Posts Tagged ‘introducing’

Introducing… Chouk Bwa Libète

Posted on August 20th, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .

The thrilling, hypnotic roots music of Haiti will be captivating WOMAD festival-goers later this month. Jane Cornwell reports on the band who are making waves on the touring circuit

The remote community of Petite Rivière des Bayonnais in Gonaïves district, three hours north of Port-au-Prince, not too far from Haiti’s so-called ‘voodoo triangle,’ has no electricity or running water. Drummaker Charles Simé has lived here all his life, fashioning percussive instruments such as the manman tanbou, equipping musicians to play the fierce mizik rasin (roots music) that accompanies dancers who very often fall, as do the players, into trance.

It was here, in a community where girls bring water from the river in buckets balanced on their heads and women sing as they do dishes, that the six-piece group Chouk Bwa Libète recorded their debut album, Se Nou Ki La!. Arguably the first international release of what Songlines deemed ‘hardcore Haitian roots music’ (reviewed in #110), it’s a mesmeric mix of work songs, call-and-response singing and traditional polyrhythmic percussion; of raw power and stripped down beauty. Oh, and a pinch of reggae.

“We only use drums, maracas and a little metal rod called a fer that I tap on,” says frontman and composer Jean-Claude ‘Sanbaton’ Dorvil of the bell-like instrument used to announce each of more than 100 rhythms that call up spirits known as loa.

Having enthralled delegates at last year’s WOMEX and a series of dates everywhere from Borneo to Warsaw, they will grace WOMAD at the end of this month. Colourfully dressed, with two dancers, Edele and Maloune, lending added vibrancy, they promise both rootsy authenticity and – with songs expressing the painful history and the indomitable spirit of modern-day Haitians – contemporary savvy.

Their name, says Dorvil, translates from Creole as ‘Bowl of the Tree of Freedom,’ and was inspired by the words of Toussaint Louverture, aka the Black Napoleon, the best-known leader of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), who said “in overthrowing me, you have done no more than cut down the trunk of the tree of the black liberty… it will spring back from the roots, for they are numerous and deep.”

Live, Dorvil summons the drummers and dancers onstage by playing a conch shell called a lanbi, which symbolises the call to freedom for Haiti’s once enslaved populations. “We are ambassadors of voodoo,” he says of the oft misunderstood, Yoruba-derived religion, which is comparable with lucumí or santería in Cuba and candomblé in Brazil. “We carry the sacred heritage passed down by our ancestors. The songs came from inside me, these extraordinary words that carry messages.”

Blown away after chancing upon Chouk Bwa Libète on a visit to Haiti in 2013, Belgian producer and musician Michael Wolteche had suggested recording an album in situ. In Simé’s village, songs were laid down at salient times of the day; in the evening in an aloupa (hut) lit by 1,000 candles that burned and were snuffed out according to the spirit winds. It all came as close to ceremony as possible.

“It’s sad that people who don’t understand voodoo criticise it,” says Dorvil. “Voodoo is a pure religion. It’s about unity. There’s a spirit of sharing and a dignity you don’t often find anywhere else.”

This article originally appeared in Songlines #120.

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Introducing… Maarja Nuut

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


Bastiaan Springer catches up with the singer and fiddle player who’s been making waves with her experimental take on Estonia’s traditional music

There has been a buzz among world music aficionados for a few years now around Estonian fiddler and singer Maarja Nuut. This young, very talented musician stole many hearts with her spellbinding showcase at WOMEX 2014 in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In a unique way she combines classical and traditional Estonian dance tunes, songs and stories with live looping.

A solo artist, Nuut commands the stage with her mystical songs, haunting vocals, dancing and foot percussion. She often starts her songs with a single violin motif, deftly looping it and adding harmonic layers with voice and violin improvisations. Her magical music can be categorised as minimalistic folk, leaning strongly on tradition and adapted to the present. With elegant songs about silken-feathered birds, horses and ghosts Nuut creates dream-like music, inviting her audience to travel to other times and places.

“For me, music and the images and stories hidden in it offer an opportunity to travel from one reality to another, visiting places where everything is possible,” she explains. “We spend a large part of our lives sleeping. There are also many different borderline states, for example lucid dreaming. I think excessive rationality is restrictive and in a wider sense dreams give us a chance to sense life in all its possible shades.”

Maarja Nuut was born in 1986 in the small Estonian town Rakvere, where she started learning the violin when she was seven. She continued studying at the Tallinn Music High School and the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. Love for traditional Estonian music inspired her to study at the University of Tartu Viljandi Culture Academy before going on to take a master’s degree in Stockholm.

Her debut in 2013, Soolo, was the result of her research into early 20th-century Estonian field recordings and contains a fascinating mix of Estonian folk, spoken words and remarkable, constantly changing soundscapes. “Soolo was rather sketchy, a combination of different approaches and ideas, put together in the middle of a process of research.” The album received a lot of attention, rave reviews and invitations to perform outside Estonia. In recent years Nuut has toured the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, making her the face of Estonia’s recent folk revival.

On her new album Une Meeles (In the Hold of a Dream) Nuut again explores the boundary between reality and dream with lyrical songs. What makes this modern folk masterpiece so exceptional is the delicate balance between Nuut’s technique and almost psychedelic improvisations. “My new album is the outcome of an internal, ripening process,” she explains. “I have created a lot of new material and explored my technical set-up. It’s a slow process but my new album feels much more solid than my debut.”

It’s a breathtaking introduction to Nuut’s melancholic dream world, which is rooted in the mysticism of the Estonian soul and nature. Transferring this fairylike Estonian folk music to the 21st century makes Maarja Nuut one of today’s most interesting traditional music innovators.

This article originally appeared in Songlines #119. Nuut’s new album Une Meeles is out now.

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Introducing… Fantastic Negrito

Posted on July 1st, 2016 in Features, Recent posts by .


The American singer has reinvented himself and just released a new album. He talks to Jim Hickson about his recent good fortune

What happens when a down-on-their-luck pop-R&B singer leaves the music world in dire circumstances and turns their hand to farming (both legal and otherwise), before feeling that creative spark again? Well, if that singer is Xavier Dphrepaulezz, they re-invent themselves as Fantastic Negrito, one of the hottest talents on the blues scene.

Back in the 90s, Dphrepaulezz’s R&B sound landed him a million-dollar record deal, but after a not-successful-enough first album, that deal turned into major label hell and Dphrepaulezz turned his back on music. Twenty years later, and under the guise of Fantastic Negrito, he is making the airwaves buzz anew.

The sounds of Dphrepaulezz’s childhood were jazz, blues, classical and traditional African music – his Somali-Caribbean father forbade popular music, calling it a corrupting influence. He says his early exposure to the blues fell on unappreciative ears: “I wasn’t ready to hear it as a youngster, I thought it was terrible. But after I turned 40, and I’d buried a couple people, and I’d lived through tragedies, and I’d lived life, for some reason it just resonated with me so much, spiritually – because I had lived!”

The birth of Fantastic Negrito was a classic rise from the ashes. When a car crash left him in a coma for three weeks, he decided life was too short to make music you don’t believe in. It was five years later, singing to his infant son, that he realised what music he did believe in. Since this musical rebirth, Fantastic Negrito’s music is like looking into an alternate dimension of 21st-century blues, where 70s middle-of-the-road blues-rock never happened “It’s blues but it’s got a gospel-punk delivery – some guy called me ‘the punk rock Al Green’!”

“I was entrenched and indoctrinated into viewing music differently from such a young age… the things I didn’t really dig as a kid really came back as an adult.” With this musical progression, he is looking back – and the link to African music is still there. Asked what sounds he’s digging at the moment, there’s no hesitation: “Songhoy Blues. They’re amazing. I met them in Australia and we jammed together. I’ve been a fan ever since.” It’s a partnership that he wouldn’t mind developing. “I like all collaborations, as long as they’re real. It would be interesting because there’s a different school of thought going on in terms of the approach to the music.”

Fantastic Negrito’s first album only came out in June, but the music has already been heaped in hype: he won NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest out of 7,000 entrants, provided the theme tune for hit drama series Hand of God and was personally invited to perform at Bernie Sanders’ New Hampshire rally. And that’s on top of his recently-finished 43-date tour, which took in four continents over 45 days – “it was hardcore!” he says.

So after a life of reinvention, what’s next? “Who knows? I never knew there would be a Fantastic Negrito. It’s just happening now and I’m enjoying it.”

This article originally appeared in Songlines #119. Fantastic Negrito’s album, The Last Days of Oakland, is out now.

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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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