Thursday, September 30, 2010

CD Review: Ghana's Adjiri Odametey


A talented vocalist and percussionist, Adjiri Odametey's Ghanaian origins shine through on his latest release, Etoo. A master of the guitar, flute, cora, balafon, and mbira, Adjiri also sings in his local Ghanaian language, most likely Akan. In addition, Adjiri is joined by flute, bass, and ashiwa. Anyone familiar with the music of West Africa would recognize the striking vocal similarities between Adjiri and Daby Toure (Mauritania), Bidinte (Guinea-Bissau), or Vieux Diop (Senegal). The songs are not hard-hitting or overly flashy in their production or performance. Adjiri's strong suits are delicately played percussion, beautiful harmonies, and a clear, artistic vision. The rather relaxed musical compositions are never boring or repetitive in nature. Etoo is filled with a very appealing, organic musical element that should not be missed. Etoo is a blend of Afro-pop and folk music. Liner notes include English and Akan song translations. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Egypt's Riad Abdel-Gawad

Egypt: Mother Of The World

A soul-stirring blend of classical, instrumental, Arabic tunes are Riad Abdel-Gawad's trademark. The follow-up to Riad's first release, El Tarab El Aseel (Incognito, 2008), continues the Arabic folk music traditions with a repertoire of violin, riqq, tambourine, daf, bongos, qanun, nay flute, oud, and contrabass. The entire album is void of vocalizations. Instead, the instruments provide a leading role. The tunes are completely original, but resemble Middle Eastern and Central Asian ensemble music. This could be due in part to Egypt being the 'mother of the world' as the birthplace of culturally confluent musical idioms. Whatever the reason, the lively compositions dance around in the listener's head long after the CD ends. The running time is over seventy-minutes. The liner notes fold out into a colored picture of Riad playing a violin in front of some pyramids, while the opposite side contains English and Arabic song summaries superimposed over instrument images. A classical release of creative proportions! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Gecko Turner's 'Gone Down South'

Gone Down South

Gone Down South is a reinvented throwback to the American funk and soul of the 1960's and 70's. However, Gecko Turner's vocals fall somewhere between world/folk-crooners, Xavier Rudd (Australia) and Douglas September (USA). Gecko relates his 'southern' roots to his homeland of Southern Spain. The classic blues/funk sounds of the Southern United States weave in and out of his music. Expectedly, a touch of Latin folk and funk pops up from time to time. The sultry sounds and rhythms create a surreal mood and memorable experience for any listener. Overall, Gone Down South builds upon a slew of genre-bending music with contributions from reggae, hip hop, jazz, funk, folk, trance, downtempo, big band, blues, Afro-Latin pop, and others. Importantly, Gecko's voice is the lead on most tracks with some smoky, groovy cool instrumental parts. Gone Down South rises to the occasion on every beat. ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, September 23, 2010

CD Review: Syria's Zein Al-Jundi


Following up Zein's largely folk-based Traditional Songs From Syria (ARC Music, 2004), Sharrafouni, which means, "honored me with your presence", is an independent-minded production of Arabic pop music. Zein's music is a step in the modern direction without completely submitting to the more familiar confines of bass, guitar and drum beats. In effect, the music contains an Arabic pop element with a classical repertoire of violins, accordion, piano, qanun, oud, and nay flute. The Latin-tinged "Ya Habibi", flamenco-focused "Ajmal Gharam", and more rock-centered "Tab Toll" showcases Zein's musical abilities. The overall sound resembles that of Natacha Atlas' classical approach with a touch of Nawal Al-Zoghbi's modern pop. The title track, "Sharrafouni" is included as a classical/pop song with a dance remix version of the same song. Zein Al-Jundi is a great singer! ~ Matthew Forss

Friday, September 10, 2010

CD Review: Roots of Chicha 2

Various Artists
The Roots of Chicha 2

The psychedelic music of Peruvian slums is showcased from the recordings of the 1960's through early 1980's on The Roots of Chicha 2. Chicha is not only a musical movement, but a fermented beverage indigenous to South America. Chicha is the Peruvian equivalent of cumbia music that incorporates European instruments, South American beats, and West African styles. The result is a Latin-driven, trance-inducing musical mixture of psychedelic proportions. It is not quite salsa, bolero, merengue...or anything else you've heard before! It features eleven bands including Los Wemblers, Chacalon, Manzanita, Grupo Celeste, Ranil, and more. In essence, the cultural acceptance, or lack thereof, remained remarkably similar to the situation of rai music's social unacceptance in North African society. The 'underground' sound of chicha is refreshing, unique, and enjoyable. Find your Roots of Chicha today! ~ Matthew Forss

Thursday, September 9, 2010

CD Review: Ekow Alabi - 'Going For Gold'

Going For Gold

Ghana's Ekow Alabi is joined by a plethora of backing musicians on vocals, horns, guitars, flute, kalimba, keyboards, organ, and others. Going For Gold is essentially an Afro-pop release with contributing musicians from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Kenya. All of the songs feature vocals. A few tracks, notably 'Oye Kor', 'Accra Jumping', and 'Asante Sana', include great rap lyrics. However, Going For Gold is not particularly a rap or hip hop album. In addition to Afro-pop and Afro-beat, Going For Gold touches on a few reggae-infused tracks, including 'Wonsa Beka' and 'Rasta Efutu'. Most of the songs are sung in Akan, Ga, Swahili, and English. The complex instrumentation and expert lyrical delivery presents listeners with a very good musical package. Ekow Alabi's latest release is good as 'gold' to all who listen. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Ghana's Mohammed Alidu and the Bizung Family

Mohammed Alidu and the Bizung Family
Land of Fire

Mohammed Alidu's instrument of choice from birth was the talking drum. A native of Ghana, Mohammed performed with the Ghana Dance Ensemble in the 1990's and continued pursuing music over the last few years. The most recent musical product is Land of Fire. This is a rhythmic collection of Afro-pop/Afro-beat-type songs. Mohammed is joined by a large repertoire of singers and instrumentalists. The memorable songs of 'Land of Fire' and 'Baby You Know' solidifies Mohammed's musical intellect. There are horns, steel guitar, balafon, tabla, drums, bass, and talking drums. Land of Fire is a very enjoyable album with lush instrumentation and beautiful vocal harmonies. Expand your horizons and jump on board with Mohammed Alidu and the Bizung Family today! ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Anne Simoni's 'Minas Terra'

Minas Terra
Cambuka Music
Growing up in Brazil, Pennsylvania-based singer/guitarist Anne Simoni, brings us a soothing mix of acoustic guitar, light percussion, piano, and sweet songs in Portuguese and English. Anne's vocals and guitar are accompanied by drums, tamborine, cavaquinho, pandeiro, bass, caixa, shakers, keyboards, synth, claves, accordion, zabumba, and udu. Minas Terra means 'Earth Minas', which is a song about leaving her home state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The popularity of Brazilian music in almost every facet of American society can become diluted and remixed into oblivion without any sense of culture. However, Anne's acoustico masterpiece is pure, Brazilian music without modernized dance beats or electronic remixing. It is an earthy, organic, and invigorating mix of tunes ideal for a romantic dinner, long drive, or a world music party. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Natacha Atlas' 'Mounqaliba'


What seems to be a departure for Natacha Atlas may in fact be a concept album with historic roots and societal relevance. Mounqaliba is an Arabic term for 'being in a state of reversal'. In this case, the 'reversal' pertains to a growing uncivilization of global culture and society. This is evidenced throughout the album with taped excerpts of Peter Joseph's thoughts on the pitfalls of modern society through the Zeitgeist Movement for the betterment of society as a whole. Mounqaliba is largely a classical, Arabic album without Natacha's typical, modernized Arabic pop sound. Natacha tries to match the lyricism of classical music with Arabic poetry. In addition, Natacha is joined by a twenty-member Turkish orchestra with strings, ney flute, accordion, percussion, and piano. The result is a primarily classical approach to Arabic music with languid beats and soulful vocals interspersed with a few spoken word soundbites, thunder sounds, traffic noise, and religious calls. Despite this, Mounqaliba is the product of a mature songstress and visionary with an eye to the past and an ear to the future. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Toussaint's 'Black Gold'

Black Gold

The soulful vocalist, Toussaint, represents an embodiment of a new form of reggae music with Afro-Caribbean and American roots. It can be appropriately called 'reggae soul' or 'reggae roots music'. Though, reggae music is largely a socially based creative construction that also includes personal tragedy, triumph, and power. Toussaint provides an engaging listening experience spanning fifteen songs all sung in English. Black Gold's reggae ties are entwined with funk, jazz, soul, R&B, and folk/rock elements. The diverse instrumentation with reggae elements, classical jazz, island soul, and earthy vocals are characteristic signatures of Toussaint's musical abilities. Notably, not a single weak track exists on Black Gold. As a whole, Toussaint's 'golden' voice secures Black Gold's legacy as an invaluable addition for anyone interested in reggae soul and reggae roots music. ~ Matthew Forss

CD Review: Burundi's Steven Sogo

Il est beau mon pays (It Is Beautiful, My Country)

Burundi's Steven Sogo is a premier singer/guitarist with an ear for great-sounding music and a clear, creative vision that does not disappoint. All eight songs are sung in Kirundi, Swahili, and French. The overall feel of the album is not particularly traditional or overly-polished. There are hints of African percussion, but for the most part, Steven's guitar and vocals convey a primarily Afro-pop tone indicative of Mauritania's Daby Toure. The Afro-pop-French connection is very much alive here. The relatively simplistic instrumentation does not detract in any way from the catchy tunes. Not only is Steven's country 'beautiful', but his music can be described in the exact same manner. This is the best Burundi has to offer. Anyone interested in Central and Eastern African guitar music should find Steven Sogo to be a welcome addition to any collection. ~ Matthew Forss