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World Music

A Celtic Master From Canada? Yes, and Make That MacMaster

November 06, 1998|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Riverdance" has helped to open the floodgates of Celtic music and dance for American audiences. Listeners whose awareness of Irish music was limited to St. Patrick's Day renderings of "Danny Boy" have now been exposed to the music of the Chieftains, Altan, the Boys of the Lough, Leahy, Eileen Ivers and dozens of other artists working under the broad, eclectic umbrella of Celtic music.

But get ready for something a little bit different. Canada's Cape Breton has long been a kind of refuge for Celtic music from Scotland. Hewing closely to the traditional sounds of jigs, reels and marches, usually featuring pipes and fiddles, it manages to resonate with the more familiar qualities of Irish music while still retaining its unique character.

And in 26-year-old fiddler Natalie MacMaster, Cape Breton music may finally have found a potential breakout star. MacMaster, in her own way, is as important to the music of Cape Breton as Cesaria Evora is to that of Cape Verde. MacMaster's performance at Marsee Auditorium on Saturday will be the latest in a string of appearances that have stretched from London to Brussels to Tokyo.

In 1995, she broke two violin strings while opening for Santana in Nashville. No problem for MacMaster, who continued her act using only the two bottom strings, generating cheers from the 80,000-plus crowd. In her extraordinary finale, she simultaneously step dances and plays the fiddle.

* Natalie MacMaster, Saturday at Marsee Auditorium, El Camino College, Torrance, 8 p.m. $18-$21. (310) 329-5345.

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Trio of Concerts: Batalla, Monte and Assad. That may sound like a Latin law firm, but they're actually three talented women with Latin connections who are all making Los Angeles appearances this month.

Singer-songwriter Perla Batalla, who performs at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall on Saturday, was raised in California and sang backup for artists such as k.d. lang, the Gipsy Kings and Leonard Cohen. Her noncategorizable music, as indebted to the blues as it is to Latin rhythms, jazz and contemporary rock, cuts easily across genres. The concert will feature music from her latest CD, "Mestiza" (Mechuda Music). Information: (310) 825-2101.

UCLA's first-rate world music program continues Nov. 20, with a Royce Hall concert starring Marisa Monte. Brazil's best-selling female star, she has frequently collaborated with artists from Brazil and the United States, among them Gilberto Gil, Arto Lindsey, Carlinhos Brown, Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson. In a performance at the House of Blues last year, Monte had the look and manner of an international rock star, prowling the stage and singing tunes that blended international pop, jazz and Brazilian rhythms. Information: (310) 825-2101.

Less well-known than Monte, singer-guitarist Badi Assad, who performs at the Jazz Bakery on Nov. 23, appears to be on the verge of making a popular breakout. The younger sister of the classical guitar duo the Assad Brothers, she is a stunning instrumentalist in her own right. More than that, Assad has created an utterly unique performing style in which she sings, plays guitar, shakes percussion instruments, and makes percussive sounds with her voice and hands--often all at the same time. Information: (310) 271-9039.

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Looking in the Bins: "World Music" continues to be a virtually indefinable category. One artist says that when she finds her albums in the world-music category in a record store, she moves them to the pop bins. The thinking, she explains, is that the artists in the category are so diverse that no logging system has yet found a way to accurately chart the progress of their recordings.

As a result, a lot falls through the cracks. The U.K. company New World Music, for example, in existence since 1982, identifies itself as "the world's largest producer of Contemporary World Fusion, New Age and Relaxational / Lifestyle Music." Top titles such as "Medicine Woman" and "Eternal Egypt" have sold more than half a million units each, reports general manager Paul Scott. But since most were reportedly sold in the non-SoundScan independent market, they don't turn up on all the better-known sales charts.

New World's list of product, ranging from ambient background music to Gregorian chant and a wide variety of ethnic fusion music, with a little bit of something for every taste, nonetheless deserves attention. If anything, the company's attractive catalog underscores the fact that determined fans can find unexpected riches--despite the above-mentioned artist's surreptitious action--in the world-music record bins of Borders, Tower Records and other large retailers.

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