Wide world of sound can be mind-boggling
Talking to a local bluegrass boy recently, he confessed he had no inkling of what kind of music was being made outside his chosen realm of bluegrass and other related styles.Now if youre going to confine yourself to one thing, bluegrass is a good one to favor. But it got me thinking about how vast the world of sound is, and thus how easy it is to ignore almost all of it. For instance, in China, with over a billion residents, numerous languages and regions how many music traditions exist there? I couldnt tell you about a single one apart from the tiny bit of familiarity I have with Chinese folk opera.How much more is out there boggles the mind. Following are reviews of recent CDs that reflect musical styles from around the globe.Habib Koit & Bamada, Fly!produced by Michel De Bock & Daniel Boivin (World Village)Like just a handful of other African acts Youssou NDour, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Alpha Blondy Habib Koit is making at least some impact in the United States. He recorded on Bonnie Raitts last album, and has even made an appearance in the Roaring Fork Valley at Jazz Aspens 2001 Labor Day Festival. Fly! a two-CD set recorded live at concerts around the world, makes it easy to see the appeal. Koits music is strong in every aspect: melody, rhythm, harmony and spirit. Bamada, Koits backing band, is just five pieces, but it sounds like more, making a dense, rippling background for Koits outstanding guitar work. Listen to a song like Ma Ya, with an instrumental break featuring a unique interplay between Koits guitar and Kltigui Diabats violin, and it would be hard not to fall for this. The songs are generally long, but weave through so many different textures and ideas that they gain in intensity.Arnaldo Antunes, Carlinhos Brown & Marisa MonteTribalistas, produced by Monte (Metro Blue)Three Brazilian musicians singer-guitarist Marisa Monte, singer Arnaldo Antunes and singer and multi-instrumentalist Carlinhos Brown have concocted something different and special with the collaborative effort Tribalistas. Taking cues from most everywhere Brazilian bossa nova, contemporary dance music, hip-hop, vocal jazz even Tom Waits-style crooning but focusing on a foundation of guitar, voice and percussion, the three make irresistible pop music that doesnt sound quite like anything else. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Raise Your Spirit Higher Wenyukelaproduced by Joseph Shabalala (Heads Up International)Apart from the gentle, gorgeous and uplifting sound of their 10 voices, what makes Ladysmith Black Mambazo special is the way they address the universal. On Raise Your Spirit Higher Wenyukela, the 30-plus-year-old South African vocal group sings about respect for their hometown of Ladysmith (Because I Love), African pride, the importance of children honoring their country and, in several songs, love of God and Jesus. (Joseph Shabalala, the groups founder and still leader, credits his 1970s conversion to Christianity with helping establish the groups musical identity.) On an oddly specific note, but one that fits with Ladysmiths way of urging the world to a better place, they even sing out against drunk driving.So toward the end of Raise Your Spirit Higher, when the group sings Music Knows No Boundaries, repeating the title to the point of hypnosis, it sounds like an apt summation. Though Ladysmith Black Mambazo sings several tunes here in English, including the lovely Black Is Beautiful, one need not understand a word to get the spirituality of the music. The sound of 10 voices, coordinated toward one purpose, alone conveys a sense of brotherhood, respect and cooperation.Ghazal, The Rainproduced by Kjell Keller (ECM)Ghazal plays a form of string music that combines two distinct sounds. Iranian native Kayhan Kalhor plays the kamancheh also known as the spike fiddle whose tone is a sharper, Eastern-sounding relation of the Western fiddle. Shujaat Husain Khan plays the sitar, the centerpiece of his native Northern Indian music and reasonably well-known in the West, and occasionally sings. Also sitting in on this CD, recorded live in Switzerland in 2001, is Indian tabla player Sandeep Das.The Rain is both exotic and accessible. Consisting of three lengthy, largely improvised pieces (Fire, Dawn and Eternity, talk about universal themes), the music would ring some bells for fans of classical, bluegrass, jazz and even jam-band styles. At times the music is calmly meditative. But it is at its best when the two string players react to one another and get cooking.Vusi Mahlasela, The Voiceproduced by Lloyd Ross (ATO Records)On his North American-debut recording, South African singer-guitarist Vusi Mahlasela takes obvious cues from American folk-rock. There are strummed and picked acoustic guitar parts, mellow horn interludes and a soothing, emotional James Taylor-esque way of singing. But giving The Voice its regional flair is the prominent use of a South African chorus. It doesnt have the bite of Koit or Ladysmith Black Mambazo, leaning more toward pleasant, African-style easy listening. At times, it is reminiscent of Paul Simons Afro-centric Graceland album, though smoother.Mahlaselas record label, ATO, is owned by Dave Matthews, a native of South Africa.Augustus Pablo, King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptownproduced by H. Swaby (Shanachie)When released in 1977, Augustus Pablos King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown was a breakthrough. The album was a high point of dub, a Jamaican style that remixed existing music, often overdubbing new parts into the original. Dub, created largely by producer King Tubby in the late 60s, was thus a significant precursor to hip-hop.Today, with the remixing process so prevalent, King Tubby Meets the Rockers has lost much of its innovative edge. The re-released deluxe version, with four bonus tracks, sounds like standard roots reggae without any vocals which is just what it is for the most part. Its reggae at a high level: The late keyboardist and melodica player Pablo is joined here by the cream of Jamaican music, including bassists Robbie Shakespeare and Aston Family Man Barrett, and guitarist Earl China Smith. And for the most part, the music gets to that bass-heavy, trancelike state that reggae is supposed to hit. But its hard to still here this as a classic.World Reggae(Putumayo)Putumayo, the successful label that packages foreign music in accessible, multi-artist collections by region and style (French Cafe, Sahara Lounge, Asian Groove are some examples) does a fine job of spreading the word about music from other parts of the world. But while their releases provide a good overview, they can also confuse listeners. How much understanding of a style can one get from 12 songs by 12 different artists whose approaches, despite the geographic similarity, may be very different?World Reggae takes a broad swipe at reggae, from the pop flavor of Kanas Pas de Problmes a jokey interpretation of the Jamaican catch-phrase, no problem to the Eastern-influenced sound of Apache Indians Om Numah Shivaya to the roots reggae of Majek Fasheks African Unity. But World Reggae can also be instructional, if one notes that of the dozen artists here, not one is from Jamaica. In the global reach here, with acts from Algeria and Brazil, Nigeria and Cape Verde, reggae comes across as a style that has spread across the globe.