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Hafez Nazeri Plays His Setar

by John Oseid

For a string musician, a broken fingernail will ruin your day. When Persian classical setar player Hafez Nazeri stopped by the Condé Nast Traveler offices recently to share his music with us, he was vexed over just suffering that fate. And then he promptly set to work improvising to the poems of the great thirteenth-century mystic Rumi and gave me goosebumps.

In this video shot by Condé Nast Traveler photo editor Damian Vincent, the 30-year-old NYC-based Hafez talks about how he blends eastern and western sounds with his setar (he calls his customized instrument with two extra strings the "Hafez"). In his master class 14 stories above Times Square, he talks about his love for Persian culture and about modern Iran. I can't wait to see him onstage.

Hafez will perform his Rumi Symphony Project: Cycle One on October 3 at Hollywood's Art Deco gem, the Pantages Theatre, and November 14 at Carnegie Hall. Both shows will feature Hafez's famous father, Shahram Nazeri, on vocals, and members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

More music:
* A collaboration between Hafez and his father, Shahram Nazeri, The Passion of Rumi album was recorded in Tehran in 2007.
* Last year in Boom Box we brought you the Kurdish musician Kayhan Kalhor.

BOOM BOX

Bahamas Music Legends


Bo Hog (on accordion) and friends give a short sample
of their "rake-n-scrape" skills. Note the handsaw player on the right.

by John Oseid

I listen to tons of island music, but apart from that pesky Baha Men hit "Who Let the Dogs Out?," I couldn't name a single Bahamian song or artist. Until now. Senior editor Kate Maxwell's recent frolic in the Bahamas inspired me to do a little digging and I found out the Bahamas has plenty of marvelous musical talents and some real legends.

As part of the September Condé Nast Traveler package, "The Bahamas for Everyone," Kate was serenaded by accordionist Bo Hog and his group in this video shot on a Cat Island beach. The unique "rake-n-scrape" folksy music they play is driven by a handsaw and goombay drum, and is said to come from Cat Island, which sponsors a festival in June.

They call Ronnie Butler the godfather of Bahamian music. He's been singing calypso and other "riddims" since the forties, and his rich baritone voice has made a brand new fan out of me. Here's the history of the country's seminal political event that inspired his signature song, "Burma Road." Butler's songs can be found all over YouTube, including his wonderful version of Harry Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'."

Born early last century, Joseph Spence was an Andros sponge fisherman and stonemason whose steel-string acoustic guitar fingering techniques have wowed modern-day guitar masters like Ry Cooder and the Grateful Dead, who recorded his "I Bid You Goodnight." Spence was known to use his gravelly voice as an instrument, while his music reflected his strong Bahamian church upbringing, and everything from calypso to folk and blues he picked up as a farm worker in the States. His 1958 The Complete Folkways Recordings is considered a classic, and his music appears in Nonesuch's famous Explorer Series.

More music:
* On her visit to Harbour Island, Kate Maxwell joined an Independence Day street party that featured the kind of drumming used by Junkanoo bands. Junkanoo.com has the history behind the Bahamas' Carnival-like parades and plenty of pics of stunning costumes.
* The Nassau Guardian pays tribute to Joseph Spence.
* Boom Box: Music of the world

BOOM BOX

The Duke and the King


The Duke, the King, and the Deacon jam in the kitchen on "The Morning I Get to Hell."

by John Oseid

The Duke and the King represent a rich slice of Americana. They play roots rock with soulful harmonies and a touch of gospel--echt Yankee sounds. Even their monikers are quintessentially American: Veteran musicians Simone Felice (the Duke) and Robert "Chicken" Burke (the King) borrowed the names from the famous charlatans in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

When I caught them recently at New York City's Mercury Lounge with Nowell Haskins (the Deacon), I lost track of how many times the talented trio switched off on drums, guitar and vocals. Recorded in the Catskills, their first album together, Nothing Gold Can Stay, is at once plaintive and life-affirming. And it's lyrically vivid. In the tune "The Morning I Get to Hell," the boys relate how "the devil will take me up in his Ferris wheel." Wayward characters in the ballad "Union Street" search about "in that part of town that Jesus forgot." When Burke takes the lead and sings about loss and regret on "Still Remember Love," he manages to make it a jaunty, twangy, and bright number.

More music:
* If you'll be in the UK this month, you can find the Duke and the King performing a dozen gigs throughout the country, and one in Barcelona. You can find the tour schedule on their MySpace page.
* Felice and Burke recently spoke with NPR about their creative process and played live in the studio.
* Boom Box: Music of the world

BOOM BOX

BélO, Haiti's Newest Music Man


Haitian guitarist/songwriter BélO takes on the subject of AIDS awareness in "Pap Negosye"

by John Oseid

Amy Wilentz describes her September Condé Nast Traveler feature, "Love and Haiti and the Whole Damn Thing," as a love song to the island. This got me thinking about the enormous amount of musical talent that the country produces, from artists recording in Port-au-Prince to those performing for the diaspora in Miami, New York, and Montreal.

Last year I spoke with Wyclef Jean about his Yéle foundation and brought you a bit of his music. Recently, I started hearing about a 30-year-old from Wyclef's hometown, Croix-des-Bouquets, who goes by the stage name BélO. In a short time, BélO's versatile guitar work and slightly raspy, soulful voice have made a fan of me. His MySpace page has a handful of nice cuts from his new album, Référence. My favorites: He plays "Deblozay" in straight-up reggae style; switches to a jazzy, horn-filled R&B sound on "Pa Ri Nan Malem"; and even throws in some rock power chords on "Istwa Dwol." I missed BélO's recent gig at New York's Joe's Pub, but here's a great clip of the show. I won't be making that mistake again.

More music:
* Almost a decade ago, Emeline Michel's album Cordes et Ame introduced me to Haitian rhythms.
* BélO was featured in a 2007 PBS Frontline piece that explored the challenges of mounting an international music festival in Haiti.
* BélO's song "Lakou Trankil" comes from an album of the same name.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

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Otto: High Energy Brazilian


A Fellini cast of characters frolic on Copacabana beach in the video to Otto's jazzy drum and bass tune "Bob." (And don't worry, the first 33 seconds are meant to be silent.)

by John Oseid

Brazilian percussionist/singer Otto has the air of an ancient Greek pugilist, and he bounds around a theater with so much energy that he might spontaneously combust. Last winter I discovered the Pernambuco native at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Red Hot + Rio 2 benefit concert, where his turbulent act stole the show from a handful of major artists.

The title of his top-notch new album, Certa Manhã Acordei de Sonhos Intranqüilos ("One Morning I Awoke from Uneasy Dreams"), echoes Kafka's opening of "The Metamorphosis." Otto has put together a hodgepodge of electronic symphonies with nods to his Tropicália forebears; he's thrown in some psychedelic organ and rock guitar riffs, and, of course, he uses samba's squeaky cuíca drum. (The album comes out September 1.)

And the vocals are splendid. CéU, another hot young Brazilian singer of the moment, performs a duet with Otto on the sweet, slow-tempo "O Leite" (Milk). He's joined on "Lágrimas Negras" (Black Tears) by my favorite Mexican pop/rock star Julieta Venegas, who also sings on "Saudade" (Nostalgia). Only a Brazilian could make longing sound so desirable.

More music:
* Tomorrow night Otto will be joined at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in NYC by a few Brazilian DJs. And it's all free.
* Today's New York Times has a great piece on Otto.
* Here's a nice video of a berobed Otto performing the song "Por Que" live for Brazilian MTV.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

BOOM BOX

Khaled: The King of Raï Returns


Algerian singer Khaled shows off his magnificent voice in the studio recording of his new song "Raïkoum"

by John Oseid

He's back. It's been years since the great Algerian raï singer Khaled put out an album. It's no stretch to say his gorgeous new work, Liberté, should put him right back on top of the world music charts when it comes out August 25.

Raï, a pop-tinged mix of rural and cabaret music developed in Algeria's Oran province, has exploded worldwide in recent decades. In the early 90s, Khaled teamed up with producing legend Don Was to craft the rock-, funk-, and R&B-inflected sound that made him the first international star from the Maghreb.

On Liberté, Khaled strips down his sound back to its North African roots. An accordion introduces "Raïkoum" and then Khaled's soaring vocals take over. He adds some mystical gnawa music on the album, and strings from the Levant, like in the slow cut "Zabana." I don't yet know what all the songs mean, and it doesn't matter; Khaled's mesmerizing voice could turn a public service announcement into a musical gem.

More music:
* Khaled's two great early albums were Khaled, released in 1992 with the mega-hit "Didi," and 1993's N'ssi N'ssi.
* Last spring I brought you a snippet of gnawa music from Morocco.
* Boom Box: Unabashed gusto for music of the world

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Laurent Korcia Pays Tribute to Cinema


Accompanied by accordion and upright bass, Laurent Korcia takes on Lalo Schifrin's "Mission Impossible"

by John Oseid

As if being a young, handsome Parisian weren't enough, Laurent Korcia gets to strut around his hometown with a precious Stradivarius--the Rolls-Royce of instruments--under his arm (he plays the 1719 "Zahn," on loan from LVMH). The violin sensation has won a ton of awards and performs regularly under the direction of Dutoit, Gergiev, and Masur. In a departure from his classical roots, he's just put out an album called Cinema that pays tribute to a century of film music. Over the last week, I've discovered that the 20 scores make for a moody and whimsical travel companion, from the famous (Nino Rota's "Speak Softly, Love" Godfather theme) to the obscure (anyone heard of "Yumeji's Theme" by Shigeru Umebayashi?).

I never knew Ennio Morricone wrote the tender theme to Cinema Paradiso. Nor had I ever heard of the 1974 Depardieu film Les Valseuses, whose classical theme of the same name was composed by the late great French jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Korcia's lightly swinging rendition turns out to be my favorite cut. Even if they don't know the title, listeners will recognize Argentine tango genius Carlos Gardel's beautiful "Por una Cabeza" from Scent of a Woman and the scene in True Lies in which the Governator klutzes over it on the dance floor. Korcia also brings us some Joplin, Gershwin, Chaplin, and Mancini, not to mention a cool guy named Vivaldi.

More music:
* Keep your eyes open for upcoming Korcia performances in the States as well as a PBS special filmed at the Folies Bergère.
* This month a number of Hard Rock properties like San Diego and Orlando are planning hippie-themed events for the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock. Crosby, Stills & Nash will be performing at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, where room rates are $69 (as in 1969) on August 18 and 19. The hotel will also be giving "Jimi Hendrix-style" guitar lessons.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

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The Bayou and Bollywood in Brooklyn


The video to one of Kailash Kher's early hits, "Teri Deewani," has all the drama of a Bollywood tale

by John Oseid

These days, the Celebrate Brooklyn series at the Prospect Park band shell is a hot ticket. (Well, a free ticket, really.) Under a towering grove of trees and evening breezes, picnicking families join hipsters to check out top music-makers from around the globe. Last weekend, I discovered two spectacular live performers.

Twenty years ago, the infectious Buckwheat Zydeco party song "Ya Ya" turned me on to Cajun music. Don't know what took me so long to finally see the Louisiana legend boogie a crowd like he did Friday with his band Ils Sont Partis. His repertoire includes a great Creole version of Hank Williams's "Hey Good Looking," and I loved "Jackpot," off an album of the same name. At one point Buckwheat put down his signature accordion to show his chops on the Hammond B3 organ. After hearing his version of Jimmy Cliff's "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah" off his new release Lay Your Burden Down, I ordered the album post-haste.

Continue reading "The Bayou and Bollywood in Brooklyn" »

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Eva Ayllón and Novalima: Two Top Afro-Peruvian Acts


"Quema la vida, quema la muerte" (Burn life, burn death), sings Novalima vocalist Milagros Guerrero in this sharp video for "Coba Guarango"

by John Oseid

How many of you Peru-ophiles know that a half-million Peruvians are of African descent? Few, I'll bet. But Afro-Peruvians have long been making their own music, from festejo and vals dance music to my favorite, landó, a bluesy sound with Angolan roots. Last week, two of the scene's stars made a convert of me.

Eva Ayllón brought her supercharged voice to the Blender Theater, a converted cinema in New York's Gramercy neighborhood. In addition to an African djembe drum, her tight group featured the signature Afro-Peruvian quijada de burro, a donkey jawbone that acts as a rattler, and the cajón. I'm amazed at the sundry sounds that can be coaxed from the simple wooden box drums. You can hear Ayllón's slow love song "Adoro" and the brisk, jazzy call-and-response "Akundun" on her vibrant new album Kimba Fá.

Novalima is an acclaimed young group that fuses hip-hop, dub, reggae, and various electronic sounds with robust Afro-Peruvian percussive beats. In support of their new album Coba Coba, they performed spiffed-up versions of traditional songs like "Se me Van" at Le Poisson Rouge.

Afro-Peruvians have long been migrating to Lima from their coastal communities. Ayllón and Novalima are shaping their new sounds there, but they both perform songs in praise of their black heritage and rural roots. You won't find a single panpipe on stage, though--we're a long way from Machu Picchu.

More music:
* Here's a video of Eva Ayllón performing the classic folk song "Toro Mata" (The Bull Kills). Check her MySpace page for dates for upcoming European shows.
* With cutting-edge bands like Novalima, the three-year-old Cumbancha label has already made itself a world music leader.
* Out of nowhere, an Afro-Peruvian restaurant and music space just opened in Midtown Manhattan. I'll be heading to the Tutuma Social Club soon.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

BOOM BOX

The Shin: Georgia's Eclectic Jams

by John Oseid

Sometimes you hear an entire album and have absolutely no clue where the music is from. You could listen to the Shin's album EgAri a hundred times--with its polyphonic, multi-string, multi-percussion, sometimes jazzy flamenco-ish Middle Eastern ecclesiastical sound--and be no closer to figuring out where the group originated. And I mean that as a testament to the fact that the Shin comes from Georgia, as in the Republic of . . .

I've had Georgia on my mind ever since I read about the quirky, multifarious country in Gully Wells's December 2007 Condé Nast Traveler story, "Georgia Uncorked." So perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised that the music was equally compelling. "Take This Morning" alternates between vigorous and down-tempo strings, with various group members lending vocal gymnastics. (Look for one of the string players' impromptu dances in the video above.) "Born in the Saddle" is another robust number, one in which Asian steppes seem to meet Scandinavian folk, with jazz scatting thrown in. Then it's South Indian meets klezmer in "On Tiptoes." And so it goes.

You can catch the Shin playing throughout Europe over the next several months. The band's name, incidentally, means "Home," the album title, "That's It." Whatever their sound is, it's fascinating stuff . . . and most important, it's just damn fun.

More music:
* In Brentwood, Los Angeles, the Skirball Cultural Center's free Sunset Concerts series runs through mid-August. Tonight's performer is Malian n'goni string player Issa Bagayogo, whom I highlighted last fall.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

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Cape Verde: The Virtuoso Islands

by John Oseid

Cape Verde's musical innovators just keep on coming. Last year, I introduced you to Mayra Andrade and Tcheka. Now, another young Cape Verdean has a brilliant new album out.

Lisbon-born Lura sings in a variety of the islands' many styles on her new album, Eclipse. The jazzy, R&B-inflected "Quebród nem Djosa" (Poor as a Church Mouse), in the video above, differs greatly from up-tempo funaná songs like "Nha Nha Rubera" (In My Valley). The latter features the renowned Malagasy accordionist Régis Gizavo, as does the ballad "Marinhêro" (Sailor). Here's a nice clip of Lura performing it in the studio.

"Tabanka" has a sprightly spoken word rhythm to it. The nostalgic title track was written by top Cape Verdean lyricist B. Leza while "Cantá um Tango" is a gorgeous piece co-written by the guitarist Teofilo Chantre.

"A caramel-skinned beauty with a blond Afro the radius of a mushroom cloud, writes George Rush in his July Condé Nast Traveler article "Verde Vibes." The beauty he describes is the singer Fantcha.

Protégée of the great Cesária Évora, the NYC-based Fantcha is--full disclosure here--a dear friend of mine. The other day I had the pleasure of a sneak preview of her lovely new album Amor, Mar e Musica, in which she's joined by other Cape Verdean musical heavyweights in Rush's story, like Paulino Vieira and Rufino Almeida (a.k.a. Bau). I'll bring you more when the album is available here; in the meantime, get familiar with Fantcha.

More music:
* Lura's tour of the States starts tonight in Chicago's Millennium Park at the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion. I'll be seeing her at the finale on July 21 at NYC's new downtown City Winery.
* This summer New York's Museum of Modern Art stays open late with the music series called MoMA Thursday Nights. Concerts will be held in the Sculpture Garden, with two sets a night of Brazilian music in July and Chinese in August. Look out too for the museum's Premiere Brazil 2009 film series.
* Wikipedia's entry on the music of Cape Verde
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world

 
BOOM BOX

Raving for the Congo and the Kids

Diomande
Djembe master Vado Diamande
drums for a good cause at Citrine.

Photo: Cochrane Williams

by John Oseid

These days in Manhattan's Flatiron District, you can't stroll past two buildings in a row without stumbling upon a lounge party. But few events have the verve--or purpose--as the one I attended last weekend at Citrine. Djembe drum master Vado Diomande kicked off the party by playing rhythms used in sacred Ivorian traditions. Then DJ mOma took over and spun hours of African pop, reggae, and hip-hop to raise funds for underprivileged Congolese girls' educations.

Two years ago Cypriot/Congolese fashion model Noëlla Coursaris started the Georges Malaika Foundation (it's named for her father). The GMF began sponsoring its first group of sixteen girls last year, covering their tuition, supplies, uniforms, and meals. At the event, I learned that $10 covers a student's breakfast and lunch for a week, $50 gets someone a week of education, and $500 can pay for a whole year of hitting the books. The foundation's ultimate goal is to build a school big enough to serve 300 girls by 2010.

Continue reading "Raving for the Congo and the Kids" »

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Kendel Carson: Hotshot Canadian Fiddler Heads South

KendelCarson
Kendel Carson has roots in the Alberta plains, but she looks right at home in New York City.
Photo: Shore Fire Media

by John Oseid

Canadian singer and fiddler Kendel Carson is petite and squeaky-clean gorgeous, but she likes big trucks and dirty boys. Fine by me. The Alberta native announced her preferences recently at the Lower East Side hipster haven Living Room before launching into her jaunty bar tune "I Like Trucks" (the video has a fun homemade look). For all her moxie, the 24-year-old with the prairie-honed string skills is an enormously mature artist.

And she's in good hands with veteran songwriter/producer Chip Taylor, who backed her up on guitar to promote her new album Alright Dynamite. "I Don't Wanna Be Your Mother," with the wilting refrain "Brass ones, you don't got 'em," was a crowd pleaser, as was "Belt Buckle."  Taylor and Carson also performed "I like Trucks" and the slow ballad "Ribbons and Bows" off Carson's 2007 debut album, Rearview Mirror Tears. As they wrapped up the night, Carson had her fiddle screaming on Taylor's classic hits "Angel of the Morning" and "Wild Thing." Yes, that one, as in--"I think I looove you." (Bonus points if you can name Taylor's famous Hollywood brother.)

More music:
* For this year's edition of Zurich's popular Live at Sunset festival (July 8 to 19), the stately Dolder Grand hotel has package deals that include show tickets. Go here for details and dates to relive the eighties with Simply Red, UB40, and Simple Minds. French jazz/cabaret star Patricia Kaas and the Japanese drum ensemble KODO are also on the lineup.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

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Kalyan Pathak: The Beatles, the Tabla, and Ragazz


Kalyan Pathak with Chicago-based jazz/drum-and-bass fusion group Drop Q.

John Oseid is on vacation. In this week's Boom Box, Stop Press intern Tara Kalmanson shares her passion for world music.

In 1969 in Ahmadabad, Indian percussionist Kalyan Pathak's father ran into Frank Zachary, a broke 30-year-old American hippie with jaundice lying outside Khas Bazaar in 115-degree heat. After a long conversation about their shared love of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, Pathak's father took his new friend home to nurse him back to health. Zachary named himself Pondurenga Das (Devotee of Krisna) and ended up clearing out the family's small attic and renting it for six months, during which he educated four-year-old Pathak in modern American music. When Pondurenga left for a couple months to study yoga in New Delhi, all Pathak wanted was "a drum like Ringo Starr"--Pondurenga brought him back his first snare drum.

Pathak had already been training in the double-headed North Indian drum called the tabla from age three, and by his early teens was so good that his teachers told him to give up on Western music and devote 12 hours a day to tabla study. Instead, Pathak gave up on his teachers and trained himself, eventually earning a scholarship to study jazz at Roosevelt University, in Chicago. He still lives in Chicago today, where he has played beside the likes of Aretha Franklin, Paul Wertico, Howard Levy, and Fareed Haque.

The result of this lifelong musical odyssey? A new genre: ragazz.

Continue reading "Kalyan Pathak: The Beatles, the Tabla, and Ragazz" »

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Amadou and Mariam: Mali's Power Pop Duo


Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame wrote the melody for Amadou and Mariam's song "Sabali."

by John Oseid

Hundreds of indie rock fans poured out of Lower Manhattan's old vaudeville theater Webster Hall a few nights ago, buzzing all the way into the subway after watching Malian duo Amadou and Mariam tear down the house.

Resplendent in her golden boubou and designer sunglasses, Mariam sang the gentle "Sabali" (Patience) from the new album Welcome to Mali, her wistful voice floating over a gentle electronic beat. Then Amadou showed off wicked blues guitar skills on songs like "Ce n'est pas bon," about political corruption, while high-octane djembe and tama drummers (not to mention those backup singers' lithe dance moves) had the crowd whooping it up. For their encore, A&M reprised their joyful 2005 hit "Beaux Dimanche," whose simple repetitive refrain "Dimanche à Bamako, c'est le jour de mariage" (Sunday in Bamako, that's the day of marriage) closed the show. 

When I got home and flipped on the tube, there A&M were again, singing "Africa" with Black Thought of The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The gracious couple, who met decades ago in a Bamako school for the blind, are savoring their joy ride of new international acclaim. You can catch them tomorrow at the Bonnaroo Festival, and on July 10 the couple will open a series of dates for Coldplay. (Those lads have a  tough act to follow.)

More music:
* Amadou and Mariam's breakout album, Dimanche à Bamako, was produced by the eclectic Franco-Spanish star Manu Chao, who has a cameo appearance in the "Senegal Fast Food" video.
* At Webster Hall, the duo also sang the older romantic tune "Je pense à toi." I love the video.
* On the Nonesuch Label site, Damon Albarn talks about creating a Piaf chanson sound for "Sabali."
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

BOOM BOX

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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Berlin's Karneval of Kool


Of all the amateur videos I've come across online, I like this one of a Bolivian Tinku group from last year's festival. Tinku dance has its roots in combat, but you might not know it from the bright Andean costumes, festooned hats, and synchronized choreography.

by John Oseid

One and a half million happy people will fill the streets of Berlin's Kreuzberg district this weekend. With a hundred floats and 900 performers from around the world, the Karneval der Kulturen (May 29-June 1) will turn the German capital into a riot of colors for a fourteenth year of celebrating the city's diversity. If not the city's biggest fete, the Carnival of Cultures is surely the coolest since the recent demise of the famously hedonistic Loveparade techno-bash.

In addition to the main parade, artists on four stages will showcase sounds from Turkish pop and Brazilian funk to Dixieland and Algerian raï, as well as some you've likely never imagined: electro-gypsy, Angolan reggae, Chilean ska, and yes, even Deutschrap. Hmmm . . . I may just have to check that last one out. The weekend activities are intended to challenge xenophobia and address issues of integration that Berlin's large immigrant community faces. There's a children's parade if you've got kids in tow, and with 350 food stalls, you can take a culinary tour of the world.

More music:
* Carnival of Culture compilation albums are available from the excellent German world music label Piranha.
* The New York Times recently covered the Bolivian ritual of Tinku.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

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Divine Music from Fez to Fort Greene

by John Oseid

Buckle up, I'm about to zip a season's worth of world-class performances past you all happening within a span of three weeks.

The most spine-tingling week of music I ever heard was seven years ago, when I wandered through the steep, twisty medina in Fez, Morocco, going from one late-night recital to another. Sufi chanting here, drumming and horn blowing there. The Fès Festival of World Sacred Music has grown immensely since I was there: This year the headliners include Lebanese oud master Marcel Khalife; one of my favorite young artists, the Paris-based Algerian singer/guitarist Souad Massi; and Celtic singer Loreena McKennitt. How I'd love to return May 29-June 6 for the show's fifteenth edition.

If Fez is too far for you, you'll find veterans of the festival at New York City's kindred series Muslim Voices, which runs from June 5 to June 14. Many events--performances, films and discussions--will be held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Fort Greene and Manhattan's Asia Society. Some things to look out for: 

* Senegalese powerhouse Youssou N'Dour will launch the series on June 5 with his band the Super Étoile. I've been getting acquainted with Amir El Saffar, an Iraqi-American composer who will open for Youssou. His band's MySpace page features several beautiful works in the traditional musical style called maqam.

* The 2004 documentary I Bring What I Love will screen at BAM on June 6. Filmed during Youssou's world tour for the Egypt album, his tribute to Sufism, I Bring What I Love recounts the accusations of blasphemy back in Senegal over the continent's biggest pop star singing spiritual music. (The collective glory of a Grammy award smoothed all that over quickly.)

* On June 6, the Aissawa Ensemble will bring its trance music direct from Fez, while on June 11, the Persian classical singer Parissa will sing to the poems of the great Rumi.

* A souk will be set up in the BAM neighborhood the weekend of June 6, with 150 crafts and food stands.

More music:
* U2 found inspiration for their new album No Line on the Horizon at the 2007 Fez festival. They recorded the anthemic "Magnificent" in a riad.
* I once used Loreena McKennit as a clue in the Where Are You? contest.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

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Ayo: The New Soul of Germany

by John Oseid

The gorgeous young German singer/songwriter Ayo has been enormously popular in Europe for some years, and now her soul-reggae sound is fast bringing her a North American audience. Before rehearsing with her band in a Manhattan studio last week, Ayo spoke to me and Condé Nast Traveler photo editor Damian Vincent about her music and her inspirations like her Nigerian father. In Damian's video above, she also treated us to an impromptu acoustic version of her song "Lonely."

Damian and I are looking forward to going to Manhattan's Highline Ballroom on Sunday, May 17, for Ayo's sole NYC show. Then she'll join Erykah Badu and many others on May 24 at UCLA's Jazz Reggae Festival. This week Ayo began appearing with nine other artists, including Liz Phair and Esperanza Spalding, in a Banana Republic ad campaign. The album City Sounds, inspired by the musicians' travels, is available for download upon in-store purchase.

More music:
* The colors are rich as can be in the video for "Down on my Knees," one of Ayo's first hits. Here she performs it live on French TV. One of my favorite tunes, the up-tempo "Slow Slow (Run Run)," is the first of her MySpace downloads. Here's the joyful video.
* Joyful is also the title of one of Ayo's albums, which are available on Amazon.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

BOOM BOX

Bernal and Luna Reunite in Rudo y Cursi

by John Oseid

Fútbol and música, two of my favorite preoccupations. The hit Mexican film Rudo y Cursi, which opens here tomorrow, is full of both. Megastars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna (of Y tu mamá también fame) play country bumpkin brothers whose fraternal dysfunction destroys their brief, unlikely run as Mexico City soccer stars. Bernal's character Tato "El Cursi" also has delusions of becoming a singing sensation; the film's signature motif is his joyfully cheesy norteño song "Quiero que me quieras." That's him strutting and playing accordion in the video above to the tune you know better as Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me."

The movie's sound track reminded me that the label Nacional Records is producing the most innovative Latin music anywhere these days. I can't get enough of the Mexican Institute of Sound's new release Soy Sauce, a grab bag of funk, rock, cumbia, electronica, and more. "Sinfonia Agridulce" is a brilliant mariachi-in-a-late-night-bar version of the Verve hit "Bittersweet Symphony." I only discovered the Nortec Collective last year, and I can't count how many times I've watched the group's videos "Tijuana Makes Me Happy" and "Tijuana Sound Machine."

More music:
* Last week, Nortec Collective collaborators Bostich and Fussible talked with Studio 360 host Kurt Anderson about the influence of American music on Mexican electronica. Find the group's most recent albums here and here.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

BOOM BOX

Alliance Francaise Celebrates Haiti

HaitiImg
Vocalist Lunise Exume fronts the group RAM in Manhattan's Florence Gould Hall.
Photo: Matthieu Raffard

by John Oseid

New York City's genteel Upper East Side doesn't often shake as hard as it did when the respected Haitian political music group RAM opened the Alliance Française's second annual World Nomads festival last weekend. RAM's politically engaged mizik rasin, or roots music, adds vodou folk elements to electronic rock, and its homemade sheet metal horns (called konet) had the Florence Gould Hall crowd on its feet.

Silence of the Lambs director and friend of Haiti Jonathan Demme is the patron of the month-long festival devoted to the island's culture. The Academy Award winner's 2004 documentary The Agronomist, about the assassinated Port-au-Prince radio journalist Jean Dominique, opens the cinema series tonight (here's the trailer). Demme's own Haitian art collection goes on display Thursday at the Alliance Française's gallery on 60th Street. And Wyclef Jean and other Haitian musicians will be downtown at SOB's on May 18.

American-born RAM singer Richard Morse manages Port-au-Prince's legendary gingerbread Hotel Oloffson. Check out the story of how the hotel inspired Graham Greene's novel The Comedians.

More music:
* RAM's music was used in Demme's film Philadelphia and is available in a greatest hits album.

BOOM BOX

Béla Fleck's African Banjo Adventures

by John Oseid

New York banjoist Béla Fleck is known for having stripped his instrument of its southern redneck veneer. In the new documentary Throw Down Your Heart, he goes a step further, literally, to the disparate nations of Uganda, Tanzania, the Gambia, and Mali in search of the banjo's roots.

Throw Down opens in rural Uganda where Fleck joins a handful of men playing a marimba the size of a minivan (it's shown briefly in the movie trailer above). As you watch him on his pilgrimage, you find that Fleck plays with anyone, anywhere. Like Anania Ngoglia, a charmingly rakish and blind Tanzanian thumb piano player with an unworldly singing voice. In Dar es Salaam Fleck hangs out with a group of young Masai singers and jams in a bare-bones nightclub. In the Gambia, akonting musicians teach him how to carve a gourd and build their three-string cousin to the banjo. And the great Malian singer Oumou Sangaré, regal in all her finery, acts as both muse and mother hen. Her sublime vocals and his strumming accompaniment on her slow song "Djorolen" ("Worry") are a highlight.

In the end, who knows if Fleck really finds the roots of the banjo. And who cares? The film is 97 minutes of kick-ass experimental music. Just ask the cute tykes shaking their hips and swinging their arms in nearly every scene.

More music:
* The film's 18-song sound track includes collaborations with some premier African artists who didn't make it into the film and could well earn Fleck a tenth Grammy.
* Fleck is currently performing with Oumou Sangaré, the Malian kora master Toumani Diabaté, and many other prominent artists as part of his Africa Project tour. He'll also be playing at Madison Square Garden on May 2 for Pete Seeger's ninetieth birthday party.
* Writer James Truman visited Mali and discusses the links between American and African music in his November 2008 Traveler feature "Where the Music Lives."
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

BOOM BOX

Mali's Rokia Traoré Rocks

by John Oseid

I was thrilled when Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré took home the Best World Music award at France's Victoires de la Musique ceremony last winter. I've been a big fan for years, and just a week earlier, I had witnessed her bring a Brooklyn College crowd to its feet.

At the Zénith de Paris, Rokia sang her driving blues rock number "Zen" (watch the performance above). It's a song about doing nothing ("J'ai eu le courage de ne rien faire" goes the refrain, for you Francophones), in which her delicate voice is backed by the plucking rhythm of an African thumb piano.

The daughter of a diplomat, Rokia is fiercely proud of her Malian roots, but she's not wedded to any popular ideas of West African music. It's unusual, for example, to find a female Malian guitarist, but watch how the waifish singer wields her big rockabilly Gretsch on Jools Holland's popular BBC music show. First, she sings "Zen" again, and she then picks up her guitar and jams on "Tounka," a song about illegal immigration. The musician with the white head wrap is making that cool banjo-y sound on a traditional ngoni string instrument.

Except for the Gershwin standard "The Man I Love," all the tunes on her new gem of an album Tchamantché (the word means equilibrium) are her own compositions sung in a mix of French and Bambara. If American radio wasn't so banal, Rokia Traoré would be all over the airwaves here.

More music:
* At Rokia's Brooklyn show, she was joined by South African anti-apartheid activist and singer Vusi Mahlasela. Check him out on vusimahlasela.com.
* This summer you can find Rokia playing at top festivals and stages all over Europe. The events are listed on her MySpace page.
* Rokia's Web site includes a set of videos. "Dounia" is an elegant paen to Mali's rich cultural heritage.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

BOOM BOX

Record Store Day Celebrates Vinyl Mongers

Randys1
One of the greats: Reggae was born in Randy's record store and studio in Kingston, Jamaica

by John Oseid

In the 80s, I used to lose myself for hours at Paris music chain Fnac, where salespeople allowed shoppers to take records out of the sleeves and listen to the music, right there. If it weren't for those record heads, I would never have discovered great Gallic rockers (no, that's not an oxymoron) like Charlélie Couture.

Looks like others (Norah Jones, Chuck Berry, and Paul McCartney, among them) dig vinyl, too: On April 18, a thousand retailers worldwide will host in-store performances in support of Record Store Day.

The industry promotion reminds me what a great part of the travel experience record browsing is. Endangered as they are, plenty of shops in the world have survived the download takeover, and they still serve as discovery zones for knowledgeable staff and music lovers. Not long ago, I rushed past a great looking little vintage record shop perched on Lisbon's perilously steep Calçada do Duque stairway on the way to a show. I had meant to return. I hope it's still there. If you have a favorite record store--be it devoted to jazz in Tokyo or Toronto, hard rock in Belgrade or Adelaide--I'd love to hear about it.

Rest assured that vinyl still rules. As saucy singer Shelby Lynne sees it, "You can't roll a joint on an iPod."

More music:
* If you're attending California's famed Coachella music festival this weekend, look for the Record Store Day tent, which will sell 7" singles cut especially for the celebration by the likes of Tom Waits and Franz Ferdinand.
* The Record Store Review lists international record shops.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world

BOOM BOX

Jang Sa-ik: From Seoul to Memphis

by John Oseid

Jang Sa-ik's super-sized voice gives you goosebumps. Big, fat ones. And if ever the trope of tradition meeting modernity held true, it's in the work of this Korean singer who at one moment belts out the ancient ballad "Arirang" and then sounds utterly convincing in his own bluesy compositions. I recently heard Jang give a powerful recital backed only by a guitarist and a drummer, and I kept wondering how he injected such a soulful sound into the performance. Turns out he's a fan of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.

Next week you'll have the chance to hear Jang backed by a nine-piece ensemble and a choir in his one-off performance at New York City Center. Jang wears his signature white robe and rings a bell in the live video to "The Way to Heaven" (above, courtesy of Link TV). A rural funeral procession shot with a hand-tinted look drives home this doleful mood.

By the mid-90s, Jang had gone through a series of uninspiring salesman jobs before he found the pluck to launch his professional music career at 46. The first song in his most recent album, Volume 6, starts with an organ and a Spanish guitar, and then opens up to plaintive brass and a straining, melancholy Korean fiddle. Add a choral hum to Jang's unrestrained emotions and you get those goosebumps. Next, "Leaving Samgakji" sounds like the slow jazz club tale of a broken-hearted man. I've never heard regret, loneliness, and death sound so compelling.

More music:
* Jang's Web site includes background content on his eclectic group of musicians and choir.
* Jang's performance is another fine production by the non-profit (hint, hint) World Music Institute.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world

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