We say: Go East, young man
There are world music purists who believe "authentic" music of a region is tainted by outside (read "Western") influences––which seems to imply that local folk or pop musicians should somehow remain locked in a time capsule for the enjoyment and analysis of ethnomusicologists. Such paternalistic purists deplore the fact that musicians from the old Belgian Congo now use synthesizers, or that sitar players in India tailor their ragas for short attention–span radio play.
Fortunately such complaints rarely trouble the musicians themselves who simply get on playing their music, exploring boundaries and using whatever new tools or collaborations come their way. Just as African musicians gave America the blues, so too did they learn from James Brown, Bob Marley and hip–hop. Cuban music is big right across Central Africa––and has been for more than five decades.
Singer Thione Seck from Senegal––a former member of the famous Star Band of Dakar and world–beating Orchestre Baobab––knows all about the songline between Cuba and West Africa, but on this new album he explores its equal and geographical opposite: he teams up with musicians from Egypt and India.
It makes for heady and exotic concoction which is grounded in his own traditions but comes coloured with oud, veena, chiming zither, coiling flutes, stabbing violins and a chorus of backing vocalists. This is music impelled by a Big Vision, and therefore probably not for those purists. But this project––more than a decade in the making; recorded in Paris, Madras and Touba––is an innovative landmark in world music, and deserves your serious attention. Your reward will be the thrilling music Seck and his cast deliver.
Cairo Nights: Bellydance Bar
Hossam Ramzy/Samy El Bably
We say: Do the hip shake, baby
On a fool judges a world music album––especially a belly dance album––by its cover. Beneath the bikini–top breasts on this unpromising looking album are the two key features: the names of Ramzy and El Bably.
Ramzy is a prolific writer, percussion player and global citizen who plays traditional music from various regions of the Middle East as well as Western jazz. He's been a guest on albums by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Cheb Khaled, Rachid Taha and Peter Gabriel.
El Bably, who was recently killed in car crash in Egypt, was a legendary trumpeter whose sound is best described as woozy, sinuous and sometimes beguilingly sleepy.
Together these two masters essay a mesmerizing crossover between jazz, Egyptian bellydance, cool Parisian nightclub and hot Mediterranean cafe.
They fall for kitschy softness in the funk–lite of Kol El Aalam, but elsewhere with a large ensemble (oud, accordion, zither and so on as well as sequencers and electric bass) they make music which will transport you somewhere––if not make you want to get up and shake your belly and booty.
We say: Sub–Sahara blues that will woo and win you
Just when you thought fado was going to be the next wave in world music along came sub–Saharan blues in the form of Etran Finatawa and Tinariwen. And now this spectacular singer from Mauritania (who is also an outspoken politician back home).
Malouma doesn't sing the blues in the same way that Etran Finatawa or Tinariwen do: this album is a long way removed from their meltdown of Chicago blues club in 1948 and the spacious desert.
Malouma instead delivers up some thing much more textured and melodically rich. If you are looking for a connection you might like to think of some parts of Robert Plant's more adventurous North African–influenced albums in recent years.
That's because Malouma has something akin to a "rock" band here with electric guitars and bass. But of course this music is utterly grounded in her culture so it lopes along into seductive and seemingly endless, melodic lines, riding those hypnotic microtones, and aching with passion.
In places it sounds like it might have been produced by Brian Eno (those weird little sonic fills which sound like backwards guitars) and the whole things is so tangential that songs shift into different styles and colors at various points.
We say: A continent's collected works––which works!
This excellent 17–track compilation is an ideal introduction to the diverse and exciting music coming out of various parts of Africa these days. It also opens with Nebine, the best track off that thrilling album Nour (above) by the Mauritanian singer Malouma.
But here too are songs that wooze and sway like some cocktail hour mix of Cuba and the Pacific (the Rumbanella Band and Wendo Kolosoy), much acoustic blues on guitar with a light Afrobeat, and a couple of familiar names from South Africa (Johnny Clegg, the Mahotella Queens).
There are gently driving rhythm sections, those distinctive tickling electric guitars, and singers who are tight with passion or soaring with the eagles.
An excellent collection which also acts as good pointer to other albums by these artists. Much recommended.
Graham Reid is an award–winning New Zealand travel writer, music writer and journalist. His book Postcards From Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year award, and his website www.elsewhere.co.nz features travel stories, photos, rock'n'roll reminiscences, and a weekly music review in which he posts tracks from albums which have gone past radio programmers and other reviewers.