Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
March 2015 - By Graham Reid

In this issue: the impressive debut by a new generation from Mali addresses its plight, a brass but not brassy band from Boston, sublime spiritual music from the past, and passable pop from Kenya's back pages.





Music in Exile
Songhoy Blues

We say: From out of chaos comes musical insight.

It's easy to like world music when it sounds like something familiar from your own pop music history. But the music the artists have arrived at is often achieved independent of the Western constructs out of London, New York, Los Angeles or wherever. So it has been with "desert blues" aka "Sahara blues." Etran Finatawa, Tinariwen and others may have sounded like Delta bluesmen, but what drove it were very different circumstances.

A new generation of desert/Sahara blues artists however have grown up more familiar with the outside world. This band from the area between Timbuktu and Gao grew up with the Beatles, Hendrix, American R&B and hip-hop. So if you hear the trickle-down John Lee Hooker filtering in ("Sekou Oumarou") or clock to the rock-blues of the terrific opener "Soubour," you may well be right.

But the title tells you much more is going on here, because these young players are from where the Tuareg rebellion and the Islamic militants of al Qaida have rent their country asunder. Yet while members of this four-piece have been battered by displacement and violence, all are educated so they turn their hand to music that channels their energy and messages into sharply focused, often taut and exciting music. It is of a kind that frequently seems a world removed from the hypnotic trance music of much desert/Sahara blues. This is economic, exciting, and important blues-rock from West Africa, although the yearning of the final two songs — "Desert Melodie" and "Mali" — are imbued with sadness that is palpable.

A real discovery.






Here Comes the Shlomo
Cocek! Brass Band

We say: Reined in but relatable music from Eastern Europe via the Eastern Seaboard.

Just as there seems a proliferation of Afrobeat from all corners of the globe ("Life No Get Duplicate" by the Alma Afrobeat Ensemble out of Barcelona just landed on my desk), so too has the gypsy-influenced sound of Eastern Europe taken footholds everywhere. This five-piece from Boston—formed by trumpeter/singer Sam Dechenne to play his original music—includes members who have toured with classical violinist Itzhak Perlman. There's a discernible jazz influence ("Vagabond Dreamin'" and the lounge orchestra mood of "Who Cares") and sometimes a stateliness which is at some remove from the rambunctious source it draws from.

But this is a very enjoyable album. It opens with their own theme and many among the 13 pieces have a knees-up pace—and is certainly an effective calling card. It just needed "Weddings, parties, anything" and a contact number on the inner sleeve.






Murshidi and Sufi Songs
Various Artists

We say: A more important than essential collection.

Deben Bhattacharya, who died in 2001, was a pioneering world music documentarian, assiduous researcher, photographer, and performer. His travels lead him to record and film music, poetry and dance—historic, religious and contemporary—of ethnic communities across Europe and the Indian subcontinent. Early in the year of his death in Paris, director Stephane Jourdain filmed Music According to Deben Bhattacharya about the old man's return to Bangladesh. It’s where this world citizen recorded the spiritual and instructive music of the Murshidis, whose history emerged centuries ago out of Sufism.

This album collects all of the field recordings of the poetic, inspirational songs of devotion which Bhattacharya got on tape in various locations. The sound is excellent and the liner notes, lyric translations, footnotes, and such make this a vital document. It is also thoroughly enjoyable as the singers yearn and reach for the divine, although we freely concede this kind of music and project is unlikely to command repeat-play in most households.

Nonetheless, it captures a tradition so ancient as to be unknowable, but also so profound it is timeless.






70s Pop!
Slim Ali and the Hodi Boys

We say: Pop from Kenya that’s much as we know it.

In a previous Perceptive Travel column (Sept, 2014) we pointed to the companion volume to this collection billed simply as 70s Soul!. And not on account of vocalist Ali from Kenya and various lounge bars across the region, but because of the band. On that collection the Hodi Boys would sometimes take off on strange tangents behind Ali's classic soul voice, but here—drawn from recordings over the same period and including his big hit "You Can Do It" —we are rarely treated to such oddness.

In fact, most of these Ali originals are pleasant and sometimes rather decent genre pieces—soul, pop, reggae, country-soul etc.—but very few leap out. And the Hodi Boys barely exist at all as they simply swing in behind him. Pleasant pop but not a lot more.






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:


Music in Exile

Buy Music in Exile online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



Here Comes the Shlomo

Buy Here Comes the Shlomo online here:
Amazon US



Murshidi and Sufi Songs

Buy Murshidi and Sufi Songs online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



70s Pop!

Buy 70s Pop! online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK





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