Sunday, 6 May 2018

African dreamworlds, driftwood harps and non-existent spaghetti western soundtracks - A round-up of some of the best world music you may not yet have discovered

Suku - Your Life Is Your Poem by Nils Kercher ... Driftwood Harp by Pippa Reid-Foster ... Innamorata by Andrea Terrano

German multi-instrumentalist Nils Kercher's second studio album is an international affair. His ensemble is made up of musicians from Mali, Finland, Martinique, Senegal and Australia. The result is an ambient soundscape infused with the music of West Africa but also betraying Kercher's classical orchestral background, (which predated his interest in drumming, the djembe and the kora.)

Accompanied by Oumar Barou Kouyaté on ngoni and guitar and Mariama Kouyaté, Kira Kaipainen and Sylvia Laubé on vocals, Kercher sings and plays kora and balafon, while violin, viola and cello add extra depth to the sound. This is particularly compelling on 'Tuuli Itkee', where the insistent pulse creates an effect almost like the music of Steve Reich.

Kercher studied kora with Djelemady Sissoko (brother of Ballaké Sissoko) and, if you like the fusion of kora and cello on Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal's albums, you'll probably enjoy this. Kercher's music may lack the spontaneity of Sissoko and Segal or, for that matter, Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté's classic In the Heart of the Moon, but Suku - Your Life Is Your Poem offers a beautifully crafted dreamworld of shifting rhythms and many-layered voices and sounds.

Pippa Reid-Foster's debut CD is a set of original compositions and arrangements for the traditional Scottish harp (clarsach). The album has an uncluttered purity befitting the instrument, and is reminiscent of Alan Stivell's 1964 album Telenn Geltiek (Celtic Harp).

Pippa, a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, is based in the Argyll region on Scotland's west coast and Driftwood Harp draws upon the sights and sounds of the area, as well as on Celtic folklore. The rhythmically shifting opening track 'The Selkie' conjures up the mythical, half-seal, half-human creature while 'The Mermaid Song' is a delicate rendition of a traditional Gaelic song. Original tunes evoke scenes and landscapes. In 'Steam Boats on Crinan/The Herring Lassies of Argyll' Pippa shows that the harp can be both haunting and jaunty, and her virtuosity creates something akin to a rhythm guitar accompaniment for her complex melodic lines. 

There's plenty to please traditionalists here – such as the three jigs that make up 'Kilmartin Glen Campsite' – but I prefer the more ethereal quality of tracks like  'Elements 1' and the six minute finale, 'Deirdre in Dreams', which show Pippa's skill as a composer as well as a performer. 

The press release suggests Innamorata is 'a perfect companion for driving around the Ibizan hills.' Tunes like 'Heatwave' certainly evoke a sun-kissed, chilled-out Mediterranean mood. Italian guitarist Andrea Terrano's album is produced by Felix Buxton of Basement Jaxx. Fellow guitarist Rafa Marchante supports Andrea on a couple of tracks while elsewhere there are sympathetic touches of cello, violin and flute. 

'Sugar Rush', 'La Song Gaucho' and 'Autumn Symphony' (the latter driven along by Raul Terzi's drumming) offer a groovy kind of flamenco not unlike the flamenco jazz fusion of the likes of Eduardo Niebla.

The dramatic 'Our Story' is pure Ennio Morricone and the wittily-titled 'Braindrops' twists and turns pleasingly, while the closing track (or should I say end credits) 'Cinemotions' leaves us in no doubt that Andrea has ambitions to write film soundtracks and this could be another theme to a spaghetti western that never was.  Innamorata the title is Italian for 'lover' by the way – is a varied, uplifting collection of original tunes, played with verve and obvious enjoyment.

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).