Posts Tagged ‘afro celt sound system’

Johnny Kalsi: a beginner’s guide

Posted on July 18th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

Johnny-Kalsi-Tom-Oldham-Free1

Jim Hickson reflects on the career of the world’s most famous – and busiest – dhol player

There are few people as synonymous with their instrument as Johnny Kalsi is with the Punjabi double-sided barrel drum, the dhol. The drum lends bhangra music its distinctive sound and Kalsi has probably done more for this amazing instrument’s popularity around the world than anyone. It’s clear that there’s never enough music for Johnny Kalsi: he’s been involved with almost every world fusion group you could mention. If you’ve attended any sort of world or folk music festival in the UK, it’s likely that you’ve seen him do his stuff.

Born in Leeds and raised in London, Kalsi didn’t come from a musical family. But raised Sikh, songs and music were still part of daily life, from hymns and prayers to readings from the holy book. This exposure led him to learn tabla at age seven (“all the lads do at that age”) and music became a passion when he took up the drum kit in high school. The dhol came at 14 when he auditioned for a local bhangra band on tabla – they decided they wanted a dhol instead, so he tried it out and it stuck. By this point, it was obvious that Kalsi was something special, his experiences and skills from tabla and drum kit helping him develop a unique approach to the drum. Within two years he was touring the world as a member of the biggest bhangra group at the time, Alaap.

From that point, Kalsi has blasted his dhol on the albums and stages of so many legends. Starting with Alaap, he was also there for the heydays of Fun-Da-Mental and Transglobal Undergound in the 90s. On the same touring circuit as these groups were the Afro Celt Sound System (ACSS), fresh from the success of their debut album. After many shared bills and becoming friends on- and off-stage, ACSS asked Kalsi to play a few beats on their second album. He ended up contributing more than that – his dhol became an important aspect of the Afro Celt sound almost immediately, and he joined their ranks for good. He even took a step to the fore in 2016; since they reformed, Kalsi’s drum has shaped the band’s whole sound. When ACSS frontman Simon Emmerson embarked on a mission to create folk music to reflect the England of today, with its many international influences, Kalsi was of course natural for the project. That became The Imagined Village and was hailed as one of the sparks of the latest English folk revival. Again, Kalsi’s sound was key.

And, as if being a crucial member and sonic element of many of the most forward-thinking fusion groups of the last 25 years was not enough, he’s also taken part in seemingly endless collaborations with international artists. From classic favourites like Peter Gabriel, Khaled, Dimi Mint Abba and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, to more unexpected artists such as Avril Lavigne, the Kaiser Chiefs and Nelly Furtado, Kalsi’s dhol has enlivened hundreds of recordings and concerts.

But when he gets talking about his work, it’s obvious what Kalsi considers his real baby: The Dhol Foundation (TDF). First and foremost, TDF is a school for kids to learn the instrument, but they’re also an internationally touring and recording band, with four albums under their belt and another coming out this June.

It all started when he was touring with Alaap, being approached every night by people asking for lessons. He always said no, until he was convinced to make a one-off workshop to a couple of people in Slough. They persuaded him to come back and there were six students. “By the time that happened, it was too much for me to look back. And that was The Dhol Foundation.” From that base, the project grew into the first ever institute of dhol, and with it, Kalsi created the first dhol-teaching syllabus, The Dhol Bible. His passion and excitement for the school is obvious. “People are teaching with that bible all over the country, and I’m quite proud of that! That bit was my fault.” At its peak, there were 14 schools and 700 members. As with anything that grows, it makes branches: smaller groups formed and broke off, and from these more groups still. Now there are hundreds of schools around the world.

When they perform in public, TDF are second-to-none. Their live band is the ‘A-team,’ those that have progressed through the ranks of the school to professional standard. This way, they are ever-fluctuating, featuring up to 30 drummers and giving opportunities to promising younger members. It’s a powerful spectacle, as Kalsi says: “It’s a massive wall of drumming noise, it’s wonderful to watch.” That noise has led them to perform on some of the world’s biggest stages; you may have seen them in the 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony, the Royal Variety Performance or the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

It’s on TDF albums that Kalsi really lets loose his creative side. These albums can be called Kalsi’s solo work, but they’re much more than that: “If it was just a dhol drumming album, it would become very monotonous and boring.” Instead, they echo the rest of his career, full of collaborations with international artists – musicians as disparate as Sultan Khan, Etran Finatawa, Michael McGoldrick and Natacha Atlas have graced TDF albums. It’s all mixed up, produced by Kalsi and with a healthy dose of dhol drumming to top it off. TDF’s fifth album is called Basant, which is named after a springtime kite festival in the Punjab region. Kalsi sums it up well, saying “they’re all different flavours, they all sound different, they taste different, they look different when you close your eyes. And I love that!”

With a new album in the works, running The Dhol Foundation schools and now a member of the reformed ACSS, who go on tour this November, Kalsi has, as ever, got his hands full. But you suspect that’s probably just how he likes it.

 

BEST ALBUMS

Afro Celt Sound System Volume 2 Release

Afro Celt Sound System Volume 2: Release

(Real World Records, 1999)

Kalsi’s first recorded outing with the groundbreaking world fusion group came at the height of their fame, and he brought the first Asian flavours to the Afro Celt ensemble.

 

Big_Drum_Small_World

The Dhol Foundation Big Drum: Small World

(Shakti Records, 2001)

The debut album under the TDF name was a tour de force of bhangra and electronica, and provided the groundwork for their future releases with guests including Natacha Atlas.

 

The Dhol Foundation Drum-Believable

The Dhol Foundation Drum-Believable

(Shakti Records, 2005)

TDF’S second album continues with all the fun of their first, brings in more international influences and contains probably their most banging track to date, the Irish-Indian bouncer ‘After the Rain’, with fiddler Mairead Nesbitt. Reviewed in #32.

 

The-Imagined-Village-Empire-&-Love

The Imagined Village Empire & Love

(ECC Records, 2010)

This is the middle album of The Imagined Village’s trilogy, their first as a cohesive band and a classic of Anglo-Indian folk music. Kalsi’s dhol and tabla are essential to their sound. Reviewed in #66.

 

Afro-Celt-Sound-System-The-Source

Afro Celt Sound System The Source

(ECC Records, 2016)

The new-look ACSS, risen from the ashes and with Johnny Kalsi as a member of the leading triumvirate, returned reinvigorated with this amazing album, their first for 11 years. The album has also won ACSS a nomination in this year’s Songlines Music Awards (see p22).

 

Photo of Johnny Kalsi by Tom Oldham

Tags: , , , .

Songlines Music Awards 2017: The Winners

Posted on May 11th, 2017 in Recent posts by .

SMA17-Winners-blk-gldx700

Songlines Music Awards 2017 Compilation

We’re delighted to announce the winners of the ninth Songlines Music Awards which aim to put a much-deserved spotlight on some incredibly talented artists from around the world.

In addition to the Best Artist and Best Group awards – as voted by Songlines readers – we have five geographical awards based on our reviews sections, as well as the World Pioneer and Newcomer Awards chosen by our editorial team. So read on and find out who’s won this year…

You can also listen to editors Simon Broughton and Jo Frost introducing and playing music from all of this year’s winners, on the Songlines podcast, available as a free download on iTunes.

Featuring 20 tracks from the nominees in the five geographical categories, the Songlines Music Awards 2017 compilation album is now available on CD exclusively from Amazon.

Click here to buy your copy.

To find out more about the winners, pick up a copy of the June (#128) edition.


 Words by Nigel Williamson

Best Artist
Baaba Maal 
(The Traveller on Marathon Artists)

baaba_final_coveronly-dsps-packshot-1-

In the 15 years between 2001’s acoustic set Missing You (Mi Yeewnii) and 2016’s The Traveller, Maal released just one album, 2009’s bland and insubstantial Television. It seemed that his extra-curricular activities as a spokesperson for the United Nations Development Programme and a global ambassador for Oxfam, plus his involvement in campaigns for HIV/AIDS awareness, debt relief and other vital causes, had left him little time for making new music. So it was an unalloyed joy when The Traveller turned out to be a stunning comeback, a mature but exhilarating set in which his activism and his music intertwine into a single purposeful journey. He brought on board some intriguing collaborators, including Johan Hugo of The Very Best as producer, various members of Mumford & Sons and the British-Ethiopian poet Lemn Sissay. But substantial as their contributions are, the real triumph here belongs to Maal. From the irresistible dance floor Afro-pop of ‘Fulani Rock’ and the title-track to the haunting ‘Gilli Men’ and the deep, sombre blues of ‘Jam Jam’, the potency of his voice and the humanity of his vision combine in thrilling fashion to create one of the most satisfying albums of his storied career.

Best Group
Afro Celt Sound System (The Source on ECC Records)

Afro Celt Sound System - The Source Cover.jpeg

After a lengthy silence, the return of the Afro Celts seemed something of a risky proposition: would the group’s trademark global dance hybrid that sounded so cutting-edge when first unleashed in 1996 appear outdated some two decades on? Instead 2016’s The Source found the Afro Celts reinvigorated and sounding bigger, better and bolder than ever. Since the last Afro Celts’ album in 2005, a split among its founding members for a time resulted in two rival editions of the group fighting over the name. Happily that dispute has now been settled and it is the Simon Emmerson-led line-up heard on The Source that officially inherits the Afro Celts’ legacy.

With a core membership that includes long-serving kora and balafon player N’Faly Kouyaté, the thundering dhol drumming of Johnny Kalsi and the Scottish Gaelic rapper Griogair Labhruidh, there is much that is reassuringly familiar in the swirling mix of African rhythms and Irish jigs and reels. But the sound has also smartly developed, the electronica of earlier incarnations more muted and the acoustic textures more nuanced as the traditional African instruments vie with the pipes and flutes of Celtic heritage, underpinned by bhangra drums, and with vocal decoration ranging from the shamanic voice of Ríoghnach Connolly to Guinean devotional chanting. 


Newcomer
Kefaya (Radio International on Radio International Records)

Kefaya - Radio International Cover

Formed by the Italian guitarist Giuliano Modarelli and keyboard player Al MacSween, the music of the London-based collective Kefaya has been called ‘guerrilla jazz,’ ‘contemporary world-fusion’ and ‘global protest music.’ The clumsiness of the terms are in stark contrast to the fluidity of their music but is indicative of how Kefaya’s eclectic sound transcends boundaries to defy definition. Recorded during travels and collaborations across India, Palestine, Spain and Italy, the group’s debut seeks out the common ground between folk traditions from around the globe, radical politics and sound system culture, delivered with a fizzing energy and commitment rooted firmly in the 21st century.

Themes such as internationalism, freedom of movement and immigration are reinforced by the presentation of the album as a pirate radio station, tuned in to the struggle for equality and liberation and broadcasting stories of resistance and empowerment, with radio samples weaving together the musical and political intentions behind the concept. ‘We are all immigrants,’ the band state. ‘The chains of nationalism seek to restrain us within borders and boundaries, within checkpoints and separation walls. But to embrace our fellow traveller in the spirit of internationalism is to embrace the journey of human experience.’


Africa & Middle East
Derek Gripper (Libraries on Fire on Derek Gripper)

Derek Gripper - Libraries on Fire Cover.jpeg

“Absolutely amazing,” was Toumani Diabaté’s reaction when he first heard Derek Gripper’s transposition of music composed for the 21-string kora to the six-string guitar. When Gripper finally met Toumani in Bamako in 2016 (see #117), the world’s greatest kora player dubbed him “my white twin,” which was about as high a commendation as you could get. The classical guitar maestro John Williams was another who could not believe that it was possible to replicate the sound of the kora’s multiple strings on a simple six-string guitar and assumed that it must have had been achieved by studio trickery and multiple over-dubs. When he learned that Gripper performed the music live and solo, Williams invited him to play at a series of guitar concerts he was curating at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at London’s Globe Theatre.

Libraries on Fire, Gripper’s latest solo album, features breathtaking arrangements of kora pieces mostly associated with Toumani Diabaté, and is a richly deserving award winner. Gripper has since followed it with the equally fine Mali in Oak (a Top of the World review in #127), based on a collaboration at the Globe with the British kora and cello player Tunde Jegede. “The beauty of this music is its simplicity and its complexity, all coming from one instrument,” Gripper says.


Americas
Calypso Rose (Far From Home on Because Music)

Calypso Rose Songlines Music Awards 2017 Winner

‘No man alive or dead could take the crown off mi head,’ sings Calypso Rose in typically sassy style on Far From Home. Feisty singer, storyteller, feminist pioneer and Caribbean cultural icon, it’s more than 40 years since Rose was first crowned calypso queen in Trinidad and at 77 she continues to reign supreme. Co-produced by Stonetree Music’s Ivan Durán and Drew Gonsalves from Kobo Town, with Manu Chao sprinkling his magic on several tracks, Far From Home is a joyous, turbo-charged update on calypso tradition for a 21st-century global audience, Rose garnishing her sweet-and-spicy calypso/soca sound with rhythms and melodies from Africa, Central America and across the Caribbean.

The upbeat dance tunes and carnival anthems also pack a powerful message with lyrics about subjects such as domestic violence and women’s rights. “Calypso is for partying but it’s also for storytelling, like being a reporter,” she says. “You can dance but you must also listen to the words.” Other songs are peppered with pugnacious personal observations about her long career. ‘They say I reign too long, forgetting my constitution is strong,’ she sings, making it clear that she has no intention of giving up her crown. This was evident at the Victoires de la Musique ceremony in Paris in February where she received the Best World Music Album award and declared “I am the Queen of France right now!”

Asia & South Pacific
Anda Union (Homeland on Hohhot Records)

Anda Union Songlines Music Awards 2017

This nine-strong ensemble from Inner Mongolia are on a mission to preserve and popularise the culture of the vast empty spaces of their native steppes in a melodic and accessible style that has universal appeal. Playing traditional horsehead fiddles, lutes and flutes and drawing on a repertoire of ancient music that was in danger of extinction, they first came to international attention with the album The Wind Horse and a memorable WOMAD appearance in 2011. Their second album is even more impressive, mixing atmospheric instrumentals and solo and harmony vocals with bursts of growling, eerie-sounding throat singing.

Their subject matter takes in nature, mythology and history, tempered with laments for those in exile from their homeland and the fight for the survival of an endangered way of life. ‘Our music draws from all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified. We all have different ethnic backgrounds and we bring these influences into our music,’ they explain. The engaging simplicity of their folk traditions is smartly enhanced by the sophisticated co-production of multiple Grammy award-winner Richard King. The band members have recently completed a two-month-long US tour and have returned to Hohhot as lecturers at the Inner Mongolia Arts University.


Europe
Fanfare Ciocărlia  (Onwards to Mars! on Asphalt Tango)

Fanfare Ciocarlia - Onwards to Mars! Songlines Music Awards 2017

One of the world’s most exhilaratingly raucous brass bands, Fanfare Ciocărlia celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2016 and marked the occasion with a groundbreaking album of energy and ingenuity that dug deep into their rural Balkan Gypsy heritage while reflecting a range of other genres and styles that they have absorbed on their nomadic travels around the globe. Hailing from the remote village of Zece Prăjini in north-east Romania, the 12-piece band learned their craft at the feet of their fathers and grandfathers, but their music remained a well-kept secret until Henry Ernst, a young German music fan, wandered into the village in 1996 and discovered a living tradition rooted in the ancient Ottoman tradition of brass bands, which had long died out in much of the rest of Romania. By the following year, Fanfare Ciocărlia were touring Europe and thrilling audiences with their earthy brass grooves played at breakneck speed. On Onwards to Mars! they mix riotous new versions of Balkan standards with a cover of ‘I Put a Spell on You’ sung by Gypsy blues singer Iulian Canaf, seven tunes written by Koby Israelite and even a spicy flavouring of cumbia


Fusion
The Gloaming (on Real World)

The Gloaming Songlines Music Awards 2017 Winner

The term ‘supergroup’ is over-used, but it’s hard to think of any other word to describe the felicitous teaming of Irish trad fiddler extraordinaire Martin Hayes, American guitarist Dennis Cahill, sean nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh, who plays the droning ten-string Hardanger d’amore fiddle, and the adventurous New York pianist Thomas Bartlett (known as Doveman in his indie-rock incarnation). These five master musicians, each with highly successful individual careers, first came together in 2011 for a sold-out show at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, attended by Ireland’s Prime Minister, Enda Kenny. International touring followed and their self-titled debut was voted album of the year in 2014 beating off competition from Hozier, Aphex Twin, Sinead O’Connor, U2 and Damien Rice to win the RTÉ Choice Music Prize (the Irish equivalent of the Mercury).

Their second album is an expansive set rooted in the rich traditions of Irish folk music but delivered with a contemporaneous, experimental and highly personal sensibility. Haunting and emotionally charged, the intuitive ensemble playing is topped by Ó Lionáird’s ethereal vocals, recently featured in the movie Brooklyn and first heard more than 20 years ago with the Afro Celt Sound System. 


World Pioneer Award
Francis Falceto

Francis Falceto Songlines Music Awards 2017

When Francis Falceto curated the first volume in the Éthiopiques series on the Buda Musique label in 1997, most of us knew very little about Ethiopian music. In the two decades that have followed, Falceto has single-handedly been responsible for putting Ethiopia on the world music map as our appreciation of artists such as Mahmoud Ahmed, Mulatu Astatke and Tilahun Gessesse has grown along with the series of releases. Falceto released the 30th volume – by Girma Bèyènè & Akalé Wubé – this year (reviewed in #127) and the impact of Éthiopiques has extended far beyond the core world music audience – Jim Jarmusch used a track for the title music of his movie Broken Flowers and the likes of Jamie Cullum, Robert Plant, Brian Eno, Simon Reeve and David Harrington all selected music from the series for their Songlines playlists. For Falceto, it has been a lifetime’s passion since he first heard a Mahmoud Ahmed recording in 1984 while working as a concert promoter in Poitiers. He was soon making regular trips to Addis Ababa, tracking down master tapes from the most important labels and producers of the music’s ‘Golden Age’ in the 60s and 70s. From the programming and remastering to Buda Musique’s packaging, presentation and attention to detail, new standards have been set and made Éthiopiques the ultimate brand in crate-digging excellence. 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

New issue (July 2016) on sale now!

Posted on June 10th, 2016 in News, Recent posts by .

Songlines July 2016 Fanfare Ciocarlia

Balkan brass band Fanfare Ciocărlia; Brazilian big band Bixiga 70; Afro Celt Sound System; Damon Albarn’s Africa Express reunite the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians

The July (#119) edition is on sale in the UK from today. The free exclusive 15-track covermount CD features ten tracks from our latest Top of the World albums and a guest playlist by British singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae.

Featured on the Top of the World CD are new tracks from South African guitarist Derek Gripper, Estonian fiddle player and singer Maarja Nuut, and London-based fusion band Melt Yourself Down.

Fanfare Ciocarlia Songlines

Fanfare Ciocărlia – The Romanian Gypsy group chat to us as they celebrate 20 years in the music business
Bixiga 70 – The Brazilian band discuss their signature big brass sound
Afro Celt Sound System – The Celtic fusion group speak about their much-lauded return
Damon Albarn and the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians – We talk to Damon Albarn and the leader of the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, Issam Rafea, about their series of momentous concerts across Europe
World Music Meets Early Music – Finding the space where these two worlds of music meet

Calypso Rose Songlines

Calypso Rose – A Beginner’s Guide to the septuagenarian queen of calypso’s remarkable career
Corinne Bailey Rae – A playlist and interview with the British singer-songwriter, who talks about her journey to rediscover happiness and the music she found along the way
Les Amazones d’Afrique – Daniel Brown reports on the all-female collection of singers from West Africa who have joined forces to empower women and change male attitudes

PLUS! Reviews of the latest CD, book and world cinema releases.

Click here to buy the new issue.

Tags: , , , , .

Next issue preview: July (#119)

Posted on May 27th, 2016 in News, Recent posts by .

SL119_EmailHeaderCovers

A Life of Flowers; Romanian Gypsy group Fanfare Ciocărlia chat to Songlines as they celebrate 20 years in the music business

Other features include Brazilian band Bixiga 70 who discuss their signature big brass sound; Afro Celt Sound System speak to the magazine about their much-lauded return; we talk to Damon Albarn and Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music leader Issam Rafea about their series of upcoming collaborative concerts; plus the latest CD, book and world cinema reviews to get stuck into.

The issue’s Top of the World covermount CD includes brand new tracks from American multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla, North Estonian fiddler and singer Maarja Nuut and South African guitarist Derek Gripper, plus an exclusive playlist from British singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae, who talks about her journey to rediscover happiness and the music she found along the way.

The issue is on sale in the UK from June 10. Click here to purchase your copy now.

Tags: , , , , , , .

« Older Entries