Archive for the Folk Category

Prince Nico Mbarga & Rocafil Jazz International – Sweet Mother

Posted in Folk on July 24, 2011 by

 Highlife; 1976


You have to hear this. I’m gonna stick it in the Folk section because it’s traditional music, which (and people tend to forget this) is what Folk is. It’s music of the people for the people. Not Iron & Wine. Not DeVotchKa. Not Mumford & Sons. They play a genre. Folk has become one, but this is it in its purest form. Nationalist, unique, positive, it is a labor of love dedicated to a people and their ways of life, their beliefs, and all the other quirks that make up a culture. This is a paradigm of music f0r a culture – a paradigm of Folk. It is Nigerian and you’ve probably never heard anything from this genre before (I’m kind of a hipster. I bet you didn’t know Highlife was a genre). This is the music Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon and whatever Afropop-inspired Western stuff you can think of ripped off. The guitars are driving and they’re a number of them playing harmoniously at any given time. Not to mention most of the vocals are harmonized, in a way that’s different and better than most of the harmonizing we hear in our every day Rock & Pop. The songs are long, joyous (even the sad ones, which I’m not sure if there are any on this one but as an example listen to Lake Nyos on their Sweet Family album), and cover topics from respect for one’s mother to the fact that nobody knows what tomorrow may bring. Each song is sung in very broken English, except for Christiana which is sung in some native language I haven’t looked up the name of. Is Nigerian a language? Honestly, his apparent lack of competence with the English language and the tone of some of the songs makes a few of these tracks mildly comical. But this is feel-good music. Laugh during it, laugh at it, it doesn’t take away from the quality.

I’m quite interested in the music theory behind these compositions. This is a VERY unique genre. Even Folk music from various regions of the world can tend to sound similar. For instance the heavy brass instrument focus in both Mexican and Balkan Folk leaves them sounding similar on occasion and yet they’re culturally very different. But African Folk is like nothing else, in other traditional music or in any modern music, except for the stuff that blatantly steals ideas from it. Instrumentally, the guitar players seem to be talented. These long songs have several guitar solos, and the trumpet solo in Shakara School Girl is the first instrument solo that comes to mind that’s not guitar. There might be more.

Sweet Mother is one of Africa’s most popular songs.

1. Sweet Mother
2. Wayo Inlaw
3. Peace Movement Social Club of Nigeria
4. Aki Special
5. Christiana
6. Shakara School Girl
7. Olu Ugbo (Operation Feed the Nation)

Stand-out tracks:
Sweet Mother
Aki Special


A Hawk and a Hacksaw – Délivrance

Posted in Folk on February 24, 2011 by

Indie Folk; 2009


A Hawk and a Hacksaw is a two-piece band from New Mexico that plays a combination of Balkan Folk and Western Indie Pop that’s much more Balkan than Indie in comparison to Beirut and DeVotchKa, and just short of being entirely traditional. It was formed by Jeremy Barnes, the drummer for Neutral Milk Hotel before they split up. NMH, of course, released the legendary In the Aeroplane Over the Sea that you have to hear if you haven’t yet, and this is quite an evolution of his sound and style. On the album he plays drums, naturally, along with accordion and the vocals. Heather Trost, who he enlisted a while after starting the band and is the other official member of the band plays violin and viola. There’s a bunch of other instruments common to gypsy music used but they’re played by session musicians. Most of the stuff is instrumental but the two songs where Barnes does do some singing happen to be my two favorite songs on the album: Kertész and I Am Not a Gambling Man. Intentionally or not, his voice exudes quirk. Kertész is an equally quirky composition, possibly the fastest on the album. The song almost has no melody, the verses where Barnes sings are backed by, of all things, a cimbalom (imagine hitting a piano’s strings with a fork) soloist and the interludes, an instrumental chorus if I had to call it anything, have a brass riff that’s short and driving and more of a bridge or interlude between verses than anything. Meanwhile, the accordion is incessantly huffing rhythms in the background. The song is practically impossible to not tap your feet to. In contrast, I Am Not a Gambling Man is mostly accordion-focused. It’s fantastic hearing the accordion as a lead instrument, I’m so used to it providing rhythms. Songs like this are why I’m gonna get an accordion and master it. The song is mixed so the vocals stand out. I haven’t bothered to figure out what the lyrics are about. “There will be no hunting season this year/ all the hunters have been poisoned by an old deer.” It’s a simple jig, but a blast to listen to, with a great coda to seal the deal.

This album isn’t nearly as accessible as Beirut and DeVotchKa, but if you heard and liked them and wanna get more into the roots of their gypsy music influence, this will probably be the last Western album you listen to before you’re completely ready for a Serbian brass orchestra. Of course, don’t let lack of prior experience stop you from being adventurous – for a lot of people, this could be pleasantly shell-shocking. It’s such a brand new sound, something so many people haven’t heard before. Which is unfortunate.

1. Foni Tu Argile
2. Kertész
3. The Man Who Sold His Beard
4. Hummingbirds
5. Raggle Taggle
6. I Am Not a Gambling Man
7. Turkiye
8. Zbiciu
9. Vasilisa Carries a Flaming Skull Through the Forest
10. Lassú

Stand-out tracks:
I Am Not a Gambling Man
Vasilisa Carries a Flaming Skull Through the Forest


DeVotchKa – How It Ends

Posted in Folk on October 2, 2010 by

Indie Folk/Gypsy Punk/Post-rock; 2004


Another band on my East-European Folk list, this band from Colorado is actually the first one I found that made any use of that amazing genre of music. Their music is actually a combination of lots of music from around that area, Greek, Romani, Slavic, with Mexican Mariachi  music. The combination works better than anybody would expect, although after really getting into the genres, I’ve realized that they have a lot of similarities. Particularly the way the folk musicians of both areas use brass instruments. Lots of other websites stress the fact that they are Gypsy Punk although I don’t hear it on too many songs. Probably the most punky song on this album would be The Enemy Guns if you wanna hear how the Punk sounds mixed in with all that.

Nick Urata, the band’s frontman, singer, guitarist, and theremin player (along with a couple other instruments they make less frequent use of) has a beautifully sad voice, he’s one of my favorite singers. Most of the tracks are driven by a combination of his guitar and the accordion with a strong percussion backing. Their drummer is more than a drummer, he’s a percussionist. The sousaphone, upright bass, violin, and theremin all play important parts on different songs. I can’t talk about specific unifying sounds on this album, there’s a LOT to cover. With so many different influences and so many different genres they do, I can’t say much. It’s all done very well though. You won’t be disappointed if you decide to listen to them.

1. You Love Me
2. The Enemy Guns
3. No One Is Watching
4. Twenty-Six Temptations
5. How It Ends
6. Charlotte Mittnacht (The Fabulous Destiny of…)
7. We’re Leaving
8. Dearly Departed
9. Such a Lovely Thing
10. Too Tired
11. Viens Avec Moi
12. This Place Is Haunted
13. Lunnaya Pogonka
14. Reprise

Normally I would put Stand-out tracks here but it’s way too hard to decide what should go here. I couldn’t pick my three favorite tracks off the album. If you really want a feel of how different the album could be though, I’d say listen to How It Ends, Such a Lovely Thing, The Enemy Guns, and Dearly Departed.


Boban Marković Orkestar – Boban i Marko: Balkan Brass Fest

Posted in Folk on September 2, 2010 by

Balkan Folk; 2004


Apparently Boban Markovic’s orchestra (orkestar)  is really popular in Serbia. If this is the popular music in the Balkans, I need to go live there. DeVotchKa and Beirut made me interested in  East-European Folk but they were still American and you could tell, they have a sort of pervading “Indie” sound that they will never be able to shake, and while there’s nothing wrong with imitations, especially good imitations, they will never be as authentic sounding as going straight to actual Serbian Folk music.

There’s this sound that brass instruments make. I don’t know how to describe it, but I think it’s so cool. Especially when there’s like 30 instruments playing the same melody, that sound is sort of like white noise that affects your overall opinion on the song but you don’t know why. That sound, I think, will make a lot of people dislike brass orchestras like this one. I don’t wanna say it’s an acquired taste because I acquired it as soon as I heard it, but it’s definitely not something many people will like. It’s kind of like a strong aftertaste. Some people will like it and some people won’t.

The album basically consists of instrumental songs (there’s like 2 or 3 with minimal vocals IIRC) that are all brass instruments playing the melodies and two percussionists. Most of the songs are pretty fast, one or two are inspired by Latin music, but most sound about as traditional as they can, which I love. I’m getting more and more into this Balkan stuff, I think I’ll have to try and take a trip there one day, the music scene seems to be one of the best in the world.

1. Balkan Fest
2. Southern Comfort
3. Sat
4. Mundo Čoček
5. Od Srca
6. Povratak U Han
7. Sanja Samba
8. Mere Yaara Dildara
9. Magija
10. Bugarčica
11. Boban i Marko
12. Bratski Čoček
13. Biseri Srbije Part 1
14. Biseri Srbije Part 2

Stand-out Tracks:
Mundo Čoček
Sanja Samba


Beirut – Gulag Orkestar

Posted in Folk on August 16, 2010 by

Balkan Folk/Indie Rock; 2006


So most people, especially we Americans, when we hear the word “Folk” we think of people and bands like Bob Dylan, Iron & Wine, Fleet Foxes and other American Folk Rock. American Folk is Logan’s thing. This is East-European Folk, and trust me, it’s much better than the American stuff.

3/4 time signature rhythms, accordions, singers whose voices alone will make you sad, and brass horns define this genre. This band, mostly the work of Zach Condon, does a good job of not sounding American. The Indie Rock influence on this is minimal. It’s pretty true to real Balkan music unlike some other American bands I can name inspired by East-European Folk *coughGogol Bordellocough*.  I think I read that Condon was 19 during recording? Not exactly sure but he does sound like an old Serbian guy on this album. The compositions are beautiful and varied. This album won’t be so foreign that it’s hard to enjoy for an American. Especially a fan of Indie Rock.

“When I feel alive, I try to imagine a careless life. A scenic world where the sunsets are all…

-Scenic World

1. Gulag Orkestar
2. Prenzlaurberg
3. Brandenburg
4. Postcards from Italy
5. Mount Wroclai (Idle Days)
6. Rhineland (Heartland)
7. Scenic World
8. Bratislava
9. The Bunker
10. The Canals of Our City
11. After the Curtain

Stand-out tracks:
Scenic World
Postcards from Italy