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June 04, 2009

Mamer and His Chinagrass


Mamer shares how nomadic life influences his modern Western-influenced grassland music.

by John Oseid

Chinagrass. No, it's not the next great "medicinal" herb, but an electrifying new sound forged by Mamer, a low-voiced singer and two-string dombra lute player. Mamer has worked Beijing's music scene for years, but he comes from China's far western desert province Xinjiang. His incantatory new album Eagle on Peter Gabriel's Real World label shows off the richness of his full-throated native Kazakh language.

In addition to dombra, Mamer plays guitar, while his supporting musicians add a bouncy Jew's harp to many tunes, as well as background vocals that range from airy to deep throat-singing. The title track has the feel of a lullaby, and I hear hints of the Doors and Zeppelin on "Kargashai." The driving strings of Where Are You Going? conjure a scene of herding on the steppe, the harmonies and clapping beat of "Blackbird" suggest nomads gathered at a yurt camp.

More music:
* Guest artist Béla Fleck added his banjo to the Eagle duet "Celebration." On Mamer's MySpace, page the lovely songs "Proverbs" and "Mountain Wind" have a transcendental quality. Mamer will perform at WOMAD UK on July 26.
* Condé Nast Travelers Dorinda Elliott spoke recently with Peter Gabriel about human rights and music.

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