrire leur propre opéra. Nul doute que Diana Baroni, avec une intuition délectable, nous offre la découverte d’un répertoire à retrouver d’urgence.» (Lisez l’entretien: Classiquenews)

English Biography here

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Various Artists - A... Canzoni per l'Ambiente (Songs for the Environment) (2000)

Hello everybody,

although mine is mainly a music blog, I adhered gladly to the Blog Action Day campaign because, as a citizen of this planet, I am profoundly concerned with the actual conditions of its natural environment. We live on the thin-like-a-record surface of the only known world able to support life as we know it, and yet we continue to hurt it in every possible way and treat it as mankind’s dustbin. Well, perhaps the American/Western way of life is not that blessed as Mr. Bush and his fellow oilmen would say, and it’s time to let them go back to their ranches and villas (usually, please note, located quite far from polluted and wasted areas…) and begin to change our lives. Well, I don't want to be annoying. Let me just add that protecting the environment is a political issue, absolutely crucial for our future. And when we come to politics, the most crucial point is information. So, I warmly invite you all to dig the Internet, for example, also to discover what’s really happening right now (don’t expect they'll tell you on the TV…) and what you can do to improve the situation.

One last thing: before downloading this nice collection of «Canzoni per l’ambiente» (Songs for the environment), featuring some of the best names in the Italian “alternative” pop scene (Africa Unite, Agricantus, Nidi d'Arac, Bandabardò, Mau Mau, Max Gazzè, Subsonica and so on...), please leave a green message for everybody to read!

That’s all, folks! R.

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Blog Action Day

«On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind - the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future.

Blog Action Day is about MASS participation. That means we need you! Here are 3 ways to participate:

Also watch the promo video on You Tube

United We Can!

Açoriana: Landscape (São Jorge)

Věra Bílá and Kale - Rom-Pop (1995)

«Věra Bílá and Kale (Vera White and the Blacks as it translates) come from a small town in Bohemia about 70 kilometers west of Prague in the heart of Eastern Europe. As with most Romany groups, all of the band are related family members.

Věra Bílá 's music is deceptively simple and sophisticated at the same time. It's exotic yet homey, Central European yet Latin American. Partially due to the deplorable attitude of many Czechs towards Romanies, it's only ironic Věra Bílá & Kale are better known in France than in their own country.
It wouldn't be surprising for a casual listener to confuse this recording with “The Best of Gal Costa”. Only after examining the album cover he would then realize instead of the willowy Brazilian star, he's really listening to a 5 feet tall, 350 pound (150 cm, 150 kg) Gypsy from Southern Moravia! While Ms. Bílá may sound like a Brazilian pop singer, her band sounds remarkably like Gipsy Kings. And no wonder, this Romany band (as Gypsies prefer to be called) also uses acoustic guitars and layered male vocals, although the sound is often augmented by additional instruments.
Gypsy music when performed by true gypsies has a special quality that stems from the performers' easy, rambling way of life. As with the blues, where you can't sing them if you've never felt them, you can't perform gypsy music if you have not led the life.
When it was time to record Rom - Pop, Věra Bílá and Kale had to choose from their vast catalogue of playable repertoire. With the help of the producers, Zuzana Navarova and Vit Sazavsky from Nerez, they selected sixteen songs which they felt represented their roots as well as songs which represent a development and natural progression of traditional gypsy music. Lyrically the songs describe the trials and tribulations of gypsy life. Most songs incorporate the use of fiddles, violas, accordions and a Hungarian instrument called cymbalom. Unlike the commercialized, heavily spanish influenced songs recorded by acts such as the Gypsy Kings, the contents of Rom - Pop are songs written and recorded for gypsy ears that an outsider can now have the chance to listen to.» (Calabash Music)

«Profilo di cantante blues, Věra Bílá è una star gitana dell'est europeo. Incanta con la sua voce vellutata e intensa, stupisce, come un personaggio di Botero, con un fisico imponente e si lascia guidare dalla musica balcanica tradizionale rom per chitarra, violino, cymbalon e voce: la cymbalova muzica. Definita "la rumba gitana venuta dall'est", questa musica è frutto di continue migrazioni che si incrociano con il "gipsy-manouche", le evocazioni sonore delle tradizioni indo-europee, i richiami asiatico-porteghesi e gli accenti dell'America Latina letti in chiave surreale. Bílá, (che significa "bianca"), reinventa la musica gipsy insieme al suo gruppo Kale macinando chilometri, e nutrendosi delle culture dei popoli incontrati.» (Mentelocale)

Many thanx to my friend Giuliano Contardo for this post (and some other gems to come…)!

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Devendra Banhart & Friends - The Golden Apples Of The Sun (2004)

Some of the best acts in the US neo-folk scene gathered together in an excellent (and not so easy to find) compilation assembled by Devendra Banhart.

«How classic is this – the compilation that defined a genre. I get asked time and time again ‘what the hell is this New Weird America thing?’ well, beardy bloke Devendra Banhart managed to put together this disc in 2004 when the scene was just a murmur on the lips of David Keenan and looking at the tracklisting now you’d think the man was Nostradamus. It’s a veritable who’s who of the scene, with Six Organs of Admittance, Espers, White Magic, Diane Cluck, Joanna Newsom, Josephine Foster, Vetiver, Jack Rose, Matt Valentine, Cocorosie, Antony and many more. It’s hard to comprehend how Banhart roped all this stuff together so early on in the scene’s inception, but hearing it now it hasn’t dated one bit and surely stands as a museum piece which will be remembered for a long time to come. Compilations this important don’t come around so often any more, and not since Warp’s ‘Artificial Intelligence’ has one so clearly defined an entire genre.» (Boomkat)

Longer reviews on Cokemachineglow and Pitchfork.

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Açoriana: Landscape (São Jorge)

Idir - A Vava Inouva (1996)

«Author of one of the first world music hits, Idir has been an ambassador of the Kayble culture (Berber people inhabiting Northern Algeria) since the Seventies. Idir, whose real name is Hamid Cheriet was born in Aït Lahcène, a Berber village in Haute-Kabylie, in 1949. This farmer's son, raised by the Jesuits, started studying Geology and was destined for a career in the petroleum industry. In 1973, he stood in at the last moment for a famous artist on Radio Algiers and sang a lullaby. He recorded this song called "A Vava inouva"(my little father), as a single before leaving for his military service.

This Kabyle song with only vocals and guitar stands as one of the first big hits coming directly from the Maghreb, long before the success of a Khaled or a Mami. He stood for the affirmation of a definite identity, the return to the roots anchored deeply in the history of Algeria. It would be translated into seven languages. After his military service, Idir was contacted by the record company Pathé Marconi. We had to wait until 1976 for a first album to come out on which we also found "A Vava inouva". After notable success, Idir wrote and recorded "Ay Arrac Negh" (to our children), an album which came out in 1979.

For this discreet man with a serious look, it was difficult to blend into the world of show biz and if he enjoyed composing, which he did for others, his stage appearances rarely satisfied him. As a result, he slipped away for about ten years nevertheless giving some recitals. His career started up again with the release of a compilation in 1991 of seventeen songs from his first two albums. After a drawn out lawsuit against his former producer, Idir had the chance to re-record some songs like the famous "A Vava Inouva". Backed by this recording success, he came back to the stage and performed at New Morning in Paris from February 7-9, 1992. He remained the ambassador of the Kabyle community and was now recognised as a forerunner to world music. […]» (RFImusique, read more. Also in French version)

«Idir, nome d'arte di Hamid Cheriet, cantante algerino, nato il 25 ottobre 1955 a Aït Lahcène, un villaggio degli At Yenni in Cabilia. Idir è un nome tradizionale berbero, che significa “vivrà” e viene dato a scopo beneaugurante. È il cantante cabilo più conosciuto all'estero. Deve la sua fama soprattutto a quello che è stato il suo pezzo d'esordio, “A Vava Inouva” (1973), che è stato tradotto in numerose lingue. Si tratta di una composizione molto orecchiabile, composta a partire da una ninna-nanna tradizionale e con le parole del poeta Ben Mohamed, che Idir eseguì alla radio quand'era ancora studente liceale, inventandosi lo pseudonimo che lo ha reso celebre per non far capire ai propri genitori che stava intraprendendo questa carriera. Il successo fu immediato. Da allora Idir ha prodotto un numero tutto sommato limitato di album ma dallo standard qualitativo molto alto. Molti dei suoi pezzi sono su testi di Ben Mohamed. Benché animato dalla intenzione di mantenere viva la propria lingua e le tradizioni della Cabilia, Idir è molto aperto all'incontro con altre lingue e culture, e spesso si esibisce insieme ad altri artisti.» (Mondosalento)

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Lo Ka Ping - Lost Sounds of the Tao (2004, recorded 1970-71)

«An album of qin music collected from archives and attics alike, comprising the whole of the known recordings of Lo Ka Ping, a lost qin master privately active before his passing in 1980. A small number of other surviving recordings were unusable due to the poor sound quality. What we have here are a number of traditional works for the qin, as well as a number of original compositions by the performer himself. Also included are two performances taken from Chinese radio around the time of the second World War and delivered to American archives by a Chinese fighter pilot. The ability displayed here by Ping is something quite worth hearing. While the recording quality tends to ebb and flow, the technique remains at a high constant level. There are other recorded qin masters available, and one should certainly avail themselves of any opportunity to pick up a number of them. Ping places himself firmly in their company with these recordings.» (AMG)

Read more about Lo Ka Ping and the Qin

Arbiter Records Catalog

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Nightshapes II

Fenja Menja - Fenja Menja (1999)

«Listen to this nine-track self-titled debut recording by Danish band Fenja Menja and you're sure to hear echoes of Sweden's Hoven Droven, with whom they share a commitment to a high-energy, virtually demented take on Nordic folk music, supercharging the tradition's naturally driving, spinning cadences and furious fiddle melodies with wailing wah-wah electric guitar and thumping bass. You'll hear a distinct instrumental approach dominated by the gripping fiddle of Katja Mikkelsen and widened by Morten Lolk Rasch's piano and some fine vocals by Mathias Grip.

"Den Grove (The Crude One)" begins innocently enough with a quiet little fiddle tune whose devilish underside rapidly gets the better of it, eventually summoning the whole electric crowd to a spooky cavort, kept crazily spinning by the tight rhythm section of Johan Ahrenfeldt on bass and Søren Andersen on drums. The maelstrom metamorphoses into waltz time in "Orkanens øje (Eye of the Storm)," Kenneth Hermansen's trebly electric guitar pacing Mikkelsen's violin in an exuberant melody, picked up in the middle by piano to give listeners, and perhaps the band, a breather. The pace slows a bit but the drama if anything rises in "Tidmand," featuring Grip's vocal in a characteristically Nordic polyrhythm which will have you checking your CD player, or ears, for skips. "Den Længselsfulde (The Yearner)" introduces more Fenja Menja instrumental sophistication; another stuttery beat, 5/4 at times but with enough dropped and inserted beats to addle all but the most inspired dancer. The piano and fiddle share the melody, sounding a bit like new age jazz with gumption. "Djævlen i øret (Devil in the Ear)" is another surprise, a standard Bahian drum intro leading into a sinuous fiddle meditation to Brazilian percussion. Galloping bass ushers in "Månedans (Moon Dance)," which accelerates into another exhausting swirl, fiddle, bass, and drums in competing dementia behind Grip's multi-tracked trolls' chorus: a busy night at the monthly bonfire. The record winds up with a live track, "Stridsøksen (Battle Axe)," a decidedly unswinging waltz featuring guitar solo and a Mikkelsen bagpipe fling to the surprisingly accurate clapping of band and audience. Even on the final live track, production is excellent: every instrument can be heard clearly, and each is in proportion to its role at the moment, no doubt also a tribute to the band members. The contemporary Nordic folk music of Fenja Menja is a joy, albeit a strenuous one, to experience.» (Jim Foley, Rootsworld)

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Afia Mala - Angelina (1997)

A great singer from Togo.

«Afia Mala a une voix limpide comme les eaux du fleuve Mono qui irriguent le village de Vogan, au coeur du Togo, où elle a grandi au sein d'une famille polygame avec vingt-quatre autres enfants. Surnommée «la Princesse des rives du Mono», elle a fait ses premières armes aux côtés de sa mère dans un groupe de femmes Habobo et au cours des fêtes annuelles de son école. Afia subit, très jeune, l'influence de Bella Bellow, célèbre blueswoman. Elle remporte en 1974 le troisième prix de la chanson togolaise. Mais sa carrière décolle en 1984, avec le tube « Ten Homte », qui lui vaut le Prix découvertes RFI. Sur des airs afro-cubains et des rythmes qui empruntent à l'Europe et à l'Amérique, elle ne tarde pas à conquérir le public africain. Dans sept dialectes béninois et togolais et en swahili, Afia chante l'émotion, la foi, l'amour, la souffrance, le plaisir...» (Jeuneafrique)

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Stary Olsa - Kelih Kola (Loving Cup) (2001)

«Stary Olsa is a band of mediaeval Belarusan music. It was founded in 1999 by its present leader Zmicier Sasnouski and now consists of 5 musicians. It takes its name from a brook in the west part of Mahilou Region (Belarus). The band’s repertoire includes Belarusan folk balladry and martial songs, Belarusan national dances, works of Belarusan Renaissance composers, compositions from Belarusan aulic music collections (e.g. Polacak Notebook, Vilnian Notebook), Belarusan canticles of the 16th – early 17th centuries, as well as European popular melodies of the Middle Ages and Renascence. Stary Olsa cooperates with many knightly clubs from Belarus and Europe, museums and research centres, masters of early instruments, bands of folk, aulic, sacred and city avital music, as well as with solo performers using old instruments.

The band’s music makes it possible to restore sounding of many forgotten instruments. Stary Olsa uses for its performances maximally exact (in appearance, technology and materials) copies of the age-old Belarusan instruments such as duda (bagpipe), lira (lyre), husli (psaltery), svirel (pipe), drymba (jew’s-harp), akaryna (ocarina), surma (trumpet), bierascianaja truba (birch bark trumpet), hudok (rebec) and baraban drums). The purpose is to reconstruct completely (whenever possible) the musical traditions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania where Belarus was the basic cultural and geopolitic part in the 13th-18th centuries, and where there was a unique synthesis of Belarusan folk and aulic music with the European musical achievements of that time. In order to revive this cultural feature the band’s members mix early Belarusan instruments’ sounding with the all-European mediaeval instruments such as lutnia (lute), flejta (flute), mandalina (mandolin), arabski baraban (Arabian drum).» (Stary Olsa)

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