Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jazzamattaz: Guru

A couple days ago the Washerman’s Dog posted an album of Indian music called Gurus in Collaboration.  That got me thinking about the original Guru who lived for Collaboration.  Keith Edward Elam was an innovative early hip hop artist who spent much of his career as one half of the duo that was Gang Starr.  Though Guru (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) had a hit and miss career as far as popular and critical success goes, he had significant influence on the development of the genre and never shied away from pushing the envelope of collaboration and experimentation.   

The connections between hip hop and jazz have often been noted. I remember in the very early days of ‘rap’ music reading an interview with Miles Davis who flagged the form as having the potential to be as significant as jazz on the American and global music scene. In fact, he saw it as the next logical step of the development of jazz.  And you only need to listen to the music of Gil Scott Heron to hear how neatly the two styles can be blended.

Yet before Guru released Jazzamatazz Vol 1 in 1993 very little direct collaboration (as opposed to sampling) between jazz musicians and hip hop artists had been put to record.  Guru brought together a French DJ (MC Solaar), a singer from an acid jazz vocalist (N’Dea Davenport) and a swag of top shelf jazz men (Donald Byrd on trumpet, Brandon Marsalis on trombone, Roy Ayers, Lonnie Liston Smith and Ronny Jordan) to create a truly unique musical experience. In away this intelligent elegant record made hip hop ‘ok’ for jazz fans and vice versa. It is a great record and was followed by irregularly with Vol 2 and 3 but those never achieved the impact of this initial collection. 

Sadly, Guru passed away a year ago at the tender age of 43.

            Track Listing:
01.     Introduction
02.     Loungin’ (Feat. Donald Byrd)
03.     When You’re Near (Feat. N’dea Davenport)
04.     Transit Ride (Feat. Branford Marsalis)
05.     No Time to Play (Feat. Ronny Jordan and Dee. C. Lee)
06.     Down the Backstreets (Feat. Lonnie Liston Smith)
07.     Respectful Dedications
08.     Take a Look at Yourself (Feat. Roy Ayers)
09.     Trust Me (Feat. N’dea Davenport)
10.     Slicker than Most (Feat. Gary Barnacle)
11.     Le Bein, Le Mal (Feat. MC Solaar)
12.     Sights of the City (Feat. Courtney Pine)
Listen here.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tashkent Groovin': Sevara Nazarkhan

Beauties of Uzbekistan

Many years ago…before 9/11, before Osama, before it seems, The Flood, I lived for a while in Central Asia. In the heart of the ‘Stans.  Dushanbe, (Tuesday Market) was my base but I often had to travel to the surrounding countries for all sorts of reasons: banking, shopping, recreation, transit to holidays and meetings. 

It was a difficult place to live. Electricity was sporadic. The internet almost unheard of. Water muddy. Government = gansters. You get the picture.

But there was no escaping the awesome beauty of the high desert steppe or the faded grandeur of what was once the very center of civilised thinking and art.  Spending days wandering through the ruins of Bokhara with its gigantic bleached mud walls and austere minars, mosques and once-world famous academies of learning will remain one of my life’s great memories. Samarkand, still a vibrant industrial city, was equally stunning in its blue tiled sparkling livery. 

In an attempt to relive that part of the past, I share with you tonight the debut album of Sevara Nazarkhan (also spelled Nazarxhon) a young Uzbek artist who has gathered a considerable following thanks to Peter Gabriel’s Real World Music label.

The dichotomy between ancient and modern exists within Sevara's oeuvre. In Tashkent, Uzbekistan's capital, she is a pop star. Her first group in 1998 was a soulful women's quartet. During this period, she also sang in the city's popular arts café, Taxi Blues. A year later, she released her debut album and established herself as a solo singer. Despite her choice of western musical forms, her roots are apparent.

Sevara's father, formerly a vocalist of European classical music, headed the traditional music department in Tashkent radio before his retirement. Her mother teaches traditional string instruments and is the director of an extracurricular music school. For a number of years Sevara studied voice at the Tashkent State Conservatoire, where folk music is a rigorously taught and transmitted musical art under the country's formidable singers and ethnomusicologists.  (

The music on this album is that of a confident and accomplished artist. A beautiful mix of traditional Uzbek string instruments (dotar) and drums with contemporary Buddha Bar-esque aural structures around it.

Very satisfying music--as lush as a Ferghana garden in the spring.

            Track Listing:
       01 Yor-Yor
02 Soqinomai Bayot
03 Adolat Tanovari
04 Ei Nozanin (Beautiful)
05 Yol Bolsin (Where Are You Going)
06 Galdir
07 Moghulchai Navo (Mochul Melody)
08 Gazli
09 Orik Gullaganda (When Apricot Blossoms)
10 Yallajonim
11 Alla (Bahtimga Lullaby)

Listen here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Okinawa Roots Folk Pop Country: Shoukichi Kina

Peppermint Tea House: The Best of Shokichi Kina is a strangely adorable record. Exuberant, upbeat, almost hillbilly music from Japan’s southern island of Okinawa, most famous for American military bases (and scandals) and the martial art, karate.  The ‘roots-music’ feel is enhanced by the glorious guesting of guitar genius Ry Cooder!   

The Okinawans are of different ethnic stock than mainland Japanese and speak a different language and have a history that has been influenced by China and Thailand as much as their national neighbors to the north. That their language is distinct from Japanese was made clear to me when I asked a Japanese friend to translate some of the lyrics of this record. She furrowed her brow and squinted. Listening intently. After a few minutes she said, “Have no idea.”

The musical instruments on this record (in addition to Cooders’ heavenly slide guitar work) include the sanshin a three stringed banjo like instrument related to the Chinese sanxian. When it’s plucked with a bamboo plectrum it produces a strong clear twang which is perfectly suited to lively dance music. There is also evidence of the sanba a hand held percussion instrument that makes a clicking castanet sound.  High pitched, slightly pubescent female singing moves the music forward in a way that at first listen is outlandish but that is easy to warm to.

As for the main man himself here’s what a Japanese pop music website says about him: 
Shoukichi Kina

Shokichi Kina is to Okinawan music what Bob Marley was to reggae: The Man. Kina, born in Okinawa in 1948, is perhaps best known as the composer of Subete no Hito no Kokoro ni Hana wo (Blooming Flowers in the Hearts of All), an undisputed Japanese pop-music classic that's best-known simply as Hana. Kina and his backing band, Champloose, first became known in 1972 when they scored a hit with Haisai Ojisan (Hey Man). In 1980 Kina and Champloose released Blood Line, one of the best ethnic/rock fusion albums ever to come out of Japan. That album featured Ry Cooder on four tracks, by the way, including a heartbreakingly beautiful slide-guitar solo on Hana. Like Marley, Kina has tremendous natural charisma and a strong political/spiritual outlook that in Kina's case is expressed in his opposition to the continued U.S. military presence on Okinawa and in his outspoken advocacy of Okinawan independence from Japan. Over the years Kina has continued to work with musicians from other parts of the world, including African and Caribbean musicians, and in 2004 he was elected to the Japanese parliament's House of Councillors under the Minshuto (Democratic Party) banner.  (

Enjoy. I’lll be surprised if you don’t put a couple of these songs (Jing Jing and Subete no Hito no Kokoro ni Hana wo are my favorites) on your iPod favorites.

         Track Listing:
01 Jing Jing
02 Hana No Kajimaya
03 Celebration
04 Mimichiri Bozu _ Danju Kariyushi
05 Don-Don Bushi
06 Zorba De Buddha
07 Basha-Gua Suncha
08 Crazy Kacharsee
09 Subete No Hito No Kokoro Ni Hanna O
10 Haisai Ojisan
11 Eternally Ecstasy
12 Lyunu-Pri
13 I-Yah Hoy!
14 Track 14 (Bonus Track)
Listen here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Music Pakistan: Mohammad Jumman and Alla'n Faqir

Baluchi musicians

Close your eyes. Imagine you are in the desert. It’s been a long hot day. You’ve travelled for hours and as the shadows grow longer and the sun sinks slowly toward the horizon you call into a small shrine.  It is the dargah (tomb) of a local pir, revered by the people of this region, for his miracles, wise decisions and kindness. 

Around the courtyard of the shrine, small groups of people huddle and talk quietly to each other. Some are heavily turbaned and majestically moustachioed. Old Enfield rifles lie next to a Kalashnikov or two beside them. These are shepherds who’ve come in from the desert to the little settlement of Soro. You can hear the bells on their sheep tinkling gently in the distance.  On the other side of the domed structure are groups of women in black and blue burqas. Children run amongst them laughing and crying. The women themselves, sit silently watching another woman tie a small red thread to the marble lattice work of an exterior window. She is praying to the pir to bless her son, who has had a fever for a week, and make him stronger. Hundreds of other similar threads from hundreds of other women hang on the lattice work.

You find a date palm to lean against and close your eyes. As the sun settles low you become aware of the slight chink chink of a chimta.   After a few minutes the sweet sound of a harmonium is added. This plays for some time and then you hear a man singing:
Yar dhadhi ishq aatish lai hai/ Ve yar sano lag gai beikhtiari
(His love has set me afire/ I am out of control with love)
Seeney de vich na samai hai/ Yar dadhi ishq  atish lai hai
(My heart is unable to take it all/ His love has set me afire)
It is a kafi of Baba Ghulam Farid, the great mystic of the desert and the singer is Jumman Mohammad.   He continues to sing and there is no more sun. Just a deep blue orange dusk. Candles flicker from inside the dargah.  Jumman is joined after sometime by another voice, that of a travelling faqir known as Alla’n.  His voice is rough, like the rocks you’re sitting on but you are entraced. He too sings of ishq and his Yaar. Tears come from his eyes and the eyes of the many who have come to hear him. The men sing together for hours and until all you can hear in the darkness is the gentle tinkling of the bells around the sheeps necks. They are being herded back out into the desert. Morning will dawn soon.


Jumman Mohammad was born in the deserts of Baluchistan in 1935. His father was a singer took and the boy’s earliest instructor. Later he studied with several ‘ustads’  including Nazir Hussain and Bade Waheed Ali Khan. The young man took to singing the kalam of the Shah Latif Bhitai, Baba Ghulam Farid and Shah Hussein. He accompanied himself on the tanpura and learned other string instruments.  He sang in Baluch but also Seraiki, Sindhi and Punjabi too. The languages of the desert.  By chance while visiting the big smoke he was recorded by Radio Karachi.  His voice became a national sensation and soon people were referring to Jumman as ‘ustad’. He continued to sing all his life and the President of the country awarded him with several prizes. But Jumman never forgot Baluchistan and his roots and is revered as one of the greatest of all musicians to come from this ancient rugged land.

Alla’n Faqir was born in 1932 in the ancient village of Aamari in Jamshoro District, Sindh. His mother died soon after his birth. He spent his childhood in Manjhand, a town between Sehwan and Hyderabad. He belongs to the Mangrasi tribe who are believed to bring happiness and who are welcomed on festive occasions for their gift of melody.
According to the traditions of this caste, Alla’n Faqir's father used to beat the drum and sing traditional songs at weddings and Faqir's brothers still do the same job. Faqir is an Arabic word, meaning Sufi or a mystic. Thus in the real sense of the word, a faqir is a person, who leads an independent life marked by piety, abstinence from material needs, and contentment in the available resources. It must not be confused with the rather loose usage of the same word implying a beggar in Urdu and Sindhi.
When he was only a teenager, Alla’n Faqir developed a habit of singing melancholy songs, which his father did not like. Deprived of a mother's love, he went off in search of someone who could replace that love. He arrived at the tomb of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Bhit Shah and started living there. Faqir's memory was sharp even though he could not read and write. Hearing the traditional Latifi Raag sung every night touched his heart. Encouraged by Faqir Zawar Qurban Ali Lanjwani and Moolchand Maharaj, he began singing Bhitai's poetry at the shrine and ultimately spent twenty years there until meeting Mumtaz Mirza, who introduced him to Radio Pakistan and Pakistan TV in Hyderabad and helped him to learn the correct pronunciation of Bhitai's poetry. He became a performing legend. 

In these recordings of Jumman and Alla’n you will hear raw mystical music sung without pretence or artifice. Simple and from the heart. The sort of music you would have heard that night at the pir’s dargah in the desert.

            Track Listing:
(Jumman Mohammad)
            01 Yaar Dhadhi Ishq
02 Raa Nal To Ban Raat
03 Palak Naa Rahi Dil Mein
04 Shah Ranjha Albeila
05 See Garha Aanween Sanwal
06 Ishq Haneiri Kitei
07 Asaan Ishq Namaz
(Alla’n Faqir)
08 Ishq Asaan
09 Taaran Pounda
10 Charar Ghommun
11 Nangah Neend Na Kon
12 Aa Hoon Maran La
13 Mehr Mehr

Listen here.