album, reissues

2018 – Best Reissues: Deben Bhattacharya ~ Paris to Calcutta: Men and Music on the Desert Road

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“Deben Bhattacharya (1921-2001) was a field recordist, poet, filmmaker, musicologist, and amateur ethnomusicologist, based in Calcutta and Paris. Highly influential, it would not be too bold a stretch to say that his work shaped how we listen to the world: he produced a vast number of LPs, CDs, videos, and radio shows of traditional music from India, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe from 1953 until his death in 2001. Never before published, Paris to Calcutta: Men and Music on the Desert Road features over four hours of music and is Deben’s impressionistic account of a 1955 journey overland, in a converted milk delivery van, from France to India collecting and exploring music along the Desert Road from Europe into India. With four CDs of recordings, photographs, Deben’s original recording notes, musical transcriptions, and more. An amazing glimpse into a time long gone and essential listening for anyone interested in folk and world music traditions. Produced and edited by Robert Millis (Indian Talking Machine (2015) and Victrola Favorites (DTD 011CD, 2009).” > Sublime Frequencies

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album, reissues

2018 – Best Reissues: V/A ~ Lament from Epirus

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Tompkins Square has released a soundtrack to Christopher C King’s recent publication Lament From Epirus: An Odyssey Into Europe’s Oldest Surviving Folk Music, published on Norton this year. The book traces the history of the genre back to its roots, with recordings collected during the author’s explorations in North Western Greece, while asking what these songs mean for the history of humanity.

Reviewed in The Wire 415, Frances Gooding explains, “Lament From Epirus is a feverish memoir of the ecstasies and traumas of a music obsessive, and a gonzo account of the deep, transporting meaning of music itself. Our guide through the labyrinth of his own foibles and into the underworld of the musical past is Christopher C King, a sort of grumpy Henri Michaux of shellac.” The Wire

:: CC King Playlist x The Wire
:: more music from the book by CC King
:: reportage from Epirus (NY Times)
:: Danse Macabre (NY Books)

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album, reissues

2018 – Best Reissues: Asnakech Worku ~ Asnakech

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“There is perhaps no woman more cherished in modern Ethiopian history than Asnakech Worku. As a musician, actress, dancer and cultural icon, Asnakech inspired and challenged society for decades, until her death in 2011. From her beginnings as Ethiopia’s first theater actress in 1952 to her acclaimed film appearances to her days as a club owner-turned-master musician, Asnakech’s inimitable confidence and charm made her a household name. She earned endless accolades across the artistic spectrum. 

She made seminal recordings of unforgettable original compositions, as well as legendary renditions of traditional songs, that became national staples. With a singular sense of style, glamour and sex appeal that sometimes stunned mainstream society, Asnakech wore clothes no one else wore and said things no one else said. Staid notions of how women should dress and behave didn’t apply to her. Battling a mentality that until the early 1950s had men wearing dresses to play female roles in the theater, Asnakech became a national treasure on her own terms. 

Her family wasn’t pleased with Asnakech becoming an azmari—an itinerant praise musician who sings, often in bars, for tips—and didn’t bother her, especially after Emperor Haile Selassie I began to emphasize theater and music in society, officially legitimizing her career. Asnakech became an internationally-celebrated performer of Ethiopia’s ancient harp, the krar, making her one of the most visible female musicians of the 20th century. All this while leaving controversy, broken hearts and a changed cultural landscape in her wake.

In 1975, keyboardist and bandleader Hailu Mergia got a call from the owner of Misratch Music Shop to do a recording with Asnakech and he went for it. This recording is a nearly-forgotten artifact of the remarkable icon’s singular legacy, remastered and available outside Ethiopia for the first time. It also provides a rare glimpse into Mergia’s work as a arranger-sideman in the Addis Ababa music scene.

The Krar

The krar is one of the oldest and most iconic traditional instruments in Ethiopia and Eritrea. A lyre, or harp, with 6 strings attached to a cloth-wrapped wooden crossbar, the sound emits from a resonator bowl covered with animal skin. The instrument comes in a variety of sizes and has relatives in the Middle East and Mediterranean as well as other parts of East and Central Africa. Used for secular music, the krar is normally accompanied by at least one vocalist and plays monophonic melodic lines using the region’s traditional pentatonic scales, called kignit. These characteristic scales form the basis of the sound listeners worldwide now recognize. They are also the names of well-known songs: tizita, bati, ambassel and anchi hoye lene, of which there are numerous recorded versions. The krar has been around for centuries, likely introduced to the Kingdom of Axum in Northern Ethiopia via the Nile River a little less than 2000 years ago.” > Awesome Tapes From Africa

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