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/


  • Just wanted to say: I've been sampling  (albeit slowly) most of your recs from this and other thread.  Good, interesting stuff.... 
  • More Albums from Africa & The Middle East I Like on eMusic (& Bandcamp)...more sub-Saharan this time

    As I mentioned in another post, the work schedule and newfound access to Apple Music are slowing my eMu list productivity.  Here’s a transcontinental/regional world edition.  And for clarification to anyone who hasn’t been reading these lists for the past year and a half, the numbered titles are available on www.emusic.com , with a link to Bandcamp when applicable for those who prefer it.

    The Middle East and Africa in January might well be a more pleasant place to be than where you are reading this, so just close your eyes, listen up, and imagine you’re there.

    In approximate order of enjoyment (with lower entries being so more for the technical recording quality than the music itself)…

    1. “Doomsday Survival Kit” - Praed (2019).  On Akuphone, one of the most consistently interesting and diverse labels, thanks to idiotprogrammer for directing my attention to this epic 99-cent album.  Four long tracks mostly but not entirely instrumental, fit for a desert caravan, the titular purpose, or just some very groovy home listening.  The first track is the most interesting, full of reed instruments set to an almost dancey groove while also having more electronic elements.  Over 17 minutes, there are plenty of variations and different sections to keep the listener guessing what could be next, and several parts take on a more sinister vibe.  At least one track might be a remix, but they’re all at least subtly different.  It’s difficult to tell which sounds are played and recorded live and which might be samples, but that’s rather beside the point.  Fans of early Dissidenten or Ouzo Bazooka will feel right at home.  Kudos to anyone who’d rather pay nine Euros https://akuphone.bandcamp.com/album/doomsday-survival-kit 

    2. “S/t” - Pat Thomas & Ebo Taylor (2020 but actually a 1984 reissue).  All my Ebo Taylor albums have come from eMusic, even as their availability has come and gone repeatedly, so I was very pleased to find this relatively short one with a collaborator for 99 cents.  Brass and vocals alternate over African rhythms as usual, but it’s much mellower than most Afrobeat, to draw a clear contrast.  I can hear a little influence from the tail end of the disco era, which may be a pro or con depending on your tolerance or taste.  https://terrestrialfunk.bandcamp.com/album/pat-thomas-ebo-taylor 

    3. “Foot Sound” - Shahriar Pavandi (2019).  If one ever feels a need to discipline oneself with 90 minutes of purely instrumental Iranian folk music, Ash Co. has them covered.  No frills, no nonsense, no vocals, and 40 titles, on the expensive side at $6.49, but well worth it.  I’m not sure what the stringed instrument is that Shahriar Pavandi plays, but paired with some nice, fast drumming to keep a torrid pace, mastery and virtuosity are guaranteed on every track, all 38 of them w/ none longer than three and a half minutes.  Great for deep contemplation of serious action but a little too jarring for reading music, IMO.

    4. “Sans Commentaire” - Vieux Kanté (2013).  It’s unusual for an album title to be the same as the record label’s name, but this is nice enough to be.  From the brokedown intro, there’s a bluesy feel coming from whatever instrument is on the cover, and the high, vibrating vocals are highly distinctive (admittedly might rub some the wrong way).  What sounds like a bird call also makes its presence known, as if from out of the blue.  Guitars sometimes play a supporting role but never steal the spotlight.  They don’t want you to buy mp3s on Bandcamp https://sanscommentaire.bandcamp.com/album/sans-commentaire 

    5. “Psicodelia Afro-Cubana de Senegal” - Star Band de Dakar (2019 but maybe 1970s?).  Fans of unusual vintage fusion, look no further.  Not cheesy and sounding old enough to be rootsy, on paper this hybrid seems unlikely to work, but somehow it combines African and Cuban music in a way that’s also highly psychedelic (guitars and somewhat distorted vocals help with the last part).   Also an idiotprogrammer-approved selection on Ostinato, I’d be curious how an actual Cuban or otherwise Latin audience might respond to these tunes, always tinged with African world flavor that lends a popular style something extra to distinguish it.  Vocalists seem to be in chill conversation with one another, switching in and out of Spanish at will, and guitar solos are always groovy.  For the price, a bit brief at only half an hour.   Some interesting notes for lefty politics fans on Bandcamp, where it’s very well supported https://ostinatorecords.bandcamp.com/album/star-band-de-dakar-psicodelia-afro-cubana-de-senegal

    6. “Soft Power” - A.J. Holmes and The Hackney Empire (2015).  A most unusual sound combination of a cheeky, likely Caucasian guy chanting lead and backed up by a chorus of African-sounding women in a style that blends rock, Afrobeat, cabaret, and electronic pop elements.  The mood is uproarious and confrontational rather than just jolly, with the accompaniment shifting on a dime, and many of the songs have a tendency to go suddenly silent to focus attention on the (usually spoken) lyrics.  Kittens w/ a cannon are appropriately odd on the cover, lyrical content tends toward the political, as befits the title.  At other times, the lyrics are perplexing non-sequiturs, as when providing instructions about dipping a sandwich made of children’s hair in lard (?!).  Just as likely I don’t understand the exotic culture of Britain.  I’m generally no fan of African fusion, but this album is irrepressible.  https://ajholmes.bandcamp.com/album/soft-power-album

    7. “Guitars from Agadez Vol. 6” - Koudede (2012).  A live jam in what must be a series of them, this short set for 99 cents has a lot of energy and drive.  The crowd whistles, and some of the howls could be coming from the audience or the singers.  If you like your desert blues to have a harder edge and lean more towards garage rock, this one is highly recommended.  https://sublimefrequencies.bandcamp.com/album/guitars-from-agadez-vol-6 

    8.  “Mélodies Mandé” - Livio (2018).  Mic-ed mbiras possibly, definitely a lot of percussive melody.  A 99-cent EP with vocals and string parts coming in bursts. Again, the label doesn’t want to sell you mp3s on Bandcamp https://sanscommentaire.bandcamp.com/album/melodies-mande 

    9.  “Jinamizi La Talk” - Milimani Park Orchestra (2018).  A long album at 70 minutes, this is the one I settled on to represent the large catalog of African music on Mbwana, and I don’t regret it.  The catalog has some longer and under $5 with a little searching, so consider this a solicitation for help exploring the other acts as well as a review.  The brass and other high amplitude parts clip a bit, unfortunately, and the drums sound pixelated, but it’s not an exaggeration to call it orchestral.  The songs are all no shorter than six minutes and up to nine, so there’s plenty of space for instrumental interludes and explorations of variation.  Vocalists have the choice to sing or speak conversationally to chorus members over the accompaniment, including Fozzy Bear’s immortal “Wakka Wakka” on the third song.  The mood is definitely positive, so the album could be a long-form pick-me-up if you need it to be.  If there weren’t so many like it, I’d call it epic to take in with one sitting.

    10. “Motor Mixture” - Sharma Melody (2014).  Two tracks of nearly 20 minutes each that might as well be one song for 99 cents, these are fairly traditional other than keyboards and electric guitar.  It’s also interesting to hear electronic and acoustic rhythms together in African music, which might make the album seem a little staid or inflexible to some.  Light but not offensively so, and the mix isn’t great (especially between the lead vocalist and his chorus), possibly due to being a live recording.  Highly upbeat and positive w/out having the slightest clue what they’re singing.

    11. “Nde Nma” - Olariche & His Guitar Band (“2018”).  Vintage Afrobeat delivers truth-in-advertising guitar leadership.  Some unfortunate, loud buzzing on some parts and in between the two tracks means you can imagine your computer speakers or headphones are actually a PA system, enough to limit repeated listening for me.  Vocals and various instruments are mixed dodgily, but it’s lively stuff all right, once again over 15 min. each for just 99 cents.  Olariche’s vocals are novel at first but get a little repetitive after half an hour.

    Bandcamp Only:  “Yiilo Jaam” - Lewlewal de Podor (2011).  Sahel Sounds goes NYP on Bandcamp Fridays, and these spark an interest in acoustic guitar folk songs with vocals that bore me in English singer-songwriters.  Pretty minimal with usually just one male vocalist and percussion that might as well be a plastic bucket, mid-tempo, and quiet overall.  https://sahelsounds.bandcamp.com/album/yiilo-jaam “Alghafiat” - Amanar De Kidal (2015).  Get on the desert blues train while you can.  I’m not sure how many different acts I would need to hear for the style to become stale or before I could comment on the subtle differences between the five or so groups I’ve heard so far.  These guys throw in a tongue-trilling, high-pitched call occasionally and nicely to make sure you’re paying attention and trying to do so.  https://amanardekidal.bandcamp.com/album/alghafiat 

    “Houmeissa” - Hama (2019).  Electronic versions of apparently traditional folk songs from Niger are novel at least.  https://hamasynth.bandcamp.com/album/houmeissa  

    Rather than reposting repeatedly, here’s my lists of what’s left on eMusic:  http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/eMuReddit.html 

    & by my evaluation http://www.omnifoo.info/pages/eMusic%20Labels.html

    & by genre https://www.emusers.net/forum/discussion/comment/94512/#Comment_94512 

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