Trio Pantango,
Tango Argentino
(ARC, 2012)

various artists,
Powwow Songs: Music from the Plains Indians
(ARC, 2012)

various artists,
Sufi Songs of Love: From India & Iran
(ARC, 2012)

In these releases, ARC Music continues its excellent work in collecting and issuing world music that is truly music of the world and folk music that is truly music of the folk. In these records, we have the real thing, not commercially-aimed interpretations.

Sufi Songs of Love presents field recordings made in 1955, 1959 and 1999. The songs are celebrations, paeans to love and devotion to God. Sufis, the mystical devotees of Islam, originated, we believe, in the split after the death of Muhammad, between the orthodox and conservative Sunni fundamentalists and the Shi'ites. Sufis follow the Shi'ite interpretation of the Koran and believe that God is not to be studied or reflected on as something outside of humankind but, instead, is to be discovered within. That is, of course, a highly oversimplified version of what they believe and may be somewhat in error because the Sufis are, after all, a mystical sect, forced to live in secret for centuries and still guarded in their dealings with others.

As Idris Shah put it in his book, The Sufis, those who explain the movement don't know it and those who know don't explain. What we do know is that one way they open up to find God is in movement; they seek ecstasy in dance. So the songs here are primarily drums and vocals, meant to unleash an ecstatic experience. It is wonderful, hypnotic music, almost a spiritual experience in itself.

Most of Powwow Songs is a field recording from a multi-tribal powwow held at Shiztook, Oklahoma, in 1975, where the various tribes competed in dance, drums and singing. This portion of the CD features mostly tribes from the Southern Plains, joining together, making music inter-tribally, showing unity even as they competed. It begins with a slow war dance song, which the tribes would have used in earlier times to get ready to battle an enemy, and proceeds to dance contest songs. Both fancy dance and plain dance songs are featured.

In the songs from the Northern Plains tribes, we get music from the Sioux, Hidatsa and Arapaho tribes. The program consists of lots of war dance songs but interestingly enough, the most serious and restrained song is a tribute to Vietnam veterans, a group made up in huge numbers of Indians.

As with the Sufi CD, Powwow Songs is primarily drums and voices, rhythm and unseen movement. In both cases, though, we can easily imagine what we can't see and, again as is the case with the Sufi CD, Powwow Songs is a fascinating listen.

Tango Argentino gives us more dance music but this time in a more accessible form, on more familiar turf. The music, instead of being percussive, is melodic, and there are no voices. We have instead the complicated rhythms and melodies of tango music, played primarily by the accordian and guitar of the main musicians, Guillermo Destaliats and Fernando Rubin Saglia. These players are supplemented on different tracks by a clarinet, bass, flute and violin.

It is impossible to hear this music without wanting to dance. It is playful, sprightly, unusual and familiar all at once and, just as is the case with the other two CDs discussed here, faithful to the tradition while not being stifled by it.

A friend said to me that with stuff like Sufi music and powwow songs, they just sit on your shelves and very rarely get played. To that I say, think of your music collection as colonies that you have dominion over. Some of them you visit a lot, some you visit less often but all have something to offer you.

These three deserve to be among your colonies.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

21 December 2013

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