The Worldmusic Blog (Seckou Kouyate)

It’s Jazz, Jim, but not as we know it!

Tagged with: World Music Glyn Phillips Ayanna Truthfully Ida Kelarova Desiderius Indies Scope Roma Jazz Gypsy Romska Balada Tomas Kaco Skampova Kuarteta ARC Music Re-Orient Undiscovered Time Baluji Shrivastav Linda Shanovitch Chris Conway Charlie McMahon Gondwana Didj

Some interesting albums have come across my desk in the past few weeks with, to a lesser or greater degree, an element of jazz within them.

"Powerful, poignant, great integrity"

The first is singer/composer/ace cellist Ayanna’s EP “Truthfully” (AWJ001) which is simply sumptuous and gorgeous - it somehow operates in the territory beyond jazz and soul where beautiful music is just beautiful music. Powerful, poignant, great integrity. Highly recommended. Contains her skin-tinglingly idiosyncratic version of “Roxanne” (yes, that one!).

Here's a link to my full, in-depth review of the EP: 

Check it out.

And if that doesn’t sell it to you then check out my review of her recent concert at Birmingham Town Hall (

Catch her while you can. (For more info:

And if I haven’t already exhausted my stock of hyperboles, then let me sprinkle a few more over the next artist.

I already mentioned the Czech Romany singer Ida Kelarova a a few weeks ago and her collaboration with guitarist Desiderius Duzda and his band Jazz Famelija on the album “Sunen Savore” (Listen Everyone) (MAM509 / 2012 Indies Scope) featuring special guest the Serbian accordionist Lelo Nika.

I’ll just repeat what I put then: “Really beautiful music - sort of bossa meets gypsy meets jazz - very mellow but really gets under your skin without forcing itself - had it on repeat play for ages last night. … sumptuous. quivering, heart-string tugging accordion …” .

"percolates into the aquifer of your soul"

Ida and Desiderius take jazz in one hand and Roma music and traditions in the other and breathe new life into both of them. It’s really impressive stuff. The kind of music that seeps into your skin and percolates into the aquifer of your soul. Love it. Love it. Love it. I’m just an old romantic at heart sometimes, I know, but the world would be a poorer place without music like this to pour out like a healing balm over bruised and broken hearts.

Well, I still stand by all that. But interestingly last week, by sheer coincidence, I unearthed some more Ida Kelarova buried deep in my archives on an album entitled “Romska Balada” (Roma Ballad) on the Indies Scope Records label from the Czech Republic and released in 2010.

Here she’s teamed up again with Desiderius Duzda (on vocals), but this time with the assistance of Tomás Kaco on piano with backing from the Skampa String Quartet and some guest vocalists (including Lukás Horvath) on an album of Gypsy Ballads. So there’s no bossa and the jazzy influences are less obvious, but there's still an underlying jazz sensibility.  However, the lushness quotient is raised significantly and the tender, aching, melancholy is plumbed to the depths. Even as I listen to it right now all my hairs are standing on end and I’m covered in goosebumps. And it’s not all about Ida’s voice either - Desiderius’s vocal chords have that quality too. Gorgeous. Love the duets and vocal ensemble tracks too.

The album is written and recorded so that each song runs musically into the next one (they are divided up as separate tracks though), so that the overall effect is one long musical journey, a rollercoaster of emotions. Track titles such as “Mama”, “I’m Dying”, “My God”, “Brother”, “My Daughter”, “Our Children”, “Hear Me Out God”, “I Love you So Much”, “Why” and “My Love” give you a feel for the subject matter.

"unashamedly romantic"

But don’t let that put you off even if you’re at all afraid of the power of emotion. We might be British but we’re still human after all! This is unashamedly romantic music, often sad, but always from the heart - there’s not a hint of cheesiness anywhere.

The sleevenotes state “When a Roma’s wife died, though sad, he could not cry. The doctor warned, that he must weep or his very heart would die. But crying caused too great a pain so he sang with all his heart… and his heart was fine again”. If you like Fado or Tango, then you’ll definitely love this.

The sleeve notes also portray the album as ‘Contemporary Roma Music Creation’ and that’s pretty accurate. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy a lot of the new Gypsy collaborations as well as the remixes and mashups (although there’s a lot of dross out there too), but it’s just so refreshing to see someone use the fabulous heritage of the European Roma and take it in a different direction. Both albums highly recommended.  ( and

Well, I’ve written loads already and only covered three albums . . . In the words of Gardeners' Question Time’s Eric Robson “onwards and upwards”.

Long-time world music specialists ARC Music have sent me through a couple of albums from their bottomless catalogues. The first is called “Undiscovered Time (Indian World Music Fusion)" by the band Re-Orient (EUCD 2371). The trio consists of multi-instrumentalist Baluji Shrivastav and singer-songwriter/poet Linda Shanovitch alongside another multi-instrumentalist (and uber-prolific album releaser - 80 to date), Chris Conway.

The album is a fusion of world musics with influences from both Indian classic and Indian folk, the Balkans, Bossa, the Celtic world, and assorted jazz balladry and other flavours. So often these sorts of fusions can become messy and fall between the cracks, but this is a very interesting, very listenable album.

Each member has contributed their own compositions to the 10 tracks on the CD (three by Chris, three by Linda, two by Baluji and a couple of joint works) and as you’d expect they tend to each emphasise different facets of the fusions. Baluji draws more from the raags and the classical Indian music tradition, Linda’s from jazz and ballads and poetry with a sparser and more reflective nature, whilst Chris tends to have a more overall balanced fusion of flavours spent from years of experimenting with ingredients and fiddling with menus in the world music kitchens.

I must admit to having a connection to Chris Conway since we used to play together in the mid-90s as part of the Sabri Ensemble (an Indo-Jazz fusion band) although our paths have never crossed since. So, ‘Hi Chris’ and it’s nice to know you’re every bit as talented as I remembered!

With instruments including sitar, dilruba, surbhabar, tabla, naal, gopichand, darbuka, piano, keys, tin whistle, low Irish whistles, and 9-string electric and acoustic guitars, theremin, swarmandal, nattuvangam, bodhran and a variety of vocal styles there’s a lot to listen out for here. There are also sporadic appearances by special guests Eric Junkes on saxes and Andy Platt on bass.

It’s difficult to accurately describe the music, so I’ll just try and give you a flavour of what I’m hearing. These are just my impressions.

Global Reunion feels like the soundtrack to a film and is an uplifting theme to introduce the disparate members of the band as they re-unite for this new album. Brave Boy is more of a straightforward midnight jazz ballad, real torch-song stuff for the end of the night when the audience have all gone… Very sad lyrics, deepened further by Junkes’s weeping sax and Baluji’s mournful dilruba. Portrait of a Swan is a fairly straight meeting of jazz and Indian tarana in Raag Hansadhwani mode featuring the sax and sitar. The Gift of Time is a form of Indo-Irish ballad and Dangerous Ground a slow bossa with flamenco undertones featuring a solo on the strange sounding gopichand (a one string plucked instrument).

Celebration cracks along in a joyous vein with elements of Brazilian nordestino pifano music set against Indian bols, kalimba, crows, monkeys and a global background of sounds. Tides is another meditative piece featuring Linda’s words and vocals and the rather otherworldly sounds of the theremin, gentle ostinatos and the sound of the waves. The Long Summer is a piece inspired by Balkan music in ⅝ time yet is more akin to Brazilian jazz in the vocals. Celestial, which draws inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita, is as spacy and ethereal as the name implies, whilst Garland of Light is a floaty collective improvisation utilising their three very different vocal sounds.

"one to listen to and then listen again..."

Interestingly, the whole album hangs together surprisingly well, given the amount of influences, the plethora of instruments, the different backgrounds of the members and the highly collaborative nature of the work. It’s not an easy thing to pull off. We’re often used to the concept of a dominant musician or producer having an idea and dragging everyone else along in the direction they want (sometimes necessary to bring a vision to life), but that this album works as well as it does I can only attribute to Re-Orient’s ability to really listen to each other, support and co-create. After 20 years I suppose they’ve got the right fusion after all.  This is one to listen to and then listen again... (More info on Re-Orient from and

The other album from ARC Music comes from Australia and is by Charlie McMahon and Gondwana and is called “Didj Heart” (EUCD 2370). To be honest it’s not really my thing, so I’m not going to comment one way or another on it as what doesn't float my boat, might well rock yours. There’s rarely such a thing as ‘bad music’, just music you haven’t been able to appreciate yet. If you like didgeridoo fusion music then check it out.   Maybe I just need to go walkabout and get my head around the style.  (

Well there we go for this blog. How on earth do I do it? Every time I sit down I tell myself: “just a few words on each one; don’t get carried away”. Nah, can’t be done - I’ve too much to say! Time for tea, I think!   Tomorrow, I really will keep it brief . . . !

Glyn Phillips ( - Wed 2nd May 2012

Womex 2010 - Editor's Highlights (pt 2: Sexto Sentido)

Tagged with: Sexto Sentido Cuba Arlety Valdes Yudelkis LaFuente Eliene Castillo Wendy Vizcaino Chucho Valdes Guajiro The Way Bossa Cubana Mi Feeling RnB Soul Jazz Latin Womex Charlie Scotts Melvis Estevez Joao Donato Jorge Baglan Glyn Phillips

 This is the second of my blogs about Womex 10, the World Music Expo, held in Copenhagen, Denmark, last month (Oct 2010). Here are some more of my highlights.

"On the Thursday I came across an all-girl Cuban group, Sexto Sentido, who were promoting their music from one of the Trade Fair stands. Unusually the girls were doing the entire promotion themselves with the aid of a German friend and, unable to secure a slot in the official Womex showcase, he had procured them a last minute offsite showcase gig at Charlie Scott's Jazz Club in the centre of Copenhagen. What was really different about this band was that the girls were at great pains to distance themselves from the stereotypical Cuban touring groups. This was evident not only in what they said, but in their posters and videos which owed more to Destiny's Child, TLC and a whole host of RnB singers than to what Europeans have come to expect of this magic isle.

"The most sublime contemporary soul and RnB, rich harmonies, jazzy licks, funky drums and bass and lyrics delivered perfectly in English as well as Spanish."

Confused, but intrigued, I popped on the headphones they proffered to me and was hit by the most sublime contemporary soul and RnB, rich harmonies, jazzy licks, funky drums and bass and lyrics delivered perfectly in English as well as Spanish. Wow. Not what I expected at all. So, if these girls were turning out Western commercial music (which coincidentally they wrote - lyrics and music - themselves), then what's the point? Why not just listen to the thousands of RnB stars (and wannabe's) out there who already sing this stuff in English? Ahh, but there you have it - not only are these four girls every bit as good as any of the best chart-toppers they have something that their North American neighbours don't have - and that's 'sabor'. There is an innate 'cuban-ness' to their music, a certain 'swing' that's incredibly subtle yet sets their music apart. I wasn't sure whether they even realised it, yet there it was - a warmth and sway that permeates the music and makes it stand out from the 'me too' RnB brigade . . .

"Trust me, these ladies are special. Very special indeed."

Trust me, these ladies are special. Very special indeed. The more I listened, the more I saw just how determined they are to do everything their own way, without reference to what people expect them to do. The music stopped being great soul, great jazz, great RnB, great bossa etc, but just great music. Period.   Arlety Valdés, Yudelkis LaFuente, Eliene Castillo and (new girl) Wendy Vizcaíno are a force to be reckoned with. Imagine if Beyoncé, Mary J Blige, Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys were born and raised in Cuba, and had been friends since 13 years old. Because that's basically the story of Sexto Sentido. The four friends (which included their original singer Melvis Estevez) met at one of Havana's elite conservatoires designed to pick up emerging talent from a young age and nurture it no matter the child's background. They formed their band soon after and became unstoppable, receiving numerous awards and being sent by the Government all over the world as well as working with the cream of Cuban musicians such as Chucho Valdés. Melvis recently left and was replaced by the 21 year old Wendy (the other girls are all 28).

"... the ineffably groovy "Guajiro" had been a number one hit in Cuba this summer, making them millions of fans ..."

They can still do more typically Cuban music and told me their latest single, the ineffably groovy "Guajiro" had been a number one hit in Cuba this summer, making them millions of fans and reaching 90% of the population; the spin-off video from that remained high in the video charts for weeks on end too - making even the 'extras' into mini-celebrities!

Their first album, "Bossa Cubana", had a Russian producer and was supported by the Brazilian musician João Donato. It gave them their first hit (title track) and was a mix of international songs (included two intriguing Beatles covers) with their own compositions. The second album "Mi Feeling" was rooted in Cuba's indigenous jazz movement ('fílin') of the 60s and although a niche market, was rated as one of the best jazz CDs in the USA (2008) and is still often played on American jazz radio stations. Sadly though, Sexto Sentido don't own the copyright to these. The Cuban government record company do, as well as certain foreign producers - who bought the rights from Cuba to sell them in the US market. Hence their presence in Copenhagen to promote their own independent production of their third album "The Way" (written completely by them) and to look for opportunities to tour in Europe and take back control of their music.

I was invited to their one and only performance in Copenhagen the next night (Friday 29th October), yet this meant I would miss the vast majority of the other showcases that night over in the Koncerthuset. I 'ummed' and 'aahed' all the next day, but in the end I was too intrigued to see what they would be like live and decided to head over for an hour just to check them out and take some photos.

Charlie Scott's (no relation I think!) Jazz Club is run by an ex-patriate Scot (called Charlie, I suppose!) and is a friendly, atmospheric, upstairs club with a minuscule stage facing the bar (which was barely a yard or so in front!); most of the audience sat to the one side of the stage and the others on the other side of the bar. When I got there and went up the stairs, the door opened almost straight onto the drummer; the band - all brought over from Cuba and using borrowed instruments - consisting of a kit drummer, conguero, saxophonist, keys, bass and electric guitar and completely filled the stage - and that was minus their trumpeter (the amazing Thommy Lowry - Buena Vista & Afro-Cuban Allstars)! I wondered where the four girls were going to stand. The mike stands were placed on the floor since the singers couldn't fit anywhere else. I found myself standing almost face to face with them and was forced to find somewhere else to watch and listen.

"Their backing band alone were incredible! "

The performance was delayed by 20 minutes or so as they all struggled with the PA system and appalling feedback - an object lesson in the difference between the Cuban system they are used to and the capitalist. In Cuba, they earn next to no money at all (and don't own the copyright to their own music, only getting paid a single recording fee) yet at every concert there are highly trained sound engineers and roadies - the girls just have to turn up and start singing. Realising that they were suddenly responsible for having to do their own sound on borrowed equipment (and that Western bands even have to bring their own PA often just to do a gig) was a bit of a jolt it seemed. Still, everybody was patient and professional and it was eventually sorted out and the band went into an instrumental to warm up and set the scene. Believe me, just that first 'throwaway' tune would have been worth going off the beaten track for. Their backing band alone were incredible! I later found out that it wasn't surprising since they were all top musicians in Cuba, the drummer Jorge Baglan coming from NG La Banda and Paulito FG and the award-winning saxophonist Michel Herrera having performed with Winton Marsalis, to name just two.

"Their voices are pitch perfect, smooth as butter, rich as chocolate, and as for the harmonies . . . "

For the next hour Sexto Sentido delivered a set of music that blew the audience away. Their voices are pitch perfect, smooth as butter, rich as chocolate, and the harmonies .. complex, yet somehow natural, instantly comforting, yet constantly surprising. Just when you thought you'd got the measure of them, they explored another angle of the song. I kept wondering if the regulars there had ever heard anything like it. The standard was incredible! In Cuba, the girls have often played in big concert halls and gigs to thousands of people at a time, and yet here they were singing their hearts out to this small yet packed room of musos, jazzers and locals.

"The first set was a masterclass in soul, jazz, RnB, bossa, latin jazz and beyond."

The first set was a masterclass in soul, jazz, RnB, bossa, latin jazz and beyond. I was blown away by their version of The Beatles "Come Together" - I really didn't see that one coming! They said they'd take a five minute break and then be back. I didn't want the music to stop, but quite literally five minutes later, they took to the stage again (other less professional musicians take note!) and then really let rip for the remainder of the night. The second set started to mix in son and rumba and a hip-swinging version of their hit "Guajiro". By this time the standing crowd were dancing in every square inch they could find. Just when you thought it couldn't get any better than this, it did, Eliene throwing back her head, opening her lungs and letting rip like a true Soul Diva. I'd long since abandoned any thoughts of seeing the rest of the showcases that night (apologies to all the amazing bands I missed), but I knew that right at that moment there was nowhere else I'd rather be than standing in front of such consummate musicianship and singing.

"Just when you thought it couldn't get any better than this, it did ..."

So, are they really "world music"? Some other Womex delegates I spoke to were equally impressed by their abilities (besides being singers, songwriters, arrangers and choreographers the girls are all multi-instrumentalists in their own right - planning soon to release an album with every single thing written and performed by them); but these promotors struggled to conceptualise marketing an outfit like them. "So what are they: Salsa or Soul?", they'd say, "If only they'd do one or the other!". I think these delegates missed the point. Sexto Sentido are all of these things and more, much more. Imagine if people had said to Cuban super-group Irakere: "Just stick to doing versions of Guantanamera" . . .

"You see, it's not about "World Music"; it's about World Class Music. And Sexto Sentido are world class."

Who would like the music of Sexto Sentido? The short answer is anybody who likes fabulously sung music. Certainly anybody into jazz, soul, RnB, and all their affiliates would like it; anybody that likes Cuban music or indeed most latin american musics would like it. But their appeal is far wider than that: Pop? Certainly. Cutting edge Dance? Yep? Fusion? Of course. Tropical? Por supuesto! World Music? Undoubtedly. You see, it's not about "World Music"; it's about World Class Music. And Sexto Sentido are world class.

"… these four talented and truly gorgeous women deserve to go all the way."

My belief is that they're only just starting to explore their capabilities musically. They've already collaborated with Norman Cook and Guy Sigsworth on some House and Dance tracks, and are able to truly tackle anything they set their minds to. What I'm interested in is what they'll create themselves as they mature and synthesise their many influences. In a way they could end up with real world music: globally recognisable, yet - I fervently hope - without losing their idiosyncratic Cuban 'sabor'. I hope my 'sixth sense' is correct, because these four talented and - I can't hold back any longer, I just have to say it - truly gorgeous women deserve to go all the way. I hope they find 'the way', without losing their way."
Glyn Phillips