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VARIOUS ARTISTS Songs Of Separation Navigator 094P

Another of these thematic ensemble affairs where a bunch of people are shut away in a remote location for a week with the brief of coming up with a collection of songs on a certain theme, Songs Of Separation involves ten prominent female

singers and musicians – Karine Polwart, Mary Macmaster, Eliza Carthy, Hazel Askew, Rowan Rheingans, Hannah James, Kate Young, Jenn Butterworth, Jenny Hill and Hannah Read – examining the topic of parting, be it person- al, geographical or ideological.

The brainchild of bass-playing Hill who’s also shared production duties with Andy Bell, this album – recorded on the island of Eigg in the Scottish Inner Hebrides – is the prelude to a short tour which culminates at Celtic Con- nections, and listening to the exquisite close harmonies, delicate arrangements and yearn- ing material, you’d imagine it will be magical.

These team projects always offer formidable challenges in the quest for bal- ance and variety. When you get someone as wonderful as Karine Polwart on board it must be a great temptation just to give her all the songs, let her get on with it and tinker around behind while she weaves her magic. She and Eliza Carthy are certainly the domi- nant voices and when they sing The Flowers of The Forest together – even before the track dives into a wonderfully uplifting Anglo- Scottish dash – all resistance is hopeless.

Yet the more you get into this the more

you realise it’s not just the Polwart-Carthy show. From wondrous unaccompanied Gaelic singing to nods at music-hall, old ballads, Americana and a spot of Kate Young weird- ness too, full of offbeat handclaps and dark atmospherics, its range stretches far and wide. The tone is set by an African-style vocal that creates an arresting crescendo on Polwart’s affecting opening salvo, Echo Mocks The Corncrake – hear it on this issue’s fRoots 57 compilation –while a pleasing banjo arrange- ment around Hannah Read’s understated ver- sion of It Was A’ For Our Rightful King brings an American flavour into the mix…

And so it all ebbs and flows in tone, con- tent and presentation. Hazel Askew’s swaying music-hall style delivery of London Lights over Carthy’s fiddle with the ensemble delivering a quietly rousing chorus round her is a show- stopper in waiting; and closing track Road Less Travelled – there’s that banjo again – finds Pol- wart, Young and Rheingans gliding through the bird noises to a lovely, mellow endpiece.

And for anyone not a scholar of Scottish

history, Eigg (‘the island of the big women’) takes its name from a group of Pictish warrior women who successfully defended it against invasion by a bunch of Irish monks intent on replacing the islanders’ paganism with Chris- tianity. There’s a moral in there somewhere. Colin Irwin

BARETO ImpredecibleWorld Village WVUK 030

Despite frequent association with chicha and cumbia, Peru’s Bareto defies solitary confinement within those genres. Impredecible (‘unpredictable’) certainly nods in that direction with space-age surf guitar instru- mentals such as País De Las

Maravillas, Mamá Motelo and La Voz Del Sinchi (the latter an apparent cultural refer-

ence to Sinchi Ruq’a Inka, a pre-Hispanic ruler of Cusco). But over the past dozen years, Bareto has crafted a distinctive voice, meld- ing samples and electronica with strains of reggae (Viejita Guarachera), Latin American folk idioms (No Es Para Mi and the title track), Afro-Peruvian traditions (Bombo Baile, La Negra Y El Fantasma, and El Loco, the latter with a vocal cameo by Peru’s Susana Baca), salsa, rock, and global popular sounds. The most provocative and inspired of the album’s eleven tracks is La Pantalla (‘the screen’), a wicked critique of the base stupidity of Peru- vian television, a song best apprehended by viewing the corresponding music video (easi- ly found on YouTube). Its over-the-top perfor- mance brilliantly mimics the medium’s sub- liminal manipulations, dismissing TV person- alities as “swinish clowns without talent” who produce “zero content”, pandering to voyeuristic instincts in an unending torrent of morbid, hallucinatory vulgarity that the band condemns in particular for its noxious effect on Peruvian youth.

Medellín producer Felipe Álvarez – known for his signal work with ChocQuib Town, Calle Trece, Monsieur Periné, and Bomba Estéreo – manned the boards for the Peruvian and Colombian sessions, with expert mixing by Sidestepper’s Richard Blair, making for a thoroughly unpredictable, eclectic, and engaging result with pan-Latin appeal.

Hear a track on this issue’s fRoots 57 compilation. Michael Stone BAABA MAAL

The Traveller Palm/Marathon Artists PAMA 001CD

Baaba Maal has been responsible for some of my happiest musical experi- ences, going back decades, but this album, his eleventh, produced with Johan Hugo of The Very Best, just takes the biscuit. It’s a blockbuster which, having floored you

with fierce and accurate rhythmic onslaughts, electro-meets-West-Africa, then displays an aching, vulnerable sensitivity that disarms and charms. With some staggeringly power- ful performances (not least from guesting poet Lemn Sissay, whose brilliant collabora- tions here on War and Peace redefine what the union of spoken word, music and the recording studio can aspire to), this marriage of a brilliant head for musical heights and a corresponding capacity for the deep give this set an emotional clout that’s liable to shake your poor heart off its moorings.

I could have done without the bathos of auto-tune on the vocals on the first track, Fulani Rock. If ever there was a voice that didn’t need such stuff, it’s Baaba Maal’s, already singing here to a rare intensity, packed with emotional information. Otherwise, the electronics are handled with daredevil panache. Sometimes a ponderous march-of- the-slaves rhythm and a great cavern-like drenching in reverb suggests something out of a Cecil B DeMille epic. This is big music. But then, hopelessly small in such a vaulted soundscape, in comes the sublime singing of One Day. And then the uplifting exuberance of blood-pumping rhythm on Lampenda, the simple ngoni, the warm gentleness of the women’s voices (and small repeating animal noise) on the title track. Small music! More glorious rhythm! Finally, out of the blue, we have Lemn Sissay’s unforgettable poetry per- formance. This album supplies drama of a high order, and God bless the man/men for it. Rick Sanders Bareto


I’m a sucker for Armenian duduks and breathy end- blown flutes, and qanuns and santur and oud too, and the contrasting wild reed wail of zurna or pku, and this has all of those, as well as kamancha and tar, under- pinned on occasion by the

deep boom of big, skin-headed drums, and one serene solo male vocal.

For this album, the ten-piece Ensemble concentrates on arrangements of the compo- sitions and transcriptions of singer, composer, folk song collector, poet and priest Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935).

In his works, mainly for voices or piano, he combined the modes, melodies and rhythms of Armenian folk music and his own composi- tion, using approaches from the Western clas- sical world, creating a new sort of Armenian classical music. (Though given his use of piano, perhaps he sacrifices microtonalities that might have been in his sources. As recordings of his unaccompanied singing made in Paris in 1912, and released on CD by Traditional Cross- roads, show, Komitas himself sang with vibra- to and a pitch freedom not restricted to twelve semitones and equal temperament.)

Baaba Maal

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