Ecuador, Bali, and Brazil

By Elizabeth Doyle

Alpacas in the Andes, on a Peruvian hillside

Ecuador Andes – I think Ecuador must be a little bit magical. Some of the oldest (and most artistically advanced and peaceful) cultures in all of the Americas began there, though many are now extinct. And later, it was part of the Incan empire. The Andes Mountains, of course, are partly in Ecuador, and in my opinion, some of the richest and most soothing music is coming from those mountains – like that of this lovely group, which has named itself simply Ecuador Andes. Of course, Ecuador has also had its fair share of craziness. A terrible Spanish rule went on for hundreds of years. Then after that was over, the country descended into wars with neighbors and internal political upheavals, and nothing was coming together. So the last few centuries have been rougher than their golden age, but it sounds like things may be looking up, and there’s always something so special about it. For example, it’s home to a huge number of spectacular species of animals, and I hear they’re the first country in the world to declare that nature has the inalienable legal right to exist, and not be destroyed (Ecuador actually wrote this into their new constitution in 2008.) Also, some of Ecuador’s cities are thought to be the most well-planned and beautifully preserved in the world. I think there’s still magic! And I think you’ll think so too when you hear this: Click here.

Pura Taman Ayun Temple, Bali

Cudamani – The gamelan music of Bali is part of religious life there. “Gamelan” is sort of like a word for “orchestra.” But interestingly, the word usually doesn’t refer to the people playing in the orchestra. It refers to the instruments they’re playing! In other words, while in most orchestras, you might go get a new trumpet if yours is worn out, in Bali, the instrument is considered an irreplaceable part of the orchestra. The instruments are designed and tuned to play with one another, always. They have a relationship with one another, and they can’t be mixed and matched. They are the orchestra. Isn’t that an interesting idea? Gamelan music is an important part of religious ritual in Bali. But surprisingly, these gamelan have existed long before Hinduism arrived in Bali. It’s a highly percussive and highly awakening form of music that really calls you to “snap out of it” and be alert to something very real and very nearby ….

This is a gamelan called Cudamani (Pronounced Soo-damani). I love the “intensity of the present moment” that the dancer expresses in both her movements and face: Click here.

The Amazon rainforest, Brazil

Chico Buarque – You can’t really talk about the music of the world without touching on Brazil. Brazil is known worldwide for its sounds. Some of their most famous music like samba is extremely celebratory, often alluring, and tends to inspire sensual dancing between couples. Yet, samba grew out of the ghettos (shanty towns) of Brazil – and if you’ve even seen a photograph of the ghettos of Brazil – it seems like it would take a lot of determination to decide you were going to dance and celebrate if you lived there. (Google “shanty town Brazil” and look at the pictures. It’s just astonishing.) But as far as I know, no nation has created more widely-respected celebratory and dance music than the music that’s come out of Brazil’s shanty towns. It started with samba, and then took a more complex twist with the advent of Bossa nova. Master instrumentalists in that genre received worldwide acclaim. But then some artists walked the line between the two, like Chico Buarque, whose Bossa nova/samba crossover music has survived decade after decade, a few government bannings in the 60s, and yet he’s still going – and still smiling – and still making everyone remember to keep celebrating.  (I understand he’s also an extremely highly-regarded literary author.) Click here.


Top photo: Marturius / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikimedia Commons / Alpacas on a Peruvian hillside in the Andes

Second photo: chensiyan / GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version. Wikimwdia commons / Pura Taman Ayun Temple

Third photo: Jorge.kike.medina  / GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 Wikimedia Commons / Amazon Rainforest

Musical Treasures of the World

By Elizabeth Doyle

Ravi & Anoushka Shankar – Ravi is probably the most famous sitar player in the world, according to his charitable foundation, “Nada Brahma — Sound is God.” He’s an extremely prolific composer, and plays his instrument in a soulful musical language that anyone can understand. He taught the art to his daughter, Anoushka, and she has become a brilliant composer and celebrity sitar player in her own right. Her playing has airy streams of smoke in it; his playing is more moist.  Both of them are tremendous world ambassadors for the music of India, and they are both huge public advocates for ending cruelty to animals.  Here they are: Click here.

Buffy Sainte-Marie – She was one of the first Native Americans to become a folk music star. Buffy Sainte-Marie is part of the Cree tribe (an Algonquin-speaking people who lived in the northern USA and Canada before Europeans arrived.)  She was born on a reservation, and began writing songs and singing professionally in the early 1960s. She’s still an active musician today, and I still collect every new album she puts out. Her music has always been very political, her messages of peace teetering ironically on the edge of fury. Her style of voice has always been uncompromisingly Native American, with a traditional emphasis on raw, vocal power and a quaking vibrato: Click here.

Djur Djura – This artist is a folk hero to a lot of women. The lore is this: She was born in Algeria, but her family had been very disappointed to have a girl, and so she was raised by her grandmother. Later, the entire family moved to France, where Djura’s wonderful singing voice was discovered. But when she was offered a very prestigious job performing on a French television show, her father refused on her behalf, and began arranging her marriage. It wasn’t long before Djura ran away and eventually formed her own band. The band, Djur Djura has been performing since the 1970s.  Djura usually mixes traditional Berber folk melodies with her own original lyrics. She sings with joy, but it’s an insistence on joy – a determination to be happy rather than just a natural inclination.  Her lyrics emphasize the importance of liberating women all across the world. Click here.