Various Artists: Musiche dal Mondo - Madagascar (2000)

This long-out-of-print Italian compilation is a great introduction to Malagasy music, featuring as it does some of the most interesting artists of this isolated and fascinating country’s contemporary scene, like Tarika, D’Gary, Solo Razaf, Madame Masy and many others. A real must for all lovers of inventive neotraditional music. For more info about (and more music of) some of the artists presented in this compilation, click here. For a general introduction to the music of Madagascar click here (English / Italian). Check also Afromix’s and National Geographic’s monographic pages. Have fun!

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Tanghetto - Emigrante (Electrotango) (2004)

«Tanghetto è una band argentina diretta da Max Masri (sintetizzatori e programmazione) e Diego S. Velázquez (chitarre), formatasi nel 2002. Il nome “Tanghetto” (la combinazione delle parole “tango” e “ghetto”) si ispira alle comunità di esiliati argentini all’estero.
Negli anni ‘90, Max Masri (uno degli ultimi e più giovani discepoli del leggendario compositore Virgilio Expósito) torna a Buenos Aires dopo aver vissuto esperienze interessanti fra emigrati argentini in Germania. Porta con sé un’idea: creare un nuovo linguaggio musicale. Nel 1998 comincia a lavorare con il compositore e strumentalista Diego S. Velázquez e i due incidono le loro prime tracks di “electrotango”. Nel 2001 l’idea viene rinnovata, con un suono moderno, con composizioni proprie e con un nome: nascono i Tanghetto.
La formazione attuale oltre a Masri e Velázquez include Federico Vázquez (bandoneón), Matías Novelle (batteria acustica e elettronica), Antonio Bovadjian (piano) e Chao Xu (violoncello e strumento cinese a corda frotada ehru).
Nel dicembre 2003 esce il primo album, Emigrante (electrotango). Subito diventa un successo di vendite, guadagnando un disco d’oro. Nel 2004 l’album è nominato ai Latin Grammy nella categoria “Miglior Album Strumentale”.
Sempre nel 2004 il gruppo intensifica la sua attività dal vivo, partecipando ad alcuni degli shows più importanti di Argentina: Mundial de Tango, Festival Buenos Aires Tango, Festival della Avenida Corrientes, ecc. Il 2005 è l’anno dei primi concerti europei. Il gruppo intraprende una tournée che li porta in Italia e in Francia fra novembre e dicembre. Nel 2006 è la volta degli Stati Uniti.» (Last.fm)

Check also their side project Hybrid Tango (also for reviews in English, Spanish and French).

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Shelagh McDonald - Stargazer (1971)

«As much myth as musician, singer/songwriter Shelagh McDonald seemed poised to emerge as a major voice in British folk music when she abruptly vanished mere months after the release of her breakthrough LP. Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, McDonald arrived in London sometime in the late '60s. While performing at the Troubadour, she befriended fellow singer/songwriter Keith Christmas, who would prove instrumental in landing her a record deal with the B&C label. Album followed in 1970 to decent reviews but mediocre sales, but 1971's Stargazer was a far different story. With McDonald dubbed "the new Sandy Denny" by the U.K. music press, the record was a critical smash and sold respectably.

But after recording a handful of tracks for a proposed third LP, McDonald suddenly disappeared, leaving no clues to her rationale or her whereabouts. While many friends and fans speculated she returned to Scotland, unhappy with her life and career in London, others believed she fled to either the U.S. or Canada in an attempt to recover from a failed relationship or to cure a drug problem. In truth, it was a life-altering LSD trip that sent her into seclusion and also ruined her voice. After a time spent putting her life back together, she married a Scottish bookstore owner and drifted away from society again, only this time happily.
With the CD re-release o
f Album and Stargazer, her music was embraced by a new generation of fans, and in 2005 Castle/Sanctuary released Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, a compilation of McDonald's complete recorded output, including outtakes and demos. 2005 also was the year McDonald finally resurfaced. After reading a story about herself in The Scottish Daily Mail, she submitted to an interview that cleared up much of the mystery behind her disappearance.» (AMG)

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LS Kancara Sari - Kacapi Suling Bangbara (1997)

«The Sundanese are Indonesia's second largest ethnic group. They live in the province of West Java (also called “Sunda” by many foreigners), encompassing the interior highlands, the coastal areas, and Cirebon, a culturally distinct region. The boundary between West and Central Java lies at the eastern foothills of the Priangan Highlands, and a wide band of west-central Java from north to south incorporates cultural elements from both West and Central Java. Those who consider themselves ethnically and politically Sundanese speak Basa Sunda in addition to Bahasa Indonesia (the national language), and most Sundanese are Muslims. When the Sundanese refer to their performing arts, they are careful to describe what they call khas Sunda – that which is characteristically Sundanese – a designation that bears a sense of regional identity. […]

The Sundanese zither (kacapi) often serves to represent Sundanese culture. It plays as either a solo or an ensemble instrument, associated with both villagers and aristocrats. The instrument may take the form of a boat in tembang Sunda, or the form of a board zither in kacapian. It is sometimes drastically modified to include more strings, electric and electronic devices, and various styles of playing. Pantun is a genre of Sundanese epic narrative, most often performed by a blind male vocalist who accompanies himself on the kacapi. The performance of pantun usually occurs as part of a ritual Sundanese feast, and can last for most of the night. Tembang Sunda is a type of sung poetry developed in the regency of Cianjur in the late 1800s. Its topics include Sundanese history, aspects of nature, mythology, romance, heroic figures, and tragedies. In performance, one or more singers are accompanied by an 18-string zither (kacapi), a smaller, 15-string zither (rincik), and a 6-hole end-blown bamboo flute (suling). Tembang Sunda is traditionally performed in the evenings for the descendents of the Sundanese aristocracy. Kacapi-suling developed during the 1970s as an instrumental offshoot of tembang Sunda, using the same instruments by without the vocalist. In a typical performance (still primarily in recordings, as kacapi-suling is rarely performed live), the kacapi player outlines a cyclic structure of a song and the suling player improvises a melody based on the original song from the tembang Sunda repertoire. Kacapian refers to a flashy style of playing a board zither, and it is known as one of the sources of Sundanese popular music. It can be accompanied by a wide variety of instruments, and can be played instrumentally or as the accompaniment to either a male or female vocalist.» (Sean Williams – read more)

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Postcards from Paris - Eiffel Fantasy

Cassandra Wilson - Glamoured (2003)

«Cassandra Wilson has garnered a deserving reputation for her soulful, visionary reads of songs by legendary composers old and new, from Robert Johnson to Van Morrison. On Glamoured, Wilson composed half the album, and her songs are as provocative and deserve the same weight of grace critically afforded her covers. She uses her trademark fluid, smoky delivery to redefine songs such as the old soul nugget "If Loving You Is Wrong"; the poignancy it was written with tells of a woman lost in the delirium of a forbidden love with a married man. The ache and euphoria in her voice shot through with producer Fabrizio Sotti's stunning acoustic guitar interplay is nearly overwhelming in its emotion. Her Afro-Caribbean read of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" is a different – and perhaps better – version than the original. It doesn't weep and it doesn't get bogged down in its melody; it is shot through with a smoldering drone and eclectic polyrhythms that reinvent it harmonically. Willie Nelson's "Crazy" is kissed with the same elegance and soul that her version of "Tupelo Honey" was. But it is on Muddy Waters' "Honey Bee" and Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away," which closes the album, that Wilson offers her greatest gift: that of an improvisational blues and jazz singer who understands these songs to be living embodiments of still developing traditions. Recorded in Jackson, MS, her hometown, these songs are shot through with mischief; a controlled, winking sensuality; greasy, rollicking, and syncopated rhythms; and melody lines to kill for. Wilson's songs, particularly "I Want More" and "What Is It?" with their funky backbeats and jagged verses, are seemingly new forms for the pop song, while "Broken Drum," "Sleight of Time," and "Heaven Knows" could have been written for Nina Simone, such are their out-of-the-ages, folk-infused jazzy cadences, but Wilson makes them unclassifiable in terms of any time but the present and she is working out new forms for color, phrasing, and rhythmic interplay for her voice. Glamoured, like its Gaelic definition, is the sound of the supernatural in a human being.» (AMG)

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Ska Cubano - ¡Ay Caramba! (2005)

«Take the propulsive backbeat shuffle of Jamaican ska and blend it with soulful Afro-Cuban son, and the result is Ska Cubano.The band is the creation of London promoter Peter Scott, who came up with the brilliant idea of blending two of the Caribbean’s most influential music styles. He brought London ska artist Natty Bo to Santiago de Cuba, where they collaborated with local musicians to create the unique Ska Cubano sound. It was in Santiago that they discovered the band’s future lead singer, Juan Manuel Villy Carbonell, a.k.a Beny Billy, a rough-and-tumble former boxer and crooner whose voice is a dead ringer for that of Cuban legend Beny Moré.» (Putumayo)

Click here for full biographies and infos.

Scheda biografica in italiano qui.

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Lobi Traoré - Duga (1999)

«Lobi Traoré was born in 1961 in Bakaridianna, on the left bank of the Niger, some 20 kilometers from Ségou. He's the son of Samba and Nana Djiré, both singers in the komo secret society. As such, Lobi was an "initiated" directly at birth.

Generally in komo, men become true adults quite late. Before circumcision, the adolescent joins the komo, and for three or four months undergoes tests of character, such as leaping across fire, passing through a forest inhabited by lions and hyenas, or going a whole day without food and water.

In the second phase, the true initiation, both his knowledge and behavior are subject to scrutiny before he is allowed to enter into the mystery of the komo. He gives his word never to betray the secret society or to reveal its mysteries; this is why the Bambara say: "When you join the komo, you never leave".

When you mention the word komo to Lobi Traoré, his expression goes blank as if he hadn't heard you and there's no point insisting! He cannot and must not speak of the komo!

At 16, he crossed the river and arrived in Ségou to join a folk group as a Bambara singer. He then left for Bamako and played in another similar outfit before meeting his first musical master, who gave him a guitar.

Three years later he discovered the Djata Band, Zani Diabaté's orchestra, then the rage in Bamako. This was one of the first Malian orchestras to tour France in the early '80s to sing the Bambara repertoire. (Mali includes many ethnic groups, and in each musical formation there are often several singers, each addressing their own ethnic public, be they bozo (fishermen), peuhl (shepherd people) or Songhai (from the Timbuktu region).

When Lobi Traoré started his solo career, he played for weddings and in bars. It was at the Bozo, an important (now closed) live music venue in Bamako famous for its beer, that the public discovered and appreciated his Bambara blues in the early '90s. Since then he has recorded three albums and toured extensively in Europe, Canada and Africa. He also met the Paris blues harmonica player Vincent Bucher, who accompanies him often and has helped him develop the material for his Duga album.» (National Geographic, courtesy Calabash Music)

French bio here

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Postcards from Istanbul: Taksim Square

Taksim Trio - Taksim Trio (2007)

«The Taksim Trio gave one of the standout showcases of last year's WOMEX in Seville. Of the three instrumentalists, Hüsnü Şenlendirici, has the highest profile as one of Turkey's top clarinettists – his last album sold over 160,000 copies and topped the Turkish charts for weeks. But kanun (zither) player Aytaç Doğan and electric saz player Ismail Tunçbilek form a beautifully balanced ensemble in a way that feels quite classical and traditional, yet which is actually quite bold and experimental in its approach. Taksim is the name of the busy square at the heart of Istanbul's Beyoğlu district (pictured on the album's cover)[in Western countries – the one you find here is the Turkish version] , but also the word for an instrumental improvisation in Turkish classical music. The music certainly feels fresh and improvised, although I suspect it is more pre-planned than it sounds. The three instrumentalists emerge from the trio to take solo breaks and then dive back in to toss around short phrases and motifs. Always there are the three distinct textures of dark clarinet, filigree kanun and saz veering towards electric guitar. Each of them gets a solo improvisational taksim track to really show off their skills, but it's in the organic interaction of the trio that this album really shines, as in the wistful closing “Muhayyer Kürdi Saz Semaisi”. Turkish classical, popular music and jazz seem to combine on a genuinely equal footing. The album would benefit from a little more exuberance and fire, but will appeal to newcomers to Turkish music as well as cognoscenti. And we already know that they're sensational live.» (Simon Broughton, Songlines)

Taksim Trio’s MySpace page
Turkish review here
Recensione in italiano qui

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