Author Archive

The Songlines ‘Power of Music’ playlist on Spotify and Apple Music

Posted on January 27th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

POWER OF MUSIC

Trump’s to blame. Or at least, he’s one of the reasons why we’re devoting our latest issue to the Power of Music and its ability to unite rather than divide people. Here are some of the revolutionary tracks you can read about in the issue, including Bob Marley and The Wailers, Bob Dylan, Smockey, Archie Roach, Moddi, Fela Kuti and Woody Guthrie. The playlist is available on both Spotify and Apple Music.

 

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India: discover the music

Posted on December 6th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

discover-india

This is the Songlines guide to Indian music today, with in-depth features and revealing interviews with many of the most exciting musicians of our time, including Zakir Hussain, Kaushiki Chakrabarty, Jyoti Hegde and more…

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zakir

The way Zakir Hussain tells it, his musical destiny was settled when he was just two days old. “I was brought home from the hospital and the tradition is that the son is handed to the father, and then the father has to recite a prayer in his son’s ear, putting him on his way,” he says. “My father, instead of reciting prayer, sang rhythms in my ear. And my mother was very upset and said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And he said: ‘Because this is my prayer.’”

Read the article: Zakir Hussain – a beginner’s guide

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essential-10-indian-vocalists

Jahnavi Harrison selects Indian vocalists who have all performed at the Darbar Festival over the last decade

Read the article: Essential 10: Indian vocalists

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shye-ben

Simon Broughton speaks to Shye Ben Tzur about his qawwali-Hebrew collaboration with The Rajasthan Express and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood

Read the article: Shye Ben Tzur – devoted to India

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kaushiki

Khayal singer Kaushiki Chakrabarty speaks to Jameela Siddiqi about her demanding yet expressive North Indian classical vocal style and how she got her remarkable start in this mainly masculine genre

Read the article: Kaushiki Chakrabarty – youthful imagination

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amardeep

Amardeep Dhillon wishes English-language music sites would stop exoticising India’s music scene, boiling it down to Bollywood’s Top 40

Read the article: Soapbox – Indian music, like any other, should be considered on its own merits

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jyoti-hegde

Jyoti Hegde, the world’s only female rudra veena player, speaks to Jameela Siddiqi about her love affair with this Indian string instrument

Read the article: Jyoti Hegde – Shiva’s lute

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postcode-from-majuli

Georgie Pope visits the drumming, dancing and singing monks in a monastery of Assam, north-east India

Read the article: Postcard from Majuli, Assam

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Postcard from Majuli, Assam

Posted on December 6th, 2016 in Recent posts by .

postcode-from-majuli

Georgie Pope visits the drumming, dancing and singing monks in a monastery of Assam, north-east India

On my first evening on Majuli Island in the Brahmaputra river, I find the monastery in complete darkness. It’s yet another ‘load-shedding,’ a government-sanctioned power cut frequently experienced in India’s rural areas, and I have to use the light on my mobile phone to guide me. At the monastery gate, I slip off my shoes and walk barefoot towards the sound of the nagara drum, which announces the start of evening worship.

Inside the namghar – the monastery temple – more than 50 monks are assembled. A single light bulb illuminates the large hall, powered by an inverter. Aged between four and 90 years old, the monks – all male – are dressed in white dhotis, shirts and pointed turbans. They organise themselves into two groups. The gayans (singers) stand shoulder to shoulder, facing the holy book on its altar at the east end of the hall. Swaying a little, marking the beat gently with large cymbals in unison, they sing a slow borgeet invoking the various names of Vishnu: Ram, Hari, Krishna. The bayans (dancing drummers) kneel side-on to the singers, with their faces also turned towards the book. Each carry a khol, a long twin-faced drum, supported by a length of cloth slung diagonally across the back. They begin to play a complex rhythm, ringing out in harmony with the gayans. After 20 minutes, they rise up, stepping and swaying in formation, their hands forming elegant shapes as they fly. Their movements become swifter and more energetic, until, after more than an hour of dancing, they’re leaping and rolling with the drums. The sound grows louder and the gayans raise their voices in a crescendo of devotion that vibrates the hall.

“The sound grows louder in a crescendo of devotion that vibrates the hall”

 

I’m in Uttar Kamalabari Satra in Assam, north-east India, during the month of Bhadra (mid-August to mid-September), when the monastery’s inmates perform all month long in honour of their founder gurus. They are Neo-Vaishnavites, who worship the Hindu god Vishnu in his various avatars through music, dance and drama. Their sect traces its origins to the 16th-century poet-saint reformer Sankaradeva who is said to have believed that chanting the name of God and performing episodes from his life were far more effective acts of devotion than prayer, sacrifice or sermonising.

In Assam a number of dancers, scholars and historians campaigned for more than 40 years to gain recognition from the government that the dance forms of Assam’s Satra (monasteries) were considered to be ‘classical.’ On November 15 2000, they won, and Sattriya took its place in the Indian dance hall of fame, alongside Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Odissi and the like. Parties were thrown, the news was splashed across the headlines, and each year a three-day festival is held in Assam’s capital to celebrate. A lot of fuss, it might seem, over a genre label.

Recognition has brought pride to the state and performance opportunities for the monks, within and beyond India, as well as government-sponsored scholarships, workshops, teaching and research positions, affording opportunities to expand and deepen the monastic repertoire. But Sattriya’s classical status has been a double-edged sword.

In their quest, the monastic dances have started to change. They have incorporated ‘classical’ elements, such as abhinaya (mimed gesture), tabla (drums) and even put their exercise regime (mati akhara) to music, to make it attractive to audiences. A search for ‘Sattriya dance’ on Google Images will give you a clue. Instead of the dhoti-clad monks, khol drums, or sacred performances before holy books I saw in Majuli, the web is dominated with images of solo female dancers, sporting recently designed costumes and performing on proscenium stages. Sattriya has started to look like all the other classical dances. The term has brought fame and opportunities, but at what price? Must India’s art forms homogenise in order to gain funding and opportunities abroad? Seeing the strength and beauty of the performances in the monastery of Uttar Kamalabari, I can only hope the monks will be able to resist the forces of bureaucracy, and retain artistic control over their dances.

India: discover the music

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The 50 Greatest World Music Albums of the Last Five Years (Part 4)

Posted on August 23rd, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .

Editor Jo Frost and editor-in-chief Simon Broughton choose their favourite albums from 2011…

Anda-Union--The-Wind-Horse

Anda Union

The Wind Horse

(Hohhot Records)

Undoubtedly one of the most talked about bands at WOMAD 2011, this group of throat-singing, horse head fiddle players are from Inner Mongolia, China. Musically, there are similarities with the Tuvan group Huun Huur Tu, but with the addition of two excellent female singers. Their highly evocative music conjures up impressions of vast expanses of sparsely populated grasslands, as depicted in a documentary about the band recently shown at the London Film Festival. This album is definitely one for equine fans – the whinnying sounds they make on ‘Galloping Horses’ is quite amazing. JF

 

Aurelio--Laru-Beya

Aurelio

Laru Beya

(Real World)

It’s thanks to the late Belizean singer Andy Palacio that the culture and music of the Central American Garifuna people is known internationally. Aurelio Martinez dedicates this album to his friend and mentor, with a particularly beautiful song written in Palacio’s honour, ‘Wamada’. In addition to the drum and percussion heavy Garifuna rhythms, there are contributions from Youssou N’Dour and Orchestra Baobab – a result of Aurelio’s Rolex Mentor-Protégé initiative with Youssou back in 2007 [see #64]. These West African vocal additions were recorded on one of Aurelio’s trips to Dakar, tracing the roots of his ancestors – he describes this album as ‘a homecoming.’ Palacio’s Garifuna legacy is in safe hands with Aurelio. JF

 

 

Balkan-Brass-Battle

Boban & Marko Marković Orkestar and Fanfare Ciocărlia

Balkan Brass Battle

(Asphalt Tango)

The story is a great one – the two top Gypsy bands in the Balkans go head to head. Boban and Marko Marković, the kings of Balkan brass from the ‘Trubacka Republika’ (Trumpet Republic) of Serbia versus Fanfare Ciocărlia, the peasant upstarts, from Romania. Each band does a few of their own tunes, they each do a version of Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’ and they do four tracks together. A gristly gobbet of the best of Balkan brass. SB

 

Blind-Note

Blind Note

Blind Note

(Muziekpublique)

It’s the haunting sound of the Armenian duduk on the opening track ‘Chiraki Par’ that initially got me hooked. Then there’s the fact that the musicians, from Armenia, Turkey, Mexico, Senegal and Madagascar, all now based in Belgium, recorded the album in aid of a Belgian NGO, Light for the World, who raise money for blind children in Africa. But regardless of the good cause, it’s the simplicity and sensitivity of the music they’ve created that makes this album so noteworthy. Interestingly, Muziekpublique only release one or two albums a year – their main work is putting on concerts and music classes in a small venue in Brussels. JF

 

Carminho--Fado

Carminho

Fado

(EMI Portugal)

Every young fado singer has got to market themselves as the new voice of fado. But Carminho is the one to watch. She has a versatile intimacy in her voice, as if she’s talking to you personally, and some of the lyrics she’s written herself, which give songs like ‘Nunca é Silêncio Vão’ a special intensity. Featuring several fine Portuguese guitar players, this CD represents a spectacular debut with the opening ‘Escrevi teu Nome no Vento’ a particular highlight with a gorgeous melody and delivery. SB

 

 

Cecil-Sharp-Project

Cecil Sharp Project

Cecil Sharp Project

(EFDSS/Shrewsbury Folk Festival)

So often, well-intended collaborative ‘projects’ look great on paper but don’t work in practice, seeming forced and lacking in real musical connection. Not so with this project, which I was privileged to witness in action when the eight musicians spent a week together coming up with the songs for a series of concerts and album [see #78]. The idea is simple enough – putting into song the experiences of English folk collector Cecil Sharp during his trip to Appalachia. It’s the quality of the musicianship and their obvious enjoyment in working and playing together that is striking, particularly on tracks such as ‘The Great Divide’ and ‘The Ghost of Songs’. JF

 

Dawda-Jobarteh--Northern-Light-Gambian-Night

Dawda Jobarteh

Northern Light Gambian Night

(Sterns)

For me the kora is the greatest of African instruments, providing a sublime accompaniment or as a marvellous solo instrument in its own right. Dawda Jobarteh comes from one of the great griot dynasties in the Gambia and, now living in Denmark, he’s produced this album in which he does both with guitarist Preben Carlsen and lots of guest musicians. One of the loveliest tracks, ‘Nkanakele’, features South Indian flute player Shashank and apparently the wild guitar on ‘Dinding Do’ is actually Dawda Jobarteh on electric kora. A great debut album from an impressive new artist and it closes with a stately duet with the supreme kora maestro Toumani Diabaté. SB

 

Anoushka-Shankar--Traveller

Anoushka Shankar

Traveller

(Deutsche Grammophon)

The meeting of Indian music and flamenco isn’t new, but this is one of the best products of that fusion. Sitar player Anoushka Shankar (daughter of Ravi) worked with guitarist and (Grammy-award winning) producer Javier Limón on an album that really does chart a musical and emotional journey, if not a geographical one. There are great vocals from Buika, Duquende and Sandra Carrasco on the flamenco side and Shubha Mudgal and Sanjeev Chimmalgi on the Indian side and spectacular sitar duets from Anoushka and flamenco pianist Pedro Ricardo Miño and flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela. An exuberant recording which is one of the highlights of the year. SB

 

 

Tamburising

Söndörgő

Tamburising

(World Village)

Söndörgő – hard to say, but easy to listen to – are a fabulous young band from Hungary. They have now started to make an international impact and this CD and their spectacular live shows are the reason. On delicate plucked tamburas, they play the music of the South Slav minorities in Hungary – virtuoso dance tunes that are fiery, but delicate. This CD, featuring Gypsy tambura master József Kovács, from whom they’ve learned many of their tunes, is a great calling card with a cross section of their repertoire as played in the southern city of Mohács. In addition to the tambura repertoire they play some great Macedonian tunes – notably the popular ‘Zajdi, Zajdi’ with their secret weapon, fabulous vocalist Kátya Tompos. SB

 

Abigail-Washburn--City-of-Refuge

Abigail Washburn

City of Refuge

(Rounder)

To describe Abigail Washburn as a singer-songwriter and banjo player seems woefully inadequate when you realise this is a woman who has become an unofficial US goodwill ambassador to China (she speaks and sings in Chinese). The illustrative album artwork, depicting a multitude of exotic-looking places and faces, is a good indication of what you’re going to hear. It’s an enchanting treasure trove of musical treats, featuring a host of instruments, from double bass, viola, guzheng (zither) and the beautiful yet rarely heard cello banjo (on ‘Bring Me My Queen’). JF

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