Various ‘Songlines Music Award 2012’ (Proper) 4/5

World roots specialist magazine Songlines has helped keep readers abreast of the latest developments for well over a decade and as part of its promotion now has its own an annual awards list. Some of the main contenders for the forthcoming honours list are contained here in this well balanced selection of emerging and established stars. One of the major trends in world roots in recent years has been the fusion of diverse and, on the surface, seemingly incompatible traditions with explorations between musicians who operate within these frontiers. Part of the cultural globalisation of the world has been a greater interest in the inter-connectedness of national musical traditions and this is no better exemplified than on the excellent album ‘Travellin’ recorded last year by Anoushka Shankar which successfully combined Indian classical with Spanish flamenco flavours. From this the piece ‘Buleria con Ricardo’ accurately conveys the passion that both genres engender and their common historical roots going back centuries which are probably less well known to the wider public. This quest for musical commonality extends to other musical genres and Western classical and world roots genres are increasingly being redefined in new and ever exciting contexts. This is by no means a new phenomenon. Tango innovator Astor Piazzolla divided opinion sharply in his native Argentina when he incorporated both classical and jazz elements into traditional tango rhythms. Now we view this as a logical development in the evolution of tango music, but at the time tango traditionalists were outraged and Piazzolla was even the subject of death threats. Happily, there are no such worries for the likes of celloist Yo Yo Ma who on his latest recording ‘The Goat Rodeo Sessions’ has teamed up with bluegrass artists Stuart Duncan, Edgar meyer and Chris Thile with ‘Quarter chicken dark’ a fitting example of the fruits of their collaboration. 

The Kronos Quartet has long pioneered fusing a traditional classical chamber formation from a slightly edgier left-field perspective and taking on board some surprising musical bedfellows. While virtually all of their numerous recordings are highly recommended and to be applauded, this latest album ‘Uniko’ is noteworthy for bringing together electronic sampling and acoustic accordion playing from Finland (which prides itself on a highly distinctive form of the tango) and ‘Särma’ is a studio recording of what initally was a live collaboration. 

Of the major names in roots music more generally, Ry Cooder is unquestionably a giant and demonstrates just why on the superlative release ‘Pull up some dust’ which was both challenging in terms of its lyrical content and yet easy on the ear. The very pertinent ‘No banket left behind’ serves as a timely reminder, if ever one was needed, of the current financial woes in the world. Tuareg band Tinariwen have become firm favourites of the concert and festival scenes in the UK with their unique brand of desert blues and the song ‘Tenere taqqim tossam’ typifies the group’s uncompromising sound. 

New young musicians of substance to emerge this year include bluegrass and American roots singer Abigail Washburn who is certainly an artist to watch out for and last year’s ‘City of refuge’ was one of this writer’s favourite listening albums. From this ‘Corner girl’ is a fine example of the singer’s craft. Malian singer-songwriter and guitarist Fatoumata Diawara surfaced initially as support act to touring African musicians during the summer, but rapidly made her a name for herself and the excellent debut album on World Circuit ‘Fatou’ is merely a foretaste of what promises to be a lengthy career from which ‘Bakonoba’ is taken. 

What of the new discoveries? While West African music is much loved by listeners and critics alike in Europe and North America, the music of Niger has barely registered on the CD map thus far. All the more reason to revel at the singer-guitarist talents of Bombino who offers ‘Tenere’ and will be touring here in the UK at selected festivals and venues. Possibly even less is known of music from Syria, especially given the current political situation, and so the presence of oud and percussion player Khyam Allami is a most welcome one and he fuses Syrian (his place of birth) and Iraqi (his ethnic origins) with the Middle Eastern tradition more generally with ‘Tawazon: I Balance’ an inspiring instrumental. Allami will be touring in the UK from April where he now resides. One minor gripe. Among the singers who are richly deserving of wider recognition, it is deeply disappointing that Afro-Mallorcan singer Concha Buika does not feature and her latest album, a compilation of her career thus far should have been included. In general, though, a fine overview of the world roots scene and a pretty accurate summation of where the music may be heading in the near future.

Tim Stenhouse