Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
September 2015 - By Graham Reid

In this issue: more but different blues from the deserts of Mali, Bengali traditional music given a contemporary twist, blues reinvented from two distant sources and India goes to the Sahara.





Alone
Terakaft

We say: Artists in exile conjure up the joys and pains of their homeland.

Just when you think desert blues might have run its course, another album arrives which offers a slightly different take and the genre can grip you all over again. Part of the second generation of Tuareg musicians, Terakaft are now five albums in with "Alone" but this—dance-directed, groove-riding rock with weaving dual guitar lines—springs out of the speakers.

These nine concise songs are produced by Justin Adams. He's the guitarist in Robert Plant's Sensational Space Shifters and has produced the godfathers of desert blues Tinariwen, the band Terakaft leader Diara co-founded. So there's a history of mutual understanding at work and although this is just 37 minutes there's an emotional intensity and musical density at work.

Terakaft's three members now all live in exile after the recent conflicts in Mali, but even in songs like the effortlessly poppy "Oulhin Asnin/My Heart Suffers" their yearning is palpable. The opener "Anabayou/Awkward" rocks you into this (but also gets a moving solo treatment at the end) and "Karambani/Nastiness" has such a nagging riff that it's unshakeable. Perhaps because their name translates as "caravan," in "Tafouk Tele/The Sun Is There" you can imagine a relentless lope across a burning desertscape.

Evocative, compelling and often quite thrilling, especially when those guitars start to sting and sing.






Bengali Music With a London Sound
Khiyo

We say: A mixed bag of tradition in collision with contemporary sounds.

Three years ago this British group faced a wave of controversy in Bangladesh for their version of the national anthem "Amar Shonar Bangla". Although to outsiders it seemed a very respectful and heartfelt, if contemporary, interpretation. Their homeland critics will hardly be appeased by this debut album in which they offer their interpretations of various songs by Bengali Baul musicians and the country's national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam. His classic "Rum Jhum Rumu Jhumu" here gets a slow reading with dramatic jazz piano.

Band member and arranger Oliver Weeks daringly recasts some of these songs as something like prog-rock for the dancefloor with swirling viola and thumping beats (the increasingly breathless "Murshidi").

At core Khiyo are an acoustic three-piece fronted by singer Sohini Alam—a wonderful, third generation vocalist trained in traditional songs—but here have guests on tabla, drums and voila.

As exciting as some of the upbeat songs are, it is the subtle pieces which are the most affecting, and "Nishi Raat" comes off like an enjoyable campfire song. But in a typical head-swivel here, what follows that downhome moment is the punky "Amar Protibaader Bhasha", just as the brooding ballad "Koi Jao Rey" follows the furious "Murshidi".

Over the hour, the considerable talent here flies off in many directions. So while some songs are outstanding, a more cohesive and less showcasing collection would have had more coherence and impact.






The West African Blues Project
Modou Toure and Ramon Goose

We say: Toure & Goose lay down the blues with authority.

The connection between West Africa and the blues isn't new, but this sparkling album by Senegalese singer/guitarist Toure and British guitarist Goose walks an always interesting path between the genres and also gets off it to find new ground.

Sometimes it connects to the spirit and energy of a 50s juke-joint in the Mississippi Delta or the blistering roadhouse blues-rock of George Thorogood ("Lolambe"), but at others ("Dune" and the languid "We Walk in the Sahara") Toure's gloriously pure voice floats high above the rolling rhythms and Goose's shimmering or penetrating guitar. And "Waar" comes off as timeless, radio-friendly soul-pop.

What holds this together is the blues at its base; whether it be brooding, disconcerting, searing (the powerful "Satan") or celebratory.

This is strength through diversity, and a collection which will get repeat-play for a long time to come.






Sanata: Stillness
Kiran Ahluwalia

We say: A surprisingly different cross-cultural and personal journey.

Opening with a sharp shiver of electric guitar and drone before singer Ahluwalia enters, this crossover world-music-cum-rock album subverts the expectation of its title immediately. And from there on this multiple award-winning, India-born, New York-based Canadian takes us on a journey through traditional styles, Sahara blues (the opener "Hayat" and the title track), jazz-rock … and just about anything which isn’t "stillness". That reference is doubtless because the lyrics—offered in translation—frequently refer to emotional states, some of which are spiritual and others more about the uncertainties of life.

Musically this is as close to Bamako in Mali as it is Patna in India (her birthplace), but it manages to bridge the geographical distance because of the powerful musicianship (electric guitar and bass alongside tabla and harmonium) and her persuasive vocals. Two worlds come together as one. Unexpectedly different, in a good way.






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 most recent travels have been through India, odd parts of China, the Australian Outback and Jordan..

See the last round of music reviews from Graham Reid.



Also in this issue:

Alone

Buy Alone online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



Bengali Music With a London Sound

Buy Bengali Music With a London Sound online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK





The West African Blues Project

Buy The West African Blues Project online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



Sanata: Stillness

Buy Sanata: Stillness online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



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