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Cross-Continental Jam: Yelas, Sliyid; A Hawk And A Hacksaw, Délivrance; Iļģi, Īsākās Nakts Dziesmas; and Flottorp, Nergaard & Hoslemo, Dalstroka innafor-Hardingfelespel frå Agder

Being stuck on a deserted island with naught but music to keep you company can lead to the worst case of cabin fever ever. Or it would be cabin fever if the shelter was a cabin and not just a thatched lean-to to keep the rain from dripping on the laptop keyboard. And I’m in desperate need of bug spray. Next time I get shipwrecked, I’m bringing along a whole case of it. (And sardines. Gosh I miss those.)

You know what? Today on Driftwood, let’s take a nice long trip through the Old World with new music.

We’ll start off in France with the North African flamenco-influenced music of Yelas, who will teach us what it means to live in exile. From there, we head east to Hungary for a brief stop with A Hawk And A Hacksaw, the make our way north through the Baltic states where we’ll explore the pan-European sounds of Iļģi. Finally, we’ll come to rest in the snug home of three hardanger fiddlers from Agder region of Norway.

Berber guitarist Yelas now lives in France


[Self issued (2009)]

His stage name means “omnipresent” in his native Berber. Now living in France, Yelas apparently fled the recent political tensions (following the “Black Spring” of 2001) between the Arab majority of Algeria and the Kabyles, a Berber tribe that lives in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains east of Algiers. Much of this music is shaped by the political struggle that forced him to flee into exile. The sadness and defiance is palpable, particularly on the live “Fouroulou,” which builds to a sustained climax of guitar, violin and tin whistle.

The music itself heavily influenced by flamenco—which evolved in Andalusia from Arabic, Sephardic and Romany influences—but includes many pop influences as well, especially from the rumba catalana made popular by the Gipsy Kings, Spanish gitanos living in France.

Yelas is passionate, but not over the top. He sings in Berber with a vibrato that is distinct, stylized—perhaps more cultural than personal—and used at the end of phrases rhythmically. His guitar playing is a mixture of gently plucked phrases that give way to percussive strumming as the drama of the song builds.

Most tracks include a full band, but “Souad” includes only guitar, bass and keyboard and the opening title track includes only Yelas’s voice and guitar.

Appropriately, sliyid means “listen to me.” [www.yelas.com]

—Bill Chaisson (Trumansburg, NY)

A Hawk and a Hacksaw doesn't look anything like this. But their May 2009 album does.

A Hawk And A Hacksaw
[The Leaf Label BAY 64CD (2009)]

Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost are from Albuquerque, but their passion for the Hungarian music led them to relocate in Budapest in 2007. Their immersion would seem to have been complete and the effect transformative. To say that this album is exciting to listen to is to sadly understate the case. Weird time signatures, odd instruments—bagalama, cimbalom—frantic tempos all conspire to make nearly every track a breathless adventure. When the tempo slows (“Raggle Taggle”) the drama is cinematic and the humor (“I Am Not a Gambling Man”) obliquely bent. [www.myspace.com/ahawkandahacksaw]

—Bill Chaisson (Trumansburg, NY)

Take their name one syllable at a time and you'll be fine. Better yet, just listen! (Click to visit the band's MySpace, which is in English.)

Īsākās Nakts Dziesmas {Songs of the Shortest Night}
[Platforma Music (2009)]

Iļģi is a long-running (28 years) Latvian band that refers to the music they play as “post-folk.” They mix electric instruments like bass and guitar with a full drum kit and more traditional instrumentation like violin, bagpipes, recorder and kokles (a harp-like instrument). The results aren’t really”folk rock”; the arrangements are much more tasteful than that. It’s best described as being a modern twist on traditional Latvian folk music.

Īsākās Nakts Dziesmas {Songs of the Shortest Night} is Iļģi’s interpretations of traditional songs about “Jani,” the Latvian midsummer celebration. Vocalist and violinist Ilga Reizniece is featured on a number of the songs, with multi-instrumentalist Māris Muktupāvels and bassist Gatis Gaujenieks also singing lead and joining in with three part harmony on other songs.

There are uptempo numbers led by electric guitar and violin and bagpipes and slower tunes where the harp-like kokles and giga (a bowed, cello-like instrument) are featured. The songs explore the beliefs and festivities of the celebration, with “ligo” (“to celebrate Jani”) being heard in most of the songs choruses. The album comes nicely packaged in a cardboard sleeve with song lyrics and a description of the celebration of midsummer included.

This is a throughly entertaining recording and a good introduction to the band’s music and Latvian culture and traditions. The band has a number of videos on YouTube that are worth checking out, and plan to tour the United States in 2011, the same year Iļģi will celebrate its 30th anniversary. [www.ilgi.lv—Website is in Latvian]

—Jim Lee (Simi Valley, CA)

Get your Hardanger on. (Click to find the album on Amazon.)

Flottorp, Nergaard & Hoslemo
Dalstroka innafor – Hardingfelespel frå Agder
[Etnisk Musikklubb EM37 (2009)]

This recording features three young Hardanger fiddlers (Johanne Flottorp, Gard Nergaard, Tor Hoslemo) from the Agder region of Norway. The album features ensemble pieces and solo pieces from each member of the band. The album was produced by noted fiddler Daniel Sandén-Warg, who adds his own fiddle, bass guitar, and mandolin on some pieces. It’s an impressive showcase—the fiddle tunes are all accessible (not always the case with Hardanger fiddle music!), the playing passionate, and the trio performances (with the addition of some non-traditional instruments by Sandén-Warg) show that though they are rooted in tradition, the musicians aren’t afraid to add modern touches. A recording that richly illustrates the bright future of Norwegian traditional music.

—Jim Lee (Simi Valley, CA)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.

One comment on “Cross-Continental Jam: Yelas, Sliyid; A Hawk And A Hacksaw, Délivrance; Iļģi, Īsākās Nakts Dziesmas; and Flottorp, Nergaard & Hoslemo, Dalstroka innafor-Hardingfelespel frå Agder

  1. Azul Yelas,

    Dirty Linen Magazine may have died, but it is good to see that your 2009 CD got
    such an encouraging review in this new online replacement Driftwood!
    Good luck, and I wish the reviewer of your album would have noted that you included English translations of the songs. Did you compose “Souad” as an homage to Souad Massi? Here is hoping you will be invited and sponsored to perform in the U.S. for the
    first time soon. I didn’t realize you had moved to France from Kabylia where you used
    to show the photos of your mountain village on your website. I knew you were working
    in Germany, but things back in Algeria must’ve gotten worse if you are now living in EU.
    Ar tufath

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