Thursday, December 10, 2009

John Storm Roberts - gone now, but his impact carries on

The pithy, witty and acerbic John Storm Roberts has passed on. He died on November 29, but I just read about it in the NY Times today.

His 1972 book, Black Music of Two Worlds, was essential reading for anyone into the connections between Africa and the Americas, in jazz, blues, folk and what is now the ubiquitous 'world music'. His retail company and record label, Original Music (which folded many years ago) was a sacred place for me, and I made the pilgrimage a number of times, as well as writing many checks to his mail order address. His choices were impeccable and his taste was wide-ranging and often surprising.

I had many a long and winding conversation with him, usually on the phone, and usually with my finally fading from exhaustion as I tried to keep up with his knowledge, his crankiness and his sense of humor. I miss those the most.

cliff furnald

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fin Alfred Larsen: A Life In Danish Music

"These are the songs folk use for fun, to have a laugh at their own problems. There are horrifying stories like "That's Capitalism For You" or the song about Bombardine who has a child out of wedlock. We know they are real tales of misery but they are told in a humourous way, so we can laugh at ourselves. That's OK, but you have to show solidarity with the people you are singing with, you mustn't sing anything you can't sing from the heart. You mustn't sing down, so to speak, because that's when it becomes hollow. To say 'Now I'll sing you one of the kind of songs you like hear…' - that's no good. Then you're cheating people. But you have to take the temperature"

Morten Alfred Høirup brings us another Danish adventure, but this one is a little closer to home and a lot more personal. Morten talks with his father, Danish folk singer and musician Fin Alfred Larsen

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

The 24th Annual fRoots Critics Poll

The 24th Annual fRoots Critics Poll

New Albums Of 2009 winners
1. Staff Benda Bilili - Très Très Fort (Crammed)
2. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba - I Speak Fula (OutHere)
3. Oumou Sangare - Seya (World Circuit)
4. Martin Simpson - True Stories (Topic)
5. The Unthanks - Here’s The Tender Coming (EMI/Rabble Rouser)
6. Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara - Tell No Lies (Real World)
7. Tinariwen - Imidiwan (Independiente)
8. Jackie Oates - Hyperboreans (Unearthed/One Little Indian)
9. Khaled - Liberté (Wrasse)
10. Spiro - Lightbox (Real World)

1. Various - Three Score & Ten: A Voice To The People (Stern’s)
2. Franco & Le TPOK Jazz - Francophonic Vol. 2 (Stern’s)
3. Various - Panama! 2 (Soundway)
4. Various - Legends Of Benin (Analog Africa)
5. Chris Wood - Albion (RUF)
6. Woody Guthrie - My Dusty Road (Rounder)

Read more about the poll and get to know fRoots better!

You can fiud many of these recordings at cdRoots and

Friday, December 04, 2009

Irish folk star Liam Clancy dies

The Irish singer and cultural icon Liam Clancy has died. He was 74.

Liam was the youngest of the four Clancy brothers. He was born in Co Tipperary and emigrated to the US in 1956, where he joined his brothers in singing in the clubs of Greenwich Village. With Tommy Macken, they got on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1961 when they filled in for a guest who failed to show up. From there, it was records with Columbia and hundreds of live performances and created a massive "Irish folk music revolution" in the US.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tinariwen: Tuareg guitar band returns to the roots

world music cd cover

It's safe to say that renowned Tuareg guitar band Tinariwen have arrived. After a string of acclaimed recordings, they offer us Imidiwan:Companions, recorded in a temporary studio in the Saharan oasis village of Tessalit and some of the surrounding wilderness. It has the same brooding power while recalling the best aspects of what gave Tinariwen's first album the spontaneous feel of a field recording at times, resulting in disc that sounds like the creative juices were simply allowed to flow and captured in the best way possible.

Read More in RootsWorld

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fotefar and Håvard Lund: skewed visions of Nordic music

world music cd cover
Fotefar & Håvard Lund are Swedes who take a skewed view of their traditional music on their recording, Fest. They do loopy things with the rhythms, crash sonorities up against one another, and splatter timbres up against a wall with Pollock-esque abandon. They'll pull you into a tune thinking it's going to be all traditional and sedate, then they'll twist the harmony up into something unrecognizable. Lena Jinnegren's matter-of-fact vocals have an off-handed air about them that says, "Join this party or don't. We're going to keep playing either way."

Read more and hear the music in RootsWorld now.

Trio Ifriqiya: jazz from France, Congo, Algeria

world music cd coverTrio Ifriqiya comprises the compelling talents of Fayçal El Mezouar (vocals, violin, oud, percussion, trained at Algeria's El Kordobia conservatory), French jazz pianist-composer Didier Fréboeuf, and Congolese drummer-percussionist Emile Biayenda (a founding member of Les Tambours de Brazza). Inspired by the traditions of the Maghreb, yet invested with a collective improvisatory genius that blends lyrical traces from four continents, they craft a music that defies easy categorization on their CD, Petite Planète.

Read more and hear the music in RootsWorld now!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Cape Verdean singer Lura: intimacy and warmth


I saw Lura onstage for the first time when she was touring in support of her second album M'bem di Flora. My concert-going companion and I agreed that Lura's live performance had a magic that her studio recordings, good though they were, lacked. To me it was the almost entirely acoustic sound of her ensemble that accounted for the warmth, along with the fact of having the barefoot, utterly entrancing Lura there in person. Eclipse, the Portuguese-born Cape Verdean singer's latest, comes closest to capturing the intimacy she radiates live as well as being her most accomplished and varied work to date...

Read the complete review in RootsWorld

Oysterband singer goes trad:arr:solo

world music cd coverJohn Jones, the inimitable lead singer of the Oysterband, launches his first solo outing with the superb album Rising Road. Members of the Oysterband have, over their thirty plus year history, been given the latitude to pursue other projects: guitarist Alan Prosser has released albums under his own name, and longtime drummer Lee Partis recently left to pursue his therapeutic counseling work in prisons. Jones had apparently felt the itch to make his own personal statement, and on Rising Road he is joined by some of the young luminaries of the contemporary U.K. folk scene, including Seth Lakeman and Benji Kirkpatrick, as well as his old friend Alan Prosser and the multi-talented skills of producer and musician Al Scott...
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Latvia roots and rock with Ilgi

world music cd cover Jāņi is an ancient pagan summer solstice ritual that is observed into the present day in Latvia.So it's a no-brainer that Latvia's premiere folk-rockers Iļģi would put out an album of songs celebrating the rite. Their last few albums have been ritual-themed, using Christmas and marriage as jumping-off points for their explorations of ancient Latvian songs. They get a little crunchier on Īsākās Nakts Dziesmas than in the past, with grinding fiddles, wailing pipes, more assertive drumming, and thrashier guitars. This is not to say that they've lost the ethereal side that made earlier releases so appealing; they've just upped the ante a bit on many tracks...
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Friday, September 11, 2009

CD cover

Boris Kovac and The LaDaABa Orchest
The Last Balkan Tango

September 14, 2001:

What do you say about music or art at these times? Strangely, just a few weeks ago, this recording came in and sat on my desk, awaiting my response. Last week I found myself listening to the mournful, almost plodding opening track, a sound both tearful and weirdly hopeful. These eight minutes of dark despair suddenly burst like a bubble, followed by a frenzied, thirty seconds of dancing, and then with a "Hey!" it's done. The Last Balkan Tango is a soundtrack for the decadence of one world cast against the furor of another; life vs. reality.

Yugoslavian minstrels Boris Kovac and The LaDaABa Orchest, residents of Novi Sad, celebrate life in the ruins, both concrete and psychic. For twelve more searing, lovely, bitter and explosive instrumental tracks, Kovac and company explore the folk roots of tragedy and the complex, modern composition of excess. They ask a simple, fathomless question: "Just imagine there is only one starry night left 'til the end of this world... what would we do?" and then proceed to answer it with the confusion that is this new century. God? Decadence? Hope? Despair? Wait for the random moment to choose for you? Be with those you love or just do a tango with whoever passes by? "Let god come with you, if he's up to it?" These songs pose the questions, ignore the obvious answers, and cut like a knife through the rubble of rhetoric without muttering the words.

That saxophonist Kovac and his orchestra of accordion, bass, percussion, reeds and guitar have spoken to their own situation is a marvel. That it translates so well and so unexpectedly to our own is scary and yet ultimately promising. They drag their exhausted partner across the marble floor. They kick up the dust in an unpaved street. They revel with the revelers at a wedding and mourn the interment of morning. In the final movement of The Last Balkan Tango, they board "The Orient Express" for a tour of the past and the future; a ride through the defiant dances of the Balkans, a tango in the midst of the fall of the old Europe, on a journey to "a better world," possibly this one, probably not. Kovac proves that we humans, in all of our utter oblivion, still manage to move the cosmos with our music, still find hope in our inner spirits, and seek a way out of the morass that might allow everyone else to come with us. He welcomes us into the new millennium, a time that might require us to be fatalistic, but might not have to be fatal. - Cliff Furnald

The CD is available at cdRoots

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Lura's "Eclipse" is an intimate vision of Cape Verde

Four Quarters Entertainment (

I saw Lura onstage for the first time when she was touring in support of her second album M'bem di Flora. My concert-going companion and I agreed that Lura's live performance had a magic that her studio recordings, good though they were, lacked. To me it was the almost entirely acoustic sound of her ensemble that accounted for the warmth, along with the fact of having the barefoot, utterly entrancing Lura there in person.

Eclipse, the Portuguese-born Cape Verdean singer's latest, comes closest to capturing the intimacy she radiates live as well as being her most accomplished and varied work to date. For every track that treads the melancholic landscape that Cesaria Evora made famous (the title piece and "Terra'L" among them) there's a surprise like the distinct Arabic feel to the opening "Libramor." Shades of Angola and Mozambique cover "Maria," "Na Nha Rubera" sounds like equal parts Cape Verde and Cape Town and the galloping beat of "Tabanka" shows that Lura can sing just as ably against backgrounds not particularly lush. Actually she's in great voice throughout, her tones not merely charming but ever more confident as she makes her way through material that goes further beyond Cape Verde than she's yet gone. Where Lura's first two albums hinted at the arrival of a major new star in Cape Verdean music, Eclipse is that arrival. - Tom Orr

The artist's web site includes a nice selection of full tracks from the CD

CD available from Amazon

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jewish world-weariness with a jazz frenzy

Daniel Kahn & The Painted Bird
Partisans & Parasites
Oriente Musik

I first encountered Daniel Kahn's music from his participation in 'The Unternationale' project, a group comprised of avant-klezmer musicians with a penchant for punk and cabaret music. The Unternationale's 2008 CD was a multi-lingual affair, with songs alternating between lyrics sung in Yiddish, Russian, and English: often within the same song. Further, Kahn and his compatriots Psoy Korolenko and Oy Division dug deep into Jewish labor songs, Zionist history, and religious texts, skirting the very thin boundary between postmodern irony and heartfelt sincerity. A wink and a nod here, a wry smile there, The Unternationale's debut was post-hip and reveled in Jewish outsider status.

One could argue that Daniel Kahn's latest project, Partisans & Parasites, offers more of the same, but the punk-klezmer-cabaret shtick has been honed to a fine blade. Kahn serves up dollops of East European Jewish world-weariness, and his band The Painted Bird cooks up a frenzy. Expect plenty of Kahn's wheezing accordion, and killer clarinet and horn arrangements courtesy of Michael Winograd. Frank London, the trumpeter of Klezmatics fame, also sits in on a few numbers, and Psoy Korolenko returns to contribute vocals as well. You could be excused for being reminded of Tom Waits' eccentric cabaret albums; but while Kahn does not share the raspy, late-night croon of Waits, The Painted Bird flirts with similar shadowy soundscapes. If Slim Cessna's Auto Club ever converted to Judaism and hung out at the circus, this would be their shambolic offspring.

But let's turn to lyrical content, where Kahn indulges us in apocalyptic Ashkenazi tales. Partisans & Parasites begins with "Yosl Ber," the tale of a Jewish soldier drafted into the Czar's army, but deserts, claiming that "…sir, I am indeed a faithful soldier! that's why I ran away from the front! I hate the enemy so much, I don't even want to look him in the eye!" The title track "Parasites" is a very long exegesis on the life of Toxoplasma Gondii as it invades host after host after host. Kahn relishes describing the life of the parasite and its use of each of the hapless organisms it inhabits, and The Painted Bird join in wailing, "Now you are living as a parasite/Ain't it easy living as a parasite?/You can make a living off another's life/When you are living as a parasite." Winograd's clarinet is especially effective here, soaring above the klezmer breaks that punctuate each upcoming verse. Of course, one could take "Parasites" as one enormous analogy for some parts of the human condition, in all its guts and exploitation. High marks must go for "Khurbn Katrina," a song that Kahn and his compatriots adapted from early 1900s Yiddish tunes, one of which memorialized the sinking of the Titanic. The Painted Bird cross Jewish melodies with New Orleans funeral band music, making for a memorable tribute to the ruin of the hurricane.

Kahn also serves up Kurt Tucholsky's 1931 "Embrace the Fascists" which slyly suggests not rocking the Nazi boat, while simultaneously undercutting that sentiment by warning that to give in to the Fascists would be ones' own fault. Another example of gallows humor surfaces on the spoken tale "A Rothschild In Your House": "A Jew goes to the Jewish cemetery in Paris/goes to see Rothschild's grave, with a beautiful gigantic monument./The Jew looks at the grave and says to his friend,/'see, Yankl? That's living!'"

For sheer chutzpah and controversy, however, probably nothing competes with "Six Million Germans," Kahn's recounting of Abba Kovner's endeavor to kill six million Germans in retaliation for the Holocaust. Kovner was a partisan from Vilna, the capital of Lithuania where Jews organized against the Nazis. Kahn details Kovner's plan to poison the water supply, from his trip to Tel Aviv, to his arrest by the British navy on the way back to Vilna. Some of the poison eventually ended up in bread served to SS prisoners. Kovner, though, became active and worked towards building Israel. Kahn presents Kovner's story as a cautionary tale, acknowledging the rage that Kovner and his compatriots felt at the genocide of WWII, the all-encompassing power of seeking revenge. Can revenge arise again? Should it? Kahn encourages the listener to "Six Million Germans" to tread carefully. Still, I can't imagine what the reaction to this song might be in Germany, where Partisans & Parasites was partly recorded.

Political, thought-provoking, and not afraid to stir up ghosts, Daniel Kahn and The Painted Bird's Partisans & Parasites offers up challenging avant-klezmer that confronts the beauty, horror, and wit of being human. - Lee Blackstone

Listen to "A Rothschild In Your House"

More audio and CD available from cdRoots

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kaila Flexer & Gari Hegedus: inspired by the Arabic, Balkan, Greek, Jewish and Turkish music

Kaila Flexer & Gari Hegedus
Next Village Music (

Kaila Flexer plays the violin and viola, and Gari Hegedus knows his way around more instruments than I'm about to list here. Along with a few guest players, the duo have put together an album of instrumental pieces inspired by the Arabic, Balkan, Greek, Jewish and Turkish music they've embraced and put their own stamp on. Ranging from peppy to melancholic to mystical, these unplugged and unencumbered tracks prove to be both lovely and engaging. But quaint they ain't. These players have chops and don't hesitate to show them, particularly on the fevered "Petalouda," where they absolutely rock out (believe me, I wish I had a better term for it). Flexer's deftly emotional bowing squares off against whatever stringed acoustic axe Hegedus chooses to wield,be it oud, baglama or what have you, creating matchups that could sound at home anywhere from a ballroom to a Gypsy encampment. The disc's title refers to a Turkish term for a recurring musical theme, and Flexer and Hegedus have sought to cross cultures and ethnic distinctions to find themes that bear repeating. I'd say they've succeeded. Despite claiming in the liner notes that they will "always be students of these styles," it's hard to imagine them having learned their lessons any better. - Tom Orr

CD available from Amazon

Monday, August 17, 2009

Got Mariachi?

The longstanding presence and continuous growth of the Mexican-descent population in the United States has fostered an autonomous and dynamic sphere of cultural expression in which the folk music traditions of Mexico play a prominent role. For those seeking more than liner-note lite, Mariachi Music in America draws upon decades of field research, extensive knowledge of mariachi history, and enlightening interviews with ensembles on both sides of the Rio Grande, tempered by long experience as a mariachi performer himself. The result is a concise, well-informed and clearly written monograph that should interest practitioners, students, and fans alike. Also included is a glossary of Spanish-language terminology, historical photographs, a bibliography, a discography, an index, and an accompanying 26-track CD that illustrate the book's musicological and sociocultural observations. Michael Stone looks at this book and recordings of some fo the greats (and not so greats) of maricachi music...
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Ferran Savall : Mireu el nostre mar

world music cd cover
Ferran Savall is the son of the renowned early music conductor, composer, and musician Jordi Savall and revered singer Montserrat Figueras. Mireu el nostre mar marks a bit of a departure for the Savall family's Alia Vox label, as the focus is not on the interpretation of early music or classical masterworks in the traditional sense. Instead, Ferran Savall presents a program of folk songs, many from the Catalan tradition, as well as Jewish song and the lyrics of poets. At first listen, you would be forgiven for thinking that Mireu el nostre mar was a lost gem of breezy South American pop as interpreted by the late Jeff Buckley. However, Ferran Savall's album is an indication of how broad and centuries-spanning are his musical interests...
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Levi Romero: poet of languages, lowriders and the people

…nostalgia gleams with the dull brilliance
of a chrome airplane on the rusted hood
of a '56 Chevy
..daydream's of walking bare foot
on the soft grass
down by the river
where dragonflies buzzed all day
have now decayed
like the fallen cottonwoods
along the gnarled paths
of the Rio Embudo
where free form poetry
mixed with cheap beer
on warm nights by the riverbanks
and stories of lowered '49 Fleetlines
with flame jobs and spinners
were cast into the dark wind…"

Bill Nevins explores the work of a poet of languages, lowriders and the people, Levi Romero

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara Tell No Lies

world music cd cover
There must be multitudes of world music fans who are pleased that Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara only waited about a year to follow up their first collaboration. Their new Tell No Lies retains the refreshing jolt of the previous collaboration, offering up Bo Diddley-infused jams, meditations with a lighter swing) and even a blistering excursion into Latin rhythms that the first album left unexplored...

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Harris Brothers Balkan Band on WPKN

The WPKN "Live From Where? / Sunday Brunch" concert series continued today with some great Balkan music from right here in CT. Live on the air and at the Kasbah Garden Cafe in New Haven - The Harris Brothers Balkan Band

Archive of the show:

More pics on Flickr

Harris Brothers Balkan Band on Myspace

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

National Day in Iceland

June 17 is National Day (Þjóðhátíðardagurinn) in Iceland (Lýðveldið Ísland). This is the birthdate of Jón Sigurðsson, a noted Icelandic independence figure.

Like most places, it is celebrated by community parades.

But I prefer to commemorate it with musical art, of course:

Anna Palina and the band Draupner sing the traditional "Ásu Kvædi." Listen!

Klakki is a contemporary ensemble led by Icelandic singer Nina Björk Elíasson. Listen!

Read more about Icelandic musicians on RootsWorld

Buy Icelandic music at cdRoots

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tinariwen release free download from their new CD

Touareg desert rockers Tinariwen release their latest CD the end of June, but The Guardian in London is offering a free track from it today.


Find out more about the new CD at the band's web site

Get the rest of the recordings at cdRoots

Read a review of their live concert DVD in RootsWorld

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Trio Mio stakes out new territory in the Danish folk music scene

Trio Mio

Take a look at the Danish folk music scene and you will find a wide variety of subspecies. Folk musicians throughout the country specialize in many different types of folk music, so, though it's a small country, an unusually broad selection of musical styles is represented. Some musicians travel around with bands designed specifically to play concert series in Danish schools, others are so knowledgeable about the many musical traditions in Denmark that they can offer precisely the right drinking song or dance tune to weddings or harvest parties in any given region . And of course there are a good many bands that specialize in playing the clubs and little venues round the country and abroad, actively spreading the word about Danish music and culture.

The Danish-Swedish group Trio Mio falls into this latter category. The trio began in 2004 when violinist Kristine Heebøll recorded her first solo album, Trio Mio - the album title simply became the band name. Trio Mio play mainly their own compositions, giving a Scandinavian sound to their traditional Danish and Swedish, jazz and classical inspired music. Five years on, the three musicians can look back on three critically-praised albums featuring an imposing list of Danish and Swedish guest musicians, six Danish Music Award statuettes and a long series of concerts in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Italy, England, Ireland and Canada.

Read the rest of Morten Alfred Høirup's interview with Trio Mio and listen to some of their music in RootsWorld

Two new looks at the ancient tarantella

Rione Junno
Taranta Beat Project
Rai Trade/CNI (

Mimmo Epifani
Zucchini Flowers
Finisterre (

It's amazing that the pizzica, a centuries-old folk music from an obscure part of southern Italy, not only has survived but now thrives, as both a living tradition and as a foundation for some exciting and forward-looking new music.

The pizzica (also known as pizzica pizzica and pizzica taranta) originally was the music of tarantismo, a cultural phenomenon that emerged in the southern Salento peninsula of the Puglia region. Music and dance were employed in a symbolic ritual to cure peasants, mainly women, from illnesses purportedly caused by the poisonous bite of the tarantula.

The afflicted would dance, to the point of collapsing, to the frenetic rhythms of the pizzica songs (usually in straight or accented 6/8 time) played by a small group that included tamburello (large tambourine), violin, chitarra battente (a large four- or five-string southern Italian guitar), and organetto (a type of accordion).

The spider's bite, however, was a metaphor for other conditions, such as grief, depression, and sexual frustration. Dancing the pizzica was a culturally-sanctioned and collective way for poor, politically disenfranchised peasants to act out and exorcise individual psychological conflicts.

Nandu Popu of Sud Sound System, a band that mixes traditional Salentine styles with reggae and rap, has called pizzica "the music of our grandparents, who were slaves of the aristocrats."

Tarantismo has pretty much died out, albeit relatively recently; psychotherapy has taken its place. The pizzica "has acquired a new function, that is, to represent the cultural identity of Salento," according to ethnomusicologist Tullia Magrini.

But not only Salento: the pizzica long ago spread to other parts of Puglia, mixing with various local idioms. The tarantella, the "spider's dance" common throughout southern Italy and Sicily, developed from the pizzica taranta.
Today there are musicians who specialize in traditional repertoire and performing styles (Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, Uccio Aloisi Gruppu, Tarantolati di Tricarico), those that perform new material in traditional styles (Officina Zoe, Aramirè), and others that fuse pizzica with global sounds, mainly reggae and dub, rock, rap, and techno (Nidi D'Arac, Sud Sound System, Ammaracicappa). Since 1997, pizzica has been the drawing card at La Notte Della Taranta, an annual event held in the Salento town of Melpignano that has become one of Europe's major music festivals.

In 2000, the Neapolitan singer-songwriter Eugenio Bennato founded Taranta Power to promote the pizzica and other southern Italian music, through concerts, recordings, and music education initiatives. The Taranta Power project, says Bennato, aims to counter "the unfortunate backward image that the tarantella has assumed in the world's collective imaginary, conveyed by lame folkloric groups and by banal musical expression totally divorced from the raging reality of the taranta ritual."

Bennato hails Rione Junno, a new sextet made up of young musicians from Monte Sant'Angelo, a city in Puglia (but not Salento), as exemplars of the Taranta Power ethos. Eschewing "backward-looking folklorism," they instead are "part of an alternative and contemporary wave in ethnic music…one of the most outstanding representatives of the new music rooted in tradition but looking toward the future."

Tarant Beat Project, their first album, for the most part justifies Bennato's praise. As the title suggests, the rhythms of pizzica are the main focus. The band uses traditional instruments -- chitarra battente, tamburello, and zampogna, southern Italian bagpipes -- but also electric bass and programmed beats. Recorded in Naples, the album's chief auteur is Vinci Acunto, of the Neapolitan rock band Bisca, who produced, arranged, and mixed Taranta Beat Project, as well as programming the electronics on every track.
Rione Junno - named after Monte Sant'Angelo's Junno neighborhood, the city's ancient historic center - don't have a charismatic frontman like Nidi D'Arac's Alessandro Coppola or virtuosic instrumentalists. With no one personality dominating the band, the ensemble sound - lean and beat-y, rooted in tradition but definitely non-folkloric -- is the thing.

A roster of guests joins the core band on most tracks. Sha-One from the Neapolitan rap group La Famiglia shows up for "23 Marzo," which recounts the violent police repression of a 1950 workers' demonstration. Guitarist Elio "100 Grammi" joins his Bisca bandmate Vinci Acunto on several selections.
Eugenio Bennato's on board, too, singing lead on "Sponda Sud," one of his recent songs about "zingari ed emigranti" (gypsies and emigrants) traversing the seas of the global South. Several African vocalists who've worked with Bennato, and other Italian artists -- Mohammed el Alaoui, Assane Diop, Samir Toukour, and Zaina Chabane - augment the band's singers, who favor the plaintive monody typical of much southern Italian folk and folk-derived music.

Rione Junno's first record is a bit thin - nine tracks, plus three re-mixes. The group's identity doesn't quite seem fully formed.

But if the band isn't yet as commanding as Nidi D'Arac, whose brilliance was evident on their first recordings, Rione Junno is nonetheless a promising new addition to Puglia's rich musical scene.

I like to think of Mimmo Epifani, a terrific musician from San Vito dei Normanni in Salento, as the Yomo Toro of Italian roots music. Like the great Puerto Rican cuatro player, a stalwart of so many classic Fania salsa records of the 1970s as well as a solo artist, mandolinist Epifani is rooted in folk tradition yet hardly limited to it. Like Toro, he's a virtuoso and a bold improviser. Now that Epifani has grown a mustache and has given up his shiny black pompadour for a shaggier 'do, they even resemble each other.

Epifani has collaborated with some top Italian musicians -- Roberto de Simone, the esteemed musicologist and founder of La Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare, vocalist Massimo Ranieri, Eugenio Bennato, Avion Travel, jazz pianist Danilo Rea, and Tuscan rocker Piero Pelu. He released his first album as a leader, Marannui (Forrest Hill Records), in 2004. A wide-ranging but cohesive mix of pizzica and other styles (there was even a jazz ballad), Marannui ranks as one of the best Italian recordings of the past decade.

There was a good story to go with it, too. Mimmo called his band the Epifani Barbers because he'd learned to play mandolin and mandola in a barbershop owned by Costantino Vita, a musician well versed in traditional Salentine music. Vita, along with Peppu D'Augusta, who led several pizzica groups, schooled the young Mimmo in pizzica and other local styles. Following his apprenticeship under Vita and D'Augusta, Epifani studied mandolin at the Padua Conservatory.

His new record, Zucchini Flowers, continues Marannui's blend of tradition and innovation, but it's even more adventurous. Produced by Fausto Mesolella, the guitar wizard of Avion Travel, the album's 12 tracks give Epifani plenty of space to display his remarkable technique on mandolin, mandola, mandoloncello, and guitar. His instrumental versions of Domenico Modugno's "La Donna Riccia" and "Lusingame," a fine if lesser-known canzone napoletana by Nino Taranto, are dazzling but not show-offy; Epifani's embellishments serve, and enhance, the songs.

Epifani sounds even more self-confident as a leader than he did on his debut. On Marannui he shared vocal duties with several singers. He handles most of the leads on Zucchini Flowers, and his singing is as distinctive as his playing - a big, earthy voice with a pronounced vibrato. Sometimes his vocals have a bleating quality that sounds Balkan, not surprising given the longstanding Greek influence in southern Puglia and the region's proximity to Albania.

Listeners used to smoother and less rustic Italian vocal styles may be in for a shock. But to me his vocal attack is as bracing as a glass of good primitivo, Puglia's best-known grape.

He shares vocals with flautist Giorgia Santoro on "La Pizzica delle Fate," an a capella number that's the album's most unusual track. "Fate" is Italian for "fairies," and Santoro's breathy lead sounds like it's emanating from some ethereal being. When Epifani leaps in, the piece becomes something else altogether - an encounter between the otherworldly and the material world, the latter incarnated in Epifani's gritty voice.

"Cucuzza e acqua," "Lu Sittaturu" and "Garbato e Saporito" should make his teachers Vita and D'Augusta proud of their former pupil- they're pizziche that demonstrate Epifani's mastery of the traditional form and his gift for making the ancient idiom sound absolutely up to the minute. "Lu Sittaturu" starts off slow and mournful before exploding into an up-tempo rave up, Epifani playing and singing like a man possessed. "The raging reality of the taranta ritual" that Eugenio Bennato misses in lesser artists' work is fully present here.
Sud Sound System's Nandu Popu, noting that the pizzica was born out of poverty and oppression, has expressed the hope that "we will come to sing fewer songs of suffering and more hymns of freedom."

There's not much that's hymn-like in Mimmo Epifani's zesty music, but there's definitely the sound of freedom, and a lot more. - George De Stefano

Listen to Rione Junno
Listen to Mimmo Epifani

Artist' web sites:

CDs available via cdRoots

Read more about Italian world music at RootsWorld

Someone suggested this video in a follow-up comment.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Ethiopia's Mulatu Astatke goes to England

Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics
Strut Records (

CD coverYou can hear the creative sparks flying on this self-titled collaboration between renowned Ethiopian instrumentalist and bandleader Mulatu Astatke and The Heliocentrics, an innovative musical collective from the UK. The Heliocentrics backed Astatke on a rare live appearance in London in 2008 and joined him a few months later to capture in the studio some of what had worked so well on stage. It’s a good thing that everyone involved (including some other London-based Ethiopian players and singers) had time and energy to spare, because the resulting CD melds Ethiopian tradition and freewheeling fusion as perfectly as Dub Colossus linked Jamaica and Ethiopia on last year’s In a Town Called Addis. If you’ve heard any of the discs from the Ethiopiques series on Buda Musique, several of which feature Astatke’s work, some of these pentatonic scale arrangements and jagged rhythms will be familiar. But that’s only part of the story. There’s strains of Fela Kuti's Afrobeat, Latin grooves, vintage analog effects, mysterious melodies, intros that go from kitschy to way cool and Far Eastern riffs, all wound around ear-grabbing piano, percussion, vibraphone, horns, strings, guitar, standup bass and rustic Ethiopian harp and flute. Most of the tracks are instrumentals carried along on currents of pure inspiration and musical ideas seemingly coming together on the spot but too perfectly realized to be arbitrary. It’s as though everyone involved knew something special would happen and just let it flow. This disc is not really a combination of old and new; it’s more an instance of the old being brilliantly expanded. -Tom Orr


Buy the CD at

Read more about world music at RootsWorld and cdRoots

Monday, May 25, 2009

Friday, May 22, 2009

Italian Jazz and Ancient Sardinian 'Tenores' Collide

Enzo Favata Tentetto, featuring Tenores di Bitti
The New Village
Manifesto (

Composer Enzo Favata plays multiple woodwinds (saxes, bass clarinet, and an array of wind instruments from his native Sardinia and beyond), combining a foundation in free jazz and European classical music with elements from around the Mediterranean and the African diaspora. He joins forces with the Tenores di Bitti, a riveting Sardinian a cappella quartet, and an ensemble of trumpet, piano, Fender Rhodes, electric guitar, live electronics, upright and electric basses, and drum kit (avant garde journeyman U.T. Gandhi). Together they conjure up a decidedly global (village) revelation, antiphonal, and thoroughly (uprooted) cosmopolitan. Featuring enduring Sardinian texts, The New Village offers an interplay of voices and instrumentation (as on "Comare Mia," "T'amo," "Pullighita Blues," or the funkified "In su Monte Seris now," something late Miles would have been proud to call his own) that opens up transcendent beyond-the-conservatory musical territory, uneasy revelatory listening for those more at ease than not in a restless sonic world. - Michael Stone

Artist's web site:

Listen to "Te Amo"

CD available from cdRoots

Visit RootsWorld for more world music

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Zanzibar's Culture Musical Club

Culture Musical Club
World Village (

The opening drumbeats sound like the heart of Africa, but soon an accordion, oud and qanun are adding an Arabic grace. Strings, a chorus of female voices and subtle shifts in rhythm emerge, hovering somewhere between Nubia and the Indian Ocean. Such is the beauty of taarab music, which originated on the spice island of Zanzibar, located just off the coast of Tanzania, and draws from every direction that such a cross-culturally opportune spot would suggest. Culture Musical Club isn't the oldest taarab outfit (they've been around a mere fifty years; the similarly venerated Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club was established a century ago), but they're the best known outside their homeland and, as their new release Shime! ("Keep it Up") shows, they cover the most ground stylistically. There's a clear link to Egyptian orchestral music in the combination of slow-building intensity and melancholy beauty, especially evident when the accordion takes on a mournful tone during the instrumental stretches. It's not sad stuff, though. Percussion and bass often kick the songs into a mid-point tempo increase that clears the way for male and female vocals to take a similar jump from blues-tinged to almost jazzy. And despite an ability to sound highly polished and sophisticated when they see fit, the group retains a certain rawness at the core, touching upon the sparser, drum-driven kidumbak style and ending the CD with a two-song suite that puts aside the full ensemble in favor of violins, percussion and the weathered voice of principal male singer Makame Faki. So whether taarab is new to you or you're already hooked, you will want to hear this music by one of its finest collectives. - Tom Orr

Listen: Kidumbaki:

CD available from cdRoots

New CD series begins with Guinea-Bissau

The first release on the new Cumbancha Discovery world music line will be from Kimi Djabaté, a guitarist, percussionist and balafon player from the West African country of Guinea-Bissau who lives in Lisbon, Portugal. Djabaté's sound is acoustic and melodic with a bit of an Afro-Latin swing, reminiscent of Habib Koité. Djabaté's album Karam will be released in July.

Watch for a review in RootsWorld this summer

Get more info from the record label now

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Esprit Follet 'Sous le Ciel de Paris'

world music
Kicking off an accordion album with "Sous le Ciel de Paris" would seem like either an exercise in post modern irony or a display of total lack of imagination. When Esprit Follet does it, however, they give the Paris metro staple a spaciousness and generosity of spirit that immediately makes it your new old favorite song. Indeed this whole album of Franco-Italian music flows weightlessly on the vibration of a reed, or in this case, multiple reeds. Rinaldo Doro plays accordion and Sonia Cestonaro oboe and the two of them have a complex orchestral sound that plays on the pliability of both instruments...

Read more and listen to some audio

A 1966 video feature about Miriam Makeba

A 1966 video feature about South African performer and activist Miriam Makeba

Thanks to The Roots Cause for tipping RootsWorld to this one.

Evgenios Spatharis - Greek shadow puppets pioneer

Evgenios Spatharis, a Greek master of shadow puppet theater, died Saturday at the age of 85.


He was well-known throughout Greece for his puppet theater stories revolving around the hunchbacked character Karagiozi, who came to represent the virtues and vices of the average Greek. Cunning and rebellious, Karagiozi was often shown as a liar and petty thief who wormed his way out of difficult situations.

The full story in the LA Times

Here are a few nice tributes (in Greek) to the artist, that include a few images of his work.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Down the twittering path of kwassa kwassa

Well, Twitter and such led RootsWorld down an interesting world music path this week. A friend in Berlin posted a video on her blog of a NYC pop band called Vampire Weekend doing a song, with a Congolese guitar riff, called "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"

Further pecking on the keyboard uncovered this little gem:
Esau Mwamwaya from Malawi doing the same song, in a full trans-Atlantic turn around.

And of course, at that point, I needed to find some of the real deal, by
Pepe Kalle.

And finally, Kalle and Empire Bakuba show how the Kwassa-Kwassa should be done.

All the videos are on a playlist

Follow the next twisted path via:

Thanks to Andrea at Spaetstueckerin for starting me down this path.

Happy pecking,

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mr. Cronshaw's World

My friend and co-fanatic in music, Andrew Cronshaw, has been writing for many years about the world's musical gems, and at long last, he has taken all of the reviews he has done in fRoots Magazine and put them online in an archive. It's all neatly arranged and cleanly presented, in typical Cronshaw style. 1500 recordings, primarily from northern, central and eastern Europe and Iberia, with interesting forays into the rest of the world. He can be loving or searing as needed, and I hope you will take some time to just wanted aimlessly through this treasure chest in the months to come.

Check them all out here

Here is a sampling of the reviews you will find there:

Since Andrew and I first met in Finland in 1994, I thought that was an appropriate time and place to begin:

Entiset Etniset - Historical direct disc recordings of Finnish folk music 1935-1954
Kansanmusiikki-instituutti KICD 29 (1993)

Traditional Finnish kantele music
Kansanmusiikki-instituutti KICD 1 (1993)

AARNION SISARUKSET (The Aarnio family band)
Hameen Polkka; Finnish folk music from the 1930s
Kansanmusiikki-instituutti KICD 28 (1993)

Röntyskä Songs
Mipu Music MIPUCD 203 (1993)

From 1935 until 1954 performances for A.O.Väisänen's Finnish radio programme Puoli tuntia kansanmusiikkia ("Half an Hour of Folk Music") were pre-recorded on 8-minute acetates. Most of these were scrapped after use, but a random selection were preserved, and selected items have now been No-Noise reprocessed and released on CD as Entiset Etniset. The result is a collection of music, much of it unheard since the 30s, produced by rural traditions around Finland before the Winter War changed everything - kantele masters such as the Karelians Vanja Tallas and Antero Vornanen, Ingrian-born wind-instrumentalist Teppo Repo, singers in the old styles, a scattering of ocarina, clarinet, harmonium and melodeon, and of course fiddlers.

Eino Tulikari appears too, but there are more recent recordings of him, in fact a whole LP, made in 1975 in the front room of the Folk Music Institute's beautiful wooden Pelimannitalo at Kaustinen, when this leading exponent of the still-flourishing Perho River Valley style of kantele playing was 70. (This CD reissue of that album adds four tracks from a recording made for radio twenty years earlier.) He played the large "board kantele"; in his Ostrobothnian regional style it's played with the shortest string toward the player and without damping. On record, the sound is attractively music-box-like, but the intricate and ingenious techniques Tulikari used in these tunes, largely polkkas, marches and waltzes, are a continuing strong influence on today's players, and to see someone today using what he had a major hand in developing makes clear how important he was. Kantele is music for the eyes as well as the ears.

Incidentally, I'm not a harp player but it occurs to me that some kantele techniques, particularly the ways of slipping across strings for fluid fast playing and grace-note turns, might be worth the attention of those who are.

The Aarnio Family Band album is also compiled from acetates from Väisänen's radio programme. Until this century instrumental folk music was played solo; folk bands didn't really exist until after the 1940s, though there were popular music dance bands and a considerable brass band tradition. Nevertheless, in a home with a number of instrumentalists it was natural that they'd play together. The Aarnio family, from Humppila, SW Finland, started performing in ceremonial wedding plays, with an unusual line-up featuring Väinö Aarnio on clarinet, fiddle and occasional ocarina and his sisters Lempi on fiddle and Hilja on a 24-string kantele (played in the hand-damping, strummed chordal style very unlike Tulikari's, but still with shortest string nearest the player). A third sister, Rauha, played fiddle in the band too but not on these recordings, made in 1936 and 1941. The material here is virtually all polkkas and waltzes, with three mazurkas and a polska, with some influence evident from brass band music, perhaps partly because of Väinö's earlier experience playing cornet. His fiddle solos in particular show him to have been a very able and lively musician.

The recordings of the Röntyskä group of women singers from Rappula in Ingria (the Finno-Ugrian territory in the part of Russia between Finland and Estonia at the head of the Gulf of Finland) aren't from the archives but were made in 1993 of a group formed by Hilma Biss in 1977 on her return from deportation to Siberia and a stay in Karelia to sing the old songs from her home region - ring dances and game songs. The Röntyskä song, a quick 2/4 or 4/4 ring dance after which the group is named, is of antiphonal form; the leader sings a couple of lines of usually light-hearted lyrics reflecting village life and the group repeats them, in unison, sometimes adding a refrain. The singing is straightforward, without grace-noting or harmony, and the main interest of this album, while it has unpretentious charm, probably lies for most listeners largely in the material. The Ingrian tradition is continuous with that of Finland, but until recent developments communication and movement across the border were difficult. Now this group's songs, some of which arrived in Ingria from Finland in the first place, are finding their way back into the repertoire of Finnish musicians.


Another thing Andrew and I share is a passion for this unique American artist of Latvian descent:

Red Hand
Willow Music IK001 (1997)

I guess at first listen some Folk Roots readers might regard this album as pretty far from folk music. Ingrid Karklins is, though, a classic example of post-traditionalism, in which each musician has in effect a personal tradition built from all their influences. We just don’t live in villages, largely unaware of any ways of making music other than those in our immediate geographical vicinity, any more. Some of us give in more or less to the pressure of one or other global mainstream; Ingrid Karklins doesn’t.

Her name first appeared in Folk Roots when cassette releases were still reviewed, then again with her first two CDs (on Green Linnet), and in an interview piece. Having parted company with the label, she resolved to make the whole project of her next recording as deeply personal as her songs, and indeed it is, dramatically so. Red Hand comes in a package hand-made by her, using fine papers and red braids, bearing a red imprint of her right hand. The natural impulse of the recipient is the childlike and fundamental one of matching hands, and unwrapping like a present the entirely red, unmarked CD.

The main features of the sound are her voice, which as others have said has some similarity to Laurie Anderson’s, and her piano (and occasional Latvian kokle and fiddle) with Steve Bernal’s bass, Craig No.7’s guitars and the remarkable, innovative and powerful percussion of Thor, who was a shaping factor in her compelling first CD, A Darker Passion, and has returned for this one.

Karklins makes absolutely no claim to performing Latvian traditional music, but her songs, minimal in lyrics, showing her compelling tension between self-exposure and extreme privacy, combine what is deeply personal to her with the oblique symbolism of the Latvian dainas (folksong verses tunnelling through the Latvian experience of many centuries) which are a strong influence. She draws on Malayan pantun, Scottish song, Alexander Pope, Nick Drake, a Dobu Island charm and Randy Newman, but there’s no complete exposition of any of them - they’re threads in the weave.

Remarkable and bold, and, like much great art, on the jagged edge between the mainstream and non-existence. Strangely liberating and encouraging.


And finally, a bit of the acid that is an essential element of the Cronshaw DNA:

Oreka Tx
Quercus Endorphina
Elkarlanean KD-579 (2001)

Txalaparta. Two rough, thick planks of wood, resting on soft furs, leaves or cloth draped over upturned baskets or trestles. Two players strike them with thick wooden batons, one held vertically in each hand. A strange, old, minimalist music that explores the slight tonal and timbral variations to be drawn out of each plank by hitting it at the ends, in the middle, on the edge. A subtle musical conversation between two people, each appreciating and responding to the pitches and patterns made by the other.

Along come social and occupation changes, in Euskadi as elsewhere, and the txalaparta tradition gets close to dying out. But some young players, among them Igor Otxoa and Harkaitz Martínez who are Oreka TX, take it up, becoming skilful. They naturally experiment, not only with playing techniques but the instrument’s possibilities.

Why not add a whole lot more planks? Tune them to a scale. And of course if you’re going to want to play with other instruments, it’ll probably need to be that universalised sterilised equal temperament scale, not the old way of notes that sound right to the individual player. And look what you’ve got now! Hey, a rather big and dead-sounding xylophone!

And so, having created a “revamped, stronger and more attractive variant”, to quote the press release, you’re in a position to make it “a feature of cultural distinction, with a touch of ethnic flavour”. But surely the concept of extracting minute subtleties of tone, microtone and rhythm from a pair of heavy rough-hewn planks is more culturally distinctive than a big xylophone playing accordion tunes?

Oh sure, traditions must evolve or they die, and noticeable evolutionary clicks of the cog are usually criticised as crass and destructive, but no amount of criticism ever stopped the process and they often give rise to a new flowering; indeed Oreka TX and this album are a significant part of a considerable upsurge in txalaparta playing. It’s a well-made, stylishly presented record, destined to widen international knowledge and esteem of the instrument, with very skilful txalaparta players (who also make some use of tobera, the iron txalaparta, and the stone, lithophone version), neat trikitixa style tunes, and excellent Euskal and international guests (producer Kepa Junkera, Mikel Laboa, Glen Velez, Phil Cunningham, Justin Vali, Ibon Koteron’s alboka, Michel Bordeleau’s feet).

But something’s missing...
And then, in the 2 minutes 59 seconds of track 8, Oreka (“balance, equilibrium”), suddenly there it is. And on the last track, not just in the woody staccato from a 1990 recording of a pair who carried txalaparta through the thin times, Pello Zuaznabar and Ramon Goikoetxea, but also in the overlapping speaking voices, there it is again. Not neat tunes scored and transferred, not one-note-per-plank, but that sensitivity to mere hints of pitch variation, that delight and intensity of concentration of two people improvising in rhythmic co-operation. Txalaparta.

All these reviews appeared in fRoots over the years

All are ©Andrew Cronshaw

Thursday, April 16, 2009

RootsWorld's future depends on you

RootsWorld needs your help to survive

Back in 1992, the dawn of time by internet reckoning, I decided to do something unheard of, and create an online global music resource. As it grew, I began to call it a "sharezine," an hommage to my many years as a volunteer DJ at various non-commercial radio stations, who share the music for free, and then ask you to voluntarily support it after the fact - free and open to all, access permitted at all times, to everyone. It just seemed like the right way to do it.

As RootsWorld grew over the years, it has been a search engine, a magazine, a juke box and much more, evolving, changing - growing and shrinking and growing again. It was sometimes a part time endeavor, sometimes my life's work. It has been a series of experiments. Some failed, some thrived.

But it has always been, in my opinion, about quality, not quantity, and it still is. We do not publish more reviews than most online resources - we publish more thoughtful reviews. We do not put out a steady stream of reiterated and regurgitated press releases and blurbs - we tell you about things we find interesting, important or inspiring. We do not flood you with content (how I hate that bit of internet phasing!) - we send you good reading and listening, only when we have it to send you - no filler, no dross. The volunteers who contribute to RootsWorld are free to tell you what they think - to enlighten you, not please an advertiser, a record label, an artist or a publicist. They write with passion, with spirit, with wit and intelligence.

So you know what comes now: the pitch.

This is the first time in the history of RootsWorld that I have dedicated this much space and time to asking you for your help, but today is that day. A few years ago, I changed RW's funding to a low-key voluntary system of support, and it has paid some of the bills. I added cdRoots to the mix and it was a successful subsidy for a while, as well, offering you a place to find the music you read about (and much more). But as I am sure you know, things change. CD retailing is waning. The internet is awash in "free information" (judge it as you will for value) delivered amid a sea of visual flotsam. Little discrete text ads and Amazon links do not pay the bills.

SO: The pitch is pretty simple:
Contribute to RootsWorld - I cannot do it without your support.

Many of you have responded over the last year with just that - generous financial support that allows me to continue to publish these newsletters and the web site without blocking it from all who want to read it - that SHAREZINE idea. I thank you for that support.

Now I need to ask YOU to join them, to make a financial contribution in lieu of a formal "subscription" to help me keep RootsWorld 'on the air.'

Please consider making that contribution right now, by clicking the button below, or ssimply drop a check to:
Box 1285
New Haven CT 06505

Let's show the big business analysts, the flash-splash video ad-sellers and commercial nay-sayers that a small community can prosper in the big corporate world of the World Wide Web.

Cliff Furnald
Writer wrangler, code puncher, web rider

If you have not yet decided to contribute, but you would like to be on our mailing list for a while to check it out, please sign up

Your e-mail address will NEVER EVER be given to anyone else, for any purpose.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mandolin, tuba and voice: the new sound of old Marseille

Daniel Malavergne, Patrick Vaillant and Manu Théron
Chin Na Na Poun
Daqui (

I have been following mandolinist Patrick Vaillant's career for pretty much its entirety (well, its recorded entirety, anyway), from his folk and avant garde work in various ensembles with Riccardo Tesi through remarkable ensembles like the mando-centric Melonious Quartet. Of late he has been exploring songs instead of strictly instrumental work and Chin Na Na Poun offers one of his most unique works to date in a trio with Daniel Malavergne and Manu Théron .

Victor Gelu was a songwriter and poet of nineteenth century Marseille, classically trained but enamored with the streets of this rough and tumble seaport. The poems are earthy, sometimes crude in both content and construction, and the offer a clever musical ensemble an opportunity to expand their meaning. Singer Théron, tuba player Malavergne and Vaillant take full advantage of the structural quirks of Gelu and create a compelling poetry of their own, a conversational approach that is at times lyrical, at times confrontational. Their reinterpretations are not meant to be period pieces, and bear little resemblance to what Gelu might have intended for his times, but they are certainly of a street-wise style he would have embraced.

Victor Gelu's poetry was all written in Occitan, so the booklet's French translations of the title track (no other lyrics are included) are a welcome aid to exploring the poetry a bit, but for the most part, the instrumental arrangements provide their own rich, if more cryptic, interpretation of life in 19th Century Marseille, even if seen through a 21st Century 'world music' lens. - CF


CD available from cdRoots

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Toubab Krewe surf the world

Toubab Krewe
Live at the Orange Peel
Upstream Records (

Detractors no doubt dismiss North Carolina-based Toubab Krewe as a bunch of white guys trying to Africanize jam-band music. Then again, that's probably exactly why their fans (of which I am one) love them. Whatever led them to visit Africa multiple times to discover and embrace the sounds of Mali, Guinea and Ivory Coast, the results of their having done so can be heard in the authenticity of their own music, which combines the guitar/bass/drums toughness of rock with kora, ngoni and percussion straight out of West African griot tradition. And as to what side of it gets the upper hand, well, I hear more Africa than America on both their very good self-titled debut CD and this blazing follow-up, recorded before an appreciative audience in their hometown of Asheville, NC.

It's an hour's worth of taut, expertly played tunes, predominantly instrumental but with a couple of spoken word overlays (more on those in a moment) that give the mind a little extra to mull over amidst a party atmosphere. Specifically African textures often take the lead melodically as occasional harder bursts of electric instruments help with tightly accomplished changes in tempo and feel as well as detours into surf rock, reggae, highlife and psychedelia that display the same spirit of give and take between hemispheres as Africa's emerging "desert blues" bands of today.

If I could change anything here, it would be to reign in the contributions of spoken word artist Umar Bin Hassan, best known for his work with the Last Poets. His guest spots occur on the disc's two longest pieces ("Roy Forester" and "Moose" respectively), and while the first is an eloquently engaging perfect fit, the second- despite justly celebrating some blues greats and Jimi Hendrix in verse -gets too shrill and goes on for too long. The intention is good, but by that point (the next-to-last track) I was totally absorbed in the band's amazing playing and wanted to hear more of it without distraction. Of course, someone else could hear the track and disagree with me entirely. And I still would recommend this disc most highly. It's a praiseworthy work by an emerging band that knows the power of West African music and how to harness it. - Tom Orr

Read more in RootsWorld

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Afro-Latin from Austin - Brownout

Freestyle (

Austin, Texas, long a pace-setter, has more recently broadened its horizons to boast a growing contingent of Latino bands. Tapping its South Texas roots, Brownout serves up a sizzling, mostly instrumental repertoire heavy on guitar, sax, brass, and congas, recalling but never imitating precursors like Joe Bataan, Santana, Tower of Power, Dr. Loco's Rockin' Jalapeño Band, Los Lobos, Los Mocosos, and Grupo Fantasma (where some players do double duty). No wonder the Austin Chronicle named Brownout the city's "Best Live Act," nodding to a dance frenesí of boogaloo, soul funk, salsa, Afro-Latin, Afro-beat, and acid jazz sounds. To wit, "Con el Brownout no se juega" ("don't mess with Brownout") could be a latter-day reincarnation of Cal Tjader and Mongo Santamaria, while "Chafa Khan Artistry" constitutes a head-on collision between Willie Bobo, King Tubby, James Brown, and a sonic barrage of unidentified flying objects. Take cover! - Michael Stone

CD available from

Read more on RootsWorld

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tango, or something like it....

The 1930s brought recording technology to Argentina, which sparked local exposure to jazz via the big-band recordings of Ellington, Basie, Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and others. In rough chronological order, guitarist Oscar Alemán (who backed Josephine Baker and played with Django Reinhardt), bandoneon master Dino Saluzzi, Juan Carlos Cáceres (piano, trombone, voice), saxophonist Gato Barbieri, and composer Lalo Schrifrin are important seminal figures in Argentine jazz. It was only in the 1960s, however, after visits by Dizzy Gillespie among others, that local figures like Schifrin, Caceres, Barbieri, and Astor Piazzolla began to garner international notice. Military dictatorship suppressed jazz's development, although Piazzolla recorded with the likes of Gerry Mulligan and Gary Burton in the 1970s and 1980s. Today a younger generation has enjoyed the benefits of conservatory training and broad exposure to international jazz. Argentina boasts numerous jazz festivals and radio stations, and a lively club scene that values originality over slavish emulation of the neo-bebop canon.... RootsWorld world music reporter Micheal Stone explores a parcel of recent recording of the new century's tango, or something like it

Read More in RootsWorld

Monday, March 23, 2009

Galician chanteuse offers beach-warmed songs with elegant arrangements

Eterno Navegar
World Village/ Nordesia (

It's -6° F in Cleveland as I write this. Eterno Navegar gave me a little over an hour's holiday from the bone-biting cold here on America's North Coast. It's a breezy collection (just try writing a review of an Uxia CD without using the word breezy; it can't be done) of beach-warmed songs with elegantly light-handed arrangements. A little samba, a little fado, a little tango, a little cabaret, all wrapped in gauzy layers of piano, guitar, accordion, muted trumpet, with a little bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy thrown in for color.

The Galician chanteuse has been knocking around for over 20 years, and she knows her way around a song. She keeps things playful and full of delightful surprises. Each track here is a little gem. "Unha noite na eira do trigo" is a loopy waltz with a hint of cabaret and tasteful touches of theremin. "Alalá de Muxia" has the tender restraint of a lullaby, with vocals that go barely above a whisper and gentle piano, cello, and soprano sax. "A lira" is a traditional song from the Azores with a simple, almost child-like melody. It starts out quietly with just a little piano, and then builds to a big sing-along with a full chorus, bagpipe, and a Tom Waits sound-alike on harmony vocals.

The packaging is as beautiful as the music, with some gorgeous and inspired seashore photography by Quim Farinha. Rarely are the aural and the visual so charmingly paired. You'll want to dig your toes into this one like warm sand. - Peggy Latkovich

CD available from cdRoots

Read more about Uxia's past recordings in RootsWorld

Friday, March 20, 2009

Quebec's band of tricksters: Genticorum

cd coverGenticorum is a band of trickster conjurers, performing rhythmic sleight-of-hand on the dance music of their native Quebec. They have the wry, slightly skewed attitude of a cabaret emcee, dropping the occasional naughty joke into their songs just to watch the audience titter in guilty delight. Even the band's name is nonsensical, evoking what? A quorum of gentle folk? A gentleman's forum? Who knows?

The trio has three albums under its belt, the second of which, Malins Plaisirs, garnered a Best Ensemble award at the 2005 Canadian Folk Music Awards. The band is currently globe-hopping in support of its latest release, La Bibournoise. RootsWorld reporter Peggy latkovich caught up with flute/fiddle/bass player Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand by phone between tours.... Read the full interview and see a liver video performance

Buy their new CD

Listen to La grondeuse opossum

RootsWorld, cdRoots

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tuaregs are roots-rocking the world: Tinarwen on tour

Tuareg roots-rock band Tinariwen tour the U.K. and U.S. in March and April 2009

18 De La Warr Pavilion Bexhill
19 De Montfort Hall Leicester
20 Manchester Academy Manchester
21 Edinburgh Picture House Edinburgh
22 Liverpool Philharmonic Hall Liverpool
23 Leeds Irish Centre Leeds
25 Komedia Bath
26 Koko London
27 Reading Town Hall Reading
28 The Rainbow Warehouse Birmingham

16 Palace of Fine Arts Theatre San Francisco
17 Rio Theatre Santa Cruz
18 Coachella: Empire Polo Field Indio
19 Santa Fe Brewing Company Santa Fe
21 KTAOS Solar Center Taos
22 Old Town School Chicago
24 Le Poisson Rouge New York
25 Heineken TransAtlantic Festival Miami

Read the latest RootsWorld review

Tinarwen: Live in London (DVD)

Other fine rock-and-blues-influenced Saharan guitar bands have followed in their wake (including Etran Finatawa, Toumast and Terakaft), but Tinariwen beat the rest to wider recognition and remain either the best of the bunch or the first among equals depending on how you look at it. Great though their albums are, Tinariwen also deliver in concert. I caught them live at the Houston International Festival in 2006, and they managed to do a lot with a little. Standing in an all but stock-still row on the stage and barely speaking between songs, they attracted a large and attentive crowd in remarkably short order with nothing but pure hypnotic guitar and bass riffs, sparse percussion and vocals that split the difference between Timbuktu and the Mississippi Delta.

The group's new Live in London DVD similarly finds them making magic with the simplest of ingredients, though here the lineup is expanded to include female backup vocals (which they didn't have on their '06 U.S. jaunt), a guest turn by Justin Adams (the versatile U.K. guitarist and producer who helped bring Tinariwen to the attention of the world) and of course production values including cameras zooming in on the little nuances that make the music all the more persuasive. By and large, though, the presentation of the concert portion of the DVD is as simple as the music, so the featured songs from Tinariwen's three albums get by unassumingly and brilliantly on the strength of indomitable Touareg spirit, non-indulgent guitar mastery and spellbinding, repetitive rhythms.

This would be enough to make this release a must-have, but consider the bonus material as well. There's a lengthy interview with band founder Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, conducted by a desert campfire at night, in which he speaks in riveting detail about the hardships of post-colonial Mali and how he embraced music to overcome them. A shorter interview with Adams and a mini-documentary provide further elucidation as to the band's origins, outlook and creativity. It all makes for a combination of music and imagery that provides nothing glossy or clever in the way of visuals, yet scores an absolute knockout in presenting what Tinariwen does best and the story behind it. - Tom Orr

DVD available from cdRoots

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Requiem for 1847: remembering the famine

From the RootsWorld archives, some words to remember for St Patrick's Day.

1997 marked the 150th anniversary of the worst year of the Great Irish Potato Famine. 1847 was the nadir of a natural calamity that could have easily been reversed. Instead, it was crafted via human agency into a holocaust. Descendants of the victims world-wide still refer to it as "Black '47" Farm By the middle of the 19th century, the potato was the Irish peasantry's major source of sustenance. It adapted well to growing conditions in Ireland and produced large yields from small plots. Eaten with buttermilk for protein, it was a nutritious complex carbohydrate rich in vitamins and minerals. However, an entire race's hand-to-mouth dependence on a single foodstuff was a precarious thing and presaged disaster... In Christina Roden's article from 1997, she talks about the Irish famine of the 1840's with The Chieftains' Paddy Moloney, Black 47's Larry Kirwan, and composer Patrick Cassidy.

Read the article

Randy Newman sings of the afterlife and history

Randy Newman
Harps and Angels

Harps and Angels reprises a droll, garrulous, heartfelt Crescent City gospel-blues sensibility that longtime Newman fans will happily recognize. The good old boy-struck down by a heart attack, hearing the angel band before copping a pearly gate reprieve-might be the singer himself, or anyone who's confronted the inexorable finality of life as we know it. Newman combines a smart (ass) show-tune sensibility ("A Piece of the Pie," "Laugh and Be Happy") with wry sentimentality ("Losing You," "Feels Like Home"), provocative social commentary ("A Few Words in Defense of Our Country"-in ironic country western mode, with a righteously aggravated Supreme Court critique), the certain fate of rich old men ("Only a Girl"), political incorrectness ("Korean Parents"), senior moments ("Potholes," as in "God bless the potholes down memory lane"), and a prickly finger on the absurd, entropic pulse of the human condition (listener's choice). Harps and angels, hallelujah. - Michael Stone

Available from

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Amparanoia's last licks

Seguire caMinando
Via Lactea

Spain's Amparanoia have reportedly called it quits, with singer Amparo Sanchez's solo career already mapped out and set to commence soon. The band's blend of flamenco roots and global sounds never had the same go-for-the-throat intensity as Ojos de Brujo or the eclectic finesse of Radio Tarifa, but it's still damn good and will be missed. And as long as they're bowing out, it's proper that they're doing it right with this smashing CD/DVD box set featuring a 2006 performance in Barcelona and a disc of rarities and remixes spanning the decade that came before. Sanchez and company absolutely soar on the live stuff, tightly locking down tunes that move from flamenco and rumba to funk, rock, reggae and jazz with a combination of anthemic passion and celebratory energy. The crowd is with them at every turn, and even those (like me) whose understanding of Spanish ranges from rudimentary to non-existent will get pulled in, caught up and completely bowled over. All the visual fire of the same concert that CD #1 covers is on the DVD, plus a smartly done documentary that chronologically tells the Amparanoia story from Sanchez's perspective. Further evidence as to how solid this band was can be found on the studio disc, particularly the remixes, which hint at how Amparanoia might well have incorporated a little more of the cutting edge without tossing aside their largely organic approach. Whatever Sanchez has on the way, let's hope it sticks to the same high standards as this fond and fitting farewell to the group she no longer fronts. - Tom Orr

The artists' web site ( has dozens of live and studio clips, including this live perforamnce of "La vida te da"

Their music is available from

RootsWorld: Twittering into the new century

Twittering into the new century

One of our younger contributors is constantly trying to drag me into the current century of technology, with much resistance on my part. But she might have something with Twitter, and odd little bit of social networking that allows people to "twitter" on about what they are doing. In my daily rounds of searching for audio and video I often find myself e-mailing links and quotes to friends. So I figure: why not send them to you, the RootsWorld reader, as well.

If you don't 'twitter' it is pretty easy to set up, and if you do, you can 'follow' mine if you like: Twitter @rootsworld

Is it useless nonsense or another interesting communications device? We shall see. Remember, in 1993 when I put my first review online, the internet was seen as a silly trifle in a vast electronic desert. - Cliff

Friday, March 13, 2009

Saving children in Mali, one at a time

A Malian proverb says that a woman in labor has one foot on earth, and one foot in the grave. The proverb is all too true: a woman in Mali has a 1 in 15 lifetime chance of dying from childbearing complications... For most Malian women, auxiliary midwives, or matrones, are first and only health care provider they will ever see. Mali Midwives facilitates continuing education opportunities for rural matrones in Mali.

Former RW reporter Craig Tower has a new mission in Mali. Read about his work in Mali today

Coro Bajolese: spiritual voices in Turin, Italy

Coro Bajolese
O Maria béla Maria
FolkClub Ethnosuoni (

While the tired old concept that music is a "universal language" is open to debate, the fact that the timeless human drive toward choral singing is a near global phenomenon cannot be argued. From gospel choirs in the United States to Bulgarian women's choruses to Slovenian singing societies to South African isicathimiya groups, people are drawn to the blending of disparate voices into an architectural whole.

Coro Bajolese has been joining their voices in song since 1966, when they formed in Bajo Dora, a small hamlet in the province of Turin. O Maria béla Maria was made in 2007, the centenary of the death of Costantino Nigra, the group's founding director. The group's current 26 members, all but one of whom are male, are lead by Amerigo Vigliermo. Their music has the robust reverence of a church choir. Formally, most of the songs consist of call-and-response passages, with a soloist or small group singing a short phrase which is then answered by the whole. The soloists vary not only in range, but in timbre and grasp of tonality. Some voices are more accurate and polished than others, but this is what gives the music its democratic appeal. If you're looking for slick perfection, look elsewhere. This music is earthy and earnest, proof that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. The blend of all of these incongruent voices is rich and warm, with the nubby texture of raw linen. - Peggy Latkovich

Listen to "La casun ed Mariantun"

CD available from cdRoots

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Greek artist Savina Yannatou sings 'Songs of an Other'

Since 1993, singer Savina Yannatou and Kostas Vomvolos (qanun, accordion, musical direction) have stood at creative core of Primavera en Salonico (nay, oud, guitar, violin, viola, double bass, percussion). While rooted artistically in Thessalonica, for Yannatou and Primavera, their Greek and Sephardic roots are only a jumping-off point in a project that covers the Mediterranean waterfront and ranges far beyond... Recorded in Athens, Songs of an Other comprises a dozen varied settings for Yannatou to conjure her delicate yet commanding vocal instrument, confirming the power and primacy of the human voice throughout her work...
Read the full review and watch a video

Monday, March 09, 2009

Chango Spasiuk - Pynandí (Los Descalzos)

Chango Spasiuk - Pynandí (Los Descalzos)

Argentinean accordion virtuoso and composer’s 2009 release is Pynandí -- Los Descalzos (Barefoot, from an indigenous Guaraní word, referring to the rural poor) Like American blues, Portuguese fado and Argentina’s own tango, the sunny, lilting chamamé was at one time considered too lower-class to be of interest to educated listeners. This recordin is a love letter to the land of Spasiuk’s birth, capturing the red earth, blinding heat, rough good humor and warm fellowship of laborers heading out for an evening’s fun. But while cheerful on the surface, it also harbors edgy moments of dissonance. Suite Nordeste opens with an accordion astride a staggering percussion motif. Guitars, fiddle and other instruments fight to create luchness and roughness, always seeking a contradiction of some kind. Spasiuk engenders the best of the tradition, then tosses it into his own unique mix.

Buy it here