Ojos de Brujo
We say: Barcelona gypsies unleash flamenco on crack.
Sometimes you pop a new CD in and go about your business. Other times one stops you in your tracks and makes you say, "Holy s&*# !"
Barcelona's Ojos de Brujo does not make background music that takes a back seat to cocktail party conversation––or anything else. Techarí is a groundbreaking collection of songs that whack you on the side of the head with their uniqueness and poke you in the chest whenever your attention starts drifting off to something else.
Ojos de Brujo––"Eyes of the Wizard"––is a band of bewitching gypsies that honors its roots, but constantly pushes forward. Flamenco, Roma, and Indian influences shine throughout, but then so do elements of punk, reggae, jazz, and hip–hop when the song suits. (In "Piedres vs. Tanques," there's even a hint of Metallica for an instant.) While this would all be a bit too much in the hands of an average band, Ojos de Brujo is not average in any way. The shifting musical meters require a high level of musicianship––the first track "Color" sounds like a whacked–out Spanish band reinterpreting the style of King Crimson's Discipline album. Other songs stop and start on a dime, with members syncing up perfectly: the summer tour through the U.S. and Canada will be something to behold.
While there's a drummer listed in the credits, most of the percussion takes other forms: Flamenco claps and castanets, guitar body taps, and the rapid–fire percussive vocal sounds found in many ancient musical forms around the world. Throughout, there's not a moment where you feel like the eight permanent members and revolving guests are not in complete control. This is the antithesis of the jam band record; the vocals and lyrics are emotional, raw, and brash, but musically this is so perfectly produced it could serve as a demo disc in any high–end stereo store. If Techarí doesn't sound good on your stereo or headphones, it's time to buy a replacement.
Those who buy this on CD rather than downloading it get a worthwhile bonus CD–Rom. It contains music videos, interpretive artwork, and lyrics in 15––yes 15––languages. Highly recommended.
Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective
We say: A Belize rocker digs down to his roots.
Andy Palacio was already the biggest fish in the little pond of Belize before releasing this album, but Wátima could be the one that launches him across lots of seas and oceans. After years of making "Punta rock" with lots of electronic keyboards and studio wizardry, Palacio has returned to his Garifuna roots. The result is an extremely satisfying, organic collection that's as warm as a Caribbean breeze.
At the risk of simplifying a complex people, the Garifuna are descendents of African slaves who were brought to the Caribbean––especially Jamaica––then made their way to Honduras and Belize. While many have blended into the fabric of modern life in Central America, others are trying hard to keep the music, the language, and the traditions alive.
The Garifuna Collective is Palacio's attempt to do his part, with Belizian producer Ivan Duran pulling in multiple generations of musicians, songwriters, and singers from the community––including 75 year–old legend Paul Nabor. The songs are spare and powerful, with accompaniment usually consisting of hand drums, guitar, bass, and a multitude of call–and–response vocals. Hardly anyone hearing the album outside of the Garifuna community will understand a word of it, but it doesn't matter. The joy and sincerity show through loud and clear.
If you're looking for an alternative to stale Jimmy Buffet or Bob Marley songs for those upcoming summer barbeques, pick up this Garifuna collection and break out the beers and rum.
The Rough Guide to Latin–Arabia
We say: If Arabs and Latinos can sound so good together, can't we all just get along?
In the past, Rough Guides has brought us authentic collections of traditional music from around the world, whether in a full country collection or in a spotlight on one form, such as Tango or Bhangra. Sometimes they'll abandon the authentic and mash it up though, like in this collection of "Latin–Arabia" music.
Odd as it sounds, the mixing of these two musical forms does have some historical precedence. Trace things back to Moorish Spain, where music from North Africa influenced music from Southern Europe––and vice–versa. Then in the New World of the Americas, it got mixed together in new ways with another population.
We now think of "Latin" music mostly in terms of Latin America and the music of "Arabia" usually hits western ears by way of Egypt or Turkey. But they still cross paths regularly: anyone who saw the recent Grammy performance from Shakira (from Colombia) and Wyclef Jean (from Haiti) couldn't help but notice the Moroccan arches and belly dancing references.
This collection is a result of all the places where North Africa, the Middle East, and Latin music combine. Some will recognize the "Alabina" track from the album of the same name: an Arabic/Israeli/Gypsy/Flamenco album that has never failed to get a reaction from people I've played it for––either inspiring them to cock their head and say, "That's interesting" or inspiring them to promise to smash my car stereo if I don't eject it pronto.
This CD is a solid collection, but it's definitely for the adventurous listener. Combining vocals that sound like they could be from a mosque call to prayer with a band that could be playing at a Puerto Rican wedding is not everyone's idea of a good time. When Moroccan singer Rhany Kabbadj took the classic Cuban song "Chan Chan" and gave it Arabic vocals and instrumentation, some people surely thought he was nuts. Strangely though, if you give it a chance it all works.
We say: New Brazilian chanteuse shows chops, breaks hearts via Starbucks.
A young and beautiful woman from Brazil comes along, sings in a breathy voice, and captivates the heart of every man who is paying attention. Haven't we heard this story before? Yes, but it's hard to get tired of it when the music is so good.
This doesn't sound like a debut album from a woman in her mid–20s, first of all. CéU (pronounced "say you") has put out a song collection that sounds fully matured. It's refined, it's jazzy, it's a bit left–of–center, and it's coming to a Starbucks near you. Seriously: it'll be in your local coffee shop starting April 3. Her U.S. tour starts the next day.
Like so much great music coming out of Brazil these days, CéU draws liberally from the samba and bossa nova vault, but brings it all into the current age with electronica touches and influences from around the globe. Brazilian music and jazz have been partners for a long time already, of course, but here they are combined in new ways, with a dose of African and Jamaican influences thrown in for good measure.
It's easy to see why Six Degrees is prepping this artist for international stardom. She was nominated as best new artist in the Latin Grammys last year and if the song "Roda" were in English, with Timbaland producing it, I have no doubt it would be all over the radio. This is no vapid pop album though. Though the electronic side of the production is excellent, real drums, horn sections, and layers of background vocals shine through.
Putumayo Presents A New Groove
We say: If the groove is pumping, who cares where it came from?
A New Groove is, unabashedly, a party album. Yes, it's a statement celebrating the musical mixtures washing over our globe. It's an illustration of the collaborative powers afforded by Internet radio, cheap recording technology, and instant global communication. But when you put it on and your head starts bobbing up and down, the origins and the higher meaning don't matter. The one true uniting factor is every song has a great groove.
This isn't a collection of superstar artists by any means. Most listeners won't recognize anyone beyond Thievery Corporation (though one member of Bitter:Sweet was once in Supreme Beings of Leisure). We've got Emo from Denmark, Gabriel Rios from Puerto Rico, K–Os from Canada by way of Trinidad, and artists from such unexotic locations as the U.S, Germany, Australia, and the UK. When this CD is in the player––ideally during the second half of a good party––nobody will care where any of this songs came from. It's just good global music with an arresting beat. Not frantic dance music, but more the kind of soundtrack where you look around and everyone's head and shoulders are moving to the beat.
Putumayo has a reputation for putting together great collections that nail the theme and this one is no exception. Get New Groove and get yours on.
This month's music reviews were written by editor Tim Leffel, who spent seven years working for RCA Records before discovering that devoting his life to promoting lousy music was not so glamorous after all. He is author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune and is co–author of Hip–Hop, Inc.: Success Strategies of the Rap Moguls.
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