Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Mouse that Roared: Jorge Humberto

Cape Verde, a country 600 kms off the coast of West Africa, and made up of 10 rocky islands has a population of just over half a million souls. It was part of the Portuguese empire that linked Angola with Mozambique, and Brazil with Goa and Timor.  Chances are you’ve never met anyone from the country unless you’ve spent time in Portugal where people from all the old imperial holdings mix together in the squares and bars of major cities.  The economy of Cape Verde is small and produces very little. 90% of the food Cape Verdians eat is imported.

Cape Verde

When it comes to musical culture, however, Cape Verde is a heavy hitter. Punching far above its weight, it has produced some of the most popular singers and infectious styles of music that the mind boggles.  Of course, best known in the West was the late Cesaria Evora. But many jazz icons (Horace Silver, Paul Gonsalves) were expatriate Cape Verdians, as was the R&B group famous in the 70s and 80s, Tavares.

The national music of the country is a guitar based dance music known as morna. Songs of love and departure, longing and homesickness (so many have had to seek work far from home) and songs of joy and great feeling. “A hymn of love, illusion and melancholy” according to the poet Fausto Duarte, morna is like a contagion.  Catch it once and you’ll have recurring (and very pleasurable) bouts regularly thereafter.
Jorge Humberto

I’ve been listening to Jorge Humberto’s Ar de Nha Terra, pretty much continuously for the past few days.  It is music that is impossible to dislike. Indeed, as soon as he starts strumming the guitar you’ll feel as if you can smell the ocean and feel the breeze blowing across your face. 

A gifted singer with a warm, persuasive voice, Jorge Humberto was born on the 26th December 1959 on São Vicente in the port of Mindelo, the cosmopolitan hub and cultural capital of the Cape Verde archipelago since the last century. With a magical, instinctive, profound feel for words, the son of Mindelo has developed a style whose poetic and musical vein is enriched by philosophical musings. He began to write in 1975, the year of independence. The end of colonisation was also an intellectual liberation, giving impetus to every artistic genre. This creative effervescence also led to the appearance of many groups who gave a new momentum to traditional music (mornas and coladeras) and paid tribute to its African (batuque, tabanka, etc.) and European (mazurka, contredanse, etc.) roots. Jorge Humberto joined this movement. In 1982, he began his public performances of classical mornas and Coladeras on the guitar, with a particular fondness for the works of the old poets, such as Eugénio Tavares and B. Leza, relatively in tune with his sensibilities as a social commentator.
Sculpture in honor of Cape Verdian musicians
in Mindelo

After a work accident that affected his fingers and forced him to play guitar in a different way, Jorge Humberto moved to Portugal. The depth and originality of his lyrics make him a special figure on the Cape Verde musical scene. His psychological observations, existential thoughts and metaphors, and taste for social critique link him to the "Claridade" literary school founded in the 1930s in Mindelo, whose key personalities were Baltasar Lopes and Jorge Barbosa. The Creole language the artist employs (a language he says he loves “like the food you eat”) enables him to achieve extreme precision of expression and ensure a greater harmony of sound in his words and music. (http://www.lusafrica.com/4_1.cfm?p=50-artiste-world-music-cap-vert-label-lusafrica)
Really really nice music, this.  Close your eyes, turn it up and let your mind wander to the warm waters of the Atlantic.

            Track Listing
01 Antiguidade
02 Mindel Bêrc
03 Luz dum violã
04 Na magia d'marginal
05 Crisola
06 Bô ausénca
07 Atê um volta um estréla
08 Nem tudo é rosa
09 Força de tambor
10 Estréla cadente
11 Nu nostalgia
12 Dum banda sô

Friday, August 24, 2012

Iraqi Pop: Hatem al Iraqi

Hatem al Iraqi

Any guesses where Hatem al Iraqi comes from? 

Going into Baghdad from Amman in 1991 after the first Bush War took 14 hours by jeep across the desert.  For the first couple of hours we were allowed by the drivers to listen to our tapes of Nina Simone and Leo Kottke.  But the kindnesses ceased around midday. From then on it was Iraqi pop music that sounded very much like tonight’s selection.

Hatem has enjoyed a good career since the early 1990s and is popular across the Middle East. I picked up this album in the duty free shops at Dubai airport several years ago.

Don’t know anything more about him but this is straight ahead Arabic pop music which is always fun and lively.

            Track Listing:

            01 Ahdhoni Heyl
02 Rayih
03 Bil Salama
04 'Ala 'Enadak
05 Mashguleen El Bal
06 Kad Al Maqam
07 Marayid
08 Takhayal
09 Habibity
10 Ela Habibi
11 Mawal El Rooh
12 La Etsadik

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In the Name of God: Ustad Bismillah Khan

"Music has no caste."Ustad Bismillah Khan

When he was born, Qamuruddin’s grandfather, muttered the first prayer of the Quran, bismillah al Rahman al Rahim (In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful). Henceforth, the child became known as Bismillah, and grew up to be the mighty Bismillah Khan, one of a handful of absolute paragons of Hindustani classical music.

Bismillah Khan grew up from a young age in the holy city of Varanasi in the eastern end of Uttar Pradesh. His male family members had been musical servants of the minor royal family of Dumraon in Bihar, all of them playing the Indian ‘oboe’ played on all happy occasions, especially marriages and coronations.  That the origins of the shenai (Indian oboe) have been traced to the pungi, blown by snake charmers all across northern India suggests the ‘commonplace’ nature of the instrument. While it is an important part of the Indian orchestra and plays an important role in the observance of many public rituals, it was not until Bismillah Khan, popularised the instrument beginning with a virtuoso performance at the All India Music Conference in Calcutta in 1937, that it gained acceptance as a classical instrument.

For eight decades Bismillah Khan promoted the shenai across the world, travelling frequently to the West as well as throughout Asia and Africa.   Unlike most maestro’s he rarely took on students preferring to dedicate his energy to performance.  Though a Shi’a Muslim, Bismillah Khan was a passionate advocate of the unity of all peoples, and championed Hindu-Muslim unity. As a non-Hindu he was ironically, associated with the grand Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi into which it is forbidden non-Hindus step, often being asked to play at festivals in the temple. Similarly, he was a devotee, like all Indian musicians of the Hindu goddess, Saraswati, the deity of arts, culture and learning.

I had the privilege of hearing him play in Lahore in 1986. It was at the Alhambra Center, the city’s main cultural venue that he entranced an audience, many of whom would have been born in India but had moved to Pakistan in the intervening years. They were rapturous in their applause. I remember thinking, as I watched him humbly accept the accolades, that he looked more like a neighbourhood tailor than a grand Ustad of Hindustani music. He seemed uncomfortable with the fuss being made over him and after a few courteous and stiff bows, hurried from the stage.

This record is rather strange. From the late 60s, it seems to be aimed at an audience who was a little unfamiliar with or put-off by classical music.  You can hear the producers saying, ‘Bismillah ji, most modern Indians these days want things small and short. So please don’t play any long ragas.

And so he did. A dozen short ‘summaries’ of some of Hindustani music’s great ragas.  A good way to be introduced to them and to listen to their difference. And to appreciate the wizardy of the man called Bismillah.

            Track Listing:
            01 Lalat
02 Todi
03 Ahir Bhairav
04 Jaunpuri
05 Hamsa Narayani
06 Suddha Sarang
07 Basant Bahar
08 Multani
09 Tilak Kamod
10 Maru Behag
11 Bagheshri
12 Malkauns

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Let Us Now Praise National Airlines: Bembeya Jazz National

Imagine, if you will, the Republican Party wins the American election in November. One of the first acts of President Mitt Romney is to ban all rock ‘n roll bands, not to mention country, bluegrass, jazz, pop groups, symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras.  In their place, his Vice President Ryan announces, the Republican Party will set up ‘official’ bands in each community who are paid salaries and sing songs that praise the Tea Party and other great national themes.

Impossible, you say? Let’s hope so. What sort of excrutiating music would those bands produce? That is impossible to imagine.

But something like this happened a few decades ago in the West African country of Guinea. The first President of independent Guinea, Ahmed Sekou Toure, in 1958, disbanded the country’s many musical groups.  In their place the government sponsored and set up a raft of official music groups, with the aim of creating a national consciousness among the people.  Among these groups was one band, Bembeya Jazz National, which quickly became one of Africa’s most influential, accomplished and well loved bands.

Bembeya Jazz, also referred to as the Orchestre de Beyla in the early days, started as the regional orchestra from the town of Beyla in southern Guinea. They were formed with the help of the local governor, Emile Kondé, to act as the region’s "orchestre moderne". The initial line up included Sékou Camara and Achken Kaba in the brass section on trumpets, Sékou Diabaté on guitar who was the youngest member at the time, Hamidou Diaouné on bass and Mory "Mangala" Condé on drums. Leo Sarkisian (who went on to join the Africa Service of the Voice of America in 1963) recorded Orchestre de Beyla in 1961 for the Hollywood based Tempo International label (Tempo 7015). The band were just being formed in Beyla and according to Sarkisian, called themselves Orchestra Bembeya, after a local river. The session also featured the female singer Jenne Camara as part of the band. The recording, one of ten Tempo LPs featuring a variety of Guinean music recorded by Sarkisian, was not released commercially. All 10 LPs were pressed in limited editions of 2,500 and released in 1962, but the majority of them were sent to the Guinean government. Bembeya's album was titled Sons nouveaux d'une nation nouvelle. République de Guinée. 2 Octobre 1962. 4ème anniversaire de l'independance nationale. Orchestre de Beyla and included the songs Présentation, Yarabi, Lele, Din ye kassila, Wonkaha douba, Seneiro, Wassoulou and Maniamba.
They became better known as Bembeya Jazz after the release of their first album and added singers Aboubacar Demba Camara and Salifou Kaba to the band.
Specializing in modern arrangements of Manding classic tunes, Bembeya Jazz National won 1st prize at two national arts festival's in 1964 and 1965 and were crowned "National Orchestra" in 1966.
Initially an acoustic group, featuring a Latin-flavored horn section of saxophone, trumpet, and clarinet, Bembeya Jazz National reached its apex with the addition of lead singer Aboubacar Demba Camara. The group toured widely, and became one of the most well-known groups in Africa. Among their biggest hits were the songs "Mami Wata" and "Armee Guineenne". (Wikipedia)

Bembeya Jazz National and other official Guinean groups such as Balla et ses Balladins went on to become the ‘shining light’ of a newly decolonised continent. Their musicianship was intricate and exciting even if the subjects of the many of the songs were superficially boring. The national airline.  The Guinean army.  But there is absolutely nothing boring or canned about this music.  It is endlessly creative, full of joyful verve (joie de vivre) and bags of fun.  Just listen to the rousing live version of Super Tentemba and tell me you wouldn’t want to have been there with a big bottle of beer in your hand, dancing the hot night away.

Whoever thought official propaganda could be so pleasurable! 

            Track Listing: (Disc one)
            1-01 République Guinee
1-02 Sabor de Guajira
1-03 Armée Guineenne
1-04 Dembaty Galant
1-05 Air Guinée
1-06 Guinée Hety Horémou
1-07 Montuno de la Sierra
1-08 Waraba
1-09 Dagna
1-10 Doni Doni
1-11 Camara Mousso
1-12 Super Tentemba
1-13 Mami Wati
1-14 Alalake

            Track Listing (Disc two)
            2-01 Beyla
2-02 Fatoumata
2-03 Moussogbe
2-04 Sou
2-05 N'gamokorô
2-06 Ballake
2-07 Mussofing
2-08 Dya Dya
2-09 Sina Mousso
2-10 N'temenna
2-11 Telephone
2-12 Petit Sékou

Sunday, August 19, 2012

EID UL FITR MUBARAK: Mixtape from Muslim lands

On this happy and auspicious day I wish all Muslim readers of the Washerman’s Dog a hearty Eid Mubarak.  May the next 12 months be filled with Peace, Joy and Excellent Health.

To celebrate I’ve put together a 2.5 hour collection of music from across the world of Islam.  Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Tunisia, Sudan, Turkey and Iraq.

I hope you can enjoy it.

            Track Listing:
            01 Call To Prayer (Al-Adhan) EGYPT
02 Ya Bunaya [Ilham Al Madhfai] IRAQ
03 Barra Barra [Rachid Taha] ALGERIA
04 Arabian Waltz [Rabih Abou Khalil] LEBANON
05 Jise Chaha Dar Pe [Qurban Farid Shahi Qawwal and Group] INDIA
06 Haye O Rabba [Reshma] PAKISTAN
07 Chabrassi [Cheb Khaled] ALGERIA
08 Al Ghazal [Ali Hassan Kuban] SUDAN
09 Balad El Mahboub [Oum Kalthoum] EGYPT
10 Palestinian [Ja'afar Hassan] IRAQ
11 Jugni/Alif Allah [Arif Lohar and Meesha] PAKISTAN
12 Heer Te Ranjhe Di Mulaqaat [Alam Lohar] PAKISTAN
13 Zikr [Abdullah Ibrahim] SOUTH AFRICA
14 Ghoonghat Chak Ve Sajna [Wadali Brothers] INDIA
15 Wagdi ae ravi [Samar Iqbal] PAKISTAN
16 Duma Dum [Dayam Khan] INDIA
17 Khari Neem Khe Neeche [Mai Bhagi] PAKISTAN
18 Ayrilik Gunu [Goksel] TURKEY
19 Taqasim [Fawzi Chekili] TUNISIA
20 Shikwa [Zia Mohiyeddin] PAKISTAN
21 Way Too Qarar Mera [Noor Jehan]  PAKISTAN
22 Ek Dil Ke Tukde Hazar Huye [Mohammad Rafi] INDIA
23 Dil Mein Meethe Meethe [Ustad Amanat Ali Khan] PAKISTAN
24 Mendha Ishq Wi Too [Pathane Khan] PAKISTAN

Friday, August 17, 2012

Bangkok Bollywood: Sumit Satchathep

Thai painting of Lord Vishnu

Apparently in Thailand there is a proverb that says, if you meet a Brahmin and a snake on the path, kill the Brahmin first. 

Despite this rather crude sentiment, the cultural ties between India and Thailand are ancient and deep.  Indian merchants sailed all up and down the coastlines of SE Asia selling silks and spreading the truth of the Vedas and the Way of the Buddha. The King of Thailand is considered the descendant of Lord Vishnu. Much of the great Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, have found their way into the art and religion of Thai Buddhism.

Bali is entirely Hindu. Angkor Wat, in nearby Cambodia, is the world’s largest Hindu temple complex.  In the modern period Sikhs, Gujaratis and Tamils have been traders and businessmen in Thailand since at least the late 19th century. 

In the school I attended in India we had several boys of Nepali and Sikh origin whose families had been settled in Thailand for generations. 

I love these sorts of connections. Finding people in places you don’t necessarily expect them. (Though as one Indian taxi driver in Sydney told me a few years ago, ‘No matter where you go in the world, you’ll find potatoes and Indians’, I shouldn’t keep being surprised.)  Tonight, thanks to the blog monrakplengthai I am psyched about sharing an amazing cassette.  This is music by a Thailand-born and bred Indian who sings in Thai but in the Bollywood style.  Here is the blurb about the music from that blog.

A greatest hits of Thai songs featuring Indian rhythms!  This collection is full of great new tunes from Phraiwan Lukphet, Phet Photaram and the star of the show, Sumit Satchathep!  Sumit was born to a family of Indian silk merchants in Bangkok's Bang Rak district.  Although his upbringing instilled in him an appreciation for the music of his mother country, his surroundings influenced him as well, and at the height of the brief 70's Luk Thung-Bollywood craze, the scene found its first bilingual voice.  Teaming with Chatri Sichon's former partner Yuphin Phraethong, Sumit had a run of duet & solo hits in the late 70's.  The first track here, written by Surin Phaksiri, was his biggest single... most versions today have clipped the flute intro because a skip in the master recording, but i decided to leave it in. (http://monrakplengthai.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/phraiwan-lukphet-sao-ban-na-thi-na-rak.html)

This is music that is wonderfully different, yet oh-so-familiar.  I love the cover of the early 70’s hit Chal Chal Chal Mera Haathi sung half in Thai and half in Hindi!

Long live Indian Thai friendship!

         Track Listing:

01. sao ban na thi na rak
02. klin thup khwan thian
03. sut chaban
04. na fon an saen sao
05. rak thoe rak thoe
06. heman khruan
07. phaen din thai
08. pleng rak pleng khit thueng
09. rai yat muea khat ngoen)
10. luk
11. hen chai laeo
12. ham chai rak mai dai
13. bo rak phai thao nang
14. khit thueng aridang
15. khao khoi khieow
16. thephi khong phom
17. khatha rak