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Kronos Quartet - Pieces of Africa

Kronos Quartet

Pieces of Africa

Kronos Quartet

WEA Electra Nonesuch 79275

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Kronos Quartet
Kronos Quartet
I can think of several groups of people who will not like this week's choice of CD.

Purists (and by that I mean people who like their classical music old and unadulterated) will hate it. Likewise people who regard any collaboration with musicians from less developed countries as reeking of exploitation. And finally anyone who refuses to open their ears to new sounds, new music, new ideas should give this CD a wide berth.

The rest of us can sit back, relax and enjoy a musical journey that bridges the western classical tradition and African rythms and sounds.

The Kronos quartet are a group of musicians based in San Francisco who have made it their mission performing and popularising modern string quartet music. And beyond. Their repertoire ranges from early twentieth century music (doesn't that sound old now?) to works they commission themselves.

They hit the jackpot with Pieces of Africa, released in 1992 which quickly become a bestseller, not only on classical charts, but also on popular lists. It introduced many people to the Kronos quartet and to classical music in general.

While the Kronos quartet are very good, it is the music and the other musicians which makes this CD special. Kronos take almost a back seat on some of these pieces, like tourists visiting a strange land, letting the landscape wash over them.

And the land that this CD covers is huge; Zimbabwe, Morocco, Gambia, Uganda, Sudan, Ghana, and South Africa. Imagine a CD based on European music ranging from German to Spanish to Russian to Scandinavian, and you get an idea of the variety on this CD. Each with its own rhythms, own instruments and own stories.
pieces of africa
Certainly the most meaty piece here is Kevin Volans' White Man Sleeps. And being for string quartet alone, the most conventional to Western ears. Originally scored for 2 re-tuned harpsicords, viola da gamba, and percussion, Volans rescored and redesigned it for the Kronos Quartet. It is a set of 5 movements, with the overall effect of a set of baroque dances, borrowing heavily from African rhythms, motifs and styles.

Volans says he did not set out to Westernize African music, but to Africanise Western music, a subtle but intriguing distinction.

White Man Sleeps has restored my faith in modern music. I don't know about you, but when I hear modern contemporary compositions, especially those that try to "push the envelope" of music, I often find it a jarring, uncomfortable and even pointless experience. When I first heard White Man Sleeps I was immediately struck by the fact that this is really good music. Its listenable, but has substance and brings the joy back to music making.

And likewise for the remainder of the pieces. Written by contemporary African musicians in their own country's style, the music is sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always moving.

From the mesmerising rhythms of Hamza el Din's Escalay (Waterwheel) to the celebration of life in Dumisani Maraire's Mother Nozipo, this is music as varied as the land from where they came. So "Tickets, please!", sit back and enjoy the ride on a musical journey through a continent of rhythms, stories and emotions that is Pieces of Africa.

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Track Listing

Kronos Quartet
(Hank Dutt, David Harrington, Joan Jeanrenaud, John Sherba)
Pieces of Africa
  1. Mai Nozipo, for ngoma, hosho & string quartet ("Mother Nozipo") Dumisani Maraire

  2. Saade for voice, sintar, oud, bander & string quartet ("I'm Happy") Hassan Hakmoun

  3. Tilliboyo for kora & string quartet ("Sunset") Foday Musa Suso

  4. Ekitundu Ekisooka for string quartet
    Justinian Tamusuza

  5. Escalay "Waterwheel" for tar & string quartet
    Hamza El Din

  6. Wawshishijay "Our Beginning" for vocals, Donno, Brekete, Pretia, Gidi & Aketse
    Obo Addy

  7. String quartet No 1 "White Man Sleeps" I
    Kevin Volans
  8. "White Man Sleeps" II
  9. "White Man Sleeps" III
  10. "White Man Sleeps" IV
  11. "White Man Sleeps" V

  12. Kutambarara "Spreading", for vocals, mbira, hosho, chorus & string quartet
    Dumisani Maraire

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