Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Listen to the Banned Represents Freedom Fighters Around the World

This is an album about defiance, and hope. The Listen to the Banned compilation has been out for over a year in Europe and now it’s America’s turn to catch on, and we hope it will. The unifying concept here is that all these songs were written and performed by musicians who courageously stood up to fascists and racists and paid the price – sometimes with their livelihoods, some were tortured and others forced into exile. So far none of these artists has paid with his or her life. They may fight racism, religious extremism and African dictators, but their common enemy is stupidity. The common ground between them speaks for itself: it’s hard to imagine a more multicultural, or more universal album than this one. And this isn’t  just a collection of polemics: from the viewpoint of a western listener who probably won’t be fluent in Pashtun, Arabic, Turkish or Persian, it’s a fascinatingly eclectic mix of good songs, whose defiance translates powerfully in the voices of the singers.

Born in the US to renowned Zimbabwean musicians, Chiwoniso Maraire – formerly of popular 90s Zimbabwean band Andy Brown & the Storm offers the only English-language cut here, Rebel Woman, a tribute to freedom fighters that blends traditional thumb-piano sounds with Tracy Chapman-style folk-pop. Singing in French, iconic Ivoirien roots reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoly delivers his excoriating signature song Quitte le Pouvoir (Resign from Power), complete with rapidfire Bone Thugs style rap interlude. Renowned oud player/singer Kamilya Jubran – former frontwoman of the courageous Palestinian new-music group Sabreen – is represented by an insistent, hypnotic electroacoustic number. The most musically powerful number here is by another extraordinary oudist, Marcel Khalife, driven into exile in Paris after being forced to stand trial for blasphemy in his native Lebanon. It’s a plaintively lyrical suite which illustrates legendary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s Oh My Father, I Am Yusif, a metaphorically loaded parable of a village outcast.

Another great song here is Cameroonian singer Lapiro De Mbanga’s snidely funny, articulate Constitution Constipee, calling for Cameroonian tyrant Paul Biya and his gerontocracy to step down. Currently serving out a three-year sentence there for recording this, all he wants is a free election. The rest of the album attests to how engaging and entertaining music with a purpose can be. The late Uighur songwriter Kurush Sultan’s lush, orchestrated ballad Atlan Dok, a blend of Middle Eastern and Asian tonalities, builds to a richly orchestrated peak out of a foreboding intro. Palestinian chanteuse Amal Murkus offers a stunningly gentle, captivating version of a lullaby, performed mostly a-cappella. Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat, who refuses to submit to the tradition of performing only for other women, contributes the aptly titled Mystery, a gorgeous tone poem with vocalese, oud and ney flute.

Sudanese songwriter Abazar Hamid’s Salam Darfur – whose attempts to reform pro-Janjaweed women who sing racist anthems have sadly met with little success – offers an aptly titled, jypnotically peaceful anthem. Aziza Brahim, who hails from Western Sahara, sings a gripping, pounding, percussive number with biting minor-key acoustic guitar and sax in tribute to her people, many of them murdered and displaced by the Moroccan invasion of their land. Another Iviorien, Fadal Dey contributes Non au Racisme, a simple, catchy and musically witty roots reggae song. Turkish songwriter Ferhat Tunc’s contribution is a slinky, jangly, trip hop-tinged song; there’s also rhythmically tricky, crescendoing Middle Eastern pop from Afghan singer Farhard Darya and Pakistani Haroon Bacha. Many of the artists here have been featured at Freemuse, the valuable and important site devoted to musicians from around the world whose work has been censored or banned.

March 18, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, 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