Friday, December 10, 2010

Join RootsWorld on Facebook

Yes, we all need more intermedia interaction, don't we?

We'll be using Facebook as a (nearly) daily link farm to great music, news and reviews, so join us if you can!

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RootsWorld gets deep into the music of Norwegian artist Annbjørg Lien

"There is a old tradition in Norway to sing and play at the same time, like talking together." - Annbjørg Lien

Norwegian musician Annbjørg Lien is more than just a great Hardangar fiddler. RootsWorld's Greg Harness chats with the artist and reviews some of her recent recordings. Read more and listen.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Stories From a Delta Bridal Room: southern songwriting and Eudora Welty


Desk at the Welty House The "bridal room" at Savannah's historic Trinity Methodist Church offers a glimpse into the clichéd world of the Southern belle. Overstuffed sofas, heavy drapery, straight-backed chairs, and an ornate full-length mirror with golden trim dominate the main room, while shelves loaded with hairspray, lotions, gels, pins, nets, and formulas used to tame the wild manes of brides and debutantes clutter two adjoining rooms. This old-world spell was shattered when three of folk music's most well-regarded steel magnolias breezed into the stuffy room oozing confidence, quiet determination, and good humor. In this literary atmosphere, songwriters Caroline Herring, Claire Holley, and Kate Campbell sat down with Georgianne Nienaber to talk about the writer's life, their musical tribute to the author and photographer Eudora Welty and tell Stories From a Delta Bridal Room.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Voice for the People: 70 years of Topic Records

world music cd cover

Three Score & Ten - A Voice to the People recounts the story of 70 Years of the Oldest Independent Record Label in Great Britain, and the origins of Topic Records are particularly fascinating. Initially, the organization from which Topic would take root was the Workers' Music Association (WMA), founded in 1936 as "an educational offshoot of the British Marxist Party." The Workers' Music Association was created to aid in the struggle against the fascism and totalitarianism that had arisen in the 1930s, and also to provide an outlet for workers to express themselves through music. From the beginning, intellectuals and artists joined together in this effort, under the organizing influence of the composer Alan Bush. In 1939, the first record released by the Workers' Music Association was a 10" 78rpm disc entitled "The Man Who Watered The Worker's Beer" attributed to Paddy Ryan, backed by a performance of "The Internationale." This record was issued under the Topic imprint as TRC1, indicating the 'Topic Record Club,' a subscription method of distribution for the music to be issued by the WMA. The message is clear: from the beginning, what would become Topic Records was a label committed to social justice, and to the sounds of indigenous folk forms...
Read more and listen

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Folk Danmark, 2010 - radio with Morten Alfred Høirup

Cliff Furnald: Thursday mornings, 6 AM to 9 AM

Live playlists and audio archives (well, as live as I can handle in the morning) will be online during the show

Thursday, May 27th, at 8:00 AM, WPKN Radio will feature a special English-language edition of "Folk Danmark, 2010," a program of music from the little Nordic country with the big musical heart. The program is produced and hosted by Danish musician Morten Alfred Høirup and will feature contemporary and traditional music from the tradition and beyond. Artists presented will include Carl Erik Lundgaard, Phønix, Henrik Jansberg, Rasmus Lyberth, Valravn, Klezmofobia, Afenginn and Evald Thomsen among many others. This program is co-produced with Danish radio D2R. Thursday, May 27 at 8:00 AM.

I will also be featuring Nordic music, new and old, throughout the regular program starting at 6 AM.

Please join me, and pass the word along about this special program?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tab Benoit: Hurricanes, oil spills and Cajun blues

world music
A little over a year ago after storm surges from Ike and Gustav almost washed away Terrebonne Parish, Delta bluesman Tab Benoit took the mic in defiance as wisps of wind snaked through the scrim draping the backside of the stage. Friday's early evening crowd stayed put as Benoit offered reassurance that this, the sixth annual Voice of the Wetlands Festival, would continue come hell or high water..."This is our rally. This is our cry for help." Just a few months later, the explosion of British Petroleum's Transocean/DeepwaterHorizon's wellhead took eleven lives, and the subsequent "river" of oil is now poisoning shrimp, oysters, bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles, as well as human livelihoods. The Louisiana Delta, shorelines and marine sanctuaries from Grand Isle to the Florida Keys are in peril, but the men and women profiled in this article are not giving up. New roots singers have joined with their voices. Sadly, this account will not be "outdated" for decades to come.

Georgianne Nienaber talks with Tab Benoit (and also Ann Savoy, Waylon Thibodeaux, Cyril Neville and other musicians who are part of the "Voice of the Wetlands" All-Stars) about the the music, the culture, and the future of the Lousiana coast.

Read more

Monday, May 24, 2010

Whatever happened to Dirty Linen Magazine?

Dirty Linen Magazine was where I first started writing about music in a serious way. In fact, my column, Radio Planet 3, was in the first edition of the magazine to appear under that name (it was called "Fairport Fanatics" before then).

So it is a shame to see that, after so many years of working so hard to maintain a magazine of great musical and writing standards, Paul and Sue Hartman have been forced to abandon the magazine. After a few years of trying to work with a new publisher, impossible differences have led them to announce their "retirement" from DL.

I know them both pretty well after all these years, and I know they will not be out of the game for long. You can find out more about their future plans on their blog, What happened to Dirty Linen?.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Golden Age of Youssou N'Dour

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Etoile de Dakar featuring Youssou N'Dour

Once Upon A Time In Senegal: The Birth Of Mbalax 1979-1981 (Stern's Music)
2 CDs

There are not many African artists whose names are as well-known as Youssou N’Dour’s. And it’s not just his ‘7 Seconds’ duet with Neneh Cherry, or his frequent collaborations with Peter Gabriel and others. No, you don’t reach his status just by who you hang out with, you get there by who you are and what you do. On one level these 2 CDs form a chapter in the story of who Youssou N’Dour is. But on another they show him simply as an equal member of a band … a band in the right place at the right time and doing the right things. That brief but vital moment in time is captured in these 23 tracks selected from the cassettes that Etoile de Dakar recorded between 1979 and 1981. Several have never been released outside of Senegal, and all have been sensitively re-mastered from the earliest available audio source. These are the best sounding recordings of this material available.

Listen to some audio samples

Buy the CD at cdRoots

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Norah Jones: new directions

I know, this is not the usual RootsWorld fare, but bear with me and maybe just humor me a bit. Norah Jones has released new video for the song "Young Blood" from hew CD 'The Fall' this week! Jones is experimenting with different sounds and some new collaborators, including Jacquire King, a noted producer and engineer who has worked with Kings of Leon, Tom Waits, and others, and a new group of musicians to perform on the album, including drummers Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.) and James Gadson (Bill Withers), keyboardist James Poyser (Erykah Badu, Al Green), and guitarist Marc Ribot. You can find links for the video and some audio samples at

Friday, April 30, 2010

Valravn pushes the limits of Nordic Roots, and shines

World Music

“Valravn is testing the extremes of Nordic roots music and its application here and now; in that process we are open to outside influences. The point of departure is on the cusp of something very ancient and something brand new." – Juan Pino, Valravn

The Danish folktronica band Valravn grew out of the acoustic medieval music ensemble Virelai, which had specialized in performing traditional music at medieval festivals. Valravn, updating old Faroese ballads sung in the original language, accompanied on hurdy-gurdy, flutes, hand drums, viola, mandola and electronic samples, have no equals on the Danish music scene. Ask Valravn percussionist, Juan Pino, and he will tell of an explosive development from the band's first album of mainly traditional material to their second, Koder på snor, which relies more on their own compositions.

Morten Alfred Høirup investigates the new sound of Danish roots in his interview in RootsWorld

Friday, April 23, 2010

Italian New Waves: Consoli, Avitabile and Ferrante

world music cd cover
The public face of Italy today is una brutta faccia. Silvio Berlusconi's regime is a riotous carnival of corruption, abuse of power, and sexual sleaze; organized crime wields enormous economic power throughout the peninsula and in Sicily; the Vatican intrudes with an ever more heavy hand into Italian politics; and racism, xenophobia, and homophobia are surging. The civil society organization Justice and Liberty raises alarms over the "unequivocal signs of social decay," but much of the populace couldn't care less - they'd rather turn on Berlusconi's TV channels and submit to the mindless mediated reality that historian Paul Ginsborg calls "videocracy."

Given all this, it's up to artists to limn the current malessere... Carmen Consoli, Massimo Ferrante, and Enzo Avitabile, all from Italy's southern regions, have released new recordings that comment on the current situation or evoke traditions and stories of an Italy at risk of being forgotten in the seemingly interminable Berlusconi era.

Read More

North American tour for King Sunny Ade and his African Beats cancelled

Here's the official word:

"It is with great sadness that we announce the cancellation of the entire April/May 2010 North American tour for King Sunny Ade and his African Beats.

On March 26th 2010 a tragic car accident took the lives of two members of the African Beats, talking drummer Gabriel Ayanniyi and percussionist Omo Olope, who were en-route to a video shoot for a forthcoming recording. When the US Embassy refused to grant visas to replacement members in a timely manner, there was confusion about the possible courses of action.At the same time, it became clear that the artist and the band had neither recovered from the impact of the tragedy, nor were they able to find consensus on how to move forward with normal touring.

As a result, the North American April/May 2010 tour has been canceled until such a time as King Sunny Ade and his group have sufficiently regrouped and are ready to face the rigors of an International tour again.

We offer our heartfelt condolences to the band and the families of the deceased. On behalf of the artist and his band we extend our apologies to all who will be disappointed by their inability to perform in North America this year."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fair Turn Around for Chicago Afropop Ensemble

Chicago based Afropop ensemble Occidental Brothers Dance Band International has scored a major coup with the signing of legendary Kenyan/Congolese singer Samba Mapangala as their new lead singer. A chance meeting last year, followed by a few gigs - and a recording session with Orchestra Virunga of Mapangala's tribute to Barak Obama - has led to the union of the two, the Chicago reader reports today.

Obama Ubarikiwe by Samba Mapangala

Read the full story in Chicago Reader

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ethiopiques: the funkier side of Ethiopia

For those who have kept up with the Buda Musique series, the otherworldly novelty of the earliest volumes released in the late 1990's has perhaps worn off. But they have also been rewarded with everything from solo pianists, King David's Harpists, historic recordings of orchestras as well as classic, 1970's-era Ethiopian soul as interpreted by Cambridge, Massachusetts' Either/Orchestra live in Addis Ababa... The latest in the series, Ethiopiques 24, is devoted to the funkier side of 1970's Ethiopia. Stars of earlier volumes, such as Seylou Yohannes and Ayalew Mesfin, appear here and the music, as always, is spectacular. Wubshet Fisseha and the Exception Five Band's lone track, "Sew Endayhon Yelellem," mixes a horn line that could come from nowhere but the landlocked East African nation with scratchy guitars, one of which takes a brutally raw solo midway through. Tamrat Molla and the Venus Band's "Ber anbar Sebelewo" steals quietly in before erupting in celebratory handclaps so typical of Ethiopian and Tigray music. Behind it all are the usual assortment of cheap organs, jubilant horn charts and choked guitar and bass licks...

Read More and Listen in RootsWorld

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Music from the heart of the Batonga

Like those 70s-era Electra/Nonesuch LPs, Africa: Shona Mbira Music and Music of the Shona People, The Kankobela of the Batonga Vol. 1 features music played on the kankobela (commonly referred to as the thumb piano), and like those records, the music contained here is a thing of lullabye-like guilelessness. In fact, this disc can be seen as the long-awaited companion to the recordings South African ethnomusicologist Hugh Tracey made of the same music between 1952 and 1957. Those recordings have been reissued, along with another 20 discs worth of Tracey's material, as Kalimba and Kalumbu Songs by SWP.

The music here was recorded in 1996 and 2008 by label owner Michael Baird. Baird, who is Zambian-born, traveled to the region his birth country shares with Zimbabwe, the Zambezi valley, an area dominated by the finger-shaped Lake Kariba, in order to see what was left of the type of music he heard on those Tracey recordings half a century ago. And while the musical results are wonderful, the reality on the ground is depressing. About a decade after Tracey's initial visit, the Zambezi river was damned, making the lake and pushing the Batonga people away from what had been fertile ground. Several decades of displacement have not only taken their toll on these people's quality of life, it has caused the younger generations to turn away from the traditions, because, as far as the generations who've come of age since the lake was formed are concerned, those traditions now represent failure.

Read more and listen on RootsWorld

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mariem Hassan's 'the thorn' expands the Saharan 'blues' tradition

cd coverSaharaui singer Mariem Hassan releases her new CD this month, in collaboration with with the poet Lamin Allal and the guitarist, Lamgaifri Brahim. A highlight of the CD is the innovative title track “Shouka,” a cantata developed by using all scales and rhythms of the traditional vocal style, the haul.

A full review will be coming in RootsWorld soon.


More audio and Biography of the artist at cdRoots

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Omar Sosa's latest Ceremony: a big band exploration

world music cd coverThink what you may of the Grammys, but the Academy got one thing (partially) right this past year: Omar Sosa's 2009 recording Across the Divide: A Tale of Rhythm & Ancestry was nominated for Best Contemporary World Music Album. While Béla Fleck took home the statue, the nomination introduced many people to the music of Omar Sosa. For these new listeners, this is good timing. The most recent release by Omar Sosa, Ceremony, shows off his deep "world" credentials. Sosa, originally from Cuba, teamed up with Germany's NDR Bigband and Brazilian arranger Jaques Morelenbaum, and the result is a powerful recording of celebration and joy.

Read More and Hear a Song

Buy the CD

See more reviews of World Music on RootsWorld

Friday, February 19, 2010

Czech New Yorker gives a new spin on Latin music

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Marta Topferova
World Village (

I had to pull out her previous discs for some comparing and contrasting in order to be sure, and now I am: Marta Topferova has got her groove back. After her impressive 2005 debut La Marea, this young Czech woman who makes Latin music went a trifle soft, though still charming, with the next year's follow-up Flor Noctura. Now on Trova, a title presumably inspired by the rural Cuban style of the same name, she tops them both, trotting out a release that's got spunk, sensuality and, above all, authenticity to spare. The rumbling rhythm of the opening "Juligan" ("Hooligan") wastes no time in giving Topferova's voice some roughness to soften even as that voice has got you suspending more than a little disbelief that the person providing it is from Eastern Europe.

She's learned her lessons well, sounding something like Omara Portuondo one moment and Lila Downs or Mercedes Sosa the next. ("La Pradera" and "Madrugada" even put me in mind of the recently deceased Lhasa de Sela.) So is she merely seeking to imitate whatever Latin divas seem to strike her fancy? Not to my ears. Sounds to me like Topferova's absorbed a love for Latin music and seeks to pay tribute to it in the best way possible, not only in her breathy, precise vocal tones but also her playing of the four-string cuatro that guides the accompanying musicians (on tres, accordion, violin, bass and percussion) through songs recorded in the Czech Republic and touching down in Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and elsewhere in the lower regions of the West. I'd recommend her other two, but this is truly the Marta Topferova album to get, particularly if you haven't heard her before. - Tom Orr

CD and audio samples at cdRoots

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Panama! - Calypso, Guajira Jazz & Cumbia Típica on the Isthmus

Various Artists
Panama! 3: Calypso Panameño, Guajira Jazz & Cumbia Típica on the Isthmus 1960-75
Soundway Records
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The narrow waist of the Americas (as Pablo Neruda once put it) was a major transshipment point between the Atlantic and Pacific long before the Panama Canal's construction claimed the lives of thousands of black English-speaking Caribbean immigrant laborers in the early twentieth century. The presence of U.S. military forces and contractors, overseas radio broadcasting, international touring bands, imported recordings, foreign films, the constant migratory flow, and local ethnic and linguistic diversity made for a unique and vibrant popular music culture.

While much music has gone undocumented, plenty more mid-twentieth-century vinyl has been lost to tropical moisture, mold, dust, needle wear, neglect, technological change, and heedless discard. Of course, as an endless tsunami of shoddy reissues from Cuba to West Africa painfully confirms, any sham can stroll into a developing country recording vault and slap together a gushing, half-witted compilation destined rapidly to disappear into the second-hand dustbins.

A stellar exception is Soundway Records, which recently issued its third Panamanian volume from the 1960s and '70s, a reminder that this global crossroads has long nourished a vibrant musical culture in a society that, while open to all and sundry, sustains a unique sonic legacy. Hence, researcher Roberto Ernesto Gyemant's dogged dedication to salvaging and documenting the extraordinary Panamanian sounds of the period is all the more revelatory. This CD set reveals the dynamic character and openness to influences far and wide that give Panamanian popular music its distinctive character. The traces are all here, from Afro-Cuban folklore, Latin jazz, calypso, and cumbia, to North American jazz, funk, blues, and soul.

Something of the jubilant character of the music also inheres in the band names: Sir Jablonsky, Los Silvertones, Los Exagerados, Bush y Sus Magnificos (no relation to the disgraced U.S. political dynasty), Exciters, Freddy y Sus Afro Latinos, Lord Cobra and Pana-Afro-Sounds, Los Dinamicos, Papi Brandao y Sus Ejecutivos, The Soul Fantastics, Tamborito Swing, Los Mozambiques, and Los Revolucionarios, among many others.

On Volume 3, Cuban composer Guillermo Rodríguez Fiffe's familiar "Bilongo" is a swaying descarga with a tinny cumbia guitar by Papi Brandao y Sus Ejecutivos. Also in an Afro-Colombian vein, "El pajaro Zum-Zum" presents the accordion strains commonly associated with Panama's southern neighbor, a reminder that the country was a province of Colombia before the United States intervened to secure control of the terrain that yielded the Panama Canal. On "Moving-Grooving," Little Francisco Greaves conjures up the hovering spirit of James Brown, on a pounding rock-solid drums 'n' bass, handclap-grunt-and-scream foundation worthy of the Godfather of Soul. By the Silvertones, "Up Tight" is romping echo-chamber Latin boogaloo and soul with a dash of Gershwin (a la "Summertime") and a hint of Beny Moré-they don't make them like this anymore. Extending that now-rare groove, Orquesta Los Embajadores serves up "Shingalin en Panamá," 1967 Latin shing-a-ling like it was never heard in Spanish Harlem. Ralph Weeks and the Telecasters rework the Roger Graham-Don Peyton-Spencer Williams chestnut "I Ain't Got Nobody" (which received any number of boogaloo treatments in 1960s New York) into a descarga cum guajira titled, naturally, "Gua-Jazz." "Masters Are Gone," by Sir Valentino con Combo Esclavos Alegres ("The Happy Slaves Combo," ironically named), is a haunting minor-key string-band calypso with a hint of reggae and a shout out to Martin Luther King-an anthem of black cultural endurance.

In "Chombo pa' la tienda," by Soul Apollo and Frederick Clarke, the stereotypical chombo figure (local slang for black immigrant laborers from the English-speaking Caribbean) is sent to the store with his ill-tempered mother's call-and-response shopping list, enumerated in rapid-fire English patois, faithfully repeated to the Chinese shopkeeper in street Spanish. Back home, the black-humorous climax comes when Chombo attempts to withhold the change from his tipsy mother with a diversionary tale about how the boys on the street all ridicule her abusive alcoholic ways. Panama! 3 offers all this and more, in the unsentimental spirit of a place where, if nothing comes easy, nothing escapes the ribald optimism reflected in this sizzling (and superbly documented) slice of Panamanian cultural history.

Fittingly, compiler Gyemant dedicates Volume 3's 23 gritty nuggets to Lord Cobra (a.k.a. Wilfred Berry). With his Sugar Tone Band, "Partido Calpysonian" issues a triumphant challenge to Trinidad's calypso king Sparrow, wherein to no one's surprise, Lord Cobra ascends to rule, and Colón, Panamá emerges as the epicenter of the good-time universe. A rare discovery and revivalist's labor of love, these titles showcase Panama's once again brand-new bag, vital music from a bygone (but thankfully unforgotten) era. It just took a while for the rest of us to get the news. - Michael Stone

CD available from cdRoots

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Helping African artists 'crowdfund' recordings

New website helps unsigned African artists “crowdfund” music recordings

PRESS RELEASE launches an alternative way of producing African music. Unsigned artists record their music, funded by fans.

A selection of up and coming artists from Kenya, Senegal, Mali, Zimbabwe and South Africa were hand picked by a music panel consisting of music experts like Baaba Maal, Tony Allen, and Damon Albarn (Gorillaz, Blur). Music fans from all over the world listen to the selection of artists, pick their favorite(s) and chip in a minimum of $1 dollar to the recording of a professional EP. The music is then distributed to the fans who backed the artist and sold on all major online stores (incl. Amazon & iTunes). All the generated net income from music sales is shared equally between the artists and the music fans who supported the artist.

The website is a joint initiative by producers, artists, music promoters and managers based in West, East and South Africa, who believe in the future of African music. The website aims to unlock the underexposed source of African music talent to the world. The music panel selected a blend of traditional styles and New African Sounds. A new movement of talented African musicians and a a global team of passionate music promoters hope to create a new chapter in the rich musical history of Africa. Go see for yourself at

Monday, January 04, 2010

Lhasa de Sela passed away in her Montreal home, January 1st 2010

From an e-mail from Lhasa de Sela's manager, David-Etienne Savoie

In Montreal, Canada: Sunday January 3rd, 2010

The singer Lhasa de Sela passed away in her Montreal home on the night of January 1st 2010, just before midnight.

She succumbed to breast cancer after a twenty-one month long struggle, which she faced with courage and determination. Throughout this difficult period, she continued to touch the lives of those around her with her characteristic grace, beauty and humor. The strength of her will carried her once again into the recording studio, where she completed her latest album, followed by successful record launches in Montreal at the Théatre Corona and in Paris at the Théatre des Bouffes du Nord. Two concerts in Iceland in May were to be her last.

She was forced to cancel a long international tour scheduled for autumn 2009. A projected album of the songs of Victor Jara and Violeta Parra would also remain unrealized.

Lhasa de Sela was born on September 27, 1972, in Big Indian, New York. Lhasa's unusual childhood was marked by long periods of nomadic wandering through Mexico and the U.S., with her parents and sisters in the school bus which was their home. During this period the children improvised, both theatrically and musically, performing for their parents on a nightly basis. Lhasa grew up in a world imbued with artistic discovery, far from conventional culture.

Later Lhasa became the exceptional artist that the entire world discovered in 1997 with La Llorona, followed by 2003's The Living Road, and 2009's self-titled LHASA.

These three albums have sold over a million copies world-wide.

It is difficult to describe her unique voice and stage presence, which earned her iconic status in many countries throughout the world, but some Journalists have described it as passionate, sensual, untameable, tender, profound, troubling, enchanting, hypnotic, hushed, powerful, intense, a voice for all time.

Lhasa had a unique way of communicating with her public. She dared to open her heart on stage, allowing her audience to experience an intimate connection and communion with her. She profoundly affected and inspired many people throughout the cities and countries she visited.

An old friend of Lhasa's, Jules Beckman, offered these words:

"We have always heard something ancestral coming through her. She has always spoken from the threshold between the worlds, outside of time. She has always sung of human tragedy and triumph, estrangement and seeking with a Witness's wisdom. She has placed her life at the feet of the Unseen."

Lhasa leaves behind her partner Ryan, her parents Alejandro and Alexandra, her step-mother Marybeth, her 9 brothers and sisters (Gabriela, Samantha, Ayin, Sky, Miriam, Alex, Ben, Mischa and Eden), her 16 nieces and nephews, her cat Isaan, and countless friends, musicians, and colleagues who have accompanied her throughout her career, not to mention her innumerable admirers throughout the world.

Her family and close friends were able to mourn peacefully during the last two days, and greatly appreciated this meaningful period of quiet intimacy. Funeral and services will be held privately.

It has snowed more than 40 hours in Montreal since Lhasa's departure.

David-Etienne Savoie, Lhasaʼs manager
On behalf of family and friends
* We will not be giving any interviews but we will be very happy to receive your emails and testimonies

An older interview with the artist