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In our relentless march towards digitizing the entirety of the vast CKUA music library, we have turned now to the world music CD collection. As a passionate advocate of "world music", I'm taking the opportunity to go through the section disc by disc.
Our previous system of categorizing had its own peculiarities, and as we transition to our new system, we're trying to weed out errors. In the case of world music there are all kinds of questions to resolve: does a group of ex-pat Cuban rappers who live in Paris get filed under Cuba, France, or Groups? Do the Brooklyn Funk Essentials, who changed their style to incorporate middle eastern music after a life-changing appearance at the Istanbul Jazz Festival, get placed in Groups or World Fusion?
In other words, are we cataloguing by the artist's birthplace, current country of residence, or the style of music which they're recording? And what do you do with Angelique Kidjo, born in Benin, who started out singing African music in the Fon language, recorded an album of Brazilian music in Rio, and whose most recent recording had her singing music by the Rolling Stones with Josh Stone?
....and people wonder why I have problems with the term "world music"!
So starting at world music category R1, I have gone through discs from Mexico, Panama, Belize, Honduras, and have pulled up on the shores of R15, otherwise known as Cuba. With 192 Cuban CDs to choose from, I've picked out a couple of discs to have a look at/listen to. I'll also be playing tracks from them on World Spinning on May 22, between 4 and 6 pm.
'Pinareņo!' - Grupo el Organo Pinareņo and 'The Cuban Collection' - Ibrahim Ferrer
If you've had the chance to go to the Pinar del Rio region of Cuba, no doubt you'll remember how lovely it is. Miles of tobacco fields, which some say produce the finest cigar tobacco in the world, spread out in a vast checkered quilt. When I was there, the fragrance on the fresh breezes was so intoxicating, I felt that I wanted to inhale forever and never exhale.
Pinar is a rural area, a bit out of the way. There are still hitching posts in town. This CD, Pinareņo!, was sponsored by the Cuban government and a global music institute based in Helsinki, just the kind of partnership the Cuban government loves. It was recorded on location in Pinar in 1989, when those hitching posts I mentioned were probably still in regular use.
Featured on the album is a big old wooden organ which puts out its music by means of punch cards, making the stops operate with a mechanism similar to that of a music box. What makes this even more interesting is the Cuban group that plays along, as if the organ were one of the band members. Adding typical Cuban percussion to the mix - it's a hoot!
Before Buena Vista.....
The Buena Vista Social Club was a disc at the right place at the right time. Americans, forbidden to travel to Cuba, find it especially alluring. As BVSC became an international phenomenon, members of the aggregation headed back into the studio to produce material to catch the consumer wave. A tremendous amount of music became available from guitarist Manuel Galban, vocalist Omara Portuondo, laoud player Barbarito Torres, singer Compay Segundo, etc.etc.
As well, back catalogs were dug up, bringing to light the music that had made these guys famous in the first place. One of the most prolific recording artists of the 60's had been Ibrahim Ferrer, who at the time of Ry Cooder's visit was working shining shoes. International acclaim pried open vaults which had been gathering dust for decades. These tracks were recorded in Havana's Egrem Studios, which, at "the Triumph of the Revolution", had been RCA Victor's recording studio.
Although years had passed since the equipment had been state of the art, Buena Vista's leader, Juan de Marcos, told me backstage at the Arden Theatre that there was no other studio they would have preferred to record in. The beautiful seasoned wood of the floors and walls give a sound to the room that could never be equalled elsewhere, or replicated digitally.
Universal Music licensed vintage Ibrahim Ferrer recordings into a compilation disc with absolutely no liner notes other than song titles and writing credits. And so, the music must speak for itself - and so it does, eloquently - with the marvelous flexibility of Ferrer's voice, and the delicious twinkle-of-the-eye which comes through in his voice.
With reggaeton and rap capturing young Cuba's musical imagination, it is more miraculous than ever that this music had a second go-round, an opportunity to enter North America's lexicon at a different juncture. It's timeless music, preserved in CKUA's fabulous world music library.
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