Category Archives: World Music

Glorious: Kim Yu-Na’s Gold in Vancouver; Lionel Loueke and Angelique Kidjo’s Performance on “Ami O”

When Kim Yu-Na, the Korean “rock star” figure skater, neared the end of her gold-winning performance in Vancouver, commentator Sandra Bezic declared, “This is glorious… one of the greatest Olympic performances I have ever seen.”

I felt a similar sense of WTF when I first heard the song, “Ami O,” on jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke’s new album Mwaliko (released March 1, 2010, Blue Note Records).

Lionel Loueke

You can check out the track on Loueke’s MySpace site.

In my research for this review, I learned that “Ami O,” is a popular international hit, originally penned in 1962 by Cameroon’s Ebanda Manfred (entitled “Amie,” French for friend). Bebe Manga, also from Cameroon, covered the song, which she called “Amio,” in the ‘80s to wide acclaim. Countless artists have recorded the song since. One article I read likened “Amio’s” popularity to that of the Cuban song “Guantanamera” by Joseíto Fernández.

Loueke, who has made a name for himself in recent years for his fusion of African and jazz music, is joined on “Ami O” by legendary vocalist Angelique Kidjo, who gives an athletic interpretation of the song.

I saw Kidjo in Houston several years ago at the International festival, and she is equal parts great singer and exciting entertainer. I wouldn’t describe her voice as pretty; it’s more muscular than that. On “Ami O,” she belts out the lyrics from start to finish, kind of like a triple lutz of the vocal chords.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”false” link=”term=kidjo&iid=1509659″ src=”e/0/f/1/39th_NAACP_Image_4537.jpg?adImageId=11204760&imageId=1509659″ width=”500″ height=”364″ /] Angelique Kidjo

Loueke doesn’t play the song safe, either; no Freddie Green modesty here. He is matching Kidjo step for step, bringing in percussive picking, polyrhythmic accents against jazz harmonies. And that’s just his guitar. He also displays an African version of beat box to great effect.

By the way, Loueke and Kidjo go way back. Their families knew each other in Benin,  and the history between the two artists shows. Their rhythmic reference points allow them to interact with such ease that this listener can’t help but be spellbound.

So check out “Ami O” and use your own superlatives to try to explain in words what Loueke and Kidjo so effortlessly share through their respective instruments, vocal or otherwise.

As a side note, in 2008, I saw Loueke play with his trio and with Herbie Hancock at the Vancouver Jazz Festival as the city was preparing for the 2010 Olympics. Loueke’s trio was tight as an accountant on April 14th, which was such a contrast to Herbie’s group. I feel terrible saying it, because I’m one of Hancock’s biggest fans, but that night, Herbie’s band, which included drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (who is also terrific), sounded like several musicians playing together, but with ear plugs so they couldn’t hear each other. I was so disappointed, I left early.

Lyric Request: If you have the lyrics to “Ami O,” either in French or English, please post them in the comments section of this review. Thanks!


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Hungary’s DJ Bootsie, Making Movies For Your Ears: A Review of the Song, “Kite Over Faurndau,” and the Legacy of Hungarian Hip-Hop

Hip-hop is universal.

Don’t believe me?

Did you know that Hungary has a well-established hip-hop culture? The country’s first hip-hop album emerged in the mid-1980s.

That’s a testament to the kids who created rap music in the streets of U.S. urban centers and to the people of Hungary. Until relatively recently, Hungarians were under a creative lock-down (although less harsh than some other communist countries). Formally, communism ended in Hungary in 1989.

(Read more about the history of hip-hop in Hungary – )

One of Hungary’s Brightest

Based in Budapest, DJ Bootsie, one of Hungary’s emerging hip-hop leaders, has been in the game for over 15 years and is known for his cinematic, improvisational approach.

(DJ Bootsie plays live with a band, a video screen and only one turntable to provide melody and scratch solos.)

DJ Bootsie started his first hip-hop group, Az Arral Szemben (Against the Current), in 1995 and won a national DJ competition the next year. Since then, he has performed and recorded with Hungarian groups Yonderboi and Zagar and has released two solo albums: “The Silent Partner,” in 2004 (Ugar Records) and “Holidays in the Shade,” released Dec. 15, 2009, on BBE.

Hungarian Blues with Bass

Listen to “Holidays in the Shade,” and you’ll hear “epic instrumentals, basically on hip-hop foundations,” DJ Bootsie says in a video promoting the album (see link at the end of this article). “[The songs] carry strong cinematic influences as well as folk, jazz, electronic sounds and scratches here and there,” he says.

Also in the video, DJ Bootsie talks about his interest in musical structures and taking his listeners on a journey toward something inspirational, yet sad.

“Often, gloomy, not entirely positive music can also be uplifting, which actually reflects the mentality of the Hungarian people,” he says.

American musicians might say that DJ Bootsie is talking about the blues.

Kite Over Faurndau

DJ Bootsie has a gift for using dynamics to evoke emotions, similar to the dramatic music we hear so often in movie soundtracks.

Take, for example, the song, “Kite Over Faurndau.” A light acoustic guitar carries the music along with a playful snippet of female vocals. Interwoven are musical events that bring piano, accordion, string hits, rhythmic handclaps, rock guitar and distant sirens into the musical picture – all telling a story with a beginning, middle and end.

Live Version of Kite Over Faurndau

Perhaps that’s why DJ Bootsie’s music has translated so well into TV. The CSI franchise used his songs “Horseriders to the Abyss,” and “Ballad of the Spaceship Rigger (Pt. 1)” in its episodes. His work has also appeared in Hungarian TV and film.

Through an e-mail interview, DJ Bootsie shared with Eleven’s Song Reviews that his inspiration for “Kite Over Faurndau” was a personal one.

Faurndau is a tiny, remote Swabian village in southern Germany where my grandmother lives,” he says. “During the initial work…of the song, I often recalled childhood memories of flying kites close to her place…The most careless time of my life these days were.”

He also shares, “The nature of the song, the airiness, the acoustic guitar, the zip and snap of it, made me start to clap my hands, like when one starts to dance involuntarily.”

So when you’re feeling introspective and need a good musical rush, check out DJ Bootsie. He’ll play a musical movie for your ears…you supply the script in your imagination. If you want to hear more music from Hungarian hip-hop artists, DJ Bootsie recommends listening to DJ Cadik and DJ Mango.

By the way, if you want to see some great panoramic views of Budapest, Hungary, check out the following Web site: .

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A Review of the Song, “Ultimate,” by Gogol Bordello: A Musical Multi-Car Pileup with Confetti

Eugene Hütz, founder of the acclaimed gypsy rock group, Gogol Bordello, was a teenager when the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986 displaced his family in Kiev, Ukraine. Since then, Hütz seems to have converted that chaotic, atom-splitting energy into “complete orgasmal hysteria” onstage  – which is how Hütz has described the group’s live performances (NPR Interview, 2007).

[picapp src=”2/b/1/6/2009_All_Points_9389.jpg?adImageId=7247119&imageId=5719569″ width=”500″ height=”322″ /] (L to R: Gogol Bordello’s Yuri Lemeshev, Sergey Ryabstev and Eugene Hütz)

Here’s what a couple of my Facebook friends told me this week about seeing Gogol Bordello live:

  • Dana – I just saw them at Voodoo Fest in New Orleans and at Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival last year. I wanted to run away with them. Totally contagious.
  • Brian – I “lurves” me some gypsy rock. I saw them at ACL a couple years ago. Very high-energy – the crowd couldn’t help but dance.

Until recently, I had never heard of the band. I’m probably the last person who can claim that in indie listening circles, because Hütz, the group’s leader, knows how to draw attention to himself, thanks to his charisma, philosophical bent and sweaty decadence.

To date, the band has its own documentary, “Gogol Bordello Non-Stop” (Hoptza Films, 2008), has performed with pop powerhouse Madonna and has appeared at countless marquee music festivals across the globe. Hütz also played leading roles in the movies “Everything is Illuminated” (Warner Independent Pictures, 2005) and Madonna’s directorial debut, “Filth and Wisdom” (IFC Films, 2008).

New Album
On Oct. 6, 2009, Gogol Bordello released a CD/DVD set called “Live from Axis Mundi” (SideOneDummy) that includes footage from a concert in New York City as well as a BBC radio session.

The music attacks the senses. Every time I tried to settle into any particular beat or sound, Gogol Bordello pulled me by the ear to witness another jarring style or musical idea. The group smashes dub, gypsy music, punk, caberet and more into loud anthems that make me want to sing and cast my vote for something – with Gogol Bordello, that’s probably something extreme.

My favorite track is “Ultimate,” which was from a 2008 live performance on BBC- Radio 1’s “In The Company Of (with Colin Murray).”

Listen to the song here

Here’s a taste of the lyrics (word order is faithful to the recording):

“An evolution is eternal
An evolution isn’t over
Everybody shows
And everybody knows
That if we are here, not to do
What you and I wanna’ do
And go forever crazy with it
Why the hell we are even here?

When Hütz yells at the end of each verse, it’s time to party like a car crash.

Since words really can’t describe Gogol Bordello, here are a couple videos:

Gogol Bordello’s Web sites include and The group has a fan page on Facebook.

Sources: (Gogol Bordello Announces “Live from Axis Mundi”), (Gypsy Punk Group Gogol Bordello in Concert, July 18, 2007), (Eugene Hütz page),,

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A Review of Sara Tavares’ Song, ‘Sumanai’: Feel Better with the Sounds of Portugal and Cape Verde

Your boss calls you into her office, tells you she “hates this part of the job” and lets you know you’ve been laid off. Don’t throttle her. Don’t have Grey Goose for dinner. Instead, listen to the song “Sumanai” by Sarah Tavares.

Listen to the song here

Tavares knows how to smooth your frantic brain waves into rolling ocean waves. A minute into the song and you’re on the beach, toes in the water, too relaxed to care about that #!?&!@ job.

Such is the power of Tavares’ lovely voice, whether she’s singing in Portuguese (she is a native of Portugal), Cape Verdean Creole (her parents immigrated to Portugal from the African nation) or stilted English.

Sumanai, which means…actually, I have no idea [Ximena addresses this in her comment from Sept. 3o]. I searched for over an hour to find lyrics or hints from album reviews; I looked at Portuguese- and Cape Verdean Creole-to-English web sites, and I got nothin’. [see Robb’s translation in his Oct. 1 comment]

No matter. For me, Sumanai is all about a feeling. “Xinti,” the name of the album on which Sumanai appears, means “to feel.”

Sumanai feels natural, with cheery Soukous-style guitar work (think Paul Simon’s “Rhythm of the Saints”) and light percussion creating a great atmosphere for conversation, long laughs and kisses. Visiting Tavares’ musical world, my worries are far, far away.

Listen to the song “Sumanai,” on the album, “Xinti” by Sara Tavares, released Aug. 11, 2009, Four Quarters. Websites: and Tavares has a fan page on Facebook.

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