Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
May 2016 - By Graham Reid

In this issue: Uplifting and thoughtful music from Haiti by way of Canada, a vibrant history lesson from Mauritius, Russian reflections, and more global village Afrobeat given a late twist of originality.





Ayiti, Etoile Nouvelle
Wesli


We say: A tasty gumbo of styles from the Caribbean and Africa


Born in Haiti and for a long time Montreal-based (although he tours constantly), Wesley Louissaint is the sum of considerable influences. He effects an effortless amalgamation of Haitian vodou, his distinctive take on reggae, West African styles (notably in the tickling guitar work which nods towards juju) and bouncy pop. It is a thoroughly enjoyable melange of styles and doubtless would be irresistible live.

There is a danceable quality at core (having two drummers helps drive the rhythms) but Wesli also possesses a warm and engaging voice which transcends any language barriers encountered in the French-based Haitian Creole and more familiar French. Confusingly this, his fourth album, was initially released last year at the same time as his third, but is being given a second life because of a lengthy US tour and performances in Haiti. With his excellent band, Wesli will put a smile on your face (and your feet into dancing shoes) no matter when you hear this. Recommended.






Soul Sok Sega
Various Artists


We say: Are you ready for the hot sound of folk-sega?

Let's be clear, if you are a world music purist and prefer artists to never stray from centuries old traditions this 20-song collection is not for you. For the rest of us however it is a revelation of the distinctive (and sometimes downright weird) sound of lo-fi pop, rock, funk and jazz-influenced music out of Mauritius in the 70s. The once marginalized style of sega — brought by slaves from East Africa and Madagascar — became codified and popular in this era when it was hitched to electric guitars, primitive electronics and James Brown-styled funk. None of these earworm songs—colored by wah-wah, urgent percussion, sometimes strident vocals and in one instance a siren—have been released outside the island. So they come as a revelation of a scene and style which only tried to please the locals.

The primitive sound of the recordings also hasn't been cleaned up so these songs are thrilling, raw, and immediate. The collection also comes with excellent sleeve notes and—if you have open ears and catholic tastes in music—by the end of this repeat-play collection of unusual but engaging music you'll be asking, "Can I have some more please?"






Over
Julia Vorontsova


We say: Music which confronts, heals and is therapeutic

This US-based Russian singer brings an uncommon intensity and focus to these songs—in Russian and Roma, explained in the liner notes—on a collection which sounds almost cathartic in intent. The songs are a clearing house of coiled rage, disappointment, dark passions, and the pains of relationships. Which is not as bleak as that sounds. Because she and her musicians, playing electric guitar and strings, couch the songs in appealing and appropriate settings (notably on the spare "Prayer 2" and childlike "Air" right at the end).

At times her voice is too weak for the more assertive material ("Oubliette" and "Alps", both buoyed up by stinging guitar from Zeke Zima). But on the more intimate songs (the dialogue between a young girl and someone who has died on "Gretchen", with disconcerting ocarina and cello) she drags you into an unnerving, dark place.

This—like, for example Marianne Faithfull or Marlene Dietrich—will not be for everyone. Not everything works either, but mostly this is an impressive collection of self-analysis and observations given empathetic musical contexts. Get it here.






It's Time
Alma Afrobeat Ensemble


We say: A game of two halves, the second worth the fast-forward


Like reggae, Afrobeat is one of those genres which is hard to resist when experienced live, especially at world music festivals or in sweaty clubs. But, as with reggae, it succeeds by working the familiar, in the case of Afrobeat the boiling template laid down by pioneer Fela Anikulapo Kuti four decades ago. This band, formed in Chicago by guitarist Aaron Felder — who admits it only took off when he relocated to Barcelona a decade ago—doesn't stray much from Fela in the first half. By the midpoint you'd be prepared to shrug and dismiss this as just more familiar Afrobeat. But the remixes in the second half pull this into much more interesting territory. Here hammering percussion and bass are pulled upfront, there are aggressive raps, and cavernous echoes of dub trickery are explored.

If their originals don't sound especially original, the inventive remixers have managed to make something distinctive out of the source material. An album improved by playing it in reverse.






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 recent travels have been through India, western China, the Australian Outback and Jordan. He loves deserts but is currently enjoying the chill of Sweden before the humidity of Singapore.

See the last round of music reviews from Graham Reid.





Sign Up








Soul Sok Sega

Buy Soul Sok Sega online here:
Amazon US





Over

Buy Over online here:
Amazon US







It's Time

Buy It's Time online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada