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Exploration comes home

New songs from around the globe are more available than ever.

May 04, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The Rough Guide to World Music wasn't kidding when its editors identified world music as "the other 80% of the music in the world." The 80%, in other words, that isn't pop, classical or American folk.

Before the phrase came into common usage a decade or two ago, however, anyone interested in, say, Brazilian forro, Moroccan trance music or Pakistani qawwali pretty much had to scour the ethnic music bins -- often without much success.

Since then, we've seen a virtual flood of sounds from every part of the globe. Here are some new items riding the crest of the wave:

Arnaldo Antunes, Carlinhos Brown and Marisa Monte

"Tribalistas" (Metro Blue)


Three major Brazilian stars -- rock musician and performance artist Antunes, percussionist-songwriter Brown and pop diva Monte -- got together spontaneously a year ago and dashed off the fascinating set of songs included in this extraordinary trio effort. The collective outing recalls -- perhaps intentionally -- the '70s all-star ensemble the Sweet Barbarians (which included Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethania and Gal Costa). That earlier group was instrumental in the creation of the eclectic, transformative Brazilian movement tropicalia.

And there are passages in "Tribalistas" suggesting that Antunes, Brown and Monte may have similar goals in mind. Lines in the title track -- "The tribalists don't want to be right anymore ... they don't get into doctrine, into gossiping or arguments.... Tribalism is an anti-movement" -- suggest a postmodernism comparable with, if contrarily different from, tropicalia's embrace of multi-genre interaction. That said, the music stands marvelously on its own for its turbulent musicality, its refusal to be locked into any single aspect of Brazil's (or the world's) multiplicity of styles, and the sheer talent of the individual participants.

Among its abundance of highlights: "O Amore Feio" (Love Is Ugly"), an anthem to the paradoxes of love; the Beatles-like "E Voce" ("It's Love"); and the bossa nova-revisited "Pecado E Lhe Deixar de Molho" ("It Would Be a Sin to Leave").


"Rubai" (World Village)

*** 1/2

The first American release from this whimsically named Anglo-Irish instrumental ensemble makes its intentions immediately apparent with the album title. "Rubai" refers to a form of Persian poetry -- a curious framework for an all-instrumental ensemble, but not surprising, given the far-reaching qualities of their music. Unusually instrumented, Flook consists of a two-flute front line (Brian Finnegan and Sarah Allen), guitarist Ed Boyd and bodhran player John Joe Kelly. Finnegan and Allen have strong jazz credentials, while Kelly and Boyd have an exceptionally propulsive drive in their rhythmic accompaniment. The result is music that clearly comes from a Celtic wellspring, but which comfortably blends in elements of jazz, Eastern European music, the music of Brittany, India and the Middle East. And does so in joyously entertaining fashion.

Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico

"Terra Nostra" (ECM Records)

*** 1/2

The magical voice of Greek singer Yannatou is in rare form in this live performance, which includes compelling versions of material included in previous studio albums. She is accompanied by her regular ensemble, Primavera en Salonico, with singer Lamia Bedioui adding a Middle Eastern quality to five of the 20 tracks. Yannatou's versatility is little short of astonishing as she adapts her voice -- sweet and childlike in some cases, harsh and masculine in others -- to songs from Greece, Sardinia, the Hebrides, the Caribbean, Sephardic Spain and beyond. A stunning album, improving with each rehearing.

Gary Lucas

"The Edge of Heaven" (Indigo Label Bleu)

*** 1/2

Rock guitarist Gary Lucas (Captain Beefheart, Gods and Monsters) became enamored of Chinese music when he lived and played in Taipei in the late '70s. "The Edge of Heaven," subtitled "Mid-Century Chinese Pop," is primarily devoted to songs associated with two stars of the period -- Bai Kwong and Chow Hsuan. Half the tracks are vocals, performed by sweet-voiced, authentic-sounding Celest Chong and the darker-toned Gisburg; the balance feature Lucas' virtuosic playing on acoustic, electric and steel guitars. And the results are mesmerizing, an intimate glimpse into a musical culture that was both deeply traditional and outward-looking, rendered in a fashion that makes the music more contemporary while preserving its essential roots.

Omar Faruk Tekbilek

and Yuval Ron

"One" (Magda)


Gifted multi-instrumentalist Tekbilek has the opportunity to display his wares on oud, ney (end-blown flute), rig (frame drum), zurna (Middle Eastern oboe) and voice with a highly regarded group of instrumentalists on "One" in musical settings provided by musician and film composer Yuval Ron. The material's sources range from traditional Armenian and Bedouin chants to unusual mixtures of Jewish, Christian and Islamic chants and calls to prayer (most impressively displayed in the gripping title piece). On a few tracks, producer Ron has incorporated field recordings of Bedouin tribal voices, often pulling the various elements together with flowing orchestral textures. At times, those textures tend to dilute the music's intensity with a bit too much New Age placidity. But the passages featuring Tekbilek, Chris Bleth (playing duduk, a slightly different Middle Eastern oboe), percussionist Pejman Hadadi and singer Azam Ali are more than worth the price of admission.

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