Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
January 2015 - By Graham Reid

In this issue: a master percussionist goes solo, metalhead guitarist turns it down and gets worldly, Afrobeat revisited again, and a quiet journey through a noisy city





Sabla Tolo IV
Hossam Ramzy

We say: Give the drummer some. Okay that's enough.

The great Egyptian percussion player, arranger, and producer Ramzy is one of the few Arabic musicians to be familiar to mainstream Western listeners, largely through work with Peter Gabriel, Shakira, Robert Plant & Jimmy Page, and Sting among others. When it comes to world music he blurs genres and his excellent 2011 "Rock the Tabla" album saw him collaborate with Indian master A.R. Rahman ("the Mozart of Madras"), jazz players Billy Cobham and Manu Katche, and taiko drummer Joji Hirota for sometimes thrilling or deeply emotional music of no fixed culture.

That album or any of his many belly dance albums would be a better place to start on a Ramzy discovery than this one however. Another in his ongoing percussion series, this contains 13 solo pieces and while the criss-cross rhythms and time-shifts refer to samba, Indian tabla, flamenco, and so on, over the long haul it's a lot of solo percussion.

Good liner notes explain the origins or intentions, but it needs to be said again: It's a lot of solo percussion.






Planetary Coalition
Planetary Coalition

We say: Metal guitarist turns the volume all the way up to … five?

Alex Skolnick—who was in Californian thrash metalers Testament, helms his own hard rock trio and has appeared with Rodrigo Y Gabriela—here dials down the volume, picks up acoustic guitar (mostly) and teams up with top-flight world music players in New York. The results are somewhere between Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia, Shakti and the Robert Plant/Jimmy Page "Unledded" project. The instrumentation runs from Chinese lute (pipa), Turkish zither and oud (played by Adnan Joubran of Le Trio Joubran) to santoor and tabla.

The energy and diverse musical reference points steer this away from world-meets-New Age. When Rodrigo Y Gabriela drop by for fire and fury on "Playa La Ropa" or Skolnick plugs in electric guitar (at Joubran's insistence apparently) for the exotic and searing "Rock of Ramallah" this can be quite thrilling.

Elsewhere we're in central China for the more reflective passages in "Return of the Yi People" (with pipa) and India for the energetic "Passage to Pranayama" with tamboura, violin, and Indo-Canadian singer Kiran Ahluwalia bringing a soaring vocal part. A fine fusion of acoustic-driven rock and world music, and 14 stand-alone pieces which end with the gentle mystery of "Sleeping Gypsy". Very appealing.






A Long Way to the Beginning
Seun Kuti and Egypt 80

We say: One more time from the son of the father of Afrobeat.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree in the case of Fela Anikulapo Kuti's sons Femi and Seun. Both offer minor variations of their father's signature Afrobeat. You can't deny the energy here as Seun fires off salvos about the I.M.F. (International Monetary Fund), corruption, commercialization, and respect for women.

But if you scan those topics and consider the genre they are couched in—aside from the limp rap on "IMF" —it's mostly archetypal Afrobeat. You couldn't accuse it of particular originality. The Yoruban-language "Ohun Aiye" shifts the co-ordinates to somewhere more Afro pop-rock and "African Smoke" kicks off with a tough rap from Blitz the Ambassador.

But as for the rest, Femi and Seun have been down this path many times, and while there are pleasures to be had, they are once again familiar ones. And this doesn't have the knife-edge fury and sense of danger of Fela.






The Sounds of Varanasi
Srdjan Beronja and Various Artists

We say: A day in the life of a spiritual city, without the incessant background noise.

The title suggests honking horns, people shouting, and the noise of boisterous marketplaces, but the subtitle is the clue: "A Unique Sound Journey Through the Holy City."

Our guide on this dawn-to-dusk trip is Serbian percussionist/composer Beronja who adopted Varanasi as his home while he learned classical Indian music. And for this collection he did field recordings of prayers and ceremonies, as well as recitals by sitar and violin player Pt. Dhruv Nath Mishra and others.

It opens with a short "Morning Mantra" by a group of old men (and green parrots) and closes with an "Evening Mantra" by singing holy men … then the short "Raga Bhairavi", an evening raga by Mishra and tabla player Ravi Tripathi. So this isn't the high art of classical Indian raga but rather a collection of frequently beguiling snippets of music, chants recorded in alleyways or on the ghats, and the vigorous noise of drums at a wedding.

Beronja sensibly keeps the atmospheric pieces short. None are more than two minutes, and you wouldn't want more than 44 seconds of monkeys scrapping over a piece of roti bread. But the music can often be lovely ("Pahari Dhun" with Hari Poundwal on sinuously melodic bansuri flute) and the short field recordings which punctuate the collection bring an authenticity to the hour-long journey towards nightfall.

A very interesting project and the useful liner notes fill in details of the musical styles and instruments.






Graham Reid is a New Zealand—based travel/music/arts writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His second book The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through www.amazon.com. He hosts his own wide-screen website www.elsewhere.co.nz and his most recent travels have been through India, odd parts of China, the Australian Outback and Jordan. He likes deserts..

See the last round of music reviews from Graham Reid.

Also in this issue:


Sabla Tolo IV

Buy Sabla Tolo IV online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



Planetary Coalition

Buy Planetary Coalition online here:
Amazon US





A Long Way to the Beginning

Buy A Long Way to the Beginning online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



The Sounds of Varanasi

Buy The Sounds of Varanasi online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



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