We say: A tribute to longevity and a band whose music has crossed national boundaries.
Hard to believe, but the hugely popular Gipsy Kings have been around — with an unchanged core line-up — for over 25 years. And in that time they have managed to constantly refresh their guitar-based gypsy/flamenco repertoire by pulling from Latin, Cuban and pop music (their version of the Eagles' "Hotel California" featured in "The Big Lebowksi"). Yet, with their energy, raw vocals and romantic songs they've always sounded exactly like themselves.
Which means with this album — 11 originals — you know what you're going to get: the mercurial acoustic guitar lines of the great Tonnino Baliardo; the yearning vocals of Nicola Reyes; evocatively romantic instrumentals (the delightful "Fairies Melody"); songs with dramatically passionate choruses; some influences from outside (Brazilian notably) …
The Gipsy Kings' debut album, which took them to a global audience courtesy of the "Bamboleo" single, was released in '87. That same year a group of British music industry types gathered in the Empress of Russia pub in London and coined the phrase "world music" as a sales strategy.
Interesting coincidence, but the Kings, who began as street performers in France, created world music without the marketing drive. Still are, all these decades on.
The Rough Guide to Arabic Cafe
We say: A nice middle-of-the-souk traipse around the Arabic music scene.
The Rough Guide series of compilations upped their game recently with fine collections of psychedelic Bollywood and Bollywood disco, although their voodoo selection was disappointingly tame. So you still need to approach these catch-all collections with caution.
This one however is thoroughly enjoyable, especially for anyone who has traveled in the region. These evocative sounds with their dramatic strings, patted percussion, vibrant horns and soaring vocals will bring back memories of exotic backstreets and busy markets, days of convivial warmth and nights when the sound of distant music wafted across rooftops.
This is necessarily a superficial traipse around the pan-Arabic world, with representatives from the Nubian Nile (Salamat), the Sudan (Abdel Gadir Salim who recorded the excellent '05 album "Ceasefire" album with rapper Emmanuel Jal), Egypt (Mahmoud Fadi), Palestine (Ramzi Aburedwan with the vigorous bouzouk and accordion piece "Tahrir") and so on. It closes with the cinematic, 11 minute "Tales of the Sahara" by Lebanese composer/pianist Ihsan al-Mounzer and his group Jalilah.
A slightly MOR introduction to these sounds perhaps, but it should lead you to the source albums or other similar collections, and a further selling point is the excellent bonus disc and '08 debut album by Dozan, the Sufi-influenced group fronted by Jordanian singer Shireen Abu-Kader which frequently verges on the spiritual as much as the secular.
Left Foot Dance of the Yi
We say: Without even hitting the random play button this is very random indeed.
It would be a brave soul who tried to encapsulate this album by a Chinese group from the Yunnan province in just a few sentences. So here goes. Raised on illegally obtained rock albums (Led Zep, Red Hot Chili Peppers etc) as much as their own traditional music (in a province which boasts two dozen ethnic minorities, including the Yi people), they took their meltdown of pop and rock to Beijing … where they discovered they missed home.
So this opens with ambient sounds from a railway station then morphs into some traditional songs as Shanren (which means "mountain men", appropriate given Yunnan is fiercely mountainous and picturesque) explore their roots in songs like the chant of "Laomudeng Village" and "Song of the Wa" (which sound rather Native American). The title track finds them back in the village to the sound of four-stringed lute, and "Lao Suo Mi" is a delightful Naxi folk tune with flute.
Then, because they were raised on rock, for "The Crab" they get into a reggae mood on a traditional children's song from Kunming — the capital of Yunnan — and "Happy New Year" opens with the sound of fireworks before exploding into electric guitars and utterly weird "singing" (think untutored punk-rap). The final piece is "Drinking Song". And it is.
Ethnic rock, if you will? They sound like a lot of fun, if utterly unpredictable.
We say: Gypsy drama, sentiment, and humor get another trot around the track.
The interest in — and release of -- Roma music shows no signs of abating (is gypsy the new Cuban/Sahara blues?). Although this group from suburban Belgrade led by singer-songwriter Dragan Ristic provide vigorous and authentic sounds which bring traditional and modern together, there seems little to distinguish them from the pack also providing punchy dance music propelled by violin, accordion and horns.
On songs like the English-language "Negro" (with sampling and scratching, and acknowledging the great Mano Negro) and "Emily" they betray an interesting sense of humor (although on the latter and "Spunky Man" they almost sound like a parody of gypsy music). Better are the overtly sentimental love songs (the traditional "Ljiljano", and "Vust" which goes out at a furious pace) or when they poke at faux-Roma types (the frantic turntable'n'horn driven "Gadzo DJ").
KAL have been enormously successful on the concert circuit (understandable given their energy) and their albums have frequently topped world music charts — and no one would doubt their honorable intentions of advancing Roma culture. To outsiders and casual listeners, however, this music too often seems as obvious as the album's subtitle.
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..