Mixed Media: Music
by Refugees for Refugees (Muziekpublique 07, CD + digital)
What can musicians do to alleviate Europe’s refugee crisis? In terms of realpolitik, the answer is, sadly, very little. However, what they can do is send their voices and their sounds out into the world in the hope of sympathetic hearing and this powerful album, crowdfunded in Belgium, deserves to be heard.
Refugees for Refugees is what it says: the musicians who play on it are all refugees who have made new lives in Belgium. Simply and beautifully, they play together. The instrumentation, languages and style across the 14 tracks are hugely varied, and that’s part of the immense charm of this enterprise.
It’s hard to single out highlights. Certainly, the Tibetan songs that bookend the album are two. Dolma Renqingi (vocals) and Kelsang Hula (dramyen, a seven-stringed lute) launch the album with a rendering of the traditional Tibetan song ‘Chomolungma’, which describes Mount Everest: it’s a spacious, airy production, given an extra framing by the marvellous Pakistani sarod player Asad Qizilbash. Sandwiched between is much treasure – from Iraqi qanun player Ali Shaker Hasan to Afghan Aman Yusufi’s song for the Nowruz holiday (a celebration banned by the Taliban). Tammam Ramadan’s ‘The Second Day of Spring’ is a new improvisation dedicated to the victims of the Brussels attacks in March 2016. The album ends with Norbu Tsering’s slightly sugary setting of the Buddhist prayer, ‘All Sentient Beings’. With text in Arabic, Dari, Urdu and English, the plea for harmony is truly international.
by Melingo (World Village 056, CD + digital)
Daniel Melingo is a polymath who resists definition. The Argentinean clarinetist is an interpreter of contemporary tango par excellence; but he is also a poet, an actor and a cross-cultural figure – akin to Serge Gainsbourg in France – who inhabits multiple spheres of influence. Even when Melingo is not playing what is strictly tango, he has its swaying loucheness off pat.
So it’s not surprising that Melingo pays homage to Gainsbourg with a cover of ‘Intoxicated Man’. It’s a suitably sleazy, grainy-voiced French version that effects a transposition of the Parisian Rive Gauche to the bohemian equivalent in Buenos Aires. In fact, Paris provides the intellectual mood: a cover of Erik Satie’s first ‘Gnossienne’ accentuates a spiky atonality that lingers on the edges of the French composer’s experimental piano work. Melingo is ably backed up with a marvellously lurching band that includes bandoneon, strings, bouzouki within its palette: their full panache shows up on ‘Volando Entre Las Nubes’, an instrumental that flickers with the shades of Kurt Weill, Ennio Morricone and Melingo’s own ineffable presence.
Anda roughly translates as ‘Let’s go!’ and it’s a command that takes Melingo’s listeners tumbling through time and location. It’s apt that it ends on a tender note. The title song, written by Maria Celeste Torre, Melingo’s wife, is as mysterious and quiet as the rest of the album is brilliantly clanky.