Saturday, December 1, 2012

Top 10 World Music & Folkloric CDs of 2012

World and folkloric recordings make up the bulk of CDs I reviewed in 2012.  Because of that, I came up with two top 10 lists for World Music.  You'll find the other list on World Music Central later this month,

For the purpose of this list, World Music includes Americana and Native American along with Latin American, African, and European recordings (excluding jazz and classical).   This list is not in any specific order.

1. Antonio Zambujo, Quinto, World Village (Portugal)

2. Le Vent Du Nord, Tromper Le Temps, Borealis Records (Canada)

3, Radmilla Cody with Herman Cody, Songs for the People, Canyon (Navajo/US)

4. Lo'Jo, Cinema el Mundo, World Village (France)

5. Hijos de Agueybana, Agua del Sol, Tumi Music (Puerto Rico)

6. The Mountain Music Project, A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya, Independent release (US/Nepal)

7. Good Lovelies, Let The Rain Fall, Warner Music Group (Canada)

8. The Toure-Raichel Collective, The Tel Aviv Session, Cumbancha (Mali/Israel)

9. Silvana Kane, La Jardinera, Six Degrees Records (Canada/Peru)

10. Os Cempes, Tentemozo, Folmusica (Spain)

Special Mention:

Ceumar, Sons Do Brasil, Arc Music

Friday, November 30, 2012

Music Video Round-Up for lst wk Nov 2012--Italy!

Since I haven't featured Italian music videos yet, here you go.

1. Faraualla, 'Sind,

2. Nino Rota (composer for Fellini and other soundtracks), Amarcord,

3. Gianmaria Testa, Polvere di gesso,

4. Vivaldi, Spring,

5. Orchestra Popolare Campana, Tarantella,

Thursday, November 29, 2012

In review--Harps of Galicia

Rodrigo Romaní
As Arpas de Breogán

Oddly, Galician harpist Rodrigo Romaní new album As Arpas de Breogán (The Breogán Harps) arrived in my mailbox right after I completed a section in my book Whole Music on harps.  I knew that harps played a role in traditional and most likely classical music of Galicia (Spain), but I believe this is the first harp recording I’m hearing from Northwest Spain.  While Galicia has Celtic influences, the bagpipes, frame drums, and other instruments differ from Celtic instruments of the British Isles.  Galicians also have their own styles of Celtic music with distinguishing features.

The press notes tell the story of how the harp was introduced to Galician folk and popular music.  Rodrigo Romaní and lute-maker Ramon Casal introduced the harp to the University of Vigo in 1996.  Romaní who plays the roles of producer, composer, educator, conductor and broadcaster has built a solid reputation throughout Spain and with international orchestras.  On the recording The Breogán Harps, the songs possess both folkloric and classical strains; warm and soothing qualities.  But there are times, when the musicians (harp, flutes, vocals, percussion, etc) pick up the tempo such as on the danceable Rumba para Susi (Rumba for Susi).  Mí Morena falls more on the folkloric side with signature Galician vocals that stretch out the last syllable in a phrase.  However, the crowning glory on recording is the Suite in B-minor for Breogán Harps with its shimmering notes ascending and cascading.

Despite not being able to read the liner notes written in Gallego (Galician dialect), the music here sounds accessible and speaks a universal language.  Even music listeners who believe that they’re not interested in hearing harp music will find enough musical variety (harmonics and rhythms) on this recording to keep them satisfied.  Fans of Celtic music will immediately gravitate to this stunning CD.

Monday, November 26, 2012

In review--Soaring & Swooping

Songs from Tibet
Arc Music (2006)

My first encounter with Tibetan music occurred when I attended a concert featuring Tibetan Buddhist choir in 1994.  My friends and I were exploring various “new age” spiritualities and felt curious about the Tibetan Buddhist monks and the Dalia Lama.  In 1998, I saw Yungchen Lhamo perform Tibetan songs a cappella at WOMAD USA and then I saw her perform at WOMAD again in 2001.  Then in 2006, I saw performances by former Tibetan Buddhist monk-turned musical performer Nawang Khechog.  I also interviewed Lhamo and Khechog during those times.  Now, I’m introduced to a new performer to my ears, Techung, who resides in San Francisco and performs mostly secular folkloric songs with traditional Tibetan instruments, Damnyen (a long-necked lute) and Piwang (spiked fiddle).

I doubt I would have found this material on a Nawang Khechog recording which leans towards more spiritual aspects of living or on Yungchen Lhamo’s recordings which also have spiritual leanings.  Techung’s songs reflect on the traditional alcoholic drink chang and love songs.  Techung opens his 2006 CD, Songs from Tibet with Snow Lion of Peace dedicated to the 14th Dalai Lhama and the works of peaceful warriors who wield compassion as their “weapon of joy”.  The booklet contains text for each of the 14 tracks, and similarities between Rumi’s Sufi poems referring to intoxication as a spiritual metaphor comes to mind, especially on the love or courting song, Auspicious One, Melodiously Ascending.  The words, “The first round of chang did not make me drunk.  The second round did not make me drunk.  The one that is offered by the lady more beautiful than a goddess: A bowl full makes me drunk.”

Techung’s sweeping vocals remind me of Lhamo’s soaring vocals that slide up scales effortlessly. I’m reminded Peoples of mountainous regions tend to sing in a swooping manner.  You also hear similarities with traditional Tuvan and Mongolian music, especially the folkloric songs of the nomads and herders.  The long-necked lute’s jangly plucks also recall traditional Tuvan songs minus the throat-singing.  Overall, Songs from Tibet features gentle and relaxing songs.  On The Golden Drinking Bowl we also hear Tibetan flute mingling with the lute.  I enjoy the minimalist instrumental approach that emphasizes Techung’s stunning vocals and places an emphasis on traditional songs of a country mostly known for its people in exile and its Buddhist traditions.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

In review--Another round for the elephants

Thai Elephant Orchestra
Dave Soldier & Richard Lair
Mulatta Records (2000)

Thai Elephant Orchestra
Dave Soldier & Richard Lair
Elephonic Rhapsodies
Mulatta Records (2003)


Thai Elephant Orchestra
Dave Soldier & Richard Lair
Water Music
Mulatta Records (2010)

Never in my wildest imagination did I ever expect to review CDs by elephant musicians.  True elephants play music differently than humans, but when we consider that they are limited to a trunk and their front feet, the music they do make seems extraordinary.  Little did I know ten years ago, living in Seattle and testing recordings out on squirrels and crows that musicians with a scientific bent in New York were actually playing music with birds and elephants.  While there are likely animal advocates who will think that human musicians encroach upon the non-human’s space for ego gratification, I would disagree.  The musical interaction and interludes between humans and animals or humans and birds reconnect humans to nature.  It feels as if the animals are reminding us to play more. Anyone who has ever watched crows frolic would understand the need for all species to have fun.

Consider that the fourteen elephants who comprise the Thai Elephant Orchestra (Water Music) would be giving rides to tourists or lifting logs with their trunks to show off their strength (tedious and boring), if they didn’t paint (yes, the elephants paint) or play percussion instruments.  When you listen to the male elephant Jojo play his elephant xylophone on the debut CD you can hear him trumpeting in excitement.  When you watch the elephants in the documentary (check out YouTube for the 5-part documentary on the Thai Elephant Orchestra), the handlers known as mahouts can’t get the elephants to stop hitting the gongs or playing the xylophones.  Elephants are intelligent, social, and playful creatures who fight back when they feel exploited.  We have witnessed this with circus and zoo elephants, but clearly this is not the case with the elephant musicians.  The Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang, Thailand offers the elephants a respite from arduous and abusive lives.  I also watched a video about a hospital for ill and injured elephants.  Again, you witness an interaction between humans and elephants, this time with the human musicians giving music therapy to elephants.

In 1999, Richard Lair (an elephant conservationist in Lampang) met with musician/science professor Dave Soldier in New York where the idea to teach elephants how to play music was launched.  First, instruments strong enough to withstand monsoon weather and the strength of the elephants were built or purchased.  Next, the mahouts and Soldier taught the elephants how to play the instruments using their trunks.  Finally, the crew and elephants produced three recordings and a documentary portraying the process.  The end results of the two recordings that features the elephant orchestra (the 2nd CD has a mix of human-made music and elephant music), sounds like musical sculptures played by elements (wind and rain).  Some of the pieces such as Thung Kwian Sunrise and Temple Music that open the first CD sound like relaxing wind chimes.  Harmonica Music (elephants blow on the harmonicas with their trunks) sounds bluesy.

The songs possess intangible qualities of love, joy, playfulness, and passion.  I’m reminded of young children in a musical jam session and I hear the same innocence with the elephants’ music that brings tears to my eyes at times.  Anyone who loves animals and feels sensitive to musical vibrations, especially percussive instruments would feel at home with these recordings.  It helps to have an open mind and heart too.  The most accessible of the CDs, Elephonic Rhapsodies plays like a music revue where Richard and David introduce each of the elephant musicians of the orchestra.  The commentaries amuse as do the elephants who do their own thing.  Produced for children and tourists (and as a fundraiser for the conservation efforts), this recording features mainly human musicians performing elephant theme songs and the Ganesha Symphony (Thai musicians) musically telling the story of the Hindu god Ganesh.  You’ll also find Baby Elephant Walk composed by Henry Mancini and Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony First Movement on this CD.  Of course, I can hear that human music any day, and I prefer to listen to the elephants play instead.

I listened to the 2010 recording Water Music over headphones so I could hear the nuances.  I felt mesmerized by the music.  Since I know that elephants performed these songs, it’s hard for me not to feel some bias.  I wish that I had heard the songs before knowing the identity of the musicians.  If that was the case, I would have thought that the music came from an indigenous culture untouched by western civilization.  The instrument makers designed and constructed the instruments for Thai scales so that in itself sounds exotic.  The clanging of gongs and the vibrations from the thunder sheet remind me of temple music and others have also made that observation (as seen in the documentary and liner notes).

Featuring 14 elephants ranging from age 3 to 29, the songs sound lush with the elephants keeping good time, and weaving repetitive, yet intricate patterns.  It seems as if the elephants listen carefully and play with intent.  The Last Monsoon of Summer features gentle percussion with relaxing overtones.  A sound healer could even use this song to relax clients.  The elephant who plays the thunder sheet does seem enthusiastic, but the low vibration of the thunder sheet has a relaxing quality, especially for people with a dominant Vata dosha.  Bathing in the River features a stunning percussion groove played in an Asian mode.  Whereas, Sun Breaks Clouds sounds slightly discordant in an avant-garde manner, yet also feels festive with strains of harmonica and bubbling xylophone.  I’m reminded of Jeffrey Thompson’s brainwave CDs. 

The overall feeling is amazement, wonder and hope.  I feel humbled by this music because never in all my years of playing music did I ever play with innocence and total abandonment in the manner of these elephants.  This is heart-chakra opening music at best.