We say: An intoxicating brew given a gentle whisk to create something unique
From Cameroon but based in Paris, this singer-guitarist (who sings in French and his native Bassa) is now on the World Connection label, and nowhere could be more appropriately named given his sophisticated sound touches samba and bossa-like rhythms, soft American soul, suggestions of juju guitars, groovy trip-hop, pure pop and even slinky jazz — which is what you might expect on a classy album where fluttery flute sits alongside kora, accordion, acoustic and electric guitars and African percussion. World connection made.
This is heady and seductive original music and his production is pure 21st century where his supple and strong vocals (sometimes recalling the yearning of Salif Keita) sits as another instrument within the magical, interweaving melodies and stressless rhythms.
"Ndjeck" is a gentle lament over fretless bass which is propelled into a shuffle by the slightly urgent backing vocals, "Je te ya mo" is as gentle a hypnotic ballad as you could imagine, and "Omaya" ("a meeting with an ant looking for its daughter") is tickled into life by acoustic guitar.
The album ends with "Lullaby Mangond," but in a way this whole thing has been an invitation to a dreamland courtesy of subtle rhythms and the beguiling lightness in Bassy's voice.
Possible to talk over at dinner parties, but worth more serious attention that that. Quite something.
We say: Tuareg guitarist gets his groove on. Git down wid it.
As more and more albums of Sahara blues emerge from the likes of Tinariwen, Etran Finatawa, Tamikrest, Terakaft and others, it is increasingly possible to distinguish between styles. Into this growing catalogue comes the younger singer-guitarist Omara Moctar—aka Bombino—who, unlike many from the region, has been self-schooled in Hendrix, blues and rock. That doesn't mean he goes the whole kiss-the-sky route but rather assimilates those influences into the traditional rhythms to which he also adds a snappy funk feel. Try the inescapable groove of the six minute-plus "Tar Hani" and nine minute "Iyat Idounia Ayasahen." He also brings in some head-nodding trance-like pieces ("Adounia"), although in another better world the catchy "Kammou Taliat" and hand-clap of Tenere would be beaming out of your radio.
There are some flat spots (neither "Azamane" nor the five minute "Tigrawahi Tikma" establish the trance mood effectively or rise above their groove much) and you suspect Bombino's star is still ascending. But the best here is as good as it gets in this blossoming genre and if the style suits you there are rewards—albeit cooler and less passionate—aplenty.
Beautiful Rivers and Mountains; The Psychedelic Rock Sound
Shin Joong Hyun
We say: A trip back in time to see staid Seoul through day-glo glasses
South Korea has its legendary musicians (gayageum master Byungki Hwang), the fusion-gugak style (sort of jazz-pop and traditional crossover), rapid tongue-twisting rap and disposable but enjoyable K-pop. But 73-year old Shin Joong Hyun stands beyond easy categorization. Considered the godfather of Korean rock and psychedelic pop of the 60s, he also worked as a producer, studio musician and band leader. In the early 70s his music was banned after he wrote a piece in praise of Korea's beauty rather than hailing the president and the ruling party, and in 75 was arrested for possession of marijuana (punishment: torture, a week in a mental hospital, four months in a detention center).
His work on this annoyingly non-chronological collection opens with slightly jazz-cum-surf rock in the late 50s but leaps over his Beatle-era pop years in favor of his spacey psychedelic guitar (often for other singers) which is admittedly rather out there.
"The Sun" is a lovely pastoral ballad with strings (for the breathy Kim Jung Mi) and "I Don't Like it" is girl group pop (for the slightly soulful Lee Jung Hwa) but at the other end of the spectrum is "J Blues 72," a 15 minute acid rock studio improv.
World music aficionados can often be snooty about pop music and dismiss it as inauthentic. This isn't an issue which troubles locals, it is "their" music. So if you can imagine Pink Floyd and the Electric Prunes sometimes fronted by Korean singers, this could easily be your music too. For a voyage of discovery and Shin's fascinating story told in the handsome booklet, set your controls for the heart of Seoul.
We say: He's has his passport stamped so you can too by just tuning in
French singer-guitarist Blow is one of those annoying characters. It's not enough that he is good looking, sings with the emotional engagement of Jim Morrison, can play Delta blues and psychedelic guitar as well violin, flute and what have you, but he also traveled the world for two years from 2008 on a journey of spiritual discovery which took him to Mongolia where he learned throat singing. The result is he has a lot to sing about on this album which roams from Mississippi (the groaning and deliberately lo-fi "Muddy Streams") through hints of European folk and to influences from Central Asia ("Tsagaan Sar," the haunting "Khovsgol Lake" with its throat singing drone).
In places it strains for effect (too many pieces where his vocals are echoed and distant; the spooky, whispered "Strange History" is Waits-meets Dr John's Gris Gris) but there's no denying the power of his songwriting and arranging. Patchy, but never less than interesting.
Graham Reid is a New Zealand—based writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His new collection The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through www.amazon.com. He also hosts his own music/travel/arts website www.elsewhere.co.nz .
See Graham's last round of world music reviews here.
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