March 8, 2006

World Music Wednesday

“Mali Bluesman” Ali Farka Touré, one of West Africa’s best-known musicians, died yesterday following a long illness with bone cancer. I would be remiss not to feature him today on the World Music Wednesday feature.

I first heard this name of Farka Touré in around 1994/95 when he released a critically acclaimed and excellent album with Ry Cooder called Talking Timbuktu. Over the years his name and his work have popped up on various world music compilations and stations I have been exposed to and I have always been impressed, and with happy ears. This was one amazing musician.

Fascinating to explore the connections and commonalities between West African music and U.S. Southern Blues, which Farka Touré argued shared the same roots.

You can read the interesting obit from the BBC, and listen to a few of his songs here:

Gomni РAli Farka Tour̩ and Ry Cooder

Allah Uya РAli Farka Tour̩

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March 1, 2006

World Music Wednesday

Today’s focus on World Music Wednesday is “Songs You Know, In Languages You Don’t.”

I got the idea from Coverville, which always features a mind-boggling array of amazing covers (I wonder how he does it?), and is the best podcast you can find if you are a covers-whore like me. Enjoy!

Buddy Holly (Weezer cover)
Bidê ou Balde (Brazilian)

Rock El Casbah (Clash cover)
Rachid Taha (Algerian)

Tu Perds Ton Temps (Please Please Me – Beatles cover)
Petula Clark (British, but sung in French)

A Mi Manera (My Way – Paul Anka/Frank Sinatra cover)
Gipsy Kings (French)

A little trouble with editing two of the mp3s, so my apologies if you get more than you asked for. If you are playing them in iTunes, I specified for it to start and end at the correct places, but other software you may get a little extra at the beginning and end of the song than I intended. The perfectionist in me cringes, but, hey, what can you do?

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February 16, 2006

World Music …Thursday

I was lucky when I was at Santa Clara University to get to work with the Cuba Study Abroad Program. Even though I was never clever enough to secure a site visit to the program (which taught Cuban music, percussion, dance, and culture), I did learn a lot about the Cubans over the years, and developed a greater interest in the country and the musical culture.

The professor who championed and led the Cuba program also coordinates the free-to-the-community Music at Noon series at the University, and he regularly brings Cuban artist Omar Sosa (now S.F.-based) for lunchtime concerts. Sosa is classically trained in piano and also studied at Cuba’s Escuela Nacional de Musica and Instituto Superior de Arte in percussion. Both beautifully permeate his music.

I only saw him once, but I was totally blown away by his absolute joy in the music and the beautiful sounds that flowed from the small stage. The time I saw Omar Sosa, he performed on the piano with the only accompaniment being drummer Gustavo Ovalles, from Venezuela. The two of them made eye contact for most of the show, almost daring each other back and forth with musical challenges, laughing, appreciating the sounds coming from the other. Sosa made the piano into a beat-driven, funky, gorgeous, moving instrument unlike anyone else I have ever seen. Look at the picture above. That’s what it was like.

He has released a dozen albums, and all are different, ranging from jazz, to Afro-Cuban funk, to North-African inspired melodies, to remixes and piano-based instrumentals. So I profess to be nothing close to an expert here. But I have selected a few tracks that I could find which reminded me of the hour I spent listening to him and the images that the music drew in my head. He also released an album of intricate remixes in 2005 of his Mulatos album (Mulatos Remix) which was nominated for a Grammy and is really good.

Africa Madre Viva and Toridanzon – Omar Sosa & Gustavo Ovalles, Live at Ayaguna 6/25/02. Here is where you can hear the playful exploration of these songs that I got to see at their concert. Savage percussion, and the piano just leaps to life.

El Tresero (Plush Vocal Mix) – Omar Sosa, from the Mulatos Remix album (Mmmm hmmmm, listen to that bass line)

BONUS: Redemption Song – Omar Sosa & Richard Bona, reinvented with African influences and Cuban percussion.

Give him a listen, and especially go see him live if you get a chance. He is in Australia right now, then heads to Europe, and then back to the States, with 4 dates at the amazing Yoshi’s in Oakland in April. It’s always a treat to see someone this in love with music.

February 8, 2006

World Music Wednesday

I am a huuuuge Alias dork. I do in fact believe that Sydney Bristow is one of the coolest women in the world, and I thank JJ Abrams for creating her (in his godlike fashion) from nothing, to entertain me on Wednesday evenings at 8pm, 7 Central (and Colorado).

One of the best things about the show is the fabulous use of music to accentuate the daring international spy missions. As lame as it may be to actually admit, I picked this track for World Music Wednesday today because when I first heard it, my honest first thought was that it would be killer music to accompany Sydney on a mission to, like, assassinate an evil sheik in Saudi Arabia or something. Plus, it’s just a cool song and it expands my horizons, so it qualifies.

Moi Et Toi” – Abdel Ali Slimani

This is from the fun Putumayo CD Arabic Groove, and the artist Abdel Ali Slimani is an Algerian by birth who now lives in London via Paris. He has collaborated with world music/electronica guru Jah Wobble, as well as Sinead O’Connor and Peter Gabriel.

It is a bit outside my normal musical styles, but that is of course what Wednesdays are all about. I like the beat and the catchy vocals which have stuck in my head. Ever wanna hear me try and sing in Arabic? Yeah.

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February 1, 2006

World Music Wednesday

Pau Donés was born in the Spanish region of Aragon, but was raised in Barcelona. Along with his band Jarabe de Palo they released the Cuban-influenced La Flaca in 1997 and the title track became a huge hit that summer, selling millions of copies.

I absolutely love this song, from the beginning slow and sexy guitar notes, to the building Latin beat and the smooth Spanish lyrics (of which I understand maybe half, thanks to Señora Navarro and my high school Spanish classes). It is quite a smoldering song.

La Flaca was the informal clubbing anthem of my study abroad experience in Italy in Fall of 1999. I spent many a (swirling and hazy) night trying my best to do some sort of samba imitation on the dancefloor to this alongside my Italian amici. Top notch. As the song says, “y bailar y bailar, y tomar y tomar…” I, of course, had life-altering educational and cultural experiences while studying abroad as well, but those were more during the day.

It is really a fabulous song, bar none. I highly recommend it.

La Flaca” – Jarabe de Palo

January 25, 2006

World Music Wednesday

Many of you may have heard Brazilian singer Seu Jorge’s covers of David Bowie songs for the soundtrack to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. That CD is a fine introduction to his tropical acoustic sound, but I have been pleased to also discover his recent solo album Cru (Sept 2005, the title translated means “raw”).

Seu Jorge is now a popular star in the Portuguese world, regularly selling out his live shows at home and abroad. But 32-year old Jorge was once a homeless kid who grew up in a favela, a Brazilian slum. He has come a long way from his hard-knock past, and worked his way up through local theater and musical opportunities until he landed a role in the critically acclaimed and wrenching 2002 movie City of God, where he played the part of Knockout Ned.

That same year he also released his first album, Carolina (2002) which had much less of the organic feel you may be familiar with, and experimented with different Afro-Brazilian funk sounds and hip-hop/dance music. Carolina was named Album of the Year in his native Brazil. Cru is his sophomore solo release, and is closer in feel to his Life Aquatic sessions – highlighting his hypnotic voice and laid-back sound. Some selections:

Fiore De La Citta
Jorge sings in Italian, and it is gorgeous and very mellow.

Yes, an Elvis cover. Listen to how he re-invents it! Jorge said of this track, “[Elvis] took from black music in the first place, and I was taking it back, imagining myself in cowboy boots.”

Bem Querer
A bit more uptempo, with subtle and refined electronica backing, gentle guitars, and stirring vocal chants.

Other standout tracks on the album include “Tive Razão” and (yet another) Serge Gainsbourg cover, “Chatterton” (which I just realized makes three straight weeks in a row for me of World Music Wednesdays which have included a Gainsbourg cover). Anyway, I find the breadth of his music remarkable and very enjoyable: from his choices of whose songs to reinvent, to his own explorations of samba, folksy reggae, and bossa nova, all infused with his own unique sound.

“If you had to nominate someone as the coolest man on the planet, for this week anyway, Seu Jorge would be a good candidate.”
—Peter Culshaw, The Telegraph (UK)

January 18, 2006

World Music Wednesday

Angélique Kidjo represents a beautiful fusion of world cultures, and her music is not easily pigeonholed. While her native African culture flows beautifully through all of her releases, each phase in her life and in her music represents different influences.

Kidjo lived her childhood in the West African country of Benin, where she sang with her family and, in addition to her native culture, her brothers taught her to love soul music and R&B. By the time she reached her teens she was a local star, and knew all the lyrics to James Brown’s greatest hits catalog.

When she was 23, Kidjo moved to Paris, and was immediately embraced by the city’s thriving Afro-Caribbean music scene. During these years, she focused on her songwriting, and supported both American jazz legend Nina Simone, as well as South African star Miriam Makeba. Since then she has worked with artists as varied as Carlos Santana (wait, who hasn’t worked with Santana?), Prince’s personal producer David Z (during her Afro-funk dance phase), and sax-player Branford Marsalis.

My favorite disc, I think, from Angélique Kidjo is her 2002 release Black Ivory Soul, which fuses Beninoise music with a Brazilian sound from the Salvador de Bahia region. You may have heard the track she does with Dave Matthews, Iwoya, which I think is excellent, but there are a number of very good tracks on this disc.

- “Afirika
A playful and harmonic song. Don’t you wish you knew what they were saying? It just sounds jubilant.

- “Okan Bale
This reminds me of water. Kidjo wrote it in Brazil, “facing the sea.”

- “Iwoya
Angélique and Dave (who was born in South Africa) go head to head, complementing each other’s voices. When Kidjo asked Matthews to sing with her, he first said, “I’m not singing with you. You scare me to death.”

- “Ces Petits Riens
Another Serge Gainsbourg cover! This one shows how beautifully her time in France has influenced her music.

As Nigel Williamson from UK’s The Times said, “File under Africa? File under Caribbean? Just file it under superb.”

January 11, 2006

Wednesdays are for World Music

So, let’s try something new here. One of my secret passions is international music because of the way it opens up our ears, and (if you want to be poetic about it) binds us all together in the universal language of really good music.

Kind of makes you feel like the “Happy Hands” performance to The Rose from Napoleon Dynamite, with all the uplifting hand gestures. But, today, all our uplifting will come from the great country of Italy.

Musica italiana is my first world music love, on account of the fact that I studied in Firenze (Florence) for a semester in college. I loved being immersed in the beautiful language and culture. I lived with a wonderful host family and made some fabulous Italian friends. Through our relentless pursuit of higher culture through clubbing, I was introduced to a variety of Italian musical artists. My Italian teacher Vittoria also used popular Italian music to teach us verbs and expressions and such.

So, without further ado (senza aspettando di più):
(And look! All files are now direct links to mp3s via EZArchive. So right click and save target as. No more Savefile!)

Per La Vita Che Verra,” Jovanotti
Jovanotti is a little bit of a mixed bag in Italian hipster circles because he has a sordid history as an Italian rapper, but he has lately expanded his reach into all different kinds of musical styles, and he holds a special place in my heart. I attended a Jovanotti concert in Bologna and met him after the show in 1999 when I was studying there. His pop songs “Per Te,” “Raggio di Sole,” and “Stella Cometa” were used in my Italian class to teach me the language. This song, from the 1997 album L’Albero, shows Jovanotti’s fusion with African sounds, with swelling vocals and chants all throughout this song. It is about “For the life that will come,” talking about his future with his woman. Musically, very rich & soaring, with lyrics that are (as my friend Massi once said) molto bello.

(Storia di un) Corazon,” Jovanotti and Jarabe de Palo
This one is a two-for-one, you get your Spanish and you get your Italian in one smooth dose. “History of a heart,” this has lines in Spanish by Jarabe de Palo, singer/songwriter from Barcelona, alternating with the same lines in Italian by Jovanotti. This sounds like something you would dance around to in a Cuban plaza on a Friday night, drums pounding. From the 2000 album Il Quinto Mondo.

Sempre di Domenica,” Daniele Silvestri
From the Putumayo Euro LoungeCD, this fast-paced track by Rome native Daniele Silvestri should be the soundtrack to walking down a busy street in a bustling Italian city, dark sunglasses on, looking molto italiano. You will be più ganzo (cooler) *just* for listening to it.

Sotto Le Stelle Del Jazz” and “Elisir,” Paolo Conte
Aahh, Paolo Conte. The gruff, smoky, imitable Italian legend who sings with a smile on his face. You can hear it in almost every song. Paolo Conte always makes me think of my Italian host sister Elena putting on the record in the apartment where we lived (near Santa Croce church and Michelangelo’s house) and dancing around while she dusted and cleaned. She’d sing too. It was a beautiful thing. You’ll want to do a little two-step too when you listen to Paolo Conte, with his jazzy piano, playful raspy vocals, and Italian scatting. Buy The Best of Paolo Contehere.

La Noyée” and “Quelqu’Un M’a Dit,” Carla Bruni
Here’s another two-for-one: Carla Bruni is Italian but sings mostly in French. She’s on my Italian list by a generous extension of today’s theme. The first song (“Drowned woman“) makes me feel like I am floating away on a soft river, eyes half closed (but sleepy, not drowned). Originally written by Serge Gainsbourg, this is a beautiful simple melody that will stick in your head. Quelqu’Un M’a Dit (“Someone told me“) is the lovely title track from the album of the same name, which I very highly recommend. It has been getting a lot of attention in the music world, and rightly so – I think it is a great album. Who knew a supermodel could sing so well? She also writes many of her songs. Not too shabby.

Join me next Wednesday for music from another part of the world, and if I have enticed you into my world of Italian music and you would like further translations of any of these lyrics, please let me know. I am a word-o-phile, so for me, knowing the what the lyrics mean help me to enjoy the song more. It is just too long to post here.

Tante buone cose to you all.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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