Country comes to the city

Country comes to the city

The All-Thidsa Molam Band was in Bangkok this past weekend to perform at the Thailand International Jazz Conference. World Beat caught up with band last Friday when they played two sets at Isan Spicy BBQ, a rooftop bar at the Jim Thompson Art Center.

It has been a few years since I have seen the band, so it was good to see the members were busy during lockdown and are now back performing at festivals. Two band members — Weerayut (sor, or fiddle, maestro) and Thawatchai (electric bass) — have completed their doctoral studies in music, and all the members teach music at either Mahasarakham University or Roi Et Rajabhat University.

The band played several of their “post-molam” music — an instrumental style that harks back to the golden era of the 1970s, and has been updated and pioneered by bands like Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band — as well as some pleng luk thung songs. One of the highlights was a molam glawn (poetic style molam) from the lively, engaging Molam Ping Ning, who I had not seen perform before.

I asked when the band would be releasing their long-awaited debut album and was told it would be “soon”. Look out for that.

There are lots of interesting new albums coming out for the spring season. In my last column I reviewed Buster Goes West by Japanese band of Tropique!, and Teppai Kondo, the band’s clarinet player, contacted me to express great interest in performing in Thailand. Let’s hope that producers and curators take note and book these fun musicians in the coming months.

One artist I neglected to mention was Joji Hirota, who is well known for promoting Japanese music on the international circuits, especially with his amazing abilities as a taiko (big bass drum) drummer, shakuhachi player and vocalist. His latest offering is a personal percussion journey, Prayer’s Tale: Taiko Drums & Asian Percussion (ARC Music, UK), which features not only taiko drums but also many kinds of Asian percussion instrument, temple bells and cymbals, mixed with sounds from nature. Recommended.

Malian diva Oumou Sangare continues to make waves with her recently released Timbuktu album on World Circuit. She also turns up on the forthcoming posthumous album from the late Ali Farka Toure, Voyageur (also World Circuit), which features nine unreleased tracks from the highly influential guitarist and singer from Niafunke in Northern Mali. Produced by Nick Gold and Farka’s son Vieux, the album is a follow-up to Farka’s final album, Ali & Toumani, which featured duets between Farka and kora (African 21-stringed harp) maestro Toumani Diabate, which won a Grammy Award. It is 17 years since Farka died and we have had only one album of his work released since, so this is a real treat for his many fans. Voyageur is released on March 10.

Another artist who was important in taking West African music to international audiences in the 1980s, Senegalese musician Baaba Maal will release new album Being (Marathon Artists) on March 31, his first release since The Traveller in 2016. This album sees the singer/songwriter return to his hometown of Podor to consider how tradition meets technology, and how his nomadic roots in Fulani (his ethnic group) culture always brings him back to his roots. Recorded in New York, London and Senegal.

Country comes to the citySilent Tears. (Photo: John Clewley)

Finally, producer Dan Rosenberg, who produced the Grammy-nominated Yiddish Glory, has collaborated on what is a follow-up to that album. Silent Tears: The Last Yiddish Tango (Six Degrees), performed by The Payadora Tango Ensemble, which premiered in Canada at a concert on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan 27 in Ottawa.

There are very few albums I’ve come across in the 29 years since I started this column that have as harrowing a backstory as this album. Every one of the nine songs on the album are heartbreaking. Two sources were used to create the songs. The first, Buried Words: The Diary Of Molly Applebaum, is the story of how a 13-year-old girl was buried on a farm in Poland to escape the Nazi concentration camps; now in her 90s, she only finished her memoir in the 1990s.

The second source is The Collective Poems, a book of recollections and poetry written by 15 holocaust survivors (all of whom were by then living in care homes for the elderly). Social worker Dr Paula David recorded the tales of survival as part of trauma therapy sessions she held with survivors.

But why tango? Well, Polish tango performed by Yiddish musicians was hugely popular in Central Europe; by the time the Warsaw Ghetto was created by the Nazis some 3,000 tango songs had been written. So much so that Warsaw was called the tango capital of Eastern Europe. The songs are sung in Polish and Yiddish, and some were recreated from the music of Artur Gold, a bandleader and composer who died in the Treblinka death camp.

These moving, sometimes harrowing songs, are hard to listen to at times but I found the overall feeling as one of hope and survival. The release of Silent Tears could not have come at a more important time, when prejudice, hate and violence is being promoted in many corners of our troubled planet. Check out the song Sabina’s Letter on YouTube.

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