Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Practice--Treasure Hunt from the book Whole Music

Excerpt from Whole Music

The Practice: Musical Treasure Hunt

Similar to treasure hunts from our childhood, I’m going to send you on a music treasure hunt in which the pleasures are many.  Pretend that you are a song catcher visiting other cultures where you collect new sounds.

While I mentioned sound healers earlier, another important player with music preservation are ethnomusicologists who combine cultural anthropology with music preservation.  Two famous song catchers are the late Alan Lomax, and the world beat drummer Mickey Hart.  I recommend learning more about these song catchers through books, and documentaries.

1) Step One--Head over to YouTube, and look up the following music traditions:
·         Aboriginal Didgeridoo
·         Finnish Runo-Songs (Traditional singer)
·         Gregorian chants
·         Griot Music of Mali (Acoustic, not pop music)
·         Sanskrit Chants Sung by Hindu Indians in Context (aka Kirtans)

Step Two--After you have watched or sampled videos for each of the genres mentioned above, head to a public library and check out Rough Guide to World Music and Rough Guide music compilations.  You can also check out field recordings on Rounder Records, Smithsonian Folkways, and other labels that specialize in field recordings.

Step Three--Start a music journal so you can track your physical, mental, and emotional reactions to the various genres.

Do this process for several weeks or continue for years.  You will find that your passion for music grows as does your interest in other cultures.  Welcome to the new frontier.

Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit) published by Synclectic Media
copyright Patricia Herlevi 2013 

Buy the book at  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

In review--Serpentine Fire from Exotic Lands

Mulatu Astatke
Sketches of Ethiopia 
Jazz Village

When I first started listening to world music, I heard a few Ethiopian jazz and sacred music recordings. Right away, I felt enticed by the exotic modes, scales, and polyphonic rhythms.  The music of Ethiopia possesses a distinct sound even when it’s melded to jazz, funk, and Latin music.  And it’s not the easiest music to describe either!  Pianist/Vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke gives listeners a music puzzle to solve and I even looked up traditional Ethiopian instruments featured on the recording (the Ethiopian flute, washint, traditional lyre, krar and the 1-string fiddle, masinco).  While the wildly delicious Sketches of Ethiopia falls into exoticism, any listener of world music will recognize echoes of Nigerian funk, American soul, Cuban beats and Ethiopian jazz because it’s all here and then some.

The opener, Azmari warms up the ears with polyphonic beats, exotic modes, and a serpentine melody that snakes its way into a dancer’s hips.  On the following track, Gamo, featuring Tesfaye on vocals, Ethiopian jazz meets Nigerian funk.  The vibraphone, krar (lyre) and flute solos on Hager Fiker wed to an infectious polyphonic beat groove that causes feet to itch with dance fever.  Expect to hear some Cuban beats and flute too on this track.  Gumuz stands out as a favorite and the best way to describe this song is Ethiopian Marvin Gaye revisited.  The rousing closer, Surma raises the heart rate while featuring the rousing vocals of Fatoumata Diawara.

Based in London, Astatke leads his Step Ahead Band into new terrain.  He might not be famous in the West yet, but Sketches of Ethiopia will certainly turn heads in his direction.  Some listeners might already know of his music that appeared in the soundtrack of Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers.  Anyone hungry for a new sound can satisfy their hunger with this cultural gem.