Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan
We say: Boiling and roiling traditional music from Rajasthan to take your breath away
Over the long haul — 10 songs and 50 minutes — the relentlessly boiling percussion which underpins much of the sound of this group of France-based musicians from Rajasthan may lead to some exhaustion. But judicious sampling reveals the many charms of this ensemble which is grounded in tradition but has steeled itself by frequent touring.
The first standout is three tracks in — after the breathless Banno and Rajasthani Reggae (which, despite its audience-appeasing title, is pretty good) — when the mood drops for the aching Sanjay Khan, a poetic song of loss sung over scraping sarangi and gentle drone. Equally good is the ballad Dhabi later on where the lonely, wailing sarangi has a slightly-delic quality.
But mostly this is party-on uptempo spiritual-dance music: Shiv Ji is a thrilling and complex weave of vocals, percussion and harmonium, and Dhoad Pyaro (Lovely Dhoad) opens with an arresting and powerful vocal before the rhythms kick in. It sounds the ideal song to start a concert.
Confusingly nine musicians are pictured (including director Rahis Bharti) on the cover but 15 are credited, and in the 30 minute DVD film on a separate disc we see eight (including Bharti). No matter, this flexible line-up, which sometimes includes female dancers, delivers an exciting sound even if sometimes you might want to take a tea break.
Band of Gypsies 2
Taraf de Haidouks and Kocani Orkestar
We say: Exciting and successful forced marriage of styles in the service of wonderful music
More gypsies … but these are Romany, two famous groups teaming up to celebrate the Taraf's 20th anniversary as this 26-strong collective ensemble take on new compositions designed to explore the contrast between the Romanian Taraf's violins and accordions, and the horn-driven sound of the Macedonian Orkestar. This album also comes a decade on from the first Taraf Band of Gypsies album (which had the Orkestar playing on three pieces) but this is a more fully realized encounter … although by sharing a Belgian musical director (Stephane Karo) both bands were on equal and fairly common ground and sharing influences from Turkey.
Recorded in less than two weeks, this packs quite a punch but also digs deep into emotional territory when Taraf singer Paul Giuclea steps forward for the exceptional Mandrulita Mea, on which he sounds like he could hammer in nails with just his voice. Later Sara is an aching ballad, and when both groups land on Talk to Me Duso — emotional violins, strident horns — this has an undeniably joyous sound.
There is also an urgent intensity here: the heart-racing Turceasca a lu Kalo, percussion and horn-driven Jarretelle at the midpoint, and the closer Gypsy Sahara which acts like an in-built, foot-stomping encore. But it is the emotion-wringing songs which leave a lasting impression.
We say: An emotional, melodic, and frequently sublime collaboration between two worlds
Had it not been for the late Andy Palacio from Belize, many might have never have heard of the Garifuna culture that exists along the Caribbean/Atlantic coast of Honduras, Belize and Guatemala. His championing of the music lead to success of the Garifuna Women's Project, and the producer of their Umalali album Ivan Duran takes the helm for this delightful outing by Palacio's friend: the guitarist, drummer, and songwriter Aurelio Martinez from Honduras.
Also on hand are Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour (who took Martinez under his wing in Dakar) and other six-string players, as well as Orchestra Baobab. All this makes for an album of pan-Atlantic consciousness linking Africa with the Garifuna through supple Afro-rhythms and kora alongside the women's vocals and Martinez' gorgeously understated guitar. There is even the presence of Senegalese rapper Sen Kumpe on the loping Weibayuwa (don't be afraid, he's not a ranter).
From the gorgeously melodic guitars to N'Dour's impassioned vocals (notably on Wamada which is addressed to Palacio) and the warm but crisp production by Duran, this album is a real treasure. It affirms through stories of loss and shared history across the shameful Middle Passage, and also rejoices in connections made again.
Graham Reid is a New Zealand—based writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His new collection The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award. He also hosts his own music/travel/arts website www.elsewhere.co.nz .