Spinning The Globe – May 2023

Music Features Peter One
Spinning The Globe – May 2023
Eliades Ochoa

Eliades Ochoa

Spinning The Globe is a 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.

Keturah: Keturah (Hen House)

When Keturah was invited to record an album in Venice, California, the 26-year-old had never ventured far from her home in Malawi and had never set foot on an airplane. The journey is remarkable enough on its own, but it feels even more powerful when listening to the confidence and strength this young singer-songwriter brings to her debut release. It didn’t hurt that Keturah was assisted every step of the way by producer Harlan Steinberger and guitarist Jason Tamba who helped flesh out the rough sketches for songs that she had. Together with an eye-popping list of collaborators that includes Doors drummer John Densmore, kora master Prince Diabate and Willie Nelson’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael, Keturah positively bursts through this material, unveiling a world of nuance in her thoughtful vocal performances. The still-lingering pain of losing her mother and a beloved uncle as a child is evident as is the wonder and joy at being alive and being able to share her talents with the larger world.

Naujawanan Baldar: Khedmat Be Khalq (Ramble)

A key element to the music of Afghan ensemble Naujawanan Baldar is noise. The third album by this group is an imperfect sounding recording, with plenty of fuzz and distortion and instruments being played to their near breaking point. But how else does this group expect to be heard above the din in a country being re-taken by religious fundamentalists and the relentless noise of a bustling city. The fate of the Afghan people following the final, alarming days of the American occupation resonates throughout leader N.R. Safi’s lyrics and even in their pounding deconstruction of traditional folk song “Raftim Az Ayn Baagh.” The finished recordings would feel assaultive if they weren’t so thrilling and often gorgeous within the music’s collision of ceaseless grooves, polyphonic melodies and overdriven sound.

Eliades Ochoa: Guajiro (World Circuit)

Grammy-winning ensemble Buena Vista Social Club may no longer be a going concern, but its various members continue to keep the sound of Cuban son alive through their own albums and tours. One of the busiest alumni of the group is Eliades Ochoa, the singer-songwriter who is releasing his 10th studio album this month. He has said that Guajiro (out on May 26) took him outside his comfort zone by working with some new Latin rhythms and welcoming in a surprising bunch of collaborators including Joan As Police Woman, blues player Charlie Musselwhite and Rubén Blades. Ochoa’s distinctive voice, perfectly cured and weathered, remains a constant throughout this fine collection of tunes, fitting comfortably into the salsa grooves of “Pajarito Voló” and “Se Soltó Un Leon” and the Tejano-inspired “Anita Tun Tun Tun.”

Peter One: Come Back To Me (Verve)

You may recognize Peter One’s name from his work in a duo with fellow Ivory Coast artist Jess Sah Bi, a hugely successful pairing in their home country but only known here in the West thanks to a 2018 reissue of their album Our Garden Needs Its Flowers by Awesome Tapes From Africa. Like Sah Bi, One hoped to continue his upward trajectory and escape a worsening political situation back home by decamping to the U.S. But his attempts to maintain a career stalled out and he instead turned to a career as a health care worker. Some three decades later, One has re-emerged, living in Nashville and slowly building a new reputation for his intoxicating mix of African pop and American folk. His first effort as a solo artist, Come Back To Me, is relaxed and quietly moving, burnished by hard won wisdom and a lifetime of warm memories.

Yacouba Sissoko: Duwa Wu, Blessing (self-released)

Kora master Yacouba Sissoko is a somewhat lesser known figure in the community of African artists and that’s in spite of an impressive biography that includes stints in Ensemble Koteba, a 45-person strong theater and music troupe led by Souleymane Koli, and performances with Lauryn Hill, Paul Simon and Baaba Maal. Recognition doesn’t seem to be the aim of this Malian musician’s efforts, however. He continues to tour and record, absorbing and adapting any number of genres to his own ends. On his latest album, Duwa Wu, Blessing, he balances traditional Malian song with experiments in reggae (“Equality”), highlife pop (“Tougoudéh”), New Orleans second line grooves (“Donii Donii”) and a bit of jazzy soul (“COVID-19 NYC,” an elegiac ballad with rising R&B artists Imani Gooden and Christie Dashiell).

Suarasama: Timeline (Drag City)

The husband / wife duo that formed Suarasama in the mid-’90s spent much of their 20s as students of sound. As students at the University of Washington, Rithaony Hutajulu and Irwansyah Harahap learned various string and percussion instruments, and vocal techniques, at the feet of masters like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Dariush Talai. Through their studies, the couple were inspired to start Suarasama as a way to filter those strains of melody and rhythm into the traditional music of their native Sumatra. As heard on the group’s 1993 album Timeline — reissued this month by Drag City — their efforts produced a gorgeous, hypnotic sound swirling through the air like a funnel cloud. Songs like “Journey” and the album’s title track, both of which push past the 12 minute mark, start off with a teasing solo from a string instrument before the rest of the group comes into view with percussion instruments and often wordless vocals. The combination rolls forward with the steady intent of a plane at cruising altitude, lulling listeners into a state of humming reverie.

Petar Vujačić: Made in Ovtočić: Songs from Montenegro (Antonovka)

The gusle, a bowed instrument featuring only one string, dates back to the 13th century when it was used to accompany recitations of lyrical poetry in the Balkan nations. Its tone is slightly reedy but with an impressive range akin to a hurdy-gurdy or a sitar. And when wielded by the right player, it can produce a sound that draws out deep wells of emotion. One such master of the gusle is Petar Vujačić, a gentleman who lives in a mountain village called Ovtočić. He has been keeping this folk music alive through performances of traditional song and some originals that recount epic tales from his region’s history, such as the 1919 fight for Montenegrin independence known as the Christmas Uprising and the fraught history of Jelena Lazarević, a Serbian princess who kept the cultural legacy of the region alive. These performances are truly stirring thanks to the mix of the gusle’s wandering melodies and the strident tone of Vujačić’s vocals.

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