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OLD WORLD (Asia, Arabia, Europe)

Updated 1 October 2014

David Sharp is a colleague with a radio show in Northern California. He sends this link to a recent
full-length biopic of the great Cuban pianist, Bebo Valdés

You can get on Sharp's monthly mailing of world music events in California by signing up at

Greetings, Platterbugs!


3 song set from Rokia Traore on NPR (her English is improving; the questions are not -- "Mali is a kind of musical Disneyland," indeed)

Andrew deValpine sends a YouTube of "Petit Sekou," one of my favorites from Bembeya Jazz -- it's a weird combination of Franco's "Sango ya mawa" and Jeff Beck... & I love it when the two vocalists walk on, laugh, and exclaim "Diamond fingers!" before walking off again.

Another old video from Bomba Estereo (still touring the world -- dates below -- instead of recording a new album) showing you have to be young to get this wasted and still perform

Speaking of Colombiano technowankers, here's skip&die live at Paradiso, Amsterdam, performing "La Cumbia Dictadura" with a monster beat

From another DJ, Daudi a.k.a. David Noyes, a medley from Yamba Yamba Beto Ba (Congo)


Amarrass recording artist Lakha Khan brings his soulful sarangi to the US this month (if you can't make it, check him out at home in Jodhpur):

Oct 2 Le Petit Trianon San Jose, CA
Oct 4 house concert Saratoga
Oct 6 Neal Marshall Hall Bloomington, IN
Oct 8 Dobhan Madison, WI
Oct 10 Emma Bistro, Nashville
Oct 14 American University Washington, DC
Oct 15 Gandhi Center Washington, DC
Oct 17 Hothouse Festival Chicago

Bomba Estereo just passed through, or will be near you soon:

Oct 10 Joshua Tree
Oct 11 The Shrine LA
Oct 12 Symphony Park Charlotte
Oct 14 Stage 48 New York
Oct 16 Grand Central Miami

TZENNI (Glitterbeat GBCD/LP 016)

If you put this on the sound system at a blues bar they'd think it was the most down and dirty thing they'd heard. If the bar was in Mauretania (an ancient Berber kingdom that spans the Atlas mountains of southern Morocco and stretches into Algeria), they'd probably recognize the singer as the famous step-daughter of the legendary Dimi Mint Abba, or if they were older, grand-daughter of the also-legendary Mounina. Seymali's father is also a renowned musician, having composed the national anthem as well as creating a notation system for Moorish melodies. Noura's husband is the guitarist Jeiche Ould Chighaly and he is the driving wheel of this music, accompanied by another stringed instrument the harp-like ardine, played by his wife. Chighaly also plays tidinit which is the Mauretanian equivalent of the ngoni. Other than that, electric bass and trap drums complete the power line up. The title means "to spin" and you can imagine a dervish whirlwind stirred up in the tents of Nouakchott once this music kicks in. When you spin you lose control of your senses and become off balance: the music centers you and keeps you turning and your faith in the music holds you up as your senses give in to the power of the tune. Many of the songs are from the traditional repertoire: a lover who thought he was doomed to wander forever finds stability in the love of a woman; a praise song for the prophet Mohammed on his return to Medina after a victory in battle. The recording is clean, even when the vocals are on reverb, and the guitar on full effects pedals, you can still hear the tick of the drumsticks, played by Dakar-based producer Matthew Tinari. He says the drum rhythms are often inspired by traditional patterns played on plates or hand drums, for example, by guests at weddings. So the sound is a collaboration based on many folkloric elements but then updated with the rock and funk ideas of the musicians. While obviously influenced by her mother (Seymali started out as a backing singer), she also credits Oum Kalthoum, cheb Khaled, and even Etta James as inspirations. Her husband's listening includes Mark Knopfler and Hendrix as well as Albert King and Magic Sam.

TOUNKA (self-produced)

Recent events have stirred the furor about the actual monetary value of music in the internet age. A decade ago the Irish rock-megaliths U2 had an album that snuck out somehow and caused problems (sorry to be vague about this, I know Bono jokes but don't really know his music) because eager pirates undercut the sales. So this time out Apple decided to give the new U2 album away free, and since I have the evil iTunes installed on my computer, it showed up uninvited in my "purchased music" folder, which is a joke because a) they don't have anything I would want to purchase and b) their bitrate quality is crap, so I simply deleted it all unheard. But the U2 = spam backlash was fierce. Because people are so turned off by Apple's marketing, many don't know that for their sins iTunes have also been hosting a live concert series, and I was able to watch a live performance by Chrissie Hynde at the Roundhouse in London (where I saw Soft Machine in 1968) and it was smoking (If you have iTunes you can still see one song from that concert on line, under iTunes Festival 2014). iTunes' line up has been pretty uninspired: tired acts like Blondie or Flaccid Old Domingo or that flash-in-the-pan joker in the mountie hat, when they could have made a splash with say Rokia Traore, or Nakany Kanté, heard here. I guess they need Google Play's Rob Leaver on their programming staff. On the other hand I have scores of acts clamoring to get my attention, with pitches and downloads of varying quality, in the hopes that the blessing of muzikifan will guide them to the top of the world music charts, which are diligently compiled by gnomes in Zurich and then broadcast, vaporishly, into subterranean grottos in the Swiss alps to reappear in unexpected locales. Anyway, regular North American correspondent Ken A sent a link to this artist Nakany Kanté. A Malian singer living in Barcelona, she has released a new album called Tounka, which you can preview on YouTube and download for free from bandcamp (link above). This is one I think you will want to keep. It is excellent traditional West African music, featuring kora, balafon, sax, guitar, kit drums and bass. Get it while you can, keep it, cherish it, play it often and pay for a ticket to see her if she ever shows up in your neighborhood.

THE PANAMERICANIST (self-produced)

Neil Dixon Smith is a guitarist who is devoted to the music of Alfonso Chacón (1934-2011), a Chilean composer and performer. He has put together a website and an album called The Panamericanist, that features his playing on some classic songs from the South American repertoire. Chacón left his native Chile in the 1960s and travelled around South America learning regional guitar styles and adapting folk songs to the guitar. He spent years in Argentina and Venezuela before arriving in Chicago in the 1990s where Smith took a class from him. Smith describes their first encounter: "he delivered an expansive sampler course of Latin folkloric styles and then a more general demonstration of the sonic and expressive possibilities of a lone nylon-stringed guitar. I was awestruck. I had never seen or heard anyone play guitar like that before. Solo guitar music, a mix of straight classical and crazy unbeknownst folkloric techniques. Intense stabbing and digging at the strings segueing to gentle romantic lines to dancingly dense rhythmic strums that immediately combed my hair in new ways. Call it soul music, it felt equally fresh and vibrant as rooted and old. And it looked fun as hell to play, if not impossible." Smith decided to apprentice to the master to preserve his vast knowledge. The Panamericanist is a great three-quarters of an hour of solo acoustic guitar. It kicks off with four tracks by Chacón, then takes us on a tour of other South American composers, Enrique Yépez's "Pasional," Carlos Ortiz's "Flores Negras," are both from Ecuador. There's a bambuco from Colombia: "Antioqueñita" by Pelón Santamarta; three tracks from Argentina (two of them are tangos, but it's the milonga, "Los Ejes de mi Carreta," that I found particularly moving), and he ends with two waltzes from Peru. I am not familiar with any of this music, knowing only a few pieces in the Brazilian guitar repertoire, but of course the Spanish influence is evident. Smith's playing is superb: while his scholarship is apparent, it's his passion in performance that is impressive. Well worth delving into.

most recent reviews:

(click on maps at the top of the page to get to continent of choice)

September 2014

Congo Guitars 1952 & 1957 is found on the Hugh Tracey page (under Africa)
Les Ambassadeurs du Motel are filed in Mali part 2
Simon Lagnawi The Gnawa Berber can be found in Arabia
The Haiti Direct comp is in Haiti
Real World 25 is in Old World Miscellany

August 2014

Quraishi from Afghanistan is housed, for the moment, in India & Pakistan
so is Ravi Shankar, with A Night at St John the Divine
Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics is found in Nigeria

July 2014

Ricardo Lemvo's latest is filed in Congo part 3
Rock-a-Mambo double LP is in Congo Classics
Bombay Royale's latest is in Bollywood part 2
Son Palenque's Kamajanes is in Colombia
Mestre Cupijo can be found in Brasil part 2
The revised Rough Guide to Sahara is found in Arabia

June 2014

Kasai Allstars' Beware the Fetish is filed in Congo part 3
Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star Live à L'Etoile is filed in Senegal part 2
Bio Ritmo are docketed under Salsa, for want of a better place
Oumar Konate's Addoh can be found under Mali part 2
Dona Onete's Feitico Cabloco is filed in Brasil part 2

May 2014

Moreno's second reissue on Stern's is filed in Kenya part 2
Anansy Cissé's Mali Overdrive is filed in Mali part 2
Rough Guide to Psychedelic Cambodia is filed in Asia
Youlou Mabiala's 18 disc reissue can be found in Congo part 3

April 2014

Ernie Ranglin's latest Bless Up is filed in Jamaica part 3
Adnan Joubran's Borders Behind can be found in the Arabia section
That's where you'll find my review of Hassan Hakmoun's latest also
Ani Cordero is in Mexico
The Max Massengo reissue is filed in Congo part 3

March 2014

Zanzibara 7: Sindike vs Ndekule is found in Tanzania part 2
Aziza Brahim from Algeria is filed under Arabia
Atash's Everything is Music is filed under USA
New version of the Rough Guide to Mali is filed in Mali part 2
Thomas Blondet's Future World can be found in Old World misc section

February 2014

Alejandro Almenares' Casa de Trova is filed in Cuba part 4
as is Ernesto Oviedo's Siempre Clasico
Studio One Rocksteady can be seen in Jamaica part 3
Charles King's Champeta Fever is filed under Colombia
Tiecoro Sissoko's Keme Borama went to Mali part 2
as did Aminata Traore's Tamala
The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You've Never Heard is filed under Africa Miscellany
Jaako Laitinen & Väärä Raha's Lapland-Balkan can be found in Old World Miscellany

My Top 12 of 2013, with best reissues, etc, is online HERE.

My Top Twelve of 2012 is HERE.

My Top Ten of 2011 can be found HERE.

My Top 9 of 2010 is online HERE

Click HERE for my top 10 of 2009

Click HERE for my top 9 of 2008

Click HERE for my top 10 of 2007

Click HERE for my top 11 of 2006


"Essential reference guide to the Congo guitar king" -- SONGLINES 64 **** (four stars)
"I do not know anybody who has such immense knowledge of African music. Congratulations." -- Gerhard G (a purchaser)

BACK IN PRINT (Second edition, November 2012)

By Alastair Johnston

Poltroon Press, 2012, expanded to 88 pages; list price $19.95.
Available now. Click here for details.



all of the writing on this site is copyright © 2004-2014 by alastair m. johnston

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muzikifan by alastair m. johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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