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Posts from the ‘World music’ Category

Trio Da Kali / Kronos Quartet

Kronos Quartet photographed in Berkeley, CA December 12, 2013©Jay BlakesbergIt’s been my experience that no time spent checking out the Kronos Quartet’s latest activity is ever wasted, and the group’s new album, Ladilikan, in which they accompany Mali’s Trio Da Kali, is a beauty. The meeting between the voice of Hawa Diabaté, the balafon of Lassana Diabaté and the bass ngoni of Mamadou Kouyaté and the violins of David Harrington and John Sherba, the viola of Hank Dutt and the cello of Sunny Yang turns out to sound like something that has always existed, somewhere in the universe.

The primary impression is one of rhythmic vitality, with the quartet locking naturally into the trio’s two instruments to create a thoroughly integrated sextet, providing a lovely setting for Hawa Diabaté’s graceful contralto. In between the vocal passages, the band vamps with delicate power and a groove that is at times almost delirious. Approaching the conclusion of the stunning “Lila Bambo”, they come together in a unison coda that sweeps you off your feet.

Halfway through the album they give us something that might well become a classic. At Harrington’s suggestion, Hawa Diabaté sings Mahalia Jackson’s “God Shall Wipe All Tears Away”, with the original organ accompaniment transcribed for the string quartet; the words are translated into Bambara, the first among more than 40 languages spoken by Mali’s various ethnic groups. The controlled ardour of the voice and the grain of the strings — which together recreate the slightly wheezy sound of a portable harmonium — are irresistible (you can hear a snatch of it in this short trailer).

Meticulously produced by Nick Gold and Lucy Duran for the former’s World Circuit label, Ladilikan could well end up being the album I give to friends and family this Christmas. It’s hard to imagine anyone not loving it.

* Trio Da Kali play at the Musicport Festival in Whitby on October 21, then at Opera North, Leeds (22), St Barnabas Church, Oxford (25) and the Old Church, Stoke Newington,  London N16 (26).

‘The Woman at the End of the World’

elza-soaresThe 79-year-old singer Elza Soares was in London last week, wearing a purple wig and a skintight leather dress as she sang from a golden throne on stage at the Barbican. I missed the gig, but I’ve been belatedly catching up with A Mulher do Fim do Mundo, the album she released this summer, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to end up very high on my best-of-the-year list.

“The Woman at the End of the World”: it sounds like a film by Pedro Almodóvar, and the music is not short of the kind of drama the Spanish director would relish. The project was conceived and produced in Rio de Janeiro, Soares’s home city, by Guilherme Kastrup, with the aid of Celso Sim, Romulo Fróes and a group of musicians and songwriters who collaborated to create a wonderfully modern setting for a voice that carries the marks of age but also an ageless energy.

Having begun with Soares singing a ballad called “Coraçoa do Mar” unaccompanied, the album ends with a minute and a half of silence interrupted by the distant sound of her singing to herself, as if you’d just left her house and, as you walked away, could hear her starting to get on with her daily tasks. In between comes music animated by some sort of special life-force, a mixture of samba and trip-hop and new wave and other stuff, brilliantly focused into something with great variety but a pungently identifiable character.

If I had to make a comparison, I’d say it mixes the elegant precision of Paula Morelenbaum’s great album Berimbaum, a 2004 updating of bossa nova, with some of the glorious anarchy of Os Mutantes: a rough poetry of wild guitars, horns anchored by a growling baritone saxophone, chattering (sometimes battering) percussion, songs very explicitly celebrating a raw need for sex (“Pra Fuder”), describing a police raid on a crack house (“Benedita”), and issuing threats to an abusive lover (“Maria da Vila Matilde”: “When the cops come, I’ll show them my black and blue arm / I’ll show them your cards, your game, your loaded dice…”). And a voice to break your heart. A magnificent piece of work, all told.

* The Woman at the End of the World is released on the Mais um Discos label. The photograph of Elza Soares is by Alexander Eca.

The Road to Jajouka

Scan 132760001The Master Musicians of Jajouka came to London’s Commonwealth Institute in September 1980 and, over the course of five nights, practically blew the place apart through the force of their sound. That was the initial shock: the sheer volume and energy produced by eight men playing rhaitas — a double-reed instrument — and five others playing side drums. It was the first chance most of us had been given to see and hear these Sufi musicians from a village in the Rif mountains, and they more than lived up to their legend. The use of circular breathing and layered rhythms was a revelation, as was their casual mode of presentation. “The musicians did not treat their work with undue reverence,” I wrote in The Times. “They shared jokes and exchanged winks with members of the audience, who were encouraged to participate in displays of come-as-you-are dancing.”

The short season was part of a tour arranged to raise funds to ensure the preservation of their ancient culture and way of life. Three decades later the struggle seems to be continuing, to judge by the appearance of a new CD, The Road to Jajouka, in which recordings of their music are blended — by way of sampling, remixing and juxtaposition — with that of various western musicians. “One hundred per cent of the net profits will go to the Jajouka Foundation,” the sleeve informs us.

The album is produced by Billy Martin, the drummer with Martin, Medeski and Wood, whose entire membership appears on the opening track, together with the guitarist Marc Ribot. Others who turn up on subsequent pieces include the alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman, drummer Mickey Hart, the bass guitarists Bill Laswell and Flea, the guitarist Lee Ranaldo, the Sirius Quartet and  the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Howard Shore, the Canadian composer who is credited as an executive producer of the album. Shore’s interest in this music probably has its origin in his collaboration with Coleman on the score for David Cronenberg’s 1991 film of William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch, in which the Jajouka musicians were featured.

This is not the album to buy if you’re after a full-strength blast of the Boujeloud rite of the Jajouka musicians. In general, however, the mash-ups work well. I love the sound of Ribot’s squibbling guitar and the string quartet against the massed rhaitas on “Into the Rif”. Coleman’s alto improvisation against the layered rhaitas of Bachir Attar on “Jnuin” recalls the visit to Morocco that produced the track “Midnight Sunrise”, included on the album Dancing in Your Head, released in 1977, with a fragment repeated on the Naked Lunch soundtrack (if there ever was a western musician attuned to the vision of these Sufis, it’s surely Ornette).

Many of us know a great deal more about the sounds of the world than we did in 1968, when Brion Gysin took Brian Jones to Jajouka, or in 1980, when Jajouka came to London. Or, indeed, when Burroughs called them “the 4,000-year-old blues band” (we now know their music dates back a mere 1,300 years). The new CD is a reminder that increased familiarity hasn’t robbed this particular music of its power to astonish and mesmerise.

* The photograph of the Master Musicians of Jajouka is from the CD insert and was taken by Cherie Nutting. Jajoukafoundation.org is the relevant website for information and donations. There’s a fine chapter on Jajouka in Blues & Chaos, a collection of pieces by the late Robert Palmer, edited by Anthony DeCurtis and published by Scribner in 2009.