Posts Tagged ‘songlines’

Czech Music: At the Heart of the Bonfire – Bonus CD

Posted on August 29th, 2017 in Recent posts by .

This bonus CD is exclusively available with the October (#131) edition of Songlines


The Czech language uses the same word – hranice – for bonfire and borderline. Czechia (the Czech Republic) is simultaneously at the warm heart of a burning fire, but also on the musical border between Western and Eastern Europe. The western part (including Prague) is more industrialised and the rural south and south-east is where local traditions are kept alive. Although Moravia in the east has a separate name, Czech is still spoken here. The lifestyle is different, however, and the rhythms are more playful, melodies more ornamented.

This 16-track CD features many of the top artists.

Petr Dorůžka 



1. Jitka Šuranská Trio – ‘Pofukuj větříčku a Maliny’,  Divé husy (2016)

2. Iva Bittová & Čikori - ‘Vila’, Entwine/Proplétám (2014)

3. Terne Čhave - ‘More, Love!’, More, Love! (2008)

4. Musica Folklorica & Veronika Malatincová - ‘Ej ženy, ženy, poradteže mi’, Ej ženy, ženy, poradteže mi (2013)

5. Ponk - ‘Šibeničky’, Postfolklor (2015)

6. BraAgas - ‘Brodil Janík koně’, unreleased (2017)

7. Jablkoň - ‘Černá Marie na rohu’, Hovada boží (2004)

8. Marta Töpferová & Milokraj - ‘Co mohl najíti poutník’, Tento svět (2017)

9. Bran - ‘Jen vítr kdyby vál’, Beaj vat! (2016)

10. Clarinet Factory - ‘Gore’, Meadows (2017)

11. Dva - ‘Nunovó Tango’, Fonók (2008)

12. Tara Fuki - ‘Dopis’, Winna (2014)

13. Jiří Pavlica & Hradišťan - ‘Vteřiny křehké’, Vteřiny křehké (2014)

14. HLASkontraBAS - ‘Černým lesem’, HLASkontraBAS (2016)

15. Beata Bocek - ‘Co jo tam bedym robić?’, O Tobje (2016)

16. Tomáš Kočko & Orchestr - ‘Tanečnica’, Do tanca! (2003)


Edited by the Arts and Theatre Institute, contact:

Compiled by: Lenka Dohnalová, Petr Dorůžka, Jiří Moravčík, Aleš Opekar and Přemysl Štěpánek

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Songlines Music Awards 2017: The Winners

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


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)


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. 

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.

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.

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

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. 

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The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians: Reuniting Syria

Posted on July 25th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

Photo courtesy of Mark Allan

This article originally appeared in #119.

Damon Albarn last played with the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians six years ago. Now he’s bringing them back together for a series of momentous concerts across Europe. Nigel Williamson reports

The last time Damon Albarn and the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians performed together, the world was a very different place. It was 2010 and the orchestra, led by Issam Rafea, accompanied Albarn and his band Gorillaz on a world tour that included a historic performance against the backdrop of the walls of the 11th-century citadel in the Syrian capital Damascus. The orchestra had already played on ‘White Flag’, a track recorded in Damascus’ Opera House in 2009 for Gorillaz’s album Plastic Beach, and the concert in Syria was Albarn’s way of “repaying the compliment,” as he put it.

Performing for a wildly enthusiastic audience on a dramatic night under a Levant full moon, the orchestra’s violinists swayed to a hip-hop beat, Rafea played the oud, the late Bobby Womack shared vocals with Albarn, and former members of the Clash, Paul Simonon and Mick Jones, were also on stage.

“I’m surprised that no one has ever come here before,” Albarn enthused at the time. “By being the first big Western act to arrive in Damascus, hopefully this is the beginning of a dialogue which can be meaningful for Syria as a whole.”

After the concert a 23-year-old Syrian fan optimistically told The Guardian: “It’s the biggest concert we have ever had, and I wanted to welcome them to my country. We need more of this.”

But sadly, there would be no more. Albarn and Gorillaz were the first major international act to play in Syria – and six years later they remain the last. The outbreak of civil war in the spring of 2011 scattered the orchestra to the four winds. Rafea moved in 2013 to Chicago where he is now a university lecturer. Many of the orchestra’s members are still in Syria. Others are currently to be found around Europe and the US, at various stages of the convoluted process of seeking asylum.

Albarn – whose father was a professor of Arab studies and Islamic art – says that he found Syria to be “an extraordinary and beautiful country.” When Gorillaz performed in Damascus he took his family and travelled around, visiting Palmyra, the Roman city of the Empress Zenobia, which was captured in 2015 by the Islamic State, who brutally marked their occupation of the UNESCO World Heritage site by beheading a Syrian official and then blowing up sizeable chunks of the monument.

“After our last visit, Syria changed almost overnight,” Albarn laments. “Since then I’ve watched from a distance and felt utterly helpless, wondering about all the lovely people I got to know.”

Helpless, but not content to sit back and do nothing; Albarn – who was first introduced to Rafea by the London-based Syrian rapper Eslam Jawaad – is not a man to allow civil war and a murderous Islamic death cult to stand in the way of music-making’s capacity to unite and heal. He contacted Rafea in Chicago and suggested that the tragic circumstances of Syria meant it was more important than ever to reunite the orchestra and chorus of the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians to celebrate the “strength and joy” of the war-torn country’s culture.

The result will be concerts at Glastonbury and on London’s South Bank in June followed by further appearances across Europe. At the last count it was hoped that about 30 orchestra members and 20 choir members will be reunited for the concerts, which are being organised by Albarn’s Africa Express.

“Damon is a dynamo,” Rafea says. “It was his idea and we all thank him from the bottom of our hearts for bringing us back together. It is really a huge thing to have these numbers coming all the way up from Syria, Europe and the US and we also have to thank all of those who have been working hard to make this incredibly complex task happen.”

Ian Birrell of Africa Express, one of those tasked with organising the concerts, admits that the project has faced daunting logistical problems. “It is very hard to get visas for Syrians and some don’t have passports because they have had to flee and are seeking asylum.”

Providing visas and work permits are sorted, audiences can expect a rare musical treat, according to Albarn. “There’s a whole choir, there are strings, there are soloists, there’s amazing percussion,” he enthuses. “It’s a really dynamic and joyous sound, and it’s stayed with me for all these years. I’m really excited to be able to share that with people.”

“The whole point of this is to get the orchestra back together, to get them working again, giving some kind of alternative to seeing Syria through the prism of the news, which is entirely a negative thing. This concert will give a completely different perspective. It will be a great reunion and Issam and the musicians will create a beautiful, neutral space with this positive music. It’s a truly miraculous sound they create.”

In 2009 the orchestra staged a benefit concert to raise funds to help rebuild the lives of those made homeless by the Israeli offensive in Gaza, unaware that within two years their own lives would be plunged into a humanitarian crisis of equally tragic proportions. Before the civil war, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma were among the patrons of the orchestra, but, according to Rafea, the orchestra’s members represent many different strands of political opinion; indeed, it could hardly be otherwise, although all are united by a desire for peace.

“The fabric of Syrian society has been torn apart as a result of the conflict,” Rafea says. “And at these performances there will be people representing different sides of the argument, on stage and in the audience. But all are in agreement that we want it to end. It’s hard to express my feelings. But this is a wonderful opportunity to show the world another side to the Syrian story and celebrate our music and culture.”

Asked what role music can play in trying to find a resolution and making a meaningful contribution to a peace process, Rafea responds: “The answer to that isn’t that easy. But I believe music is one of the most effective things in our life; as a musician you speak openly and positively to other musicians from elsewhere through music. Despite our differences, through this universal language, peace is already there.”

He’s coy about exactly what form the concerts will take but says Western audiences – even those with little prior knowledge of traditional Arabic forms and styles – will find the music highly accessible. “In Syria they are familiar with the repertoire and the moods. But whether the audience is Syrian or non-Syrian, our goal is to provoke a response from the deepest part of your heart. So if we as musicians feel it, then the audience will feel it, too. You can’t speak with words what you feel maybe; but the instruments and the voices can express whatever you want.”

Formed in 1990, the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians turned professional in 2003, when Rafea took over as its principal after its founder Solhi al-Wadi had suffered a brain haemorrhage. Born in Kuwait in 1971, Rafea grew up listening to a rich diet of classical Arabic and tarab music and began playing a variety of instruments from an early age, before settling on the oud as his passion. “I was in Damascus one summer and my uncle had an oud at his house,” he says. “I was so excited to see what this instrument could do. I knew what it was but I didn’t know what it could do or how to play it. Within three months I could play it by myself, so I told my father I wanted to buy one. A few days later he surprised me with my own oud.”

In 1990 he enrolled on a five-year course at the High Institute of Music. He graduated with a BA degree in oud and double bass in 1995 and went on to become chair of the Arabic music department at the institute, teaching oud and Western harmony and composing widely for Syrian TV and theatre before he took over as conductor of the orchestra, whose repertoire includes both Arabic and Western classical music.

“Whether you are from Africa, the Middle East, US or Europe, you have a connection to music, you can feel the beat,” he says. “Every type of music has its own unique sound. But there is interaction between audience and musicians, so even if you’ve never heard a certain kind of music, every person responds in his or her own way.”

The concerts will celebrate the strength and joy of Syrian culture, he promises. But Rafea also admits that there is likely to be a complex set of emotions among the performers on stage. “There’s an overwhelming feeling of sadness, although people in Syria have decided that life goes on and they never quit despite their pain. They continue to make music, art, and theatre with hope for a better future,” he says. “We will go ahead and represent our Syria in the way it should be represented. I’m very excited to see all of the musicians again and once we are all together, I will be better able to tell you my feelings…”

The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians with Damon Albarn & guests performed at the Southbank Centre on June 27. Watch a selection of performances from the night below.

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Introducing… Vula Viel

Posted on May 23rd, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .


This article originally appeared in Songlines #108.

Matthew Wright talks to a new outfit using Ghanaian Dagaare xylophone music as their inspiration

“The 24-part harmony is not just about maths; that order of notes is essential for the recently dead to pass on to the ancestor world,” says percussionist Bex Burch, who leads her band Vula Viel (Good is Good) from the gyil (Ghanaian xylophone), in a repertoire of Dagaare ceremonial music. “Dagaare funerals aren’t about consolation: it’s an opportunity to confront difficult truths and explore your grief. The harshness of mourners’ judgements often sparks a renewal.”

Burch, originally from Yorkshire, and a classical percussionist by training, learned the traditions as an apprentice to a master gyil-maker from the Dagaare people of northern Ghana. The highly organised harmonic structures, unique to Dagaare culture, are combined with the bell rhythm, found in many other African musical cultures, to create a highly distinctive sound. “Dagaare people really know these songs,” she says. “Musicians serve the community.”

Vula Viel’s music is mesmerisingly danceable and, by Western standards, completely un-funereal. Burch’s gyil – made from sacred lliga wood with gourd resonators – is central. She begins most pieces, staking out the Bell pattern rhythm. “There are only ever two chords,” she says, “and the mother note has to come in a particular place. Other than that, the order of changes is up to me.” And the gyil’s pealing notes have a maternal mixture of the tender and admonitory.

The band’s creation came in a creative epiphany. “In December 2012 I made myself believe I’d won £1 million, and think about what I would do next. The answer was, form a band to play this music.” The line-up consists of drummers Dave de Rose and Simon Roth, keys player Dan Nicholls and saxophonist George Crowley, with occasional appearances by vibes players Jim Hart and Steve Burke. They mostly work in jazz and experimental music, experience that gives Vula Viel its technical confidence and dexterity.

Vula Viel has an album due for release later this year. Burch has begun writing new, more loosely organised material, though it’s been daunting. “A few months ago I was afraid of writing anything that didn’t adhere to strict Dagaare principles,” she says. “I had to be brave, and stop hiding behind other musicians. It was an important step.”

As well as the Dagaare music, Vula Viel has included Steve Reich’s Sextet in their Purcell Room programme. It’s a seminal piece for Burch, which opened the world of Ghanaian rhythm. Yet the shadow of Reich does not appear to intimidate her. “Dagaare music is more complex than the music of the Ewe People, where Steve Reich went in eastern Ghana,” she notes. “I could sit down next to any of the single Ewe parts and in some way understand what was going on. With Dagaare music, all those separate parts are in one player, and you have to really know it.”

Good is Good was a Top of the World selection in issue #112. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, visit:

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