World Music:Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, Moving Sound, Coreyah, Madou Toure, Afrika Mamas, Chinese Folk Music



April sometimes holds surprises–like a snow shower when daffodils are in bloom–so it’s an apt time to review the new album Bonfrosta Shetland Islands term for a hard frost–by Nordic Fiddlers Bloc (NFB). If NFB’s music is unfamiliar, the trio is Kevin Henderson from the Shetlands (Scotland), Olav Luksengård Mjelva from Norway, and Anders Hall from Sweden. Mjelva plays a hardanger fiddle. It has nine (or eight) strings, though you have to look closely to see them. Four are played as one would any fiddle tune, but their vibrations cause the underlying strings to vibrate harmonically and with an eerie quality.  Hall plays viola and an octave fiddle, the latter of which is strung to sound lower. Several of the tunes are polskas, which is often translated as “polka.” Though both are often in ¾ time, a polska is a Scandinavian dance that’s generally more formal than what most think of as a polka. These are reminders that the feel of NFB instrumentals is often that of a folk/classical hybrid. The new NFB album is a dozen gems that includes three solo pieces, one from each musician. It opens with “Schottische Kerlou,” a lively dance tune penned by piper Calum Stewart who now lives in Brittany and has a suitable Scottish/Breton feel. Two of my favorite pieces are “Frygg,” a tribute to Frigg, a superb Finnish band; and the gorgeous title track. Available videos are currently scare, so trust me when I say the latter captures the quiet locked-down feel of winter. Plucked strings and bell-like tones make for a magical blend that’s at once forlorn, yet hopeful. You can, however, see the lads on “Adam’s Nightmare” and observe the balance between Henderson’s jauntiness and the moodiness provided by Mjelva and Hall. The hardanger gets a workout on “Bas-Pelles Eriks Brudpolska” and will quickly hear why it’s also a favored wedding march. For pure fun, try “Myrstacken,” which starts slowly but doesn’t stay in said tempo for very long. The word is Swedish for “anthill” and NFB make a mountain of it. Savor this release for musicianship of the highest order.



A Moving Soud is a Taiwanese band, though their newest record Songs Beyond Words sometimes sounds Indian. They are often where modern and meditative meet and mix. Its centerpiece is Mia Hsieh, a willowy singer and dancer who sometimes drifts into the music to offer bird-like vocalizations and at others is front and center directing the action. “Silk Road” and “Ganesh” are decidedly on the meditative side of things. You will hear Hsieh but also instruments such as the two-stringed bowed erhu and the lute-like zhongruan, which sounds like an up-sized pipa. Check out the concert footage of “Fire Dance,” which is supplemented by the performance of an actual fire dancer, and a very supple one at that. Hsieh and the band have a lot of fun on “The Market Song” in which they recreate the sounds, bargaining, and controlled chaos of a Taiwanese agora. “Interplanetary Heart” also intrigues, with hand percussion evincing the thump of the universe. 



Coreyah is from South Korea, though much of its music is redolent of Indonesian gamelan in that it is trance-like and superlunary. This sextet from Seoul sometimes gets tagged as a psychedelic band. I get that in the sense that their sunny dispositions and deliberately paced music conjures swaying dancers lost in a musical groove. But let’s not imagine the Grateful Dead. Rather than a guitar-driven band, Coreyah’s main melody instruments–played within a mix of minimal guitar and various percussion–are bird-like wooden flutes in the hands of Kim Dong Kun and the zither-like geomungo, which is played seated on the floor and plucked with a bamboo stick. The heart, though, is singer Ham Boyoung and she has a glorious voice that can be as delicate as a “Yellow Flower,” one of the songs from their new album Clap and Applause, but also catchy and filled with verve, as we also hear in said song. Listen carefully to her on “Good Dreams” and you will also notice that hers is a voice of many colors and ornaments. Watch Coreyah’s NPR Tiny Desk concert and I suspect that you too will be mesmerized by their infectious charm. 



Mamadou “Modou” Touré is the son of famed Senegalese musician Ousman Touré.

The son also rises, though his album Touki occasionally suffers lapses linked to uncertain focus for his band. Touré has a smooth and powerful voice and his songs explore his Senegalese roots, family, and identity. A few songs, like “Moon,” are in English but the bulk are in Wolof, Soninke, or French.  Touré plays an acoustic guitar and, depending upon your perspective, you might wonder if he sees himself as a folk singer, a folk rocker, an Afropop artist, or a jazz fusionist. The title track has elements of the latter, whereas "Mélokane" is laden with pop hooks, and “Noone” has an electric guitar interlude that feels forced. But there is no doubting the allure of his sunny vocals. 



Let’s hear it for the ladies. Afrika Mamas is six single mothers from South Africa shaped by the dream of group leader Ntombifuthi Lushaba to take their music to the world. That tale is told in “Iphupo.”  They will immediately put you in mind of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and that’s no accident. On Ilanga, the ensemble’s fourth record, Afrika Mamas sing of the challenges of everyday life such as being female singers in a male-dominated society, street vending, and the travails of miners. Songs such as “Isilingo” showcase their robust a cappella Township style and don’t assume the deep bass is a male vocalist! Many songs such as “Tshelamina” spotlight call-and-response singing, but there is diversity within them. Compare the former to “Sithwele Kanzima” in which the chorus sometimes switches roles with the leader. They also offer a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that’s a bit like Durban meets Motown.




Only in the West is “folk” music identified with singer/songwriters. In most places it means music of the folk–ordinary people. The Folk Music of China, Vol. 10 highlights indigenous peoples from Yunnan Province in the southwest of China, a region bordering Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Tibet. Various singers from the Pumi, Lisu, and Nakhi peoples sing about things around which their lives revolve, including: vegetable searching, dragon worship, blooming Kapok flowers, shepherding, hunting, and weddings. These are untrained voices meant to accompany tasks or commemorate events and bear such straightforward titles as “Song of Transplanting Seedlings.” They are sparse–mostly a cappella or with minimal instrumentation–and demand patience. There are 28 tracks, but most are just over a minute in length. They may not be your cup of tea–they grow a lot of it in Yunnan–but they are folk music stripped to its basics.


Rob Weir


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