Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
May 2015 - By Graham Reid

In this issue: A masterclass in kora playing from a more ancient time, obscurities from Latin America, and the diverse music of Iraq presented with fresh energy.





22 Strings
Seckou Keita

We say: Gently transcendent music from the hands and heart of a master.

The sound of some instruments can touch rare places in the heart and evoke the sublime. In the hands of masters, the 21-string kora from West Africa is one such instrument, by turns inducing melancholy or lifting the spirit. It also has a stately quality, sometimes suggesting a harpsichord recital in a drawing room as much as the wide open spaces of it origins. For this recording the master player Keita reverts to the original 22-string instrument—centuries ago one was removed out of respect when the griot and kora master Jali Mady died—and the richness of the sound coupled with the occasional resonant vocals make for a transporting experience.

There is a quietness at the heart of these 10 elegant and soulful pieces, perhaps reflecting Keita's desire to return to a more simple and reflective style of playing in a world where the kora now sits in electronic settings and is often played at fierce speed. That sense of stillness makes for engrossing listening, and this a highly seductive album.






The Rough Guide to Latin Rare Groove
Various Artists

We say: Scattershot sounds which come at you like a workout session.

If "rare grooves" smacks of smarter-than-thou DJs trying to outdo each other in the obscurity stakes, those obsessive must be livid when they see catch-all collections like this. Selected tracks from various diverse sources (all undated which seems a massive oversight) are here pulled together into an eclectic and sometimes erratic 19-song single disc. So be prepared to be swung from what sounds like B-grade US garageband pop from the late 60s ("Do You Want to be Free" by Gilberto Sextet which owes a debt to "Twist and Shout") before getting down with some seriously funky and urgent bass-heavy sounds from Piper Pimienta and his orchestra . . . then into weird soundtrack-type thing called "Black Shadow" by Orchestra Dee Jay.

Aside from the rarity of these sounds—and the Latin origin thread—there is little which ties this stuff together. So be prepared for outer-space Farfisa organ as much as crisscross percussion. But that is actually the mad fun of it. You can imagine samplers will be all over this. The bonus disc is "Let My People Boogaloo!" by Spanglish Fly (aka Jonathan Goldman), a grab-bag of remixes and rarities by the New York big band which is more cohesive but equally energetic.






Babylonian Fingers
Ahmed Mukhtar

We say: New takes on old styles which come out with a rare vibrancy.

Baghdad-born, London-based oud master, teacher, and composer Mukhtar has done much to keep the music of Iraq in the public conscious. And at a time when distressing images of that blighted country are so predominant. Although the album title might suggest traditional if not ancient sounds, this opens with a swinging "Iraqi Jazz" with sax and acoustic bass, includes the fingers-snap sound "Blues of the Oud," and a traditional love song from the 40s.

Of course this is still music grounded in a long tradition. Pieces like the mesmerizing "Sama'ai Hijaz" and the title track—where the finger-plucked oud sometimes sounds more like an Elizabethan lute—evoke images from a more courtly world. Mukhtar also takes listeners into "Alleys of the Old City" and on "Nowroz" explores a rhythmic connection with music from Central Asia. This is quite a journey through highly scenic landscapes and down narrow byways.






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. He likes deserts..

See the last round of music reviews from Graham Reid.



Also in this issue:

22 Strings

Buy 22 Strings online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



The Rough Guide to Latin Rare Groove

Buy The Rough Guide to Latin Rare Groove online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK



Babylonian Fingers

Buy Babylonian Fingers online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK





Sign Up