Posts Tagged ‘WOMEX 2012’


Groupa at WOMEX from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

Groupa is a veteran band, and is currently comprised of Jonas Simonson, flutes, Mats Edén, violin, and Terje Isungset on percussion and assorted sound objects. The various members who have long been active in the Nordic music scene have always been not only great players, but experimenters. This is just from the tail end of their showcase at WOMEX….I came in late due to another obligation, and kicked myself for it when I heard what good stuff was going down. But I think you’ll get the idea of how they blend a firm foundation of folkloric music with a modern deconstruction. And of course, I am a sucker for those wonderful fiddle tunes, like the ones they segue into after the first overtone flute piece and atmospheric sound collage half way through.

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The High Lonesome sound of…Albania from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

Although there is great dissent and discussion amongst those of us who attend WOMEX, (the European World Music Expo) about its inclusion of so many hybrids and pop manifestations, we always know that there will be a helping of something starkly ethnic that will please the most demanding purist ear. This time it was Hysni (Niko) Zela and the Albanian Iso-Polyphonic Choir.
The polyphony of Albania is one of the most hair raising and hauntingly gorgeous sounds made by the human voice. Strong words, but I stand behind them. I first heard this kind of music back in 1995 when I was putting together a compilation of music from formerly Soviet “satellite” nations. It sent me roving through what for me turned out to be Terra Incognita on multiple levels. I remember trying to get recordings from the State owned radio station in Tirana and coming up against a surprising language barrier; my English and French were of no use—either I had to speak Albanian or I had to speak ….Italian. Plus there were several layers of Albanian song, depending on the region. But at last I found a recording of a polyphonic group singing “The Legend of the Walled in Woman” and I knew I had found something precious and important. It literally sent shivers down my spine, and that does not happen often.
So here is my video, and excerpt from the concert. This choir is true to the tradition, and they sing magnificently. Mr. Zela looked blissed the entire time he was performing, he was most definitely “in the zone.”
Here is the information about the songs as I received it from their management:

1 – Zura nje bilbil me vese – I caught a Nightingale – love song very rich of metaphors
2 – Syzeza – Black eyed – love song
3 – Shoke nat e shoke dite – Friends of nights and days – dramatic song a la Romeo and Juliette
4 – Dola nje dite nga mali – Wander in the mountain – love song
5 – Legjenda e ures – The bridge legend – while the title is referred to the bridge it is dedicated to the Rozafa castle legend. The girl that accepted her sort to be a human sacrifice (buried alive in the walls) for the castle and that asked to leave out one breast to feed the toddler and one leg to rock the cradle.
6 – Dollandyshe vogelo – Little Swallow – Love song 7 – Mu thane syte mu thane – My eyes are dry – Dramatic migration song of a mother that has run out of tears because the son came back home dead right before the wedding ceremony.

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Tsuumi Sound System tears it up at WOMEX 2012 from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

I wasn’t going to cover Tsuumi Sound System.

Just the phrase “Sound System” conjures up deejays and a front rapper, and although as Jerry Seinfeld would say “not that there’s anything wrong with that!” it just isn’t what I go out of my way to shoot. So I was hanging out in one of the concert venues at Helexpo wondering which room to set up in when I spotted Philip Page, Texan now Finlander (and manager of Värttina through their heyday) and asked what the story was. His response? “Oh you have to go see them– they are SO READY.” So here they are, and I agree, they are ready. I cannot imagine them getting any tighter, or more exciting. The energy is all there, plus an excellent combination of Finnish fiddle music with a rock steady rhythm section. Their latest CD was produced by Sweden’s Roger Talroth of Väsen fame; he of the iron wrists and power chords, and this first tune is dedicated to him. (Haven’t heard Väsen yet? It’s not too late to get hooked, go listen up!) the song is appropriately called “Grown-up Roger” composed by Esko Järvelä from the album Tsuumi Sound System: Growing Up

I have as much of an affinity with Nordic music as with Celtic, although I must admit that I find the darker nuances of Nordic music resonate quite pleasantly in my own slavic soul. But here Tsuumi Sound System tempers the primordial two-beat feel they have set up with some bittersweet passages that almost conjure up saudade, as Finns tend to do….go figure. I hear Tango is huge in Finland too.

For more about the band, visit or

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Here’s where you’ll find my weekly original world music video blogs that appear on Huffington Post, as well as an archive starting in April of 2009.

This is also the place where you will find video that is exclusive to my site. I’ve traveled to places like Uzbekistan, Morocco, and Taiwan and no matter where I go I have found amazingly talented and creative people working in every genre from the deepest traditions to the cutting edge.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to interview them and to capture some of what they do on video. Enjoy what you see and hear, and let me know what you think. I welcome your feedback.