After the Tempest
We say: Afro-Celtic rainforest pioneers pay their respects to The Bard.
Baka Beyond have been active for over two decades now, pleasing festival crowds with animated live performances and putting out a number of world music CD releases along the way. The band is based around two British musicians, Martin Craddock and Su Hart, who have had a long ongoing relationship with the forest pygmies of the Baka region in Cameroon, West Africa. Working on a regular basis with the Baka people they have set up Global Musical Exchange — a sort of cultural fair trade charity — to repay the debt they feel they owe these people for their musical inspiration.
This recording has a clutch of new players joining the regular band: drummer Clyde Kramer, who like the founder members has also spent time in the forest with the Baka people, and vocalist Ellie Jamison, who previously toured and sang with the group a decade ago. This time round there is an additional Shakespeare connection too, as After the Tempest — the clue is in the name — includes two songs ("Ariel's Song" and "Full Fathom West") from a Welsh production of The Tempest that the band were recently involved with.
What Baka Beyond play is a pleasing blend of Celtic-style tunes ("Siuil a Run") and West African guitar music ("Mosumana Collé," "Imbayé") that also successfully integrates the distinctive singing style of Baka women, which imitates the creatures of the forest's natural world. After the Tempest is tuneful and relaxed — easy listening even, although not in the pejorative sense. This is laid back, dreamy music that evokes light-dappled forest clearings, sunny music festival stages and crackling campsite fires. There's some pretty tasty bass playing too, courtesy of one-time Kanda Bongo Man sidekick, Kibisingo Douglas.
Jah Wobble presents PJ Higgins
We say: Soulful dub from London via Jamaica.
Jah Wobble (real name, John Wardle), former bassist with Public Image Limited (PiL), has played with an enormously wide range of musicians since his low-note debut back in the late 1970s. Although rooted in punk, he is nothing if not eclectic and whether it be world music, folk, rock or free jazz, it is all grist to the mill for Wobble. Past collaborations that have featured the trademark Wobble bass treatment have been Eno, Bill Laswell, Sinead O'Connor, members of Can, and even British alto sax supremo Evan Parker.
Here, on this eight-track release, Wobble's low-end expertise has been recruited to provide the groove for the vocal stylings of PJ Higgins, a London-based soul singer who, while relatively unknown, has sung with the likes of Natacha Atlas and the Ethiopian roots-jazz outfit Dub Colossus. The producer is Alex McGowan, who has worked with both Tricky and Wilko Johnson in the past, and who also contributes guitar.
"My Heart's Burning" kicks off proceedings with a bluesy feel that owes its mood as much to the streets of south London as it does it the Mississippi Delta. "I Did Bad," the next track, sounds as if Tricky might be in the control room glowering at the mike, while "King of Illusion," which follows, has a similar trip-hop flavor alongside a strong dub reggae vibe. (There is also a separate dub version of the same song that has, as you might expect, much more bass and drums and much less singing.) "Inspiration" is a slow moody piece with a hint of Lover's Rock about it, while "Watch How You Walk" is another that comes with a strong dub feel (the 12" version of this album features additional mixes of this song by Dennis Bovell, DJ Kutz and the granddaddy of dub himself, Lee Scratch Perry). "What Have I Become," the final track, has a typical Wobblesque bass riff shaping it throughout, augmented by a cracking circular drum pattern.
All in all, it's great atmospheric stuff, although it is a shame that the album comes to an end after a little over 30 minutes. Still, as they say, less is more, and ‘less' is surely what dub is all about.
We say: Frantic Klezmer Punk from New York City.
Released on Corason, the same Mexican label that once gave us musical worthies like Cuarteto Patria, Tanz is the latest release by the New York-based klezmeristas Golem. Golem — their name comes from that of a sinister monster in Jewish folklore — is a six-piece band known for wild, uninhibited music. This is no exception.
Inspiration comes from the contemporary experience of American Jews and the songs here reflect this. "Tanz," the title song and opener, is a true tale of Roman Blum, a holocaust survivor who became a millionaire in the USA, while "7.40" documents the tough life of an aspiring doctor in the former USSR who experiences anti-Semitism in the Soviet military."Freydele" uses words from a Yiddish children's poem, and "Mikveh Bath" imagines the thought of a Jewish bride taking her ritual bath before the wedding night. There's dark humor too: "Vodka is Poison" apparently makes use of a Russian self-help tape for its lyrical content, and "Poletim" is based on a true story of an incompetent Russian aircraft hijack attempt in which the hapless protagonists demand to be taken to the Jewish autonomous region of Birobidzhan in Siberia.
The music is full of energy and chutzpah, in the same sort of mold as the better known festival rockers Gogol Bordello. Tanz is, in fact, so fast-paced that it can become a little exhausting to listen to after a while. With two charismatic lead singers — Annette Ezekiel Kogan and Aaron Diskin — the virtuoso violin of Jeremy Brown and a solid rhythm section, Golem are clearly a great act to catch live. The trombone work of Curtis Hasselbring is exemplary too, his solo instrument successfully doing the work that would normally be given to an entire brass section.
We say: Melancholy songs from Kurdistan.
Kurdistan is not a country of course. It's a large region in the Middle East that straddles Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Despite lacking political autonomy, it is a region where Kurds have lived for millennia and where Kurdish culture, language, and identity are strong. Royê Mi is a collection of songs that tell of the life and tribulations of the Kurdish people in this region. Some of the tunes are traditional love songs about beautiful women ("Bejnê," "Dîlber"), while others like "Ko (Mountain)" tell of the difficulty of life in the rugged Kurdish mountains. Others are far more contemporary and speak of the ongoing political struggle of the Kurds in the region: "Bêrîtan" is about the death of a female guerrilla, while "Berxam (My Lambkin),"is a mother's lament about her fears for the life of her daughter, also a freedom fighter.
Given the serious subject matter, it is no surprise that this is a pretty downbeat collection, with songs that are mostly wistful, with slow tempo and minor key. Sakîna, originally from Turkey but currently living in exile in Europe, sings with restrained poignancy throughout. The vocals are sensitively accompanied by a combination of guitar, bass and violin on most tracks, while traditional instruments like bilûr (flute), kemane (viol) and qanûn (zither) are also occasionally featured to provide texture and give a more authentic Kurdish flavor.
Laurence Mitchell is a British travel writer and photographer with a special interest in transition zones, cultural frontiers and forgotten places that are firmly off the beaten track. He is author of the Bradt Travel Guides to Serbia, Belgrade and Kyrgyzstan, Slow Norfolk & Suffolk and a regular contributor to hidden europe magazine. His website can be seen at www.laurencemitchell.com and his blog at eastofelveden.wordpress.com.
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