This Sunday, February 8, 2015, marks the 57th Grammy Awards show. Up for nomination this year, in the category of “best world music album,” is Our World in Song: An Odyssey of Musical Treasures (Wind Music, released September 4, 2014), an interesting collaboration between Wu Man (renowned pipa virtuoso (the pipa is a four stringed instrument which is plucked)); Luis Conte (Grammy nominated international percussionist); and, Daniel Ho (ukulele, slack-key guitar). (The award for “world music” is a musical category encompassing many different styles of music from around the world, including traditional music, neotraditional music, and music where more than one cultural tradition intermingle).
Frankly, I came upon Our World in Song while interviewing Luis Conte about his career for an interview that will post at a later date here on Beato’s Blog. However, just ahead of the 57th Grammys, I felt compelled to mention this album partly in deference to Conte’s brilliance as a percussionist and partly in appreciation for the uniqueness and richness of this album, its overall concept, and, the musicians performing on it. (I should mention that Man, Conte and Ho are joined on this record by guest musicians Wu Chen-Chun (percussion), Jhou Yi-Cian (erhu), and, the Taiwu Children’s Ancient Ballads Troupe). If Our World in Song is one thing it is unique. For example, this record is the first-ever album of pipa music dedicated to folk songs from around the world (actually spanning six of the seven continents). But beyond its unique characteristics, it is just a great record. Period. Here’s why.
First, there are the arrangements themselves. As the old saying goes, this album “spans the globe.” The album’s track listing (12 songs in total) demonstrates that. The 12 tracks are:
●Frére Jacques (France) (a popular children’s song)
●Three and Six (a classical Chinese folk song)
●Romance (19th Century Spain/South America folk song)
●Shosholoza (popular Zimbabwe/South African anthem)
●Aloha ‘Oe (meaning “farewell to thee”) (common cultural symbol of Hawaii)
●Sakura, Sakura (classic Japanese folk song)
●Arirang (unofficial national anthem of Korea)
●Cielito Lindo (popularized in Mexico in the 1880s and frequently played by mariachi bands)
●Grasshopper Teasing Rooster (Taiwanese folk tune)
●The Ash Grove (Welsh folk song)
●Waltzing Matilda (Australian “bush ballad” and unofficial national anthem)
●Jasmine Flower (18th century Chinese folk song)
The selection of folk songs is fascinating. It is not only regionally based and globally encompassing but there is a lot to be said for understanding the importance of each of these songs to their particular region or country. The musical selection alone is a wonderful journey in tradition and history.
Second, there are the instruments played on this album. There are many of them. Taking Conte’s contribution alone, Luis plays the following on the record: Congas, shekere, triangle, shaker, percussion colors, pandeiro, cha chas, bell caxixi, agogo, ibo drum, djembe, sabar, bongolele, quinto, wood egg shaker, bodhrán, teponaztli, batá drums, bongos, pods, talking drum, timbales, cymbals, surdo, baby caxixi, Cuban cajon, surdo, cowbell, caxixi, and, the darbuka. Not only is the variety very impressive but it is Conte’s percussive ability to mirror and adapt to the given locale which is outstanding.
Third, what makes this a great record are the players themselves and the chemistry they create during the performances on this album. The interplay and complementary role playing makes for great listening but considering the individual resumes of the players the resulting Grammy-nominated product is not surprising. Collectively, the trio form a musical unit that gets the job done in a masterful fashion. Starting with Daniel Ho, he is a Grammy Award–winning artist known for Hawaiian music. On this record he plays various instruments including the ukulele, Hawaiian slack-key guitar, bouzouki, dulcimer, charango, and mandolin, among others. Ho also produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered the record.
For Wu Man this is not her first cross-cultural collaboration. For example, check out Man’s Wu Man and Friends in 2006, an album featuring folk songs from China, Ukraine, Uganda, and the Appalachians. Also, in 2011, Man traveled to Taiwan to study the music of Taiwanese aborigines, culminating in a program titled Wu Man and Aboriginal Friends from Taiwan. The following year Man recorded Borderlands: Wu Man and Master Musicians of the Silk Route which featured traditional music of the Uyghur region with Central Asian musicians. This is all in addition to the common recognition that Man is the world’s premier pipa virtuoso and leading ambassador of Chinese music.
Rounding out the trio is, of course, Luis Conte. Conte’s resume includes numerous Hollywood film scores as well as albums with Madonna, Ray Charles, Phil Collins, Santana, Shakira, Jackson Browne, Sergio Mendes, and Cachao, to name a few. Conte is also slated to again join James Taylor on tour later this year.
Combined Man, Ho, and Conte have created a record which is indeed deserving of a Grammy. February 8th will hopefully confirm that.
Ken “K Bo” Biedzynski, Editor