Earlier in 2015, I attended Austin's SXSW Festival, and as always was thrilled to meet so many talented musicians from around the globe. Three stand-out performers really caught my attention this year: two guys and a gal, Dani Carbonell from Uruguay but who lives in Spain, Rocky Dawuni from Ghana, who lives at present in Los Angeles, and Levante, an Italian female who was discovered whilst working as a barista in Italy.
Dani Carbonell, Macaco's front man has a rather mischievous appearance with a charming and exuberant personality. He's one of the founding members of the Spanish group, Ojos de Brujos which are enormously popular throughout Europe. Macaco's latest CD is Historias Tattooadas, an upbeat and danceable CD, "Dancing Man" is especially fun.
Rocky Dawuni was born and reared in Ghana, Africa. His father was a cook on an army base but he was determined that his children would all receive the best education that he could give them. Not surprisingly, the father was of Royal Lineage in his country, so he ensured that his children would also be aware of their heritage. Rocky was one of the most approachable and recognizable artists at SXSW, with a wide smile, long dreadlocks and bouncing gait. He has now been nominated by the Grammys for his CD, Branches of The Same Tree, in the best reggae album section for 2016. One of the standout tracks is "African Thriller."
Levante from Catania, Sicily was moved from her childhood home to Torino in Northern Italy after her beloved father died. She was nine years old at the time and profoundly affected by his death. This event prompted her to start writing and composing songs about life in general. One of those songs 'Levante' became a YouTube sensation in Italy with over two million views, so when the now 26-year-old Claudia (her birth name) was working as a barista, she discovered and signed to an independent label. Needless to say, Levante was bowled over by SXSW and was so excited to be there. Her newest album is called Abbi cura di te. Check out her SXSW showcase performance in the video below.
One of San Antonio's favorite artists also released a new album this year. Lila Downs' Balas y Chocolate, or Bullets and Chocolate, is a very politically slanted album in which Lila draws attention to what ails present-day Mexico. A violent drug war, students disappearing, unrestricted capitalism and migration of children all receive attention in this beautifully presented album. The cover is three dimensional and totally captivating. For me, the opening track is compelling with its storytelling and subject matter 'Humito De Copal' or 'Smoke of the Copal.'
One of my World Music favorite recording artists is Kiran Ahluwalia, an Indian woman brought up in Canada and now living in Brooklyn. She has studied Indian Classical Music and ghazal, a song style based on Urdu poetry, since she was seven. Her earlier albums were more of a cross over style but recently she has adopted a more formal approach. In her latest album, which charted as number 45 out of 2015's World Music Charts Europe, the number submitted for consideration, was 859, she embraces Indian Western Jazz and music of the Sahara.
Also charting high on the World Music Charts of Europe this year is Toto La Monposina Y Sus Tambores with Tambolero. This is a greatly enhanced reissue of an album 'La Candela Viva' first released in 1993. Toto is now 75 years old and her singing career started in Colombia at age eight. She grew up amidst horrific violence as Colombia's civil began in 1948. She made it her mission to learn and perform the songs and music of the black Palenque villages along Colombia's Caribbean coast. These people are the descendants of black runaway slaves. During the fifties and sixties, Colombian radio stations were playing North American pop songs, and it's mostly due to Toto that the traditional music of her country not only survived but now thrives.
The latest album from Spanish singer/composer Ana Alcaide is Tales of Pangea, a melding of Spanish and Indonesian music. Ana is from Toledo and studied biology which led her to Sweden and there she heard for the first time, the nyckelharpa, which she helped popularize in Spain. Her next venture brought her to Java where she participated at the Gotrasawala Festival. This festival promotes Sundanese culture, and it was here that she befriended a group of international musicians. In addition to the nyckelharpa, she added Indonesian style and instruments to create a haunting and soothing CD which had been categorized as Asian music.
If you're keeping score, number one on the World Music Charts for 2015 is a Romanian album. It’s also a retrospective, by the group called Taraf de Haidouks, who formed a band in 1990. Up until then, they all had solo careers but as a group they became known as “The best Gypsy band in the world.” Their playing is virtuosic and complex—one of their greatest admirers was the world-renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin. For their 25th anniversary, they issued Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts, a medley of previously released songs and instrumentals. Despite their fame and adoring audiences around the globe, the group continue to live a very low key life style, in the town where they grew up, Clejani, Romania.