By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
All the world
Pukar (Calling You)
Di Efchon (With Blessings)
Touring America can be a great ego-controller for international pop artists. Sell millions in Europe or Asia, play live to tens of thousands in your own country, then come to America and play to two dozen at Poor David's Pub. A new label, Mondo Melodia, has set about trying to rectify this situation with its first three releases. Pukar is by top-selling Indian singer Najma, whom many might recall singing on "The Battle of Evermore" for MTV's 1994 Page-Plant Unplugged session. She was born and raised in Britain, but that hasn't affected her ability to take Indian forms such as romantic ghazals, classical ragas, and even devotional qawwali and cast them as pop songs, mixing traditional with modern instrumentation and arrangements. Over the hybrid accompaniment, Najma's voice floats, carrying a sense of both urgency and comfort.
Di Efchon is by Greek chanteuse Haris Alexiou, who has been a force in Greek popular music since 1972. She has used her music--based on a melding of popular folk song and contemporary innovation--and a strikingly imagistic stage show--to become the Barbra Streisand of Greece. The music on Di Efchon can be smooth, almost jazzy, peppered with exotic rhythms and instruments, then--borne by Alexiou's potent soprano--soars to celebratory heights that make you wonder just exactly whose albums Peter Gabriel was listening to when he came up with So, his groundbreaking 1986 change of direction.
The most striking music of the three is found on E Bercy, by the Corsican group I Muvrini. Driven by the creativity of brothers Alain and Jean Francois Bernadini, I Muvrini features their polyphonic singing, which is a Corsican folk style that allows the singer to produce two harmonious notes within a single voice. The oddly beautiful mix of these two male voices--at times producing four-part harmonies--supported by traditional instruments like bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy lend the music on E Bercy an unusually breathy, organic quality.
If you've spent any time at all in a foreign culture, you're familiar with the sense of dislocation (how strange the people look and act), followed by revelation (here comes another gaggle of typical Americans; don't they know how to act?). These three albums are a good way of sending your ears on a similar journey.
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