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Various Artists World Routes: On the Road Review

Compilation. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A colourful journey through the catalogue of World Routes’ unusual live recordings.

Robin Denselow 2012

Radio 3’s specialist world music show World Routes has built up a loyal global following, largely because it is so adventurous. Rather than concentrate exclusively on big names, it uncovers fine though lesser-known (or completely unknown) artists from all corners of the world.

The programme’s presenter, Lucy Duran, and her producers have travelled extensively, visiting over 50 countries since the programme started back in 2000. In the process, they have recorded hours of wildly varied but always high-quality music. It’s only right that this should be released on an album, so here at last – just a little late for their 10th anniversary – is a double-disc collection of glorious sounds from around the world.

It’s a set that’s packed with delights and surprises. There are several major performers included, but always in an unusual and often relaxed setting. So the brilliant Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté is recorded in the living room of one of his houses in Bamako; the extraordinary and emotional singer Alim Qasimov is heard performing with his daughter in a jazz club in Baku, Azerbaijan; the exiled Iraqi star Ilham al-Madfi sings his exquisite lament for Baghdad in a cafe in Jordan; and that cool and lilting singer Tito Paris performs in a hotel in Cape Verde. In every case, there’s an intimacy to the performances that would be hard to achieve in the studio.

Then there are the lesser-known artists, local folk musicians who can never have expected that their music would be broadcast to a world-wide audience. From India, there’s an energetic and enthusiastic track from the Langa Children of Rajasthan, singing in their village in the moonlight; while from Uganda there’s an exhilarating, hypnotic recording of the Nakibembe Village Musicians performing on a vast pit-xylophone, an instrument so large that it takes six young men to play it.

There are further surprises: from Brazil, music that comes not from the predictable locations of Rio or Bahia, but from the sugar-cane fields of Pernambuco State, up in the north-east. From here, there’s a sturdy track from the singer Siba, performing with farm workers in a converted cowshed; elsewhere, there’s a fine burst of violin-backed Brazilian country music from Renata Rosa. Other highlights include the remarkable Peruvian guitarist Manuelcha Prado, and an intense and exquisite collaboration in a shrine between the celebrated Indian singer Aruna Sairam and the young veena player Hari Vrndavn Sivanesan, whom she was mentoring under a World Routes scheme.

The lead producer on this album is James Parkin, who also provides the photos and most of the extensive liner notes that colourfully chronicle the travels of World Routes. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another decade for the next set.

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