The editor's choice selection of the 10 best new releases, a track from each album appears on the issue's CD covermount.
Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara
Tell No Lies
Real World Records
Even though London-born Justin Adams and Gambia’s Juldeh Camara are now no spring chickens, there was something boisterously affirmative about their first collaborative effort, Soul Science. It was as explosive a statement of intent as the first Clash album. This was a territory where timeless blues and rock riffs could collide ecstatically with timeless African griot rhythms and melodies. No one before had made the meeting of these two worlds seem so inevitable, natural and just such damned good fun. So where does that leave us with the traditionally ‘difficult’ second album?
Well, they were hardly going to blow it after such an auspicious start now, were they? The stars of the show are still Adams’ growling, earthy guitar and Camara’s soaring ritti (single-string fiddle). On the album’s opener ‘Keli Keli’, Adams once again makes use of his favourite Bo Diddley rhythm (which, of course, has its routes in Africa anyway) and shares lead vocal duties with Camara. This feels like the most fully formed song the two have written together and there are some sweet call-and-response female vocals which just add to its charm. From there on, there’s more light and shade than on Soul Science, with a tangential side-step into Cuban music (‘Banjul Girls’) along with the more familiar trudges through Muddy Waters (so to speak). Highly impressive stuff.
Peyoti for President
Rising Tide of Conformity
Sordid Soup Records
From the first few ‘Firestarter’-like bars of the opener, ‘Take A Leap’, which swerves sharply through a musical slalom of ticking clocks, crowd noises, insistent flamenco, staccato salsa and echoey male vocals about revolution and fighting the system, Peyoti for President has you sitting up, hair on end, and taking notice. Manu Chao did; the rabble-rousing London collective ended up supporting their hero on his recent sell-out UK tour as a result.
Initially envisioned by Anglo-Italian singer Pietro DiMascio and Anglo-Brazilian percussionist Ulisses Bezerra, Peyoti for President cut and paste together pop, politics, sound effects and the sounds of multicultural London on this quite stunning debut. Tracks like the carnivalesque ‘We The People’ sweeten messages such as ‘Commodity, pathology and craven anti-ology/Competing in a partnership of broken ideology’ with whistles and smooth bossa touches; while ‘No Me Siento Malo’ is a rollicking tale of unrequited love that has a chugging party vibe.
DiMascio’s voice is compelling: rich, resonant and beautifully enunciated. He is something of a standard bearer for a musically savvy generation of party-loving activists – he’s up there with the likes of revered British Asian percussionist Dinesh, erstwhile Natacha Atlas ney player Louai Alhenawi and a wealth of musicians from Australia and India to Jamaica and Spain. ‘Protest the rising tide of conformity’ ordered Bob Dylan and Joan Baez in 1964. Forty-odd years later, with consumerism running riot, Peyoti for President are still pulling the plug out.
Ojos de Brujo
Eight artists appear in the press photo for Ojos de Brujo’s fourth studio album in ten years, but take a peek at the list of musicians at the back of the book tucked into the deluxe edition’s very fancy gatefold sleeve and you’ll count 30 or so guests. Everyone, it seems, is welcome to the party, and any sound can be teased into Ojos’ particular brand of fusion. As with previous albums, there’s funk, hip-hop, Andalusian tango, salsa, and a fair bit of scratching, as well as the pulsating rumba catalana that is the backbone of the music. But amid the rippling beats and passionate flourishes are some beautiful minor notes and jazzy phrasing. It’s tempting to perceive a newly discovered mature, reflective – but never exactly serene – element to Marina Abad’s songwriting. As ever, however, her voice is plaintive but gutsy, and her lyrics about love and heartache, street life, women, war and global warming guide all the musicians and arrangements. Some of the collaborations are intriguing: Los Van Van pianist Roberto Carcassés adds an ineffable Cuban plinkiness to ‘Busca Lo Bueno’; another Cuban, rapper Kumar, helps out with vocals on ‘Una Verdad Incómoda’. Ojos’ cajón and tabla maestro Xavi Turull used to work with Amalgama, a band associated with the Karnataka College of Percussion in Bangalore, and the Barça-bhangra track ‘Tantas Flores’ introduces some of his old mates.
Still streetwise and sassy, still unwilling to fit into any pigeonholes, and still very Catalan indeed, Ojos de Brujo continue to explore new avenues of sound and influence. Aocaná is the Caló (a Spanish Romani tongue) for new and, while the band’s sound and vision is now familiar to us, this disc nevertheless repays repeated listens and is as engaging and enthralling as anything they’ve done before. Ojos de Brujo are proven leaders of the Spanish/Catalan mestizo music scene. With their increasingly sophisticated melding of musical ideas, they are going to be hard to challenge.
Värttinä blew open the world music scene in the early 1990s, placing both Finland and its female musicians firmly on the musical map. They may have had a backline of four men, but their six vocalists, coupled with their witty re-workings of ancient Finnish-Ugrian village songs and laments, gave them a strong feminist potency. They helped re-draw the world music map while back home their reinvention of tradition captivated the whole country.
Twenty-five years on from their founding by the feisty Kaasinen sisters from Rääkkylä, Värttinä remain a force to be reckoned with, with a slew of exciting and original discs having brought them international fame, and the music for the theatrical version of Lord of the Rings with soundtrack composer AR Rahman under their belt. While the arrangements here show greater sophistication over time, their trademark vibrant, spikey and occasionally unsettling vocals were there from the start, as were their potent instrumental sound and vital rhythms; they’ve consistently exuded an exhilarating energy. This is a thoroughly sourced overview, garnered from 12 albums plus live and previously unreleased tracks. Brilliantly sequenced, it moves from their first songs in the mid-80s as a 19-piece village group to the more recent ‘Riena’ (Anathema) from Miero. Congratulations Värttinä: may the next 25 years be as fruitful.
A Hawk & A Hacksaw
For a few years, A Hawk & A Hacksaw were charming and frustrating in equal measure. The duo of Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost played instrumental tunes with nods to Eastern European folk, but you always felt you’d be better off listening to the real thing. With Délivrance, however, the real thing is what you get. Or, at least, as close to it as these two itinerants want to be. Recorded in Budapest, it’s the result of months spent playing and living with Hungarian musicians. Ten guests feature, many of them members of the Hun Hangár Ensemble. The opener, ‘Foni Tu Argile’, is a traditional Greek tune given an epic, panoramic treatment with irresistibly propulsive rolls of brass and strings. Quite a scene-setter, it’s followed by a nimble caper for hammered dulcimer and vocals called ‘Kertész’, written by Barnes. Just as the cheeky dance tunes are starting to sound a little repetitive, the alarmingly romantic strings of ‘Raggle Taggle’ wheedle in, sounding artfully distressed but no less beautiful for it.
For all the pair’s immersion in Hungarian music-making, Délivrance, is not an album for purists. The intriguingly titled ‘Vasalisa Carries A Flaming Skull Though the Forest’ features what sounds like violin strings being scraped by the metal part of the bow; its melody and arrangement recall New Orleans funeral marches as much as East European village brass bands. The album’s closer, ‘Lassú’, has a melody that sounds wistfully Irish-American, despite its Hungarian origins, and has a bleariness to the instrumentation that recalls the Velvet Underground. Not only have A Hawk & A Hacksaw built themselves a new home, they’ve settled in comfortably and organised one hell of a street party.
Brazil is vast – as big as Australia, Spain and France combined. Large enough to spawn a whole slew of road movies and, so it would appear, road albums too. Otto’s Sem Gravidade is one example, as is this gorgeous CD, born from a journey Beto Villares undertook to research music for a documentary. Setting the mood for the musical voyage he wishes to share with us, he reels off names of Brazilian cities. ‘Teresina, Petrolina, Horizonte…’ he sings on the opening track, accompanied by Fernanda Takai of Pato Fu. ‘Meio Dia em Macapá’ recalls the midday heat in Amapa’s capital; ‘Redentor’ remembers Rio; and ‘África Lá’ hymns the Afro-Brazilian heart of the north-east.
The overall style recalls CéU’s ‘Malemolência’ – spacey, clubby and drifty, with echoes of bossa nova, samba, forró and baião picked up with an eclectic, post-genre ear to the world. There are plenty of guests on board. Alongside Villares’ own baritone, there’s CéU’s sweet huskiness, the MPB touch of Zelia Duncan of (new) Os Mutantes, a rapping Rappin’ Hood and the rich contralto of Anelis Assumpção. The latter’s seductive, pure voice closes the album with perhaps the strongest track, ‘Lume’. She’s the daughter of the founder of the São Paulo avant-garde, Itamar Assumpção, and his musical stamp is felt all over the CD – from the tight three-point harmony and offbeat bass of ‘Nó Dend’água’ to the quirky rhythms of the vocal lines in ‘Medo’.
This is a wonderful debut: modern yet rooted in traditional Brazil, richer and more detailed on every listen.
Beyond The Forest
March Hare Music
The latest project from African-Celtic fusion maestros Baka Beyond sees them once again in the Cameroonian rainforest teamed up with the Pygmy extended family band Baka Gbiné. The previous collaboration, Gati Bongo, was a stunning recording of acoustic guitar and shuffling percussion adorned by the charming and very distinctive yodeling vocals characteristic of the Baka hunter-gatherer tribe. On that last album, Baka Beyond leader Martin Cradick recorded predominantly male members of the Baka group. This new project focuses on the female vocalists. Cradick’s instrumental involvement this time is far more forceful, making Beyond The Forest a markedly more commercial project than Gati Bongo. He has replaced some of the voices with electric guitar and bass, and in doing so has transformed the forest tradition into a remarkably enjoyable world music fusion. At times the Celtic influence threatens to turn it into something a little too eclectic: the uilleann pipes, violin, and Gaelic singing are all well performed but they drift slightly too far from the ethos of the Baka music. But that’s not to say that Cradick’s own instrumental contributions don’t work well – his electric guitar explorations sound totally appropriate alongside the ethereal vocal yodels. There are distinct suggestions of the Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, although most world music pundits would point the finger directly towards the electric guitar stylings of Mali and Guinea.
Beyond The Forest deserves the same sort of critical acclaim that the groundbreaking 1993 Spirit of the Forest album received. This is a spectacular episode in a thoroughly worthwhile ongoing project.
Friends of Bamboute 20th Anniversary Edition
Simon Broughton’s You Should Have Been There review in issue #59 neatly evokes how El Tanbura – a collective of musicians, dancers and philosophers – have become something of an institution, both in their native Egypt and abroad. Since the late 1980s, their concerts and recordings have done much to revive music from the Port Said area and, hearing the vital performances on Friends of Bamboute, it’s clear that easeful retirement is still some way off. Much of the music they play had all but disappeared by the 70s and, without the pioneering work done by founder and guiding light, Zakaria Ibrahim, these songs would now be dim memories in old men’s minds, or scratchy cylinders in an ethnology museum. What we hear instead are confidently played arrangements of traditional music that remain true to their muscular origins, and which make for thoroughly enjoyable listening.
The choice of sacred and profane songs reflects the diverse culture of the Port Said area, including some that grew out of an early system of hand semaphore used by merchants to signal between ships. We’re also presented with a colourful cast of singers, including notorious card shark Abu Adel singing ‘Heela, Heela’, a fisherman’s shanty subtly laced with political protest from the days of the British occupation. The understated star of the group’s recordings is always the enchanting little simsimiyya (lyre) that, by turns, offers shimmering accompaniment to a lovelorn lament or vibrantly leads a dance tune. Friends of Bamboute is a fitting tribute to the first 20 years of El Tanbura: the antidote to tourist folklore troupes.
Kasse Mady Diabaté
Manden Djeli Kan
Kasse Mady Diabaté has been associated with much of the best music to come out of Mali in recent years. His voice was heard in Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra and on Bassekou Kouyaté’s award-winning Segu Blue, and he appeared last year as part of Damon Albarn’s Africa Express. Before that, he was heard on the celebrated Taj Mahal/Toumani Diabaté collaboration Kulanjan and as part of the groundbreaking Songhai fusions. Yet despite possessing a thrilling voice that probably takes second place only to Salif Keita among Mali’s greatest male singers, a career that spans four decades and a rare capacity to combine the best of Mande tradition with popular contemporary styles, solo albums from him have been something of a rarity. Manden Djeli Kan (The Voice of the Mande Griot) is only his fourth solo recording and his first since the Lucy Durán-produced Kasse Kassi in 2002. Produced on this occasion by Jean Lamoot and Cheikh Tidiane Seck, it’s a near faultless primer in Malian styles, mixing traditional songs with his own compositions backed by a cast of Mande all-stars drawn from the Symmetric Orchestra and Keita’s band.
In particular, the kora of Toumani Diabaté, the balafon virtuoso Lassana Diabaté and ngoni maestro Moriba Koita make notable contributions. But their mesh of ancient strings is really there to provide a suitably classy accompaniment for Kasse Mady’s regal and dignified singing. If his voice doesn’t quite soar with the soulful abandon of Keita, at 60 years old he still possesses an instrument of wonderful dexterity, one that combines subtle emotional power with perfect control, and one capable of infinite nuance and expression.
The first few seconds of this disc should be enough to convince anyone that the Cretan lyra isn’t a mere folk fiddle, but a profound and sophisticated instrument of the eastern Mediterranean. Petrakis begins with a powerful lyra solo over a drone bass. The notes are delicately inflected from the warm low register up to the ringing treble. The way the strings are stopped with a touch of the fingernails, rather than the fingers, gives the lyra a delicate, nasal tone. After his introduction the band joins in with an eclectic range of instruments – Bulgarian bagpipes, guitar, cello, hurdy-gurdy, ney flute and distinctive tombak drum from percussionist Bijan Chemirani.
It was Ross Daly who pioneered the refined art of lyra playing for the concert platform, with his interest in modal styles of music from South Asia and the Middle East. Stelios Petrakis, born in Crete in 1975, studied with Daly and plays in his Labyrinth ensemble. He is also a lyra maker and his specially developed model with 22 sympathetic strings is the instrument of choice for many lyra players, including Daly. Its ringing tone contributes much to the quality of this disc.
In addition to the substantial opening track, there’s much gorgeous music here – the dreamy ney and lyra solos in ‘Orion and Pleione’, the wild ‘Syrtos Dance’ and a haunting lullaby sung by Maria Simoglou. An album of the same calibre as Ross Daly’s Beyond the Horizon (Seistron), this is a landmark recording of Cretan lyra music.