Sorry Bamba

World in Stereo: Sorry Bamba’s Volume One 1970-1979

World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Sorry Bamba: Volume One 1970-1979 (Thrill Jockey, 6/19/11)

Sorry Bamba: “Porry”

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Thrill Jockey continues its foray into the world-music scene with a collection of tunes from one of West Africa’s forgotten figures, Sorry Bamba. A father figure to the many musicians who came after him but somewhat unknown outside of Africa, Bamba’s music is another testament to the never-ending investigation of Mali’s rich musical history.

Born in Mopti, a city resting between Timbuktu and Ségou, Bamba plays a confluence of styles that stem from the region’s folk traditions. He’s best known for his powerful sing-talk vocals that can withstand the grittiest Afro-funk, electric instrumentation.

But this compilation, covering a mere decade of the artist’s half-century-long career, is more than ’70s Afro-funk. Bamba’s career in the ’70s was at a crossroads, a time characterized by Mali’s independence from France a decade earlier. While the country promoted modernization and celebration of Malian culture, Radio Mali sought for a push of musical heritage. Bamba was one of the artists at the forefront as the band leader for the Regional Orchestra of Mopti. In addition to funky fuzz, the collection shows hints of Malian blues, American soul, and Latin rhythms among Bamba’s take on regional sounds, most particularly the folkloric songs of the nearby Dogon people.

The Waitiki 7

World in Stereo: The Waitiki 7’s Waitiki in Hi-Fi

World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

The Waitiki 7: Waitiki In Hi-FiThe Waitiki 7: Waitiki in Hi-Fi (Pass Out, 4/12/11)

The Waitiki 7: “Ouanalao”

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When Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill admitting Hawaii into statehood in 1959, Americans were living in a post-WWII United States, ready to forget and eagerly optimistic to start anew.  Though a standard history book will tell you that everyone was consumer-crazy and making a lot of babies, it won’t tell you that a large percentage of the populace was listening to exotica.

Borne out of Hawaii’s post-war music scene, exotica is marked by its lounge-like feel, a tropical summation of Pacific, Caribbean, and Latin sounds fused with American pop and jazz.  As a precursor to the modern world-music movement, artists like Martin Denny and Les Baxter introduced stateside audiences to new sounds and rhythms.  By the 1970s, exotica was snooze-worthy, stock-heavy pop, but a listen to the golden-era recordings exposes some groove-heavy material with plenty of progressive rhythms and dreamy, vibraphone-drenched melodies.

Fortunately, Oahu-based The Waitiki 7 has managed to steer clear from contrived kitsch to bring modern sensibility to exotica’s late-’50s to mid-’60s pinnacle sound.  As heard on its 2009 debut, Adventures in Paradise, and on the 2010 follow-up, New Sounds of Exotica, the septet builds on Latin-jazz foundations with an ear for vintage and retro qualities.  Now the band is releasing a set of alternative studio takes from both records with Waitiki in Hi-Fi, a vinyl-only release that will have you dusting off that vintage Crosley record player.

World in Stereo: Dengue Fever’s Cannibal Courtship

World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Dengue Fever: Cannibal Courtship (Fantasy Records, 4/19/2011)

Dengue Fever: “Uku”

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Righteously capturing the free spirit of Cambodia’s 1960s surf-rock and psychedelic-pop scene is Dengue Fever‘s fourth LP, Cannibal Courtship.  For almost a decade, the Los Angeles-based ensemble, led by Cambodian songstress Chhom Nimol, has shone a light on the undeniable wealth of grooves that Khmer music has to offer, intricately reworking its musical foundations in an approach that is vintage in style with an ear towards global sounds.

Cannibal Courtship shows the band expanding its sound into new territories, playing a more fuzzed-out, rock-and-roll style while keeping true to the dreamy, reverberated guitar licks and driving bass riffs that make its music so hypnotic.  Guitarist Zac Holtzman takes a prominent vocal presence, and Nimol’s English has become increasingly better, resulting in a record that is sung half in Khmer and half in English. The two linguistic styles are tied together with groovy dual vocal parts from the singers.

Whereas the larger Southeast Asian scene — including Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam — saw an incredible boom of Western-influenced, psychedelic rock and roll as early as the ’60s, Cambodia had its golden era of musical mutation before the horrifying Pol Pot regime took over in 1975. During his reign, Western-influenced musicians were killed, and their music was banned and destroyed.

World in Stereo: The Sway Machinery’s The House of Friendly Ghosts, Volume 1

World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

The Sway Machinery: The House of Friendly Ghosts, Volume 1 (JDub Records, 3/8/11)

The Sway Machinery: “Gawad Teriamou”

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Led by guitarist and lead singer Jeremiah Lockwood, Brooklyn-based band The Sway Machinery includes Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase, brass players Stuart Bogie and Jordan Mclean (Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra), and baritone-sax player Colin Stetson (Tom Waits, Arcade Fire). Though something of a name-dropper’s perfect dream, The Sway Machinery actually resembles very little of its individual parts.

Instead, under the vision of Lockwood, the collective explores Jewish cantorial music within the broader sphere of world music, injecting the ancient tradition with Afro-rhythms and blues-tinged soul.  The distinct sound stems from two figures in Lockwood’s life: his grandfather, renowned cantor Jacob Konigsberg, who instilled in his lifeblood the ancient heritage of synagogue music; and Piedmont blues virtuoso Carolina Slim, who mentored Lockwood early in his career, as he played the streets and subways of New York City.  It’s a far-out mix that is sacredly funky, executed brilliantly by a collective with a dense amalgamation of contemporary sensibilities.

World in Stereo: Aurelio’s Laru Beya

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Aurelio: Laru Beya (Next Ambiance / Sub Pop, 1/18/11)

Aurelio: “Laru Beya”

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Bringing the Garifuna sound to a global audience, Aurelio Martinez’s sophomore record, Laru Beya, is the second release from the Afro-centric label Next Ambiance, the latest imprint of Sub Pop Records.  After his close friend, Andy Palacio, passed away a year after the release of his acclaimed 2007 record, Wátina, Aurelio has become the new face of Garifuna music and culture.

A culture of intense generational assimilation that began during the slave trade when escaped African slaves inter-married the Caribbean Indian people of St. Vincent Island, the hybrid group was then deported by British colonizers to the coasts of Central America by the late 18th Century.  As a descendant of those forces, Garfunia’s musical legacy is marked by African, Caribbean, Indian, and Latin influences.  It’s a wealthy foundation on which Aurelio builds — a rhythmically powerful record accompanied by an astonishing sense of identity and place.

Dub Sonata

World in Stereo: Dub Sonata’s Nights in Cuba

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Dub Sonata: Nights in Cuba (Illest Rated, 12/14/10)

Dub Sonata: “Cubana”

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On Nights in Cuba, the music of Florida’s southerly neighbor receives a proper second-hand re-imagining from New York-based producer Dub Sonata.  Released late last year, the record is an ambitious 19-track instrumental voyage through the island’s tremendous musical tradition — a heritage that some attest is the richest in the world.

And if there’s one thing that listeners realize after first spin, it’s that the record gives the argument justice.  Though at the heart of Cuban music are styles we’ve come to associate with the Latin sound, Dub Sonata lays down funky foundations — everything from hip-hop break beats to drum and bass — that make for a seamless integration of musical cultures.

The United States’ trade embargo against Cuba has made it quite difficult for Americans to travel there.  Flights direct from the United States to Cuba are nonexistent — and though Americans can officially travel there, it’s actually illegal to purchase anything.  During a small window of time, Dub Sonata traveled to Cuba via the Cayman Islands without any expectations of bringing anything back.

The impromptu trip proved to be the beginning of Nights in Cuba, as the producer met locals who pointed him to the shop where he would spend two days digging through thousands of old, mostly unplayable records.  Salvaging over 100 LPs and 45s combined, he shipped the records back to New York.

World in Stereo: Kodo’s Akatsuki

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Kodo: Akatsuki (Otodaiku, 1/11/11)

Kodo: “Stride”
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In the Niigata prefecture, 32 miles west of Honshu in the Sea of Japan, is an island widely known as a place of exile.  The remoteness of Sado Island made it a site for banishment until the 1700s, a punishment second only to death for those poets, dramatists, and even emperors who were seen as disgraces to their country.  But its isolation has also made it one of Japan’s unspoiled beauties, an island of dramatic precipices and remarkable ravines crowned by two parallel mountain chains.

The island is where, 30 years ago, Kodo was established not only as a Japanese performing arts troupe, but as a village sharing a very distinct collective lifestyle.  Preserving and revitalizing the art of the taiko (traditional Japanese drum), Kodo has been fusing high-energy percussion, elegance, and traditional dance for over three decades.  Since debuting at the Berlin Festival in 1981, the collective has given thousands of performances on five continents.  Kodo’s new album, Akatsuki, celebrates its thirtieth anniversary with brand-new compositions and never-before-recorded stage pieces.

The Kodo collective is always constant, never stagnant.  The almost 50-member collective lives in Sado Village, a 32-acre plot of land established in 1988.  Including staff members, performers, seniors, and apprentices, the group shares the same lifestyle: living, eating, creating, and rehearsing.  As the oldest members turn 60 and the youngest apprentices 20 this year, it’s an evolving cast of players, a natural transference not only skills and techniques, but also ideologies and culture.

Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuaria: Lagrimas Mexicanas

World in Stereo: Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuária’s Lagrimas Mexicanas

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuária: Lagrimas Mexicanas (E1, 1/25/11)

Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuária: “Aquela Miller”

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The fretwork abilities of guitar luminaries Bill Frisell and Brazilian singer/songwriter Vinicius Cantuária meet on a fantastic Latin jazz record titled Lagrimas Mexicanas (“Mexican Tears” in English).  An expert collaboration that shows itself in every detailed note, Lagrimas Mexicanas has the harmonic twists and turns of a bossa-nova record sliced up by the experimental sounds you’d expect from Frisell. Whether sung in Spanish or Portuguese, Cantuária anchors much of the album with a voice as timeless as Gilberto Gil’s, capturing a worldly romanticism that comes off as seductive as the music that accompanies it.

Though it’s the first exclusive partnership between the two, the musicians have kept good company with each other in the past, playing together in a variety of settings — most notably Frisell’s guest spot on Cantuária’s second international release, Tucumã, in 1999. Cantuária, in return, was a part of the impressive global roster that made up Frisell’s Intercontinentals group.

Growing up in Manaus and Rio De Janiero, Cantuária’s Tropicália sound is informed by the places and people of Brazil. Taking Brazil’s rich musical tradition and relocating to New York in the mid-’90s, he has made a career in pushing the bossa-nova sound forward into the 21st Century.

World in Stereo: Sidi Touré’s Sahel Folk

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Sidi Touré: Sahel Folk (Thrill Jockey, 1/25/11)

Sidi Touré: “Bon Koum”

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It has been 13 years since Malian folk artist Sidi Touré released a solo album. Touré’s 1998 debut, Hoga, is a bluesy, foot-stomping, electric-overdrive kind of record. At the time, Touré and many of his Malian contemporaries were on the cutting edge of the evolving Afro-pop sound, just before its revival hit the West by the turn of the century. Now at 51, Touré’s sound has definitely changed, but it’s as powerful and provocative as ever.

Sahel Folk, the West African musician’s debut on Thrill Jockey, is informed by the people and places most important to him, making for a record that comes off naturally introspective. Direct from the stunning red-dirt roads of Bamako, Mali, Touré and his unmatched guitar playing have made an album that’s nothing short of inspirational.

World in Stereo: Josephine Foster & The Victor Herrero Band’s Anda Jaleo

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Josephine Foster & The Victor Herrero Band: Anda Jaleo (Fire Records, 11/2/10)

Josephine Foster & The Victor Herrero Band: “Los Cuarto Muleros”

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“Anda Jaleo” has a long history as a Spanish folk standard; its melody repeatedly transforms and reemerges anew. First recorded in 1931 by poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca and flamenco singer/dancer La Argentinita, it was a popular dance before it was adopted by the Republican Army as a resistance song during the Spanish Civil War.  But under head of state Franciso Franco’s repressive military regime, Lorca’s leftist art was outlawed, including the folk-song collection Las Canciones Populares Españolas, which features “Anda Jaleo” and many others.

The song’s name appears again in avant-folk artist Josephine Foster and husband Victor Herrero’s recent reworking of Lorca’s Las Canciones, a simple and skilled record that shows the songbook’s ability to connect with audiences 80 years later. Along with Herrero’s acoustic band, Anda Jaleo was recorded live in the Grenadine Sierra, capturing a rich, lively mood that stays within the traditional framework of the 1931 original.

World in Stereo: Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal’s Chamber Music

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal: Chamber Music (Six Degrees Records, 1/11/11)

Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal: “Histoire de Molly”

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Six Degrees Records begins 2011 with a wonderful collaboration between West African kora player Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Ségal, simply titled Chamber Music. Geared toward reimagining a genre closely associated with the days of études and opuses, the record successfully fuses African classical with Western classical music.

One of the best traditional kora musicians (the kora being West Africa’s 21-string, long-neck harp lute), Sissoko has released more collaborative projects than solo works, keen on showing the instrument’s adaptability to the modern world. In his collaboration with Ségal, known best as the cellist for the French trip-hop group Bumcello, Sissoko has found a new avenue in which to showcase this West African griot tradition.

Ranjit Barot

World in Stereo: Ranjit Barot’s Bada Boom

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Ranjit Barot: Bada BoomRanjit Barot: Bada Boom (Abstract Logix, 11/16/10)

Ranjit Barot: “Dark Matter”

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Dividing his formative years between England and India, Ranjit Barot falls at the crossroads of two cultures, with an aesthetic that draws heavily on Indian harmonic and rhythmic accents and R&B and jazz-rock fusions. In addition to having dozens of film scores credited to his name, Barot is also known as one of the most versatile drummers in the world, and most recently a part of the impressive roster of contemporary Indian musicians on John McLaughlin’s Floating Points.

But now Barot is finally taking a break from the film scripts and featured spots to make his debut as a leader. Bada Boom is Barot’s long-overdue solo debut, an album showcasing a musical approach crafted and shaped from a long career of session playing and film scoring. As a bilingual play on the Big Bang theory (“bada” is Hindi for “big”), Bada Boom is an epic in concept with a cast of players following suit, including John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orhestra) and legendary Indian tabla player and close family friend Zakir Hussain.