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|Posted May 3, 2002|
|First published in the Los Angeles Times|
|April 26, 2002|
World Music Diverse Help Artists Produce Beats Without Borders
By DON HECKMAN, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
World music has always occupied a somewhat hazy position within the recording industry, largely because of its enormously diverse range. Embracing styles that can generally be described as pop music, traditional music and classical--with frequent crosscurrents between each--it is a genre that resists the usual pigeon-hole definition the industry prefers.
In general, that's a blessing for the world music fan. But the record business, recognizing the appeal of unusual and unfamiliar sounds, has worked hard to fit them into what it knows best: the territory of pop music. The result has been the emergence of a parade of hybrid world music forms. Although different in origin, they are strikingly similar in their reduction of an extraordinary assortment of complex rhythms to repetitive dance beats, and in their replacement of traditional modes and scales with layers of synth sounds and wearying melodic riffing.
Given the relatively small amount of musically rewarding material within that particular world music arena, I've chosen to focus this report on the most appealing releases of the first quarter of 2002, recordings that, for the most part, illustrate the variety, rather than the fusion aspects, of the music that is happening around the globe. Start with a few divas. And, in this case, with divas who all have connections--although very different connections--with Portuguese culture:
Angelique Kidjo. "Black Ivory Soul" (Columbia). Benin-born Kidjo's music has suggested linkages with Brazil in the past, but never so strongly as in this collection, her debut outing on Columbia. Among the highlights are collaborations with Brazilian greats Carlinhos Brown and Vinicius Cantuaria, with such fine instrumentalists as guitarist Romero Lubambo playing prominent roles. It's one of Kidjo's most engaging and musically memorable CDs.
Monica Salmaso. "Voadeira" (Blue Jackel Records). The relatively unknown (in this country) Brazilian singer has a superb voice, one that follows in the tradition of artists such as Elis Regina and Gal Costa. Her program of largely unfamiliar material is delivered in relatively modest instrumental settings, allowing her honey-toned contralto to take center stage. Salmaso makes her first Los Angeles appearance Sept. 8 at the Hollywood Bowl.
Mariza. "Fado Em Mim" (Times Square Records). The title means "The Fado in Me," and Mariza, still in her 20s, has already become a vital practitioner of the Portuguese vocal art. She sings a program blending classic fado with newer works, endowing them with a rich assortment of vocal timbres and a subtle sense of theatrical timing. Mariza, too, makes her Hollywood Bowl debut this year, on July 14.
Irish/Celtic music manages to be extremely popular--I probably receive more albums in this genre than any other--and closely in touch with its roots (rock bands such as U2 are an entirely different matter):
Mick Moloney. "Far From the Shamrock Shore" (Shanachie Records). Talking about roots, here is a wonderful anthology tracing Irish history in the U.S. via 17 songs performed by singer Maloney and a gifted group of players (including, among others, Eileen Ivers, Bruce Molsky and John Doyle). The set, aside from its winning music, also includes immensely informative essays examining the history of each tune.
"The Sounds of Ireland" (Columbia Legacy). Continuing to mine Celtic riches from its musical vaults, Columbia has released five more CDs featuring some of the artists who were most influential in bringing the music to wider public attention in the mid- and late 20th century: "The Chieftains 7," "The Chieftains 8," "The Chieftains 9: Boil the Breakfast Early," "The Best of the Chieftains" and "The Best of the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem."
The Rough Guide books on world music are invaluable sources of information. As a kind of audio companion to the books, the company has been publishing a series of CDs, sometimes organized around a specific geographic area, sometimes surveying an individual style. The most recent albums are typical of the broad selection of choices in the Rough Guide recording catalog:
"Paris Cafe Music: Bal Musette to Rock Musette." Think of Paris cafes and what immediately comes to mind is the sound of the accordion and the voice of Edith Piaf. Both are heard in this eclectic gathering. But so are some original musette sounds (the musette is actually a kind of mini-bagpipe) and songs from the Auvergne as well as the more contemporary interpretations of bands such as Ramses and Les Primitifs du Futur (who feature cartoonist Robert Crumb playing mandolin and banjo).
"Bollywood: The Glitz, the Glamour, the Soundtrack." It's called "Bollywood," but it's actually the film industry of Bombay, India, which produces more films than Hollywood itself. Most are musicals in which attractive young film stars lip-sync songs to performances by the industry's famous recording artists. The collection features two of the best-known: the sisters Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar.
"Haiti: African Heartbeat of the Caribbean." A fascinating look at the rich but often overlooked music of the world's first black republic. The startling diversity of the selections underscores Haitian music's seeming contradiction of retaining powerful African elements while remaining wide open to influences from Cuban son, Dominican merengue, American jazz, funk and soul.
"Nigeria & Ghana: Juju, Afrobeat, Fuji." Selections from two of Africa's most musically vital countries, from the early rhythms of highlife to the more contemporary minimalism of Fuji, with selections from E.T. Mensah (the "king of Highlife") to the exuberant King Sunny Ade.
"Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: Sufi Sounds From the Qwaali King." The great Pakistani qwaali singer is well represented in collections released in the U.S. This group of eight tracks, drawn from eight albums, touches upon Khan's classical repertoire, as well as his more popularly oriented efforts.
"Louisiana: A State of Musical Giants." The Mississippi Delta may be best known as the birthplace of jazz, but it is also the home to a cornucopia of other musical styles, including Cajun, zydeco, blues and gospel. All are represented in this collection, which includes (among many others) tracks by Champion Jack Dupree, Dr. John, Beausoleil, Buckwheat Zydeco and Irma Thomas.
"Bellydance." Here it is, the perfect soundtrack for tying a scarf around your hips and doing it yourself. Although the music is clearly aimed at accompaniment, the presence of such fine musicians as oud player Rabih Abou Khalil and multi-instrumentalist Omar Faruk Tekbilek is an added benefit.
Finally, there is the great, multicolored musical tapestry reaching from Europe to the east, the product of an array of cultures constantly interacting and overlapping with each other:
"The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan" (Smithsonian Folkways). The Silk Road, crisscrossing from Europe to Asia, brought trade, art, technology and ideas from one culture to another, with music a prominent part of the mix.
This two-CD collection, produced in collaboration with the Silk Road Project, an international global initiative founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, includes 47 tracks embracing entries from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Mongolia and other Asian and Eurasian nations along the Silk Road. The music is an extraordinary display of sounds and rhythms, of brilliant virtuosity and exotic timbres, of nomadic music, spiritual music and minstrelsy.
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times
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