Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
July 2016 - By Graham Reid

In this issue: A Spanish artist unites women of the world, the Congo and Portugal find common ground, America goes to Havana, and two types of West are bridged.

Ana Alcaide

Ana Alcaide

We say: Another excellent installment from a woman with an inclusive attitude

The remarkable Alcaide has appeared previously at Perceptive Travel (December 2012, May 2014) but her story is worth noting again. She's Spanish but while studying biology in Lund fell in love with the sound of Swedish nyckelharpa. She began to perform on it, then studied it in academia. She possesses a lovely and powerful voice (think Enya with more firepower) and her albums have been themed projects. This time it's female figures in legends from cultures as diverse as Chinese, Celtic and Iberian.

If that sounds more worthy than compelling, put aside such a pre-conception. Alcaide intelligently crafts these stories, albeit in Spanish but outlined in the typically informative English-language liner notes which the ARC Music label provides with their releases. The result is engaging folk or powerfully assertive songs, depending on their characters and origins.

Alcaide isn't bound to tradition however, so "Diosa Luolaien/Goddess Luolaien," inspired by a Chinese folk-figure, is closer in style to a Celtic piece. "La esposa Selkie/The Selkie Bride," with its acoustic guitar and whistles, could come from nowhere else but the remote sea-battered islands and wind-whipped land of northern Britain.

Ana Alcaide, touring in Canada this month, is building a small but perfectly formed catalog of thought-provoking songs and distinctive musicianship. Recommended.

Konono No.1 Meets Batida
Konono No.1, Batida

We say: Like minds collide and there are sparks, but no flame

When the lo-fi electronics and dance beats of Kinshasa's Konono No.1 first came to global attention a little over a decade ago they shone a spotlight on a genre which became known as Congotronics. Alt.rock and electronica artists lined up to pay tribute and work with them, one result being the excellent and often sonically bewildering double CD "Tradi-Mods Vs Rockers" in 2010.

Here's another on which Angola-born, Portugal-based producer and DJ Batida (Pedro Coquenao) and a few guests get alongside the Grammy-nominated band in his Lisbon studio. They all tap into the percussion-driven, excitingly cheap sound of these Congolese outsiders.

Unfortunately the results are not unexpected if you are familiar with either party. However, if you aren't then strap yourself in for dense and relentlessly enjoyable criss-cross rhythms and cheap electronic effects (as in from B-grade '50s sci-fi flicks). The standout is the 11 minute-plus "Nzonzing Familia" with samples and slam-poetry vocals which sound like they are coming at you down a bad telephone line.

Perhaps because Batida already worked in similar lo-tech territory there are fewer moments of magic here than we might have hoped, but it is certainly mesmerizing. Sample or get a copy here.

Abrazo: The Havana Sessions
Various Artists

We say:

Although the compositions on this double disc come mostly from contemporary American jazz and concert composers, the material was recorded in Havana by current or former members of the various Buena Vista Social Club line-ups, Irakere, the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba and others.

That means some of the mainstream material like "On an Autumn Day" — which exists somewhere between an early television theme and a classic jazz ballad — is given an exotic and vibrant twist into something distinctively Cuban.

Some pieces seem hand-tooled for the players, such as Bunny Beck's three-part instrumental suite, Australian Margaret Brandman's delightfully light four-part miniatures on "Warm Winds in Havana". Others owe little to the location (Michael Murray's beautiful choral settings of a post-9/11 poem by Jodi Kanter on the short suite "After the Fall").

Over the long haul that diversity makes for some abrupt mood and tone changes as it shuffles the deck between the nightclub, the lounge bar and the concert chamber.

Perhaps more for jazz listeners than Cuban aficionados and card-carrying world music fans who want "authenticity," but a worthwhile project which has some real horn-punch and exciting rhythms alongside the more stately stuff.

West to West
Nii Okai Tagoe

We say: An album where the reach exceeds the artist's grasp

The title of this second album by drummer, dancer and latterly singer-songwriter Tagoe refers to taking music from West Africa to the Western world. Having traveled extensively in Africa and through Europe (with Osibisa, African Headcharge, Baka Beyond and others), he brings a pan-global approach to his music. So here, while playing balafon and numerous African percussion instruments, he teams up with Western musicians to forge an amalgam of rock, horn-driven soul, Celtic violin, and traditional sounds. Sometimes it strains for effect.

Because Tagoe is not a strong or distinctive singer, the music is obliged to carry this and its breadth reaches from yearning, brooding, and somewhat forced Sahara blues ("3 Monkeys") through gentle Caribbean allusions ("Doh Wey") to Afro-Cuban flavored dance-floor pop on "Ley Ley Ley". It's an uneven concoction of uplifting and empowerment messages in his native Ga (there's a synopsis of the themes in the booklet) in which Tagoe never quite convinces because it aims for crowd-pleasing appeal.

Doubtless this makes its best impression when witnessed live.

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 The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award. He hosts his own wide-screen website, loves deserts but most recently enjoying the chill of Stockholm and Copenhagen before the humidity of Singapore . . . and now endures the damp of a Kiwi winter.

See the last round of music reviews from Graham Reid.

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Konono No. 1

Buy Konono No.1 Meets Batida online here:
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Abrazo The Havana Sessions

Buy Abrazo: The Havana Sessions online here:
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West to West

Buy West to West online here:
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