June Top Ten

June 15, 2007

Nawal-Aman
Nawal hails from the Comoros Islands, located in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the southeastern coast of Africa. For centuries, these four islands were a stop over in maritime trade for Arabian, African, Indian, Persian and European sailing vessels.

Naturally, all that traffic left its mark on the island's cultural life, and Nawal's music. On her second full length release titled Aman, Nawal summons the nearby African musical heritage, which she calls the proud sounds. She also gives a nod to the sounds that call to mind Turkey, parts of the Middle East and even Indonesia.

Her voice is a powerful instrument that soars above the sparse instrumentation used on Aman. One of those instruments is a gambusi, a cross between an oud and banjo. Nawal plays the gambusi, having started on the guitar when she was six years old.

She is the first Comorian woman to ever perform publicly on stage with an instrument. Nawal says the music she plays is like a prayer, and when she's up on stage she's there to share her hopes and make a connection.

Abjeez-Hameh
Abjee is slang for "sisters" in the Persian Farsi language and two sisters are the creators of this Sweden-based band. Safoura and Melody Safavi were born in Iran into a musical family.

They moved to Sweden in 1987, and have since spent time in the U.S., India, Spain and the UK, no doubt picking up musical influences along the way. There is Eastern European clarinet, the one-drop of reggae, flamenco flourishes and straight ahead rock and roll. All the songs on the Abjeez full length debut Hameh are sung in Farsi, the women's voices strong and confident.

The first track is a short a capella that gives way to a reggae treatment of a story about the consequences of teaching your sons not to cry when sad or upset. The material is a mix of fun and seriousness with a danceable beat.

Balkan Beat Box- Nu Med
The next party you throw, make sure Nu Med is playing a prominent role in the festivities! Balkan Beat Box has been around for only three years yet have managed to attract an almost worldwide following.

The band was co-founded by Ori Kaplan and Tumir Muskat. Both men were born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel. They emigrated to the U.S. separately in the early 1990's and eventually found themselves involved with two NYC bands; Firewater and Gogol Bordello.

In 2002, Kaplan and Muskat launched their own project called J.U.F. with members of Gogol Bordello, taking the gypsy punk thing a bit further by incorporating electronics. That's where the ‘Beat Box' in the band's name comes in according to Kaplan. But he says their sound includes the musical traditions they were exposed to as kids.

The old and the new with a the funky beats and sampling make for a truly border hopping global mash-up.

Pink Martini-Hey Eugene!
Set your time machine back to the 1950s, stir a pitcher of cocktails, put on this release and you'll feel a bit sultry and elegant.

The arrangements on Pink Martini's third album Hey Eugene!, recall that era but some of the songs date back further, such as Tempo Perdido, made famous by Carmen Miranda in 1934.

On Pink Martini's version, a high school gospel choir plays a role in the song. The addition is bandleader Thomas Lauderdale's way of creating something from the old and brining into the now. He calls his 12-piece band a group of musical archeologists, bringing melodies and rhythms together from different parts of the globe and creating something modern.

That approach is similar to the artists mentioned so far in this list but what's so evident is how each band or artist arrives at their conclusion. For Pink Martini, it's perhaps a more airy sound with touches of jazz and classical and in the case of the CD's title track "Hey Eugene!", some 1970's laid-back Carole King-style rock, with a bit of soul. This is cabaret for the 21st Century.

Antibalas-Security
The Brooklyn-based ensemble continues to evolve since its 1998 beginnings as Conjunto Antibalas.

Although the band uses the afro beat of Fela Kuti as its foundation, band member Stuart Bogie says they are not a Fela tribute band. Antibalas also incorporates elements of jazz, funk, dub, improvised music, and traditional drumming from Cuba and West Africa.

Like Fela, they know how to stretch out a tune. However, on the band's latest release, Security, there seems to be a more disciplined approach to the writing. That may have something to do with producer John McIntire of the Chicago band Tortoise.

He helped bring out sonic elements Antibalas hadn't previously explored. The song I.C.E is a perfect example. The eight minute plus tune begins slowly and bubbles with some eerie keyboard, then comes a choral of horns followed by McIntire on dulcimer. The tune bursts open into the more familiar afro-beat as it comes to an end.

Clearly, Antibalas is moving the music Fela created-afrobeat-forward, perhaps just as Fela would be doing if he was still alive.

Lonely China Day-Sorrow
The 2007 South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, featured even more artists form around the globe than the previous year and one band showcased was Beijing's Lonely China Day.

No, they don't sing kitschy pop, there's no pipa, but the quartet does sing in Mandarin. That is perhaps the only recognizable link to China on the band's album Sorrow.

From there the band departs on a minimalist musical journey that at times recalls Radiohead. Band leader Deng Pei says he wants to achieve much with very little. Lonely China Day churns out looped guitars…coupled with some feedback, and sustained keyboards.

Interestingly, the end result at times does sound like traditional Chinese music. But lonely China Day wants people to know they are foremost an indie rock band, part of a burgeoning scene in China, and well worth checking out.

Slavic Soul Party-Teknochek Collision
Like their musical soul brothers Balkan Beat Box, New York's Slavic Soul Party doesn't stray far from its own urban backyard for musical inspiration.

Band founder Matt Moran says New York provides enough musical culture to bolster its Roma infused sound. But unlike the electronic playground that is Balkan Beat Box, S.S.P. is primarily acoustic; blowing hard driving Eastern European riffs with more than a hint of jazz flourishes.

Most of the players are steeped in New York's jazz scene. The songs on Teknochek Collision contain an abundance of minor key motifs including the tune "Djlem Djelm," the only vocal on the release. The song is sung by Eva Primack, a young California native who started out singing Yiddish songs before falling in love with Balkan music.

Here she's backed mostly by the fast moving fingers of accordionist Peter "Mr. Harmony" Stan. Primack may not have the musical chops of the “Queen of the Gypsies” Esma Redzepova, but it may be only a matter of time before this American Balkanophile gets more notice.

Benni Hemm Hemm – Kajak
When it comes to music from Iceland, most people probably first think of Bjork. Afterall, she is that country's most famous musical export. On the softer side of the musical spectrum is Bennie Hemm Hemm (whose full and is Benedik H. Hermannsson).

Benni's music on his second release Kajak, swirls with orchestral arrangements and can be dense in even its quiet moments, layering the songs with kettle drums, guitars, a glockenspiel and a horn section. All the songs are sung in Icelandic, most by Benni with the exception of the second tune, which is sung by Swedish pop star Lens Jekman.

If you like Zach Condon's band Beirut, you'll appreciate the sounds of Benni Hemm Hemm.

Various Artists Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay Sometimes digging in the used records bin at your favorite independent record store doesn't yield those deep sounds you're after.

Well you could do what the guys at Chicago's Numero Group do-search for the music where it was created. The cheaper alternative; just buy the fruits of the label's exhaustive musical archeological adventures.

The latest find from the boys is soul music from the Bahamas. Yes, Atlantic Records brought us Funky Nassau when it bought that tune from the small label it first appeared. But take a listen to Grand Bahama Goombay and you'll get more than a glimpse of the Islands' diverse soul moods from the early to mid-1970s.

While there is an American soul feel, the artists from the Bahamas put the "island" touch on the music as well. I don't know what else to call it but it is different than what was coming out say Philly or Chicago during the seam period.

There a some covers of not only soul but a funky take on "Take Five," Dave Brubeck's big jazz hit, and the cover of the theme from Shaft is a true rare gem. The only song from a female artist is a hilarious nod to abstinence, play that one after the kids go to bed.

The research Numero Group put into its work is top notch and the resulting liner notes are as enjoyable as the music.

Tito Paris-Acustico
Tito Paris is a Cape Verdean now living in Lisbon. The guitarist, singer-songwriter recently turned 44, still a young age but he's already been described as having the talent of a giant. Paris takes the three main sounds of Cape Verde; the melancholy morna-the style Cesaria Evora first brought to Western Ears, coladeiras-the more upbeat dance sounds and funana-the heavy "Africanized" rhythm of the three styles, and adds some pop flavorings.

His live CD Acustico is a breezy romantic romp through many of his own compositions as well as "standards" from Cape Verde including Sodade. That tune has the audience singing the first few verses with the band playing along, almost if they anticipated this give and take between audience and musicians.