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Archive for the ‘World music’ Category

The magical music of Mali


WAITING TO ROCK INDIA: Vieux Farka Toure performs in Pune, Bengaluru and Mumbai this month

INDIAN fans of the world music genre would instantly recognise Mali for the contributions of Ali Farka Toure and Salif Keita. While the former was one of Africa’s best known singers, guitarists and multi-instrumentalists, the latter is an Afro-pop singer-songwriter also known as the ‘Golden Voice of Africa’. Still others would associate the West African country with the album ‘Mali Music’, released by Damon Albarn of the groups Blur and Gorillaz.

Just like South Africa has had big names like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masakela, Dollar Brand and Vhusi Mhalasela, Mali has had a number of stars over the years. And yet, despite the fact that the country is steeped hugely in musical culture, militants announced early last year that they were banning all music, forcing many artistes into exile. For a country where people literally breathe music, that was an unfortunate development.

This year, India is having a good taste of Malian music, thanks to the Blackberrys Sharp Nights – Masters of World Music series organised by upscale menswear brand Blackberrys. Last month, New Delhi and Hyderabad witnessed performances by famed singer Fatoumata Diawara. Now, singer-guitarist Vieux Farka Toure, son of Ali Farka Toure, will perform in Pune on December 3, Bengaluru on December 6 and Mumbai on December 10.

Vieux has performed at Mumbai’s Blue Frog on an earlier visit, and those who missed that now have a chance to see him. At the same time, those enthusiastic about world music may begin with this list of 10 brilliant Malian musicians. We add a few more names at the end, for those who would like to explore even further.

Ali Farka Toure: Blending traditional Malian music with American blues, Ali Farka Toure has been ranked No 76 on Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘100 greatest guitarists of all time’. Recommended albums include ‘Savane’, ‘Talking Timbuktu’, ‘From Mississippi to Mali’ (with blues and reggae musician Corey Harris) and ‘In The Heart of the Moon’ (with Malian kora player Toumani Diabate). Ali passed away In 2006.

Salif Keita: Combining West African musical styles with popular European and American influences, Keita made it big in Paris in the mid-1980s. He recorded some successful albums after returning to Mali, including ‘Mouffou’ and ‘La Difference’.

Rokia Traore: An award-winning singer, songwriter and guitarist, Traore uses vocal harmonies which are rare in Malian music. Her 1997 album ‘Mouneissa’ was popular, and she later released some superb collections like ‘Wanita’, ‘Bownboi’ and ‘Tchamantche’.

Tinariwen: The Grammy-winning group from northern Mali was formed in the late 1970s, but became a sensation with the 2007 album ‘Aman Iman’ (‘Water is Life’). Their style is essentially guitar-driven and they use traditional melodies of the Tuareg community.

Toumani Diabate: Best known for his collaboration with Ali Farka Toure on ‘In The Heart of The Moon’, Diabate is a master of the kora, a 21-string lute-bridge harp. His father Sidiki Diabate pioneered the instrument, and his younger brother Mamodou Sidiki Diabate is a prominent player too.

Vieux Farka Toure: The son of Ali Farka Toure, Vieux is one of the most promising musicians of Mali, and has often been called ‘Hendrix of the Sahara’. His self-titled debut album features both his father and Diabate, and his latest album ‘Mon Pays’ was released as a homage to his homeland.

Amadou & Mariam: Comprising the couple of Amadou Bagayoko on guitar and vocals and Mariam Doumbia on vocals, the group made a name for itself playing Malian blues. Both the musicians are blind.

Oumou Sangare: One of the most popular singers of Mali, Sangare belongs to the Wassoulou region. Her 1990 debut ‘Moussolou’ was hugely popular in Africa, and later she became well-known outside the continent too.

Fatoumata Diawara: Currently living in France, Diawara blends Wassoulou traditions with international influences. Her powerful voice blends well with her slick guitaring, and she’s been a success on her shows in the US, South America and Asia.

Bassekou Kouyate: A master of the string instrument ngoni, Kouyate has played with Diabate and American banjo player Bela Fleck. He has released the albums ‘Segu Blue’, ‘I Speak Fula’ and ‘Jama Ko’.

WHILE these 10 musicians may be perfect for those wanting an initiation into the music of Mali, the country has produced many other prominent artistes. These include singers Fanta Sacko and Fanta Damba, singer-guitarists Afel Boucom and Habib Koite, singer-kora player Kandia Kouyate and rap group Tata Pound.

Indeed, Mali is a goldmine for African music. Despite the political upheaval it has faced, the nation has produced a wealth of talent. In case you missed Fatoumata Diawara’s shows last month, Vieux Farka Toure will surely provide a heady dose of Malian magic in the three shows he has lined up.


Take Five: A beginner’s guide to ‘world music’


(Above): Afro Celt Sound System

In November 2012, we started a series called ‘Take Five’, which would recommend five albums or artistes from various genres of international music. This series will be carried once in two months. The first two parts talked of British alternative rock and classical crossover, respectively. This month, we look at five essential albums in world music.


(Above) Toumani Diabate (left) and Ali Farka Toure

THE term ‘world music’ is rather vague. It has no standard definition, and yet, there are a few loose theories about what it means. To add to the confusion, we have terms like world fusion, global fusion, ethnic fusion and worldbeat, which mean pretty much the same.

For the Americans, world music includes any music created outside the US, outside the western classical sphere and outside any English language music produced in countries other than the US (read: England, Australia, New Zealand). Thus, for someone in that continent, Indian music is also part of world music.

Here in India, Indian music is anything but world music. Indians believe world music is music produced in any part of the world, except the English-speaking countries (the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand), except for very clearly-defined genres like jazz, the blues or electronic dance music, and except for music produced by neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Whatever the definition, ‘world music’ quite simply exposes listeners from one part of the world to music from other regions. And for someone in India, it would include music from Africa, Latin America, Europe minus its western classical element, the Middle East and the Far East.

The popularity of world music has increased over the past decade or so. Rock musician Peter Gabriel has played a major role by organising the World of Music Arts & Dance (Womad) festival and also starting the label Real World Records to promote music from different geographical regions. Other labels like ECM and Nonesuch Records have done their bit too, while the Grammy awards have a category for best world music album.

In the late 90s, the release of ‘Buena Vista Social Club’, an album and film featuring Cuban musician Juan de Marcos Gonsalez and American guitarist Ry Cooder, and featuring old-timers like Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzales and Ibrahim Ferrer, led to the revival of Cuban and Latin American music.

Those who haven’t really followed the genre may wonder where to begin, as both record stores and YouTube are flooded with such albums and videos. Keeping this in mind, we suggest essential five albums that can be used as an introduction to this genre. Since we are keeping Indian audiences primarily in mind, we shall not talk of Indian music, even though an Argentinian or Albanian reading this blog may believe Indian music is world music.

This, of course, is a very basic introduction, which omits music from certain specific and important parts of the world. It’s ideal enough for beginners, though.

Mongo Santamaria – Sabroso (Cuba): Cuban conga player and composer Santamaria is best-known for composing the jazz standard ‘Afro Blue’ in the late 50s. In the 1960 album ‘Sabroso’, he focused on traditional Cuban music played by a charanga (ensemble) that included violinists, a flautist, trumpeter, tenor saxophonist, pianist, bassist and timbale player, besides vocalists.

The album contains 13 songs, filled with energy and rustic melody. In fact, the songs revolve on dance forms like the mambo and pachanga, thus making them vibrant. The stand-out cuts are ‘Pachanga pa ti’, ‘Mambo de cuco’, the catchy ‘El bote’ and the live version of ‘Para ti’.

This is traditional Latin American music at its best.

Hevia – Tierra de Nadie (Spain): Jose Angel Hevia Velesco, popularly known as Hevia, is a Spanish player of the bagpipes. He also invented the midi electronic bagpipes, which he often plays live. Hevia specialises in music from the Asturian region of Spain.

Released in 1998, ‘Tierra de Nadie’ is Hevia’s debut album. It instantly got noticed because of its opening track ‘Busindre Reel’, a foot-tapping tune that became quite a rage. Other songs like ‘Llaciana’, ‘Gaviotes’ and ‘La Linea Trazada’ brim with infectious melody.

Though his later albums did not match it both in terms of quality and success, ‘Tierra’ should definitely be checked out.

Mickey Hart – Planet Drum (various): Best known as drummer of rock band Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart diversified into global percussion with the 1991 album ‘Planet Drum’. It won the first Grammy for best world music album.

As the title suggests, ‘Planet Drum’ featured percussionists from all over the world. Besides Hart, an American, it had tabla player Zakir Hussain and ghatam (a type of pot) exponent Vikku Vinayakram from India, talking drum player Sikiru Adepoju and Babatunde Olatunji from Nigeria, conga player Giovanni Hidalgo and Frank Colon from Puerto Rico , and drummer Airto Moreira from Brazil. Airto’s wife Flora Purim provided vocal support.

The album, which has 13 tracks, set the trend for similar percussion-based albums featuring rhythmic styles from various regions. In terms of sound, it’s a masterpiece.

Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate – In The Heart of the Moon (Mali): The West African country of Mali has produced some amazing musicians, including singer Salif Keita, guitarist Ali Farka Toure and his son Vieux, and brothers Sidiki and Toumani Diabate, who play the kora, a 21-stringed bridge harp.

In this classic album, Ali Farka Toure and Toumani collaborate to produce 12 tracks based mostly on Songhai traditions of the north Mali and the Bambara traditions of southern Mali and neighbouring Guinea. Released in 2005, it was recorded without rehearsals, and also features a guest appearance by the renowned Ry Cooder on three tracks.

Toure, who passed away in 2006, was known to blend traditional Malian music with the blues, and this album provides a fantastic exposure to the music of West Africa. After Toure’s death, the album ‘Ali and Toumani’ was released in 2010.

Afro-Celt Sound System – Further In Time (Various): As the name suggests, Afro-Celt Sound System blends African and Celtic music, but to make it trendier, it adds modern electronic dance sounds like trip-hop and techno, resulting in a heady cocktail.

The 2001 release ‘Further in Time’ is the group’s third album, after ‘Sound Magic’ and ‘Release’, which featured the famous ‘Eireann’. The group uses African instruments like the kora harp, talking drums and djembe (a percussion instrument), Celtic instruments like the Uilleann pipes and Indian instruments like tabla and dhol drum, beside guitars, mandolins, pianos, keyboards, flutes and drums.

The 12-track set has guest appearances by Peter Gabriel on ‘When You’re Falling’ and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant on ‘Life Begin Again’. The band later renamed itself to Afrocelts, and though it’s cut down on releases of late, remains one of the pioneers of world music.

While these five albums can provide a good beginning to world music, there’s obviously much, much more to choose from. Fifty years after her death, French singer Edith Piaf is still a rage across Europe, and is now bracketed in the world music category. Angelique Kidjo of Benin, Africa, is one of the frontrunners of this genre. Her performance in Mumbai two years ago was memorable.

Others you may try include Umm Kulthumm of Egypt, Youssou N’Dour from Senegal, Ofra Haza from Israel, Ladysmith Black Mambazzo from South Africa, Varttina from Finland, Aomusic from the US, Japan’s Kazue Sawae on the stringed instrument koto and Sevara Nazarkhan from Uzbekhistan. Besides these, there are flamenco guitarists Paco de Lucia, Paco Pena, Jesse Cook, Ottmar Leibert and the duo of Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah.

The list is endless, but once you get into some of them, you’ll automatically discover more. World music is an ocean which just keeps growing larger.

The incredible guitaring of Strunz & Farah



Strunz & Farah

Genre: World music

Venue: Tata Theatre, Mumbai

Date: December 4, 2012

THERE may be no standard way to define the music of Strunz & Farah. The layperson may describe them as two outstanding acoustic guitarists. The more serious listener may call them ethno-jazz. Wikipedia puts them in the ‘new flamenco’ category. Yet others may call them improvisational acoustic guitar, or even more simply, guitar-based world music.

But then, what’s in a name? What one witnessed at Mumbai’s Tata Theatre on Tuesday, December 4, was nothing short of pure magic. For around two hours, guitarists Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah transported the audience into another universe with their amazing virtuosity, breath-taking  improvisations and sheer artistic wizardry.

Ably assisted on flute, clarinet, bass and percussion, Strunz & Farah played 11 original compositions in their two-hour set. Many of us would have heard exceptional acoustic guitaring by the likes of John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia and Larry Coryell, but this wasn’t any different in terms of musical genius.

The event was organised as part of the Music Gurus series conceptualised and produced by Indigo Live, which had earlier done a show featuring Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on Mohan Veena, an adapted guitar, and Toumani Diabate of Mali on kora, a type of harp. On Tuesday, though one sadly saw many empty seats in the side wings, those who attended were left with warm memories.

Interestingly, one spotted many Mumbai musicians in the audience ― Gary Lawyer, Leslie Lewis, Ehsaan Noorani, Ranjit Barot, Sridhar Parthasarathy, some members of Indus Creed. And that’s something that happens only when the concert features performers of the highest calibre.

The duo has been performing together since 1980. Strunz, a Costa Rican, met Farah, an Iranian, in the US, and quickly they decided that though they were from different parts of the globe, they could team up to produce something unique.

While their music was heavily influenced by the Spanish style of flamenco, they added jazz improvisational techniques and diverse elements of Latin American folk, Cuban rumba, traditional Middle Eastern/ Iranian music and European gypsy music, thus sounding truly eclectic. The 80s marked a revival of flamenco music, thanks to guitarists like Paco de Lucia, Paco Pena and Tomatito, and the band Pata Negra.

Stunz & Farah sounded distinct through their unique mix. The term ‘new flamenco’ (or nuevo flamenco) became popular after an album of that name was released by guitarist Ottmar Leibert in 1990, and Strunz & Farah were classified in that genre, though their actual mix is much wider.

The distinct influences were definitely visible at Tuesday’s show. The group began with the tracks ‘Luxuriance’ and ‘Night Jasmine’, but the obvious highlights were ‘Vela al Viento’, which featured a stunning guitar stretch by Strunz, ‘Raggle Taggle’, which had charming European gypsy influences, ‘Jamilah’, which blended various Iranian motifs with a global sound, and ‘Amber and Musk’, which had a good amalgam of Middle Eastern melodies and Latin American rhythms.

For the last piece, Strunz announced ‘Twilight at the Zuq’, but an ardent fan in the audience requested the popular ‘Bola’. The guitarist accepted, and the dazzling guitar coordination on this track brought the show to an astounding finish.

Of the guitarists, Strunz had the more aggressive style, filled with lightning-speed solos, whereas Farah was more melodic, playing in a manner reminiscent of Paco de Lucia. Though one doesn’t know whether it was done deliberately, the volume of Farah’s guitar seemed a bit lower.

For variety, there were excellent solos by flautist Rob Hardt, who also played the clarinet on a few songs, and percussionist Majeed Ghorbanian, who had a very unusual set-up that included a cajon, cymbals, a frame drum and chimes. The bassist, unfortunately, didn’t get too many exclusive parts, and simply played the role of an accompanist.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and a special treat for world music fans. Overall, Mumbai does not have too many concerts of major artistes in this category, and in the past two or three years, only the performance of African singer Angelique Kidjo and, of course, Toumani Diabate, come to mind.  Next week, the Idan Raichel Project from Israel will play at the Tata Theatre and that should also be worth checking out.

Indigo Live has promised to bring down at least two such acts every year. While that will surely expose Indian audiences to music from different geographical regions, one also wishes someone thinks of a full-fledged world music festival in Mumbai.

The city organises festivals in western classical, jazz, the blues, homegrown rock and various genres of Indian music, and a multi-artiste event featuring various global talents would be more than welcome. Is anybody listening?

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