Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
December 2016 - By Laurence Mitchell

In this issue: Lively songs of praise from West Africa, Turkish tradition and lyrics blended with Western melodies, a West-African spin on Reggae classics, and touching tunes from Sarajevo.


Turkish music
Gaye Su Akyol


Jamal
Alkibar Junior

We say: Songs of praise from the Malian desert

From the first few notes of “Suka Selanon,” the opening track, Jamal sounds like familiar musical territory—the funky desert blues commonly associated with the late great Ali Farka Touré. And no wonder, as Alkibar Junior are a young band that come from Niafunké in northern Mali, the same town on the Timbuktu River where Farka Touré once lived. Another venerable Niafunké native is Afel Boucoum, a former sideman of Farka Touré, who both contributed to and co-produced this album.

Broadly speaking, these are praise songs—compositions dedicated to the great and good of northern Mali, a troubled region that in recent years has witnessed the collapse of central government and come under the control of Islamist separatist rebels. Despite a large human exodus from the region the members of Alkibar Junior have remained in Niafunké to create music from the landscape that inspires them.

With trance-like rhythms, insistent drive and a desert blues groove, Jamal instantly brings to mind some of the later recordings made by Ali Farka Touré, the superb Niafunké and Savanne in particular. In many ways Jamal picks up where these albums left off. With a uniformity of mood and pace throughout, each song flows smoothly into the next. It is hard to pick out individual standouts but specific tracks to try first could be the energetically rolling “Daou 1” or “Mbundu 1.”






Hologram İmparatorluğu
Gaye Su Akyol

We say: Istanbul singer with Anatolian roots and cinematic vision

Gaye Su Akyol is a rare bird: a Turkish singer who has managed to make the transition from national star to international artist thanks to having performed at several European festivals to great acclaim in recent years. Although her music is steeped with traditional Turkish melody and rhythm, Aykol’s influences are much broader. The singer cites Nick Cave, Joy Division, and Sonic Youth as influences as well as more traditional Turkish voices like Selda Bağcan.

This is Aykol’s first international release, a collaborative effort with the Turkish band Bubituzak with whom she has recorded previously. Hologram İmparatorluğu (Hologram Empire) is very much a collaborative effort and Bubituzak are undoubtedly an important part of what makes this work, enlivening the seductive Anatolian feel of this music with spiky surf guitar and deep rumbling bass. But to describe this as a Turkish-Western fusion is to be somewhat wide of the mark: it remains undeniably Turkish—dark, moody, bittersweet—despite the foreign influences.

The lengthy lullaby “Dünya kaleska” makes the most of its minimalist musical setting, driven by an insistent bass riff and oriental-sounding guitar. Elsewhere, tracks like “Nargile” are underpinned with moody strings, while the melodramatic “Anlasana sana aşiğimke” almost sounds as if it might have come from the pen of Tom Waits. “Berduş” is a powerful song to end on, a change in pace halfway through adding further dramatization to an already imperious mood.

Although the lyrics will mean little to non-Turkish speakers it comes as no surprise to learn that they deal with important contemporary issues in Turkey. This is clearly music of resistance that stands firm against the current climate of conservatism and a consolidation of power in Turkey.






Racines
Tiken Jah Fakoly

We say: Excellent West African-flavored covers of Roots Reggae classics

The roots of reggae lie in Africa—West Africa to be precise. This release by Tiken Jah Fakoly, a native of Cȏte D’Ivoire who now lives in Mali, takes the music full circle. Recorded at Tuff Gong Studio in Kingston, Jamaica with the Sly and Robbie rhythm section for the fully roots authenticity, many of these tunes— “Get Up, Stand Up,” “One Step Forward,” “Zimbabwe,” “Police and Thieves” —will be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in 1970s roots reggae. Some estimable guest artists put in an appearance on some tracks—the likes of Max Romeo, Ken Boothe and U-Roy—which adds to the variety and gives a stamp of authenticity to proceedings.

What is particularly attractive about these covers is the way West African musical color has been integrated into this well-established genre without a hint of self-consciousness. The result is effective yet admirably understated, with balafon, kora, n’goni and the like tastefully embellishing the roots reggae framework to create something that sounds familiar yet is fresh and nuanced. It’s all pretty good, but personal favorites here are “Get Up, Stand Up,” with its rippling balafon and great U-Roy vocal contribution, and Max Romeo’s “One Step Forward.” A minor criticism is that some of the tracks seem to be cut off in their prime and might be a little longer perhaps, but of course they do say less is more.






Damar
Amira Medunjanin

We say: Heartfelt tradition from Sarajevo in the heart of the Balkans

Sevdah is an ancient musical tradition that comes from Bosnia in the heart of the Balkans. Like other European forms such as fado and flamenco it is a tradition steeped in melancholy. A concept close to the duende of the Spanish, the closest parallel is perhaps the blues yet this is different again and the best English translation of the word is probably “yearning,” although that only partly covers its scope.

Sevdah is a tradition that spans half a millennium from the beginning of the Ottoman occupation of the southern half of the region that was once Yugoslavia. At the heart of this tradition are a number of folk songs that are familiar to everyone in Bosnia. Here the standard repertoire has been supplemented by fresh new compositions that extend the tradition like “Damar” composed by guitarist Boško Jović.

Tastefully and sparingly backed by guitars, bass, drums and piano, Medunjanin’s voluptuous voice is firm and resolute yet strongly infused with emotion. Tracks like “Vjetar ruzu poljuljkuje,” with its bold solo piano accompaniment by longtime Serbian collaborator and co-producer Bojan Z, bring to mind a tango torch song, while elsewhere there are elements of jazz and Mediterranean music and slightly more upbeat tracks like “More Izgrejajala Sjajna Mesecina.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a multi-confessional country and Damar (which means ‘a pulse, a life force, a beating heart’) also includes a popular Serbian folk song “Moj golube, moj golube” and the aforementioned “Vjetar ruzua poljuljkuje,” a song composed back in the 1940s by a Bosnian-American émigré. For good measure there is also a powerful and beautiful old Sarajevo song, “Kad ja podjoh na Bentbašu,” which is based on a Sephardic liturgical melody that has a strong Andalusian flamenco feel to it.






Laurence Mitchell is a British travel writer and photographer with a special interest in transition zones, cultural frontiers and forgotten places that are firmly off the beaten track. He is author of the Bradt Travel Guides to Serbia, Belgrade and Kyrgyzstan, Slow Norfolk & Suffolk and a regular contributor to Hidden Europe Magazine. His website can be seen at www.laurencemitchell.com and his blog at eastofelveden.wordpress.com.

See the last round of music reviews from Laurence Mitchell.





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Hologram

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Racines

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Damar

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