Esta Tierra Es Tuya
Sones de Mexico Ensemble Chicago
We say: Mexican immigrants having fun with strings
The Mexican Son music played by the members of the Sones de Mexico ensemble is neither the music you'll hear on your local Hispanic radio station nor the Mexican folk music you'll hear on some highbrow collection highlighting authenticity. Instead it's the kind of mash–up you'd expect from Mexican immigrants living in Chicago who happen to know a few players from the big city symphony orchestra. A foldout insert shows the 50+ all–acoustic instruments used to make the album and a few Chicago Symphony Orchestra members make a guest appearance.
There's a 19th–century Chilean song about unrequited love for a black woman, a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Four Sticks," and a performance of Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 by J.S. Bach. Sones de Mexico performs the title track, written by Woody Guthrie and sung by school kids ever since, in two languages. It serves as the thematic centerpiece, hopefully getting across a uniting sentiment in these times of a bitter (and often pointless) arguments about the role of immigrants in a country's vitality and growth.
Gaudi and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
We say: A dead Pakistani singer comes back to life via studio electronica
Messing with a dead guy's recordings has the potential to be an affront to both the artist and his or her fans. Thankfully, British producer Gaudi's Dub Qawwali is just the opposite: a tribute that manages to honor the original vocals while surrounding them with current production values. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who died ten years ago, was larger than life in more ways than one: he weighed around 300 pounds and had a voice to match. His Sufi Qawwali musical performances were the stuff of legend, with lots of improvisation and songs that often went on for 20 minutes or more. He was no purist, however. Over the years he collaborated with Peter Gabriel, Eddie Vedder, Michael Brooks, and others.
He probably would have liked this album, even the fourth track, where his music is backed by Gaudi's dubs and a theme from a Kraftwerk song, "The Model." Most of these remixes have reggae overtones, an apt fusion of two "peace and love" musical messages. Apart from some reverb effects here and there, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's vocals have not been altered: the dubs envelop the singing, rather than the singing serving the dubs. The result is an accessible new album that preserves the power of a musical legend.
Hear Gaudi talking about the album on NPR's Day to Day.
Putumayo Presents World Hits
We say: World Music 101
Putumayo's latest collection gets away from their thematic or regional collections and gives us 11 world music songs that have actually gotten onto commercial radio stations in a variety of countries-not an easy feat in any decade. You've got Peter Tosh singing with Mick Jagger, Youssou N'Dour singing with Neneh Cherry, and familiar names such as the Gipsy Kings, Santana, and Jimmy Cliff. There are also a few one-hit wonders, like Cuban Mongo Santamaria's version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man." While some of these songs may not be recognizable to the residents of some countries, all seemed to be huge hits in France––go figure. I could quibble about who better deserved to be on this collection than some of these, but the Kafkaesque world of music licensing is probably responsible for most of the omissions.
As always with Putumayo collections, the liner notes are in three languages and do an excellent job of telling you what you're listing to. Overall this is a solid collection of catchy songs that would serve as a great world music introduction for anyone on your gift list.
United We Swing
Spanish Harlem Orchestra
We say: Salsa's A-list backup band creates a hot sticky sidewalks soundtrack
Whether you know it or not, you've probably heard the Spanish Harlem Orchestra plenty of times. Over several decades they have backed up many of the salsa giants: Tito Puente, Reuben Blades, and Celia Cruz for a start. Based on 125th Street in Harlem, they took the sounds from several homelands, including Puerto Rico and Cuba, and created a fatter big band sound that resonated from the streets of New York outward. This new disc, a follow–up to their Grammy–winning last album, continues the classic–meets–contemporary sound, a crowd–pleasing mix that spans the generations. This is upbeat, fun music that crams a lot of sounds into each tune, with 13 to 15 band members at work on each song, including plenty of horns and percussion. If your music collection needs a representative salsa album, you can't go wrong with United We Swing.
This month's music reviews were written by editor Tim Leffel, who spent seven years working for RCA Records before discovering that devoting his life to promoting lousy music was not so glamorous after all. He is author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune and is co–author of Hip–Hop, Inc.: Success Strategies of the Rap Moguls.
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