A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Linton Corbie
For many of us, the term "world music" can be somewhat vague. If your notion of it is one which literally encompasses the whole gamut of musical expression emanating from all cultures worldwide, then your view is shared by the people at the Putumayo organization. This group started out as a small and relatively obscure folk art shop twenty years ago. Even though they are based in Manhattan, their outlook has always been an international one. In 1993, Putumayo founder and CEO, Dan Storper branched out into the musical arena. As he explained, it was his goal to expose the public to "the best upbeat, melodic music from around the world through our Putumayo World Music compilation series."
Since then, Putumayo has released over a dozen albums of world music compilations. Its latest release entitled, A PUTUMAYO WORLD MUSIC SAMPLER, is an attempt to put together, in one CD, the best of its first thirteen albums. If you are familiar with Putumayo's world music series, you will realize that this must have been a rather daunting task. These folks managed to pull it off though. This album is a danceable and informative collection of sixteen songs from North and South America, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.
There is the happy, dance-inspiring Juju tune, "Sawale" by the Nigerian-American band, KOTOJA. This is appropriately followed by the melodic up-tempo "Angola Beleza Natural" by the Mendes Brothers of the Cape Verde Islands.
Female vocalists are amply represented in this collection. Irish female singers, Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill and Maire Brennan give pretty and haunting performances of Celtic tunes. Laura Love of Seattle, U.S.A. does an interesting number entitled "A Ha Me A Riddle I Day" which is a fusion of Celtic, African and American blues music styles. She refers to this novel sound as Afro-Celtic. Margaret Menezes of Brazil and Amoya of Mozambique also contribute very danceable songs done in their native languages.
If you love instrumentals, you'll certainly be blown away by the acoustic-guitar duo, Strunz and Farah who perform "Twilight at the Zuq", one of their biggest hits which helped to earn these two fellows the worldwide acclaim that they deserve. In this selection, dazzling flamenco technique and harmony are wed to passionate, tropical rythms. This track is definitely one of my favorites from this CD.
Another exciting number called "Soca Santa" by Machel, hails from the Caribbean nation, Trinidad and Tobago. This song which is excerpted from a Putumayo World Music Christmas album, is a fusion of soca and parang, two forms of music native to this two-island state. Although soca music is renowned around the globe as the "ultimate party music", much less is known about parang. Parang is a traditional form of folk-music largely derived from neighboring Venezuela and played in Trinidad at Christmas time. It is mostly played on acoustic instruments like cuatro (a small four-stringed guitar), mandolin, guitar, bass and maracas. In "Soca Santa", the young vibrant soca star, Machel, tells a hilarious story of a modern Santa Claus who has forsaken the barren North Pole and his sleigh in favor of driving a "big-time Toyota" automobile and enjoying the sweetness of Trinidad-living at Christmas. In Trinidad, this type of music is referred to as parang-soca, and in this selection, you can hear the cuatro being featured quite prominently. This is wonderful, happy music.
I highly recommend this CD, especially for those tired of commercial radio and desirous of expanding their musical horizons. Plus, let's face it, this is a great and inexpensive way of discovering different artists without spending a bundle and risking being disappointed.
You can find Putumayo's 20 world and contemporary folk compilations in
thousands of record, gift, book and clothing stores or visit their Soho, NY
store at 147 Spring St 212-966-4458.
[Edited by: Cynthia A. Harney]
Copyright 1996, Three Rivers Folklife Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior written permission and attribution.