Beyond the River: Seasonal Songs of Latvia (1998)

«This fascinating album is part of the excellent Hemisphere series of world music. Latvia – together with Estonia and Lithuania – is one of the Baltic states that regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 following an earlier period of independence between the first and second World Wars. The album speaks of the new confidence of a re-emergent country rediscovering the richness and diversity of the folk roots at the heart of its culture. Indeed a collection of over 200,000 dainas (folk songs), gathered by Krisjanis Barons (1835-1923), is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Latvian folk song centres on the rituals of everyday farming life and the changing seasons but always lurking in the background is the sense of spiritual life, particularly from the pre-Christian pagan era. The music tends to be tinged with mysticism and a sense of melancholy, yet at other times there is a startlingly holistic connection with the natural world.

Four contemporary groups are represented on the album: Auri, Ilgi, Grodi and Rasa. An impressive range of instruments include trough fiddle, bagpipes, wooden trumpet, flute, whistle, drum, violin, hurdy gurdy and accordion. However, the jewel of Latvian music is the kokles, a type of board zither with between 5 and 12 strings. This instrument gives the music a haunting, ethereal quality and a moving delicacy. Evidently the history of the instrument can be traced back 3,000 years so listening to it today gives an incredible musical connection to past millenia.

There are many references in Latvian folk songs to the midsummer and midwinter solstice festivals and a range of stories, beliefs and superstitions surrounding them. One of the most exceptional songs on the album is "Es Jums Ludzu, Salmenieki/Friends, I Beg of You" by Grodi. Throughout the song the use of a gouri-type percussion instrument evokes, for me at least, the rasping call of the corncrake that is still widespread in Latvia. (In Britain, the remaining stronghold of this wonderful bird is the Outer Hebrides.) The call of the bird captures the spirit of midsummer.

Another song, "Mildas Dziesma/Milda's Song" by Ilgi, seems to come from deep in a pagan past. It is a dark song with a sinister drumbeat and includes the line "Let this evil day flow past me." Other songs on the album express a simpler celebration of farming life and a strong affection for animals. […] I recognise some of the tunes on this album but have been more used to hearing them sung on recordings in a rather sanitised, classical style by the typically huge massed choirs of Latvian song festivals. It is a revelation to hear them returned to their simpler roots but with a contemporary touch that combines the vocal and instrumental (often kept apart traditionally) in new ways. The music has a passion and rawness that, at times, can be uncomfortable. It is not music that will necessarily appeal to everyone but will interest many interested in the authentic folk traditions of Europe. The songs here have the power to transpose you to another world.» (Andy Jurgis, Rambles)

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Maghreb Sound System (2003)

«Les enfants de l’immigration maghrébine, reprenant les traditions musicales de leurs parents, se nourrissent de l’électronique et s’appuient sur des tendances musicales urbaines et occidentales pour préparer un tajine sonore des plus surprenants. Les chansons présentées sur cet album balaient un large spectre des tendances actuelles : hip-hop, dub, jungle, ragga, house, techno… mixées avec du châabi, raï, nuba, kabile, arabo-andalou. Un cross-over réussi où domine les mélodies et les rythmes du Maghreb.» (Indiz.fr)

«La mezcla y fusión entre culturas y músicas pueden deberse a diversos motivos, pero desde luego, los movimientos migratorios son los que generan las fusiones más reales y naturales, pues no surgen de análisis sesudos o de personas con espíritu experimentador… simplemente suceden.

Así, este disco, que ha sido recopilado por Alex Van Loy, aparece como un testigo de las fusiones entre música, nacidas de los movimientos migratorios de personas del norte de África que se han asentado en Europa.

En los 17 cortes que incluye el álbum se puede escuchar música vitalista, fresca, llena de energía y que gracias a la incorporación de elementos propios de la cultura árabe suena a nuestros oídos tremendamente original. Estilos como châabi, raï, nuba, kabil o milhum, por la parte árabe, se encuentran con house, techno, reggae, jazz, Hip Hop… o incluso rock, por la parte occidental.

Dentro de éste planteamiento el contenido resulta realmente diverso […] Maghreb Sound System es un disco interesante, diverso y muy entretenido. Útil para descubrir nuevas músicas, para los DJs que quieran dar un toque exótico a sus sesiones o simplemente para servir de banda sonora a un día optimista.» (F-MHop, La factoria del ritmo. Comentario completo)

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Mahlathini & Mahotella Queens - Isomiso (1983)

«Simon Nkabinde Mahlathini (nicknamed “the Lion of Soweto”) came to international attention via the 1985 sampler The Indestructible Beat of Soweto. He began to tour internationally with female singers the Mahotella Queens, although he has been playing and singing his brand of mbaqanga (Zulu pop music, heavily influenced by traditional singing styles) since the early ‘60s. Mahlathini started singing on street corners, graduated to men's choral music, and went on to form his own smaller group in the mid-‘60s. When he “went electric” in the mid-‘70s, his new sound caused a sensation, and much controversy. With the Mahotella Queens supplying their dynamic backing vocals and fancy dance routines (think of a South African version of the Supremes) and Mahlathini’s primal groaning filling the air, you don’t have to understand the language to get the message, although the group has occasionally recorded in English. Another part of Mahlathini’s success is the backing supplied by West Nkosi and the Makgona Tsohle Band. Makgona Tsohle means “Jack-of-all-trades”, Nkosi once said. Our mbaqanga is a blend of traditional styles with modern instruments, a music anyone can relate to. The group delivered its last live performance in 1997; the following year Nkosi was killed in an auto accident, and on June 29, 1999, Mahlathini passed on following a long illness.» (AMG)

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Ray Lema - "Ali Farka Touré" Video

Ray Lema - Paradox (2007)

«Recorded in a trio with bass-guitarist Etienne Mbappe and drummer Francis Lassus, Ray Lema’s new album, Paradox, is an eclectic mix of language and genre. It is hardly surprising to find such diversity from a musician who has always been frustrated by pigeonholes.

RFI Musique: Let’s talk about a word that you seem fond of, “paradox”, since it is the title you gave your album.
Ray Lema: We live in a society full of paradoxes right now, in the sense that the all right analyses have been made, but we act in complete contradiction with what these analyses are teaching and showing us. Take cigarettes, for example. […] This type of paradox weighs me down. I say to myself, how can society be so advanced and so childish at the same time?

Is there also a paradox in being a musician today?
It is important to separate the stardom from the musicians. As a musician, you want to make music that produces a little, indescribable joy, but to be a star, you have to get yourself dressed up to be a consumer product and join a process that us musicians cannot always control. So yes, there is some kind of paradox there.

For a musician like you, who sees the sense in maintaining French-speaking communities, isn’t it a paradox to sing in English as you do on some of the tracks on your album?
No, because I am married to an American and we speak English at home. So, although I am a Francophone, I can be an Anglophone too. It isn’t a paradox; it’s a reality for quite a few world citizens today.

This album includes a track you wrote in homage to Ali Farka Touré and a cover version of "C’est une Garonne", which you wrote for Claude Nougaro. Are these acts of friendship or remembrance?
Both. Each was a personal friend of mine and had something to teach me. With Claude, I learned my command of the French language. […] As for Ali, we saw each other at festivals, but we had never really hit it off, until one day, we found ourselves at the same show in Brazil. Jorge Ben Jor had invited us both to his concert (Angélique Kidjo was there too). Ali said to me, “When I look at you, sometimes you are really white and sometimes you are really African.” This was news! “We’ll talk about it,” he said. And so he invited me to his house, in Niafunké in Mali. He talked to me a lot about African culture there, and taught me a lot. These two guys were friends of mine, but at the same time, I owe them a gesture of remembrance because they brought some fantastic things to me.» (RFI Musique)

A full English bio here

Biografia in italiano qui

Official Website here

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