Friday, September 21, 2007

In Review--Habib Koite's Afriki

Habib Koitè & Bamada (Mali)

People have waited a long time for a new studio recording by Malian singer-writer-guitarist Habib Koitè and his band, Bamada--6 years to be exact. Fortunately, his fans' hunger was satiated with the live recording, Foly! released on World Village a couple of years ago. Afriki acts as a new chapter to the 2001 studio recording, Baro (Putumayo).

Koitè still tells us stories backed by his blues guitar, and the extraordinary musicians in his band. You still hear Kèlètigui Diabatè's balafon shimmering throughout, Mahamadou Konè's talking drum smiling sunshine, and the other musicians adding warmth to the mix. In fact, warmth succinctly describes Afriki. The music here feels comforting and even consoling to those seeking some kind of protective balm.

Koitè sings about his mother who passed away recently, he sings about the tradesmen and other workers in Mali getting organized in the song, Barra (Work). And while Mali is considered one of the poorest countries in the world, many people suggest that the West African country possesses a wealth of musical talent. And while the hungry definitely need to be fed and poverty needs to be addressed, it would be a huge mistake to victimize Mali.

A better suggestion would be to build on the wealth in the form of talent--the trades people, farmers, musicians, and others that make the country stand apart from other developing countries. It seems that musically speaking, Mali is more developed than so-called wealthy countries of "the north." And so many people appear to be tapping into this musical wealth, which possesses both good and bad side effects.

Part of the country's wealth can be found in its diverse languages, musical styles, traditional instruments such as the balafon, the Malian lute, n'goni, and even the polyphonic hunter's horn which appears on Nta Dima, (a tribal sounding departure for Bamada). Afriki will please those fans who have been following Koitè's career throughout, since many of the elements of previous recording remain intact on Afriki.

Fame, articles in big music publications, and musical celebrity endorsements have not tainted Koitè's music or integrity. Koitè and Bamada deliver the goods and then some on Afriki. I would hope that he can stand on his musical merit alone, and that new fans won't jump on the bandwagon just because a famous musician endorses his work. It is better to love someone for who they are rather than follow the latest trend based on someone else's opinion. And the man who composes this beautiful music deserves our humble love. This music is truly beautiful and you can feel that beauty deep down into your soul.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In Review--Shweta Jhaveri's Huge

Shweta Jhaveri
21stCentury Cosmos

The first CD I received of Khayal vocalist Shweta Jhaveri's was anahita, (Intuition Music & Media), several years ago. This recording introduced me to Jhaveri's contemporary Khayals embellished by violin, bass, guitars, dobro, drums, and percussion. Jhaveri formed her own label, 21stCentury Cosmos which she released to traditional recordings, Avishkar and Khayal-Saga. Her newest recording, Huge marries English lyrics to Indian classical vocal techniques, (alaap or improvisation). The end result suggests ethereal pop with an exotic locale. Drums, percussion, electric bass, acoustic bass, and keyboards (New Age Morning), lightly support Shweta's warm vocals. The music feels accessible without the cloying new age tendencies.

The 7 compositions feature uplifting spiritual lyrics. I am assuming that some of the songs were composed late winter or early spring since the lyrics reflect on sun and new beginnings, but that could just be my own interpretation. Yet, this hopeful collection of songs do embrace creation, hope, renewal, and love, sung in a soothing, contemplative voice. In fact, I have listened to this recording several times in the last couple of days because it does relieve stress and anxiety. Plus it's a real pleasure to listen to Jhaveri's vocal phrases and timbre.

Jhaveri is an independent artist and gifted vocalist worth getting to know. For more information about Huge and other recordings, go to:

Kudos on her website too.

Monday, September 17, 2007

In Review--Michel Camilo Trio in Concert

Michel Camilo & Trio
Jazz Alley
Seattle, Washington
September 13, 2007

I wasn't planning on reviewing the Michel Camilo Trio concert since I had previously written a concert preview for World Music Central. However, the trio's performance superseded anything I expected, and begs for a review. And drummer Cliff Almond was substituting for Dafnis Prieto for the Jazz Alley gigs.

The concert commenced with my favorite Camilo composition, From Within. The electrifying performance with all of its musical twists, turns, detours, and flights of fancy left me wondering how the musicians were going to top their opening number! Watching the drummer Almond ride beats,Camilo attacking the keys of the grand piano, and bassist Charles Flores holding down the center of the stage, gave my heart and my eyes a workout. I cannot even imagine the exhaustion that the musicians must have felt. I felt energized.

The trio kicked into some New Orleans jazz which Camilo was inspired to write during a short stay in that city where he taught workshops at Loyola University. While that song did not build into the frenzy of the opening number, it felt spirited nonetheless. And the trio picked up speed later in the set with an extravagant jam session compliments of the song, Repercussions, off of the latest recording, Spirit of the Moment. The song could have also been dubbed "for percussion" since the Almond with his bag of tricks, appeared to be multi-tasking behind his large drum set. All of these musicians were pleasant to watch in action. They seemed to magnetize the audience members' eyes to the stage. One might even say we were held captive or spellbound for the duration of the short concert.

The trio performed beautiful jazz ballads too, with a remarkable performance of My Secret Place, also off of the new recording. The beauty of that particular piece, literally made my heartache. Flores bowed his bass cello-style, Almond employed brushes lightly on the snare and cymbals, and Camilo's piano took on a melancholy timbre, that suggested light nocturnal rain.

Other highlights included, a rousing salsa number with Camilo's clever signature phrases. And a multifaceted, multi-tempo, and multipurpose cover of A Night in Tunisia. The trio ended their set with that classic, causing the audience members to leap out of their seats begging for more electrifying songs. However, the musicians were exhausted, as anyone could imagine, so they went to their dressing room to recover until their next performance. They would give a repeat performance 30 minutes later.

My friend and I didn't stay for the second set, but she mentioned that unlike with other jazz music, she didn't feel nostalgic or allow her mind to wander. Camilo has a talent for drawing you into the moment, and to focus on his playing. This is a rare gift.

Camilo had mentioned at the beginning of the concert that he had not performed in Seattle for 14 years. And certainly, an hour and a half set was not enough time for the trio to fill in the gaps of the huge amount of work Camilo has achieved in the past during those years. Nevertheless, if you ever get a chance to see Camilo in concert, don't pass up the opportunity. Another 14 years, would be a long time to wait to see this extraordinary composer and player in concert. They will be in Europe this fall.