World Music Round-Up: October 2009
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2009, Volume 16, #10
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Tue October 6, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
Anyone with a passing knowledge of West African music could not fail to notice how many master musicians bear the surname Djabate. The latest of these is a young guitarist and balafon player named Kimi. His debut Karam is one of the most magical, alluring, and instantly likeable albums to emerge from this region in quite some time.
Every track on Karam is an absolute gem. Layered, rhythmic, and complex, the music that Djabate and his backing band create is as unfailingly graceful and exhilarating as Salif Keita’s recent acoustic efforts. Throughout Karam, Djabate allows his voice to soar above the dominant melody in a way that rivals the best performances of Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour. It doesn’t matter whether he is singing about love, the importance of education, or the art of a griot. His songs exist beyond the realm of language because he so effortlessly is able to use his voice to engage the beautiful rhythms and melodies in conversation.
Karam is the first album in a new series of releases from the fiercely independent Cumbancha label. If Karam is any indication, Djabate is a performer to watch. ˝
Purchase: Barnes & Noble
If I Had a Key to the Dawn
Lily Storm is a member of the San Francisco-based collective Kitka, a group of women that long has been entranced by vocal music from Eastern Europe. Storm was trained in the inflection and aesthetics of Eastern chorales by members of the Bulgarian Women’s Choir. Consequently, the songs on her solo debut If I Had a Key to the Dawn could be described as soul-oriented fare that originated from the other side of the dissolving Iron Curtain. At times, the material sounds like a series of Celtic laments. Because its subject matter encompasses themes of love, death, betrayal, and rebirth, its tunes wouldn’t sound out of place among the ancient British compositions that inspired the folk artists of the 1960s.
Nevertheless, there are other moments on If I Had a Key to the Dawn when Storm’s hauntingly powerful voice explores Near Eastern rhythms with such subtlety and grace that the outside world falls away. When this happens, the listener is able to sink into a peaceful reverie and be carried away into the timeless world of song. Gulo, the beautifully realized eighth track on If I Had a Key to the Dawn, features a duduk, and the yearning tones emitted by the wind instrument serve as a perfect match for Storm’s voice.
Admittedly, Eastern European choral music may not appeal to everyone. On the surface, If I Had a Key to the Dawn seems to be missing the sort of immediately accessible exoticism that would allow Storm to break into the mainstream market. However, after hearing the energy and life that she injects into songs that were ignored during the Soviet age, one must realize that Storm is exploring a genre that has much to offer her adventurous fans.
Vieux Farka Toure
In crafting his sophomore set Fondo, Vieux Farka Toure made few attempts to depart from the strategy he employed on his self-titled debut. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. On some of the tracks, Toure pays tribute to the kinds of delicate, finger-styled blues and John Lee Hooker-influenced boogie grooves that were made famous by his father — the great Ali Farka Toure.
Elsewhere, however, Fondo provides mounting evidence that the younger Toure is still searching for his own sound. Often, the album seems closely aligned with the textures explored on UFOs over Bamako, the remixed rendition of his eponymous endeavor. To this end, many more electronic effects, beats, and rhythms have been inserted into the arrangements of his material. This ultimately gives the album a distinctly modern ambience.
Without a doubt, Fondo is a solid and enjoyable successor to Toure’s self-titled debut. The most important thing it accomplishes, however, is to buy him the time he needs to find himself through the continued experimentation with and development of his musical style.
Purchase: Barnes & Noble
Of Further Interest...
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2009 The Music Box