Mala in Cuba
We say: From London to Havana and back with a laptop of music.
When UK DJ and Cuban music aficionado Gilles Peterson went back to Havana in May last year to record local musicians (who have appeared on his excellent on-going "Havana Cultura" series), he took with him South London dubstep pioneer and producer Mala (aka Mark Lawrence of Digital Mystikz) who set himself up in another room beside Peterson's studio and recorded various passing-traffic musicians. Taking the recordings home, Mala reprocessed them and -- while keeping the integrity of music by such wonderful artists as pianist Roberto Fonseca, singers/world music hotties Sexto Sentido and trip-hop vocalist Danay Suarez -- pulled out this album. It bridges contemporary Havana, dub-conscious Jamaica and urban London clubland.
It's a heady but highly restrained tonic of retro-70s keyboards, classy but constrained electro-beats and everywhere a very subtle insinuation of Cuban sounds . . . but fractured through a prism if your knowledge begins and ends with Buena Vista and its offshoots.
It isn't world music as some might know or prefer it, but the world expands and contracts with technology, access, and cheap airfares. This is the Cuban shakedown of the 21st century, in a dubbed-up electronica style. Maybe a bit safe in places, but a different view of Havana for sure.
Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis
We say: Traditional Greek folk given an enchanting contemporary makeover.
This well-established traditional-into-today duo — who employ loops and electronica alongside harmonium and lauto (lute) — don't live up to the tripped-out suggestion of this album's title. Like a previous outing though, this has topped world music charts recently and it's easy to hear why. Beguiling melodies with drone-like undercurrents, suggestions of North African and Middle Eastern melodic lines as much Greek, and—doing for contemporary Greek music what British musicians like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention did for Celtic music many decades ago—pulling traditional songs into the modern world for an audience which might want more than hand-holding around the campfire or feeling prematurely antiquated for liking the old stuff.
So here are trip-hop traditional songs (that harmonium a key element) which seduce while subverting expectation, and offer a reason to be interested in Greece other than whether you'll be safe there on the cheapest holiday destination in Europe. Less psychedelic than trad-adelic. But a fine result nonetheless.
Balkan Beat Box
We say: Politics is all well and good, but let's dance.
Longtime world music enthusiasts — beard-strokers and interpretive dancers at Womad — probably have no time for the like of BBB out of New York. The band mashes up dance culture, dub, Balkan styles and much more into often bruising techno-rock, and then move on to other influences as long as they get a club shaking to block-rockin' beats. They can be superficial — yes, here comes the rap break before the crunching shout-aloud bit — but it's hard to deny they are terrific at what they do, and of course they throw in some non-specific politics into the mix just to keep some serious street cred.
By being all things to all (young) people they also however end up being not quite anything in particular, and that's a shortcoming. But when the noise is this danceable, addictive and referenced in various familiar styles you could argue this might be what a hip-hop inclined, multi-culti clubland Clash could have sounded like if they'd formed in a decade ago in Brooklyn. Although that's the sort of socio-political discussion you can't have while your friends are doing shooters and these guys have turned it up to 11. Another musical meltdown in the global village.
A Bright Star has Risen
We say: Shooting for the heart'n'soul but not hitting the target.
Having "Voices of Bulgaria" on your album cover inevitably invites comparisons with the great ensemble Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares who, almost 30 years ago, arrived unannounced with a remarkable album of unaccompanied vocals which were heart-stopping in their almost-holy emotional intensity.
These three young women — who pose awkwardly like "Bulgarian Idol" semi-finalists for the cover photo — can have none of that frisson of the unexpected. While their plainsong style is delightful, earnest, and professionally realized, there's little here which might have you reaching for the repeat-play button, although the quirky "Na horoto" ( a tongue tricking village dance) and the affecting traditional "Adoration of the Virgin" are certainly high points. But that's relative in what is undeniably pleasant but often little more.
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 .