Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
September 2016 - By Graham Reid

In this issue: a meltdown of world music and jazz out of London, a different view of a Cuban music by a close cousin in America, reggae and dub out of South Florida, and a collection of really, really nice songs from all over the place.

Day to Day

Day to Day
Sarathy Korwar

We say: A tapestry of genres stitched together by jazz, samples and percussion

Sitting on the cusp of Indian folk music, experimental jazz, and contemporary electronica, this debut album by percussionist-producer Korwar draws on myriad influences and his multi-culti background.

Born in the US, Korwar grew up in India, learned tabla from age 10, but was drawn to the exploratory jazz of John Coltrane. He picked up Western percussion along the way and moved to London. There he fell in with the jazz scene and found a supporter in world music aficionado and DJ Gilles Peterson.

Out of that melange, and on the Ninja Tune label, comes this swirling, challenging, restless, and colorful collage of styles where post-bop saxophone sits atop boiling Indo-African percussive rhythms. Or earthy Indian folk melodies, sampled street sounds, and instruments provide the springboards for a journey through disembodied, electronica-created landscapes.

This can feel strange, stateless, and sometimes shapeless, but it surprises at every turn. (Fusion lives?) If it isn't strictly "world music" it is most definitely music of this world. And sometimes out of it too.

Highly recommended to those up for a rewarding challenge.

El Changui Majadero
Changui Majadero

We say: Old time Cuban music given a second life and an engrossing spin

This gritty, pleasingly unrefined but musically sophisticated debut by a five-piece from Los Angeles seamlessly welds together two interesting Hispanic traditions. It combines that of Mexican migrants to the US with the sound of old-school Cuban changui where elements of African percussion are still evident.

The result is rootsy Cuban music at home in a backyard barbecue or dancehall in East LA.

The group's founder, Gabriel Garcia, came to this old style through academic study. But his passion and enjoyment in the music of Cuba's Guantanamo region—where he visited and learned from local players—is evident everywhere in these 10 (mostly) traditional tunes. The lovely "La Rumba Esta Buena" gets two treatments; one spare and subdued, the other punctuated by horns and playing up the party atmosphere.

Traditional instruments are employed (the three-string tres among them) but this isn't entirely grounded in the past. "Changui Pa Ayotzinapa" is a raw plea for justice for the 43 Mexican students from Iguala, Guerrero who were kidnapped and killed in 2014 while on their way to a demonstration.

Cuban music has, since the Buena Vista Social Club two decades ago, been too often viewed through rose-tinted glasses. So this collection is refreshingly different. Its lack of buff and polish make it all the more compelling.

Movement in Roots/Moving in Dub
Mixed Culture

We say: Reggae out of Florida by way of Peru?

The global reach of reggae is seldom better epitomized than on this double CD: one disc of the rootsy songs; the other of their dub versions. The family of this group's founder, Cisco Lagomarcina, returned to their homeland Peru from New Jersey in the '90s. He fell for the sound of roots reggae he heard there, and when he moved to Florida he formed Mixed Culture, a band whose members come from Jamaica, the US, Haiti, Colombia and South Africa.

Unfortunately, aside from a few suggestions of Burning Spear's stentorian and declamatory tone in places, much of this defaults to the usual Rasta/reggae lyrical and rhythmic tropes. Many songs are weighed down by wordiness, although aiming for worthiness.

The assertive celebration of marijuana's spiritually elevating power on "Ganga" —it promises insight through higher meditation—is undercut but the fact much of this is intellectually reductive. On "Tuff Road" the Old Testament ethic takes over and we're told they used to take out the wicked and stone them to death. Geez, those were the days, huh?

The dub versions are marginally more interesting because, by mostly dispensing with the words, the spotlight comes back on the melodies and rhythms. But the mid-tempo raw material wasn't that strong so this—with the exception of pieces like the deep and dark "ITL Dub" —rarely rises above its limitations. Or takes the listener down to the doom-laden caverns that great dub production can do.

Disappointing, especially given the opening track "Anhelo" offers the promise of a different direction into a reggae with Spanish influences.

The Most Beautiful Songs of the World
Various Artists

We say: Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream

If you don't want to engage with the knotty politics, cultural references or language barriers of world music then this double album is for you. It picks up 28 easy-listening songs from across the planet (Ireland to Japan via Bengali acoustic folk, Europe and various points in Africa). And, of course, it traverses genres. You won't otherwise hear the Red Army Choir and Clannad's ethereal theme song to "The Last of the Mohicans" back-to-back. By its very nature it's a sampler for the casual and indiscriminate world music listener. But helpfully the liner notes point to the original, sourced albums. So aside from being gently beguiling with relaxing and interesting music, it does serve another, slightly higher, purpose. For serious listeners to world music this is lightweight and little more than the marketing exercise it doesn't deny it is.

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. He now endures the damp of a Kiwi winter. So as we speak he is leaving...

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El Changui Majadero

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Movement in Roots/Moving in Dub

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The Most Beautiful Songs of the World

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