Hey, Who Enters the Sea of Passion? Five great recent world music cds

For some reason most of what I’ve wanted to listen to for the past few weeks has been these more-or-less “world music” albums (and Otis Redding– I’ve just wanted to mainline the most pure vocal emotion & soul, I think).

  • Live From Festival au Desert Timbuktu.  Not on Spotify, I bought the cd at Landlocked Music in Bloomington.  (And just to suggest how cool this store is, they had a copy in stock.)  Here’s a piece on NPR about it; I learned about it from Robert Christgau’s year-end best-of (he ranked it his #5 album of the year).  It’s the soundtrack of the annual festival in Mali which is “inspired by traditional festivals held by the Touareg people” but is in fact a polyglot modern hybrid; Western rock stars like Bono and Robert Plant have performed at earlier Festivals, but this CD is all-African and skews pretty raw.  A few tracks reminded me a little of the Konono Nº1 Congotronics cds (which are very primitivist, musically, but are themselves very far from any kind of pure “folk” music).  Inharhan sounds very much like the Malian desert blues of the great Tinarawen (here’s an earlier post of mine about them); Douma Maïga jams mesmerizingly on the kurbu which seems to be a simple guitar-like instrument; Mauritanian Griot singer Noura Mint Seymali is passionately amazing.  Here’s a bit from an interview with her that conveys a sense of the authentic-modern-polyglot synergy that characterizes all of the music on the cd:

WCP: What singers do you like to listen to?

NMS: I enjoy several Mauritanian singers, like Dimi Mint Abba of course, and Arab singers, blues singers like Etta James, and must admit to faithfully following the Arabic version of TV series, The Voice, and Arab Idol.

WCP: Who influenced your husband’s guitar playing?

NMS: Jeiche loves Dire Straits and Jimi Hendrix. There are several great Mauritanian guitar players as well who have influenced his playing.

WCP: Who does he like to listen to? Certain African artists? American funk or soul artists? Which ones?

NMS: All kinds of stuff—roots and dub reggae, Senegalese mbalax, some Malian artists like Oumou Sangare, blues artists like Magic Sam and Albert King. And we have both been listening to more Indian classical music since collaborating with Jay Gandhi, an Indian classical flute player whom we met at a festival in Senegal…

  • Qat, Coffee & Qambus – Raw 45s from Yemen.  Again, I bought at Landlocked.  This cd of Yemenese music from the 60s and 70s is incredible.  At $12 it includes beautifully elaborate packaging and liner notes, so quite the bargain, as well.  I have probably played it through a dozen times, and like it more now than the first time; it has that rabbit-hole-into-the-unknown quality that I especially love in so-called world music, in a big way.  The tracks sometimes verge on a cappella, often just a voice or two accompanied by a simple rhythmic oud and drums. From the label’s site:

Compiled by Chris Menist, Qat, Coffee & Qambus: Raw 45s from Yemen features vintage oud and vocal music inspired by the qat-chewing, coffee-sipping, qambus-playing culture of Yemen. Although part of the classical Arabic musical tradition, the music of Yemen takes its rhythmic lead as much from the East African coast (a mere 20 miles across the Red Sea) as the surrounding Arab Peninsula. Little has been written about the music and culture of one of the world’s oldest civilizations, and each 45rpm disc gives a small glimpse of the poetic tradition, the unique local oud styles as well as an insight into people’s day-to-day lives, or the highs and lows of human relationships. Overall, the compilation gives a flavor of the sights and sounds of Yemen, with detailed notes that tell the story of the hunt for music that has mostly lain forgotten in the antique markets of the capital, until now.

One detail I enjoy, three of the nine tracks’ titles begin with “hey” or “hello!” in translation: “Hey You, Passenger!,” “Hey, Who Enters the Sea of Passion?” (incredible!), and “Hello, Welcome.”  Another great title: “They Made Me Fond of Love.”

Here’s one track, “Haya Abu-Saif” by Amna Hizam:

  • Orchestra Baobab La Belle Epoque 1971-1977 (Syllart).  On Spotify.  Orchestra Baobab were formed as the house band at Club Baobab in Dakar, Senegal, and started to attract a global audience in the 1980s.  If you’re going to start with them, you might go for the Nonesuch albums Pirates Choice, Specialist in All Styles, and/or Made in Dakar, but this is wonderful too.  Robert Christgau: “Jazz, r&b, soul, disco, reggae–no African band has ever emulated a New World music as gracefully as this Cuban-style unit… They released many (shortish) albums back when they were the toast of the post-colonial elite at downtown Dakar’s Club Baobab. Salsa was the rage of Senegal’s emergent ruling class, and there was always clave near the heart of Baobab’s groove. But cosmopolitanism was also on the agenda of a multi-tribally multilingual unit that could bring off its worldwide ambitions because its band sound was as solid and unmistakable as the Rolling Stones’.”  Pure pleasure; it is difficult to imagine anyone not enjoying this graceful, sinuous, beautiful, funky music.  Not weird and raw in the same way as the last two, probably more accessible.
  • Rokia Traoré, Beautiful Africa.  Another Malian singer.  This is the most conventional, cross-over-y of the five — she is a classic world-music chanteuse/ diva — and in truth I don’t love it quite as much as the others, but it has some high points such as the absolutely gorgeous and moving “N’Téri.” Here’s an intense live performance of that one:
  • Débruit & Alsarah – Aljawal. On Spotify. This one’s a bit different, yet less-“authentic” and more of a hybrid than any of the others I’ve mentioned, and arguably falling partly outside of “world music” as a category– kind of a trance-y dance music record. (I may have learned about it from this NPR world music top 10 of 2013 list, can’t remember for certain.)  Recorded in Brooklyn, “a modern, haunting take on Sudanese music heard through the sonic lens of French artist / producer, Débruit and the poetic, ethereal lyrics and melodies of Sudanese-born singer Alsarah.”  In the same universe as someone like DJ/ Rupture (and/or his radio show- I would be surprised if DJ/ Rupture were not a fan of this album), with Alsarah’s soaring vocals and Sudanese folk melodies woven through stuttering, throbbing electronic beats, loops & rhythms.  Probably my favorite is the amazing “Alhalim” (video below) and “Alhalim Suite” which has an electronic melodic line one might find on a Radiohead album.  “Louila” is nearly a cappella, beautiful, could almost be one of the 30-year-old more traditional tracks from the Qat, Coffee & Qambus cd.

Support authentic/ inauthentic/ weird/ indigenous/ global pop & folk music!  And consider actually buying music from your local record/ music store once in a while (I love Spotify – so wonderful to be able to, e.g., browse through Otis Redding’s entire catalogue when the spirit so moves- but I try to keep the cd purchase stream going too.)

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