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29 juillet 2006

Cool off in Tibet, then heat up here

Hindus, Buddhists and others who look to the East for spiritual sustenance believe that the spark of divinity - the profound but simple potential of godhood, as it were - resides within us all.

Alas, that spark is often little more than a faint and remote flicker. It needs a cool breath of compassion to coax the flame to kindle. It wants a melodic Tibetan zephyr from the Land of Snows to burn like a yak-butter lamp on the hearth of the heart.

The spark requires the Voice of Tibet in all its precious clarity, diamond purity and sublime humility.

Yungchen Lhamo is the Voice of Tibet, and her new CD "Ama" is uplifting and deeply moving. The disc's 10 exquisite tracks are perfect lullabies for these troubled times.

Though she now calls New York City home, Lhamo was born in a labor camp outside the holy city of Lhasa after the Chinese occupation of Tibet commenced in the 1950s. She learned Tibetan devotional singing from her grandmother. It was a dangerous undertaking - making traditional music was one of many cultural customs banned by the occupying forces.

In 1989, Lhamo's grandmother encouraged her to make the perilous trek across the Himalayas to seek refuge in Dharamsala, India, home of the Tibetan government-in-exile and its spiritual and political leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Lhamo carried little more than her miraculous voice and a desire to use it on behalf of her people.

And so she has, bouncing from India to Australia to Europe to the U.S. Along the way, her ethereal singing caught the ear of Peter Gabriel, who signed her to his Real World Records label.

"Ama" is Lhamo's third release for Real World, and it's her finest to date. On it, she melds the musical forms of her homeland to lyrics that reflect her Tibetan Buddhist faith and its central, essential tenet of compassion. Producer Jamshied Sharifi has ornamented the tunes with delicate, empathetic instrumentation that never overshadows the often otherworldly grace of Lhamo's voice.

Some songs - such as the disc-opening "Ranzen" - are somber and majestic. Some - the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hung" in the setting of a village festival tune - have an earthy liveliness and frisky joy. Other tracks - the lover's lament "Gebu Shere" - have the gleaming, pensive loveliness of a teardrop.

Lhamo's voice shimmers and soars on the CD's standout tracks. "Tara" is an ode to the female deity who represents strength, compassion and healing.

"9/11” is a spine-tingling improvisation on Lhamo's grief over the World Trade Center attacks. "Someday" pays tribute to the Dalai Lama, and the album-closing "Lhasa" is a poignant double salute to the city of her birth and her father.

Lhamo's singing might sound alien to Western ears. It's artless and heartfelt, and sometimes her voice shivers and cracks as she prolongs a phrase or nudges it to fresh heights. The lyrics are in Tibetan, but the emotion is universal.

This music is the embodiment of amaste, the Sanskrit greeting that acknowledges that precious divine spark. "Ama" is a mitzvah, a blessing, a fresh and fulfilling gift from the Land of Snows.

26 juillet 2006

It’s all peace and light at Womad but the slogans make you go mad

Notebook by Clive Davis

THINK OF IT as the world music lover’s answer to Glyndebourne. Womad may not be in such a picturesque setting — Reading is never going to be a modern-day Elysian Fields — but the annual gathering has an energy all its own. Naturally, there is no shortage of regulars who know all there is to know about traditional music of northern Java, yet even if you don’t know the difference between merengue and Mongolian throat-singing, it’s easy to abandon yourself to the joy of discovering an entirely new sound in the next marquee around the corner.

This year’s main acts include the Malian griot-cum-pop star Salif Keita and Gotan Project, the ultra-hip tango dub merchants. And if the decibels on the main stage are too overpowering (yes, the curse of Spinal Tap can strike here too) you can always retreat to the funfair. The presence of so many children makes a difference. I say that as someone who, years ago, once had to review the Reading Rock Festival, and spent a grim evening in the rain, whiling away the hours in the endless ranks of occult memorabilia stands, watching Iggy Pop doing his impersonation of a psychotic, and trying to avoid tripping over catatonic teenagers lying face down in the wet grass. Not one of my happiest memories.

In contrast, WomadWorld of Music, Arts and Dance — self-consciously creates a community of “progressive” spirits, dedicated to peace and love and organic falafel. No doubt there are some conservatives moving around the field in undercover guise, but this is very much a celebration of “alternative” values. Which is why I won’t be surprised to see the Palestinian campaigners out in force as usual this weekend. Strolling amid the musicians, the percussion classes and the tofu stands, you can almost convince yourself that we really do live in a world without suicide bombers and Katyusha rockets.

In this world, the only real threat to the idyll comes from those reckless imperialists from the other side of the North Atlantic. Which is why, in May 2001, the British world music magazine fRoots called for the cognoscenti to form a “resistance movement to to US cultural colonialism”. As the magazine argued: “Walk down the streets in most places on the planet and the same American corporate advertising will lure identically dressed zombies in backwards-facing American baseball caps into American chains to eat American junk food.”

I sympathise, up to a point. Global uniformity is a Bad Thing, and I too usually prefer real ale to Coke. But I couldn’t help feeling uneasy when the magazine’s website began selling badges declaring “America? No thanks . . .” as if Uncle Sam were some radioactive isotope. The US authorities certainly haven’t done themselves any favours with ill-considered visa restrictions that have made life increasingly difficult for Third World musicians. (Here, as in so many other areas, America’s public diplomacy has been shockingly inept.)

Still, it’s dangerous to confuse mass marketing with that loaded term, colonialism. But then, world music, like many of our cultural institutions, still sees life through the prism of the Sixties counterculture. Which can make for good festivals, thankfully. It’s just a shame about the politics.

Today In Music History

We take a look at a selection of events on this day in music history

July 26- 1986 : Peter Gabriel went to No.1 on the US singles chart with 'Sledgehammer', it made No.4 in the UK.


Artist Izhar Patkin has launched a new fine-art print project, "Artists Support," to benefit Witness, the human rights organization founded by musician and activist Peter Gabriel. Each work featured in the print project is a collaboration between two artists born in different countries. To date, the collaborations include Shirin Neshat and Patkin (born in Iran and Israel, respectively); Cai Guo-Qiang and Kiki Smith (China and Germany); Sebastião Salgado and William Wegman (Brazil and U.S.A.); and Alfredo Jaar and Dayanita Singh (Chile and India). Each print is produced in an edition of 100 and printed by the Swiss fine art publisher Ink Tree and Maurice Sanchez at Derriere L’Etoile Studios, New York. All proceeds from sales go to Witness. Prices for individual prints are $750 and $1,000, or a suite of four for $3,000. For details, see, or contact project manager Julia Friedman at

Elvis White's Sexy Waist Video

ELVIS WHITE's Sexy Waist Video Added at TEMPO, MTV's New Caribbean Network!; Video Features a Cameo from Virgin Empire Founder, Sir Richard Branson

ATLANTA--(BUSINESS WIRE)--July 24, 2006--"Sexy Waist," the video to British Virgin Islands breakout group ELVIS WHITE's Caribbean/International hit single, is now in rotation at TEMPO, MTV NETWORKS' new television network dedicated to Caribbean music and culture. TEMPO launched in the Caribbean in October 2005.

The "Sexy Waist" video, which was shot on location at the Trinidad Carnival earlier this year by director, J. Jesses, features the colorful imagery of Carnival, including the elaborate costumed masqueraders, scenes from the legendary Trinidad Road March and the most sought after vision in the Caribbean, the Goddesses of Carnival. These enticing women have become a staple of the beautiful culture of Carnival across the Caribbean. The video also features cameo appearances from legendary music icon Peter Gabriel, and ELVIS WHITE's BVI neighbor, close friend, and #1 fan, Virgin Empire founder, Sir Richard Branson.

"ELVIS WHITE has the ability to appeal to a wide variety of people and will have many coming back for more! The world is about to experience one of the true musical gems of the Caribbean." Sir Richard Branson

ELVIS WHITE's "Sexy Waist" video has recently been added as a contender at TEMPO's hot new Caribbean countdown show, CCC-Cross Caribbean Countdown, where ELVIS WHITE is in competition for one of the highly sought after slots against hot new cross-culture videos from the likes of Beanie Man, featuring AKON; Daddy Yankee, featuring Snoop Dog; Rihanna; and Shakira, featuring Wyclef. To vote ELVIS WHITE's, "Sexy Waist" on the countdown, please visit

ELVIS WHITE is gearing up for the release of their hot new domestic single, "Don't Stop." Their debut LP - PROMISE -LIVE & DIRECT, is scheduled to be released later this summer on 17.20/Bungalo/Universal Records.

25 juillet 2006

U2 Connections: Peter Gabriel

A few years back, I saw a film called Waking the Dead. Directed by Keith Gordon, and with Billy Crudrup and Jennifer Connelly in the lead roles, it wasn't the most commercially successful of films, but it's a powerful story nonetheless. The emotional climax of the movie was accompanied by a song that just struck me numb. It was a soft, subtle piece of synthesiser-based music with a gorgeous ambience. The voice wasn't Bono's, but I thought: this song wouldn't be completely out of place on The Unforgettable Fire. The end credits revealed that the song was Peter Gabriel's "Mercy Street." Some quick 'net searching soon explained everything: "Mercy Street," is from the So album, produced in 1986, two years after The Unforgettable Fire, by none other than my favourite fellow transplanted Franco-Canadian, Daniel Lanois. As I became a fan and learned more and more about Peter Gabriel, I discovered that he and U2 have crossed musical paths on more than one occasion and in quite some interesting ways.

At first glance, U2's and Gabriel's musical carreers started out differently enough. Gabriel was the colourful, charismatic lead singer of the progressive rock band Genesis. The members of U2 were, or at least thought they were, in a punk band, which is about as far away from prog rock as you can possibly get. Oversimplifying somewhat, Progressive Rock was a style popular in the 1970s (and to a lesser extent in the decades that followed, right up until present day) which featured bands with virtuoso musicians writing longer, more complex songs and instrumentals, fusing elements from jazz and classical music. While prog was able to produce some great music, it is often criticised for musical excess. Punk rock can be seen as a musical reaction to Progressive rock, with stripped-down arrangements and simple songs usually featuring no more than three chords. Bono is famously dismissive of Prog, identifying himself more with the punk movement. In the early days, he and the rest of U2 were teenagers who, though extremely limited musically, had something to say, and had a passion and the "do-it-yourself" punk attitude that was seen as a breath of fresh air from the musical snobbishness associated with prog. (As an editorial aside, I'd like to point out that while prog was responsible for some garishly excessive musical missteps, punk was equally responsible for some overly simplistic and banal output. Punk's anti-musicianship attitude was a less than positive one, and both genres produced good and bad music).

From these two rather opposite ends of the rock music spectrum, U2 and Peter Gabriel ended up meeting somewhere in the middle. Gabriel eventually left Genesis and produced some very accessible and commercially successful music (though notably very artistic and experimental music all the while). U2, on the other hand, soon outgrew its early musical limitations and matured to write and produce music, which although stylistically and thematically inventive, has remained essentially accessible to popular music audiences and critics (to which the band's immense success over the years with Grammy awards can no doubt attest).

Their early careers paralleled one another in the sense that it wasn't until their respective fifth albums, The Joshua Tree, and So (both of which involved Lanois) that they really achieved commercial success. Both have supported Amnesty International, and both of their careers benefitted from the Conspiracy of Hope tour in 1986: U2's "Bad" and Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey" were reputed to have been among the highlights of the set.

The Lanois connection is definitely the most palpable, as he has produced career-defining albums for both of them. In between working on The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, Lanois produced So for Gabriel. After the difficult Achtung Baby sessions, he tackled Us.

But aside from Lanois, they've shared another common producer. In 1980, the same year he produced Boy for a fledgling U2, Steve Lillywhite worked with Peter Gabriel on the latter's untitled third album (his first four albums, in fact, were deliberately untitled, and are commonly referred to by their album cover images. In the case of the third album, it's sometimes referred to as "Melt"). This album yielded the well-known hits "Games Without Frontiers" and "Biko." "Biko" could be thought of as Gabriel's "Pride (In the Name of Love)." While the U2 song is a tribute to the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., "Biko" deals with the torture and death of South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko in 1977.

In addition to Daniel Lanois, U2 and Peter Gabriel have yet another Canadian connection from Québec: Bono and Gabriel both contributed songs to the 1995 Leonard Cohen tribute album (Cohen is from Montréal, and Lanois was born in Hull), Tower of Song. Bono offered a haunting, yet gritty, almost acid-jazz rendition of "Hallelujah," while Peter Gabriel contributes a version of "Suzanne." Cohen's original, with its sparse, troubadour-like singer and a classical guitar arrangement, lets the song's lyrics evoke hazy images of a relationship with a half-crazy woman down by the river. Peter Gabriel tries to replicate this effect in the music itself, slowing down the song's tempo and using lots of atmospheric synthesiser padding.

Peter Gabriel, in his Genesis-fronting days, was known for his elaborate costumes and onstage charisma. One might find the link a bit tenuous between his "Britannia," and "Flower" costumes, and Bono's The Fly, Mirrorball Man, and Mr. Macphisto personae, but there's something else he might owe to Gabriel. Bono's stage-diving (at least the intentional ones) might never have happened had not Iggy Pop and Peter Gabriel pioneered the stunt in the 1970s. While Bono's "unintentional stage dives" over the years have left him with a dislocated collar-bone, a sprained ankle, and a bruised ego, Gabriel once broke his leg during a stage dive as the lead singer of Genesis, but reportedly got back on stage and was able to finish the show.

Peter Gabriel has had an array of guest singers and musicians contribute to his records and to his live performances, counting among them J. Shankar (who played violin on a live version of "Bad" with U2 at a 1993 ZooTV show in London), Kate Bush, Paula Cole, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, his own daughter Melanie Gabriel, as well as the popular and controversial Irish singer, Sinead O'Connor. O'Connor, of course, is known by U2 fans for having collaborated with U2 (and variously the members of U2) on "I'm Not Your Baby" (from the soundtrack of Wenders' The End of Violence), "You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart" (from the soundtrack of In the Name of the Father), and "Heroine" (from the soundtrack of Captive, a film which had its score written mostly by the Edge). She was also the voice of the introduction to "Bullet the Blue Sky" during the Elevation Tour. Sinead O'Connor features prominently on the Lanois-produced 1992 album Us, providing backing vocals to such songs as "The Blood of Eden," and "Come Talk to Me."

@U2's resident Answer Guy was able to provide me with some valuable insights, as a fan who has been fortunate enough to have seen (and to have been of an age to have seen) both U2 and Peter Gabriel many times over their long and storied careers. Answer Guy would argue that "Biko" is also U2's "40": "There would be no one-guy-leaves-at-a-time-at-the-end-of-the-show with U2 had Peter Gabriel not done it first." As well, "there would be no 'outside it's america' spotlight play by Bono, had Mr. Gabriel not done it in his live shows. Long before Bono cut his chin on a hand-held spotlight, Pete was shining his light on the crowd." Finally, AG concludes nicely that U2 and Peter Gabriel have "copied each other especially in producers and in what they wanted to accomplish live. Bono begs for attention on stage and Gabriel somehow "demands" it through some force of will. '40' made me happy at the end of U2 shows. 'Biko' brought tears to my eyes every time."

And perhaps, in the end, between U2 and Peter Gabriel, producing decades' worth of great music and moving audiences with compelling live performances are the greatest connections of them all.

by Khoa Tran @u2

24 juillet 2006

Asian Network makes big plans for Womad

BBC Asian Network is planning to make a big splash at this year's Womad festival for the first time, taking with them a crew of presenters and its own battle bus.

The annual Reading based festival will feature a sizeable contingent of Asian performers and DJ talent for the first time, including the maestro's daughter Anoushka Shankar. Other music artists include Nina Virdee and Trilok Gurtu & Misra Brothers.

After a successful appearance at Glastonbury last year, when it sponsored the Brasian music stage, Asian Network has clearly developed a liking for making an appearance at music festivals.

Mark Strippel, head of music and live events at the national digital radio station told AIM: "It's essential for the BBC Asian Network to have a presence at the biggest festivals in Britain and help build the profile and reputation of Asian music.

"Womad is the first of many such events, and our specialist DJ's will be showcasing British-Asian beats to future global music throughout the weekend."

It will welcome festival goers at their own Musical Rickshaw tent, offering live DJ sets from Bobby Friction (pictured with Nihal), Nerm and Pathaan. A specially designed battle bus, from a converted ambulance, will also blare music sets.

Its broadcasts from Womad will include live performances by the Asian artists on Nikki Bedi's arts, entertainment and culture show, and Pathaan's late night global music show.

Since Glastonbury is not being held this year Womad will assume the position of bringing the most diverse sounds to its audience.

It will feature performances from the Mahotella Queens of South Africa, Värttinä of Finland, England’s Bellowhead, Niger’s desert blues group Etran Finatawa, Sudanese rapper Emmanuel Jal, Colombian salsa from Roberto Pla, Thomas Mapfumo of Zimbabwe, flamenco singer Enrique Morente and many more.

A stage will also diverse acts from UK-based musicians including Birmingham's Kurdish musicians the Se Tin Trio, Indian classical singer Nina Virdee from Berkshire and London’s Congolese band Kasai Masai.

BBC Radio 3 will also have its own dedicated broadcast stage for the first time, as lead media partner for the event.

More go mad for Womad

THE WOMAD festival could be even bigger from next year after the organisers were granted a licence to sell 41,500 tickets.

Although the move released only an extra 2,000 tickets on general sale for this month's event, there is now scope for the festival at Rivermead to attract thousands more visitors next year.

Reading Borough Council approved the extra tickets without argument after a number of anticipated objections were withdrawn at the last minute.

Thousands of festival goers will flock to WOMAD next week (July 28-30) and organisers hope to attract an extra 10,000 ticket hold-ers including nearly 8,000 staff, traders and artists tickets on top of last year's 19,300 festival-goers.

WOMAD - The World Music Arts and Dance Festival in Richfield Avenue is returning to Reading for its 24th year and work has been taking place at Rivermead to get the site reading.

More than 70 artists from 30 countries will be performing at the festival inspired by Peter Gabriel.