New World Music: Summer of 2018

Appalatin, Vida

If you want more ammunition to defend multiculturalism, a few tracks from Appalatin ought to do the trick. Think immigrants from Ecuador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, and a chance meeting in Louisville with a few native Kentuckians schooled in Appalachian bluegrass. Let the fun begin. On the ten-track release Vida, Quechua, Spanish, and English collide with various musical styles to create a unique synthesis. You'll hear some of the usual string band instruments—guitar, bass, mandolin—but also flutes, charango, trumpet, saxophone, bongos, congas, and triangle. What kind of music is it? It depends on the moment. "Primavera" is a flute-driven blend of pop, rock, and Latin acoustic. A folk rock song in English, "Flow Like a River," is a bit like Poco if it had dual flautists. By contrast, the instrumental "Pituco" is a folk/jazz mélange in which you'll hear panpipes standing tall amidst brass and other instruments normally viewed as more forceful. The other song in English, "Sweet Song of the Soul," could have been plucked from the Stax archives, except smooth Fernando Moya handles the lead vocals instead of gritty Wilson Pickett. Try the title track to catch Appalatin in a pastoral mood as gentle as a summer breeze. This is fusion music at its best; swing, pronounced beats, sweet melodies, balanced harmonies, and strong lead vocals offer a lot to like. As a footnote, if you're skeptical that the world needs another version of "Guantanamera," reserve judgment until you hear Appalatin's version. ★★★★

Various Artists, Small Island, Big Song

Among Australian Aborigines, songlines are akin to maps, except they do with words what print would do on a map; that is, the songs guide them through the outback. (They also connect them to sacred Dreamtime rituals.) Filmmaker Tim Cole and Taiwanese publicist BaoBao Chen pondered the question of whether such songlines cross water; after all, anthropologists have long noted cultural diffusion among the peoples of Oceania. They took three years, visited 16 islands, and then came up with an even cooler idea. Small Island, Big Song contains contemporary compositions, but they are shot through with both tradition and pan-Oceanic blends. There is, for instance, "Naka War War To'o," from Solomon Islander Charles Maimarosia, with wooden flutes driving the melody and hollow drums pounding out the rhythms for an assortment of other instruments. The effect is soulful and sounds like someone decided to merge Pan pipes and East African guitar to create club dance grooves. On the other end of the spectrum we find "Pemung Jae" from Sarawak's Alena Murang whose spare vocals and lute produce a song that's somewhere between blues and bluegrass. Do you even know where the Torres Strait Islands are located? You might want to Google them, because Mau Power and Sandro lay down some trance-like beats in which big bass thumps and woodpecker-like percussion set the pace for hip hop that's like a warm-up for a haka. Perhaps the best-known artists are Madagascar's Tarika and Ben Hakalitz of Australia's Yothu Yindi, but the joy of discovery is high on this album. You'll hear indigenous flutes and lutes, jaw harps, kora, and other such things mix with more familiar instruments. You will also travel from Taiwan to Easter Island with stops in-between. The poignant exclamation mark is that many of these traditions are threatened—not by cultural diffusion, but by climate change. Watch these clips also fro some truly gorgeous filmmaking.

Various Artists, SXSW Sounds from Hungary

There is a hook-shaped sweep of mountain ranges in eastern and southern Europe where the Carpathian Mountains sweep into the Balkans is home to some of the most amazing music on the planet. Hungary sits in the northwestern part of the hook. Its music is not yet as appreciated as that of Romania or Greece, but it's every bit as exciting. The South by Southwest Music (SXSW) Festival recently showcased Hungarian music and you can hear what you've been missing on a Rock Paper Scissors sampler. I was quite taken by a performer called Boggie. She's billed as a pop singer, but her music is more robust than that. She sings in French, English, and Hungarian and in each she does so with verve. Check out "Le Demon," which has the force of a nightingale on steroids. Her English "Run to the River" has the feel of a mysterious Tori Amos song, while "Quitte-moi" is French, but with a faintly Latin jazz beat as filtered through an African chorus. Belau mixes visuals with electronica explorations. Try "Somebody Told Me So" and "You and I," both of which feature the pop-ready vocals of Krisztián Buzás and she powers through the beats and programming of Péter Kedves. If you want something harder, try what the Bohemian Betyars call–and I can't improve on this–"speed punk freak folk with Hungarian folk Romani stylings." "Trouble is My Brother" is reminiscent of Gogol Bordello, while "Sinful Needs" is like a string band on a very strange pharmaceutical trip.  You can also hear tracks from the soulful Qualitions and the blues/rock/folk Rockjam. ★★★★

Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba, Routes

 This is diasporic music from Senegal. Koru master Diali Cissokho now lives in North Carolina and his band, Kaira Ba, consists mostly of native Tar Heels. Their latest album surprises in many ways. There is, first of all, the integration of environmental and found sounds. "Alla L'a Ke," for example, opens with insect sounds upon which kora notes drip like falling rain. Then we hear some crystalline electric guitar and percussion that ease us into Cissokho's lead vocals and the backing chorus. It's nearly 7 minutes of groove and weave. "Night in M'Bour"—M'Bour is Cissokho's hometown—uses wind and insect sounds to prelude strong percussion and wooden flute. These give way to street noise and then an impromptu performance. "Ma Cherie" is also a kora/drum combo that slides into a swaying rhythm. Cissokho then commands a call-and-response vocal that includes a female singer answering his Manding vocals in English. "Salsa Xalel" is as the title suggests: a Latin feel overlaid with West African music. And there's "Story Song," with growly vocals, rumbling bass, and a soulful arrangement that even includes some rolling organ. You'll hear lots of stuff on this one: rock, soul, R & B, funk, and Senegalese. Label it pan-African. ★★★★

Nsimbi, Nsimbi

Nsimbi is a Los Angeles-based musical partnership between American singer Miriam Tamar and Uganda's Herbert Kinobe, with soukous guitar help from the Congo-born Jaja Bashengezi. All three are talented multi-instrumentalists—18 instruments among them—but my take is that should have taken more chances. I enjoyed this album more in pieces than as a whole. I was intrigued by the instrumental melodies and the power of Ms. Tamar's vocals, but there's not much poetry to the lyrics. For instance, I liked the high-stepping beats of "Flower of the Heart," but wouldn't you say comparing love to a flower is a tad clichéd? "Mujje" is a very much a dance club piece, but why is Kinobe posing as an LA-style DJ/rapper? We don't expect dance songs to be political, but somehow a love-overcomes-all message seems trite if you known anything at all about recent history in Congo or Uganda. There is lots to like on the album, including Kinobe's balafon on "Koona," Bashengezi's syncopated and contrasting guitar rhythms throughout, and the cool instrumental effect on "Moonglow" where the sounds bounce left to right akin to the effect of first decent pair of headphones you ever bought. I really liked "Gonna Be Alright," which sounds like '40s swing music grafted to light jazz and filtered through early rock 'n roll. Overall, though, I longed for more East African music and less LA rap and processing. ★★½

1 comment:

Nsimbi said...

Thanks for listening to Nsimbi! Glad you appreciate the cross-cultural intent of our project, which is based on ancient Swahili proverbs! We just want to be sure your readers know that we are in fact a duo consisting of Miriam Tamar and celebrated Ugandan "Lugaflow" hiphop artist GNL Zamba. Kinobe and Jaja played beautifully as multi-instrumentalists on our album.