Category: world music

Review: Various artists, Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers

When the electrifying, trancelike street music spearheaded by veteran Congolese band Konono No. 1 reached Western ears in the early 2000s, it sounded like something beamed in from Mars. Konono’s music was based around traditional instruments like the likembe thumb piano, but the need to use hand-built, jury-rigged amplifiers to be heard on busy Kinshasa streets brought in heavy, loud distortion that gave Konono a rough, propulsive, hypnotic edge. It sounded weirdly and radically modern—the same kind of thing that forward-thinking punk and electronic musicians like Sonic Youth had been playing around with for years, but approached from an entirely unexpected angle.

The Konono aesthetic has had some time now to filter through Western indie-rock and electronica, and it’s expanded intriguingly on the double-disc compilation Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers, which opens up the floor to 26 American, British, and German indie bands who rework material from Konono and other Congolese bands, including Kasai Allstars. The results are largely enthralling, and sometimes nearly as revelatory as Konono itself sounded in 2004. Heard in context on Tradi-Mods, for instance, the seamlessly incorporated influence of Konono on Andrew Bird’s electronically processed, looped violin is obvious. The disc is a triumph, and a great example of what a remix album should be: reverent to what made the original material fascinating, but not so much that it can’t fly away in its own unexpected directions.

Originally published Nov. 30, 2010 on Read the complete article.

Review: Kasai Allstars, In The 7th Moon, The Chief Turned Into A Swimming Fish And Ate The Head Of His Enemy By Magic

Kasai AllstarsCentral Africa’s Democratic Republic Of The Congo is so huge it could fit Western Europe inside it, and its musical diversity is correspondingly vast. Kasai Allstars is a supergroup of 25 performers from five bands that each come from a different ethnic group in the central region of Kasai, with different languages, a history of strife, and artistic traditions considered incompatible until the musicians and dancers got together to try fusing them.

Originally published on Oct. 13, 2008. Read the complete article.

Interview: Albert Kuvezin of Yat-Kha

Russian music critic Artemi Troitsky once made the sweeping declaration that only two unique voices exist on Earth—Luciano Pavarotti, and the comparatively obscure Albert Kuvezin. Obscure or not, the latter—a singer from the small Russian republic of Tuva—can back up such praise. He’s a master of khoomei, or throat-singing, a musical style that allows a singer to produce overtones—two, three, or even four notes at once—and specializes in a rare deep-bass variant called kanzat kargyraa. A founding member of the traditional Tuvan group Huun-Huur-Tu, Kuvezin left to pursue his own muse in his band Yat-Kha. He’s hardly shackled by traditionalism, and has spent his career seeking bridges to other styles of music, including the American rock he collected as a teenager. Kuvezin unleashes his wild vocal style on a set of those tunes on’s latest disc, Re-Covers, interpreting songs like Motörhead’s “Orgasmatron” through his guttural bellow. (See Yat-Kha’s website to download mp3s of “Orgasmatron” and the band’s take on Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”) There’s no denying that Tuvan throatsingers like Kuvezin are an acquired taste, but really, could the world’s second unique voice be anything else? The A.V. Club navigated the overloaded Tuvan cell-phone network and an 11-hour time difference to chat with Kuvezin in Tuva.

Originally published Sept. 14, 2006 on Read the complete article.

Interview: Sayan Bapa of Huun Huur Tu

Since forming their group in 1992, the members of Huun Huur Tu have been the primary musical ambassadors of Tuva, a small Russian republic in Central Asia known for a uniquely beautiful singing style. Khoomei, also known as throat-singing or overtone singing, allows vocalists to produce two, three, and sometimes four notes simultaneously. The effect can be haunting and unearthly, somewhere between Howlin’ Wolf’s guttural blues growl and the eerie sound of a theremin. A single throat-singer can be awe-inspiring, and as a quartet, Huun Huur Tu’s power is jaw-droppingly intense, especially live. Collectively, Huun Huur Tu’s four singers are masters of the several different styles of khoomei, including the ghostly, whistling sygyt and the earthquake rumble of kargyraa. Huun Huur Tu’s latest, Altai Sayan Tandy-Uula, adds Western touches like keyboards and clarinet, but mostly continues the group’s penchant for traditional Tuvan sounds. Earlier discs worth exploring include 60 Horses In My Herd, The Orphan’s Lament, and a pair of concert CDs, Live 1 and Live 2. (For a different approach to blending Tuvan and Western music, check out ex-HHT singer Albert Kuvezin’s Yat-Kha, or the collaboration between San Francisco bluesman Paul Pena and Kongar-ol Ondar in the Oscar-nominated documentary Genghis Blues.) Huun Huur Tu’s current North American tour runs through February. The A.V. Club talked with founding member Sayan Bapa.

Originally published Jan. 31, 2006 on Read the complete article.

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