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World Music Reviews
By Brian Grosjean

Le Chant Basque (Detour/Erato Records 1997)

    Odarra is a men's choir from the Basque region. Their album "Le Chant Basque" is a stately, considered rendition of traditional Basque music. Most songs are based on Catholic themes such as the prayerful "Egon Atzarririk", or "Aita Gurea", their sung "Our Father", which is sung with strength and reverence to delight any priest. In addition, there are dance songs with flutes and love songs to pass the long Basque nights, songs to calm crying babies, and even sailing songs. Odarra's range and intonation reminds me of men's choirs from Russia and Georgia, but Odarra sounds more familiar. The closest I can compare them is to some of the more interesting Gregorian chants or plainsongs.
    The group's name is from the Basque word for élan or impulse. Their love for their people, as it is with any minority living among an overwhelming majority, is strong and tied to the land and its history. The album is recorded in a chapel deep in Basque country, and, like the foundations of the ancient church they sing in, Odarra's love for their homeland goes deep and strong.

Various Artists Invocations
(1998, Music of The World, PO Box 3620, Chapel Hill, NC 27515 USA)

    Wouldn’t it be grand to invoke the name of someone you know and love, and bring forth their power, comfort, or healing? That’s the idea behind the music on this wonderful album from Music of the World. The music of thirteen artists from around the world are collected together to show the range of feelings in their invocations of the divine. Cornel Pewewardy’s "Kiowa Hymn" seem to summon a common spirit with the Asian Indian kriti played by K. Subramaniam and Trichy Sankaran. The rhythms of the Campanas and Qhapaq Negros of Peru bring forth something special in their people as does the Zimbabwean mbira played on the "Welcoming Song" (my personal favorite). And I found the Iranian poetry put to music by Jalal Zolfonun in "Hud Hud" ("Songbird") particularly pleasing to the ear and the spirit:

"We descended again at our King’s door
and happily we spread open our wings
The eyes of demons and angels witnessed our glory
Hud Hud of the soul has returned to King Saleman"

    I was moved by this album and found it well thought out and able to summon a calm in me that stayed with me all day, even if the musical continent kept shifting with each new track. (Beware DJ’s: The back cover’s artists and songs do not  match up, but the twenty page booklet and photos more than make up for it.) I would recommend this sampler highly to anyone with an ear for music from the spirit.

Spirit Nation
V2 Records

    In my mind, World Music has a standard to meet. Is there a cultural context to which this music belongs? Is there a root that this sprout is attached to? If you shook this music over the ground of the original people, would they recognize any of it?
    The opening of Spirit Nation tells the story of the album early: Native American musical phrases and words, traditional drums and cedar flute interlaced with techno soundtrack, ambient soundscapes, and rootless synth melodies. It all sounds nice for a while, but today this is not experimental (see anything put out years ago by Silver Wave records), nor is it the best of the genre (ambient crossover). To its credit, this album is well performed, nicely produced and can be listened to from end to end without much effort. But is there a connection? Does it matter? Does there need to be a root in some tradition, or are we to expect that every cultural tradition can be distilled to fit within a dance track so us westerners can enjoy it? That is the question raised in me when I listened. Let me know what happened to you!

For this and more World Music reviews, visit . . . http://www.rootsworld.com/rw

Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 1999

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