Postcards from Istanbul: Bosphorus Sunset

Transglobal Underground - International Times (1994)

«It's not hard to recognize good Middle Eastern music when you hear it: Like effective blues or gospel, the good stuff both weeps and rejoices. In their never-ending quest for the exotic, many Westerners enshrine Middle Eastern melodies in incredibly pretentious surroundings (Brian Eno and David Byrne) or make them as foreign and mysterious as a fictional opium den (Led Zeppelin) or simply treat them as the decorative icing on plain white cake (the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian").

Transglobal Underground are one of the few pop bands to actually get it. International Times proves that point. It's this London outfit's second album and its first one available in the United States. While the band's vocalist and three DJs turn traditional Middle Eastern music into British dance hits by way of samples and syncopated beats, Transglobal Underground also respect their Arabic sources as an expression of actual, living people.

Sonically, the band is edgy, sleek and soulful. The bellow of a horn, the kind that has resounded from the tops of mosque walls for thousands of years, signals the approach of snaking melodies and lots of beats, from house to dub to techno. The mesmerizing drawl of a tabla syncs with street-savvy hip-hop, while imperfect tabla beats mix with recorded snippets from Western media and even a silly sample from an answering machine.

Singer Natacha Atlas tops it with lines in Arabic, her voice sailing and dipping like a runaway scarf on a windy day. Hers is not the only voice on this album: The rapping of Heitham Al-Sayed spices the pulse of "Lookee Here," while the booming Jamaican patois of T.U.U.P. adds an angry edge to the bass-heavy "Holy Roman Empire." T.U.U.P.'s fury is juxtaposed against the delicate singing of children in the background.

The subtle mixtures of various other music – Indian, African, Asian – work because Transglobal Underground let each culture breathe rather than melting them down into one seamless, multiculti swill. The result is as inexplicably intricate and contradictory as your average human.» (Lorraine Ali, Rolling Stone)

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Group Doueh - Guitar Music from the Western Sahara (2007)

«This debut from Doueh and his group is outstanding. His playing is electric in all senses of the word; he effortlessly channels all the power of a sandstorm onto the six strings of his guitar. The recording quality may be patchy but the power of the music still comes through strong. The celebratory nature of the music combined with the skill of the players make this vinyl only release a joy to listen to.

On the first side of Guitar Music from the Western Sahara, some of the recordings are very tinny sounding, especially the first two songs which are a touch too grating on the ears to fully enjoy. This takes away from Doueh's exceptional gutiar playing on songs like "Eid El Arsh," which is completely obliterated from the recording when the chorus of vocals begin singing. Later on, the recordings become much cleaner and Doueh’s playing is given the space it deserves. Being home recordings they are still a little rough but more than acceptable.

A big deal is made in the sleeve notes about the influence of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix on Doueh and while the influence is sometimes audible, this description doesn't do Doueh's playing justice. He is, as one would expect, far more influenced by the immediate culture around him and though he assimilates some western influences into his playing, the music here is firmly rooted in the Sahrawi style. It is interesting to see that one of his guitars pictured on the back of the LP has extra frets added to allow him to play the quarter tones that western guitar makers do not factor into their guitar designs.

There are some dazzling songs on Guitar Music from the Western Sahara. "Tirara" has a call and response style vocal as a male singer is echoed by a group of female voices. All the while, Doueh plays a jerking rhythm and occasionally moves to places along the fretboard that seem impossible. His elemental playing is perfectly balanced by the earthy vocals and percussion. The most impressive thing about this song is that for all his guitar gymnastics, he stays firmly in the background, the complete antithesis of Hendrix! Opening the second side of the LP is "Dun Dan," where Doueh absolutely blows me away with his lightning fast sweeps which are quite unlike anything I have heard before.

Guitar Music from the Western Sahara is a gem of an album. Being vinyl only, this album is not going to reach as many people as it deserves to so hopefully Doueh will be prompted to make more of his music available (as apparently he has turned down all sorts of offers before) as this brief glimpse into his musical world is not enough. While the recording quality at the beginning of the album are off-putting (and for the sake of my ears I skip them), the rest of the music is so wonderful that I cannot recommend it highly enough. As a guitar player myself, I find Doueh's virtuosity a refreshing change to the typical idea of a guitar hero.» (John Kealy, Brainwashed)

Sublime Frequencies

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Oliver Mtukudzi - Paivepo (2000)

«Oliver Mtukudzi is the best-selling artist in his home country of Zimbabwe, Africa. Lovingly called “Tuku” for short, Oliver began recording in the mid-1970s as a member of Wagon Wheels, a band that also featured Thomas Mapfumo. After Wagon Wheels rolled to fame in Southern Africa, Tuku formed Black Spirits, the band that has backed him throughout his career.

Tuku has been heavily influenced by chimurenga, the genre pioneered by Mapfumo that is inspired by the hypnotic rhythms of the mbira (thumb piano). However chimurenga is just one of many styles performed by Tuku, as his music also incorporates pop influences, South African mbaqanga, the energetic Zimbabwean pop style JIT, or the traditional kateke drumming of his clan, the Korekore.

While Tuku’s music is undeniably contagious, it is his lyrics that have captured the hearts of his people. The words to his songs, performed in the Shona language of Zimbabwe as well as English, invariably deal with social and economic issues. In the face of political turmoil and a horrific AIDS epidemic that has swept the African continent, Oliver's humor and optimism creates an appeal that crosses generations. One of Tuku’s biggest fans is Bonnie Raitt, who has not only called Oliver “a treasure”, but has also used his music as inspiration for the song One Belief Away on her album Fundamental

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Last Reuploads

Thanx to the ExY, Zeporro, Bill, Halfzware, Oisin, Francesco, Prodigal, Ian, Paul and other anonymous readers for their contribution
! Last Re-ups:

Amaia Zubiria - Haatik (2002)
The Steppes - Enquire Within (1989)
Sur Sudha Presents: Famous Folk Songs of Nepal - The Himalayan Lores (1996)
Yair Dalal & Tarab Ensemble - Azazme (2000)


Putumayo Presents: Caribe! Caribe! (1999)

«When many Americans hear the term "Caribbean music," they tend to think of calypso, soca, and steel drums. But technically, music of the Caribbean also includes everything from Afro-Cuban salsa, Dominican merengue, and Puerto Rican plena to Jamaican ska and reggae. If any label can be counted on to have an eclectic, broad-minded approach to Caribbean music, it's Putumayo; and sure enough, Putumayo's compilation Caribe! Caribe! takes you all over the Caribbean. Not one to be predictable, Putumayo keeps the listener guessing by providing everything from the Black Uhuru-ish reggae of Don Carlos and Gold's "Movin' to the Top" to energetic, infectious sounds from St. Thomas (Osha's "Come Again"), Martinique (Kali's reggae-influenced "La Biguine des Enfants du Bon Dieu"), Belize (Andy Palacio's "Nabi"), and Barbados (Krosfyah's "In Mi System"). Nothing from Cuba, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic is included, but one can hear a strong salsa influence on Haitian singer Beethova Obas' "Lina" and Curacao group La Perfecta's "Bai Drecha Bo Bin." Especially infectious is Aruban band E.Q.Q.'s exuberant "Promo Bia," which is sung in Papiamento, a language that is an unlikely combination of romance and African languages and Dutch. Like many other Putumayo compilations, Caribe! Caribe! boasts comprehensive, informative liner notes and treats the music with the respect it deserves.» (AMG)

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Abdul Raheem - Che-Che (1995)

Abdul Raheem is an international famous jazz musician from Ghana. He played together with Osibisa from 1984 to 1987. Now, hes living and working in London.

«In the early eighties Afro-Funk came to Europe, especially with the group Osibisa, where Abdul Raheem was the singer and trombonist. Already before, he gained not unessential experiences in which he professionally involved in his Black African heritage from Ghana and Nigeria. After separation from Osibisa, he returned to these roots which led to an album of essential dance music (Che-Che), fusing traditional African fire with the modern techniques of Jazz. Pure West African highlife.» (AI Records)

«Since the release of his seminal solo album Tayaman (aka Che-Che, Abrefi Records) in 1995, Abdul Raheem has achieved international critical acclaim, featuring Ray Allan on saxophone and the explosive Cloude Deppa (also an Andy Sheppard sideman) on trumpet, tracks from the album have received worldwide radio airplay. Tayamam was the album, and since then they have been performing all over Britain. Recent gigs have included St Paul’s Carnival in Bristol and the Cardiff Bute Town Festival.

Born in Ghana to Nigerian parents, Abdul Raheem began composing songs at the age of seven. In his teens he sung with the Comets whose leader, Teddy Osie, encouraged him to take up the trombone. His career moved between Ghana, where he played the jazz kings and his influential Inkspot; Nigeria, where he shared a residency with the legendary Fela Kuti; and Ivory Coast, where he played alongside Cuba’s El Gran Pachico and Zaire’s OK Jazz.

In 1977, he met Osibisa at the second All Black Festival of Art and Culture in Lagos, and eventually joined them in London in 1984, following a spell with the Hi-life Stars.

Although still steeped in the Afro-Funk of Osibisa, Abdul has returned to his roots with his current band which plays Ghanaian Hi-life music and dance music which fuses traditional African rhythm and fire with the musical techniques of jazz.» (African Caribbean Ents)

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Adriana Varela - Maquillaje (1991-1993)

«Es en la actualidad la más rutilante estrella de la canción ciudadana, la más vendedora, la que más graba, la que más presencia tiene en los escenarios de Buenos Aires. También, la más discutida por los tangueros tradicionales, que consideran que habla en vez de cantar y que representa una mala imitación del "Polaco" Goyeneche de la última etapa.

En la vereda opuesta, provoca la admiración de muchos que no frecuentan el tango -especialmente aquellos que tienen entre 30 y 45 años- y que sin embargo, se sienten atraídos precisamente por su estilo, a lo que suman su atrayente figura y su sensual personalidad.

A mi entender, escapa al estereotipo del tango femenino surgido en los años 70 a partir de Susana Rinaldi. ¡Y esto no es poca cosa! si tenemos en cuenta que la gran mayoría de las cancionistas siguió ese estilo cortado, lento, sobreactuado, fusionado a la balada que era marca registrada de "La Tana". Que por supuesto ella hacía muy bien y fue original en su momento. Pero ese modo de cantar, trasladado a la infinidad de mujeres que surgieron posteriormente y lo tomaron como propio, resulta insoportable a mi oído.

Me parece que el de Adriana es un caso parecido al de Julio Sosa de los años 60, muy aceptado por aquellos no demasiado afines al tango como también por los jóvenes, pero poco valorizado por los iniciados en la música porteña. Entiendo que ambos artistas, más allá de los gustos de cada uno y la valoración que se haga de ellos, contribuyen a la difusión del tango dentro de un espectro sociocultural generalmente esquivo a nuestra querida música. Lo cierto es que hoy Adriana tiene un lugar privilegiado entre sus pares pese a haberse relacionado al tango tardiamente, ya mayorcita.

La conocí en sus primeras actuaciones profesionales a principios del 1990, en el escenario de Café Homero junto a grandes figuras como Roberto Goyeneche, El "Paya" Díaz y el gran pianista Osvaldo Tarantino. Después la vi en televisión anunciada como la nueva estrella del tango, donde me enteré que había nacido en Avellaneda (ciudad lindante al sur con la ciudad de Buenos Aires).

En 1991 comienza su producción discográfica en el sello Melopea con una cassette titulada Tangos, que entre otros temas tiene una lograda versión de “Muñeca brava”. Dos años después graba un disco con nuevos temas, Maquillaje, donde además incluye la producción anterior. En este compacto participan como artistas invitados el cantor Roberto Goyeneche y el pianista Virgilio Expósito. Por estos trabajos obtiene el Premio ACE por dos años consecutivos...» (Continue aquí)

«After singing at a small venue in Buenos Aires, talented tango performer Adriana Varela had the opportunity to meet Roberto Goyeneche, known as El Polaco, who became her major influence. In 1991, the artist’s first album, simply called Tangos, was released, followed by 1993’s Maquillaje and 1994’s Corazones Perversos, presented live at Buenos Aires’ San Martin theater. In 1995, Adriana Varela recorded Tangos de Lengue, which included songs composed by Enrique Cadícamo. In 1997, the singer successfully participated in Porto Alegre’s Theater Festival and was acclaimed a year later after singing at Barcelona’s Grec Festival. In 1998, Adriana Varela joined state-of-the-art group Sexteto Mayor, recording Trottoirs de Buenos Aires, returning to her solo career with 1999’s Cuando El Rio Suena, produced by Uruguayan Jaime Roos.» (AMG)

Adriana Varela’s Web Site: http://www.adrianavarela.com/

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Umm Kalthum (Oum Kalsoum) - Ifrah Ya Qalbi (2004)

«Called by some kawkab al-sharq (star of the East) and by others “empress of Arab tunes,” Umm Kalthum, with a voice powerful and clear, can still be heard daily on radio stations in the multitudes of coffee shops and taxis all over the Arab world. Even though she died over two decades ago, her love lyrics, national odes and religious chants continue to affect millions of people. Her audience, as if on cue, hums along or cries in despair in reaction to her range of pitch, filled with nostalgia and yearning, touching the very Arab soul.

Umm Kalthum was born in 1908 to a humble peasant family in Tamayet-el-Zahayra – a tiny Egyptian village. She began her singing career as a poor peasant girl dressed as a boy because it was thought that virtuous maidens did not sing in public. At the same time, she studied the Qur'an and mastered its language. During weddings and family feasts she recited in traditional style parts of this Holy Book and from the as-Sirah – ballads which tell the story of the Prophet Muhammad and his family. Even at an early age, her voice had an unequaled emotional range and spread her fame throughout the Valley of the Nile.

In 1924 she moved to Cairo where during the following years, in every part of the Arab world, she developed a cult following and her concerts a rite. Each performance became a pan-Arab event. People from North Africa and the Middle East, especially from the Arabian Peninsula, would fly into Cairo on the first Thursday of every month for the sole purpose of attending her concerts which, in the main, consisted of a single song lasting into the wee hours of the morning.

Each song usually celebrated the miracle of the Arabs and their Muslim faith. Almost every one was a collection of the great Arab themes which ran through the gamut of pining away for the past, languid love, injured pride and memories of lost passion. They bridged the many gulfs to fuse the diverse social fragments of the Arab world into an emotional whole. It is said that she is responsible for keeping alive the Islamic heritage and the ancient poetry of the desert. Notwithstanding the fact that she starred in many films, she rejected modem singing and clung to the time-honored Arab classical melodies.

Tall, with pitch black hair, Umm Kalthum was striking and with her words and voice she could create a magical atmosphere and enchant her listeners as no other Arab singer in the past or at present has been able to do. She had a uniquely expressive tone which could make her listeners laugh or even bring them to tears.

Standing a few feet away from the microphone in an evening gown studded with diamonds, she twisted and crumpled a flowing scarf in her hands, as her voice, sometimes husky and strained or leaping with pangs of love, would hit some impossible tones. At other times, her alto voice which stretched to soprano or tenor and was punctuated, decorated and echoed by her orchestra, touched cosmic depths and brought on a mixture of longing, wistfulness and unfulfilled dreams.

During the Second World War her lyrics had such a sway over the Arabs that both the Allies and Axis, in their programs broadcast to the Middle East, utilized her records. Late in the 1940s she became the acknowledged leader of Arabic song and her life thereafter became the story of modern Egypt.

After taking power, Nasser established a close relationship with Umm Kalthum. In the succeeding years she enjoyed a special status with this young Arab hero – a singular position which no other artist ever attained. Her voice became almost as important as the speeches of the charismatic Nasser. To ensure an Arab world-wide audience, important political news items were broadcast before Umm Kalthum's concerts. Hence, the saying that, “in the 1950s two leaders emerged in the Middle East, Jamal Abd al-Nasser and Umm Kalthum” has a solid base. Yet, even more than Nasser, like the eternal Sphinx, this voice of the Arabs became a national symbol of Egypt.

In the world of artistic splendor of the 1950s and 1960s, when Umm Kalthum became the toast of Cairo and a national heroine, her fame and adoration also reached its zenith in the other Arab lands. Nicknamed the “Ambassadress of Arabic Arts”, her importance in the Arab countries was so great that she was received with the same ceremony as heads of state and taken into account when plans were made for important events.

During her twilight years, this Arab celebrity was a composed and modest woman. Unlike many Arab artists of our times she was proud of her Arab-Islamic heritage. In her daily life she followed Arab traditions and acted as one of the ordinary people. This endeared her to the masses. They idolized and thought of her as one of themselves, referring to her as al-Sitt. A dedicated humanist, she distributed much of the money she made to the poor. It is said that during her lifetime she supported at least 200 peasant families.

Umm Kalthum died in February 1975. Her funeral was led by the presidential court and followed by over a mile long procession of loving worshipers. Film stars, poets, business men, ambassadors and ministers walked shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of her ordinary fans, forming a phalanx of mass grievers. From the front of the mass column to the last, the chant, “Good-bye! Good-bye our beloved songstress!” echoed amid the sobs of the mourners. The massive turnout of grieving people was second only to Nasser's farewell – the largest funeral in Egyptian history.

Strange as it may seem, death did not end her sway over the masses in the Arab world. Her phenomenally powerful and captivating beautiful voice still stirs the hearts of millions. Over 20 years after her death the legend of Umm Kalthum lives on among the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East. Over 300,000 of her tapes are still sold annually in Egypt alone. It appears that the magic of the voice which made her audience euphoric, begging her to repeat the same words again and again, will not diminish with the years. The saying in Egypt that two things never change “the Pyramids and the voice of Umm Kalthum” are perhaps more true today than when this nightingale of the Arabs walked the earth.» (Habeeb Salloum, “Umm Kalthum – Legendary Songstress of the Arabs”, Al Mashriq)

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