Howe Gelb and a Band of Gypsies

As an Arizona resident for the past 18 + years, and a lover of many things Americana/roots, especially with a west coast / southwest vibe, it’s damn silly that I’m not more familiar with the Tucson’s Howe Gelb and his former band Giant Sand. I’m correcting that as we speak by dialing up all of Giant Sand’s early albums on Rdio. I started this morning with 1985’s Valley of Rain, which sounds like unmistakable precursors to the Pixies, and another Tucson outfit, Calexico (which makes sense – John Convertino and Joey Burns actually started out in Giant Sand).

Yes, I posted many moons ago about a great Giant Sand tune (“Big Fish”) on a Victoria Williams benefit CD. But overall since then, I’ve had – well – my head in the sand about Giant Sand.

So Mr. Howe Gelb has a new record on tap with a new band, A Band of Gypsies. It’s called Alegria, and was recorded in Spain with an actual band of Flamenco guitar-playing gypsies. Featured among them is Flamenco guitar virtuoso Raimundo Amador.

The new album will release stateside on May 10th. Here’s a free & clear tune to give you a taste…

Howe Gelb & A Band of Gypsies4 Door Maverick (mp3)


Keep an eye on the Fire Records web site for a chance to order in the U.S. (you can already order overseas).

A Nod to the the Gipsy Kings

Almost 5 years running, and I’ve never even mentioned the Gipsy Kings on this blog? For shame, Pete. The Rumba Catalana sound of the Gipsy Kings have been bringing audiences and listeners joy for more than 20 years now (13 for me) – it’s near impossible to listen to their music and not feel the tension lift.

I first became aware of them in a Mexican-style cantina in Salzburg, Austria back in 1996. I was traveling with my mom and dad, who were living near London at the time. When they were hitting the sack in the 500 year old hotel (the Elefant), it was time for me to hit the town. My first stop was this cool little cantina across the Salzach River. As I sat at the bar sipping my beer, this wonderful sound of latin rhythms came immediately to my attention. I asked the bartender who it was, and the rest is history.

When I got back home to Arizona, I immediately bought The Best of the Gipsy Kings – and it has served admirably since… on road trips, at backyard barbecues, house parties… It’s simply the type of music – this more pop-oriented style of flamenco – that satisfies the soul. You put on some Gipsy Kings music, and you make people happy. Plain and simple.

As for the band itself, its eight members make up two families – five from the Reyes family, and three from the Baliardo family. Anyone new to the band wouldn’t probably guess that all eight members were born in France – but it’s true. Their parents fled Catalonia (Spain) during the Spanish Civil War, and ended up in Arles and Montpelier, in southeast France.

I may be preaching to the choir with a lot of you, but if it happens that you haven’t yet experienced the sounds of the Gipsy Kings, get one of the two collections below. You’ll be happy.

The Gipsy KingsBaila Me (mp3)

This and many other great songs can be found here (click the covers):

Paul Simon + Roots + Antibalas Horns on Fallon

Jimmy Fallon may be going through some growing pains as a late night talk show host (some of the interviews I’ve seen have their cringe-worthy moments), but with the Roots as the house band, every musical moment has the potential for greatness. Last week, the Beasties dropped in. Last night, it was Paul Simon’s turn, as he joined the Roots crew for “Late in the Evening”, with the Antibalas horns in tow.

The verses and choruses are fine, but the real magic happens in between, when the percussion and horns take over. Awesome!

ACL Highlight: Gogol Bordello

What a fun &%#$ band! High energy bohemian gypsy maniacs.

Gogol Bordello was high on my list of must-see acts at the ACL festival a couple weeks ago. Like a lot of people, I first came to know of them during Madonna’s performance at Live Earth last summer (7/7/07). She brought guitarist and lead singer Eugene Hütz and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev out to join her for “La Isla Bonita”. If you were able to ignore Madge’s annoying backup dancers, you got a glimpse of these two eccentrics, and they spurred you into finding out more about them.

The original members of Gogol Bordello met at a Russian wedding in Vermont in 1997. From there, they played up and down the isle of Manhattan and, in the process,  got banned from the Mercury Lounge, CB/GB, Fez and the Bowery Ballroom for “being too over the mothefucking top”.

They set up residence at a performance art space called PIZDETZ, on the lower east side. Eventually, they ended up at Menahata, a Bulgarian bar, also on the lower east side, where their weekly gig. ‘DRINK LOCALLY! FUCK GLOBALLY!’, put them through the roof, and turned Menahata into the CBGB of the Gypsy Punk scene.

A couple months before ACL, I picked up Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, their second album. The album, coupled with some good YouTube festival footage, got me primed for the show. On Friday afternoon at 4:30, the opening day of ACL, Gogol Bordello took the AT&T stage, and Entertainment ensued.

I could watch frontman Eugene Hütz all damn day – such manic energy, and that great Eastern European accent flavoring his lyrics. But then there’s the seven others, including Sergey on violin, an accordion player, and Elizabeth and Pamela, the two crazy-sexy dancers who leaped and bounded to all ends of the stage.

The ACL program put it best: if you like the Clash, the Pogues, and the Gypsy Kings, then you’re in for a treat. They tour all over the world now, so get out and see ’em!

Here are a couple of my (and my two daughters’) favorites:

Gogol BordelloI Would Never Wanna Be Young Again (mp3)

Gogol Bordello60 Revolutions

ACL Set List – 9/26/08

Not A Crime
Supertheory Of Supereverything
Wonderlust King
Tribal Connection
60 Revolutions
American Wedding
Start Wearing Purple
Think Locally, F’ck Globally

Visit: Gogol Bordello’s Official Site | MySpace

Check out a couple Gogol Bordello albums…

Northern Exposure: Tagaq

Whatever You're Into, Get Into Tagaq.

Bizarre, diverse, expansive, extraordinary, sensual and provocative, the sophomore release Auk/Blood from Canadian artist Tagaq brings to mind a flurry of metaphors that all lead to the summation of a single word; Unique. As an experience I can only liken it to the first time I heard Sigur Rós or Dead Can Dance, stylistically this is profoundly and utterly unlike anything that I’ve ever heard before. There is a familiar quality in the textures, organic and primal and yet this is far from familiar. Dynamic to the point where you sometimes have to strain to discern the whisper, and intense to the point of rapture (go ahead and try not to get completely lost in the seduction of “Hunger”), Auk/Blood leaves no corner of the subconscious unturned.

Tagaq is vocalist/Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq Gillis, together primarily with violinist Jesse Zubot and featuring guest vocals from Mike Patton, rapper Buck 65 and beat box artist Shamik Bilgi. Auk/Blood is due to be released July 29th – until then, check out the track “Fire ~ Ikuma (feat. Mike Patton)” and let us know your thoughts.

Sorry for the file mix up, but it should all be better now!

TagaqFire ~ Ikuma (feat. Mike Patton) (MP3)

Links: Official Site | on | on MySpace

First Listen: Haale


Haale (pronounced similar to Hallelujah) successfully manages to blend the traditional rhythm and passion of Persian and Sufi Trance music and fuse it with a beautiful take on the post modern rock most readily associated with the likes of Radiohead. Dark and beautifully orchestrated spaces allow for the true breadth of her voice to shine throughout the title track of her debut release No Ceiling (available now on MP3 and on CD March 18th). I’ll post a full review in the coming week but to tide you over until then check out “No Ceiling”.

Haale – No Ceiling (MP3)

Buy No Ceiling: Amazon (MP3) | Direct (CD Pre-Order)

Links: Official Site | on | on MySpace

Meet Tiken Jah Fakoly

It’s news stories like this that jump out at me and remind me about the power of music. Tiken Jah Fakoly is a very popular reggae artist in Africa. He’s also very outspoken and apt to speak his mind – qualities that those in power aren’t too fond of in western Africa (and the rest of the world for that matter).

Tiken was born in Côte d’Ivoire, but makes his home now in Mali. Since the early 90’s, his brand of politically and socially active reggae has made him an icon to the oppressed people of the region, and throughout Africa.

Last week, at a concert in Dakar, Senegal, Fakoly spoke out against Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade: “Mr president, if you love Senegal, leave power!” He then launched into “Quitte Le Pouvoir”, which means “leave power”.

The president’s critics say Senegal’s once-bright democratic credentials have been tarnished by Wade’s political maneuvers to position his son to succeed him, the detention without trial of critical journalists and the diminishing power of parliament.

Here was the government’s response to Fakoly’s statements in the concert:

“Following the discourteous statements by the artist Tiken Jah Fakoly regarding our government, the artist is declared persona non grata in Senegal,” read an Interior Ministry ruling broadcast on state television. [Reuters story]

They kicked him out of the country!

I admire people like Tiken. It takes a shitload of courage to speak your mind in many parts of the world. In the struggling nations of west Africa, Tiken Jah Fakoly is one of those leading the charge, risking his neck for the right to stand up for what he believes in.

Tiken Jah FakolyQuitte Le Pouvoir (mp3) – from Coup de Gueule

Tiken Jah’s Official Site

Afrofunk falls into a Deep Sleep

Ickmusic’s crack Canadian correspondent, Cam, returns….

A few years ago, at my frigid first outdoor festival of the year, the tropical sounds of Mr. Something Something caught my ear. I thought they were great. Having seen Antibalas, Femi Kuti, and listened to his father Fela, I knew a little bit about Afrobeat, at least enough to consider it one of the finest forms of music made for dancing. It’s awesome to see and hear live, and great to hear recorded, but ideally in a venue with lots of room to move!

The band website states that founders Larry Graves and John MacLean “settled on the unbeatable dance rhythms of Nigeria, Senegal, Mali and Ghana as the most natural gathering place for the elements that would ultimately make up the Mr. Something Something sound”. Good choice! Mr. Something Something couple those dance rhythms with another common theme of Afrobeat artists, that being a tendency to be outspoken politically and socially active.

Mr. Something Something recorded their first, self-titled album in 2004 and followed it up with the critically acclaimed The Edge in 2005. These they followed up with live performances that invariably got great reviews from critics, turtles, and dancing concertgoers alike. They also found time to guest on at least two other projects.

Finally, late in 2007, Mr. Something Something has again delivered with Deep Sleep. The new album brings a different flavour to the already strong Mr. Something Something sound: that of Ikwunga The Afrobeat Poet. It’s hard not to get lost in the hypnotic effect of Ikwunga’s rich voice, and his verses by turns hearken back to life in Africa or lament the current state of global trade. Without romanticizing its subjects, Deep Sleep makes me want to travel; exotic sounds mingle with the names of often distant locales. It’s definitely worthy of many more listens.

Enough rambling. Something about this next tune reminds me, in a good way, of Linton Kwesi Johnson:

Mr. Something SomethingAbankwa (mp3)

Mr. Something SomethingDi Bombs (mp3)

Buy Deep Sleep on CD Baby.

Visit Mr. Something Something’s Official Site.