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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1483

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Ojos de Brujo: Techarí
by George Graham

(Six Degrees 1131 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/2/2007)

I have often said that some of the most interesting and exciting music appearing these days is coming from the world music fusion scene, with artists mixing genres from different parts of the world and from different cultures with sometimes wild abandon. Obviously, mashing together influences helter-skelter can have highly variable results, but in the hands of skillful musicians, such pursuits can often be fascinating and exhilarating.

This week we have another excellent example, the Spanish band Ojos de Brujo, and their new CD called Techarí.

While there has been much activity by African artists who combine various African and Western influences, Spain's flamenco tradition has inspired quite a few creative musicians to combine flamenco with styles from African folk to Middle Eastern to hip-hop. Ojos de Brujo does all of that on their new CD, all the while maintaining an impressive level of musicianship.

Back in the late 1980s, the African kora player Toumani Diabate got together with a Spanish flamenco group create to what would turn out to be a series of albums under the name Songhai. The French-based band Gipsy Kings have had a fair amount of commercial success in the world music field with their flamenco-pop mix, and in 2003, French guitarist Louis Winsberg created a remarkable album called Jaleo that brought in some elements of jazz to flamenco.

Ojos de Brujo is an eight piece group mostly from the Catalan region of Spain who are particularly wide-ranging in their sources of inspiration. There's the flamenco, of course, but also Gypsy, hip-hop, Latin American, techno and a fair amount of Middle Eastern and Indian. Flamenco has always had a Middle Eastern undercurrent, with the tonalities of that region, stemming from the time when Spain was under Moorish Arab control from the 8th to 11th Centuries. And Ojos de Brujo bring that to the fore often. But they also go further east, and draw on Indian influence with tabla drums and the Indian style of verbal percussion. And they look west to the former colonies of Spain, i.e. Latin America as well. They recorded part of the CD in Cuba and draw on salsa, Mexican folk music, and the Latin American percussion instrument known as the cajón, which is heard throughout the recording.

And their influences are more contemporary, drawing on hip-hop. It's interesting to consider the differences in the music, with the almost baroque passion of flamenco, and the in-your-face completely unsubtle approach of hip-hop. But Ojos de Brujo bring the two together with some rapped vocals, though with a distinctive touch, with rapid-fire Spanish lyrics, but with a much higher, lighter vocal style than typical rap, often sung by the band's female vocalist who goes by the name Marina "la Canillas," and they borrow hip-hop-style turntable scratching and some vocal effects. But all the while the flowery style of the flamenco guitars are not far away.

The result is a recording that is fascinating, danceable, exotic, super energetic at times, often surprising with pieces which suddenly change direction or have some unexpected sound appear, and it's all held together with some impressive musicianship including lots of virtuosic guitar -- there are two flamenco guitarists in the band.

The CD leads off with one of its typically wildly eclectic tracks, Color, which was recorded with the Cuban guest musicians, while the band mixes the funky horn lines with the complex, stop and start rhythms that Ojos de Brujo favors. The piece's lyrics are apparently about the color left by graffiti artists. <<>>

A bit more toward traditional flamenco in style is Sultanas Merkaillo. The appealing piece speaks of wishing sadness to pass. <<>>

Bringing in some of the Middle Eastern influence, including the Indian tabla, is Runalí. Runalí is apparently a Gypsy character who has the ability to "ease misery and bring light." <<>>

Showing more of their hip-hop influence is a piece called El Confort No Reconforta, which translates as "Comfort brings no consolation." <<>>

A piece called Tanguillos Mariñeros or "sailors' tanguello" dances, draws on Latin American influences with Mexican and Cuban folk. But it's not without its twists. <<>>

For me one of the highlights of this highly eclectic CD is a piece called No Somos Máchinas or "we are not machines." The group brings its panoply of influences to bear, including a bit of jazziness. <<>>

As if that were not enough, Ojos de Brujo do a tune with a reggae beat. Corre Lola Corre, which translates as "Run Lola Run," to escape from a bad life. <<>>

Another of the album's highlights is Bailaores, which is a term used to refer to flamenco dancers. It's a rhythmically infectious blend of more flamenco and Latin American sounds. <<>>

Techarí, the new CD by the Spanish band Ojos de Brujo, which by the way means "eyes of the wizard," is the octet's third recording, but the first to receive US distribution. It's a remarkable album by a band whose fusion of musical influences and energy level can be breathtaking. Starting with flamenco and adding everything from hip-hop to reggae, the group creates wildly eclectic music that is built on the exceptionally high level of musicianship in the band. It's rhythmically infectious and at the same time, fascinating in its breadth of fusion. Techarí (the Catalan word for "freedom") comes with an extra CD-ROM which contains videos, extra artwork, and translations of the lyrics, which can come in handy. But even if one could not understand the words, the music still has the power to draw one into their sonic web.

Our grade for sound quality is about an "A-Minus." The mix nicely combines all the often anarchically diverse elements, but we'll deduct point, as usual, for the volume compression that squashes out the sound to a mostly uniformly loud level.

While the commercial music industry seems hopelessly stuck in a rut largely of its own making, the World Music scene continues to generate enjoyable and downright exciting music. Ojos de Brujo are the epitome of that.

(c) Copyright 2007 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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