The Afro-Brazilian Project
(ARC, 2003)

This is a wonderful CD. I mention that right away for those who are put off by "world fusion." And this one is particularly unusual, featuring Brazilian music played by a multi-instrumentalist whose main instrument is an African harp.

The African harp is a kora, which looks more like a guitar, except that it has 21 strings and a gourd for a soundboard. It also sounds a bit more like a guitar than its Western counterpart, but overall it has a light, ethereal sound.

The same can be said of Brazilian music, however, so despite the kora's origins, it does not sound at all out of place here. It helps, of course, that it is played by Ravi. Since he is an Englishman, he is less bound to the instrument's tradition than an African might be. It also helps that he has been playing the kora since 1985 and been involved with many multi-cultural recordings.

The most important thing, though, it that it is clear that Ravi loves Brazilian music. He captures the feel and the soul of the country with the help of many Brazilian instrumentalists, led by Roberto Marques and Armando Marcal on percussion. Their polyrhythms are superb and should be required listening for producers who ruin world music with programmed beats.

Without beautiful melodies it's not Brazilian, and Ravi delivers them. "The Twenty-One String Samba" has Ravi also playing wooden flute (kavai) with Sameera adding the soft background vocals so characteristic of the music. On "Moino" he plays both guitar and kora, accompanied only by Eric Roche on guitar. Contributors on other songs include Paulo Moura on clarinet and Guta Menezes on harmonica.

"Bird of Paradise," where Ravi sings, has lyrics that sound like they were translated from Portuguese: "Can you feel my fragile earth? Can you feel my heart disappearing?" That's the way that they write them down there -- the good ones, at least.

The ending four cuts, collectively called "Amazon Journey," are different in that they do not emulate Brazilian music. Instead, this is a more abstract piece that features different flutes and percussion and has Ravi throat singing. It is not quite as appealing as the seven earlier cuts, but it is a soothing listen and does evoke visions of a slow journey on the river.

There is only one drawback with this CD. Now there is one more performer's name I have to remember when I cruise the music racks.

- Rambles
written by Dave Howell
published 29 May 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.