Spinning The Globe – April 2023

Music Features

Julia Colom

Spinning The Globe is a new monthly column here at Paste that takes stock of the amazing music being released or reissued by artists that fall well outside the Western pop landscape. Each edition will highlight a diverse array of performers, from names that will be immediately familiar to longtime listeners of so-called “world music” and those lesser-known figures and groups keeping the traditions of their home country alive or pushing traditional music in new, exciting directions.

Ettab album cover

Ettab: Ettab (Elmir)

The impact of Saudi Arabian vocalist Ettab on the global music community extends well beyond the work she released on roughly produced cassettes during the ’80s and ’90s. Her career dipped into the world of cinema and, after she retired from performing, as an advocate for her fellow female musicians in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Ettab’s reputation as a vocalist is starting to grow beyond the borders which she inhabited. French label Elmir is issuing a vinyl version of a 1992 session she recorded with Mahmoud and Ahmed Moussa for the brothers’ label Relax-In. Their transcendent arrangements fill the background with strings and synths through which Ettab bounces and weaves effortlessly.

Pinhass album cover

Pinhass Elmaghribi: Laatar (Koliphone)

For Westerners like myself, information about Moroccan singer Pinhass Elmaghribi is scarce. What information I was able to glean primarily comes from a 2004 commenter who wrote that the vocalist “is really a testament to the wonderful link that will never die between Moroccan Muslims and Moroccan Jews.” Considering the tempestuous history between the two sects, maintaining that connection through this stirring music is a beautiful sentiment. Whatever the possibilities for this album, Elmaghribi sings with an unyielding passion matched only by the trundling joy of the music that surrounds him.

Space Galvachers album cover

Space Galvachers & Olivyé: Lo Swar (Helico Music)

Olivyé is one of the names used by Olivier Araste, the vocalist in renowned Maloyan folk group Lindigo. Under this fresh moniker, he steps outside the usual fold to work with Space Galvachers, a French trio that has cultivated a career around far-ranging collaborations that allow them to build dense electroacoustic soundscapes as pliable yet sturdy as moldable sand. Araste is the ideal foil, leading with hard plucked traditional string instruments and his pillowy vocals. He’s nimble with both to better react to the swift changes in tone and tempo that the Galvachers throw his way.

Dharba album cover

Pekojdinn: Dharba (Les Disques Magnétiques)

Swiss artist Pekojdinn works within a self-designated genre he calls “afromaghreb,” a reference to his music’s roots in both Black culture and that of Northern Africa — in particular Tunisia where his family originated. That has given him the space to play within the club culture as a DJ and producer while adorning his compositions with a strong political undercurrent. On his debut solo full-length Pekojdinn brings the messages more to the fore, dedicating this collection of palpitating beats and diaphanous melodies to the young people in the Arab world pushing back against the power structures in Tunisia and the pervasive growth of Western influences on their homegrown culture.

Habibi Funk album cover

The Free Music: Habibi Funk 021: Free Music (Part 1) (Habibi Funk)

German imprint Habibi Funk has been a vital source for rescued sounds from the Arab world. Through their archival digging and research, they’ve brought much needed attention to brilliant artists like Ahmed Ben Ali and Maha. For their latest release, they’ve returned to the work of Najib Alhoush, the Libyan artist responsible for a killer cover of Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” featured on the label’s 2021 compilation. This compilation pulls from the various self-funded recordings by Alhoush’s group The Free Music, a delirious disco-funk group that is the equal in temperament and talent as the Crusaders, Tavares and Heatwave. With little music making its way out of Libya in the ’70s and ’80s, it’s little wonder that the world hasn’t caught up to this group until now. But we’ve not heard the last, as Habibi Funk promises this is just the start of a series of comps drawing from the 10 albums Free Music made during their lifespan.

Julia Colom album cover

Júlia Colom: Miramar (La Castanya)

The rhythm of Júlia Colom’s voice and the electro-pop throb of her music calls to mind recently anointed superstart Caroline Polachek, which is fine company to keep. But what pushes her work further beyond those Westernized strictures is Colom’s love of the traditional folk music of her native Mallorca, which she wraps into songs like “Cami amunt” and “Tonada de segar.” The juxtaposition of the two tones is glorious, especially on “Canta para seguir,” which sets a gently strummed acoustic guitar against a glowing electronic hum that grows brighter and more diffuse as the song flows forward.

Kuku Sibsebe album cover

Kuku Sebsibe: Kuku Sebsibe (Little Axe)

The songs on this collection of work from Ethiopian singer Kuku Sebsibe often begin and end with rough cuts and quick fade outs. Such is the nature of the cassettes that this archival LP was sourced from (usually poorly dubbed cassettes). Something about those moments where the music jumps to life or rapidly subsides adds to verisimilitude of the listening experience — as does the rather lo-fi sound quality. It feels like you’re sneaking a listen to this delicate Stax-inspired African soul through the speakers of an old taxi rumbling through the streets of Addis Ababa or via a hazy shortwave signal from far, far away.

Moussa Tchingou album cover

Moussa Tchingou: Tamiditine EP (Sahel Sounds)

Portland label Sahel Sounds continues to do the important work of documenting the singular musical community of Niger and West Africa. A good portion of their discography spotlights the Tuareg sound which centers on the fluttering melodies drawn out of an electric guitar. A fairly new practitioner of this genre is Moussa Tchingou, a young man in his 20s who trained his hands on a jerry-rigged instrument made from a water jug and wires from a clutch rope. With a proper guitar in hand, and the stomp of programmed drum beats at his heels, Tchingou commands the hips and knees of anyone that comes within his blast radius, sending spirits and moods skyward. Listen to it just once and you’ll float too.

Oi Sing Blong Plantasen album cover

Ol Sing Blong Plantasen: South Sea Island Spirituals from the Queensland Canefields and Beyond (Wantok Musik)

Researcher and archivist Michael Webb recently undertook a project digging into the history of salvesen, a music and dance style that grew out of the back breaking work that South Sea Islanders endured working the sugar cane fields. Much like the prison songs or those sung by slaves working cotton fields in the Southern U.S., these choruses are marked by steady rhythms, call-and-response vocals and spirit-leavening group harmonies. Webb spent ample time on the sites of these cane fields to dig into each island’s archives and to record these centuries old songs as sung by modern day choirs and, occasionally, a lone wizened voice. Each download of this awe-inspiring release includes a digital booklet that spells out the legacy of this music and each individual song. Sit with that after you’ve had time to let the full weight and power of this recording wash over you.

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