Penguin Eggs

Tuesday, 31 March 2020 15:00

En fran├žais

Skye Concert, et É-T-É, Critiques

Skye Concert

Avec ses instruments remarquables dont la nyckelharpa (violon à clavier), le violoncelle et le cistre/bouzouki; la voix d’or de sa chanteuse principale originaire de Suède et un répertoire enraciné dans les traditions de l’Atlantique, Skye Consort et Emma Björling est un quartet unique en son genre.

« Skye Consort joue de la musique folk et baroque depuis 1999 et est établi à Montréal », explique son cofondateur Seán Dagher. « Nous avons sorti une série d’albums de musique galloise, écossaise, irlandaise et française avec différents chanteurs – classiques et traditionnels – toujours en arrangeant des pièces traditionnelles d’une manière nouvelle et intéressante.

« Notre collaboration avec Emma Björling a débuté il y a environ deux ans. Alex Kehler, notre violoniste et joueur de violon à clavier, la connaissait de la scène traditionnelle, et l’a embarquée dans notre projet avec La Nef, un ensemble beaucoup plus grand. Puisque le vol de retour d’Emma avait été annulé en raison d’une tempête de verglas en Islande, elle avait passé trois jours avec moi et notre violoncelliste Amanda [Keesmaat], à dormir sur le sofa. C’est pendant ces trois jours que nous avons eu l’idée de faire un projet avec elle pour Skye Consort. Nous avons beaucoup aimé travailler ensemble sur le projet de La Nef, et elle voulait travailler plus particulièrement sur le son du violoncelle. »

L’album éponyme de l’an dernier, Skye Consort & Emma Björling, rassemble des morceaux variés, dont six sont des airs ou chansons scandinaves. La première turlute, Herr Hillebrand, donne le ton avec la voix nuancée de Björling et son accompagnement complexe, vif et plein d’émotions.

La majorité de la musique est traditionnelle, sauf les deux airs celtiques écrits par Dagher, The Skunk/Thick As Thieves et Cast Iron Stove, une chanson contemporaine de feu l’auteur-compositeur-interprète australien Harry Robertson. Parmi les autres chansons anglaises, on trouve la comique The Old Man From Over The Sea; The Banks Of The Sweet Primroses, qui est habituellement jouée de manière mélancolique et qui est interprétée ici en suivant un tempo rapide avec syncopes, un air de parade et des maracas; et la chanson de party écossaise emblématique May The Road. La Femme du soldat est une chanson à répondre française, bien prononcée par Dagher accompagné des harmonies vocales de Björling, qui ajoute une touche suédoise.

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Tuesday, 31 March 2020 14:57

Swansongs

Penguin Eggs pays tribute to Joseph  Shabalala, David Onley, Arty McGlynn, Bob  Stone, and Buddy Cage.

Joseph Shabalala

Joseph Shabalala, founder of the Grammy Award-winning South African all-male, a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mamboza, died in Life Eugene Marais Hospital in Pretoria, Feb. 11, from long-term complications attributed to back surgery, aged 78.

While Ladysmith Black Mambazo were the first black group in South Africa to earn gold status for sales of their debut LP Amabutho (1973) and would record numerous national gold and platinum discs, their harmony singing gained widespread international recognition for their collaboration with Paul Simon on his blockbuster album Graceland.

They would feature prominently on two of the album’s key tracks, Homeless and Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes, both co-written by Shabalala. Graceland sold 16 million copies worldwide and won the 1987 Grammy for Album of the Year. Ladysmith Black Mambazou, too, would win Grammy Awards—five in all, the last in 2018 for Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30th Anniversary Celebration as Best World Music Album.

They would also collaborate with the likes of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Mavis Staples, and appear in the Michael Jackson film Moonwalker. They earned a Tony nomination for their score for the 1993 Broadway play The Song of Jacob Zulu, in which they performed as a chorus. And that same year, they accompanied Nelson Mandela to Oslo when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize.

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Tuesday, 31 March 2020 14:54

A Point of View

Tony Montague celebrates Black culture and its indelible contributions to various forms of folk and roots music.

As I write, it’s Black History Month, and I’m home in Vancouver after 15 ear-opening days in New Orleans—including Folk Alliance International.

It feels like a good time to connect a few geographic and cultural dots, and reflect on the story of early African-American music.

Most popular music in the West today has black roots that can be traced back as far as blues, ragtime, and jazz. But what came before that? There’s a span of 300 years between the arrival of the first slaves in Virginia and the first commercial recordings of black music—three centuries of near obscurity, when very little was written down, yet so much took place.

What traditions did the enslaved people bring with them and keep? How did these converge and change with each passing generation? How did they interface with the music of the First Nations peoples around them, and of white masters and settlers?

While there may not be clear answers to these questions, they lead us to consider the mixed origins of many forms of folk that are normally thought of as white—from sea shanties to old-time fiddle tunes, country, and Cajun.

In sub-Saharan Africa, music pervaded every aspect of life, an invisible glue that bound groups and nations together. All work tasks were performed to songs and rhythms. The violence, misery, and extreme disruption of enslavement and the horrors of the Middle Passage didn’t crush the music of early African-Americans—it was one of the only things they were able to bring from their homeland, and all the more precious and cherished.

Contrary to popular belief, some instruments came, too—the slavers and the masters cynically understood that music helped to raise morale and get work done faster and more efficiently.

Relatively few slaves came directly from Africa to the seaports of North America. The great majority were first taken to Britain’s Caribbean colonies, Jamaica, Barbados, and islands of the Lesser Antilles where—to use a chilling expression from those harsh times—they were ‘seasoned’ before being sent farther north. This process could take many years, even generations. The Caribbean basin is where early African-American music was forged.

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