New World Music Reviews

Welcome to my "New World Music" page, which highlights new(ish) African, Asian, Latin American and Celtic records, and "miscellaneous" records that I had the good fortune to check out in Spring, 2011. This page is added to as new records come in... If you want more to read more reviews, many others are archived nearby, and there are separate sections for various kinds of world music that you might like exploring as well.

Recommended Records: Spring, 2011 | Review Archives

Pink Martini "Yuuzuki" (2011)
This download-only single gets moved to the front of the list because it's a benefit for the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan's northern coast. 100% of the proceeds go to earthquake relief efforts, and plus it's a fun song, a cover of a 1969 pop hit by Jun Mayuzumi. Joining Pink Martini is a guest singer, Saori Yuki, who apparently is a huge pop vocals star in Japan... Check it out! (By the way, I can't resist adding an earthquake link of my own -- not another tsunami horror video, but rather a quiet, compelling graphic showing the 9.0 earthquake and all its aftershocks, in chronological order. It's pretty amazing.)

Jorge Ben "O Bidu: Silencio No Brooklyn" (Artistas Unidos, 1967)
(Produced by Jorge Ben)

This is one of the most delicious Brazilian pop records ever made, as well as one of the hardest to find, buried for decades in complicated legal problems but eagerly sought by fans... In 1967, Brazilian samba star Jorge Ben was inexplicably dropped by the Philips record label, and so he released this amazing album on United Artists, a label that had very little reach in Brazil. It is an amazing album: wild, creative, insanely melodic and fun, packed with giddy, brilliant pop gems. It also had a huge impact on other Brazilian artists: in his autobiography, "Tropical Truth," Caetano Veloso talks at great length about this album, how it anticipated many of the genre-crossing feats that Veloso and Gilberto Gil and the rest of the tropicalia crowd wanted to try, and how greatly he and Gil admired Ben's futuristic musical vision. Long out of print, this album is finally re-released in digital form. It is highly, highly recommended, one of the best albums from a famously creative musical scene. No need to hesitate here: this is a gem. (Unfortunately, the mastering on these MP3s seem pretty murky, although the original album was very bright-sounding... Still, even with the crappy sound quality, this is an absolute must-hear.)

Vinicius Cantuaria & Bill Frisell "Lagrimas Mexicanas" (E1, 2011)
(Produced by Lee Townsend)

A super-sweet, deliciously lush set featuring just two musicians: guitarist Bill Frisell and Brazilian singer/multi-instrumentalist Vinicius Cantuaria, paying homage to the little-known corners of Mexican folk and popular music. Branching out into Mexican melodies isn't that far a stretch for Cantuaria -- as a Brazilian, he's already open to multiple influences, including a stint as a '70s prog rocker, an '80s new wave star and an integral part of Caetano Veloso's dreamy band of the late 1970s. Here the two auteurs are in perfect synch, playing off one another with a surplus of beauty and emotion; it's also not your grandfather's "Mexican music," no shrill mariachi or mournful boleros here, but instead a hauntingly joyful collection of dreamy melodies and fresh themes. This is the kind of record I can listen to for weeks on end... Highly recommended!

Custodio Castelo "The Art Of The Portugese Fado Guitar" (Arc Music, 2011)
(Produced by Eduardo de Sousa & Fernando Nunes)

Portuguese fado music is a genre like jazz or bluegrass or the blues, which has a very formal, historic style that lends itself to codification and often to a stiff, static feel. It's beautiful, soulful, striking, but can seem like it's come to a creative impasse. Lisbon-based guitarist Custodio Castelo is the welcome exception: this album is multi-facted and richly innovative, taking the distinctive sound of fado guitar and giving it new context and new life. His arrangements are inventive and unique, yet still have the emotional resonance of traditional fado. A worthy heir to the late Carlos Parede, Castelo is one of the most popular guitarists on the contemporary Portuguese scene, having performed with Cristina Branco, Carlos de Carmo, Misia, and even the legendary Amalia Rodrigues. You can see why: he is a marvelous and creative stylist, and this album is deeply rewarding and fresh... If you've sampled fado in the past and wondered what the fuss was about, you might want to give this album a try -- it's quite good.

Deolinda "Dois Selos E Um Carimbo" (Four Quarters, 2010)
The second album by this dynamic, up-and-coming Portuguese fado/folk band. Creative, innovative arrangements, a bunch of original songs and a vibrant new take on the regional musical styles... and gee, singer Ana Bacalhau sure sounds sweet. Recommended!

Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas "Highlander's Farewell" (Culburnie, 2010)
A new Celtic-crossover set from the duo of Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas... Includes guest performances by the Irish instrumental duo of Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill, as well as Haas's sister, Brittany who is the fiddler for the band Crooked Still...

Os Ipanemas "Que Beleza" (Far Out, 2010)
New stuff from these Brazilian easy-listening old-timers...

Atta Isaacs "The Legendary Innovative Slack Key Master" (Cord International, 2010)
A gorgeous 2-CD set gathering the work of this legendary Hawaiian slack-key guitarist, known for his pioneering collaborations with Gabby Pahinui... A great chance to hear him in various phases of his career, and playing in a variety of styles... Isaacs is credited with creating his own unique tuning, called Open C, which could be adapted to any other slack key tuning used on the islands, and which revolutionized the style. This collection gathers tracks from several albums, 1971's Atta, Hauoli, the 1975 New Hawaiian Band album, and a 1969 collaboration with Gabby Pahinui, Two Slack Key Guitars. It's all super-sweet stuff!! Great liner notes that shed a light on the early career of Isaacs and his brothers, Barney and Norman, who were all in a family band together, back in the 1940s, and on Atta's progress as a slack key stylist. Highly recommended!

Lazik "Far Fetched" (Self-released, 2011)
A pan-European acoustic folk band based in Cork, Ireland, with a strong interest in Balkan traditional music. Members come from Belgium, France, Germany Ireland, and the Netherlands but band together in the tight, twisting grooves of Eastern European folk music. (You can check them out through their webpage at ReverbNation)

La Lupe "Puro Teatro: A Lady & Her Music" (Fania, 2010)
A sweeping 2-CD overview of La Lupe, a Cuban-American fireball who was the queen of Latin soul during the 1960s, when her wild, tempestuous live shows were the stuff of legend and infamy. Plenty of what you'd consider straight salsa or Latin dance music here, as well as some swank big-band arrangements and a glimmer of girl-group pop from the pachanga era, all sung in La Lupe's explosive style. I have to confess, it took me a while to warm to her rough-edged, Eartha Kitt-ish voice, but once she gets under your skin, she's got you. There's also a bunch of cool video footage of her kicking around online -- give YouTube a shot if you're curious.

Tim Maia "Universal" (Box Set) (Universal-Brasil, 2010)
An 8-CD box set reissuing the several hard-to-find albums from this crucial founding member of Brazil's hardcore '70s funk and soul scene. To be honest, Maia's stuff doesn't always do it for me, but his influence is undeniable, and cratediggers and other funk fans will be glad for a chance to check out these perennially hard-to-find albums... Includes his self-titled albums from 1970, 1971, '72, '73, '76, and 1980, as well as O Descobridor Dos Sete Mares Sufocante, along with a concert DVD recorded in the late 1980s.

Aurelio Martinez "Laru Beya" (SubPop/Next Ambiance, 2011)
(Produced by Ivan Duran)

A beautiful new set by Aurelio Martinez, one of the torchbearers of the Garifuna culture, a Central American enclave with deep African roots. Here, Martinez is backed by the legendary Senegalese band, Orchestra Baobab, who add an even deeper African groove to the music. The first time I listened to this album, I thought it sounded a little slick; the second time, I heard all sorts of new melodies and sounds I hadn't noticed before; the third time I listened I realized how multi-layered it truly was and now -- still hearing new things every time -- I've left it in permanent rotation in the old home jukebox. Solid West African dance music melds perfectly with a subtle blend of Latin American styles and pop motifs, with sometime-sweet, sometimes-keening vocals. An exemplary world music album that will reward listeners for years to come!

Nuriya "Tanita" (Musica Almaya, 2011)
(Produced by Nuriya & Jim Janik)

A fairly strong set of modernized pop/rock-flamenco, descended from the Gipsy Kings tradition... Lead singer/songwriter Nuriya is apparently Mexican-born but with parents who were Middle Eastern Jews who fled Syria and Iraq, so she can really lay claim to the cultural mix of Arabic and Latin styles that flamenco originally comes from. The first half of this album is pretty straightforward, propulsive material; in the second half she dips into slick, clubby stuff and modern soul, which doesn't do much for me. Still, it's worth checking out... Available through her website,

Os Paralamas Do Sucesso "Brasil Afora" (EMI, 2009)
The first album in several years from this pioneering Brazilian alt-rock band... I haven't checked it out yet, but I'm sure that there's somebody somewhere out there that will be psyched to know this one is out...

Hossam Ramzy & Phil Thornton "Egypt Unveiled" (Arc Music, 2011)
As noted elsewhere, I'm not usually a big fan of "world beat" fusion, but this disc definitely has some standout tracks. I'm particularly wowed by the dynamic "Planet Egypt," which has some deft and dazzling interplay between traditional Egyptian wind instruments such as the kawala (flute), arghul and mizmar, which playfully dance between Ramzy's insistent percussion. This album is worth it for that one track alone! A strong traditional current pervades through most of the record, although in the second half, Phil Thornton's gooier New Age pop tendencies start to take over on some songs. All in all, though, a very strong album... Just the thing to groove out on while watching 2011's "Arab Spring" unfold in Egypt and elsewhere...

Marc Regnier "Radames Gnattali: Solo And Chamber Works For Guitar" (Dorian, 2010)
(Produced by Marina & Victor Ledin)

A lively, sensitive tribute to Brazilian classical pianist/jazz bandleader Radames Gnattali who was a driving force in Brazilian music during the pre-bossa nova era of the 1950s and beyond. As an "erudite" (classical) musician, Gnattali explored his country's Afro-Brazilian heritage, and incorporated popular contemporary styles such as the samba and choro into his work -- this album includes homages to composers such as Chiquinha Gonzaga, Ernesto Nazareth and Pixinguinha who work also crossed the divide between highbrow music and popular song. As a composer and as a performer, Gnattali's style tended towards note-heavy, forceful arrangements which, on piano, often translated as staccato and frantic; presented here on the acoustic guitar, Gnattali's lush, dense compositions take on a gentler tone, revealing more of his romantic and fluid sides. There are still some flights of pure drive and assertiveness, but they are less jarring and sweeter-sounding than many of Gnattali's original recordings -- it's a rich and compelling introduction to one of Brazil's most revered, but less-well remembered major musicians of yesteryear. Definitely worth checking out.

June Tabor "Ashore" (Topic, 2011)
The grand doyenne of Brit-folk art-song is back with a brooding, weighty collection revolving around the relationship between the human race and the sea. Includes both contemporary and traditional material -- I prefer the trad stuff, but hearing her tackle a song like Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding" is pretty cool, too...

T With The Maggies "T With The Maggies" (Compass, 2011)
The "T" would be Irish vocalist Triona Ni Dhomhnaill and her sister Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill, along with Maighread Ni Mhaohaigh of Altan, and Moya Brennan of Clannad, singing a mostly-Gaelic set. Man, talk about your Celtic super-groups! The overall vibe is pretty mellow, and even sugary at times (though never quite saccharine...) with some gorgeous harmonies and a nice sense of self-assurance and purpose. Highlights include the English-language songs that bookend the set, the exuberant "Wedding Dress" and a nice version of Richard Thompson's "Farewell, Farewell"; there are also a couple of politically-themed songs, reflecting on the Irish troubles, both historical and ongoing. Although this may be a bit restrained for some trad fans, I think fans of any of these four artists will enjoy this set... Definitely worth a spin!

Various Artists "C'EST CHIC! FRENCH GIRL SINGERS OF THE 1960s" (Ace Records, 2010)
In an already crowded field of French pop reissues, the esteemed Ace label distinguishes itself with this top-notch collection of girly, teenybop ye-ye oldies, featuring plenty of little-known gems and obscure artists along with blockbusters from headliners such as Brigitte Bardot, Petula Clark, France Gall, Francoise Hardy, and Jacqueline Taieb... Among the less well-known artists on here are singers such as Louise Cordet, Christie Laume, Charlotte Leslie and Arlette Zola, as well as one of my favorite forgotten bands, Les Surfs, who had a lovely Brill Building-ish sound. As always, when Ace does something, they do it right, and this is a pretty strong selection that will bring a smile to hardcore collectors and newbies alike. Highly recommended!

Various Artists "LE POP, v.6" (Le Pop Musik, 2011)
Another groovy collection of contemporary French (and French-language) indiepop, gathered by the German-based Le Pop Musik label... If you're looking for guideposts to help you explore the blossoming French (and French Canadian) indie scene, the LE POP series beats all other competitors, finding the best and brightest of contemporary Gallic twee. Among the highlights here are the mandolin-driven funk of French "cajun" Feloche's "La Vie Cajun," the perky indie pop of Emmanuelle Seigner and the band Coeur De Pirate, as well as tracks by Jerome Miniere, JP Nataf and Yvan Marc... Plenty of female artists as well, with an overall mellow, melodic feel that will be familiar to fans of this excellent series. If you're looking for new, off-the-beaten-track artists to explore, this is the place to go: you can also check out my French Pop section to find out more about many of these artists.

A nice mellow set of neo-bossa nova from all across the world -- from Brazil (of course), Canada, Cape Verde, Mexico and even Norway and Serbia (where they probably really need the sunny vibes...) There are several tracks by French artists -- that nouvelle scene is still going strong, and very bossa-friendly -- although sadly nothing by Japanese guitarist Lisa Ono, who is an icon of non-Brazilian bossa worship. As with the best of these various-artist outings, this introduces listeners to several previously unknown artists; for me perhaps the biggest discovery was the German indie/agitpop duo, 2raumwohnung, who apparently have several really fun albums out. Time for a trip to the old Record Hut to track a couple down! Overall, another nice set from the folks at Putumayo -- didn't blow my mind, but it sure sounds nice on the stereo.

New To Me...

Pamelo Mounk'a "L'Essential" (Syllart, 2008)
A sweet set of classic, gentle West African soukous, highlighting vocalist Pamelo Mounk'a, who worked with Les Bantous De Capitale and several other groups... Included on this particular set are bandleader Tabu Ley Rochereau and singer M'Bilia Bel... Really lovely material, a little bit on the more mellow side of the style. Highly recommended.

George Sibanda "The Legendary George Sibanda: 1948-52" (SWP Records, 2008)
An archival delight, featuring recordings of Rhodesian singer-guitarist George Sibanda, who was one of Southern Africa's first commercial stars... Apparently he was a bit of a mystery man as well -- the folks at the SWP label were unable to unearth any biographical information about him (not even a photo!) even though they are the curators of the music archive that original recorded Sibanda's music. Sibanda recorded for several years, then died young after falling off the rails and becoming a heavy drinker: by the end of the 1950s, he was gone. The music he left behind was great, though -- fun, idiosyncratic acoustic tunes with the bounce and unevenness of early Kenyan benga. Included is Sibanda's original version of the song "Guabi Guabi," which entered the American folk repertoire through versions by Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Jim Kweskin and others. The music might not be entirely accessible even to open-minded, modern world music fans, but for those who like kooky, antique, uncategorizable styles, this is a real treasure. The SWP series, by the way, collects the work of European musicologist Hugh Tracey, who documented and recorded countless African styles over the course of several decades as a professional song-catcher. It's great stuff - definitely worth tracking down!

Various Artists "GUITAR MUSIC OF AFRICA -- RECORDINGS: 1950-1955" (Musical Ark, 2009)
By the way, if you're more of an MP3-y kind of person, many of George Sibanda's recordings are also available on this download-only album, which includes several other artists as well...

Super Cayor De Dakar "Embouteillage" (Popular African Music, 2001)
The second collection of Cuban-flavored music by this Senegalese dance band. A very mellow, low-key vibe prevails; sweet stuff with a hypnotic effect; some tracks are a little monotonous, most are trance-inducing and cool. Definitely worth checking out.

Various Artists "NEW ORLEANS FUNK: 1960-75" (Soul Jazz, 2000)
Mardi Gras time again, and time for me to freshen up on my New Orleans music... Here's a strong sampling of deep-roots funk from the Crescent City, with entries by Art Neville and the extended Neville Brothers/Meters family, as well as Eddie Bo, Lee Dorsey, Allan Toussaint and numerous less well-remembered soul and blues singers. It's a little too deep-grooved for me, but certainly an amazing job of crate-digging from the Soul Jazz folks. If you're into real-deal '60s/'70s funk, you'll want to check this one out. Worth it for Professor Longhair's "Big Chief" alone!

Various Artists "NEW ORLEANS FUNK, v.2: THE SECOND LINE STRUT" (Soul Jazz, 2008)
And here are more rarities and such - I haven't heard this volume yet, but I imagine its pretty strong, too.

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