All Ears 

It’s a marketing cliché now, even when the analogy holds up: “the Buena Vista Social Club of…” The upcoming doc/CD about Romani culture, Gypsy Caravan, is hailed as “the Buena Vista Social Club of Gypsy music”; the film Si Sos Brujo promises to be “the Buena Vista Social Club of tango.”

Interpretation: they’re heartfelt, widely accessible portraits of rich musical cultures few Americans have tasted. Today’s example: Casa do Fado (Irish Music) is the BVSC of Portugual’s melancholy, gorgeous “fado.” Mixing scratchy 78 transfers with more modern recordings, Casa presents a spectrum of the genre’s stars. More documentation would’ve helped, education-wise, but you don’t need lyric translations to know these folks are almost always singing about lost love.

Meanwhile, record companies haven’t run out of actual BVSC material. A truly lovely posthumous release by singer Ibrahim Ferrer, Mi Sueño, arrived recently on World Circuit/Nonesuch, and lives up to the brand’s standard for pristine recordings of impeccably tasteful arrangements.

Ferrer is joined on “Quizás, Quizás” by Omara Portuondo, who can also be heard on Singles, a collection of her solo sides from the ’60s onward. Singles is one of many new Latin jazz titles from a company called Malanga Music, reissues whose historical interest is sometimes camouflaged by contemporary cover photos. Malanga’s Latin campaign is outweighed only by the near-infinite Pura Salsa series (Universal Latino), a budget line of single-artist retrospectives.

The domestic “world-music” marketplace continues to expand since we last checked in. In addition to the usual suspects — Rounder for reggae/ska and their invaluable series of Alan Lomax field recordings; Arhoolie for arcana like Tamburitza!, showcasing swingin’ stringbands from the Balkans; Rough Guide for locale-specific travelogues (and intriguing discs like Yodel that follow a theme across the globe) — the adventurous audiophile can enjoy new, more idiosyncratic imprints.

Take Yaala Yaala, whose three inaugural releases are being distributed by indie label Drag City. Beautifully packaged but with teasingly brief liner notes, these It’s a marketing cliché now, even when the analogy holds up: “the Buena Vista Social Club of…” The upcoming doc/CD about Romani culture, Gypsy Caravan, is hailed as “the Buena Vista Social Club of Gypsy music”; the film Si Sos Brujo promises to be “the Buena Vista Social Club of tango.”

Interpretation: they’re heartfelt, widely accessible portraits of rich musical cultures few Americans have tasted. Today’s example: Casa do Fado (Irish Music) is the BVSC of Portugual’s melancholy, gorgeous “fado.” Mixing scratchy 78 transfers with more modern recordings, Casa presents a spectrum of the genre’s stars. More documentation would’ve helped, education-wise, but you don’t need lyric translations to know these folks are almost always singing about lost love.

Meanwhile, record companies haven’t run out of actual BVSC material. A truly lovely posthumous release by singer Ibrahim Ferrer, Mi Sueño, arrived recently on World Circuit/Nonesuch, and lives up to the brand’s standard for pristine recordings of impeccably tasteful arrangements.

Ferrer is joined on “Quizás, Quizás” by Omara Portuondo, who can also be heard on Singles, a collection of her solo sides from the ’60s onward. Singles is one of many new Latin jazz titles from a company called Malanga Music, reissues whose historical interest is sometimes camouflaged by contemporary cover photos. Malanga’s Latin campaign is outweighed only by the near-infinite Pura Salsa series (Universal Latino), a budget line of single-artist retrospectives.

The domestic “world-music” marketplace continues to expand since we last checked in. In addition to the usual suspects — Rounder for reggae/ska and their invaluable series of Alan Lomax field recordings; Arhoolie for arcana like Tamburitza!, showcasing swingin’ stringbands from the Balkans; Rough Guide for locale-specific travelogues (and intriguing discs like Yodel that follow a theme across the globe) — the adventurous audiophile can enjoy new, more idiosyncratic imprints.

Take Yaala Yaala, whose three inaugural releases are being distributed by indie label Drag City. Beautifully packaged but with teasingly brief liner notes, these crude recordings counter the popular image of music from Mali (those lovely, studio-polished gems by Ali Farka Toure et al). My favorite track, for instance, (on Pekos/Yoro Diallo) featuring a speak/sing/shout vocal so boisterous you imagine spittle flying from the speakers, was mastered from a cassette reportedly made with a boombox. The label can’t say for sure — this is the kind of flotsam-jetsam ethnography practiced by the Sublime Frequencies label, featured here a while back.

Hopping to Ghana, Bokoor Beats and Vintage Palmwine (Otrabanda) present (respectively) the electric and acoustic sides of that country’s pop music. The latter is player-centric, focused on three guitar stars, while the former gathers all sorts of Afropop and rock-inflected dance music recorded by Brit John Collins in his Bokoor Studio. It’s the more widely accessible of the two, earning my vote for world-beat party record of the summer.

Echoing Bokoor’s hybridized culture in this hemisphere is Grand Bahama Goombay, a collection of Bahamanian 45s varied enough that some could pass for forgotten soul music from the American heartland. Until, that is, you get to a peculiar warning about premarital sex like “Don’t Touch That Thing,” or the unmistakable island beat of the Mustangs’ “Watcha Gonna Do ‘Bout It.”

The 14th release from the thematically adventurous Numero Group label, Goombay is part of their “Cult Cargo” series, which offers a lot more solid background information about the artists involved than you might expect from something named after tribal cults who worship manufactured goods they don’t quite understand.

But let’s leave where we started, with a release that’s (my quote this time) “the Buena Vista Social Club of non-BVSC-type Cuban music.” The fevered, body-shaking Si, Para Usted (Waxing Deep) chronicles a ‘70s/’80s scene of electric funk made by artists enjoying an enviable freedom from capitalistic questions like “Will this sell any records?” While Castro’s declarations led to censorship in some precincts, creativity flourished in others, with state-funded music schools graduating players whose salaries were guaranteed and who had a nation of very good dancers to keep busy. Si, Para Usted offers some of the world’s funkiest civil servants. Maybe some day a film crew will track these guys down and stage a post-retirement musical bash. 

crude recordings counter the popular image of music from Mali (those lovely, studio-polished gems by Ali Farka Toure et al). My favorite track, for instance, (on Pekos/Yoro Diallo) featuring a speak/sing/shout vocal so boisterous you imagine spittle flying from the speakers, was mastered from a cassette reportedly made with a boombox. The label can’t say for sure — this is the kind of flotsam-jetsam ethnography practiced by the Sublime Frequencies label, featured here a while back.

Hopping to Ghana, Bokoor Beats and Vintage Palmwine (Otrabanda) present (respectively) the electric and acoustic sides of that country’s pop music. The latter is player-centric, focused on three guitar stars, while the former gathers all sorts of Afropop and rock-inflected dance music recorded by Brit John Collins in his Bokoor Studio. It’s the more widely accessible of the two, earning my vote for world-beat party record of the summer.

Echoing Bokoor’s hybridized culture in this hemisphere is Grand Bahama Goombay, a collection of Bahamanian 45s varied enough that some could pass for forgotten soul music from the American heartland. Until, that is, you get to a peculiar warning about premarital sex like “Don’t Touch That Thing,” or the unmistakable island beat of the Mustangs’ “Watcha Gonna Do ‘Bout It.”

The 14th release from the thematically adventurous Numero Group label, Goombay is part of their “Cult Cargo” series, which offers a lot more solid background information about the artists involved than you might expect from something named after tribal cults who worship manufactured goods they don’t quite understand.

But let’s leave where we started, with a release that’s (my quote this time) “the Buena Vista Social Club of non-BVSC-type Cuban music.” The fevered, body-shaking Si, Para Usted (Waxing Deep) chronicles a ‘70s/’80s scene of electric funk made by artists enjoying an enviable freedom from capitalistic questions like “Will this sell any records?” While Castro’s declarations led to censorship in some precincts, creativity flourished in others, with state-funded music schools graduating players whose salaries were guaranteed and who had a nation of very good dancers to keep busy. Si, Para Usted offers some of the world’s funkiest civil servants. Maybe some day a film crew will track these guys down and stage a post-retirement musical bash. 


More by John DeFore

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