Best of Agricantus
(World Class Records, 1999)

Taking a fiery tribal sound from African and Middle Eastern roots, this Italian group is one of the most exciting new groups on the World Music scene. Their music is an unbelievable mix of ancient and modern, European and African, folk and classical, traditional and electronic. It is primal but new, evocative, and full of rich flavors. It's no wonder that after its release, this CD immediately climbed to the top of the World Music charts.

There's no missing the fact that this group makes use of electronic instruments, but unlike many of the folk/electronic mixes, this music sounds at ease with the electronic element. Agricanus features Tonj Acquaviva on a wide variety of electronic effects, percussion instruments, keyboards and vocals; Mario Crispi on didjeridoo, Persian ney, zummara, duduk, Hellenic hornpipe and a variety of other instruments; Guiseppe Panzeca on acoustic and electric mandolin, Tuareg guitar, teherdent, sitar and vocals; Mario Rivera on basses, keyboards and vocals; and Rosie Wiederkehr on guitar, percussion and vocals. This group is a fusion of traditional and modern musics, melded into one unique, driving, percussive sound. The vocals are rhythmic, yet melodic. The percussion is tribal, yet modern. There's a bit of something for everyone in this mix.

Perhaps the most memorable of the pieces on this remarkable recording is the haunting melody on "Sy E Duar," backed by a whispered, rap-like chant, an almost Caribbean beat, sound effects, and an escalating electronic backdrop. Rosie Wiederkehr's voice soars with passion and finesse throughout this song, which features lyrics in Albanian, Swiss German and Sicilian, and excerpts from Edvard Grieg's opera, "Peer Gynt." It is the ultimate in eclectic mix from this outstanding group.

Nor is this the only track to give a nod to classical composers. There's "Ciumara" with a flute melody which derived from Brahms' "Hungarian Dance #17," "Occhi Chi Nascinu" featuring excerpts from Albinoni's famous "Adagio," and "Amatevi," based on a Berber lullaby. Traditional tunes are also used as starting points, including "Loosin," from a traditional Armenian folk song, and "Hala Hala," from a Tuareg song for Ramadan. Such inspired innovation from old works hasn't been seen in the contemporary music scene since the group Renaissance.

Anyone with an interest in World Music or highly-rhythmic music should check out Agricantus.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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