Saturday, May 18, 2013

In review--Peace for Mali

Vieux Farka Toure
Mon Pays 
Six Degrees Records 

Mali faces more trouble with Islamic fundamentalists warring against Tuareg nomads in the north part of the country and music was banned.  Anyone who enjoys Malian music has most likely heard of this sad news, yet the music keeps coming, showing us a face of hope, defiance and peace, at least in the hearts of the Malian people.

Vieux Farka Toure, the son of the late Malian guitar legend, Ali Farka Toure records his best album thus far, Mon Pays which speaks of anguish for his fellow Malians and also possesses a healing force not found anywhere but in music.  Mostly an acoustic album with blues guitar, the traditional kora (West African harp), ngoni, and calabashes, you will also hear piano on the final track Ay Bakoy, played by Israeli Idan Raichel, a friend and musical collaborator of Vieux.

These aren’t the only instruments you will hear on this tapestry of African, Middle Eastern and European instruments and the first track, Diack So sounds like Tuareg-style blues with Djodjo on lead vocals, but is in fact a folksong from northern Mali and a tribute to a late musician friend of the family.  While the production can only be called splendid and musicianship heartfelt, Mon Pays is easily the most powerful album to come along in a long time.  I’m reminded of American jazz trumpeter Terrance Blanchard’s post-Katrina recording Requiem for Katrina (A Tale of God’s Will) where emotions fuel musicians’ best performances by taking them to the edge.

I’m not one to promote suffering for art, however, often times when life circumstances push us to the edge, we mature artistically.  I can’t imagine that anyone listening to this CD won’t feel pangs of sympathy or empathize with the grief of the musicians.  And yet, and yet, on the surface, if you don’t understand the lyrics, some of these songs sound celebratory or uplifting, such as Safare with its driving beat and sparkling guitar.  Only on the closing track, Ay Bakoy does the gravity of Mali’s situation sink in.

Personally, I believe that Mon Pays is among the best recordings for 2013 thus far.  With its tight production, beautifully sounding instruments, and vocals raw with deep emotions, I ask you not only to pay tribute to Mali and its stellar musicians by purchasing Mon Pays (and other Malian recordings), but to send a prayer out for peace in Mali, knowing also that these dire circumstances unite a people who learn just how deeply they love their homeland.  Perhaps, we love Mali too.

In review--Acoustic Galicia (Aye, La, La)

Radio Cos
Radio Cos 

The American song collector Alan Lomax knew a good thing when he made field recordings of Galician music decades ago.  In some ways Galician folk music with its Celtic influences could be mistaken for Scottish or Irish music and in other ways, it sounds like Basque traditional music, some Portuguese traditions tossed in and the musicians sing in the exotic Spanish dialect, Gallego.  Radio Cos performs Galician dance music on Radio Cos punctuated by “aye, la, la” and on one of the tracks, I could have sworn I was listening to a Mexican ranchera (listeners also dodge animated bullets on that song).

Romp-stomping accordion bounces along delicious polyrhythms played on the traditional frame drums and tambourines, maracas, violin, gaitas (bagpipes), saxophone and vocals.  The vocals supply us with harmonies and occasionally passionate outbursts.  On Pandeiretada (traditional drum) the musicians treat us to a cappella call and response vocals accompanied by virtuoso drums--a real foot-tapper.  This song resembled Quebecois traditional music rhythmically speaking.  The following track, Ven Bailar Carmiña (a dance song) features hearty mixed vocals with everyone singing with gusto from the gut.  The accordion and saxophone resemble klezmer and circus music.  Galician music in general possesses many musical influences from Portugal, the Celtic world, other regions in Spain, and North Africa and because of all these influences I have a difficult time describing the songs.

On De Madrí a Queimadelos bagpipes join with polyphonic percussion and for whatever reason, I hear carnival samba.  Each song has layers of complexity and I can see why Alan Lomax took a fancy to the Galician folk music tradition.  This is music of a people, of tradition, of heritage, and of the land in which it inhabits.  I prefer the acoustic version as opposed to the electronic-folk variety.  In any case, any music listeners out there traveling off the beaten track, and wanting new sounds for the ears, try Galician music.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Practice--Morning Music

Some of you probably start your day with a spiritual ritual such as meditation, yoga, toning, chanting or taking a meditative walk.  Some of you journal or set an intention for the day.  Perhaps, you do a little of all the above.

I have found through my various morning rituals that starting the day with spiritual recordings including Gregorian chant, Buddhist chant, kirtan, or sung affirmations help me deal better with the stress throughout the day.  It's true that we don't have control over outside events except that we do have control over our thoughts, feelings, emotions and reactions to life's events.  With the Law of Attraction teachings our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions radiate vibrations that attract like vibrations.

The problem arises when we have a tendency to think negative thoughts and find that we were not born Polly Annas or come from a family of upbeat people.  Training the thoughts in the direction of joy, peace, and balance is still possible with effort and uplifting music that eventually creates new grooves in the brain for positive thoughts and feelings to travel.  

I'm including 5 of my favorite morning music recordings, though I have many more recordings that serve this purpose well.  You can check out Sounds True for more spiritual recordings and any number of new age labels and publishers or you can check out recordings by individuals such as Jonathan Goldman, Joshua Leeds, yogi masters, sound healers, etc...Set the intention and you will find the right music to start your day.

Here is my list:

1. Doug Cox and Salil Bhatt, Slide to Freedom 2 (Make a Better World), Northern Blues

When I had a yoga practice, this was my CD of choice. Some tracks lean towards upbeat and others toward mesmerizing-relaxing.

2. Diane Rogers, Love Reigns (Kirtan), Sounds True

While there is some programming on this recording, mostly it features acoustic instruments, polyphonic drums, a lovely spectrum of timbres to balance chakras and enchanting melodies sung of course in a call and response kirtan fashion.  Besides, I love Diane's voice--powerful and beautiful.

3. Aine Minogue, Celtic Pilgrimage, Sounds True

Also light on the programming, acoustic cello, Celtic harp, Celtic drums, throat-singing, soprano vocals, and bansuri flute provide inward music.  I feel love and deep compassion when I listen to this recording.  Track #8 provides a fabulous trance dance music.  Besides, I enjoy the pilgrimage concept whether that retreat happens inward or on an actual pilgrimage road.

4. Yofiyah, Kabbalah Kirtan, Sounds True

This recording features Jewish Kabbalah text over a backdrop of Indian and Middle Eastern instruments so on the surface it sounds like Indian kirtans minus the Hindu deities and Sanskrit text.  Yofiyah another fabulous voice from the kirtan world, emphasizes Oneness and melting into God with text from the Bible and other holy text, sung in English, sacred Hebrew and Aramaic.  Out of all these recordings listed here, this one takes me to the highest realm, though I was tongue-tied when I first started singing these chants.

5. Trish Hatley, Sing, Ask and It is Given, Swinging Singing Affirmations, independent release

If the Law of Attraction and quantum physics are your beliefs, and you have trouble remembering to say your affirmations every day, sing them along with jazz vocalist Trish Hatley.  She's not joking when she calls these affirmation songs swing, because the affirmations are sung to a variety of jazz genres from swing to bossa nova. You'll have so much fun singing these songs that you might forget that the text are affirmations attracting abundance, prosperity. peace and love into your life.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

In review--Aye! Aye, Colombia! (Land of rapido music)

Son De Pueblo 
Colombia (Traditional Songs and Dances from)
Arc Music

I suppose if you’re going to celebrate the music of Colombia you would want to travel to the South American country in December since according to the liner notes for Traditional Songs and Dances from Colombia performed by Son de Pueblo, “for several weeks we celebrate the joy of life...” And that joy of life in Colombia includes rousing Afro-Latin musical traditions from the plains, mountains, and the Caribbean flavored with salsa, rumba, and musical genres from throughout Latin America.

Anyone who only knows Colombia through tragic news stories involving drug trafficking or from flavorful coffee beans, needs to delve into traditional Colombian culture whether that is cuisine, traditional music or folkloric dance because this is where you find happy and contented people celebrating their regional offerings and culture heritage.  The beauty of the Caribbean countries is the way African, Indigenous and European poetry, rhythms, dances, and melodies come together to create the first world music fusion (long before we even had this genre). 

For instance, the folkloric instruments featured in the band Son de Pueblo hail from the Andes (quena, zampoña--flutes), charango (small mandolin instrument with an armadillo shell back), from Mexico--State of Veracruz, (the guitar-like requinto), percussion from both indigenous and African descent, and piano, bass, and guitar from Europe.

As Venezuela includes a variety of lutes and drums in its traditional songs, Colombia provides us with enticing regional polyrhythms, speed, agility, grace, and swooping vocals.  In an interview with Marta Topferova for my upcoming book Whole Music, I asked the musician about the fast-playing cuatro music from this region, and she chalked it off to an effect from a coffee culture.  However, what I can say is that Colombian music doesn’t need any sugar because in its natural form this music would even get a slug dancing the cumbia.

I feel exhausted just listening to the CD only because I couldn’t help tapping my feet and drumming along on my computer or stopping to clap my hands with the temptation to leave the review for later and just dance.  Ah, if only more cities played this music on the streets, no one would have time to plan and scheme against others.  But I warn you that on this particular recording you will only hear musicians play rapido and muy rapido.  It will literally take your breath away.

The musicians offer us a variety of musical styles with the cumbia, salsa, and rumba standing out as the most familiar genres in the US.  Since cumbia (one of the genres that pours into salsa along with Puerto Rican bombo, plena and Cuban son) hails from Colombia, we hear the raw, sizzling version here.  Just listen to the delicious La Cumbia Cienaguera, Cumbia en el Arenal and Colombia Tierra Querida and you’ll satisfy your musical hunger.  Need some interesting Afro-Latin polyrhythms? This band has you covered there too with regional festival music where flutes mingle with indigenous and African percussion.  Some of the rhythms sway while other rhythms knock you off your feet they’re so juicy.

I’ve enjoyed this recording from start to finish with my fingers itching to press the replay button, but some highlights for me are Pájaro Campana with its quick tempo and fluttery flute, the salsa version of Moliendo Cafè, all the cumbias, the vocal harmonies over dense rhythms on El Canalete, Mi Varita and I feel like I’m including every track on this list.  I need to learn more about Colombian music and I have barely scratched the surface.  But for anyone who enjoys folkloric dance music, get this CD and listen to it often.

If you would like to learn more about traditional instruments, visit World Music Central and check out the site's glossary. 


In review--Sunny Music from the Greek Isles

Michalis Terzis 
Magic of the Greek Bouzouki
Arc Music

For those of us who don’t live in, travel to Greece or come from Greek origin probably only hear traditional Greek music while eating at a Greek restaurant or as the soundtrack for the comedy movie, My Fat Greek Wedding.  People of a certain age will also recall the soundtracks from the movies Zorba the Greek and Never on a Sunday (two must-see classics).  Greek music comes in two emotions for the most part, desperately tragic as in rembetika and exuberant as in Greek dance or feasting songs.

While I enjoy Greek vocal music, instrumental music with its bouzouki, baglamas (Turkish instrument), lutes, zither, mandolins, guitar, piano, bass, percussion sound invigorating or just plain haunting depending on the song.  However, I think most non-Greeks will conjure thought of Greek wedding music or the lively circle dance songs.  We think of sunny islands, the sea, sand, and rich food.  However, stuffed grape leaves aside, I prefer the music over all the other Greek cultural experiences.  This music provides fodder for imagination as we visualize ourselves strolling among Greek ruins on a remote island and it helps the rich food go down more easily (this isn’t a scientific observation).

Michalis Terzis, who is no stranger to traditional or popular Greek music, rounded up an ensemble of younger musicians on traditional acoustic instruments that provide us zing and zest.  The tracks range from quick tempo circle dance such as the opener Chasapiko Politiko and the Dance from Aivalí to melancholic love song, Sto’pa kai sto xanaleo with its cello, lutes and violin.  The invigorating Emvatirio Smirnis (March of Smyrna,) resembles cartoon music in comparison as it bounces along without a care in the world.  The last track, Tatavla-Chasaposerviko, another circle dance features the Greek zither, santouri along with double bass, classical guitar, traditional lutes, bouzoukis, baglamas and piano and it closes the recording with a flourish. The musicians bring us traditional songs from different regions of Greece while offering us a sunny respite from the world.  (The CD booklet provides cultural notes for each track).