Life’s Transitions, Peregrinations and Writing/Blogging
Aug 12th, 2010 by robert

If you are one of those who checks this page occasionally, you will have noticed it has been dormant for over a month. In fact my writing has been sporadic since returning from Mexico in May, and as any web site consultant will tell you, the failure to keep your site fresh results in people losing interest and not returning. My goal is not to create a blog that attracts heavy traffic, but I want to avoid disappointing those of you who appreciate my writing and generously encourage me.

The drought on this site is partly due to my normal lack of writing discipline, and certainly the unrelentingly dismal summer weather, but it also results from life’s upheavals that seem to have dominated my life for the past three years. Read the rest of this entry »

Oil Spills and Climate Change: Unintended Consequences
Jun 29th, 2010 by robert

As oil continues to gush from the wounded earth’s crust under the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve begun thinking about how the tragic oil spill reflects a more general truth. Pundits and the public try to assign blame for the catastrophe,  while nobody acknowledges that the problem is simply too big and pervasive for humans to contain it. Read the rest of this entry »

Kenyan Gold: Issa Juma and Super Wanyika Stars
Jun 18th, 2010 by robert

At a time when globalization has led to increasingly homogenized “world” music, a return to the post-colonial, golden age of African music can be an exciting experience. Many classic African pop recordings are surfacing on the internet, as a few enthusiasts search dustbins throughout Europe and African for discarded or forgotten vinyl records, and then digitize them to share with the world. The Global Groove link on the right is the best starting point to enter this expanding universe of sound. But digitized old records sound like old records, often with the pops and surface noise that drove people to CDs as the preferred music medium. That is why there is reason to celebrate when a record company collects some of this wonderful music, restores and digitizes the sound with the best tools available, and puts it out on compact disc.

STCD1050 Issa Juma and Super Wanyika Stars

Stern’s Music has been a stalwart evangelist-distributor of African music for decades, and their recent release World Defeats the Grandfathers is a fantastic collection of Kenyan hits by Issa Juma and Super Wanyika Stars. Issa Juma was a Tanzanian musician whose career blossomed in Kenya due to his rich baritone voice and brilliant ability to lead bands in innovative directions. Juma sang in Swahili, the common language currency of East Africa, allowing the music to flow widely across ethnic and national borders.

The songs collected on this CD capture Issa Juma at the apex of his career, in the early to mid-1980s. Powered by the bright, intertwined guitars and percolating rhythms typical of Swahili rumba, this release is a delight from beginning to end. The songs incorporate influences from Congolese and Tanzanian rumba, as well as more indigenous Kenyan pop styles, and Juma’s voice simply glides through the complex mix, grounding it and counterbalancing the extended dance instrumentals. The guitars are wonderful throughout, but superlative in the song “Maria.” I’ve posted a snippet of the song below to give you a taste of the entire mix. I especially appreciate the deft bass that provides the swinging foundation in “Maria” and the following track, “Muanaidi.”


This album was compiled by East Africa music expert Doug Paterson, and the complete liner notes of the album, with much more information on Issa Juma and his bands, can be found on Doug’s informative site. World Defeats the Grandfathers can be downloaded through iTunes, where it actually has a bonus track, but if you want the full fidelity to appreciate the total richness of this music (see my last post below), order the CD from Amazon, where today only four copies remain in stock. This great album has the power to brighten a gloomy day, and I recommend it highly for any day — or night. Enjoy!

Endangered Music
May 26th, 2010 by robert

Not so long ago I was a columnist for a great magazine devoted to “world music,” called The Beat.  I put world music in quotes because it was a marketing phrase coined in the early 1980s to cope with the explosion of music being published from Africa to the Caribbean to Bulgaria. It’s a nearly useless label because it includes such diversity, but it is also a tad xenophobic because it lumps all music not from “America.” Absurd, when you think about it; but I digress.

My Beat column covered music from Africa, an immense source of diverse culture and, for me, the foundation for almost all of the world’s music. I usually wrote about the latest developments in African pop music, often highlighting important innovators who captured global interest and fame. Frequently, though, I would receive traditional or historic field recordings to review, and I would write about how important they were because they preserved music that was extinct or barely surviving the onslaught of globalized commercial culture.

Today I am writing about endangered music at a different scale. I believe ALL MUSIC IS ENDANGERED Read the rest of this entry »

Mexico’s Magnificent El Triunfo Reserve, Part 1
May 20th, 2010 by robert

El Triunfo. It’s a legendary place among birders because of two rare birds, horned guan and azure-rumped tanager, but it is so much more. Officially called La Reserva de La Biosfera El Triunfo, this biosphere reserve guards one of the few pristine wildernesses left in Mexico, including the largest contiguous cloud forest remaining in Mesoamerica.

Read the rest of this entry »

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