various artists,
Music From the Tea Lands
(Putumayo, 2000)

This world music sampler from Putumayo ties together its selections with a simple and intriguing theme: all of the tracks are by artists from countries where tea is produced. Call it a gimmick if you will, but I call it a clever and creative idea.

The ten selections on the CD range in origin from Tatarstan to Turkey, from Iran to Indonesia. The music is mostly instrumental and serves well as ambient music -- perfect, in fact, for relaxing with a cup of tea. Yet on repeated listenings, elements of the music stand out and draw closer attention.

The CD is a smooth blend of songs and instrumentals, many of which feature unusual musical instruments. The wistful "Saginou (Yearning)" from Tatarstan singer Zulya is sung in Tatar to the accompaniment of Martin Tucker on the kora, a West African long-necked harp. "Picking Flowers" from China's Lei Qiang features the plaintive and resonant sound of the erhu, a kind of Chinese fiddle. The liner notes do not indicate what instrument underscores "Hangama Hai Kyon Barpa," a ghazal song from Pakistan by Ghulam Ali, but it sounds like a variation on the hammered dulcimer.

Although the sitar is more typical of his East Indian roots, Sanjay Mishra combines guitar, tabla and hajini, a recently developed porcelain percussion instrument in the melodic "For Julia." Japan's Oki turns to his folk roots in the culture of the Ainu people with "Utuwaskarap." As part of his re-creation of Ainu musical traditions, he plays a tankori, "a five-stringed instrument made of wood that the Ainu consider a living thing...."

Turkish musician Okan Murat Ozturk's "Gerizler Basi" is a smoothly flowing and exotic instrumental while "Afsheri" by Kamil Alipour is a dramatic piece written according to the rules and traditions of classical Persian music. The first of two Indonesian pieces, "Anggopanku (My Feelings)" from Itila Himbala is a song accompanied with guitar, and the music effectively conveys the meaning.

The music of Ancient Future is a fusion of cultures and traditions. "The Empress" is a beautiful blend of Japanese, Chinese and Indian classical elements, and the repeat button is hard to resist. The CD closes with the cheerful and quirky sound of the Indonesian gamelon and the sweet tones of the suling, a kind of bamboo flute, in "Kang Mandon" from Ujang Suryana.

The informative liner notes are well-written and include a simple recipe for Indian chai. An additional note encourages the listener to visit the Putumayo site for more information on Asian music and tea.

Music From the Tea Lands not only provides pleasant ambient music, it's a musical adventure as well. I would happily listen to more from any of the artists on the CD. If you're open to new musical experiences, this CD might just be your cup of tea.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 30 June 2001

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