New Reviews: August 2008

Reviews by Matthew Forss

Sa Dingding

Born in Inner Mongolia, Sa Dingding incorporates modern atmospheric arrangements with a few traditional instruments to remind us of her Inner Asian origins. Sa plays the zheng (plucked zither) and contributes to vocals on most of the selections. Her language repertoire includes Chinese, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and a self-created language. There seems to be a great balance between vocal parts and instrumental pieces. Sa’s voice reminds me of the lead singer from Sweden’s 90’s hit-group, Cardigans. Ethereal vocals, spacious instrumentation, trip hop beats, and Asian electronica should make every listener come ‘alive’ when listening to Alive.

Calypso Gold
World Music Network

The best classical, Calypso tunes from before the 1950’s encompass the music on Calypso Gold. In particular, the music of Trinidad is featured here. This is not your tourist island music popular today, but traditional calypso with classy vocals and brassy instrumentation. Some of the tracks, including ‘Rum & Coca Cola’, ‘Mathilda’, Scandal In The Family’, and others, are sung in English. When trying to think of comparable musical genres, I can only come up with Eastern European gypsy or Klezmer music. The musical content is rather direct, humorous, and celebratory of island life and male/female relationships. The music was recorded in a somewhat crude manner, but that only amplifies the likeability of the music. For historical recording enthusiasts, Calypso Gold is ‘gold’!

Rough Guide to the Music of Japan
World Music Network

The latest Rough Guide from World Music Network easily seeks to destroy any preconceived notions of traditional Japanese pop music. The music is contemporary, but it covers a diverse range of earthy, roots-type, gagaku, and enka musical styles. Overall, 18 different musicians perform similar, but varied types of music drawing upon tropical, experimental, jazz, and electronica styles. Some of the tracks are instrumental, while others incorporate male/female vocals. This is the best place to start for Japanese music.

Rough Guide to the Music of Mali
World Music Network

Mali’s rich musical history is what keeps people coming back for more. Luckily, compiler Marisa Lassman has put together an eclectic collection of Mali’s most popular musicians. In fact, the late-Ali Farka Toure performs “Simbo” with Toumani Diabate and “Tabara” with Ali’s son, Vieux. Other greats include Bassekou Kouyate, Issa Bagayogo, Oumou Sangare, Afel Bocoum, Rokia Traore, Boubacar Traore, and Tinariwen. This is contemporary music for the kora, ngoni, calabash with bass, guitar, and drums thrown in. Sincere vocals compliment the instrumentation perfectly. Overall, 19 musicians contribute to 15 tracks with nearly 70 minutes total playing time. Many styles are represented, including jazz, rock, tropical, rap, and more.

Introducing Hanggai
World Music Network

Hanggai is a folk music group from Beijing that carries on the musical traditions of China’s Inner Mongolia. Hence, the horse-hair fiddle and tobshuur (two-string lute) are the primary instruments of choice that play a larger part in the music ensembles of neighboring Mongolia. In addition, some throat-singing (hoomei) is also included. Interestingly, the pervasive symbolism of the horse throughout Mongolia and Inner Mongolia extends to the building of instruments in the shape of a horse and using horsehair strings to making music that sounds like a galloping horse. Hanggai sing in Mongolian and their name reflects nature’s rivers, skies, grasslands, and mountains of Inner Mongolia. In fact, their music contains melodies and sounds indicative of the natural environment around them. I would like to introduce the world to Hanggai – one song at a time.

Lygia Campos
Meu Nome e Brasil

A classically trained singer and pianist, Lygia Campos brings us a Brazilian musical project. Tropical rhythms, sweeping vocals, and breezy instrumentation are Lygia’s trademarks. She not only sings, but also plays keyboards on this album. She is joined by Paulo Morello on electric/acoustic guitar and cavaquinho; Walter Bittner and Claudio Wilner on drums; and Matthias Engelhardt and Ciro Trinidade on bass. Of course, fans of Brazilian music will find a good set of tracks on Meu Nome e Brasil. Lygia’s voice will brighten up any day.

La Papa Verde
Ich Verstehen Nicht Kann

La Papa Verde draws upon German and Spanish ska, jazz, rock, and brass music. Essentially, they perform energetic and youthful music for today’s generation. Their style is difficult to describe, but includes a number of diverse styles from the Caribbean, South America, and Eastern Europe. Even though their album title means, “I Do Not Understand”, one can still appreciate the German and Spanish linguistics. One thing I do know is La Papa Verde is sure to become a favorite among youth around the world.

Tango Crash
Baila Querida

The techno-tango genre incorporating electronics is rather recent phenomena. Tango Crash was formed in 1987 in Buenas Aires, Argentina by Daniel Amada and Martin Iannaccone. Martin plays the cello and adds his voice to some of the tracks. Daniel’s piano mastery accompanies Gregor Hilbe on drums and Christian Gerber on bandoneon. The final product is rather experimental and not exactly like your typical tango music. As a result, this is not for tango traditionalists, but rather for fans of electronic-tango. I think ambient, trip-hop, and electronica aficionados will enjoy its dark and creative explorations. Overall, the tracks encompass the essence of the tango spirit in an electronica form.

N’Faly Kouyate and Dunyakan

Guinea’s N’Faly Kouyate and his band Dunyakan, bring us lively choruses and West African rhythms. N’Faly has played for the Afro Celt Sound System as well. His instrument of choice is the kora – the most recognized musical instrument of the region. N’Faly’s vocals are accompanied with bass, djembe drum, balafon, violin, and other percussion. Overall, the tracks are energetic and pleasant to the ear. Some of the beats and melodies are reminiscent of Madagascar’s popular folk music groups. Liner notes are included in French and English.

The Ladino Voice
FA Music

The Ladino music of Daddo reflects a transcendence of the Sephardic vocal traditions from many years ago. In this case, Daddo reinvents the ancient texts, while sticking closely to the musical influences of the various regions. Since most Spehardic music reflects a Mediterranean and Middle East influence, Daddo does not ignore the historical roots of the music. Also, Sephardic music is an ancient Jewish musical tradition usually indicative of the Andalusian region of Spain. Though, Klezmer and Gypsy elements are never too far away. Daddo’s voice carries the words of the ancient Sephardic texts from Turkey, Greece, Jerusalem, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and the Orient. Her voice is the star of this album. Though, the instrumentation is as powerful and emotional as her voice. Overall, The Ladino Voice is a soothing and inspirational album. Pick this up along with her other album, The Ladino Voice: Live!

Desert Blues 3 [2 CD]

The recent barrage of recordings coming out of North Africa has been beneficial for listeners all over the world. Thanks to musicians like the late-Ali Farka Toure and Tinariwen, the music of Mali and North Africa is now commonplace in many music markets. This incredible 2-CD collection features folk/pop/blues music from nearly 30 different musicians from the North African region. The opening tracks feature the music of Mali’s blues guitarist Djelimady Tounkara and Idrissa Soumaoro, Algeria’s sultry Souad Massi lends her vocal talent on “Raoui”. Khaled’s Algerian rai music tells us about the social problems in Oran on “Wahrane”. Of course, the different types of musicians and songs are too numerous to mention in-depth here, but I strongly recommend this compilation of nearly 140 minutes in length with a booklet of nearly 30 pages in German, French, and English.

Tony Rice
Night Flyer: The Singer Songwriter Collection

Tony Rice’s iconic and timeless acoustic guitar music is somewhere between the traditional styles of bluegrass and folk. This collection presents us with 17 songs of hits; and three of which were previously unreleased. His fast, but sporadic acoustic guitar playing is reminiscent of guitarist Tim Reynolds, in the Dave Matthews Band. However, Tony’s poetic messages are based in the reality of early American culture. Five songs are borrowed from Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, James Taylor, and John Mayall. Beside Tony’s acoustic guitar, he is joined by fiddle, dobro, violin, mandolin, banjo, bass, piano, sax, and drums. Liner notes by Ron Block, banjoist and guitarist with Alison Krauss and Union Station, provide the stories behind the songs. Overall, Tony’s several decades of singing with a clear voice and picking with passion certainly shines through on this collection.

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper
Leavin’ Town

Founded by five-time IBMA Fiddle Player of the Year, Michael Cleveland brings nothing short of creative enthusiasm and talent to the musical process. He is joined by Todd Rakestraw on vocals, Marshall Wilborn on bass, Jesse Brock on mandolin, John Mark Batchelor on banjo, Michael Cleveland on fiddle and guitar, and others on harmony vocals. If the name Flamekeeper is any indication of the fiery fiddling or banjo picking, you know this is going to be a ‘keeper’. If you can, you should definitely ‘leave’ town to hear these guys live. Fourteen songs in all showcase their best fast bluegrass and even a few slower tunes. Very informative liner notes explain each member’s involvement in the musical project. Leavin’ Town is a journey about faith, family, relationships, and friends.

Rough Guide to Romanian Gypsies
World Music Network

With the arrival of globally-popular brass bands, including Taraf de Haidouks, Fanfare Ciocarlia, Romica Puceanu, and Shukar Collective, the interest in gypsy music has spread beyond its European borders. In response to this global interest, the folks at World Music Network and compiler Dan Rosenberg have put together an eclectic collection of roma/gypsy artists and songs relatively unheard of throughout most of the world. If you like gypsy music, then this is the collection for you. This music not only contains brass bands, but also incorporates wild fiddling and splendid cimbalom playing. Nearly 73 minutes of toe-tapping music complete the package. Not to be missed!

Rough Guide to Salsa Gold
World Music Network

The soul of Salsa Gold rests in the musical traditions of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Afro-Latino influences. The ‘gold’ reference refers to little known groups or rarely heard tracks. The music on this collection was recorded in the 1970’s. There are also several different styles represented, including Cuban son, bomba, plena, jibaro, criollo, guaracha, and others. Some big names include Cortijo Y Su Combo Original Con Ismael Rivera, Wayne Gorbea, Conjunto Clasico Con Tito Nieves, and Louie Ramirez. For those seeking musical treasures, then Salsa Gold belongs in your collection.

Spam Allstars
Introducing Spam Allstars
World Music Network

‘Dubbed’ as Miami’s ‘hardest working Latin band’, the Spam Allstars bring loads of talent to this musical melee. No, their name has nothing to do with meat in a can, but as the liner notes explain, “…their mission is to blend improvisational electronic elements and turntables with Latin, funk, hip-hop, and dub to create a sound that is unique – an electronic descarga…”. This descarga, or charge, was used to refer to jam sessions held in dance halls and studios nearly fifty years ago. The band is headed by DJ Le Spam (Andrew Yeomanson). The album is mostly instrumental and electro-Latin. In fact, there are similarities to the charanga musical style noted for its string and flute sections. A new, but classical musical concoction for all ages and generations. I give the Spam Allstars five out of five stars!

Matthew J. Forss graduated from Lakeland College-Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 2005 with a B.A. in Biology. He will graduate with an M.Sc. in Exercise Science in May 2007 from Northern Michigan University-Marquette, Michigan. He is pursuing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Goddard College-Plainfield, VT. Since 1998, he has collected numerous musical instruments and CDs from around the world. In 2000, he wrote a paper on Mongolian ethnomusicology, entitled: How Does Music Play An Important Role In The Life And Culture Of Mongolia? Currently, he has collected over 400 CDs that represent over 180 different countries. His general interests include ethnomusicology journalism and researching the traditional/contemporary ethnic music of various cultures from around the world. His specific, geographic areas of study include the traditional and popular music from Central Eurasia (especially Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan), North Africa (especially Mali, Mauritania, Western Sahara, Libya and Morocco), Scandinavia and Pacific Islands (especially New Zealand, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia). He also enjoys studying Uzbek, Tamasheq, and German linguistics. In November of 2000, he accepted the position of writing World Music CD reviews for this site.