Putumayo Presents South Africa
We say: A solid collection that wil get the sound of vuvuzelas out of your head
This CD came out in May to get in front of the World Cup media hype, but thankfully it has more long-lasting appeal than the Netherlands vs. Spain snoozefest that ended that tournament.
As with most Putumayo releases, the compilers worked hard to represent multiple facets of this diverse country with 11 languages, so at least one track may send you bounding for the skip button. Their "fusion of the traditional and contemporary" includes tracks from well-known legends Miriam Makeba and the Soweto Gospel Choir, but also extends to reggae-influenced Blk Sonshine and Durban singer-songwriter Nibs van der Spuy.
It's a stronger collection than most, primarily because it's hard to go wrong in this musically rich country. Overall it's an exuberant, happy album that will make you smile, even when things slow down or go acoustic.
Don't pick this up expecting the same Paul Simon Graceland grooves that were around 20 years ago, but rather a peek into the "rainbow nation" that defines post-Apartheid South Africa. Just in the last three tracks you get a little Reggae, a little call-and-response African music with guitar picking, and some gospel choir music. Thankfully, you won't hear even one vuvuzela buzzing in your ear...
Business Class Refugees
Kartik and Gotam
We say: Let's hope this pair gets stuck in airports more often
While Mumbai is the capital of India's popular music-driven by movie soundtracks-many of the most interesting electronic hybrids come from elsewhere. Karsh Kale's home cit of Chennai has become a hotspot and Chennai's Earthsync label is behind this release from Kartik and Gotam. Appropriately in this hybrid world, the two are actually Israeli, but they spent a lot of time in South India helping out after the Tsunami and kept coming back.
The title, Business Class Refugees, has two meanings. In one sense it's the mashing and stirring of multiple cultures that leads to new combinations of sounds and beats. The literal meaning is from when the pair got stuck in a business class lounge at the Singapore airport waiting for a visa and used the opportunity to get to work on their laptops, using sound files they already had recorded. What came out in the end is an album of intriguing songs that are more than just collections of Hindi vocals over routine dance floor beats.
The Indian heritage is clear, on most songs, but here trombones accompany tablas and an accordion and sitar back up chants from Tajikstan on "Boye Boye." Importantly, most of the tracks come off as real songs, with elements like choruses, bridges, and solos. There's not a lot of track-lengthening fluff that so often gets tiresome over the course of a whole album.
This is Indian-based music first, international electronica second, which elevates it above much of the global mash-up music coming out every month. For those looking for more than an exotic vocalist on top of western beats, this is a full album collection of ear-opening and often surprising tracks.
We say: Rastafarian worship music gets a push from a famous guitarist
Sometimes I read about an album and just can't wait to start cranking it through the earbuds. In some cases though, that giddy excitement fades fast after the tunes don't match the expectation. Wingless Angels was one of those collections for me. Jamaican music, discovered by Keith Richards, featuring a man credited with starting ska music? That's gotta be great, right?
Well, it turns out this is "Nyabinghi music," which is more like Rastafarian gospel. The main accompaniment to the vocals is a bass drum. It's slow and sparse in instrumentation, like the weed was too good for the tempo to ever pass 80 bpm. Most tracks feature harmonizing vocals, a couple different drums, and a bass line, with a few guitar licks from Richards added almost as grace notes on top.
This collection is, despite what you'd expect from Richards' friendship and involvement over decades, prayers put to music. "A deep sense of the sacred-of joy, light, and hope-defines Wingless Angels. Though many melodies hail from centuries-old Protestant hymns, the music flows from the Rastafarian faith, from the celebrations that transformed three drums of African heritage into a deep and intense exploration of rhythm and the human soul."
My taste is not your taste though, so go check it out and you may find that it touches your soul. The double CD box set will be out in September, with the original out-of-print album and additional material, but you can sample two tracks now at this link.
Perceptive Travel editor Tim Leffel is author of several books, including the new Travel Writing 2.0. He once wrote bios and marketing copy for now-forgotten rock bands, but he currently spits out more heartfelt raves on the Cheapest Destinations Blog and the Practical Travel Gear Blog.
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Buy Wingless Angels online here: