Archive for ‘Reviews’
Words by Max Reinhardt
An apt title indeed! Owiny Sigoma Band have aimed high and stolen the electronic Afro-roots crown. Their music has become a revelatory fusion, bringing together the Kenyan Luo tradition and the melting pot of London’s club scene, making the walls shake in any language. The project started when Jesse Hackett and others from the electronic hip-hop/soul collective Elmore Judd visited Kenya at the invitation of an NGO promoting local musicians. They started playing with Joseph Nyamungu, a vocalist and nyatiti (eight-stringed lyre) player, and Charles Owoko, a Luo drummer. Last time around they recorded in Nairobi. But for this second album, the Luo musicians joined their partners and recorded in London. The result will undoubtedly prove to be one of the albums of the year.
It’s not just the thudding sub-bass and the skittering electronics that propel the music. It’s the influence of the many cosmopolitan styles and rhythms of the streets and clubs of London. You’ll hear a Shangaan electro influence in the rhythms, a dubstep feel in the bass lines, Congolese stylings in the guitars, an indie feel in some of the melodies and a London jazz/soul vibe to some of the vocal tracks. Not to forget, of course, the power of Nyamungu’s mighty voice, while the Luo rhythms really ground the grooves. Truly outstanding.
TRACK TO TRY: Lucas Malore
(On Brownswood Recordings)
Words by Peter Adjaye
The ninth album by Femi Kuti, son of the legendary Fela, sees him retain his crown as the true messenger of the spirit of Afro-beat. It is not only filled with fantastically sharp horn arrangements and deft fast-paced rhythms but also enriched with conscious on-point lyrics. Performed live by the new youthful line-up of his truly talented band Positive Force, it sees Femi playing the trumpet as well as the saxophone. The opening track, ‘Nothing to Show for It’, kicks off proceedings in style with an infectious bass line and a rolling organ, topped off with a full-bodied horn section that sets the scene perfectly.
At present, Afro-beat is experiencing a strong global revival, as this album demonstrates on tracks such as ‘The World is Changing’, sung in straight English. A true classic of the genre, with flying guitar licks and powerful lyrics that resonate with indignation about what’s happening around the world in these times of defeated economies and corruption. Another beauty comes in the shape of ‘No Place for My Dream’: an Afro-beat gem with crunchy guitars driving the melody’s moving chord changes. ‘Na So Wee See Am’ is a true carnival-flavoured riot that makes you want to jump up high, thanks to its insistent punch and pulsating rhythms. People get ready; the time has come to dance and listen to the truth.
TRACK TO TRY: The World is Changing
(On Wrasse Records)
Words by Simon Broughton
Radiant, original and beautifully constructed, Panagia is Stephan Micus’ 20th album, which is an achievement in itself. In its own way it is a quiet masterpiece. The word panagia refers to the Virgin Mary in the Greek Orthodox church, and the album includes six settings of Byzantine hymns to the Virgin (although Micus says it’s dedicated to ‘the female energy that is everywhere in the world’).
The opening and closing hymns are sung to an accompaniment of Bavarian zither, but the others are written for between ten and 22 voices, all multi-tracked by Micus. ‘I Praise You, Sacred Mother’, is performed by 20 voices and strongly influenced by Georgian polyphony. In his music, Micus isn’t interested in imitating traditional music, but creating new sounds.
On Panagia the vocal tracks alternate with instrumental ones, mainly for string instruments that he’s collected on travels around the world: plucked zither, 14-string guitar and Chitrali sitar (from Chitral, western Pakistan), and bowed Indian dilruba and sattar from the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Often the bowed instruments sing troubadour-like melodies over the accompaniment of plucked strings. At other times the music sounds ritualistic with gongs and bells. It harks back to a previous album, Athos (1994), which also used Byzantine texts, but predominantly featured wind instruments. The music is predominantly slow and contemplative and has the otherworldly beauty of John Tavener or Arvo Pärt, although Micus’ music could only really have been composed and played by the man himself.
TRACK TO TRY: You are the Life-Giving Rain
(On ECM Records)
Words by Rolf Killius
Whoever still thinks of ‘fusion’ in the context of Indian music as a term of abuse will have to change their opinion after listening to this varied and gripping album. Try, for instance, track seven, set to the North Indian ‘Raga Pillu’, which shows an exciting interplay between two slide-guitar players representing different musical cultures: the Kolkata-based Debashish Bhattacharya, trained in North Indian Hindustani art music, also the composer of this album, and the American bluegrass player Jerry Douglas. This dance-like piece expresses indeed the meaning of this raga: love, joy and happiness. As does the whole album, in fact.
On one 16-minute track Bhattacharya interacts with the jazz-rock legend John McLaughlin. In a transoceanic collaboration, the 70-year-old jazz veteran demonstrates his deep knowledge of Indian melodic structure and jazz improvisation while Bhattacharya adds his intricate slide-guitar lines. Mainak Nag Chowdhury – probably the best Indian bassist there is – and Jeff Sipe on drums add a more funky nuance to the guitar playing. There are two teardrops only: one might wish for more in-depth and lengthy interactions between the Bengali slide-guitar player and some of his international guests. Also, the voices singing above the instrumental pieces remind you too often of several Indian recordings wherein temple chanting meets cheesy pop.
TRACK TO TRY: JD2 Pillusion
(On Riverboat Records)