Various Artists – The Rough Guide to World Music
World Music Network/Riverboat Records – 25 May 2018
Some quarter of a century ago, back in 1994, World Music Network released The Rough Guide to World Music in the UK, its first world music compilation. Now, some 25 years later, a special anniversary edition has been compiled by Phil Stanton, founder and still Creative Director, albeit without the reference book that accompanied the 1994 recording. The antecedent to World Music Network was Riverboat Records, founded in 1989 by Stanton and still going strong; it is from their catalogue that all tracks on this release have been culled.
As with the original, and indeed any such compilation purporting to offer an overview of ‘World Music’, the compilers face an almost impossible task, such is the range of music potentially at their disposal. Thus there may be complaints that there is ‘nothing from Iceland’ or ‘nothing from Albania’ and so on. Here, however, geographically the tracks selected do represent a diverse range, with only the continent of Australia, (once more) not represented in some form. This is in pleasing contrast with the 1994 release, which was disproportionately weighted in favour of North America.
The collection opens with the dreamy Sunno West by Rafiki Jazz. Formed back in 2006, the members of Rafiki, (‘Friend’ in Swahili), are famed for singing in seven languages, focussing on musical heritage and oral tradition, whilst at the same time not afraid to innovate and improvise. Their sound is driven by the use of iconic folk instruments from across the world, most notably Indian tabla, Arabic ney, Caribbean steelpan Brazilian berimbau, on the track presented here, however, the delicate sound of the African kora is very much centre stage and provides a lilting accompaniment to the warm, female vocal lead (Kadialy Kouyate on kora alongside Sufi singer Sarah Yaseen).
Seven-piece band Kries, from Croatia, are next with Ivo Se Sece, ‘Ivo Falls’ a passionately delivered Balkan song which references modern-day refugee issues, and which is given even greater poignancy in the group’s video of the song. A Je, a cut from the album of the same name, is offered by Monoswezi, named after the home countries of the group members Mozambique, Norway, Sweden and Zimbabwe. Here, the endearing vocals of Hope Masike and Calu Tsemane blend well with the cyclical grooves created by the instruments.
Next, we travel east, specifically to Kunming. Formed in 2000, in the remote Yunnan province of southwest China, Shanren fuse indigenous music with reggae, ska and rock, whilst at the same time showcasing a variety of traditional instruments such as the xiangzi and qinqin (four-stringed plucked instruments) and xianggu (a type of drum). Thirty Years, the selection here, being a fine example of the output of a group whose popularity extends far beyond China, with their European appearances including Liverpool Sound City, Madrid and Cannes.
Debashish Bhattachaya was four years old when he made his debut on All India Radio (see recent article here about his daughter’s debut). Subsequent global recognition followed, and on Meeting By Waikiki, the slide-guitar master from Calcutta pays homage to his inspiration, the Hawaiian guitarist Tau Moe. Also from India, Indian Carnatic violinist Jyotsna Srikanth appears on the next cut, alongside Swedish folk musicians Dan Svensson, Pär Moberg, and Mats Éden, who collectively comprise Nordic Raga. Vildhonung is a jig from the standard Swedish/Norwegian repertoire, but here taken to new heights by Srikanth’s violin, her solo near the end of the track taking us away from the ‘Wild Honey’ of the title, drawing on improvisatory traditions of southern India.
Alba Griot is an acoustic folk band with two Scottish guitarists, a Belgian double bassist and a Malian n’goni player and percussionist. What makes this group’s music so appealing is the blending of traditional Celtic and Mandigue heritage with jazz, blues and ambient elements. The Darkness Between The Leaves is a beautifully crafted song which lingers long in the memory. Staying in Europe, the eighth track takes us to Greece with Kristi Stassinopolou & Stathis Kalyviotis and their Allaxokairi. Kristi’s crystal clear voice is complemented by a variety of sonic accompaniments, including distorted lauto, samples and looped guitar to produce an almost ethereal soundscape. Contemporary folk music for troubled times, indeed.
Born and raised in a Palestinian refugee camp, and gaining some notoriety as an eight-year-old when captured in an iconic photograph stoning an Israeli tank, Ramzi Aburedwan only took up music in his late teens. Sodfa, taken from his 2012 Reflections of Palestine instrumental album, features the sound of his buzuq, accompanied by oud, accordion and percussion in a tune that will have anyone with an ardour for music foot-tapping away in delight.
Rocqawali, is a mix of Danish Rock ‘n’ Roll and Qawali (Pakistani devotional music), and here Ill Allah features the considerable vocal talents of Ejaz Sher Ali. A complete auditory contrast follows as the Guillaume Barraud Quartet perform Kalavati, titled after an Indian raga of the same name and delivered with Barraud’s trademark bansuri (Indian flute), electric guitar, bass and drums in a gorgeously fluid way that reflects the spirit of India through the prism of contemporary jazz.
She’Koyokh, the multi-lingual London-based band playing klezmer and traditional music from Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Turkey and the Balkans, and whose members include a classically trained violinist and clarinetist, a Serbian accordionist, an American mandolin player, a Greek percussionist and a remarkable young singer who is a Turkish Kurd, lead us down the final straight with Kceri Moja & Kizim Seni Ali Vereyim Mi. She’Koyokh is a Yiddish word meaning ‘Nice one!’, a particularly appropriate comment on their energetic, jaunty contribution.
Etran Finatawa, (the name of the band meaning ‘Stars of Tradition’), is a Niger-based band formed in 2004 during the Festival du Desert near Timbuktu. This collective synthesises traditional music of the Tuareg and Wodaabe people, featuring percussion instruments such as calabash, azakalabo and tende, with western instruments to create a unique blend of nomadic blues. Matinfa, the cut offered here, is a truly captivating and memorable example of the genre. A further African contribution, this time from London-based Ethiopian band Krar Collective, follows by way of their Guragigna. This track centres on the traditional acoustic krar lyre, normally associated with the azmari minstrel tradition, but here electrified to sound more like a time-worn rock guitar, accompanied by traditional kebero drums and some quite outstanding vocals from Genet Assefa. At times, quite hypnotic, the three-piece group also kick up quite a storm on this most enjoyable track.
The final offering on the release is from Hungarian group Sondororgo with their Eva Srcu. In contrast to most groups playing Balkan music, Sondororgo is a tambutitza, rather than brass, band, the Hungarian-Serbian tambura being a small plucked instrument similar to a mandolin. It is that instrument that features heavily on Evo Srcu, two slow Serbian melodies from Vojvodina, the northern region of Serbia.
World Music Network/ Riverboat Records are to be applauded for their continued championing of world music, and this excellent release should appeal to a wide spectrum of listeners. If a neophyte, with regards to global music, then this will serve as an excellent primer, if already a convert, then this will also be a useful addition to your collection, given the diversity of music on offer. Either way, there is probably no better way to listen-test some of the untold gems the genre affords.