Ten nice albums in Balkan/Roma/Middle Eastern/North African world folk
Very odd that eMusic’s recommendations for artists “similar to Kocani Orkestar,” a dearly departed Balkan favorite, are electronic rather than several listed here. This list is mixed regionally because the albums are, too. More strings than brass or woodwinds in general, and some are more rock than folk. Overall, a lot of nice surprises await.
1. “Delta” - Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet (2018). A straightforward acoustic string jam with basic percussion work that belies the actual rhythmic complexity, this one sounds pure and simple. The fourth track, “Miserlou,” must be a standard. Fully instrumental.
2. “Balkantron” - Sarakina (2017). Wearing its heritage in its names and the bloody-looking album art, I don’t know if this is the best of Sarakina’s whopping six albums on the serpent label, but I’m trying to err on the side of newness on a list with nothing from the current year. She sings occasionally, and I don’t know what led to the “-tron” suffix, as there’s nothing electronic or sci-fi robotic about this music other than it being pretty danceable.
3. “Uno” - Zoobazar (2011). A Middle-Eastern folk pop album by way of a fine and varied Hispanic label (Ojo Música), without the aid of electronics, but still very much oriented toward the dancefloor. I say it’s pop in the old, not new sense, not because of singing but as there’s an electric guitar, bass guitar, and a drum set on some songs. Vocals come and go seemingly at random on the first song, but the rest of the album is instrumental. Mostly strings but plenty of woodwinds also.
4. “Negro Es El Poder” - Mohama Saz (2017). More psychedelic rock than others here, and I had it on an earlier list. It goes well with the next one, also electrified. Gitano singing and a variety of unusual instruments make this quite a unique overall sound, and apparently the arrangements have Turkish roots. It’s also worth a reminder that its label Humo has a wide variety of full length albums for 99 cents (or “name your price” on Bandcamp). https://mohamasaz.bandcamp.com/album/negro-es-el-poder
5. “Tikmawen” - Timasniwen (2018). Is this the world folk rock version of calling oneself Jefferson Starship or Smashing Orange? Very closely in the style of Tinariwen, also Tuareg, but a bit mellower. This link explains the propinquity: https://sw-ke.facebook.com/EthnoCloud/posts/new-album-tikmawenartist-timasniwen-tikmawen-is-the-first-album-of-timasniwen-fr/1910982435672955/ The question of whether folk music can have electric guitars and a drum set looms large over this one. Desert blues will definitely not get its own list, so enjoy the beat and amplification even if you don’t think it belongs here. https://timasniwen.bandcamp.com/album/tikmawen
6. “Resonance” - Zephyr Quartet (2018). Boldly strung without percussion, you could call it Middle-Eastern and classical fusion, but done very tastefully on a $2 EP I wish were twice as long. There’s a very deliberate pace to these compositions, lending each more heft than its run time would suggest. The last two tracks are decidedly more uptempo and lose the regional theme, though they’re in no way inferior. https://zephyrquartet.bandcamp.com/album/resonance
7. “Albanian Gypsy Music” - Albanian Gypsy Ensemble (2018). Thanks to @Idiotprogrammer for the rec on this, a 99-cent album that has no business sounding this genuine given its cover, generic title, and price. Guaranteed not a trash compilation. Delivers exactly what it promises with good sound quality and no off-putting attempt at frills, bells and whistles, or dreaded Casio new age accompaniment.
8. “Koneh Hawaran” - Kayvan Mirhadi feat. Amirhossein Tafreshi (2016). Very nice to hear sparse, traditional Middle Eastern strings backed up by the more orchestral kind. It lends an epic feel to these generally longer songs on this $1.49 EP. One of my favorite finds on this list, and it has slightly more vocals than others despite the usual instrumental passages.
9. “The Tel Aviv Session” - The Toure-Raichel Collective (2012). A surprisingly varied collection in styles that sound Sub-Saharan as well as Middle Eastern, and sometimes entirely unique to the collective. One of the best world albums still available on the site. Mostly instrumental (they sing lyrics on “Alkataou,” “Ane Nahatka,” and use voices elsewhere as another instrument), with other instruments peeking in between the guitars and piano that take turns leading the songs. This has been on a few previous lists, but it’s so nice I see no reason to stop reusing it. I know I really should just get the other “session” already, but Paris is a bridge too far. https://store.toureraichel.com/album/the-tel-aviv-session
10. “Dislalia” - Carlos Marks (2013). A very challenging acoustic, experimental album made in Mexico but closest in instrumentation and sound to gypsy music. Proof that noisy folk is entirely possible but far less unpleasant than other kinds of dissonance. https://carlosmarks.bandcamp.com/album/dislalia
I really want to try a full album on WPM Co., but they’re all $6.50. :-[
Find the labels from the region on these posts: https://np.reddit.com/r/eMusicofficial/comments/d2jqjl/african_middle_eastern_studies_on_emusic/