Friday, December 18, 2009

CD Review: Marta Topferova's Czech-Latin "TROVA"


Czech-born and New York-based, Marta Topferova, follows her 2006 release Flor Nocturna with the latest album, Trova. The Czech connection pretty much ends with her name. The music is primarily in Spanish, and indicative of the Latin/Caribbean troubadour-type ensembles. Interestingly, Trova is the root word for troubadour. It is only fitting that Trova would not fail to live up to the expectations of Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Latin American music fans everywhere. Marta's voice seems more mature, but wonderfully heartfelt. There is an element of fado or flamenco that creeps up throughout the album. Marta sings and plays the guitar and cuatro. This is probably the only Czech-born, Latin music-making musician you will ever come across. In that regard, Trova is a vital link between the Spanish and European worlds. If anything, you will smile and find your toes tapping to the percussive and rhythmic tunes of Marta Topferova. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Valravn's "Koder pa snor"

Koder pa snor
Voices Music & Entertainment

Valravn is a quintet with a lead singer, Anna Katrin Egilstrod, from the Denmark-owned, Faroe Islands. The Faroe Islands are located between Iceland and Scotland. Anna is joined by Danish-frontmen, Martin Seeburg on flutes, viola, vocals, Soren Hammerlund on mandola, hurdy gurdy, nyckelharpa, and Christopher Juul on keyboards/electronics. Juan Pino is from Switzerland and plays the davul, hammered dulcimer, and percussion instruments. After their self-titled, 2007 release, which included re-interpretations of old, Nordic songs for a contemporary audience. On Koder pa snor, which means, "codes on a string", they primarily write most of the songs. The album title represents that every particle in the universe is connected. Naturally, the songs follow a sinewy, musical path with unique electronic sounds and the heavenly voice of Anna. Valravn, which means "raven of the slain", is a familiar reincarnation of the now defunct, Emma Hardelin-led Swedish group, Garmarna. Though, there are hints of Denmark's Sorten Muld and even Belgium's Hooverphonic. All in all, the music threads the listener through mystical and haunting adventures that is anything but scary. A true delight! ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, December 17, 2009

***New WORLD MUSIC Newsletter***

Hello everyone,

I would like to inform you of a newsletter I will be writing beginning this winter. It will be $20/yr. regardless of location, since it will be sent directly to your email in pdf. It will be published bimonthly. It will provide a 'voice' for world music fans/academics, and it will be the only publication devoted to world music producers, labels, artists, professors, by bringing you the inside scoop on contemporary and historical issues in ethnomusicology.

***If you are interested in receiving this newsletter, please let me know by sending me a short email with your NAME, COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, CONTACT EMAIL, and SPECIFIC INTEREST IN WORLD MUSIC.***

Please direct the above information to:
Matthew Forss

You will hear from me in a few weeks if there is enough interest to continue with the project. Thanks.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

CD Review: Scotland's Julie Fowlis and Uam

Uam (From Me)

The Gaelic-Scottish singer, Julie Fowlis, presents us with another round of intimately sweet songs of life and love in the Hebrides, Scotland, and beyond. Julie's real charm is found in her vocal style. Her voice is extremely sincere and pleasant, which makes anyone's heart who listens to it melt with delight. She is similar in sound to Heidi Talbot or Karine Polwart. Though, she is joined by her husband Eamon Doorley and others, on bouzouki, fiddle, guitar, flute, bass, accordion, piano, and bodhran. There is a nice mix of traditional instrumental and vocal tunes to enjoy. The songs are mainly in Gaelic, but a few English words pop-up, too. The liner notes provide information on the songs in Gaelic and English. The tunes are diverse enough to attract folk or Celtic music fans. Yet, anyone looking for enchanting music, then Uam is perfect. In fact, Uam means 'from me'. It does not take long to understand that this new album is Julie's gift to the world. Grab a partner and dance to the jubilant and sweet voice of Julie Fowlis. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Three Wise Men From Iran, Norway, and Turkey

The Three Wise Men (Tre Vise Menn)
The Three Wise Men

The Three Wise Men are Mathias Eick from Norway on trumpet, piano, vibes, bass, and percussion; Ertan Tekin from Turkey on duduk flute; and Pasha Hanjani from Iran on ney flute. In celebration of the Christmas season, The Three Wise Men play wholly instrumental tunes from various traditions, including German, Scandinavian, French, English, Sicilian, Norwegian and Palestinian. More familiar tunes include "O Come, O Come, Immanuel", "Hark The Herald Angels Sing", "Silent Night", and "O Little Town of Bethlehem". All of the tracks are very easy to listen to. They are musically invigorating and reflective pieces of history. It's a perfect example of what happens when cultures come together for a common cause. In fact, this is Kirkelig Kulturverksted's philosophy on musical production from the start. This is an ideal album for Christmas gatherings, theatrical productions, family functions, and anyone who relishes instrumental Christmas works. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Abaji's Origine Orients

Origine Orients
Absilone Music
Born in Beirut, Lebanon to parents of Turkish, Syrian, Greek, and Armenian lineage, Abaji is quite the instrumentarian. He has collected nearly 250+ instruments from the Mediterranean region, South America, Europe and the Middle East. Abaji plays the duduk, oud, bouzouki, daf, Bali flute, saz, harmonica, kemenche, and a few other instruments throughout the album. His folksy, bluesy Mediterranean concoctions eschew an earthly resonance of multiple ethnic roots. Moreover, Abaji sings in five different languages, including French, Arabic, Greek, Armenian, and Turkish. The entire album was recorded over two days and is void of re-recording and remastering of the tracks into a polished and commercialized piece of character-less matter. However, Origine Orients is a beautiful work of art that echoes back centuries ago to it's ancient roots along the Silk Road. At times, the instrumental medleys remind one of Australia's multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist, Xavier Rudd. Abaji's musical journey is contemplative, energetic, inspiring, and always imaginative. Nicely done! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Alan Lomax in Haiti 10-CD Collection

Various Artists

Alan Lomax in Haiti [10 CD set]

Harte Recordings

The musical achievements of the late-Alan Lomax are superbly displayed in this attractive 10-CD box set with accompanying photos, map, and two books, including Alan's field journal. The songs were recorded throughout Haiti from 1936-1937 for The Library of Congress. These are largely traditional, field recordings with typically grainy and raw sound quality. However, the CD's are mastered by Grammy Award-winning engineers to elicit the best sound quality available today. The music was culled from over 50 hours of never-before-released field recordings. You will hear Voudou songs, percussion pieces, choral sounds, vocal/instrumentals of people young and old, male and female, and even Alan's own voice explaining where a specific song was recorded and/or noting the musicians themselves. The box set format of this size is unique and relatively rare in the world of international music. Still, do not let the price tag of $120+ deter you from purchasing a literally priceless volume of musical history from the perspective of the ethnomusicologist. For fans or students of traditional music, especially from the Caribbean, this is a highly-desirable gift. Of course, Alan Lomax fans will put this set on the top of their list this holiday season, for good reason. Look for more good things to come from Harte Recordings in the future! ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, October 30, 2009

CD Review: Cesaria Evora

Nha Sentimento

The infatigable queen of Cape Verde music is back again with Nha Sentimento. Cesaria Evora has released countless albums over the years, and this one continues her legacy in the world of contemporary Cape Verde music. Cesaria sings primarily catchy dance-floor type songs called coladeras, while leaving her more iconic blues style (morna) on the back burner. Classic melodies, jazzy percussion, and Afro-Caribbean tones accompany Cesaria Evora's unmistakable voice. Fourteen tracks cover nostalgic songs of joy, tranquility, sadness, and optimism. Back-up vocals and earthy percussion are reminiscent of one's feet shuffling about a dance floor. Nha Sentimento is another fine selection of music from the mouth of Cesaria Evora. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Best of Bonga

Best Of Bonga

Angola's Bonga has been an iconic fixture in the music of Africa since the 1970's. The result is a timely release of hits spanning some thirty years. There are songs from a selection of prior albums, including his debut release, Angola 72, along with Angola 74, Mulemba Xangola, Kaxexe, Maiorai, and previously unreleased tracks. The influence of Portuguese culture in Angola has shaped the way music is created. Though, Bonga's musical expressionism is steeped in the sounds beyond Angola, including Cape Verde, Portugal, and France. It is difficult to include all the great songs of Bonga on one album, so listeners will find the Best Of... to be an excellent place for new fans to become familiar with Bonga's music. The sultry voice of Cape Verde's Lura adds a special sound to the first track, "Mulemba Xangola". A special remix track, "Kapakiao", is included and takes on an eery trip-hop edge that is sure to elicit enjoyment for all who listen. Anyone interested in Bonga's previous works, as well as the contemporary music of Angola, Portugal, Cape Verde, or France, will find Bonga to be particularly refreshing and satisfying. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, October 25, 2009

CD Review: Don't 'Balk' At Txutxukan's Balkan Music


Hailing from France, Txutxukan (pron: tchoo-tchoo-ken) is a Balkan/Gypsy group named after the Basque phrase for "puttering about" or "doing odd jobs". Fortunately, there is nothing overtly odd about this quintet. Though, the song titles are inventive (albeit, direct) and humorous (i.e. "Riff", "23", "Septic Swing", "Humpty Dumpty", etc.). The self-titled release is an excellent cross-section of musical creativity culturally steeped and brewed in the folk and gypsy traditions of Europe. Txutxukan's line-up includes bouzouki, clarinet, kaval, guitar, banjo, double bass, accordion and occasional vocals. Another likely musical influence is comparable to the Middle Eastern region. Though, the French-cafe element is evident on "Mets de L'air" and "Sinai". If you are looking for a fusion-based Balkan/Gypsy group, then look no further. The boys of Txutxukan are here to stay! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jace Everett's Red Revelations

Red Revelations

Jace Everett (USA) is probably best known for his song, "Bad Things", on HBO's hit show True Blood. However, Jace is no one hit wonder here. From the opening song, 'Possession', Jace explores original songs of a bluesy-gritty-Western sound uniquely his own. Essentially, the sound is similar in tone with Chris Isaak. Still, Jace's songs are grittier with a hint of classic country and Southern soul. The instrument repertoire consists of drums, bass, guitar, mandolin, piano, mellotron, vibes, moog, bells, and back-up vocals. Jace is the lead acoustic guitarist and vocalist. Overall, Red Revelations is a darkly-tinged hour of creative wonder that leaves every listener feeling happy and content. Keep it up, Jace! ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, October 22, 2009

CD Review: Rising Gael's Irish Music

One More Day

For a group that has members at schools in Texas, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts, Rising Gael's tunes on One More Day showcases what magic happens when stars collide in the recording studio. They are a folk-Celtic group made up of lead vocalist/flutist/tin whistler, Erin Ellison and her compatriots, Peter Tissot (guitar, percussion, keyboards, bass, banjo), Katie Dionne (fiddle, step dancing), and Jeff Olson (bodhran, bagpipes, harmonica and percussion). The group is not particularly traditional in the typical sense, as it is New Celtic music based on traditional tunes. A hint of Leahy, Corrs, and April Verch are found throughout the tracks. Sweet lyrics, groovy interludes, and Gaelic/Celtic nostalgia is a foundational element of Rising Gael. If you are looking for great music for studying, coffee shop talk, or the festival scene, Rising Gael definitely rises high. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, September 27, 2009

CD Review: Kailash Kher & Company

Yatra (Nomadic Souls)
An invigorating release from India showcases singer Kailash Kher and his band Kailasa. This is where contemporary Indian pop music meets traditional roots and rhythms. There is a solid, Indian-ness to the songs, with some elements of Sufi, Gypsy, funk, reggae, and electronic beat music. The contemporary music is produced with help from traditional instrumentation as well, including rabab, saz, oud, santoor, harmonium, sitar, and various percussion. Perhaps Yatra (Nomadic Souls) is an homage to the global music listener, while taking in, absorbing, and processing various styles for 'nomadic souls' around the world. Yatra (Nomadic Souls) traverses the musical spectrum from up-beat dance sounds of "Tauba Tauba" and "Jhoomo Re" to the slower rhythms of "Piya Ghar Aavenge". This is a highly-recommended, adventurous musical journey for anyone interested in contemporary Indian music. The songs are sung in Hindi, but English lyrics are provided in the liner notes, along with colored pictures. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sertab Erener & Demir Demirkan

Painted On Water
Motema Music

Vocalist Sertab Erener and guitarist Demir Demirkan are a jazzy duo from Turkey. Sertab sings in English, even though some of the songs are based on, or inspired by traditional Turkish folk songs. The songs are sultry, bluesy-jazz-rock compositions that should resonate with all types of listeners. The gritty guitar stylings and piano accompaniment seem to fit Sertab's vocals with ease. At times, the album takes on American blues/rock characteristics while remaining Turkish at heart. Essentially, Painted On Water is an album with a colorful repertoire of musical influences that will suit the flamenco-jazz, lounge jazz, and jazz-rock fan quite easily. Painted On Water is full of funk and Turkish spunk. English lyrics are provided in the liner notes.

~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Orla Fallon's 'Distant Shore'

Distant Shore

Orla Fallon, of Celtic Woman fame, succeeds with her second solo album, Distant Shore. The Irish maiden soothes the soul with a pristine voice backed by some contemporary choral arrangements and mostly modern instrumentation. The opening track's piano and percussion arrangements remind one of Celine Dion's song, "A Brand New Day", or Nina Gordon's "Tonight and The Rest of My Life". The ethereal, ambient elements and touch of piano and harp make Distant Shore soar into areas previously unexplored by other artists in the New Age/Celtic genre. The rather pop-focused, "Dancing In The Moonlight", is a sweet song about love that is sure to make feet happy with dancing maneuvers. The songs are primarily sung in English, though one track is in Gaelic and another track showcases a harp medley. Fans of Celtic Woman, Gaelic singing, and New Age/Irish music will especially love it. Moreover, Orla's second solo album is accessible for everyone and is only as 'distant' as your nearest music store. The tide is rising and Distant Shore is on top. It's that good. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, September 18, 2009

CD Review: 35th Parallel's 'Crossing Painted Islands'

35th Parallel
Crossing Painted Islands
Independent Release

The 2006 release, Crossing Painted Islands, continues the tradition of exploring the world's music. Gabe Hallberg plays the tabla, tar, kou xiang, and percussion. Mac Ritchey plays the oud, bouzouki, acoustic guitar, didjeridoo, and lends his vocals for overtone singing, which is a style commonly heard in Tuva and Mongolia. However, a majority of the tracks are of Turkish origin with one from Armenia. Even so, the music on Crossing Painted Islands is slightly different from their prior release, The Green Vine, which was also reviewed here. Instead, their latest release seems to mainly draw upon the music of the Caucasus, the Balkans, and the Middle East. Still, Crossing Painted Islands is rich with musical creativity and relaxing rhythms well worth a listen. If you are looking for a great world fusion album, then this is for you. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Music from The Green Vine

The Green VineAdd Image
Independent Release

35th Parallel's 2003 release, The Green Vine, weaves through and within the world's great musical cultures. In fact, the band's name comes from the latitude of intersecting musical regions that heavily influence their music. 35th Parallel is based in Vermont, right down the road from my alma mater, Goddard College, where Mac Ritchey and Gabe Hallberg create a fusion of music from the Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean, and North India. The entirely instrumental release features sounds on the oud, bouzouki, acoustic guitar, didjeridoo, gongs, tablas, pakhawaj, tar, tamboura, and electronic accompaniment. The tracks are never busy or overdone. Some tracks are attributed to guest musicians Mohammad Omar and Aziz Herawi) or historical figures (Gomidas) in music. Each track reveals a different musical journey, which is always surprising and fresh. The 35th Parallel is not that far away. Hear it today. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mzungu Kichaa from Denmark and Tanzania

Tuko Pamoja
Caravan Records

Mzungu Kichaa, which means "crazy white guy" in Swahili, is a musician from Denmark that grew up in Tanzania. Mzungu sings in Swahili and plays the guitar. Though, Tuko Pamoja, which means "we are one" in Swahili, is a contemporary hip-hop, rap, and pop work. The music is reminiscent of the modern French hip-hop scene. Traditional instruments are replaced for a more urban sound that is primarily carried by the vocals. Yet, some of the tracks are very melodic with groovy, acoustic instrumental segments indicative of Central African soukous, highlife music, or reggae. Of course, there are hints of musical influences spanning across the entire continent of Africa, but Mzungu's lyrical content mainly deals with the people of Tanzania. World rap music is relatively unknown to many audiences, but Tuko Pamoja should provide a welcome introduction to the genre for beginners and seasoned listeners. Liner notes include song lyrics in Swahili and introductions in English. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Guinea's Sia Tolno

Eh Sanga

Guinea's Sia Tolno is a shining star coming out of West Africa. Her vocals are strong, sultry, and distinctly African. Drawing from comparisons to Benin's Angelique Kidjo and the late-Miriam Makeba, Sia incorporates pop rhythms with indigenous instrumentation and jazzy beats and backup singers. The album was recorded in Cuba, Paris, and Conakry. The transglobal recording environments certainly influenced the music, as Latin rhythms, Lusophone cafe sounds, and African pop beats permeate the album. Sia sings in English, French, and a mix of Kissi or Pular languages. The opening track, "African Dreams", sets the stage for the rest of the tracks. Essentially, it is an ode to Mother Africa. Fans of West African music should check out Sia today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Uxia's Eterno Navegar

Eterno Navegar

Uxia (pron. 00-SHEE-a) is a heartfelt singer of fado and morna songs inspired by the Asturias region of Northern Spain, Portugal, the Azores, Cape Verde, Africa, Brazil and everywhere in-between. Eterno Navegar, which means, "Eternal Sailing", is a reflection of the musical inspiration inherent in the environment surrounding the countries and islands in the Eastern Atlantic. The entire album has a Lusophone (a.k.a. Portuguese) sound. Instrumentally, the piano, accordion, bass, trombone, cello, percussion, hurdy gurdy, and violin comprise the primary repertoire. The Cape Verdean/Portuguese guitarist and singer, Sara Tavares, lends her vocals to the mix. Overall, Eterno Navegar is an intimate and inviting journey for any listener with an interest in Lusophone music. A 56-page colored booklet in English and Portuguese includes an introduction, song titles and instrumentation, and photos. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: 'Soul'try Sounds of Ahmed Soultan

Somum Records

Born in Morocco, Ahmed Soultan soon emigrated to France where he experimented with Arabic and French rap/hip-hop styles. In fact, some of the songs are sung in Berber, French, Arabic, and English. The overall feel of the album is very laid-back and smooth. Code is not a gangster rap album loaded with profanities and violence. Instead, it bridges a Francophone style with Arabic soul. Ahmed is joined by a female singer, Samira, on a few tracks. Three of the fourteen tracks are repeated for whatever reason. One of the three tracks features a guest artist, Afrodiziac. The secret to understanding and enjoying Code is not that difficult soon after you start playing the tracks. The music takes on a 'soul'try and smooth edge with little help from traditional instrumentation over modern hip-hop beats. One thing is for sure, Code is in its own category. It's that good. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, August 30, 2009

CD Review: Tcheck Out Tcheka


As of late, Cape Verde has produced some notable musicians such as, Tete Alhinho, Cesaria Evora, Lura, and Carmen Souza. Be sure to include Manuel Lopes Andrade a.k.a. Tcheka in the mix. On Lonji, Tcheka performs a modified form of batuque music with breezy, acoustic guitar stylings, Afro-Latin percussion, and Cape Verde vocals. The music is at times difficult to concretely categorize, as it takes on several nuances borrowed from African, Jazz, Latin, Portuguese, and Caribbean roots. However, it is distinctly unique and always refreshing. It is never overly-intrusive, but it does provide an entrancing and warm ambiance for any mood or occasion. If you are interested in the music of Cape Verde, then "(t)check" out Tcheka's Lonji today! Song titles and instrumentation are provided in the liner notes. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CD Review: Northern Melodies by Eskil Romme and Friends


Himmerlandsmelodier is named by the location 'Himmerland'--a district of northeastern Jutland, Denmark. 'Melodier' connotes the musical 'melody' portion of the title. Eskil plays soprano sax, and is joined by the UK's Karen Tweed (accordion), Ghana's Ayi Solomon (percussion), Poland's Andrzej Krejniuk (bass), and Denmark's Ditte Fromseier (violin), Morten Alfred Hoirup (guitar) and Peter Rosendal (piano). The album is entirely instrumental. Almost every instrument shares the spotlight from time to time. The sounds of the violin, sax and accordion dance effortlessly, as if entwined, throughout the title track, 'Spring Peace'. The songs are not defined by any one genre, but they definitely possess a cozy, down-home feel. This is music with substance, originality, and fluidity. Make Himmerlandsmelodier a part of your life today! Song titles in Danish and English are included. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, August 23, 2009

CD Review: Eden Mi Qedem - Music from the Garden of Eden

Eden Mi Qedem
Eden Mi Qedem (Eden From The East)
Samuel Nelson

Jerusalem-based Eden Mi Qedem fuses contemporary Arab music with Jewish contributions. The band's name comes from the Biblical book of Genesis, which is inspired by the creation of Mankind and perfection of the Garden of Eden. As expected, the band draws heavily upon the rhythms and instrumentation of the Middle East. You will hear the violin, qanun, ney flute, tanbur, keyboards, and guitars create a modern and energetic musical tone. The historical roots and inspiration of Eden Mi Qedem explores Biblical poetry through original songs and Biblical Psalms. There are some great instrumental interludes and jamming sessions that flow in and out between modern and traditional music modes. In order to understand the music as something more than contemporary Arabic music, you might want to check out a similar group from Israel: The Idan Raichel Project. All in all, Eden Mi Qedem utilizes some danceable rhythms, groovy tunes, and a touch of Mesopotamian style. Listen to the Garden of Eden through the music of Eden Mi Qedem; it's that perfect! The liner notes contain song titles and information in English, Arabic and Hebrew. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Alex Cuba

Alex Cuba
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
With his signature afro and sideburns, Alex Cuba's looks are as striking and unique as his music. Originally from Cuba and now living in British Columbia with his family, Alex Cuba performed in Edmonton during the recent Edmonton Folk Music Festival. His energetic and skillful blend of Spanish lyrics with upbeat melodies encompassing elements of jazz, funk, and pop enthralled the audience during several performances and workshops. ~Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Tango From Bucharest, Romania

Oana Catalina Chitu
Bucharest Tango

Bucharest Tango is a 2008 release of Oana Catalina Chitu's resurrection of classic folk ballads of tango songs from 1913-1963. Of course, tango music is normally frenetic, and Oana's music is no different. Still, there are some slower moments indicative of a sultry, lounge club. Nonetheless, there are hints of Klezmer, Balkan, Mediterrean, and South American influences. There are some very skilled virtuosos on violin and cymbalom which are well worth a listen. Instruments include violin, cymbalom, guitar, double bass, sax, clarinet, and accordion. There is always room for another tango album in your collection, and Bucharest Tango belongs at the top! Liner notes include lyrics in Romanian and English. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tribecastan...from New York?

Strange Cousin

If the world had a soundtrack, Strange Cousin would be it. Tribecastan attempts to showcase the world's music with various percussion, wind, string, and less-commonly-played instruments. For instance, one track, 'Tribecastani Traffic Jam', contains a Pakistani Taxi Horn. This is an instrument aficionado's fantasy. Some instruments you will hear include the penny whiste, bendir, riq, fujara, tupan, shells, mandolin, bamboo flute, koncova, dutar, tambur, Indian oboe, kanun, and many, many more. As expected, Strange Cousin picks up sounds from around the world, most notably from Europe, Central Asia, and the Mediterranean. Sometimes albums fall short when they try to incorporate too much, but Tribecastan succeeds, because each track is different and it's delivered in focused moderation. This is a 99% instrumental album with only a spattering of vocals. It's a wonderful journey to begin--and it starts in a place called New York City. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ersatzmusika...Songs Memorable

Songs Unrecantable

The slightly psychedelic, avant-garde, post-Soviet roots music of Ersatzmusika is more uncategorizable than unrecantable. The rather languid English vocals possess a slightly Russio-Germanic undertone, as the band members are Russian-born, but sought refuge in Germany. Some of the songs are energetic, while others are more subdued with hints of Gypsy, folk, and pop leanings. Yet, the entire album contains a darker musical tone that amazingly does not disengage listeners, but make them lean in. The instruments used are fairly usual, including guitar, drums, bass, cello, synthesizer and harmonica. Of course, it's a matter of how they are used in order to understand how the music of Ersatzmusika came to be. The slower, instrumental moments remind one of a downbeat or trip hop band like Zero 7 or Air. Despite unsuccessful categorization, Songs Unrecantable is still one of my favorite albums of none.~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tony Allen's Not-So 'Secret Agent'

Tony Allen
Secret Agent

The term afro-beat was attributed to the musical stylings of drummer, Tony Allen. He was also a drummer and a former musical director of Fela Kuti's band from 1968-1979. On Secret Agent, Tony remains true to the afro-beat style, while also incorporating funk, jazz, and hip hop beats. Eleven tracks are played by band members from France, Cameroon, Martinique, and Nigeria. The tunes are mostly instrumental, but vocals do exist, with some borrowing English words. The rhythms are most certainly dance-friendly. Tony's latest release is a perfect accompaniment to other afro-beat recordings, notably Legends of Benin (Analog Africa, 2009) or Nigeria 70 Lagos Jump (Strut, 2008). If you are a fan of afro-beat, or African music in general, you will enjoy Secret Agent. The secret's out and ready to satisfy listeners all around the world. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Oumou Sangare's 'Joy'

One of Mali's great female vocalists, Oumou Sangare presents us with her fifth album since 1989. Seya, otherwise known as 'joy', is an energetic release celebrating life, love, happiness, and independence. An impressive array of a few dozen contributors lend talents throughout the album's tracks. As a result, the tracks are richly embossed with an array of instrumentation and funky beats. Oumou's musical origins from southern Mali serve as a continued influence in her music. For instance, she combines a Wassoulou groove with a kamale n'goni instrument to honor past Wassoulou singers on 'Donso'. Seya contains great vocal melodies, pleasant rhythms, and unique instrumentation. The traditional instrumentation is played in such a way to seem more contemporary. This is funk, afro-beat, highlife, and everything in-between. Pick it up today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tuva's National Orchestra

Tuvan National Orchestra
Independent Release

The Tuvan National Orchestra was formed in 2003. It comprises members of other throat-singing ensembles, including Chirgilchin, Alash, and Tyva Kyzy. The orchestra is now led by director and conductor Ayana Mongush who includes nine compositions released in a limited CD pressing. The contents of songs range from mythical legends to the environment, instruments, and personal longing. Additionally, the Tuvan national anthem is included in the opening track, 'Tooruktug Dolgai Tangdym'. On the whole, orchestral music tends to reflect classical leanings, but the Tuvan National Orchestra melds history with the present to produce very enlightening and contemplative works that are anything but boring. This is a perfect album for anyone interested in throat-singing or traditional music of Central Asia. ~ Matthew Forss
Photo courtesy Tuvan National Orchestra website:

CD Review: Alas...Alash!

Independent Release

In recent years, a slew of musical abums and compilations devoted to throat-singing from the steppes of Central Asia have graced the stores and charts. Those familiar with Huun Huur Tu, Egschiglen and Hanggai should pick up Alash's self-titled 2007 album of Tuvan throat-singing songs. Alash's ensemble does not incorporate Western instrumentation or modern beats. Instead, they present traditional songs with traditional instrumentation. Moreover, the liner notes detail the types of string and wind instruments used, including igil, kengirge, shynggyrash, limpi, murgu, byzaanchy, and doshpuluur. The instruments evoke images and sounds of nature indicative of indigenous Tuvan surroundings of grasslands, rivers, and animal galloping. At times the vocals seem otherworldly, but that only adds to the mystique of the Tuvan musical culture. The liner notes include a brief introduction to the music, throat-singing styles, and lyric translations from Tuvan to English by Sean Quirk. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Denmark's Helene Blum

Helene Blum
En Gang Og Altid (Once and Forever)
Pile House Records

En Gang Og Altid was released in 2008. Denmark's Helene Blum offers a poignant album of vocal songs and folksy guitar playing. There is a mix of traditional Danish tunes and original compositions. The instrumental repertoire contains guitar, mandolin, whistle, fiddle, bass, duduk, dobro, and others. The incredible songwriting abilities and voice of Helene can cut through any darkened moods or sadness. In effect, her voice has the ability to summon Heavenly spirits of harmonious goodness. In a universe all her own, she is relatively comparable to Ireland's Heidi Talbot, Scotland's Karine Polwart, and Canada's April Verch. All in all, you should discover Helene Blum today--your ears will thank you! Liner notes include lyrics in Danish only. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Azerbaijan's Sevda Alekperzadeh

Sevda Alekperzadeh
Sevdali Dunya (Worlds of Love)

The jazzy and sultry voice of Azerbaijan's 32-year-old Sevda Alekperzadeh brings us a lovely set of vocal and instrumental tunes from the Caucasus. Sevda sings in Azeri. The songs include instruments such as the piano, double bass, cello, kamanche, nagara, ud, drums, duduk, tar, saz, brass, zurna, and others. The majority of songs are composed with a jazzy-Mugham influenced musical background. Though, 'Ay Giz' is one exception that sounds like a pop standard from the 1940's. The incomparable Malik Mansurov lends his instrumental skills on the iconic tar instrument for a few tracks. Anyone familiar with classical, Turko-Asiatic music will find Sevdali Dunya tantalizing for the ears. The liner notes include song titles and lyrics in French, English, and German. It only takes a few listens before you understand why the world should love Sevda Alekperzadeh. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Arrested Development

Arrested Development
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
This band is not folk, but certainly gave an "arresting" performance last weekend at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Arrested Development is hip hop with a message.

Decidedly Afrocentric and socially conscious, Arrested Development is the antithesis to the gansta rap movement of the 1990s. The meaningful lyrics, solid rhythm section, and funky dance moves had the audience pulsating to the beat. A folk festival is indeed a unique venue for this kind of music, but just goes to show that it caters to people with a wide spectrum of musical appreciation. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Spirit of the West: Spiritual Ever After

Spirit of the West
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
Spirit of the West is an enduring band from Vancouver. For over 25 years, Spirit's unique blend of folk, rock, punk, and Celtic music has gained a huge following under that catch-all of musical labels: alternative.

The band's 25th anniversary compilation, Spirituality, was released last year. Spirit of the West also still tours on a regular basis, most recently as the opening act for Great Big Sea.

Spirit of the West also performed this past weekend at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Maintaining a high energy level, the band had people dancing in front of the stage and into the beer gardens, especially to such classics as "Political," "Save This House," and "Home For a Rest." ~ Paula E. Kirman

Monday, August 10, 2009

Hanggai: "Newgrass" From China

What do you get when you mix roots music with traditional throat singing performed by a bunch of musicians presenting the sounds of the Mongolian population in China? You get Hanggai - a musical treat for the ears.

Dressed in traditional Mongolian garb, the members of Hanggai took to the stage at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this past weekend for a workshop entitled "Newgrass." Along with The SteelDrivers, Hanggai performed some incredibly energetic music combining electric guitar work with traditional Asian instruments. One piece in particular, which kept getting faster and faster with every verse, had the audience clapping and dancing.

Mixing throat singing with rock sounds is a very unique musical combination. The band is based in Beijing and is starting to get the international recognition it deserves. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Daby Touré: Magic from Mauritania

Daby Touré
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
The name Touré has become synonymous with World Music, the large Africal family having producing several bands and solo artists. Daby Touré has recorded and performed both solo and with his brothers and now resides in France. His sound is unique in that he combines intelligent, introspective songwriting with captivating melodies and a great beat.

I was, of course, very familiar with Daby Touré's music before seeing him perform this past weekend at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Seeing him live helped me gain a whole new appreciation for his work. With a very laid-back and friendly approach (I don't think the smile ever left his face) he rhythmically strummed his guitar and presented songs about life and love. His songs never get repetitive and are downright captivating.

If you ever get the chance to see Daby Touré live, don't pass up the chance. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Hot Tuna: Still Smokin' After All These Years

Hot Tuna
Originally uploaded by raise my voice

Hot Tuna
is one of those bands whose reputation precedes them. A career of performing some of the finest blues-rock music ever made over four decades, to call this San Francisco-formed band legendary seems like a understatement.

According to the CBC's Holger Peterson, who introduced Hot Tuna's Sunday afternoon concert at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival on August 9, this was the band's first-ever appearance in Alberta. Looking around at the audience, I could tell some had waited a long time for this moment to come.

Founding members Jorma Kaukonen (vocals and guitar) and Jack Cassidy (bass) are still the core of the band, adding mandolin player Barry Mitterhoff. Acoustically slipping and sliding their way through traditional and original blues tunes, the trio captivated everyone watching. Particularly spectacular was Kaukonen's finger-picking and strong vocals, which at times reminded me of the late Jerry Garcia.

The numerous instrumental breakdowns and musical back-and-forth between all of the members made a hot afternoon even hotter. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Oysterband: A Pearl of a Performance

Originally uploaded by raise my voice
Oysterband is a legendary band on the international folk music scene. Steeped in the traditional music of Britain, Oysterband has endured numerous changes in both personnel and style over the band's 30-odd year history. Currently, Oysterband could best be described as folk-rock, but with many layers of roots in music from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and throughout the UK.

Still actively recording and touring, the band was in Edmonton this past weekend for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Performing on the Saturday afternoon main stage, Oysterband was in fine form. Smooth music, clear vocals, and an engaging stage presence had the crowd captivated.

Oysterband has been reaching a new audience in recent years. Some of their songs have taken a political direction and has put them in solidarity with fellow British musicians Chumbawumba (who were performing acoustically throughout the festival as well). The two bands have performed and recorded together on numerous occasions.

The band's latest album is entitled The Oxford Girl & Other Stories and contains stripped-down re-recordings of some of the bands favourite songs from throughout its 30 year history. Lead singer John Jones also recently put out a solo recording called Rising Road. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir

First of all, let's get a couple of things straight. They aren't a choir. They aren't from the mountains. In fact, they are from Calgary (which is close to the mountains, but not quite). They are the Agnostic Mountain Choir and they perform music with an old-time Blues style -- with their own new-time twist.

Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir was another Edmonton Folk Music Festival discovery for me. I had heard rumblings about the band (all good) and had a chance to check them out during a jam session workshop with Daby Touré and Hot Tuna. Thumping acoustic bass, twanging guitars, and vocals with all the grit and soul of an old Bluesman - I was so impressed, I checked out the band's latest album Ten Thousand on iTunes when I got back from the festival.

If you like traditional Blues music but are open to something different, you need to check out the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir. ~Paula E. Kirman

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Great Lake Swimmers

Great Lake Swimmers
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
As I was heading to the concession area at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival this past window, one of my friends waved me down and told me that I simply had to check out this incredible band called Great Lake Swimmers. I heard similar raves from others, so headed back to Gallagher Park early Sunday afternoon to hear the band's hour-long set.

Although this was the first time I had heard of Great Lake Swimmers, judging from the enthusiastic and plentiful crowd the band already has an established following. Indeed, the band already has four albums under its belt, the latest being Lost Channels which was released this past March.

What catches me most about Great Lake Swimmers is the atmosphere of the music. Rootsy with an upbeat tempo and just a hint of twang at times, Tony Dekker's understated vocals set the tone for his songs that are hauntingly beautiful. The songs have a dreamy feel to them without becoming repetitive.

I have no doubt that Great Lake Swimmers gained some new fans during their Folk Fest performance -I can personally attest to that! ~ Paula E. Kirman

Digging The Skydiggers

The Skydiggers
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
If you have never heard of The Skydiggers, it likely isn't your fault. Let this be your introduction to the Toronto-based band that presents a blend of folk, country, and rock.

The Skydiggers is one of those bands that has fallen through the cracks time and time again. Deserving far more acclaim than it has received, The Skydiggers has been the repeated victim of record labels going under and as a result, has never been promoted to the extent it should be.

Known for melodic, harmonious songs like "I Will Give You Everything," "A Penny More," and "Slow Burning Fire," The Skydiggers are celebrating 20 years as band. Members have come and gone (most notably co-singer/songwriter Andrew Cash - Peter's brother) but the core trio of the lively and eccentric Andy Maize on lead vocals, Josh Finlayson on guitar, and Ron Macey on bass has endured.

The Skydiggers recently released a retrospective entitled The Truth About Us which features remastered versions of most of the band's best-known songs. The band still tours actively as well, and was in Edmonton for the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, playing a concert on August 8. The hour-long set saw fans old and new alike swaying and singing along.

As someone who owns the band's first album on cassette, I could not help but feel nostalgic when the host announced that The Skydigger's was celebrating 20 years this year. And despite the blazing heat of the summer afternoon, I broke out in goosebumps when they performed "I Will Give You Everything." Andy Maize was in fine form with his frenzied body movements and facial expressions, making witty quips in between songs.

The Skydiggers continue to be one of the hardest-working bands in the Canadian music scene. Hopefully, it won't take another 20 years for The Skydiggers to gets its due. ~ Paula E. Kirman

Thursday, July 30, 2009

CD Review: Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo...or Bust!

Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo
Electrofone Music

Huun Huur Tu are throat-singing masters from the Republic of Tuva located in southern Russia. There name can be translated from Tuvan to mean "sunbeams". They have been wowing crowds with their vocal mastery since the early 1990's. The addition of electronic musician, Carmen Rizzo, adds a modern flair to the historical instrumentation of igil (two-stringed instrument), guitar, doshpuluur (lute), flute, byzaanchi (spike fiddle) and drums performed on Eternal. Additional instrumentation is provided on violin, cello, trumpet, cumbus, and bass. "Ancestors Call" is the opening track that begins with an ambulatory drum-beat indicative of galloping horses roaming the taiga. Vocals, although present, are interspersed throughout the album. "Mother Taiga" is an inviting track with all the elements of a great Huun Huur Tu track. Carmen's electronic sounds and ambient backdrops propel the songs into an otherworldly place. Yet, the unfamiliarity is broken by the slightly guttural; but hauntingly beautiful and unmistakable vocals of Huun Huur Tu. Vocals are provided by Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Sayan Bapa, Radik Tyulyush, and Alexey Saryglar. Eternal is an album that will last for the ages. It's a perfect beginning for those seeking contemporary throat-singing. ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, July 24, 2009

CD Review: Tinariwen +|O:|

Imidiwan: Companions + DVD

The release of Imidiwan, which is Tamasheq for 'companions', is another superb musical journey from the Saharan blues-guitar group. Fans of their previous release, Aman Iman from 2007, will find all the tracks easily enjoyable. The opening, 'Imidiwan Afrik Tendam', is a catchy, invitational ode for African people everywhere. An equally engaging song, 'Tahult In', is only a few lines, but funky enough to please anyone. The entire album incorporates their signature use of tinde drum, female ululations, bluesy-guitar riffs, and lyrics describing the Saharan spirit with the rest of the world. Tinariwen never disappoints; and Imidiwan is no different. It's an album that stays with you long after the final track fades out. A special feature of this release includes a half-hour documentary of candid Tinariwen moments playing guitar, singing and traveling through the desert. For those unfortunate to have never experienced Tinariwen live, I have included a link to my concert review here to satiate your appetite: English subtitles are utilized, though sparingly, since this documentary is predominantly and observational examination of the music. Anyone familiar with the videography of Sublime Frequencies releases can attest to the very similarly observational, non-narrative nature of their musical documentaries. The liner notes are in Tamasheq and English to aid in following along, as Tamasheq language resources are relatively non-existent outside communities of indigenous speakers. As with Aman Iman, Imidiwan is also available on vinyl, but for an extremely limited pressing of 350. Come join Tinariwen as 'companions' on their musical journey across the globe. ~ Matthew Forss

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

CD Review: 70 Years Of Cuba's Orquesta Aragon

Orquesta Aragon
The 70th Anniversary Album 1939-2009 [4 CD BOX SET]

Orquesta Aragon's humble beginnings began when Rufino Roque (piano), Rene Gonzalvez (violin), Filiberto Depestre (violin), Paulito Romay (vocals), Noelie Molejon (guiro), Efrain Loyola (flute), Orestes Varona (timbales) and Orestes Aragon (double bass) came together in Cuba in 1939. The result has been an extraordinary musical journey to the soul of Cuba's musical spirit. Clearly a band for the world, Orquesta Aragon has been enchanting crowds throughout Europe, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the USA. The four cds in this attractive long box set include hours of classic, Cuban music that made Orquesta Aragon so popular with listeners and dancers alike. In addition, a 24-page booklet tracks the band's beginnings and line-up changes throughout the years. Perhaps fans of the Buena Vista Social Club should make Orquesta Aragon a part of their listening repertoire. Of course, traditional Cuban music fans probably already own music by Orquesta Aragon, but this set should be on the top of everyone's list. Enjoy the summer with the sounds of Orquesta Aragon! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sofia Jannok Melts Hearts With 'By The Embers'

Sofia Jannok
By The Embers (Assogattis)
Caprice Records

Northern Sweden's Sofia Jannok presents us with an introspective look at the contemporary Sami culture. The sungs are sung in Sami and incorporate elements of yoik, which is akin to Native American chanting. Sofia's voice is accompanied by drums, guitar, piano, bass, trombone, trumpet, violin, viola, and cello. The region's close affinity with nature is mentioned in many of the songs. For those familiar with contemporary Nordic music, Sofia's songs are more structured than Gjallarhorn (Finland), less aggressive than Garmarna (Sweden), and more melodic than Angelit (Finland). This is purely a modern release that transcends age and culture. The music never delves into boring repetition, dance-beats, or other impediments found in too many world music releases. By The Embers is a heart-warming introduction to contemporary Sami music for the casual to advanced world music traveler. The liner notes include English and Sami song translations. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Sea Sew Is Not So So

Lisa Hannigan
Sea Sew
ATO Records

Ireland's folksy crooner, Lisa Hannigan, brings us a set of simple and sweet songs to chew on. With some diverse song titles ranging from "Venn Diagram", "Splishy Splashy", and "Pistachio", she offers a glimpse into her avant-garde, musical repertoire. Lisa's voice is similar in tone and range to Heide Talbot (Ireland) and Karine Polwart (Scotland). The instruments used include harmonium, guitar, drums, xylophone, bass, trumpet, glockenspiel, violin, cello, and organ. Lisa's voice is also indicative of former-trip hop singer, Lamb. I think a vocal comparison with a combined talents of Beth Orton (UK) and Leigh Nash (USA) of Six Pence None The Richer fame, represent a not too far-fetched comparison. Moreover, Sea Sew contains a touch of downtempo, a handful of folk, and a hint of avant-garde. Put simply, an amalgation of styles is packed into one album. However, the primary musical vein of Sea Sew is best described as folk, and it never feels inorganic or forced. In short, Sea Sew is anything but so-so. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Tea Time With A Side Of 'Dreams'



Teajuana Music

A multi-instrumental and multi-talented group of musicians collate into the band known as Tea. The band's repertoire is composed of member's from Benin, Cameroon, Senegal, Congo, Nigeria (by way of a Fela Kuti connection), France, and the US. The songs are contemporary musings reflective of a world traveler. A jazzy ambiance permeates a few of the tracks. Others incorporate a more downtempo or trance-like musical foundation. Many of the songs could easily fill a soundtrack to a major motion picture released in Africa. The instrumentation includes traditional components, though a major portion of the sounds are created by bass, b3 organ, sax, and guitar. Tea is unique enough to warrant few comparisons to other artists. However, some artists that come to mind include, Salif Keita and Daby Toure. Tea is a group best served for any mood. It's an exhilarating mix of chilled-beats and warm sounds that intoxicate the listener into a 'dream'y state of veneration. ~ Matthew Forss

Saturday, June 20, 2009

LinkTV - Television Without Borders

LinkTV is an independently-funded channel on DISH and DirecTV that brings the world's cultures to viewers in their living rooms. They bring us international news, documentaries, world cinema, world music videos, and much much more. They are in need of donations to continue. Please save this valuable resource by helping them survive by donating any amount to:

Matthew Forss

Thursday, June 4, 2009

CD Review: A Palestinian Voice For Everyone

Rim Banna
April Blossoms
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Rim Banna, a Palestinian singer from Nazareth, presents poignant and humorous children's songs on April Blossoms. Rim's voice is aided with bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, keyboards, bansuri flute, duduk, and oud. All the songs are sung in Arabic. However, song translations are provided from Arabic to English in the liner notes. The songs are so enjoyable that you need not be a child to appreciate it's musical intricacies. Overall, the melodies and vocalizations are reminiscent of North African singers, in particular, Mauritania's Malouma. A children's choir accents some of the songs. Perhaps, the Arabic songs take on a life of their own and instill in the listener a deep level of appreciation. Also, Russian and Turkic elements appear from time to time throughout the album. This is an ideal collection of songs to listen to while relaxing, or spending time with family. April Blossoms is as sweet as it sounds, and it gets sweeter with every listen. ~ Matthew Forss

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

CD Review: The 'Hospitable' Maria de Barros

Maria de Barros
Sheer Sound

The Cape Verde islands not only evoke images of swaying palm trees, but they are also home to the swaying hips of charismatic songstress, Maria de Barros. Steeped in the Criolu music traditions of Cape Verde, Morabeza is a welcome addition to the plethora of recent global releases of music from this region. In fact, Morabeza means 'hospitality' in Creole. Essentially, it is a reflection of the close-knit communities and spirit of Cape Verde. The music draws upon African, Latin, Caribbean, and European elements. The far-reaching music could be due to Maria's eclectic background being born in Senegal to Cape Verde parents, living in Nouakchott, Mauritania, and various places in the U.S.A.. Thanks to Maria's beautiful and sincere voice, Morabeza is sure to energize any party or occasion. ~ Matthew Forss

Monday, May 18, 2009

CD Review: People's Poets - No Life Without Roots

People's Poets
No Life Without Roots

The People's Poets are three MCs from Edmonton, Canada who rap about a variety of political and social issues. All of them come from refugee roots in either Chile or El Salvador, and their experiences have greatly influenced their writing. No Life Without Roots is the band's first CD release and features a number of songs known to local audiences from their many performances at rallies, festivals, and activist events. In both English and Spanish, the guys present very direct messages against capitalism, war, violence against women, and other thought-provoking themes. Musically, People's Poets style is straight-ahead hip-hop with some Latin American influences. This new release is already helping the band get a much-deserved audience beyond Edmonton.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré
Vieux Farka Touré
World Village

Vieux Farka Touré hails from Mali and is the son of the late Ali Farka Touré, one of that country's most accomplished and famous musicians. His debut album, Touré's music is very guitar-driven and full of the rhythm and intonation characteristic of music from Mali. Originally released to worldwide distribution in 2007, the album is still doing well critically and gaining Touré fans. His guitar playing in particular is fast and captivating. Vieux Farka Touré is carrying on a musical legacy.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Tinariwen - Aman Iman (Water is Life)

Aman Iman (Water is Life)
World Village

Tinariwen ("empty places" in the Tamashek language) is an African guitar band that has gained a worldwide audience thanks to its participation in the Festival in the Desert concerts in Mali. Formed in 1982 of Tuareg people, it is believed Tinariwen is the first band from this part of the world to use electric guitars. And use them indeed - combined with basic percussion and vocal arrangements of lyrics that mostly deal with freedom and independence from the Mali government, the music is rhythmic and highly addictive. Singing mostly in Tamashek and French, there is very much a rock element here on Aman Iman that makes Tinariwen's music accessible even to Western listeners.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Young Dubliners - Saints and Sinners

Young Dubliners
Saints and Sinners
Savoy Jazz

This latest offering from American Irish-punk-folk band Young Dubliners will not disappoint. The music is energetic and full of both contemporary and traditional Irish influences. Manyof the songs are mid-tempo and a bit more restrained than on the band's previous album With All Due Respect. Still, Young Dubliners manage to maintain the momentum throughout these songs about love, loss, workers, and life in general. Fans of Waterboys, The Pogues, and early U2 should give Young Dubliners a listen.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack

Various Artists
Slumdog Millionaire (Music from the Motion Picture)

The film Slumdog Millionaire has taken the world by storm, and now legions of people are dancing to the groove of "Jai Ho," that final piece where the entire cast bust a move, Bollywood-style. Composer A. R. Rahman brings together traditional and contemporary Indian music to bring atmosphere to a movie featuring different times and circumstances, flashing between the past and present. Another highlight is the beautiful "Dreams on Fire," which is essentially "Latika's Theme" with lyrics. If you liked the movie, you'll love to revisit your memories by listening to the soundtrack.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Boiled in Lead - Silver

Boiled in Lead

Minnesota-based "rock and reel" band Boiled in Lead is back with a much-anticipated album. Silver features the rocking folk that has created a huge cult following for the band for over a quarter of a century. The album also marks the return of original lead singer Todd Menton. The fresh collection of songs is exactly what can be expected from Boiled in Lead: rocking guitar solos with acoustic accents, energetic instrumentals, highly Celtic influences, and lots of other different musical twists and turns. Silver is a must for any serious BiL fan.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: Lhasa


Lhasa de Sela's self-titled album is a bit of a departure from her previous work. First of all, the album's lyrics are in English (as opposed to French or Spanish). There is also less of a Latin American vibe to the songs, instead replaced with a consistent jazz and blues theme. Her sultry voice soars throughout the album, which resonates with bass, percussion, and guitars. Lhasa is a rich soundscape demonstrating the progression of a singer/songwriter into other musical worlds.
~ Paula E. Kirman

CD Review: The Salsoul Songstress Cecilia Noel

Cecilia Noel
A Gozar! (To Enjoy)
Compass Records

A Peruvian-native, Cecilia Noel creates an energetic salsa and soul music that warrants a new term, "salsoul", which Cecilia coined. An obvious nod to Cuban and Latin music rumba, jazz, funk, and African elements permeates her musical creations. Most of A Gozar! is sung in Spanish, though English lyrics make a few short appearances. This is a highly danceable album best enjoyed with your favorite dance partner. The lively percussion, brass band section, and vocals section, is salsa performed in a slighty more aggressive style than the more familiar light-hearted, romantic-styled salsa. It is easy to imagine Cecilia Noel dancing around while singing these infectious tracks. The liner notes do not contain song lyrics, but song personnel are included. If you want to heat up your day, play a little A Gozar! and dance the night (and day) away. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Join Congo's Staff Benda Bilili

Staff Benda Bilili
Tres Tres Fort

The band's name is taken from "Benda Bilili" which means "look beyond appearances". Interestingly, the band is comprised of paraplegic street musicians from Congo. They hail from a land of diverse languages, including Kikongo, French, Portuguese, Lingala, and Kituba. Tres Tres Fort shares their musical talents on guitar, bass, vocals, and a unique one-string lute called a satongue. Eight musicians in all comprise Staff Benda Bilili. The instrumental parts are fairly simple, yet engaging. The simplicity is far from banal, as many of the tunes incorporate the rumba and funk rhythms of Latin America or breezy melodies from the Madagascar coast. In fact, you will hear a hint of Orchestra Baobab and the Bedouin Jerry Can Band. The acoustic rhythm is top-notch and the vocals are sincere. Overall, Tres Tres Fort is a pleasant listening experience free from any handicap whatsoever. ~ Matthew Forss

Sunday, May 17, 2009

CD Review: Georgian-born, U.K. Singer/Songwriter Katie Melua

Katie Melua

Singer/songwriter, Katie Melua, grew up in the present-day country of Georgia in eastern Europe. After a short stint in Northern Ireland and current relocation in the U.K., Katie began her musical career. Pictures is a simple guitar/bass/drum-driven musical experience that shares the sounds of Western pop/folk rhythms. All the songs are sung in English and Katie's voice should have no problem drawing in youth listeners. The music is not electronica in nature. It is authentic, organic and sweetly-soulful. However, adults will be equally content with Katie's musical exploits. There is a classic, bluesy feel to some of the moments on the album. In general, it is easy to imagine the lyrical wordplay in filmic 'pictures'. Though, Pictures is about living life in motion, and struggling with snap-shots of history's memory lane. Regardless of the reason, Pictures is an album worth a listen. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Cape Verdean Music from Portugal's Lura


Portugal's Lura was born to Cape Verdean parents, which allowed her to study and incorporate Cape Verdean music and rhythms into her compositions for her last few recordings, including the most recent one, Eclipse. The most globally-recognizable musician to come out of Cape Verde would have to be Cesaria Evora. Though an increasing number of musicians from the islands are garnering international attention, including Lura. Lura's emotive and sultry vocals match the gritty, earthy, and jazzy rhythms of the piano, strings, guitar, and percussion. Even though Cape Verde resides offshore of Western Africa, the primary musical influences tend to incorporate Latin or Caribbean tones. Though, Lura includes the indigenous styles of Cape Verde, including morna, funana, batuque, with a little fado thrown in. Is Eclipse the album that marks the pinnacle of Lura's musical career? It is doubtful, as each album seems to contain something new with each listen. Liner notes in Cape Verdean Creole. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Fado By Way of South Africa...Azores...and Lisbon

Katia Guerreiro

Fadista, Katia Guerreiro, was born in South Africa, moved to the Azores as a child, and studied medicine in Lisbon, Portugal. The latter move would ultimately allow Katia to embrace her fado beginnings. The appropriately titled album, Fado, is an excellent introspective examination of fado song structure and delivery. Yet, most listeners associate the late-Amalia Rodrigues, or the currently popular, Mariza, with fado stardom, Katia is equally deserving of such attention and fame. Every song is heartfelt and passionately performed. This is one of the lasting impressions of fado music. The rich tradition of fado follows the content of a mournful nature, often about love, or poor living. At any rate, Katia's beautiful voice is a heavenly addition to the fado world. The lyrics are provided in Portuguese. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Music of the Indian Ocean

Davy Sicard
Up Music

The French-infused rhythms and vocals of guitarist Davy Sicard carries on the tradition of contemporary music from Reunion--a small island east of Madagascar. A region of rarely heard music on a global scale, Davy's music is similar in rhythm to Mauritanian/French vocalist/guitarist, Daby Toure. Kabar is a laid-back, "lounge blues" of sorts, with melodic vocal calisthenics and pleasant guitar stylings. Davy not only utilizes the French language, but also a Creole variant spoken throughout much of the island. Some of the songs are more energetic than others, but all create a sense of emotional depth and musical richness. The breezy guitar tunings and sparkling addition of a plucked thumb piano on one track showcase some of the musical diversity on the island. Overall, the bluesy-pop tunes of Kabar should entice listeners all over the world. Liner notes include song lyrics and titles in Creole French. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: The Beats of 'Halalwood'


The funky, electronic beats and ethnic infusions of U-cef's Moroccan homeland creates a truly modern form of musical expression. Ten tracks and dozens of musicians from the UK, Morocco, France, Egypt, and Tunisia accompany and comprise the album's musical backbone. The innovative electronic beats and vocals by Natacha Atlas (Egypt), Rachid Taha (Algeria), and others, create something engaging and classic. There is a fine balance between rai, rap, spoken-word, electronica, gnawa, and Arabic trance music throughout all of the tracks. Halalwood is bound to draw in younger crowds, because of its close association with Western beats and arrangments. It's easy to use the term 'fusion' for U-cef's music. In essence, U-cef's vision for the music is very clearly and intelligently defined. Halalwood not only contains sporadic female vocals, hip beats, and male vocals, but it also embraces a new musical and cultural movement, as Hollywood and Bollywood have done before. This is contemporary Moroccan music for the world to enjoy! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Jaya Lakshmi's 'Radiance' Shines

Jaya Lakshmi


Sequoia Records

Oregon's Jaya Lakshmi's effervescent, yet relaxing, music for the human spirit is a very moving exploration of inner peace, beauty, and transcendence. Each song is unique and incorporates Jaya's serene vocals. The addition of the Celtic flute, Spanish guitar, sarod, cello, keyboards, Bansuri flute, and other elements make Radiance a truly enjoyable listening experience. The instrumental interludes and segues provides an added, therapeutic sensation. The tranquil, yet melodious musical structures, is perfect for yoga, relaxing, or a world music party. "Sita Ram" is a particularly beautiful and catchy tune that should not be missed. The music does not fit any one category of world music, but it draws upon Central and South Asian musical traditions, while infusing vocal arrangements similar to contemporary bands from Scandinavia, and even a slight nod to the band Enigma. In summary, Jaya's Radiance shines beyond borders. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: 'Plateau' Reaches a High Note

Fortunate Recordings

Tibet's Soname brings her magical voice to her most recent recording, Plateau. The vocals shine high as the instrumentation nicely accompanies the entire production. In fact, you will hear the tabla, drums, guitars, keyboards, Celtic harp, flute, sarangi, strings, and a few other instruments. The album's style is comparable to recordings by the Real World label. Additionally, the liner notes are provided in English, French, and German. In regards to similar music, Soname's vocal and instrumental stylings resemble Mexico's Tonana, Uzbekistan's Sevara Nazarkhan, and Tibet's Yungchen Lhamo. The wide-reaching versatility of her music is evidenced by the fact of the abovementioned musicians. Though primarily of Central/South Asian origins, Soname mixes subtle infusions of Indian tabla drumming with short, bursts of flute and (other)worldly vocals. In short, Soname's Plateau rises high above the competition. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Mauritanian Blues

Fuuta Blues

The border between Mauritania and Senegal is rich in history, music, and traditions. It is also home to Boolumbal band leader, singer, and guitarist, Malick Dia. Malick teamed up with French musician and producer of blues music in Paris, and in the process, created a stunning album of Senegal River blues. To be more exact, Fuuta Blues contains earthy tunes and vocals in the Pulaar language. Musically, there are resemblances to Guinea-Bissau's Bidinte, Mauritania's Daby Toure, Senegal's Vieux Diop, and Mali's most recognizable export--the late-Ali Farka Toure. There is a nice mix of traditional instruments, including the ngoni, kora, balafon, Peul flute, djembe, and shakers. The more modern strings, piano, and guitar are not as prevalent. Fuuta Blues is an album unique to Mauritania and the Francophone musical genre. It is steeped in traditional instrumentation and simple, catchy vocals. Liner notes are in English and French. Take a trip down the Senegal River with Boolumbal. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, April 30, 2009

CD Review: Sacred Music of India

Various Artists
Sacred Music of India
Silk Road Communications

This recording is a collection of live performances recorded during the Global Event of the World Festival of Sacred Music in Bangalore, India from April 9-16, 2000. The event was organized by Tibet House, Cultural Center of H.H. the Dalai Lama. In fact, a short foreword and speech by H.H. the Dalai Lama is included in the liner notes. Unfortunately, the speech is not on the CD. Yet, nearly 50 pages of text accompanies the CD in an attractively-illustrated, hardbound package. 12 tracks feature contemporary and traditional instrumental and vocal music from Sri Lanka in the South to Tibet in the North. The usual instrumentation of Indian music is present, including, tabla, tala, harmonium, sarangi, dholak, ektara, flute, and more. All liner notes are in English. The vocals are superb and very lively at various points. If you want to experience a live recording of the best sacred music from india, then sit back and enjoy the engaging melodies traditional Indian music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Go Ga-Ga For Raga

Silk Road Communications

For anyone looking for meditative or contemplative raga music, then stop no further. Shivoham is the name for Aparna Panshikar (vocals), Bhargav Mistry (sarod), and Debashish Upadhyay (keyboards). This album celebrates Shankara -- one of the great mystical poets and philosophers in India's history. There are 6 long tracks that feature sparkling and tinny sounds of the sarod, with the added beats of tabla, too. Aparna's glorious vocals add a nice touch to the music. Her voice fits quite naturally with the instrumentation and overall tempo. Shankara's 6 core beliefs of a worldview are included in the liner note book. In fact, there are nearly 50 pages of text, photos, and illustrations throughout the book. The liner notes contain song lyrics in Romanized Sanskrit and English, with commentary in English. Shankara is steeped in centuries-old tradition, but is nevertheless, a very original and contemporary album. If you want to relax, then you've come to the right place. ~ Matthew Forss