Ray Lema & Tyour Gnaoua
In this high-flying technological age where ancient cultures are chewed up and spat out faster than the decline of Tom Green’s career, we music fans have had soneros, tuva throat singers, bonsai tree jumpers, you name it, thrown at our ears — all in the attempt to sell music. A lot of times, we don’t get a full appreciation of the culture we’re being exposed to; other times it doesn’t seem like the artists themselves appreciate the culture (for example, a few years ago, when every New Age artist seemed to use field recordings of Tibetan monks in their music — poor monks). Therefore, many times the artistry is missed by we Western listeners and the unique qualities of any given musical tradition as everything’s lumped into the “world music” ghetto.
Realizing this, it is hard to fully appreciate the artistry and beauty of Safi. The native Zairian, Ray Lema, is a true artist who’s worked with such disparate artists as Stewart Copeland, Joachim Kuhn, and the Bulgarian Voices of Ensemble Pirin. This is an artist who’s not afraid of a challenge — either to himself or to his listeners (anyone who’s heard the Bulgarian disc knows what I’m talking about) — and, yet, doesn’t feel the need to club us over the head with his ego. He even spares his collaborators, Tyour Gnaoua.
The Gnawa are Berber descendants of former slaves who embody the marriage of Africa and Islam and are known for the Lila, which is an all-night trance ceremony where dancers and instruments invite the spirits to possess the initiates. The Gnawa and their chanting have attracted such collaborators as Paul Bowles, Randy Weston, and Pharoah Sanders.
Lema now works with Tyour Gnaoua to tremendous effect. Asking the musicians to play as they do during the Lila, he arranged the music around their traditions as opposed to dictating what he wanted to them. It’s a sweet, respectful syncretism that melds North, Central, and West African (with the use of the kora) music exquisitely with sweet ballads like “Manandabo” or Latin-tinged rhumbas like “Tura.” This is a true treat from a truly impressive artist who gives us beauty with every song.
Tinder Records: http://www.tinderrecords.com