New World Music Reviews

Welcome to Slipcue.Com's "Recent World Music" page, which highlights new(ish) African, Asian, Latin American and Celtic records, as well as your plain old "miscellaneous" categories... Basically, whatever catches my interest amid the roar and thunder of our global music marketplace...

These records were reviewed in March-April, 2005.

Recommended Records: March-April, 2005 | Review Archives | World Music Index

Altaf Gnawa Group "Gnawa Music From Morocco" (Arc Music, 2005)
I'm not totally up on the rarified charms of the hypnotic tribal music known as gnawa... For the most part the style seems a bit static and sparse to my untrained ears, although this was one of the most alluring and pleasant of the few gnawa records I've heard. There's a softness to this disc that's hard to put your finger on... And even hard to hear at times -- some passages are so quiet that on multiple occasions I've had this disc on at a moderate volume and was fooled into thinking that the disc had ended, so quiet and so subtle was the performance. I'd recommend this album as an introduction to the style: it is perhaps more melodically accessible than some of the starker and more droning gnawa albums... I leave it up to the true fans to say which albums are more "authentic" or whatever... All I know is, this disc brought me on board!

Bauls Of Bengal "Mystic Songs From India" (Arc Music, 2005)
Bengali music, like Bengali culture, is particular and idiosyncratic, and quite unlike other traditional styles in the Indian subcontinent. It's often improvisatory, reflecting the resistence in Baul religion to organized, well-defined structure and ceremony, and thus it is often evocative and ecstatic. This is an interesting set, with perhaps the most striking feature being a squeaky, semi-melodic percussion instrument that laces through most songs. It's an oddly appealing musical style, and while there is less of a strong, readily identifiable melody than in standard Indian and Pakistani music, it will still be fascinating to those drawn to new and unusual sounds. Recommended!

Simon Diaz "Mis Canciones/My Songs" (World Village, 2005)
Light, melodic folk music from Venezuela, with deft, pretty-sounding acoustic guitar and a strong Andean rhythmic influence. This isn't entirely my kind of Latin-American music -- I think I burnt out on Andean music in the early 1980s -- but listeners looking for something that combines beauty and softness with urgency and earnestness may find this Spanish-language album a delight. Diaz is apparently on of his country's foremost traditional musicians, and this album spotlights him at his best.

Celso Fonseca "Rive Gauche Rio" (Crammed Disc/Six Degrees, 2005)
Another lovely, acoustic-based nova bossa nova set by Celso Fonseca. On first listen, this new record seemed a bit simple and plain in comparison to the lusher, more densely produced albums he'd recorded earlier with Ronaldo Bastos, but as the disc stayed in my stereo for the better part of a week, it sounded more and more sublime. Recapturing the subtlety and restraint of the original bossa nova movement, Fonseca weaves a spell of beauty and soft, melodic grace. He still sounds quite a bit like Caetano Veloso, but that's really nothing to complain about. This is a record you can listen to time and time again, and which should delight you for years to come. Recommended!

Kasumai "Senegal: Urban Rhythms" (Arc Music, 2005)
A fine album by a popular band from the Casamance region of Southern Senegal... They intersperse pop songs with lyrics in Wolof, Mandinka and Jola with instrumental performances that delve deep into traditional sources, including several percussion-only tracks. It's nice, and gives some new perspective on the music of a country that is increasingly identified with M'balax and other modern, guitar-based pop styles... Worth checking out!

Oliver Mtukudzi "Nhava" (Heads Up, 2005)
An album of simple and surpassing beauty, quite lovely from start to finish. Zimbabwe's Mtukudzi has created his own style of music, called "tuku," in which he slows the typically manic pace of Zimbabwean pop down to a relaxed, introspective crawl. Content to have the guitar play a support role, acting as part of the rhythm section, Mtukudzi repeats short, alluring riffs that settle in your mind and softly echo with each repetition, gradually building your affection for the tune, as the vocals drop in and lead the melody into a sublime sweetness. Mtukudzi's method plays against the expectations of most modern pop: he's in no hurry to go anywhere, and simply lets the songs luxuriate and resonate, sounding pretty without driving the listener along into some frantic musical climax. It's a welcome change of pace, and made this disc one of the most listened to records in my household this year. While to some folks that may sound like a prescription for saccharine easy listening, the vocals by Mtukudzi and his chorus add passion to the songs, adding gentle urgency to the songs... I haven't the slightest idea what he's singing about, but the simple musical framework highlights the rhythms of his language, and makes you want to learn. This album may be too soft for some listeners, but if you're in the right frame of mind, you'll find it very, very rewarding. Highly recommended.

Ismael Reinhardt "Gypsy Swing" (Arc Music, 2005)
A member of the extended Reinhardt clan, guitarist-violinist Ismeal Reinhardt takes up the torch for gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt. The album opens with a couple of riff-for-riff recreations of old Hot Club-style tunes -- "Shine" and "Minor Swing" -- then thankfully veers from slavish homage into more individual jazz performances. Although his guitar work has a lot of variety, with hints of jazz stylists such as Herb Ellis and Joe Pass, his violin passages copy Stephane Grapelli's swing work much too closely, especially in the tonal quality. I'd still prefer to snuggle up with the original Django records (who wouldn't?) but this young'un does a nice job keeping the tradition alive...

Sharon Shannon "Spellbound: The Best Of Sharon Shannon" (Compass, 1999/2005)
Sharon Shannon "Out The Gap" (Compass, 1995/2005)
Sharon Shannon "Each Little Thing" (Compass, 1997/2005)

The pride of Ireland's Country Clare, accordionist Sharon Shannon started her professional career in the late 1980s in the renowned rock-folk band, The Waterboys. She soon set out on a solo career and wowed crossover-friendly world music fans with albums such as Out The Gap and Each Little Thing, her second and third albums, respectively, from 1995 and '97. Shannon took Irish instrumentation into a wide array of musical styles, from the reggae stylings of Gap producer Denis Bovell to the multiculti globehopping of Each Little Thing, which included pop cover tunes alongside a variety of Latin American and other musical styles. These three reissues are a fine introduction to her work -- the best-of set is the same as in the original issue, while each of the album reissues features a single "new" bonus track, in each case a remix from a song off the album. Shannon's fans will have to decide whether or not these bonus tracks merit a repurchase of the entire disc, or perhaps just a download or two from iTunes. Newcomers, however, will find this an ideal opportunity to discover this highly regarded Irish virtuoso.

O.K. Subramaniam "Inde De Sud: Nagaswaram In The Carnatic Tradition" (Inedit, 2004)
Southern India's Carnatic musical tradition is a wellspring of rich melodic depth and improvisational virtuosity, particularly those performances that are built around the sweet violin style of the region. This record, however, spotlights the nagaswaram, an open-faced, oboe-like instrument similar to the Northern shenai but with a harder, more taxing tone. The nagaswaram is played here by Mr. Subramaniam with dazzling skill, but the somewhat harsh, shrill tone that may be offputting to the casual listener. The reed line is doubled by a violin, but not significantly softened, and with this harder edge, these recordings may be less accessible than the soft, elegant Carnatic styles that are often presented to the outside world. It's sort of like listening to bebop jazz: you can be floored by the technical aspects, though the music itself may be a bit rough on your ears.

Super Uba "Tierra Lejana" (Iaso, 2005)
A giddy set of guitar-based acoustic music from the Dominican Republic, featuring singer-guitarist Super Uba and his partner, guitarist Edilio Paredes, one of the early pioneers of the lively bachata style that's featured here. It sounds a lot like Cuban guajira, but with a more manic, driving edge to it. You gotta love the melodies and sincere passion in the performance, even though the pace of the album may get a bit exhausting. It's mostly pretty sweet, though, and well worth checking out! (For more info, check out the label's website, )

Various Artists "CAMBODIAN ROCKS, v.3" (Khmer Rocks, 2003)
A fine follow-up to the wild weirdness of the original CAMBODIAN ROCKS collection (which is reviewed in my Asian Rock page... Another dissonant assimilation of good old American rocknroll full of wailing, shrill Asian vocals, and plenty of unpredictable melodic twists in a crazed, cacophonous, crosscultural mix. This disc has the added advantage of (gasp!) liner notes that actually explain who these obscure artists were, and introduces us to the likes of Ros Sereysothea, Pan Ron, Thra Ka Band and others, musicians who were previously anonymous aural oddities... Many of these singers even have whol albums out on the Khmer Rocks label... Cool stuff... Highly recommended!

Various Artists "PUTUMAYO PRESENTS MALI" (Putumayo, 2005)
Generally speaking, I am not a Malian music true believer... Too much Ali Farka Toure too early on, I guess. But this is a first-rate set with a delightful variety of artists and styles, from mellow acoustic to more modern, techno-laced pop. All of the tracks on here are both substantive and easy on the ears -- this is a consistently enjoyable, listenable album, a nice cross-section of this venerated, fertile musical culture. Featured artists include Moussou Dianllo, Habib Koite, Tinariawen, Boubacar Traore and others... The set flows well from track to track, and makes for one lovely, listenable album. Recommended!

Various Artists "STEELING AROUND THE WORLD" (Harlequin, 2004)
In the early part of the 20th Century, Hawaiian music, typified by the loopy, zingy sounds of the Hawaiian slide guitar, swept across the planet, finding an eager audience among a global population only recently exposed to the idea of "world music" and widespread pop culture. The evidence for that popularity is amply demonstrated here, in this fun, fascinating collection of kooky "Hawaiian" songs recorded by artists all across the world, from South Africa and England to Central Europe, Greece, France, the Balkans, Scandinavia, Japan and the Asian-Pacific basin. In some cases, of course, local musicians were abetted by itinerant Hawaiian ringers, traveling stars like Tau Moe and his family, but in many cases, there were artists such as Wout Steenhuis of Holland or Sweden's Yngwe Stoor who made their entire careers playing in the South Pacific style, and despite the wide divide of ocean and ethnicity, they did it quite well. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, amazing set of rare old recordings... Highly recommended!!

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