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Raghu Dixit

Robin Denselow visits the charismatic singer at his home in South India.


Amadou & Mariam

Welcome to Haiti – the Malian duo become UN ambassadors.

77 °

‘Where there’s music, there’s life, and where there’s life, there’s hope’


Frank Yamma, Telek and David Bridie

A new record label bringing a wealth of Aboriginal and Melanesian talent to the fore.


Sarah Jarosz

The young, multi-talented Texan singer set to shake up the bluegrass world.


Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars

Making music out of adversity, the group are bringing their joyous music to the UK.



Scintillating music from a band of brothers (plus cousin and friend) from Hungary.

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars

Frank Yamma


52 Sarah Jarosz

Söndörgo˝ Raghu Dixit


32 54 Songlines 




Postcard from Shetland

7 Welcome 9 Top of the World CD 10 M  y World: Kevin Macdonald 12 News 16 Obituary/World Music Chart 18 Songlines Encounters Festival 19 Letters & Reader Profile 21 R  efugee Week 23 Grooves: Hari Sivanesan,



David Buttle & Jackie Oates

24 G  lobe-Rocker: Dengue Fever 27 M  aking Waves: Melodica,


Kevin Macdonald

Melody & Me and Anda Union

27 Dispatches USA: New Orleans 29 BONUS CD Bahia, Brazil 31 Songlines Music Travel




58 S ounding Out Portland, USA 60 B  eginner’s Guide to


Omara Portuondo 62 F  estival Profile: Sziget, Hungary 65 P  ostcard from Shetland, Scotland 68 S ubscribe & Back Issues 99 Gig Guide & TV/Radio Listings 104 You Should Have Been There... 106 Backpage from... Norway

COMPETITIONS 12 Win A Decade in Images book 14 W  in National Museum of

76 ‘They turn standard bluegrass hot licks into molten lava without breaking a sweat’

Scotland membership 15 Win Standon Calling Festival tickets 19 Win a £50 voucher 24 W  in Dengue Fever’s album

Sziget Festival

Omara Portuondo




93 Music


The Americas







86 Asia

94 Books 96 World



Susana Baca Songlines 





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Editor-in-chief Simon Broughton Publisher Paul Geoghegan Editor Jo Frost Art Director Ben Serbutt Assistant Editor Sophie Atkinson Advertisement Manager James Anderson-Hanney Subscriptions Manager and Podcast Producer Nasim Masoud Reviews Editor Matthew Milton News Editor Nathaniel Handy Listings Tatiana Rucinska World Cinema Editor Ed Stocker Production Consultant Dermot Jones Financial Controller Iwona Perucka Commercial Consultant Chris Walsh Editorial Director Lyn Hughes Contributing Editors Jane Cornwell, Mark Ellingham, Sue Steward & Nigel Williamson Editorial Assistant Alexandra Petropoulos Assisted this issue by Sarah-Jane Muskett (design) Cover photo Sanjay Ramchandran

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“These brief, personal snapshots reveal so much about people’s lives”

aving just seen the amazing Life in a Day film, I’m delighted we’ve got a playlist this issue from its director Kevin Macdonald. He’s a film-maker of note – The Eagle, The Last King of Scotland and Touching the Void. But Life in a Day seems like a very Songlines sort of film. With contributions from everywhere, it’s a snapshot of the world now – or, more accurately, on July 24 2010. Compiled from 80,000 videos specially submitted on YouTube, it creates a very universal film from intimate, personal details of peoples’ lives. These brief, personal snapshots reveal so much about people’s lives, just as so much of the music does that we cover in Songlines. I was at WOMAD on July 24 2010 and was filmed on one of the 80,000 clips submitted for Life in a Day. I suspect I hit the cutting room floor early on – this film was essentially made in the editing process by Joe Walker. It’s an incredible achievement making something so engaging and coherent out of a global chaos of material. As you can see from Macdonald’s choice of tracks (p10), he’s someone who has an ear for music and knows the power of what it can tell. A film made through YouTube is one demonstration of the rise of digital media. So now we’re doing our bit. We’ve just launched a Songlines blog (see p18 for details). It’s a way of communicating more quickly and directly about what’s going on and broadening the coverage of the magazine. For instance, you can check out two great photo stories we’ve put on the blog that tie in with features in the magazine: remarkable pictures by photographer Shiv Ahuja of Raghu Dixit, our cover artist, on tour in India, and powerful photos by Róbert Bácsi of the Busójárás carnival in Hungary as featured in our story on Söndörgő (p54). And there’s also our Podcast where you can hear music by Raghu Dixit, Söndörgő and many others – a great way to hear interviews and more of the music we’re covering in the magazine. Do come and hear Söndörgő for real on June 25 at London’s Kings Place. You can see samples of them and other Songlines Encounters artists on another of our digital offerings, the Songlines YouTube channel ( My favourite of these is Sväng’s brilliantly-crafted video which captures the essence of their music somewhere on the cusp between high art and a good joke. “A moose running on just three legs has a lot of Sväng,” they say. The film combines music, food, quirky philosophy and sausage making. The blog will have reports from recent Songlines Music Travel trips – we’ve just had a group in Lisbon getting to the heart of the fado experience. And there’s a great trip gearing up for Guča in August with gigs by Boban and Marko Marković and Goran Bregović – and with our special access, we’ll get to meet them both. A big thanks to the Bahia State Secretariat of Culture for the fabulous Bahian CD this issue – that’s a place where we hope to be organising Songlines Music Travel trips in the future (see p31). Enjoy soaking up the music from Brazil’s musical powerhouse.

PRINTING & distribution

Printing Polestar Colchester Ltd, Severalls Industrial Estate, Colchester, Essex CO4 4HT. Record trade distribution Worldwide Magazine Distributors. Tel: 0121 788 3112 UK newsstand & overseas newstrade distribution COMAG Specialist Division. Tel: 01895 433800 All rights are reserved. Reproduction in any manner, in whole or in part, is strictly forbidden without the prior written consent of the publishers. No responsibility for incorrect information can be accepted. The views expressed in the articles are those of the author, and not necessarily of the publisher. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy of statements in Songlines, we cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions or for matters arising from clerical or printer’s errors, or for advertisers not completing their contracts. Songlines is also available in audio format from the Talking Newspaper Association, tel: 01435 866102, Songlines (ISSN No: 1464-8113) is published Jan/Feb, Mar, Apr/May, June, July, Aug/Sep, Oct, Nov/Dec by Songlines Publishing and is distributed in the USA by Mercury International as mailing agent. Periodicals postage paid at Rahway, NJ. and additional mailing offices. Published by Songlines Publishing Ltd, PO Box 54209, London, W14 0WU. ISSN 1464-8113 © 2009 Songlines Publishing Ltd Songlines logo trade mark, registered under No. 2427714. Directors: Simon Broughton, Mark Ellingham, Paul Geoghegan, Lyn Hughes and Chris Pollard

✈ Songlines offsets its writers’ flights with ClimateCare. 1The text paper for this magazine is printed on 100% de-inked post consumer waste.

Songlines B&W stereo

on the SONGLINES stereo simon The excellent Nasim Forty Thieves debut album from Orkestar – fantastic Radio 3 oud protégé foot-stomping stuff Khyam Allami

courtesy of matt Samuel James’ acoustic folk-blues album, For Rosa, Maeve and Noreen

TATIANA Mix & Dorp’s Blues + Beat. Powerful, hypnotic, modern blues

SONGLINES DIGITAL SONGLINES DIGITAL Look out for this symbol throughout the issue to see which free tracks are available. For a free trial see

h NEXT ISSUE Free bonus CD – Dutch Delta Sounds Songlines 



On your free CD – the editor’s selection of the top ten albums reviewed in this issue

Dub Colossus ‘Guragigna’

From the album Addis Through the Looking Glass on Real World Records Collaborators from London and Ethiopia put together a sophisticated and inventive second release. See p88


Sarah Jarosz ‘Annabelle Lee’

From the album Follow Me Down on Sugar Hill Records The talented Texan’s second album reflects a deepening introspection and darkening emotional bent. See p75



Carminho ‘Escrevi Teu Nome No Vento (Fado Carriche)’


From the album Fado on EMI Channelling raw emotion, this young, new fado star delivers a painfully beautiful debut. See p78

From the album Agadez on Cumbancha Discovery The Touareg guitarist proves there’s a new star on the desert horizon. See p72

Blind Note ‘Chiraki Par’

From the album Blind Note on Muziek Publique The result of a concert held in the dark, this album is an intimate fusion of instruments. See p91



2 9


Bombino ‘Ahoulaguine Akaline’


1 5





Turn over to see Kevin Macdonald’s playlist »



From the album Afrodiaspora on Luakabop The Afro-Peruvian singer embraces the wider AfroLatin diaspora. See p74

From the album Last Band Standing on Enja Records These Brits expertly mix inyour-face Balkan music with urban beats. See p81

Susana Baca Forty Thieves (featuring Quetzel) Orkestar ‘Que Bonito Tu Vestido’ ‘Last Band Standing’


Rahat Fateh Ali Khan ‘Mann Ki Lagan’

From the album Sufis at the Cinema on Saregama This compilation of Sufi and qawwali music from the silver screen is film music at its best. See p87



From the album The Right Combination on Valcour Records A happy-go-lucky Cajun revival. See p77

From the album Hommage à Ole Bull on ECM Records Traditional Norwegian tunes played with delicacy and precision. See p83

Jesse Lége, Joel Savoy and the Cajun Country Revival ‘Corina’

New to Songlines? Subscribe now and get a

Nils Økland and Sigbjørn Apeland ‘Sylkje-Per’

album for free!

We’re giving away a choice of Sarah Jarosz, Bombino or Dub Colossus’ new albums (to new subscribers only). See the flyer inside your covermount CD for details, visit or call +44 (0)20 7371 2777.



My World Kevin Macdonald

The award-winning Scottish film director talks about his latest documentary film Life in a Day and how music is integral to his work WORDS Joe Lišk a

Also on your CD: five tracks chosen by Kevin Macdonald


Momo Wandel Soumah ‘Toko’

From the album Afro Swing on Fonti Musicali Macdonald used this track by the Guinean singer in The Last King of Scotland. It was also one of DJ Charlie Gillett’s favourite tracks.


Angolan women singing

Excerpt from a field recording of Angolan women pounding maize, captured by Miguel Malta for Life in a Day. This traditional Angolan work song is just one of thousands of YouTube clips submitted for Macdonald’s forthcoming documentary Life in a Day – all shot in one day.


Clarence Ashley & Doc Watson ‘The Coo-Coo Bird’ From the album The Original Folkways Recordings 1960-1962 on Smithsonian Folkways Macdonald describes this Appalacian song as a ‘rite of passage for folk singers.’ Banjo player Clarence Ashley first recorded it in 1927 and he’s accompanied here by blind guitarist Doc Watson.


Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry ‘Having a Party’

From the album Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered on Megawave ‘Hello, hello, this is the skeleton from outer space having a party’ – the opening line of this track pretty much sums up the Jamaican maverick. One to make you smile.


Asha Bhosle ‘Ina Mina Dika’

From the film Aasha on Saregama More fun stuff by the world’s most recorded artist and Indian playback singer –1950s rock’n’roll meets oldschool Bollywood. 10 Songlines


drama directed by Kevin Macdonald has the kind of forensic dissection you’d sooner expect from a documentary, while his documentaries have a narrative drive and an emotional reach you’d be grateful for in a drama. If his latest picture, Life in a Day, is anything to go by, Macdonald continues to detonate genres with a stunning snapshot of planet earth. The most elaborate crowd-sourced film in history, it was all shot on one day, July 24 2010. Macdonald and his editor pulled off the Herculean task of sifting through 4,500 hours of footage submitted by YouTube users around the globe. They’ve fashioned a thrilling piece of cinema, which has wowed crowds at Sundance and Berlin and is set to do the same in the UK in June. Making the film would have been technically impossible five years ago, before the advent of YouTube, which has enabled an instant window on the world. “It’s about connection, it’s one of the things that the internet has succeeded in doing. It’s made us more conscious of the globe as a whole.” But this is no Coca-Cola ad. One sequence is a provocative essay on food production, showing a cow being slaughtered in a Bolognese abattoir. “I’m amazed that people are shocked about that, but it’s good. Funny how people say there’s no sex or death in the film. We had to work with what we got, but death is actually at the core of so much of it.” The music that binds together this sequence is a stunning clip of three Angolan women singing as they pound maize, uploaded by YouTube user Miguel Malta. “The lyrics are rather peculiar. They’re about issues, social problems, and resonate about slavery, the white man in Africa and so on. It’s funny, you wouldn’t find a bunch of young girls in Britain singing about issues.” It’s clear from talking to Macdonald that music is an essential part of film-making for him, not something tacked on at the end. “On every film I make a playlist for the cast and all the key people. There’s nothing better than music to communicate mood and emotion in a way that you can’t with

writing, unless you’re very articulate. I definitely think about the aural world first, once the script is getting there. What can I do to make it sound different?” Music is in his blood. He recalls being forced to sit stiff-backed and listen diligently to quarter-inch recordings of Bartók by his grandfather, Emeric Pressburger (who with Michael Powell created such British masterpieces as Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes and Life and Death of Colonel Blimp). “My grandfather’s first love was music and he’d grown up watching silent movies with orchestral accompaniment. It’s closer to a musical experience than a talkie. That’s why he got into film, to take music further.” Having established his own distinguished career in film, The Last King of Scotland gave Macdonald free rein to indulge his musical passions and a long love affair with Africa. One brilliant use of music in the film is Momo Wandel Soumah’s ‘Toko.’ “It became my favourite song one summer and I knew I could use it in the sequence where James McAvoy’s character is working his guts out, realising that hard doctoring isn’t for him and that maybe there’s a quicker way to glamour and success. It’s both bluesy and melancholic

The Last King of Scotland gave Macdonald free rein to indulge his musical passions and a long love affair with Africa but also funny. There’s that gentle guitar and then suddenly there’s that raspy voice… It feels like a genuine African blues song – the music has come from Africa, all the way to the Mississippi Delta and then back again.” One thrill for Macdonald was auditioning music acts in Uganda. “I’d sit there and say empirically, “I’d like to see the six best female singers in the country,” and there they’d be in front of me.” Which is how, at one memorable point in the film the Nyzonga Singers end up singing ‘The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond’. “British July 2011


Glaswegian-born Macdonald met Lee Scratch Perry (right) while working on his next project – a documentary about Bob Marley. He’s also a fan of banjo player Clarence Ashley (below right)

colonial attitudes had been warped in Idi Amin’s mind. He was a creature of imperialism, a Frankenstein monster. So the idea of ‘Lomond’ sung in a Ugandan accents with Ugandan instruments was an echo of that, musically.” “The origins of what we think of as folk music are fascinating to me. That’s why I’ve chosen Clarence Ashley’s ‘The Coo-Coo Bird.’ It’s a rite of passage for folk singers to sing that song. It seems genuinely connected to some vein that runs backwards to when those Appalachian people came from

County Antrim or the Hebrides to the remote country parts of America, bringing some secret wisdom with them. It seems to connect to a folk tradition that is other and alien to mainstream America. Despite on one level being a sweet song mentioning the bird, it’s an ominous, dark song. The cuckoo is the killer bird, the psychopathic bird. The lyrics to it seem to be saying much more than the superficial meaning of them.” Fusions, assimilations and anachronisms clearly appeal to Macdonald, hence the novelty track ‘Ina Mina Dika.’ Asha Bhosle is the most recorded artist in the world, with 12,000 songs to her name. Why this one? “I think it’s a hilarious track, Presley

Above: James McAvoy in The Last King of Scotland, set in Uganda. Left: YouTube shots from the forthcoming film Life in a Day, including the Angolan women pounding maize

meets Hindi. Rock’n’roll from the 50s transplanted into old-school Bollywood. The words are meaningless, apparently.” Macdonald’s next project is the longawaited landmark documentary on Bob Marley, which has led him to unearth all manner of cover versions and musical hybrids, such as Elliott Smith’s cover of ‘Concrete Jungle’ (“The song is about slavery in a way, but the way he sings it, it’s a song about depression”) and Serge Gainsbourg’s ‘Javanaise Remake’ (“at one point he travelled to Jamaica and managed to persuade the I Threes to take part in his lascivious lounge music”). The project has seen Macdonald travel between Jamaica, Ghana, Bavaria and Switzerland, where he tracked down Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. “There he is in the middle of meadows and Alpine scenery, with his red dyed beard, his collage scratch art, voodoo-like shrines, coconuts, and pictures of Haile Selassie. He’s an anarchist and a performance artist, really, with a whole world view mapped out, a world of duppies – ghosts with invisible vampire teeth. It’s a mystical version of reality, but it’s also playful and inventive. ‘Having a Party’ sums him up in a way, all his funny wordplay. His inventiveness and madness.” Macdonald beams a boyish grin. “This track makes me giggle every time.” l DATE Life in a Day is released on June 17 podcast Hear another of Kevin Macdonald’s chosen tracks by Nigeria’s Lijadu Sisters on the podcast ONLINE lifeinaday Songlines 11


News K TIC





We’ve been busy making it easier to keep in touch with everything Songlines and world music. Here’s how you can explore the music in the magazine further NEW! BLOG



The inaugural Songlines Encounters Festival takes place at London’s Kings Place on June 23-25. In partnership with Ikon Arts Management, we’ve programmed eight concerts featuring major artists who we find really exciting. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to discover new artists,” says editor-in-chief Simon Broughton.

We’ve recently launched the Songlines blog and hope you’ll enjoy following it. With behind-the-scenes gig reviews, news, photo galleries and commentary written by the Songlines team, this is a great way to get to know the magazine and the music even better.


Trio López-PetrakisChemirani (Crete, Spain & Iran) Three young musicians forging their local traditions together.

8:30pm Hall One She’koyokh (UK)

Terms and Conditions: Subject to availability. Deadline for booking June 23. *Telephone orders only. † Excluding premium and saver seats.

The UK’s best klezmer and Balkan music band.

Friday 24 June 6:30pm St Pancras Room

Mariza & The Story of Fado (Film) The perfect introduction to Portugal’s most distinctive music.

7:45pm Hall One Carminho (Portugal)

The new voice causing a stir in Portuguese fado circles – even Mariza’s a fan. See her Top of the World review on p78.

7:45pm Hall Two

Ewan McLennan (UK) Scottish folk singer and guitarist performing with Jackie Oates. See review on p81. f

9:00pm Hall One

Circle of Sound feat. Soumik Datta, Arun Ghosh & Taalis (UK) Virtuoso sarod, clarinet and drum players meet in an explosive audiovisual concert. These masters of improvisation will be showcasing the best in British-Asian music.

Saturday 25 June 2:00-3.00pm Hall Two

Bulgarian Voice Workshop

Bulgarian voice technique with the leader of the London Bulgarian Choir. No experience necessary.

3:45-4:45pm Hall Two

Eastern European Instrumental and Percussion Workshop Led by Merlin Shepherd (clarinet) and Vasilis Sarikis (percussion). Bring your instruments!

5:00pm St Pancras Room

Mariza & The Story of Fado (Film) Friday’s film shown again.

6:30pm Hall One Sväng (Finland) A Finnish harmonica quartet you won’t forget in a hurry!

7:45pm Hall Two

An Evening with Alex Wilson (UK) A one-off concert by highly acclaimed Latin jazz pianist and his new trio, plus surprise guest.

The Söndörgo˝ Story (Talk)

Simon Broughton talks to Söndörgő’s Áron Eredics about Hungary’s South Slav tradition.


One of the musical discoveries of the year – intricate music played on mandolin-like tamburas. See feature on p54. Songlines Digital subscribers can download free tracks from Ewan McLennan and Söndörgő. See p69


When booking tickets, subscribers can use the discount code printed on this issue’s carrier sheet. Already recycled it? Contact Songlines on 020 7371 2777 or 020 7520 1490 18 Songlines

Find us on Facebook to participate in discussions, answer poll questions, share videos and photos, enter competitions, and stay up-to-date.

FREE but tickets required, call box office 9:00pm Hall One Söndörgo˝ (Hungary)



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8:00pm St Pancras Room

Full Festival Pass only £75 (10% off)* +25% discount on single tickets†


TWITTER @SonglinesMag

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Alex Wilson: Michael Valentine; Sondorgo: RÓbert BÁcsi

Thursday 23 June 7:00pm Hall One

In this issue’s podcast you can hear Robin Denselow’s report and interview with cover artist Raghu Dixit, as well as Kevin Macdonald’s bonus playlist track from Nigeria’s Lijadu Sisters. There is also music from Söndörgő, who are playing at Songlines Encounters Festival and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Download it free from iTunes or follow the link from our website.

Get the full interactive experience by watching featured videos that tie in with each issue. This issue’s YouTube playlist includes an example of the South African dance and music craze – Shangaan Electro, Australian Aboriginal singer Frank Yamma, Papua New Guinea’s Telek, Mongolia’s Anda Union and more. songlinesmagazine July 2011


Songlines Music Travel Taking you where the music happens


Carnival time in Brazil is a riot of colour

Time to relax on one of Brazil’s many beautiful beaches

São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city

TOUR PROFILE Carnival in Salvador and São Paulo, BRAZIL If you enjoy this issue’s bonus CD from Bahia, then why not discover the music for yourself, in situ, during Brazil’s famous carnival time in São Paulo and Salvador?


arnival represents all that is exciting about Brazil. Each of the major carnivals is different and on this trip we spend time at two of the most exciting: Salvador and São Paulo. Salvador is capital of the state of Bahia and the third largest city in Brazil. It has much more of an African feel, with much of the population having African roots. This intermingling of Brazilian and African culture has made the city something of a melting pot, and the culture, architecture and music of Salvador make it one of the most exciting cities in Brazil. The second part of our trip is in São Paulo. With some 20 million inhabitants, it is the

largest city in South America. Nowhere in Brazil is more musically diverse, with regional styles from samba to maracatu, and a unique fusion which is the city’s very own. Carnival in São Paulo is a very different experience to that of Salvador. Crowds of some 30,000 gather in the Sambodromo in Anhembi to watch the parade of the samba schools. Each school has around 3,000 members and the focus of their whole year is the carnival parade – the competition is fierce. Our trip offers the best of Brazil with a taste of two contrasting carnivals, and time to enjoy the beach or whatever takes your fancy in between. tour 10 days: February 16-25 2012



Alex Robinson Regular Songlines contributor Alex Robinson is an award-winning travel writer and photographer who has written several books on Brazil (including the most recent Bradt guide to Bahia). Fluent in Portuguese, Alex lived for four years in São Paulo and continues to divide his time between Brazil and the UK. He’s passionate about the country, its music and its people.

Visit Call +44 (0)20 8505 2582 Email The Songlines Music Travel Tours are operated by the Tailor Made Groups Company. The air holiday packages advertised are ATOL protected by the Civil Aviation Authority. Our ATOL number is 9349. Please see our booking conditions for more information. ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services advertised. All non flight inclusive packages for UK customers are also protected by a TOPP policy.

● Serbia – Guča Brass Band Festival August 2011 ● Lisbon – The home of fado September 2011 ● The Music of Cuba September-October 2011 ● Morocco – Marrakech and the Sahara September 2011 ● India – Rajasthan and the Jodhpur RIFF Festival October 2011 ● Malawi – The Lake of Stars Festival October 2011 ● Mali – Beating Heart of the Mande Empire October 2011 ● Senegal – Never Mind the Mbalax November-December 2011 ● Cuba New Year December 2011-January 2012 2012 ● Mali – Bamako, Ségou and the Festival on the Niger January-February 2012 ● Jerez – Flamenco Festival March 2012 Songlines 31

BE G I N N E R ’ S



usical chemistry is the wellspring for Cuban singer Omara Portuondo’s latest record Omara & Chucho in which Omara and legendary Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdés reprise their liaison on the groundbreaking 1997 Nubenegra disc Desafíos (Challenges). Its ingredients are gloriously simple: Omara’s warm, richly nuanced voice, Chucho’s inspired piano accompaniment and a set of heartbreaking songs that both artists love. The disc showcases what has become a rarity today – two veteran musicians with an uncanny rapport creating beautiful music, à la Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. If the disc’s title evokes Chico & Rita, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal’s recently acclaimed animated film of Cuban musicians moving between Cuba and the US, their essence is shared: tribute to what Omara calls ‘the island’s jewels’


– Cuba’s enormous wealth of pioneering musicians and their unforgettable music, recalled with fondness and respect. Omara came to many people’s notice in the mid-90s as the ‘first’ and only lady of Cuba’s extraordinary Buena Vista Social Club collective. The nature of her initial involvement became inextricably confused with a myth-making machine that shifted over time according to PR opportunities and marketing tastes. Suffice to say, teasing stories concerning Omara and Compay Segundo being former lovers, or Omara having ‘something going’ with Ibrahim Ferrer was, as she recounts with some hilarity, “men talk!” Not that it has not been one of the most wonderful life and late career-enhancing experiences for her. When she and Ferrer shed tears singing ‘Dos Gardenias’ in Wim Wender’s eponymous film, and more often than not on stage together, the feelings were genuine. As she

says, all those with whom she shared the Buena Vista experience remain in her heart. Indeed, as with ‘Dos Gardenias,’ the unashamed romanticism of most of the songs Omara sings, with their tales of moments lived then lost or impossible love, suit her well. Even the images for her latest album which show Omara and Chucho fondly holding hands and even ‘in bed’ together, belie the fact that, like many women of her generation, Omara has pursued a full-blown career at the expense of long-term relationships. Long-ago married then separated from poet Jorge Jiménez, with whom she had her only son Ariel, Omara has been an independent woman for most of her life. She began early, singing non-stop in public to much acclaim since her mid-teens with tremendous versatility and poise. To know Omara is to be in the presence of a consummate professional whom nothing


Omara Portuondo

Jan Fairley marvels on Cuba’s first lady of song’s remarkable career portrait TOMÁS MIÑA VILL

60 Songlines

July 2011


Omara & Chucho (World Village) Kicking off with the a capella track ‘Noche Cubana,’ with Chucho Valdés adding touches of Rachmaninov, Beethoven, and Wynton Marsalis guesting on trumpet, this is intimate Cuban cabaret at its best. See review in this issue. Songlines Digital subscribers can download a free track from this album. See p69

Duets (Malanga Music) Omara duetting with a host of singing partners including Elena Burke between 1981 and 2005 – some gloriously over the top.

Omara (seated) with Las d’Aida and Nat King Cole

fazes. Unlike the men of Buena Vista Social Club, Omara had never been forgotten or needed to be discovered. Born in the Cayo Hueso neighbourhood of Old Havana on October 29 1930, daughter of a Spanish mother and Afro-Cuban father who had a runaway romance when mixed marriages were taboo, Omara remembers her top baseball-player father singing duets with her mother, while she sang along on second voice from around four years old. She learnt much of her early craft singing along to radio, music theatre and film. Omara’s parents were part of a vanguardista cultural scene of poets,

Ebet Roberts

At 81, Omara Portuondo still sings beautifully in tune, drawing on an infinite repertoire musicians, artists, sports people that included Cuba’s most famous black poet Nicolás Guillén. Omara duplicated this experience in her early teens by becoming part of the musicians and poets who formed Cuba’s seminal filin movement. Before long, with singer-composer José Antonio Méndez, guitarist Alberto Menendez and pianist Frank Emilio Flynn, Omara formed the group Loquibambia, singing in English and Spanish, influenced by US styles. “We loved bebop and doo-wop and early jive and we

Ibrahim and Omara together onstage as part of Buena Vista Social Club

danced swing. We called our own music filin because everything had sentiment, emotion, feeling. That was so important to us. We took the energy of the moment, of our generation and made it Cuban.” Omara’s popularity saw her soon become known as ‘la novia del filin’ (The Fiancée of Feeling). It’s impossible to understand Omara’s musical aesthetic and indeed that of Buena Vista Social Club itself without situating them within the Cuba’s prominent cabaret scene, both before and after the 1959 revolution, notably that of the legendary Tropicana nightclub where Omara and sister Haydee were dancers in their teens. Although the audience was hugely reduced when the North Americans were booted off the island, the Tropicana has remained a touchstone for the quality of its artists and world-class shows, with many members and musical directors of Buena Vista Social Club playing there. After Loquibambia, Omara became a member of pioneering vocal quartet Las d’Aida; sang (like Celia Cruz ) with the allfemale orchestra Anacaona; and later became a key soloist guesting and touring the world with numerous orchestras like the peerless Orquesta Aragón. Today at 81, Omara still sings beautifully in tune, drawing on an infinite repertoire. From Spain last month while preparing to embark on tour with Chucho, she told me she adores performing, has no plans to stop, and is already thinking of her next disc. Wracking my brains I can think of no other female singer alive of any genre to rival her. True, some critics over the years have not warmed to her singing style and at the height of Buena Vista fame her admiration for torchsong singers and Barbra Streisand was scoffed at. But she’s always remained true to herself, a sentimental woman with a passion for country, friends and family. Omara Portuondo is the grand dame of Latin song, a veritable musical legend. l date Omara performs with Chucho Valdés at Kew Gardens on July 10, where Songlines will also have a stand. See the Gig Guide for more details

Flor de Amor (World Circuit) Nick Gold’s second production for Omara coaxed out of her some of the mellowest sounds, with a glorious backing group – none other than the Buena Vista boys. Gracias (World Village) This is Omara’s own personal favourite. Produced in 2008 by Brazil’s Alé Siquiera and Swami Junior, it includes duets with Chico Buarque, Pablo Milanés and her granddaughter on ‘Cachita.’


GET THIS ALBUM FREE! Subscribe or renew today and get Gracias for free. See


Dos Gardenias (Tumi Music) This eclectic disc is a favourite. Early on Omara sang the iconic ‘Gracias à la Vida,’ composed by Chile’s Violeta Parra, that speaks for a continent. Catch also Silvio Rodriguez’s song for Che; and ‘Vale la Pena Vivir,’ Demetrio Muñiz’ paean to why Cubans love Cuba and more.

If You Like Omara, Then Try...

Susana Baca

Afrodiaspora (Luaka Bop) The Peruvian singer’s latest disc is a pearl that embraces songs from Spain, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, New Orleans, Puerto Rico and beyond.

review Read the Top of the World review in this issue – track 6 on the covermount CD.

joao canzziani

Omara Portuondo/WoRLD CIRCUIT

Omara performing with Orquesta Aragón

Peru’s leading lady – Susana Baca Songlines 61












The best world music albums of the last six months

Music Buyer’s Guide Welcome to the Songlines Buyer’s Guide, a handy reminder of the best world music releases of the last six months. The CDs here have been reviewed in the last four issues of the magazine and each received a coveted ‘Top of the World’ accolade AFRICA





Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 From Africa with Fury: Rise

Terakaft Aratan n Azawad

Deerhoof vs Kasai Allstars Tradi-Mods v Rockers

Boubacar Traoré Mali Denhou

Joan Soriano El Duque de la Bachata



Because Music

Crammed Discs

Blazing Afro-beat from Fela’s youngest son that has a tightness of focus that only increases the fury of its vision.

With a name meaning ‘caravan’ in Tamashek, they are the new kids on the Touareg desert blues-rock block.

The latest excursion into Afro-Delta blues by one of Mali’s great bluesmen, featuring some superb harmonica playing.

Dominican bachata gets the royal treatment by this young star. This album is rhythmic and irresistible.

Reviewed in issue #76

Reviewed in issue #76






Renaud García-Fons Méditerranées

Rua MacMillan Tyro

Mariza Fado Tradicional



EMI/World Connection

Moishe’s Bagel Uncle Roland’s Flying Machine

She’koyokh Klezmer Ensemble Buskers’ Ballroom

Double bass player Renaud García-Fons and his octet bring the Mediterranean to life in this fantastic musical voyage.

Young Scottish Highland fiddler delivers a debut of uninterrupted quicksilver playing to leave you breathless and eager for more.

A ‘back to the roots’ album showcasing a collection of fado classics, all done in Mariza’s distinctive style.

Eachday Music

ARC Music

The third album from this eclectic six-man band. As energetic, experimental and infectious as ever.

Britain’s best klezmer and Balkan music band pull out all the stops.

Reviewed in issue #74

Reviewed in issue #76

66 Songlines

World Village

The inevitable Congotronics remix album. Wildly varied and totally hypnotic. Reviewed in issue #73

Reviewed in issue #74

Reviewed in issue #74

Reviewed in issue #74

Reviewed in issue #75

Reviewed in issue #73

July 2011

















Sväng Schladtzshe!

Cˇacˇi Vorba True Speech

Alireza Ghorbani & Dorsaf Hamdani Ivresses

Frank Yamma Countryman

Accords Croisés

An acoustic approach from one of Australia’s most expressive indigenous voices, this is an emotional and powerful album.

Aito Records

Finnish quartet prove that you can do far more than you ever imagined possible with the aid of four harmonicas.

Abdulrahman Surizehi Rakhshani Love Songs Oriente Musik and Trance Music from The first international release Balochistan from this accomplished and dynamic folk group. Reviewed in issue #73

Reviewed in issue #76

Etnisk Musikklubb

Leading benju (dulcimer fitted with a keyboard) player showcases Baluchi folk styles.

Iranian and Tunisian vocalists pay tribute to the Sufi poetry of Omar Khayyam. Reviewed in issue #76

Reviewed in issue #76

Wantok Musik

Reviewed in issue #75




Asha Bhosle & Shujaat Khan Naina Lagai Ke

Hariprasad Chaurasia The Art of Improvisation

Amine & Hamza Perpetual Motion

Accords Croisés

Network Medien


This invaluable resource unveils the mysteries of the Indian raga.

Tunisian brothers mellow out on their latest oud and qanun exploration into modern Arab and Western classical styles.

The Queen of Bollywood and sitarist Shujaat Khan join forces to create effortlessly beautiful music. Reviewed in issue #75

Reviewed in issue #74

Reviewed in issue #76



Kronos Quartet, Kimmo Talvin Singh & Niladri Pohjonen and Samuli Kumar Kosminen Together UNIKO World Village Ondine

An album full of raw energy from one of the world’s finest accordion players with Kronos Quartet.

Boundary-pushing new tabla and sitar collaboration fuses everything from classical to rock. Reviewed in issue #76

Reviewed in issue #75

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Songlines 67


*UK only. Full retail price for a year (8 issues) is £39.60; ‡£9.75 for print subscribers. †Subject to availability. Not to be used in conjunction with any other offer. ˆThis issue’s tracks are available from June 8 to July 19 2011

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e Goran Bregovi´c

r Radiokijada

Nuevos Sonidos Afro Peruanos Gotan Project’s electronic beats meet Afro-Peruvian percussion. Reviewed in #60.

Mariam The Magic Couple A retrospective compilation from the funky Malian duo. Reviewed in #63.

Songlines Digital looks just like the printed edition, is fully indexed and searchable. A Songlines Digital subscription comes with five downloadable tracks per issue (which are not on our Top of the World CDs). A year’s access is only £19.75 but print subscribers get £10 off. This issue’s tracks are shown here:

1 Omara

2 Preservation Hall Jazz Band ‘Complicated Life’ from Made in New Orleans: The Hurricane Sessions on Preservation Hall. See p27

u Sa Dingding

i Amparo Sánchez

o Femi Kuti

3 Söndörgő ‘Opa Cupa’ from Tamburising – Lost Music of the Balkans on World Village. See p18 and p54

4 Amjad Ali Khan & Scottish National Orchestra ‘Ganesh Kalyan’ from Samaagam on World Village. See p86

5 Ewan McLennan ‘Another Morning’s Beggar’ from Rags and Robes on Fellside Recordings. See p18 and p81

Alkohol The 2010 Songlines Music Award winner with his latest Balkan brass band album. A Top of the World in #59.

Harmony Electro-pop with folk themes from the Chinese songstress. Reviewed in #66.

Tucson-Habana Solo debut by Spanish group Amparanoia’s lead singer. Reviewed in #67.

t Amadou &

Day by Day Son of the late Afrobeat pioneer Fela, here with his funky adventurous sounds. Reviewed in #56.

Portuondo and Chucho Valdés ‘Me Acostumbre a Estar Sin Ti’ from Omara & Chucho on World Village. See Beginner’s Guide on p60

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Songlines 69

Songlines Magazine Sample Edition #77  

View sample pages from the current edition of Songlines (July 2011 #77). The magazine is available on subscription in print and digital. Mor...