Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section
(last revision on 02/11/99)


Hi All!

Well, here's a LONG review, since it covers 12 CDs!  Be forewarned that only a couple of the titles are primarily drum oriented, but the series is so interesting I figured I'd post this review to Djembe-l in addition to the other World-Music oriented newsgroups.

The MUSIC OF THE EARTH series from Multicultural Media is an ever growing library of field recordings of traditional music made in various cultures all around the world. The recording quality of every single disc is excellent, and the liner notes are profuse. For me, the process of reviewing these discs has been more of an education about the music of many cultures I was not even aware of!

Some of the CDs were originally released (Japan only) as part of an 80 CD series called Music of the Earth: Fieldworker's Sound Collection (1982). For those of you who might want the whole series; - all the liner notes are in Japanese, and they are only available in Japan. The present series will include some of the Fieldworker series and some new titles; it will number 20 by the end of 1998, but plans are to keep adding ad-infinitum!

MCM is still seeking audio and video to license for the series. Audio should be field-recorded, traditonal world music.  For video they are considering anything having to do with world music - although they are more interested in educational or performance content than instructional. Video can be a completed project or simply raw footage.

3001  MONGOLIA  Living Music of the Steppes
               (Instrumental Music and Song of Mongolia)

The vocal related tracks on this CD are quite interesting. The Mongolian people have traditionally led nomadic lives of hunting and livestock rearing. Some of the vocal forms represented on the CD illustrate the use  of music and song as a communication form with their livestock. Evidently the Mongolian language includes the specific calls and cries of each type of animal and the songs can be used to re-bond mother animals with their young, speed healing or to calm for milking. Famous Mongolian singers are distinguished  not only for their artistry, but for their practical value of rescueing livestock!  Examples of "koomiy" (throat singing) or the production of two simultaneous tones are also featured.

The predominant instrumentation of the music includes various stringed fiddle-, banjo- and zither-like instruments. There are also wind instruments similar to recorders, jews harps and an accordion-likeinstrument. Percussion instruments such as drums and bells are not heard on these folk-music recordings. Until the 20th century drums were only used in royal or religious ceremony.

For those of you who speak Mongolian there are a couple of extended narratives and poems as well!

3002  INDIA  Traveling Artists of the Desert
(The Vernacular Musical Culture of Rajasthan)

The Rajasthan region on the western edge of the Indian subcontinent covers an area approximately the size of Japan and has a population of over 20 million. The Thar desert is home to a number of nomadic cultural groups, each with their own musical traditions. In addition to the Bhopa, Langa, Manganiyar and Dholi groups, some people believe that this region was also the original homeland of the Gypsies.

Various instruments and musics are featured in this volume, including the Nay or flute, Jews Harp, various drums and hand percussion, bowed instruments, reed instruments and even a bag-pipe. Many of the songs are praise-name performances honoring various thieves, in addition to the more common persona of famous lovers, royalty and deities!

The music is very different form the tabla and sitar raga usually
associated with India. This is the music of the desert peoples, and has a celebratory passion. The recordings on this cd are of many different groups from various social strata and locations, so there is a broad diversity of styles and feels.

3003  AFGANISTAN  On Marco Polo's Road, (The Musicians of Kunduz and Faizbad)

One of the fascinating things about the Music of the Earth series are the extensive field notes included with the cds. This particular disc was recorded during and following the 1973 coup d'etat and overthrow of the king, Zahir Shah. Listening to the CD while reading the ethnomusicologist's account of his group's challenges with visas, permits, police and soldiers is an adventure in itself.

There are two primary instruments on this recording, accompanied by finger bells, clapping and song. The first is the Ghichak, a bowed stringed instrument  "made by punching holes in a rectangular tin container, inserting a wooden stick and stringing it with two thin wires attached to tuning pegs at the top".  Despite the crude construction, the instrument is an emotive and expressive voice.

The second instrument in common use is a Zigbaghali, or drum.  The photo indicates this is yet another variation of what most of us would call a doumbek. It's interesting to note that the principle Zigbaghali accompanyist on these recordings is nine years old. The liner notes indicate he'd been studying about a year at the time - he must be beyond phenomenal by now. As usual in this series, the recording quality is excellent and the flavor of "being there" shines through.

3004  GEORGIA  The Resounding Polyphony of the Caucausus

Resounding is right. This 3 part, acapella musical form is extremely powerful. The photo on the cover suggests a group of friends gathering together at the bar for a few songs, but the rich, passionate vibration of the drones and multipart harmonies is a whole different experience! Not suprising considering that the Assyrian king, Sargon noted in the 8th century that he was deeply impressed by the singing workers in the region. These are people who sang as they entered battle!

East Georgian folk singing is of 4 predominant types, all demonstrated on the CD. " 1) The middle voices begins with a solo, joined by the outer voices in octaves, 2) The top voice carries the melody, 3) the upper two voices carry melodies of equal importance, parts are rhythmically independent and there may be modulation; 4) the upper two voices lead alternately a develop richly ornamented, wide ranged melodic lines. In all cases the low voice carries a varied drone or ostinato.

There are songs for a variety of occasions on the CD, including those for banquets, drinking, threshing, lullabies, christmas, honoring, war, hunting and history.  If beautiful male voices in intricate song appeals to you, this is a sure bet!

3005 EGYPT  Echoes of the Nile, (Aspects of Egyptian Music)

This disc is a great overview of musical styles and forms from various cities and villages along the Nile river. Many of the recordings are religious in nature; Coptic singing, Islamic religious music from the Mosque and various festival musics. The range of styles is extremely broad, ranging from folk street recordings to performances at the Conservative of Arabic Music.

As would be expected the dominant percussion instrument is the Darabukakkah or doumbek. There is a very beautiful and extremely well recorded duet with Darabukakkah and Tar, or frame drum, featuring Hassan Hindi and Muhammad Salahal-Din.  For those of you who are Tar students there is one track on this disc featuring very clear demonstrations of six different Nubian rhythmic modes (Holly, Safsafy, Suky, Nagrashad, Kombankash and Sherry).

Many of the selections of both classical and modern Arabic music feature the Mizmar, an oboe like instrument whose sound characterizes Eqyptian music in the minds of many. One of my favorie tracks on the CD is titled "Folk Song: Get Our Old Stuff", which is evidently a song of nostalgia. This track is indicitive of the diversity of the entire CD.

3006  UGANDA AND OTHER AFRICAN NATIONS  Feasts of the Savanna

Ah, Africa! In addition to the various songs, harps, lyres, flutes, bells, finger pianos, xylophones and scrapers, this disc also has a broad range of fascinating rhythmic structures. The liner notes state that the selections are from fieldwork in Uganda, Cameroon, Togo, Senegal, Mali and Guinea, (however there is very little Mande music in these recordings.)

Eight of the eighteen tracks are from Uganda, and all the selections come from a variety of different locations and ethnic groups. Thus, there is no easy way to sum up the music into any convienient description. There is straight-ahead drumming, with plenty of inspiration for those drummers looking for new ideas. There is empassioned singing from all sorts of ceremonial and celebratory contexts. There are recordings of children making music in play, as well as various musics for healing, initiation, and the transmission of history.

I enjoyed this CD very much as it presents so many different "feels" and types of music.  Although no single disc could ever truly represent "Africa", "Feast of the Savanna" is a great introduction to many musical instruments and styles that most westerners will be unfamiliar with.

3007 SOLOMON ISLANDS  The Sounds of Bamboo,
(Instrumental Music of the 'Are'are People of Malaila)

The diversity of the Music of the Earth is amazing!  The sounds of Bamboo focuses on music of the 'Are'are people of the Island of Malaita. About 1/5 of the 37 selections presented on this disc present the singing traditions of their culture. Another 2/5 are focused on pan-pipe ensembles, and the remainder on bamboo stamping-tube ensembles.

The 'Are' are instrumental music is representative of many natural sounds and actions such as bird calls, rivers or ocean waves, the breeze rustling in the trees, children playing and poople working. The pan-pipe ensembles, featuring groups of up to 8 performers are particularly evocative. There is a deeply peaceful, almost sensual quality to the music, which seems entirely devoid of any fixed meter or rhythm.

The stamping tube selections are very intricate and polyrhythmic.  Bamboo of different diameters and lengths produce a full melodic scale of pitches and tonal qualities. They are often played in accompanyment with log or slit drums as well as rhythms made by splashing water. In some of the performances sudden changes are triggered via vocal calls.

As might be expected, the 'Are'are vocal tradition is similar to their trance based pan-pipe music. Examples are included from healing rituals, love songs, laments, and work songs. It is somehow indicative of the magic of this music to note that the authors are donating their royalty income from this CD to the Trust Account for the Promotion of 'Are'are culture.

3008   ZAMBIA  The Songs of Mukanda
(Music of the Secret Society of the Luvale People of Central Africa)

The Luvale people featured in this recording live in the samll town of Zambezi in the Northwest provence of Zambia, near the Angola border. The music on Songs of Mukanda is a chronological account of a months-long male initiation process, know as Mukanda. The enthno-musicologist responsible for the recordings had to work many months to build the trust required to be allowed to record these secret ceremonies.

Most of the music is built on call and response singing, often accompanied by drums, bull-roarers, ankle rattles and click-sticks. To quote the liner notes:  "..Luvale songs are performed in call-and response form, with the response sung in parallel thirds. There seem to be two types of parallel third structures, one based on major and one on minor thirds."

The selctions include songs for announcing the beginning of the initiation process, teasing the men about their sexual prowess, sunrise greetings, sunset, meal rituals, water-bearing, greeting and farewell, encouragement for bravery, purification and celebration. The occasional rhythmic accompanyment includes examples of the polyrhythmic combination of duple and triple meters. There are a couple of tracks where the stick players perform patterns which many would recognize as the tambourim pattern from a Brasilian batucada.

3009  PERU AND BOLIVIA   The Sounds of Evolving Traditions,  (Central Andean Music and Festivals)

Incan cluture at one time spread across the countries of Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.  This title explores some of the ways in which Incan music has evolved in the nearly 500 years since the Spanish Conquest. Most of the tracks feature modern, European instruments such as the harp, mandolin, guitar and violin in addition to plenty of traditional percussion instruments, pan-pipes, clay whistles and song.

Five styles or regions are represented on this recording.  The first are Arpa or harp recordings. One item of particular interest; a rendition of El Condor Pasa, the song made internationally famous by Simon and Garfunkle. The region of Lima is represented by the Rodriguez family, singing at a local fiesta.  The music of La Paz follows, with violin and brass instruments suddenly in the fore. The music of the Lake Titicaca region is next, with multiple pan-pipe compositions. The final selections are from a week long church re-thatching festival in Cuzco.

Th term "Andean Music" is clearly a simplification of many,  many divergent styles. In addition to the european influences heard in music, there are clearly Latin and African elements as well.  Much of the music on this disc is celebratory in nature, in contrast to the more plaintive feel many associate with the music of this region.

3010  HUNGARY AND ROMANIA   Descendents of the Itinerant Gypsies,  (Melodies of Sorrow and Joy)

The subtitle "Melodies of Sorrow and Joy" sums up this recording. There are evidently only two basic forms of Hungarian Gypsy music. The first is a slow, lyrical improvisation known as Meselaki Dyili, lamenting the hardships of the road, prison, poverty, infidelity and jealousy. The second is called Khelimaski Dyili, which is music for dance and celebration, expressing the joys of life. According to the notes, there are no work, religious or nursery songs.

In contrast to the sterotypes, the predominant traditional music of the Hungarian Gypsy culture is vocal, with only occasional instrumentation. There is however a strong sense of rhythm as the performers are constantly clapping, snapping their fingers, thumping on their bodies and stomping on the floor. Dramatic expression of raw emotion is present in many of the performances.

The last eight of the 24 tracks come from the Carpathian Mountain region where the inhabitants have preserved an almost Middle ages way of life. These tracks are from various dances performed at weddings and festivals, and include violins.  Listening to the selections one has a strong sense of  travelling back in time.

3011  MADAGASCAR   Awakening the Spirits,
(Music in Tromba and Bilo Trance Rituals)

Madagascar, the fourth largest island on earth, is also home to eighteen different ethnic groups. The island has been settled at various times by Indonesians, Arabians, Africans and Europeans. It is no wonder that their music is so rich and unique!. The music on this CD comes from the south and west steepe and savanna regions of the island and is used during trance rituals for making contact with the spiritual world.

The central instrument, accompanied by clapping, rattles, bell and drum is a box zither called MAROVANY.  The Marovany performances on this CD remind me of virtuoso kora playing, but with an even funkier, down home feel. There is a tremendous amount of variation and improvisation in the Music.

Most of the selections are instrumental in nature, and it easy easy to imagine the trance inducing effect of this music played over the course ofhours in a ritual or ceremony!

There are also a number of titles which feature the Gorodo, or accordion. Although once extremely popular in Madagascar music, the accordion is dying out due to the difficulty of obtaining replacement parts.  As a result, it is being replaced by home-made lutes. There are also three tracks focusing on Aponga drumming accompanied by singing.

3012  INDONESIA  Jegog: The Rhythmic Power of Bamboo

I have always enjoyed Balianese Gamelan, and this CD is a cut above the usual!  The I Nyoman Jayus Bamboo Ensemble from the Northwest of Bali is a Gamelan orchestra made entirely of bamboo instruments. The clamourous power of the more familiar metal Gamelan is replaced by more subtle, woody tonalities and modulation of volume.  Each of the four tracks is over 10 minutes long, the longest at 25 minutes - so there is plenty of musical development!

The instruments for Jegog ensembles are made from a special bamboo found nowhere else which can reach a circumference of 70cm (2 1/3 feet!). Instruments in the Jegog ensemble may have resonator tubes which are up to three meters/9 ft. long and cover a two octave range. Given that a typical ensemble will have 9 or more instruments, there is certainly no lack of strength in the overall sound!

Jegog has evidently been a Gamelan form that had slipped into obscurity, primarily due to the popularity of the metal ensembles.  A resurgence of interest in Jegog has sparked a major yearly competition and many new compositions are being added to the repetoire. This CD includes both contemporary compositions, as well as selections dating back to 1912.  If you are a Gamelan fan, this disc is a must have!

There is also a sampler (Music of the Earth Sampler MCM 3000) which offers one or two tracks from each of the 10 titles above.  Although it lacks liner notes on each of the selections, it's a great introduction and overview of the series, and a whirlwind journey in itself!

UPDATE: Two more titles have arrived as a part of the on-going series:

3013  TANZANIA  Music of the Farmer Composers of Sukumaland (We Never Sleep, We Only Dream of Farming)

3014  THAILAND  Ceremonial and Court Music From Central Thailand

Both are excellent, and I plan to post reviews for these as the remainder of the second set of CDs arrives.

Multicultural Media
RR3 Box 6655
Granger Rd
Barre, VT 05641

802-229-1834 (fax)  (same web site as

The CDs are approximately $15.99 at Tower, $14.99 direct or $12.99 through the MCM web site. Currently, they offer a set price of $178.50 for the first 14 (this includes the Tanzania and Thailand CDs) - that's $12.75 per disc. MCM wrote that you can get an even lower set price on the web - maybe $10/disc when ordering all 14.

michael wall