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Exploring Life's 'Secrets' With a Harp and a Voice


Describing singer-harpist Loreena McKennitt as a world music artist can generate significant rumbles of discontent from those observers who see her music as flimsy. Yet McKennitt's albums have placed near the top of the world music charts virtually since the release of her first album, "Elemental," in 1985.

McKennitt's seventh CD, "The Book of Secrets," is scheduled for release Sept. 30, but the Canadian artist, who doesn't seem to be caught up in the record industry's promotional machinery, indicates that she will make none of the usual efforts to support the album. She has no plans, in fact, to tour this year.

Like McKennitt's previous work, the album is an assemblage of exotic sounds and melodies, focused around her ethereal voice, often simmering with propulsive percussion.

The song titles--"Marco Polo," "The Mummer's Dance" and "Night Ride Across the Caucasus"--stimulated by a number of McKennitt journeys, reflect the often kitsch-like character of the compositions. World music wallpaper for some listeners, they clearly are world music ear candy for others.

Which is just fine with McKennitt, who has thus far sold more than 4 million copies of her albums--all self-produced. Like Ani DiFranco, the maverick folk-based artist, she has insisted upon running her own show, via her own Quinlan Road label.

Unlike DiFranco, however, McKennitt made a major-label distribution deal--with Warner Bros.--after the release of her first three independently distributed albums. But McKennitt's business smarts have always been placed at the service of her own musical vision.

Whether one is captivated or not by that vision, it nonetheless represents an important element in the field of world music. McKennitt prefers to take a more aesthetic point of view, one best typified by remarks she made about her album "A Mask and Mirror," but which apply equally well to "Book of Secrets."

"I have aspired to cast a light on a few things," she says, "that came to me by way of exploration, and leave you to be haunted by your own curiosity."

Independence Day: There are no current reports of samba-ing aliens on the horizon for Brazilian Independence Day on Sunday. But there will be plenty of lyrical songs and hot Brazilian rhythms to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the country's declaration of independence from Portugal in 1822.

The Moonlight in Sherman Oaks, now transformed into a sparkling new nightclub-restaurant, will devote Sunday to a full-scale Brazilian night featuring singer-dancer Christiane Callil and her Girls From Ipanema in an evening ranging from samba and bossa nova to the hot new "bum-bum" dance. Also on the bill, the Brazilian Band Tropics will accompany Callil and play for dancing.

On Saturday and Sunday at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, "Brazilian Summer Festival '97" will also celebrate Brazilian Independence Day with a two-day panorama of music, dance, food and crafts. Featured artists are singer Flora Purim and percussionist Airto Moreira, leading the jazz-flavored ensemble the Brazilian Project.

Around Town: Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers at the Greek Theatre tonight, 7 p.m. . . . Viva El Mariachi '97 with Pedro Fernandez and Sol de Mexico at the Greek Theatre on Saturday, 7 p.m. . . . Christopher Caliendo and Sheridon Stokes perform their "Tangos for 2" at the Jazz Bakery on Sept. 14, 3 p.m. . . . Brazilian singer-songwriter Ivan Lins, who appeared at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday, returns for a nightclub gig at the House of Blues on Sept. 17, 9 p.m.

Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz will be at the House of Blues on Sept. 20, 10 p.m. . . . On the same evening, Havana Sound, an eight-piece, high-energy L.A.-based salsa-funk-jazz band, performs at LunaPark, 8:30 and 10 p.m. . . . Susana Baca, a talented Peruvian singer who seems destined for world music divadom, makes her Los Angeles debut at LunaPark on Sept. 25, 8 p.m.

Free World Music: The California Plaza's September noon "Celebrations!" series is once again filled with free world music events: the Jalapenos, a Mexican American vocal trio, next Friday; jazz drummer Ndugu Chancler's percussion ensemble, Sept. 19; Cameroon-born musician Josman Mbella, Sept. 26. 350 S. Grand Ave. Info: (213) 687-2159.

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