February 18, 2005

Another New World of Music and Dance

Filed under: Archive,Womadelaide

Murray Bramwell , Rodger Lee and David Sly preview recent releases from artists appearing at Womadelaide 2005

Now an annual fixture, Womadelaide comes round faster than Christmas. Hardly have we absorbed the sights, sounds and general bouquet of last year and we are presented with enticements for the next one. And, with the festival’s emphasis on new and different programming, each year brings a fresh list of unfamiliar names and musical styles. Having acquired some grasp of tuva and son, Tropicalisimo and m’balax – and got to know the work of Baaba Maal, Youssou N’ Dour, Salif Keita and a dozen others – we find each Womadelaide program is filled with new unknowns and we are back to the drawing board.

There are some notable returns this year, such as Yair Dalal and Zap Mama , and familiar US artists like Kronos Quartet and Richie Havens. But there are many more in the 2005 line-up that are entirely new. With only a few weeks before Botanic Park opens its gates for three more days and nights of magic music, here are some CDs to help get your ears tuned …

Choice Language (Vertical/Sanctuary)
Murray Bramwell

Scottish band Capercaillie brings the full Celtic lineup of pipes, whistles and fiddles, not to mention the golden vocals of Karen Matheson. Choice Language has the usual judicious mix of traditional ballad, new compositions, jigs, reels and Gaelic mystery. But, like other folk bands (I am thinking of the illustrious Clannad) they are drawn at their peril to that instrument of pop torture, the synthesiser. The majestic opening of the first track Mile Marbhaisg for instance, is too tricked up with high hat, synth fills and other effects. However, Matheson’s vocals are so effortlessly melodic that they win the day. Flute and drum lively up The Old Crone and At Dawn of Day finds an appealing groove, while Little Do They Know and The Boy Who – new compositions from accordion player Donald Shaw – explore Nationalist politics and the plight of children on the West Bank. Capercaillie is more than the sum of the careful accomplishment of Choice Language though. Listen to the sheer zest of their 2002 Live album (Survival Records) and you’ll be counting them as a Womad definite.

The Pigram Brothers (ArtsWA)
Murray Bramwell

In songs like My Land, Broome based legends The Pigram Brothers capture what is idyllic about the North West Coast – “it’s all in the life of a freshwater man.” But elsewhere they also remind us of the hardships – “how many furlongs can we step in Johnny Walker’s shoes.” With lilting guitar, chiming mandolin, dulcimer and sprightly percussion, the Pigrams – clansmen and brothers Stephen, Alan, Philip, Gavin, Colin and David – have melded a sweet country sound which is light and lyrical. Other highlights on this CD include the instrumental Villaret, Riverman and the wry wordplay of Hill 22. With well-judged support from Adelaide producer, Kerryn Tolhurst, Jiir , named for a kind of sea eagle, is music for warm nights and clear skies. In the past Adelaide has missed out on The Pigram Brothers. Womad 2005 will remedy that oversight.

Daara J (Wrasse Records)
Murray Bramwell

Sengalese rappers Daara J, like Youssou N’Dour before them, bring the rhythmic spirit of Dakar to the snappy, high-sheen studios of Paris. Here is Hip Hop garnished with warm choruses, crisp percussion and Afro pop guitars. From the almost Latin beats of Boomerang to the café accordions and crunching percussion of Exodus, Daara J are an irresistible amalgam of world sounds. Performed in French and Sengalese Wolof dialect, the urgency of their lyrics is, unfortunately, often missed as they focus on the disillusionment of migration (Exodus) and spirals of crime (Babylone) The CD sleeve translations from Bopp sa Bopp read – “welcome to the land of loonies where hatred has become commonplace.” Other highlights include Le Cycle, featuring the splendid vocalist Rokia Traore and the hypnotic repetitions of Le Precipice. Daara J is Hip Hop that is about more than ego and gangsta turf wars. As they say in Boomerang – “been born in Africa, growing up in America, rap has just gone around to come back.” And all the better for it.

Ancestry in Progress
Zap Mama (Luaka Bop)
Murray Bramwell

Zap Mama, led by composer performer Marie Daulne, have delivered their first album in five years for David Byrne’s New York based Luaka Bop label. Having morphed from a capella to a bright, high energy R n B sound, Zap Mama proclaims its own Sweet Melody in the cruisy opening track then switches to French for Vivre, a shoop shoop salsa number featuring Daulne’s distinctively witchy vocals and intricately arranged girly choruses. Other guest vocalists appear – Erykah Badu on Bandy Bandy and Talib Kweli on Yelling Away (with additional raplines from Common.) Also intriguing is Miss Q’N a Daulne fairytale with a feminist twist. Ancestry in Progress finds Zap Mama reflective, assured and ready to party. Expect them to be a blast.

Radical Roots from the Emperor
of African Reggae
Alpha Blondy
Murray Bramwell

These selections from Ivory Coast reggae star Alpha Blondy are drawn from a thirteen album career beginning in 1982. Inspired by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh Alpha Blondy (his name is not a hair colour, it is derived from the French word for bandit) and his regular band the Solar System are an example of yet another cultural circle – this time from Trenchtown, Jamaica back to West Africa. Classic tracks map the struggle for freedom in Africa – Apartheid is Nazism, Bloodshed in Africa and Coup d’Etat. Wari, a recent track has the added vocals of the Saian Supa Crew while God Bless Africa is complete with breezy UB40 harmonica signatures. Although performed in French the political themes of Alpha Blondy’s music are clear enough in such titles as Sciences sans Conscience and Journalistes en Danger. And anyone familiar with Bob Marley’s War will soon recognise Alpha Blondy’s La Guerre. Womadelaide has run short in the past – this time it sounds like we are in for some Alpha Reggae.

Grace of the Sun
Richie Havens (Evangeline Records)
Murray Bramwell

He is hailed as a Woodstock legend and he even includes a stately cover version of the Joni Mitchell tribute to the 1969 hippie-fest on this album. But, always his own person, Richie Havens has never needed to trade on anything but his singular talent – and over numerous albums he has maintained his regal blend of grainy vocal and heavy-strummed acoustic guitar. Accompanied here by musicians Walter Parks, Christopher Cunningham, Badal Roy and others, Havens creates an acoustic tapestry of guitars, bazouki, sarod, sitar and percussion that is as accomplished as it is sublime. There are many of his own songs – including the excellent title track, the meditative We Both Know and the powerful closing ballad Pulling Up the Stone. And, as ever, there is a Dylan or Beatles cover. This time it is All Along the Watchtower. Performed with vigorous rhythms and Havens’ expressive and authoritative vocal, a great song comes startlingly alive. Businessmen they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth…

Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch)
Murray Bramwell

In Nuevo, the ever intrepid Kronos Quartet explore, with arrangements by Osvaldo Golijov, the uncharted territories of contemporary Mexican composition. The opening track El Sinaloense by Severiano Briseno is however, so daunting that even Mexican listeners on music websites have wondered with alarm whether that is what non-Hispanics think mariachi music sounds like. Almost parodically discordant, it sounds like Spike Jones and City Slickers. I am sure I will warm to it (and the Plankton Man re-mix at the end of the album ) but probably not before my print deadline. Beyond this daunting portal, though, is an album of exceptional riches – from the lyrical slow waltz, Se Me Hizo Facil by Agustin Lara, to the playful Miniskirt by Juan Garcia Esquivel and Perfidia, a luscious and poignant piece of 1939 lounge Latin by Alberto Dominguez, complete with 78 rpm samples. Also dazzling in its colour and vibrancy is Sensemaya by Silvestre Revueltas, requiring just the kind of vigorous, driving playing style that is the time-honoured Kronos trademark. Let us hope Nuevo is amply represented in March.

“New World Order” The Adelaide Review, No.262, February 18, 2005, pp.23-5.

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