World-music fans were saddened last month by the untimely death of Andy Palacio, who was only 47 and had spent this decade campaigning to spread awareness of the Garífuna culture, which descended from African slaves shipwrecked in the Caribbean in 1635. His last record, Wátina (Cumbancha/Stonetree), drew rapturous reviews in 2007 and was just beginning to benefit from a publicity push generated by its appearance on Top Ten lists from magazines such as Global Rhythm and Songlines. It’s a sad time to become a Palacio fan, but better now than never.
The Roots of Chicha
In happier news from the international music arena, a new compilation of 30- and 40-year-old tracks resurrects yet another genre that most of us never knew existed: The Roots of Chicha (Barbes) digs up “psychedelic cumbias” from Peru — folklore from the Andes plus Colombian dance rhythms, updated with surf-flavored electric guitar and, um, the occasional Moog keyboard. Reportedly, the stuff never caught on with local hipsters or critics, or even the middle class, although it survived in some form for decades. Listening to the varied but always danceable output of the six groups represented here, it’s hard to fathom why.
(Le Chant du Monde)
Moving back to the present but sticking with heavily danceable music, Smithsonian offers La India Canela, a Dominican bandleader who on a self-titled new recording leads her merengue group with a squeezebox that sounds like it’s fueled by amphetamines. On the other end of the tempo spectrum, Lampo (Le Chant du Monde), the latest release from Italian balladeer Gianmaria Testa, supplies more tastefully elaborate settings for his whiskey-soaked vocals. In a nice touch for his many international fans, the liner notes reproduce Testa’s lyrics in four languages.
Thai Pop Spectacular
Country Groove from Isan, Vol. 2
Translations are neither supplied nor needed on discs such as Thai Pop Spectacular, another of the increasingly frequent offerings from the DIY Sublime Frequencies label. Although producers Alan Bishop and Mark Gergis typically pen a brief introduction of some sort, they generally boil down to this message: We’ve traveled to exotic locales you’ll probably never be able to visit; we went to every flea market and bought every falling-apart cassette we could find; here’s the best selection of what we brought home. Thai Pop is, predictably, a blast, as is its country cousin Molam: Thai Country Groove from Isan, Vol. 2. Exotic even by Sublime Frequencies standards is Music of Nat Pwe, a collection of Burmese records in which strange, constantly jarring percussion ensembles (reminiscent of gamelan groups from Indonesia) back up vocals by singers who believe themselves to be possessed by spirits,
That Nat Pwe ritual was documented some time ago on video — though they’re probably even harder to find in stores than the CDs, Sublime Frequencies makes the occasional DVD as well (find them online at http://www.sublimefrequencies.com). Among their latest releases, Sumatran Folk Cinema is the most immediately engaging, beginning with a steady groove before setting off on its camcorder-through-taxi-window ride throughout pre-Tsunami Sumatra.
Watch the street-corner jam sessions these guys stumble across, see the bizarro stuff they tape off local TV broadcasts, watch wannabe Indonesian rappers cover “Jump Around,” and tell me you wouldn’t like to go on vacation with these guys as tour guides. •