Perceptive Travel World Music Reviews
December 2015 - By Laurence Mitchell

In this issue: Sufi mysticism set to music, two sides of Nueva Latina music, and a folk-leaning string quintet.

Shujaat Husain Khan and Katayoun Goudarzi

We say: A soothing musical reimagining of Rumi poetry.

"Adrift," the first track on Ruby, begins gently with rippling tabla, mournful flute, and shimmering sitar. It could almost be the soundtrack for an Indian tourism promotional film—the sun rising over the Ganges and Varanasi's ghats maybe—until the vocal comes in and we are taken to an altogether different place. This place is in many ways even more mysterious than India and relates to the work of the Persian poet Rumi, everybody's favorite Sufi mystic.

On Ruby, Iran-born Katayoun Goudarzi is responsible for the vocals while Grammy-nominated sitar player Shujaat Husain Khan takes charge of the musical accompaniment, composing all the tunes and leading a group of six Indian musicians. This is, as they say, a "musical marriage" that works. It's a cross-cultural coming together that seems effortless and natural. Khan's compositions provide the perfect musical backdrop, while Gourdarzi sings beautifully, her rich voice carefully weighing the Persian lyric as each of the songs slowly unfurls.

The mood and atmosphere of this recording is very much that of a piece; one track leading into the next without any jarring change of tempo or musical color, just a gentle shift of shades. The overall effect is enchanting, and despite a gap of nearly 800 years between the composition of words and music there seems to be no incongruity between the two. And if the literal message behind the words is veiled in mystery (and, of course, already lost to ears that cannot comprehend Farsi) then its emotional content is as clear and vivid as the blue Persian sky.

YoYouMeTú Vol. 2, Jugamos With Humanos
Zemog El Gallo Bueno

We say: Left-field Latin with troubled undertones.

A bit of a curiosity this. It is the second part of a trilogy master-minded by Puerto Rican-born bandleader Abraham Gomez-Delgado. Volume 1, which was released earlier this year, reflected a plunge into darkness and depression in which Gomez-Delgado chose to perform alone using an intricate instrumental set-up called Eje. This follow-up, Volume 2, documents Gomez-Delgado's return to his place as bandleader, connecting with fellow musicians to produce something richer and more collaborative.

Musically YoYouMeTú is a mash-up of various Latin styles with plenty of unorthodox left-field touches. The best way to describe it is probably as avant-garde Latin. Unlike the familiar bailar y gozar tropes of this genre the lyrics here are often quite surreal, as in "Calma Tus Colores," or they chronicle the composer's previous dark mental state as they do in "Entero." Gomez-Delgado's former mental crisis has clearly had a strong influence on the content of his work and there's plenty of existential pain on show here. Even a tender waltz like "Un Poncho Para Los Dos" talks about "painful memories" and "the pill bottle" of which "each pill is a lost soul and one day it shall find its tribe." Elsewhere, many of the tunes— "Contemplado" is a good example, "Piñata" another—manage to be lyrically dark yet musically upbeat. Such tunes can even be rhythmically wild at times, like the unlisted final track, the excellent yet slightly disturbing "Hole in The Cell".

Shift and Shadow

We say: A twangy atmospheric soundtrack for the American southwest.

With a name that I imagine pronounced in much the same as a Middle-Eastern water pipe— but probably isn't—XIXA are a Tucson-based band that, in their own words, have "just enough Latin, just enough rock" in their background for them to be able to cherry-pick both genres. Shift and Shadow, their debut four-track EP, mixes rock, punk, Latin and Peruvian Amazonian chicha riffs in an unselfconscious mash-up of styles. The latter is especially important, it would seem, as on a tour of Europe with Giant Sand the band discovered that it was often their chicha covers that went down best with the crowd. Encouraged by this they started to write their own tunes in this style and this is the result.

This kicks off with the eponymous "Shift and Shadow," a ragged, clip-clop cumbia with industrial guitars, deliciously cheesy organ and ominous whispers in its quieter moments. "Cumbia del Platero" evokes a psychedelic fairground atmosphere, while "Dead Man" has a menacing desert feel about it—the cacti and red rocks of the US-Mexico border region. "Plateau" is a cover of a song by The Meat Puppets, another US southwestern band, this time from Phoenix. This has great twang guitar, lots of atmosphere and the sense of it being part of a soundtrack for some new wave cowboy movie.

All the songs work to give a strong sense of the place, the American southwest: this is a band with a strong territorial identity. With only four tracks in total, it's just a shame there's not more to get your teeth into.

Finding Anyplace

We say: North American string music with classical technique and folk leanings.

A string quartet with folk leanings and classical technique is an easy way to describe Ozere. Except this Canadian group is not a quartet, but a quintet, and doesn't come with the standard line-up of instruments.

Although awash with acoustic strings—violin, cello, double bass, mandolin and guitar—the main focus here are the female vocals of Emily Rockarts and violinist Jessica Deutsch, who takes turns singing lead. There's a good range of styles on display, and as well as the folk and country overtones of songs like "The Sun Ain't Down" there are also Eastern European echoes in pieces like "Anyplace." A couple of well-known Americana covers like "Wayfaring Stranger" help provide further variety. Occasional Irish influences also come to bear, like on the final track "This and That Set/ Macarthur Road," which unfurls like a slow sad air before speeding up into an energetic jig in which everyone has a chance to take a turn.

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 and his blog at

See the last round of music reviews from Laurence Mitchell.

Also in this issue:


Buy Ruby online here:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

YoYouMeTu Vol 2

Buy YoYouMeTú Vol 2 online here:
Amazon US

Shift and Shadow

Buy Shift and Shadow online here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK

Finding Anyplace

Buy Finding Anyplace online here:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

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