Join me this weekend as I celebrate the show’s 3rd birthday with a special playlist of well-known pop, rock, and country songs as covered by artists from all around the world. People told me they so thoroughly enjoyed this same theme from last year’s birthday special, that I thought I’d dig up some more musical treasures for this year’s celebration.
You’ll hear some unexpected and highly entertaining renditions of familiar songs: a Dutch musician singing a Beatles hit in Spanish, a rockin’ Arabic version of a James Brown song, a classic from Black Sabbath reworked into a cumbia number, a mind-blowing psychedelic-prog rock version of “The Sounds of Silence” by a band from Spain, and much more. It’ll be a blast!
Many thanks to all of you listeners who tune in each week! I appreciate the support of the show and I love being able to share this music with you. And an extra special thank you to Public Radio Tulsa for adding me to their broadcast line-up three years ago, and also to Spokane Public Radio for starting to carry the show in 2020.
(Go the Listen page for further details and links to when and where to hear the show, and a link to the archived audio on PRX. My apologies for getting this posted after the program aired on Spokane Public Radio this weekend. You can still tune in to the Public Radio Tulsa broadcast tonight – September 20th, 2020 at 7 pm!)
I’ll be playing a track called “Pontin Pontin” by Cabo Verdean singer Bana on the program airing this weekend. It’s from a wonderful compilation album titled ‘Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed!’ Released by Analog Africa in 2016, the album collects music from Cabo Verde that features synthesizers in the mix, mostly recorded from 1977 to 1984 or so. I have the song on a different sampler CD, so while doing some research on the album, I found the following notes (excerpted below) on the Analog Africa Bandcamp page. It’s a fun and fanciful story created by the Analog Africa promotional writers to explain the rise of synthesizers in the music of Cabo Verde in the 1970s and 80s. There is no source verifying whether even the most trivial aspects of this story are factual, except for the statement in the last paragraph about the musicians playing the songs on the album. There was a ship that ran aground on the Cabo Verdean island of Boa Vista in 1968, but it wasn’t carrying synthesizers. It was carrying four bells bound for a church in Brasilia as well as other cargo, and its ruined hull is still there on the beach today. I suspect the story of that ship was possibly used as a jumping off point for the creation of “the mystery behind the cosmic sound of Cabo Verde.”
You can read the full notes that include all of the even more fanciful aspects of this tall tale on the album’s page on Bandcamp. Despite the backstory being fictitious, the music is fantastic and it’s fun to hear how these musicians incorporated electronics into the popular music of Cabo Verde.
“In the spring of 1968 a cargo ship was preparing to leave the port of Baltimore with an important shipment of musical instruments. Its final destination was Rio De Janeiro, where the EMSE Exhibition (Exposição Mundial Do Son Eletrônico) was going to be held.
It was the first expo of its kind to take place in the Southern Hemisphere and many of the leading companies in the field of electronic music were involved. Rhodes, Moog, Farfisa, Hammond and Korg, just to name a few, were all eager to present their newest synthesisers and other gadgets to a growing and promising South American market, spearheaded by Brazil and Colombia.
The ship with the goods set sail on the 20th of March on a calm morning and mysteriously disappeared from the radar on the very same day.
One can only imagine the surprise of the villagers of Cachaço, on the Sao Nicolau island of Cabo Verde, when a few months later they woke up and found a ship stranded in their fields, in the middle of nowhere, 8 km from any coastline. After consulting with the village elders, the locals had decided to open the containers to see what was inside – however gossip as scintillating as this travels fast and colonial police had already arrived and secured the area.
Finally, a team of welders arrived to open the containers and the whole village waited impatiently. The atmosphere, which had been filled with joy and excitement, quickly gave way to astonishment. Hundreds of boxes conjured, all containing keyboards and other instruments which they had never seen before: and all useless in an area devoid of electricity. Disappointment was palpable. The goods were temporarily stored in the local church and the women of the village had insisted a solution be found before Sunday mass.
It is said that charismatic anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral had ordered for the instruments to be distributed equally in places that had access to electricity, which placed them mainly in schools. This distribution was best thing that could have happened – keyboards found fertile grounds in the hands of curious children, born with an innate sense of rhythm who picked up the ready-to-use instruments. This in turn facilitated the modernisation of local rhythms such as Mornas, Coladeras and the highly danceable music style called Funaná, which had been banned by the Portuguese colonial rulers until 1975 due to its sensuality!
8 out of the 15 songs presented in this compilation had been recorded with the backing of the band Voz de Cabo Verde, lead by Paulino Vieira, the mastermind behind the creation and promulgation of what is known today as The Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde.”
Tune in to the radio program airing this weekend to hear these albums and more. I’ll feature new music from Cuñao, Ssewa Ssewa, and Siti Muharam, as well as some other recent favorites like Les Amazones d’Afrique and Grupo Fantasma. Go to the Listen page for details about when and how you can hear the show – on your radio dial or live-streaming on the internet – from wherever you are.
June is African-American Music Appreciation Month – originally proclaimed as Black Music Month by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. With rallies and marches for racial justice and an end to police brutality taking place all across the US – and across the globe – we’ll honor Black Voices of Protest from all around the world on this weekend’s edition of The Rhythm Atlas. There is a rich tradition of protest music, and you’ll hear songs from the 1960s to the moment we’re living through right now.
Some of the songs featured include: Miriam Makeba singing “Soweto Blues” – written by Hugh Masekela about the Soweto Uprising and massacre of 1976 in South Africa; “Get Up, Stand Up” – the enduring call for human rights written by Peter Tosh and Bob Marley; Fela Kuti & Africa 70’s song “Zombie” – a blistering attack on those in the military who mindlessly follow orders; Rhiannon Giddens’ recent version of “Freedom Highway” – a Civil Rights era song written by Pops Staples that was inspired by the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965 and also references the horrific murder of 14 year old African-American Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955; and the powerful song “Hell You Talmbout” written by Janelle Mońae and members of the Wondaland Artist Collective – David Byrne and his multiracial American Utopia band perform this song that invokes the names of some of the many African-Americans who have been killed by the police or white terrorists.
I hope you can tune in as we honor Black Voices of Protest from around the world.
The program airing this weekend will feature a set of music in tribute to Mory Kanté, the great vocalist and kora player from Guinea who was one of the early superstars of the world music scene. He died from complications of multiple chronic illnesses on May 22nd at the age of 70. You’ll also hear some vintage Turkish folk-rock from the Uzelli label; new music from Ethio-Jazz giant Mulatu Astatke & Black Jesus Experience; brilliant fiddling from English folk violinist Sam Sweeney; a tango-inspired tune from the bandoneon-piano duo of Ben & Winnie, and much more. Go to the Listen page on the website to find out when and where to hear this excellent music from all over the globe.
My Tulsa friends Josh Massad and Dylan Aycock have just released a new self-titled duo album through Dylan’s label, Scissor Tail Records. Dylan writes this about the album on the website:
“These four improvisations were recorded in 2016 in my living room with my longtime friend Joshua Massad. Josh is an Indian classical musician living between Tulsa and India, studying tabla for many years under Zakir Hussain and recently studying sitar. We’ve been trying to capture some moments for the last 6 years and this is the first batch of songs to come out.”
The album consists of four long tracks, and I’ll be playing the opening piece – entitled “One” – on the radio program that will air this weekend. I love the free-flowing interplay between Josh’s sitar and tabla and Dylan’s 12-string guitar playing throughout the whole album. That sound is beautifully complemented by the various percussion instruments, air organ, and synths played by Dylan as well. It’s a wonderfully rich listening experience. I look forward to playing other pieces from this album in the future, and hope they have more recordings in store for us. When we can gather for live music again, I hope we can hear them perform together too.
The album is available in digital formats as well as a limited edition cassette in a case featuring hand letter-pressed art by Dylan.
Dear Listeners: as the COVID-19 crisis escalates here in the United States, I will be rebroadcasting some past programs over the next few weeks since I’m not able to go in to the studios of Public Radio Tulsa to produce new shows. Tulsa is not under full shelter in place orders – yet – but business as usual is strictly limited, which includes the University of Tulsa campus where the PRT studios are located. I have rebroadcasts prepared for the next three weeks (starting with this weekend, March 28-29) and it seems likely I’ll have to air more past that time. (I don’t have the capability to produce programs from home at this time.)
The program you’ll hear this weekend on Spokane Public Radio and Public Radio Tulsa originally aired on November 3, 2019; it features music from some really wonderful albums that had been released in 2019. Listeners in Spokane will not have heard this show yet, since SPR only picked up the The Rhythm Atlas at the beginning of 2020. Go the Listen page here on the website to find details about when, where, and how you can hear the show.
I hope you’ll find some joy and comfort in this music. Without having planned it, there’s one song on this playlist that I think speaks beautifully and powerfully to this moment we are living through together: “The Lost Words Blessing.” It comes from the album ‘The Lost Words: Spell Songs.’ As the website for the album says:
The Lost Words: Spell Songs is a musical companion piece to The Lost Words: A Spell Book, the acclaimed work by authors Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, responding to the removal of everyday nature words from a widely used children’s dictionary [in the U.K.] which grew to become a much broader protest at the loss of the natural world around us, as well as a celebration of the creatures and plants with which we share our lives, in all their characterful glory.
Recognising the great musical potential within the pages of The Lost Words book, with its poetic rhythms, imagined birdsong and resonating watercolours, Folk by the Oak Festival eagerly commissioned Spell Songs. They invited eight remarkable musicians whose music engages deeply with landscape and nature, to respond to the creatures, art and language of The Lost Words. Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Kerry Andrew, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter and Jim Molyneux sing nature back to life through the power of music, poetry, art and magic.
Take a few minutes to listen to this truly beautiful song and see the artists who made it in the video they released. (The full lyrics are included if you go directly to YouTube to watch it.) Here is the last stanza of the song:
“Walk through the world with care, my love
And sing the things you see
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow
And even as you stumble through machair sands eroding
Let the fern unfurl your grieving, let the heron still your breathing
Let the selkie swim you deeper, oh my little silver-seeker
Even as the hour grows bleaker, be the singer and the speaker
And in city and in forest, let the larks become your chorus
And when every hope is gone, let the raven call you home…”
May you all be well…take care of yourselves and take care of each other.
On the program that aired the weekend of January 11 and 12, I played two pieces from the wonderful new compilation ‘Sound Portraits from Bulgaria: A Journey to a Vanished World, 1966 – 1979,’ released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. You can read more about the collection on the Smithsonian Folkways website. This music was recorded by educator and cultural documentarian Martin Koenig during six trips he made to Bulgaria. Here’s more from the press release accompanying the album:
Martin Koenig arrived in Bulgaria in 1966 at age 27 with letters of recommendation from fellow recordist Alan Lomax and anthropologist Margaret Mead, an educator and cultural documentarian determined to study the folk dances of rural communities throughout the country. The work of Lomax and Mead, two legendary cultural preservationists and thinkers, is an apt frame for the work documented in Sound Portraits from Bulgaria in its forthright, yet affectionate, look at the way music and dance impacted the life of rural Bulgarians and what is lost as it disappears. As Koenig writes in his introductory essay, this music and culture “should not be forgotten, as it reveals a dimension of strength and beauty in the human spirit that we, in our longing, may not even know we are missing.”
It’s an impressive album set which includes a 144-page book with detailed notes about the songs and performers as well as many photographs that give you a real sense of what Koenig experienced all around Bulgaria. I’m sure I’ll be playing more from this collection in the future.
Here are some of the albums that will be featured on this weekend’s broadcasts of The Rhythm Atlas. You’ll hear music from Bulgaria, Spain/North Africa, and Mali; Balkan Beats via Denmark, Sani folk music from China, Latin Boogaloo from NYC; and much more.
Go to the Listen page to find out how you can hear the show. I hope you can tune in!
Here is the playlist for the program that aired the week of January 4, 2020, featuring selections from some of the best world music albums released in the past decade. Go the Listen page for the link to the archived audio at the PRX website.