Eugene Weekly : Music : 9.18.08

Round the World Sounds
From Argentina to Zimbabwe, global sounds come to Eugene
By Brett Campbell

Chiwoniso Maraire

Zimbabwe is to music as Jamaica is to Olympic sprinters. As we’ve seen all summer in concerts by Zimbabwean musicians coming through town, the politically oppressed southern African nation teems with beautiful sounds, often using or drawing on traditional Shona instruments like mbira and marimba. Eugene has a special relationship to Zimbabwe: One of the pioneers of Afropop, Thomas Mapfumo, lives here part-time, and the Kutsinhira center is dedicated to the study and sharing of Zimbabwean music. On Sept. 28, we get to hear one of the hot young voices of Zimbabwean music, Chiwoniso Maraire, the daughter of Kutsinhira founder Dumisani “Dumi” Maraire (a great musician who studied at the University of Washington). She grew up in Olympia and moved to her ethnomusicologist father’s native country as a teenager, where she played in the family band as well as with a hip hop group and other top musicians, became a star, started a family and worked with women’s and children’s rights organizations. Her lyrics reflect her social concerns about her country’s plight, and she’s not afraid to challenge the oppressive government of dictator Robert Mugabe. Maraire’s music embraces African-American influences (soul, rock, reggae) as well as southern African sounds. Mbiras — the gourd encased, plucked metal-tined harps that produce such a dazzling sound — and guitars ring through her new album, which sports a more Westernized sound than most of the Zimbabwean music we’ve heard recently around here, not least because she sings in English. With a band of Zimbabwean all stars, her Cozmic Pizza show should be one of the year’s top world music concerts.

Cozmic hosts another highly recommended world music show on Sept. 27, when Bend’s Gypsy Fire brings its fusion of Middle Eastern dance forms and Arif Khan and Paul Prince (the great local world music guitarist who played with Mapfumo and other Zimbabwean masters) enact their own fusion of musical styles. Khan is a young tabla prodigy from India’s most distinguished family of percussion masters whose musical lineage stretches back a millennium. After his set with Prince, Khan and oud (the resonant Middle Eastern lute) virtuoso Josh Humphrey will accompany Global Fire and Tribalation dancers. And on Sept. 25, Khan will join sarod player Brandon McIntosh for a concert at Harmony Roadhouse Music Studio (26th and Willamette). Any fan of Indian music and percussion should catch one or both of these shows.

More world music shows abound. California’s Fishtank Ensemble blends American and European musicians plus odd-metered Balkan, Romanian gypsy and flamenco (which also has gypsy origins) influences in an exceptionally danceable brew for violins, banjolele, guitar, saw, vocals and acoustic bass. They’re playing the Axe and Fiddle in Cottage Grove on Sept. 24 and are easily worth the drive. 

The Buenos Aires-based  guitarist/ singer/composer Federico Aubele caught the ears of Thievery Corporation, which produced his debut disk last year, so it’s no surprise to hear traces of their sound, nor, given his second album’s title, Panamericana, the rhythms — tango to hip hop — from up and down the Americas and Caribbean. Aubele’s shy vocals recall Jobimish murmurs, while fellow-porteña Natalia Clavier contributes keyboards (of course, given her name) and vocals, both opening for and accompanying Aubele at the WOW Hall on Sept. 20. In another electronica-tinged WOW show, EOTO brings its sampler-happy breakbeats on the 23rd. The String Cheese spinoff’s fully improvised danceable shows, featuring looped and layered guitars, various percussion and keyboards, naturally draw jam band fans, too.

Speaking of improvisers, one of the best, the incomparable jazz pianist Jessica Williams, returns to the United Lutheran Church (2230 Washington St.) for another solo show on Sept. 26. Williams is justly regarded by jazz experts as one of the finest pianists of the age, and her performances appeal to the most ardent jazzheads as well as casual fans. If you love jazz or the piano, don’t miss the chance to hear a true master. 

Still another terrific Seattle jazz keyboardist, Wayne Horvitz, brings his acoustic quartet Sweeter Than the Day back to Sam Bond’s Sept. 27. Like his frequent collaborator Bill Frisell, Horvitz is a veteran of the New York downtown scene who moved west and managed to maintain his adventurous improvisations while cultivating a limpid lyricism that beckons anyone who appreciates musical beauty.

Alert John McCain, Dick Cheney and Gen. Jack D. Ripper! The Russians may be leaving South Ossetia, but they’re invading Oregon this Thursday when the Eugene Symphony plays one of the greatest 20th century works, the lush suite from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet score The Firebird, the stirring Russian Easter Overture by his mentor, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Rachmaninoff’s bombastic third piano concerto. Then, on Sept. 30, superstar cellist Yo Yo Ma returns with more Russian music (two Tchaikovsky gems), the most powerful of Beethoven’s four attempts to write an overture to the opera that eventually became Fidelio (Leonore #3) and Haydn’s delightful C major Cello Concerto.