World Playground: Musical Adventure for Kids CD, Import
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Subtitled "A Musical Adventure For Kids", World Playground is the kind of album everyone in the family should hear. It's a collection of children's songs from around the world sung mostly in their native languages and presented in attractive and tuneful arrangements. The songs travel from Africa to the Caribbean, from Australia to North America. It's enjoyable and entertaining to journey from "Waltzing Matilda", sung in the Aboriginal language called Pitjantjatjara, to Buckwheat Zydeco's "Mardi Gras Mambo", then cross over to Greece for the bouzouki strumming and rousing chorus of "Tik Tik Tak", before heading for Brazil and "Good Morning To You" (sung in Portuguese and Patua). Produced by the well-known World Music label, Putumayo, the album comes with an excellent and colourful booklet which explains the songs and prints translations. There is something of a North American slant to the selections (nothing from Asia or the Far East, for example), but still the album has a lot of fun demonstrating how similar so many diverse musical cultures are, and how much we all have in common with each other. As the album says, it's "guaranteed to make you feel good!" --Mark Walker
What was interesting to me is that a good number of the songs are not particularly representative of the countries listed, but instead are amalgamations of 2 or more cultures. The Canadian song is a haunting Celtic song, the French song is actually in English and written by an immigrant, the Congolese song is done by a man who now lives in the US and has been greatly influenced by Latin music, the Ethiopian song is sung in Israel by those missing their homeland, and the Brazilian song is sung in Patois, a trade language used by those on the border with French Guiana to communicate with each other. It is truly WORLD music. The instrumentation behind the singing reflects the cultures represented and adds so much to the cd's appeal. I found that it took listening to more than once to really appreciate its charms. I would recommend it for all ages.
Although (as many other reviewers here have noted) these songs are great for children, there's nothing inherently "kiddie" about most of them (as most of them weren't created exclusively for the children's market) and no reason that adults can't enjoy this cd. English speaking listeners of any age should note, however, that in keeping with the global theme, seven of the twelve songs on this disc are not sung in the English language. In addition to cultural, musical, and linguistic diversity, there's also an interesting mix of well-established recording artists and apparent amateurs represented on this album. Here's the rundown in terms of title, artist, language and assessment:
1. "Fatou Yo (I am Fatou)" - Toure Kunda (Senegal) - Mandinka
This is one of the songs on the disc that I would say was a little "kiddie". Although sung primarily by brothers Ismail and Sixu Toure, lead singers of the popular Senegalese band Toure Kunda, this fun, vibrant, bouncy tune, accentuated by excellent drumming, is written from the perspective of a little girl, talking about how pretty she is and how she wants to be when she grows up. Sounds like a great formula for building up a child's self esteem.
2. "La Mariposa (The Butterfly)" - Colibri (Chile/USA) - Spanish
This is a nice little song on which Andean rhythms and the zampona (a bamboo pan-pipe) feature prominently. Listeners should note that although the songs comes from the Bolivian highlands, it was not recorded in that country and neither of the featured singers are Bolivian. One is an American and the other is from Chile.
3. "Three Little Birds" - Cedella Marley Booker & Taj Mahal (Jamaica/USA) - English
This is a sweet, mellow cover of Bob Marley's song from his Exodus album. It is performed by none other than his venerable Moms, accompanied by contemporary blues-fusion giant Taj Mahal.
4. "Nyandi Matilda (Waltzing Matilda)" - Trevor Adamson (Australia) - Pitjantjatjara
Everyone's heard the "unofficial natrional anthem" of Australia before, but this time its sung in the Aboriginal Pitjantjatjara language. This may be a good thing if you're planning on playing this cd for English speaking kids. Contrary to popular belief, "Waltzing Matilda" is not about dancing with a girl. It's the tale of a swagman (Aussie slang for an itinerant worker) who steals a sheep from a greedy landowner and is forced to kill himself when the guy shows up with three cops to arrest him. The laborer's ghost then goes on to haunt the billabong (water hole) where the whole grisly incident took place. It's all there in the lyrics sheet!
5. "Home By Barna" - Teresa Doyle (Canada) - English (with a lot of Celtic terminology)
This is an interesting old Irish song preserved in Eastern Canada's thriving Celtic community about a "lass" who after going to mass every morning (Good girl!) would stop and have a little something to drink at the local public house (Bad girl!). After hanging out all day, she'd then have to puzzle out the best way to return home at night. Going along the main road she might meet up with brigands, so that's out. Cutting across the fields, she'd wind up slicing her feet on the thorns and of course she didn't want that. If she traveled along other routes, she risked encountering such supernatural creatures from Irish folklore as the banshee, the swoogh, and the fairy band. All things considered, it was best to go home by Barna!
6. "Mardis Gras Mambo" - Buckwheat Zydeco (USA) - English
Along with Amede Ardoin and Boozoo Chavis, Buckwheat Zydeco is one of my favorite zydeco musicians, and he's in top form on this cut. For those who don't know, zydeco is a fusion of African, French, Native American, Spanish, Celtic, German, and other musical forms originating in Louisiana's Creole community. The accordian (Buckwheat's intrument of choice), the vest frottoir (rubboard), and fiddle are some of the characteristic elements of the genre.
7. "Tik Tik Tak" - Glykeria (Greece) - Greek
"Tik Tik Tak" is the onomatopoeic title of this song about how the heart of a young woman nearly beats out of her chest when she sees the fella she has a crush on. It is performed by the extremely popular Glykeria Kotsoula, who is to Greek music what Umm Kulthum was to Arabic music and Marcia Griffiths is to reggae. This song is a great example of her work and a great example of bouzouki music, a genre which originated among the urban poor of Athens.
8. "Bongo Bong" - Manu Chao (France) - English
This is a strange electronic pop song sung in English by the Basque/Galician French singer Manu Chao. Its subject is a monkey from the Congo who goes to "the big town" to achieve fame as a bongo player. He fails, but doesn't care. Yeah.
9. "Boom Boom Tarara" - Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca (Congo) - Spanish
After that weird bit of fantasy involving bongo-playing Congolese simians, we're treated to an actual Congolese act and an interesting one at that! Ricardo Lemvo, a musician of Angolan descent who grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo and then moved to the USA at age 15, was always fascinated by Cuban salsa, rumba and timba, and Puerto Rican bomba because he recognized in them the rhythms of Africa brought to those islands by the enslaved individuals who created those musical forms. As an adult, he interpolated elements of these Afro-Latin genres with the popular soukous music of his homeland to create something at once ancient and vibrant and new. "Boom Boom Tarara" is a fine example of his closing the circle and reconnecting Afro-Latin musical forms to their West and Central African origins.
10. "Bonjour Pra Voce (Good Morning to You)" - Nazare Pereira (Brazil) - Portuguese and Patua
This is a cute and fascinating little song about a woman from deep in the Brazilian bush who grew up in a culture that was a fusion of African, Native American, and Portuguese elements. Add to that mix the fact that she lives near the French Guianese border, which she frequently crosses on pleasure outings, and things get even more interesting. In order to communicate with one another, folks in this border region have created a "patua" (patois) of French, Portuguese, African, and Native American elements, and parts of the song are sung in this language. In the end, all the girl does on her trip is have a tafia (a traditional Native American drink of the region) with her friend Moche, and then cross the Diuba River to head back home, but what a linguistic journey she had to go on to get it! The song is at once soft and lively and the singer (Nazare Pereira) has a beautiful, soothing voice.
11. "Zichronot M'Africa (Memories of Africa)" - Shlomo Gronich & the Sheba Choir (Israel) - Hebrew
This for me is the one misstep on the album. This song was composed by an Israeli musician of Eastern European heritage named Shlomo Gronich and performed by a children's choir made up of Israeli kids descended from immigrants of the Beta Yisrael community of Ethiopia. For those who don't know, the Beta Yisrael (known to outsiders as Falasha) are Ethiopia's native Jewish community. In 1991 many of them were airlifted to Israel in the famous "Operation Solomon" to escape the famine and hardship brought on by the the civil war between various rebel armies and the forces of Ethiopia's brutal dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.
The song, the brainchild of Gronich, is meant to be "evocative of the childrens' homeland" and "authentic Ethiopian music". The trouble is, its not. It sounds nothing like traditional Habesha music, something with which I happen to be very familiar. It sounds instead like cheesy music from an American or European animated feature set in a generic "Africa". The so-called "African rhythms and drum beats" incorporated by Gronich into the music are not at all in the Ethiopian tradition. Instead, they sound like some outsiders' impression of non-specific West African drumming, as might be playing in the background of a Tarzan movie or "Tin Tin Goes to Africa". The whole thing comes off as patronizing, inauthentic, and artificial. Unlike the other tracks on this album, this song is not representative of any traditional or modern form of world music, but rather of one outsider's patronizing view of a cultural and musical tradition he apparently doesn't understand very well.
12. "Just Keep Goin' On" - Eric Bibb & Needed Time with The Deacons (USA) - English
Bluesman Eric Bibb and his Needed Time band joined forces with gospel quartet The Deacons for this truly inspirational gem to close out the album. Encouraging listeners to "take every knock as a boost/and every stumbling block as a stepping stone/lift up your head and hold your own..." Bibb and company succeed in capturing an old-timey, acoustic, foot-stomping feel evocative of the old school worksongs and spirituals that help to sustain the Black community of the pre-Civil Rights Movement American south through the horrors and hardships of that time and place. The Deacons' harmonies are tight and the mandolin and harmonica playing are spot on.
Overall, Gronich's manufactured offering excepted, this is a solid, interesting, and eclectic album, appropriate perhaps for children, but just as enjoyable for adults as any of Putumayo's other compilations.