Our favourite music from the world in October
At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me
The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song
by Saz’iso (Glitterbeat Records, 053 CD, LP and digital)
Some of you may remember how Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares hit an internationally resounding chord in the 1980s with their poetic pentatonics. Well, Saz’iso could achieve something similar, given the right exposure. From the mountainous towns of Përmet and Korçë, the octet takes its name from two words: saze, a folk ensemble based around certain instruments, and the prefix iso, which refers to the area’s particular tradition of iso-polyphonic singing. You hear a dominant, throaty vocal line that is matched by marvellous and (sometimes weirdly) thrilling harmonies.
Singers Donika Pecallari and Adrianna Thanou were active on the country’s folk scene before they moved to Athens some 20 years ago. The instrumentalists – including violinist Aurel Qirjo and Pëllumb Meta (fyell flute and vocals) – also moved in a range of musical circles. Both group and album were inspired by an introduction to producer-engineer team Joe Boyd and Jerry Boys, provided by broadcaster and academic Lucy Durán.
So began the work of recording the 15 traditional songs and instrumentals that make up At Least Wave Your Handkerchief At Me. The vibrant result is a sonorous journey through dances and laments that trace much of Albania’s recent history from the Ottoman period onwards. ‘Tana’ is one such song, tragic in subject matter but with flying violin melodies and excited vocals.
Frost on Fiddles
by Frigg (Frigg Records, 00011 CD and digital)
The splendidly named Frigg – named after the Norse goddess of fertility before she lent her name to a more earthy meaning – hail from Helsinki and Frost on Fiddles is exactly what it says it is: fiddle music. That it’s fiddle rather than violin is important, because this seven-strong band are a testament to their country’s incredible educational investment in its folk heritage (the spectacular accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen is a product of this roots culture).
Secure in the knowledge that music has always been subject to a cultural slippage – in the sense that it absorbs new ideas even as it spreads its own across borders – Frigg display a bravura attitude to purism of all kinds.
There is an impressive swagger and swing to Frigg’s big instrumental sound: five fiddles plus acoustic guitar, mandolin and double bass. These are impressive musicians with strong ears for improvisation and what anchors down a tune. Just as traditional folk is inspired by places, things, people, so are the 12 pieces on this album. A restaurant, a race horse, an old Finnish rural house: these are but three of the inspirations. Interestingly, Frigg import new forms to these Finnish-based things: a Scots-influenced reel for ‘Kesät Kerkkolassa’, a rethinking of Balkan fiddle music for ‘False Legenyes’. It’s living folk and a good night out to boot.