Danyel Waro is the real deal. Don’t miss him live.


Danyel Waro has been an instrumental figure in Reunion Island’s struggle from decades of cultural and political oppression. His tools – poetry and music. Waro was born in 1955 under French rule in Reunion Island. The son of a communist farmer, he was political from an early age, with strong ties to the land. An outspoken critic of the French regime in the 70’s, his refusal to do the mandatory military service landed him in jail for 2 years, where he began to write poetry his native creole. As well as being a well recognized poet, Waro is arguably the most famous living performer of traditional maloya, a music form which was banned until the 60’s. Maloya is rooted in African slave chants, and is traditionally performed with voice and percussion. Some accounts say the percussion comes from the sacred percussion traditions of the Tamil region in South India (Tamil people replaced African slaves as indentured servants in many instances after slavery was banned in 1848). It was used as method of political and social protest by Creole poets in the 60’s and 70’s.

Waro first heard maloya in 1970 from the musician Firmin Viry, who incredibly is credited with stopping the tradition from becoming extinct! Apparently the first public performance of maloya was by Viry at the founding of the communist party. Its role in the struggle for freedom is fascinating, but my main point here is to just give you a sense of where Waro is coming from.

Waro is a man with a lot to say. He helped forge the post-colonial identity (Reunion is still a department of France and so perhaps post-colonial is not the right word) of a nation through the power of word and music and although it is not always the case, this power is communicated with such raw sincerity and strength in his voice that it is undeniable. The cry for freedom resonates even beyond language to chilling effect.

GO SEE HIM LIVE IF YOU CAN – JULY 23 at the BARBICAN: http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?ID=12158

You can listen to Danyel Waro on track 6, 14 & 15 on the Limbalimba Rock playlist.

Oh yes, and Aurelio. Well that is another fascinating story – garifuna music from Belize. The garifuna people are descendants of West African slaves and Amerindians that married on the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent. The more African looking ones were deported by the British colonial administration to a small island off Honduras, for fear of an uprising. Only about 2,500 survived the trip. From there they were eventually granted permission to resettle by the Spanish in Central America, where communities still exist today.

Their brilliant music tradition reflects elements from their journey starting in West Africa to Central America. Thanks to the devotion and hard work of people like the producer and musician Ivan Duran of Stonetree Records and the Cumbancha music label, garifuna music has recently begun to receive more international recognition through artists such as Andy Palacio (one of my favorites, who sadly died a year after his international album release) and now Aurelio.

Zanzibar Music Festival

January 26th, 2011

I am very excited about an upcoming trip to a music festival in Zanzibar (Feb 9-13)!


The festival features music from East Africa, a region whose music has been much less explored internationally than West African music, with its well know stars such as Ali Farka Toure, Orchestra Baobab and Salif Keita.

Francis Falcetto’s excellent 25 CD series, Ethiopiques, has done much to bring the music from Ethiopia to a wider audience. The Best of Ethiopiques album was even a best seller in the world music charts, featured at the front of world music sections in CD stores. However, there is a wealth of traditions from the region that havent made it to the attention of the wider music-loving public.


For example, I recently came across Danyel Waro from Reunion Island. Waro is credited with helping to revive Maloya music, one of 2 main traditions indigenous to the island. Also known as the Indian Ocean blues, Maloya is rooted in slave music and the sacred percussion from the Tamil region of South India. Maloya, sung in creole, deals with themes of poverty, slavery and freedom. It was buried for decades by the French colonialists, and only began to resurface with the independence and communist movement of the 60’s. Its incredible history aside, the music speaks for itself. Waro in particular sings with a rawness and sincerity that blows me away, eschewing modern and electric instruments for traditional Maloyan ones. You can listen to him sing unaccompanied here:

danyel waro

Another tradition which I plan to learn more about (and hear more of!) is Taarab, from the coastal regions of Tanzania and Kenya, which fuses Arab, South Indian and African traditions. Incidentally, the same label that produced the Ethiopiques series also produced a series called Zanzibara, which I’m currently downloading…

I plan to write more about the festival while I’m there and afterwards make a playlist inspired by the music I hear and discover! Stay tuned! And please share any tips you may have.


Andreya Triana

December 13th, 2010

After having gone to too many disappointing concerts, my faith in the power of live music has been restored!

I think I came across Andreya Triana through Bonobo’s new album Black Sands where she features on some of the songs.

I got an email today about this concert tonight and had a good feeling. It helped that she was playing at the Tabernacle, a beautiful community arts center in the heart of Notting Hill with a fascinating history (it was the epicenter of West Indian immigration in the 60’s).

The guitarist walked on stage and started playing a simple repeating series of notes, eyes closed. She emerged shortly after in a pink jumpsuit and purple high heels, and went straight into the song, Darker Than Blue, eyes closed. It was the perfect way to begin. In fact the highlights of the show for me was when the music was stripped down to only her voice and the minimum of instrumentation.

Andreya’s voice is rich and smooth, filled with soulful inflections. She has the ability to switch into a higher register which totally gets me.  She was fully immersed in the music when she sang tonight, giving herself to it fully and unselfconsciously. You could see how much she loves what she is doing.

The band on stage were also fantastic. I was surprised that the only programmed element was when she played with echoing and looping her vocals. There was a string section (2 violins and 1 cello), a horn section (sax, trombone), plus a guitarist, bassist, drummer and keyboard player.

Simon Green (aka Bonobo) came on stage and played the keyboard for one of the last tracks, which is from his album.

There were many elements that contributed to making it a wonderful concert (venue, band etc.) but mostly Andreya’s beautiful voice and her total humility and obvious dedication to the music. Take away everything, leaving just her and a guitar or keyboard and it still would have been heaven.

Am I too old for rock concerts?

November 6th, 2010

Two concerts in the space of a couple of weeks and both times I didnt make it for more than half an hour.
484933 Manu Chao has been a favorite for a long time, so I was very excited to be able to hear him live. He played at the Coronet, a large-ish standing rock venue in South London, in support of a Colombiage, a not for profit that promotes Colombian culture abroad.

The energy in the venue and Manu’s exuberance when he came on stage were infectious. Everyone from the granny standing in front of me to the teenagers and mostly 30 somethings in the crowd seemed to be basking in the positive energy. I mean, how cool is it that someone of Manu’s international level of fame would come out and support a small organization like Colombiage? And that we all had the opportunity to see him in the relatively small venue the Coronet.

His band was pared down to three people, so understandably the sound of his album couldnt be recreated. But what bothered me is that I could barely make out what distinguished one song from another. The pumped up bass throbbed incessantly across each track and the guitar playing seemed to be more intent on making rhythmic noise than etching out melodies. I couldnt hear any of the subtleties in his voice, could barely make out the words and the guitar playing was too repetitive to merit focused listening. In short, the music didnt seem as if it were meant to be listened to, but rather for drunken people to bob up and down to in somewhat feeling-less glee.

I hope it doesnt sound absurd, its just I dont know if I’m missing out on something, or I’ve suddenly become too old for rock concerts? What is appealing about the experience of being thrown together into a room to thrash our heads around to repetitive noise?

I had a very similar experience the other night at Cargo seeing the Spanish band El Guincho. Admittedly, I didnt know their music beforehand, however there were striking similarities.
el_guincho Three men on stage, thrashing about with high energy and fast guitars. I couldn’t distinguish the melodies, instruments or layers of sound. Everything melded together to create what I can only call noise. El Guincho’s leader, Pablo Díaz-Reixa, moved about so frenetically I suspect it must have been drug induced. Either way, I struggled to understand what everyone else was hearing that I obviously wasn’t…

Bob Brozman in Concert

October 27th, 2010

Last night I went to a cafe in East London to see a musician Ive been following for some time, but have never seen live.

Bob Brozman plays a myriad of string instruments including the guitar, ukelele and steel guitar. Originally from America and well versed in blues guitar, he has traveled around the world over the past few decades playing and recording with musicians from such far flung corners such as La Reunion to Hawaii, Japan and Guinea. Some seriously interesting work has come out of these collaborations. A Ry Cooder of Sorts.


As he said last night, he has tended to go to hot places, so his most recent collaboration (which was being showcased last night) was a departure; literally his first collaboration with music from a cold place: Northern Ireland. On stage was Bob, with the two Irish musicians that he made his most recent album “Six Days in Down” with: John McSherry and Dónal O’Connor.


It seems somewhat pointless to write a review about something I didnt like… but for those of you out there who dont know Bob Brozman, let this in no way discourage you from exploring his music. There are many gems to be discovered.

Bob is a very good guitarist, there is no doubt. He arrived on stage and proceeded to demonstrate a few different guitar techniques and traditions that he picked up from around the world. Some Hawaiian on his steel guitar, a little North Indian on his slide guitar and so forth. Very interesting indeed. He engaged the audience is a way that made obvious his lifetime of touring in smallish venues. He has an intensity in his speaking and playing that is marvelous, especially in a man of his age. Its just that as my friend Adam who was with me said “it’s just too much!” The intensity overwhelms the ability for something more subtle to come through, which can be felt on many of his recordings. Then again, sometimes it works brilliantly, as on tracks such as “Chaturangui Gazal” from his album Lumiere, where he overdubs himself on various string instruments creating a symphony of sound.

In my mind the North Ireland/Bob Brozman collaboration didnt create a new sound. The fiddle and bag pipe were very distinct and played in what sounded liked a very traditional way. Beautifully played, but unoriginal except for the fact the Bob was playing with them. As some points it was very catchy, but never elevating to Wow.

Rather than try and describe all this it would be useful if I could upload some samples for you to listen! Let me see what I can do about that…

Kroke (Yiddish for Krakow) are a very talented Polish klezmer-inspired group made of up 3 old friends classically trained on viola, accordion and double bass. The word klezmer generally makes me think of frenetic brass ensembles, however in relation to Kroke the term can be misleading. Their sound is much broader, encompassing Jewish, Middle Eastern, gypsy and classical traditions. The mood is romantic and lyrical, tangible coming out of old traditions but not confined to them.  They have done a number of interesting collaborations with different musicians and a track was recently featured on David Lynch’s last film, Inland Empire.

Picture 3

The first album that I got into and like as a whole is Seventh Trip. You can listen to a the song “Take It Easy” on the playlist Gourmet Waltz (track 3).

You can buy tickets to concert on the Southbank Website: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/find/music/gigs-contemporary/tickets/kroke-and-nigel-kennedy-52600

I forgot to mention in my last post what day Marta Topferova is playing- its Friday April 9 at the cozy venue Green Note in Camden, London. Buy tickets here:


Picture 1

Listen to a live clip of her singing the beautiful Grano de Arena

World music concerts in London

February 20th, 2010

There is a little church, hidden away down a small alley off Bishopsgate near Liverpool station in London. Every week in this church a wonderful man called Wallee Mcdonnell organizes a concert with talented musicians from traditions ranging from Qawaali to Balkan, West African and Kurdish. It is a little gem of a place. St Ethelburga’s Church, 78 Bishopsgate. The music schedule can be viewed online.

Marta Topferova at Green Note

February 15th, 2010

marta topferovaMarta Topferova is one of my favorite artists. Every one of her albums (sadly bar the latest) are filled with incredible songs and listenable the whole way through (something I find rare!). She sings almost entirely in Spanish, in an earthy sensuous tone, and is accompanied by beautiful acoustic arrangements. Every time I put on one of her albums, I feel immediately transported and uplifted, somewhere in between melancholy and joy.

Have a listen to a live version of Semana Azul with just her and her cuatro (small Venezuelan guitar): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmEmgOGYtJM

Anyone of her albums is perfect for a dinner party. Its very surprising and unfortunate that she hasnt been discovered by a wider audience… but all the better for you to catch her now at Green Note! Which brings me to the point of my blurb – she will be playing in London soon!! And you can see her, but tickets are running out fast. http://www.greennote.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=877&Itemid=6

The best part is that she is playing in a tiny, cozy little venue (reminiscent of college town music venues), big enough to fit a dozen tables, and small enough to feel super up close, called Green Note, in Camden. Ive got my tickets, so maybe see you there!


November 11th, 2009

If you haven’t discovered Céu, a Brazilian singer-songwriter from São Paolo, then you’re in for a treat.

ceu cover

She has just released her second album, Vagarosa, which translates to “slow, easy-going” in Portuguese. Friday night she played at the London College Union theatre and I went to check her out, in the flesh.

Listening to her album you wouldn’t be sure that it would translate to a successful live show.  Yes, she was sexy, entrancing us with her sultry confidence on stage, moving around freely in her short school girl skirt and neon yellow suspenders, grooving to all of the songs.  But thankfully, I realized, she is not the product of a group of great producers and musicians. Her voice was excellent live. She has her own unique style, moving between lush nonsensical sounds to intensely belting out the lyrics. She brought her studio engineer and some great musicians, so the overall sound was fantastic. Always so satisfying to have this sense of confirmation when you see an artist you love play live.

Check her out. Her first, self-titled, album is also excellent. She does a great cover of Concrete Jungle and Ave Cruz and Malemolencia are two other highlights.

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