Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Norian Maro’s Deliriously Entertaining Korean Harvest Spectacle Keeps the Crowd on Their Feet

You might think that a drum-and-dance troupe performing an ancient Korean peasants’ nongak harvest festival celebration would draw a mostly Korean audience, right? Friday night at Flushing Town Hall in Queens, Korean ensemble Norian Maro (whose name translates roughly as “Premier Performance”) had an unmistakably multi-ethnic, sold-out New York crowd, ranging from in age from kids to their grandparents, on their feet, cheering and stomping along with the irresistibly kinetic performance onstage.

The show reached a peak and then stayed there for its final twenty minutes or so, the performers clad in bright costumes and wearing caps topped with streamers on a swivel. The group members charged with the task – pretty much everybody – first spun their heads in a semicircle to activate the swivel and get the streamers flying in big arcs behind them, all the while spinning around the stage, and also playing intricate polyrhythms on a diverse collection of drums at the same time. And nobody onstage could resist a grin as they worked an ecstatic call-and-response with the crowd – and made it all look easy. How they managed to do that without losing their balance, or the beat, or a lot more, was mind-boggling. As a display of sheer athletic grace combined with musical prowess, it’s hard to imagine witnessing anything more impressive in this city in the past several months.

Norian Maro premiered the piece, titled Leodo: Paradise Lost, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last fall. It’s a metaphorical tale of the cycle of renewal, personified by a lithe dancer who gets caught in an ocean undertow and then comes face to face with the sea gods, among them a strikingly decorated dragon figure requiring two group members to keep him on his feet. After some very vigorous resuscitation, she’s transported to a magical isle where she comes to life again. One of the women in the group sang the narrative in Korean, in low, mysterious, otherworldly microtones, a revealing glimpse of the ancient, mysterious roots of dramatic Korean pansori singing.

As meticulously choreographed and spectacularly athletic as the dancing was, the stars of the show were the drummers, on a series of janggu drums ranging from a big, boomy tom, to a metal gong, to smaller metal hand drums that provided both clanging and mutedly shimmering tones. The star among all the players was a petite woman with a double-headed drum slung over her shoulder that was almost as big as she was, which she played in two separate time signatures at once, at one point firing off long volleys with a single mallet on both drum heads. Of all the players onstage, including Jong Suk Ki, Jung Hyeon Yung, Min Kyoung Ha, Sungjin Choi and Yoo Jeong Oh, she seemed to be having the most fun. Although one of the guys in the group had an equally good time with a tassel that he swung about fifty feet into the crowd, then later spun and spun until he had it flying from the roof to the floor of the stage, practically cartwheeling to keep it in motion.

The Korean Cultural Service, who staged this show, have a series of enticing concerts and spectacles coming up here. The next one is by Korean classical pianist Eunbi Kim playing works by Debussy, Fred Hersch, Daniel Bernard Roumain and others at 7 PM on Feb 26. Admission is free, but you have to RSVP, the sooner the better: and make sure to get to Flushing Town Hall’s historic Gilded Age auditorium, about five blocks from the last stop on the 7 train, at least a half hour early in order to claim your seats.

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January 17, 2015 Posted by | concert, dance, drama, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, theatre, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Exhilarating Celebration of Ancient Yet Sophisticated Korean Sounds at Symphony Space

Saturday night’s celebration of traditional Korean music and dance staged by Sue Yeon Park of the Korean Performing Arts Center  at Symphony Space featured sounds that were as cutting-edge as they were rustic. Korean pansori singing, and much of Korean singing in general, employs microtones and trills and downwardly bent notes that would baffle an awful lot of western musicians. In her gritty, expressive contralto, like something of a Korean mountain-music counterpart to Tina Turner, iconic pansori chanteuse Shin Young-Hee made it look easy throughout a rather macabre-tinged excerpt from the 19th century love epic Chunhyung-ga. Famous Korean percussionist Lee Kwang-Soo – a gregarious and engaging guy with an edgy sense of humor – led a drum troupe through a thunderously hypnotic, subtly polyrhythmic benediction of sorts. Virtuoso Gee-Sook Baek teamed up with drummer Soung-Jae Cho, who spurred her on through a rivetingly spacious, suspenseful performance on the gayageum, a twelve-string lute that throws off otherworldly tremoloing tones and seems like it could be a predecessor of the sitar. Meanwhile, the night’s emcee, a musicologist from Seoul, reminded the crowd that all this music dated from an era when there was no distinction between performer and audience: participation is pretty much mandatory. All this did nothing to discourage the commonly held notion that Koreans are the 24-hour party people of Asia.

There was plenty of drumming, notably a skull-pounding interlude to open the second half of the concert by the Rutgers Korean Cultural Group, to rival the kind of explosively shamanistic Brazilian sounds produced by BatalaNYC. There was also dancing, lots of it. Park herself took a solo, a graceful number that saw her practically disappear into the stage, facedown, at the end, the folds of her silken costume edging closer and closer downward. It’s one thing to do the splits, Chuck Berry style – it’s another to hold that position in place. Park was doing that twenty years ago and clearly hasn’t lost any athleticism in the ensuing two decades, no small achievement.

A bevy of women swayed and gently exchanged places throughout a stately fan dance, serenaded by the band offstage. Several of the drummers wore ribbons on a swivel affixed to the rear of their uniform helmets, which they spun by moving their heads quickly, side to side – how they managed to keep their footing, keep the ribbons swirling, and keep time, without losing their balance or running headfirst into the the back wall of the stage, was impressive, to say the least. One of them finally made a circle of the stage, spinning faster and faster, leaning in toward the center in a more explosive take on what Turkish dervishes will do at the peak of a musical number. The night’s final performances brought a full musical ensemble together with the dance/drumming contingent (there was a lot of overlap among them, the night’s organizer included); tersely intense geomungo (six-string zither) player Mi Jin Park being a standout among them.

The Korean Peforming Arts Center and their house ensemble, Sounds of Korea, stage frequent outdoor concerts during the warmer months, from Lincoln Center to Little Korea just south of 34th Street and points further south as well; bookmark theirwebpage if sounds as sophisticated yet ancient as these are your thing.

October 27, 2014 Posted by | concert, dance, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Pensive, Quietly Dynamic, Relevant Album of Japanese-Tinged Themes from Kojiro Umezaki

Kojiro Umezaki‘s axe is the shakuhachi, the rustic Japanese wood flute, an instantly recognizable instrument that can deliver both ghostly overtones and moody, misty high midrange sonics. Umezaki’s background spans the world of folk music and indie classical – he’s a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble -and is a frequent collaborator with groundbreaking string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Umezaki also has an album, Cycles, out from that group’s violinist Johnny Gandelsman’s maverick label In a Circle Records and streaming at Spotify. It’s a mix of originals along with reinvented themes from folk and classical music. As you might imagine, most of it is quiet, thoughtful and often otherworldly, a good rainy-day listen.

The opening track, (Cycles) America reimagines a theme from Dvorak’s New World Symphony as a solo percussion piece for Joseph Gramley, who opens it on drums with hints of majestic grandeur, then provides loopily resonant vibraphone. The album’s thoughtfully spacious second track, 108 is where Umezaki makes his entrance, joined after a terse, slowly crescendoing intro by Dong-Wan Kim on janggo drum and Faraz Minooei on santoor. It builds to a swaying and then rather jauntily dancing groove with hints of South Indian classical music as Umezaki chooses his spots.

The traditional Japanese lullaby that follows is as gentle – and ghostly – as you might expect from a melody that could be a thousand years old, a graceful solo performance. Umezaki then delivers a circular, uneasily looping piece modeled after a famous 1923 post-earthquake work by Japanese composer Nakao Tozan, bringing it into the present day as a tense, distantly angst-ridden contemplation of a post-3/11 world.

On For Zero, Gramley plays lingering vibraphone  interspersed with the occasional emphatic cymbal crash or fuzzy wash of low-register synth. The album’s final track is a new version of a collaboration with Brooklyn Rider that originally appeared on the quartet’s 2010 album Dominant Curve, alternating between raptly inmersive atmospherics and edgy interplay between the quartet and the wood flute, a shakuhachi concerto of sorts.

October 19, 2014 Posted by | avant garde music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Kronos Quartet at Lincoln Center

If you could see the Kronos Quartet two nights in a row – for free – wouldn’t you? That’s part of the premise of this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival. It was no surprise that the seats filled up early last night for an exhilarating string-driven cross-continental journey that began in Syria and ended in Greece, with flights to Palestine and India in between.

The group opened with a deliciously intense, hauntingly pulsing number by Syrian star Omar Souleyman titled I’ll Prevent the Hunters from Hunting You, a particularly apt choice considering the ongoing revolutionary struggles there. Violinist John Sherba’s nonchalantly sizzling swoops and dives soared against the beat of violist Hank Dutt, who was playing goblet drum, amped up in the mix for a ba-BOOM swing that put to shame any drum machine ever devised. They followed with a gorgeously ambered, austere old Yachiel Karniol cantorial tone poem of sorts, Sim Shalom (Let There Be Peace), a feature for the group’s new cellist Sunny Yang to air out the whispery, occasionally wailling ghosts in her instrument.

An electrocoustic take on Palestinian group Ramallah Underground‘s gritty, metaphorically charged Tashweesh (Distortion) was next, the ensemble adhering tightly to a backing track for a hypnotic, menacingly Lynchian ambience. Avant garde Vietnamese-American zither player Van-Anh Vo then joined the ensemble on the traditional, spiky dan tranh and vocals (and later played keening, sinister glissandos on a loudly amplified dan bao) for a lush pastorale possibly titled Green Delta. Violinist David Harrington led them through Vo’s Christmas Storm to a wild chamber-metal crescendo out; Dutt switched to a screechy wood flute for a third Vo work, before returning to his usual axe as the piece morphed into a lithe dance. After a long, rapt Ljova arrangement of the anxiously dreamy alap section of a Ram Narayan raga, Harrington switching to the resonant sarangi, the ensemble brought up Magda Giannikou, frontwoman of the disarmingly charming French lounge-pop group Banda Magda, to play a new, custom-made lanterna with its deep, rippling, pinging tones. The world premiere of her new work Strope in Antistrophe mingled biting yet playful cadenzas and tricky back-and-forth polyrhythms within a warmly tuneful, enveloping atmosphere.

Aptly named Irish chamber-folk quartet the Gloaming opened the evening with a series of resonantly nocturnal arrangements of ancient songs as well as a couple of new ones that sounded like them, violinist Martin Hayes’ otherworldly, deceptively simple washes of melody rising over Dennis Cahill’s casually meticulous guitar, along with piano and vocals. What’s the likelihood of seeing something this esoteric, and this much fun? In the next couple of weeks, pretty much every day.

July 27, 2013 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Debussy Was Right – And Apparently So Was Obama

Debussy was right about gamelan music. In a marathon three-and-a-half show Friday night at the Asia Society, famed Javanese dhalang (shadow puppeteer) Purbo Asmoro led New York’s Gamelan Kusuma Laras along with musicians from his own gamelan troupe Mayangkara in a lush, hypnotic, often thrilling and frequently hilarious modern update on the medieval wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) epic Dewi Ruci. Subtitled “Bima’s Spiritual Enlightenment,” it’s an Indonesian spin on an old Indian myth. The plotline concerns a spiritually-inclined prince’s Herculean adventures in the search for enlightenment: who knew that a quest for personal growth could be so arduous? Bima tackles ogres in the woods and dives to the ocean floor to do battle with a giant sea serpent, all in the name of wisdom. Which makes sense, given his lineage. Utimately, the story could be termed a battle between blue and red states: Bima’s family, the peaceful Pandhawas, are vying with their rivals, the materialistic Kurawa clan, for control of an empire. As part of a “comic interlude” that was only supposed to take five minutes but which went on much longer (to the delight of the remarkably diverse crowd of expats and Americans), a Barack Obama puppet made an appearance, which only made sense: as Asmoro told it, Obama was exposed to wayang as a child in Indonesia and enjoyed it. And who wouldn’t.

Simultaneously playing the role of lyric baritone, comedian, and conductor, Asmoro was a force of nature, acrobatically spinning his wayang (puppet figures manipulated with what look like giant chopsticks) to cast shadows on the screen, aggressively thumping his giant wooden puppet box, clattering his foot cymbals to signal dynamic shifts and all the while entertaining the crowd. This was all the more impressive considering that he and most of his ensemble played the entire show seated, their backs to the audience, which is the style in Indonesia these days (apparently the desire for a backstage pass is universal). Throughout the performance, audience members traipsed onstage to get a look at the figures on the shadow screen facing the band, which was also being projected via live video on the side of the stage. To the immense benefit of the non-Javanese speakers in the crowd, gamelan member Kitsie Emerson furiously typed a witty and insightful simultaneous English translation that was projected high above the musicians.

The music itself covered the range of the entire sonic spectrum. Director I.M. Harjito led the group as they built calmly dreamy ambience with a hypnotic, gently polyrhythmic, pointilliistically glimmering web of instrumental “welcoming music” with their bells, gongs and fiddle that went on for practically a half-hour before Asmoro took the stage. Alternately dramatic, intense, droll and ribald, he shifted voices as much as he shifted characters while the band rose and fell along with the plotline. When the stage momentarily lost power, puppets blamed each other; Freudian metaphors abounded, and Asmoro got the crowd roaring with his explanation of how New York winter cold affected his manhood. Musically, the highlight of the show was a harder-charging interlude meant to illustrate soldiers in what seemed to be competitive training exercises, the tinkling of the bells balanced by the low, richly reverberating boom of the gongs. In between acts, a choir sang choruses along with soloists from the ensemble (notably soprano Ibu Yatmi, with her meticulously nuanced, piercingly microtonal melismas). After about an hour and a half, wine and snacks were served upstairs: people made their way up and back into the theatre, happy for a break but eager to see what else the group had in store. It was after eleven when the show finally concluded, Bima victorious at last in his search for wisdom, the future of the Pandhawa uncertain, the crowd still invigorated, on their feet, wanting more.

March 19, 2012 Posted by | concert, drama, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, theatre, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ancient and Avant-Garde Korean Sounds From Janya

This page might not be the first place you’d expect to discover an ensemble that made their stage debut at the Kennedy Center, but the pleasure is yours, if you’re in an adventurous mood – or if you speak Korean. Avant-garde Korean quartet Janya (meaning “to be born”) premiered there last spring: they sound like Bjork playing ancient Korean court music. Frontwoman Lola Jung Danza is an idiosyncratic, original singer, sometimes coy, sometimes completely in your face. She whispers, growls, and gets misty and ethereal with a bluesy nuance: she may come from a jazz background. Other than one absolutely triumphant, soaring solo by daegeum (wood flute) player Seungmin Cha, the melodies on this group’s debut album don’t move far from a central tone: as in south Indian music, the dynamics and rhythm are front and center rather than melodies themselves, making much of this very hypnotic despite the insistent rhythmic intensity of Woojung Sim’s janggo (Korean drum) and Eunsun Jung’s gayageum (zither). The tonalities are rustic; the often jagged, abrupt shifts in rhythm, cadence or theme are contemporary.

Most of Danza’s lyrics are in Korean, although she also sings in English on a couple of tracks, the first a matter-of-factly crescendoing anthem on a theme of newfound existential awareness, its narrator eventually deciding to embrace her fate of deciding how she wants to fill in the space between the “tick” and “tock” of the clock. Whithered sets agitated, Siouxsie-esque vocals in conversation with the drums and zither, building to a gently rolling gallop, while Generations features jazzy scatting and sitar-like bent notes from the zither. A tense, unresolved atmosphere lingers from song to song, notably on the slowly swaying Epic, where the vocals playfully shift lower as Danza runs them through a pitch pedal. Their signature song juxtaposes scrapy, cello-like zither against an ominous drum drone which eventually brightens, quite unexpectedly, while Mother ponders the life of immigrants in the role of the “other” in a new society, eventually building to a triumphant resolution. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the apprehensive No Escape, where Danza’s mantra is “love hate love hate,” the instruments building on a jazz-tinged three-chord riff which is the closest thing to western music here. Strange, intriguing, compelling stuff: they’re playing Drom at 8:30 PM tomorrow, Jan 6.

January 5, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Moving Sound Puts Their Original Spin on Ancient Chinese Music

Taiwanese group A Moving Sound’s music is not deferential or folkloric, at least in the sense that it tries to fossilize a traditional musical style for the same of mass appeal, or for yuppie cultural tourists who assuage their bourgeois guilt by proving to the world how multicultural they are. It’s cutting-edge, entertaining stuff that just happens to be played on instruments that go back several hundred years, using ancient Chinese folk tunes as a springboard for original songs and arrangements that draw on influences as diverse as indie classical and worldbeat. The songs’ lyrics are in native dialects. Frontwoman/singer/dancer Mia Hsieh’s heritage is mainland Chinese: her parents fled the terror of Mao to Taiwan, only to end up under Chiang Kai-Shek’s iron thumb. Hsieh won a Fulbright scholarship, studied with Meredith Monk and then returned home, bringing along multi-instrumentalist Scott Prairie, with whom she founded the group. The members also include Zheng-jun Wu on percussion and erhu (spike fiddle), Tang-hsuan Lo on erhu, Hua-zhou Hsieh on guitar and zhong ruan (four-string lute) along with guest sitarist Yi-chen Chang on one track.

The microtonal erhu adds an acidic bite to many of the songs, notably on the stately, processional opening suite, Silk Road – it’s hard to to tell where the erhu leaves off and Hsieh’s voice takes over, such is the clarity of both the vocals and Lo’s playing here. An instrumental, The First Thunder of Spring takes a graceful walk down the Asian scale and turns it into dramatic, ominous acoustic art-rock with an absolutely wicked chorus. The slowly slinky, joyously minimalist Harvest is followed by The Market Song, sort of like a Taiwanese Pogues tune, memorializing Hsieh’s parents’ hectic days as open-air vendors. At a semi-private mini-concert for bloggers and such earlier today, Hsieh lit into this one with a cheery, animated grace; as a singer, she switched confidently between hushed nuance and the stratospherically high leaps that give away her avant garde background.

Gu Gin, based on an 11th century poem, drolly celebrates playing in the rain, while Flying Dombra moves slowly and deliberately with Prairie’s spaciously placed bass chords. Dynasty has an upbeat, jangly folk-rock feel, nicking an old Allman Brothers lick at one point, followed by Toh Deh Gong, which contrasts Hsieh’s irrepressible vocal swoops and dives with stern, austerely percussive melodies. The album ends with the bouncy Howling Wind and then the aptly titled Ghost Lake, an ancient traditional song reinvented as a long, hypnotic tone poem with a trick ending. It’s out now on Motema; a Moving Sound plays Drom this Friday, Sept 23 at 9:30 PM. $12 advance tickets are still available as of today.

By the way, just in case it’s crossed your mind lately, this music is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the world stands to lose in the wake of Fukushima (Taiwan got hammered by the tailwind from 3/11). Think about that for a minute. Isn’t it time we got rid of nuclear power forever?

September 21, 2011 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/14/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #534:

New York City: Global Beat of the Boroughs

This 2001 Smithsonian Folkways release may be a long series of ludicrously bad segues, but multicultural party playlists don’t get much better than this. It’s predominantly latin and Balkan music played by obscure but frequently brilliant expatriate New York-based groups, although other immigrant cultures are represented. While the tracks by Irish group Cherish the Ladies and klezmer stars Andy Statman and the Klezmatics are all excellent, it’s surprising that the compilers couldn’t come up with the same kind of obscure treasures they unearthed from Puerto Rican plena groups Vienta de Agua and Los Pleneros de 21; or Albanian Besim Muriqi’s scorching dance tunes; or stately theatrical pieces by the prosaically titled traditional groups Music From China and the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Association. There are also rousing Greek and Bulgarian romps from Grigoris Maninakis and Yuri Yunakov, respectively; a soulful suite of Lebanese songs by crooner Naji Youssef; and even a spirited if roughhewn version of the Italian theme for the Williamsburg “Walking of the Giglio,” a big wooden tower paraded through the streets by a large troupe of hardworking men every August, among the 31 fascinating tracks here. Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from the folks at the Smithsonian.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | folk music, gospel music, gypsy music, irish music, latin music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Gorgeous, Groundbreaking East-West Collaboration

What if you could blend the hypnotic otherworldliness of classical Indian music with the lush melodicism of European classical music? That possibility comes to life on the new album Samaagam, a groundbreaking collaboration between Indian sarod virtuoso Amjad Ali Khan and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Murphy. For those unfamiliar with the instrument, the sarod (sort of) is to the sitar what the mandolin is to the guitar – it has less resonance, with more emphasis on the upper register. Amjad Ali Khan is one of the world’s great masters (his website is sarod.com); on this album, he begins with three abbreviated versions of classical Indian ragas, followed by the epic title suite. The ragas set the stage, each of them clocking in at a relatively brief seven minutes or so: the first an apertif of sorts, the second more aggressive with insistent staccato passages and the last the most complex and suspenseful.

The title piece, meaning “village meeting” in Sanskrit, is a concerto for sarod and chamber orchestra with terse, even minimal tabla rhythm, a fascinating and richly beautiful mix of Indian and Western melodies. Much of it evokes earlier Western music inspired by the sounds of India, specifically the late 60s rock of the Grateful Dead and Moody Blues. Rather than an integral suite, it’s actually a pastiche of new and older material: for example, the first two sections debuted in Indian in 1992, the third in 1964. Throughout the work, the orchestra shifts through rhythms that probably have never been attempted before with a Western orchestra, but Murphy leads them seamlessly, whether on their own or in tandem with the sarod. Likewise, they switch between the melismas of Indian music and the crisp Western dynamics with equal aplomb.

A quote from Also Sprach Zarathustra opens it playfully before Khan enters. They shift down to a quiet, plaintive arrangement, the sarod in and out as the orchestra swirls, moving to a rapt, pianissimo call-and-response passage between the sarod and the ensemble with a familiar melody that’s been appropriated by many western outfits over the years. Flute features prominently in the quiet, gentle sections that follow before it picks up with a rustic sway, a swirl of cadenzas with wordless vocals from Khan. The last three segments are traditional raga themes: the first ironically sounding like a Haydn arrangement of a south Indian melody, the second a brisk overture and the third a popular theme traditionally played as a “morning raga,” i.e. to wind up a concert in the wee hours. It’s the showstopper here, both poignant and boisterous, an echo chamber where the sarod and then the orchestra engage in a dizzying conversation that finally goes doublespeed and out with a bright, unexpected ending. An apt way to conclude this warmly beautiful, groundbreaking album, just out on World Village Music.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan: Great Album and Important Historical Document

The recently released Rough Guide to the Music of Afghanistan is as important historically as it is fascinating. Let’s not forget the “ban” in Taliban – during their official reign (many parts of Afghanistan are still de facto Taliban territory), music was outlawed. And even prior to the Taliban takeover, Afghan musicians who challenged previous regimes often paid with their lives, as in the case of balladeer Ahmad Zahir – represented here by a hypnotic, orchestrated, somewhat lo-fi hit – murdered at the peak of his popularity at age 33. Also included here is Setara Hussainzada, a finalist from the popular tv program Afghan Star (the Afghani equivalent of American Idol), driven into hiding after a wardrobe malfunction (her burqa slipped, revealing her face). Her contribution is a brief, somewhat woozy Bollywood-ish dance-pop number.

Although sarinda fiddle player Mashinai’s life was spared, his son’s was not. His child murdered and his house blown up, Mashinai was forced to give up playing and worked as a butcher at a local open-air market until music returned to the Afghan airwaves in 2001. Here he turns in a bracing fiddle-and-tabla instrumental. Perennial Afghan chanteuse favorite Mahwash contributes the collection’s best song, the furtively majestic Mola Mamad Djan, which with its intense dambura lute solo and insistent vocals reminds how deeply the levantine art songs of Oum Kalthoum and Fairouz had penetrated the Islamic world. The levantine mood recurs with a towering instrumental by the late rubab (lute) virtuoso Ustad Rahim Khushnawaz, accompanied by damburist Gada Mohammad and percussionist Azim Hassanpur, and on an understatedly lush ballad by female singer Naghma, Lebanese pop teleported to Kabul.

Of the other tracks here, rubab player Homayun Sakhi has a catchy, hypnotic instrumental punctuated by some genuinely breathtaking tremolo-picking. Damburist Mehri Maftun delivers a trickily polyrhythmic live performance, the crowd clapping along happily (which makes sense, given how long Afghanis went without the opportunity to do that). 20-year-old Rafi Naabzada (the 2009 Afghan Star winner), accompanied here by multi-instrumentalist Hameed Sakhizada has a deliciously tuneful, psychedelic pop song that sounds like a Central Asian Chicha Libre. Farhad Darya has two versions of the same song, a plea for peace: one a crunchy 2/4 rock number that gives shout-outs to cities around the world (in English), the other with more of a Bollywood dance-pop flavor. There’s also a long, trance-inducing traditional number from the Ahmad Sham Sufi Qawwali Group, who are included on a full-length bonus cd of similarly soaring, hypnotic devotional songs and instrumentals. The album is out now from World Music Network; those who like this may also enjoy the recently updated Rough Guide to the Music of India.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | folk music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment