CD Reviews 5
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Volume 5 from Asphalt Tango’s excellent series of Sounds From A Bygone Age this time features Gabi Lunca, A.K.A.Tziganca de matase (the silken Gipsy woman) regarded then and now as the jewel in the crown of Romanian Gipsy music from the 1950s to the 80s.
A very retro, and slightly off-putting, cover hides a gem of passionate & melancholic songs recorded in Bucharest between 1956 and 1978. Accompanied almost entirely by fiddle, bass, Cymbalom and her husband on accordion, the original analogue recordings made in Bucharest and preserved in aspic are an absolute joy to hear. The pure emotion and dexterity of Gabi’s voice joining the dots from the Moorish influence of Spanish Flamenco through Eastern Europe to the Indian Sub-continent.
The subject of the songs are a bit depressing, ‘The Good Have No luck’ & ‘I am sad in this world’ for example, however the music is upbeat and triumphant often galloping along like a Merc in the fast lane without ever breaking into a sweat, Gabi’s voice always in control.
I very much enjoyed being introduced to this artist who like Liliana Butler, ‘The Queen of Gipsy Soul’ from Bosnia, can make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck with the sheer emotion of her voice. Gabi Lunca, now into her 70s stopped performing publicly in the 1990s restricting herself to the occasional performance at Pentecostal Church ceremonies.
If you only buy one retro Romanian Gipsy album this year, don’t be put off by the cover.
One of the most unusual albums I ever had the pleasure of reviewing, Ersatz Musika’s debut album is a strangely compelling mixture of Russian folk songs from the ‘underground’ full of longing for times past, loves lost and missing friends.
With an air of the Burlesque the lead singer and leader of the 6 piece band Irina Doubrovskaja, who also plays the accordion and keyboards, takes us on a surreal journey through the Russian left-field, where friends from the former Soviet Union would meet secretly, drink Ersatz coffee, (because the real thing wasn’t available unless you were a member of the Politburo) and discuss the issues of the day. These friends would record songs onto tapes and pass them around the group creating their own underground music scene, hence the band’s name ‘Erstaz Musika’. The band members, now based in Berlin, keep the tradition alive and send this Voice Message to all their compatriots now scattered around the globe.
Effortlessly absorbing elements of waltz, polkas some blues guitar riffs, and even a touch of reggae-beat in one of the tracks, this is an album made in earnest with a lot of tenderness and without compromise. Packed full with atmosphere the music is never in a hurry to get anywhere, the pace mostly slow to medium, the songs sad but resolute; Voice Letter even has little of the Manu Chao about it, albeit in a Russian kind of way
After only one listening I was already whistling one of the tunes and attempting to sing the words (T12) Eh Kalina, always a good sign.
Subtitled Hiphop, Islam, West Africa this is an album that highlights the many Hip Hop acts that are currently big news across West Africa with most of its emphasis on Dakar, the hub of the West African rap scene.
Starting off with a simple Juju rhythm then working its way through some old style P Funk-ery and eventually joined by some very nicely placed Afrobeat horns track one ‘Many Lessons’ by Bantu from Nigeria contributes the album’s title and overall message, that of peace, brotherhood, tolerance.
Although it is easy to hear references to styles from the US like 50 Cent, Tupac, Mary J Blige et al this album shows that it can easily turn its back on the misanthropic and make a virtue out of virtue without losing its cred. Anyway with lyrics voiced in a number of languages you’d be hard pressed to know what they were on about unless you had a decent handle on Wolof. French, Ngoni, Morrocan and so on, although there are, of course, some English lyrics scattered here and there.
Some of the biggest West African acts are missing from this compilation acts like Daara J and Positive Black Soul who have made massive advances in the last few years but it is no less for their absence, in fact it is easy to make out the influences passed on by those missing.
With some unusual instrumentation, for the Hip Hop genre, of balafon, djembe, calabash and the soaring vocal dexterity of the Manding, this is a very different album, but all the more enjoyable for it’s difference
All in all a very reasonable and varied album that is probably as common as ‘chips n curry sauce’ in the night clubs of Paris and Dakar.
An album compiled by DJ Russ Dewbery of the sort of Jazz you’d be likely to hear if you turned up at one of Dewbery’s fabled jazz sessions in Brighton, and at 21 years ‘The Jazz Rooms’ is the world’s longest running consecutive club session.
Available on double CD or vinyl this album takes in Acid Jazz from the ‘70s through to Drum & Bass inspired Samba-Jazz with some fine Afrobeat, the odd theme tune thrown in and a decent helping of Latino jazz here and there (just as you’d expect from anything with Mr Bongo’s moniker attached). This album won’t frighten the horses but is bound to throw up a number of tunes to hit the spot for just about any listener. For the jazzer looking for some ‘world flavours’ or the world music fan looking for a bit of jazz, whichever direction you came from you’d see this is a cool album and probably like at least half of it, the more I listened the more I liked it, even the missus liked most of it and she’s not really a ‘Jazz fan’.
My personal favourites include an excellent version of ‘A’int Nobody’ by the London based Latino pianist, Alex Wilson and his band, a great crossover track and just one of the tracks off this album that I’ll be DJ-ing very soon. Altogether a nice collection of tunes and ‘meat and potatoes’ for the working DJ who wants to slip-in a bit of quality jazz from time to time.
Watcha Clan - Diaspora Hi Fi (A Mediterranean Caravan) Piranha Records CD PIR2230
The voice of lead singer Sister K, herself a fusion of cultures: Jewish, Algerian & French shows great range and diversity, whether singing hard or soft and in a number of languages. With instrumentation that includes violin, oud, cello, trumpets and trombone amongst the expected array of Keyboards drums and laptops (and I’m sure I heard a desert fiddle in their somewhere), the Mediterranean Caravan takes us on a whirlwind tour moving swiftly from one style to another. Track 2 ‘Goumari’ could be something the Uber-famous Tinariwen would be proud to put their name to, followed instantly by the Balkan Gipsy knees-up of track 3 ‘Balkan Qoulou’ we’re thus whipped from the Sahara to the Carpathians. Continuing along the road much travelled we’re also treated to French Rap and even Flamenco in the mix, just to remind us where it originally came from, not mention the Jamaican influences
An eclectic list of guest artists contribute raps, vocals and some interesting instrumental ingredients to this album which certainly trawls the current crop of desired World Music flavours. With an overall production that sounds very reminiscent of Transglobal Underground its not surprising to learn that TGU’s Tim Whelan was involved in the production.
An album that is probably best heard LOUD or better still ‘live’ the record label Piranha have cleverly packaged this album with a video of one of the tracks ‘Eli’ just so that you can see the band in action, and totally in context. The CD also includes sleeve notes on a number of files and your very own player that automatically loads into your laptop