December, 2005
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cd cover Is It Live or...
by Marty Lipp

Although listening to a CD or an MP3 file is a fine way to enjoy a tune, music - it should be remembered - is one of the performing arts. Experiencing music live always add something, subtle or profound. But due to economics and sheer logistics, most of us can't duck into a concert hall or a club whenever we want to hear music. Has technology closed that experiential gap?

Since the advent of music videos and DVDs, fans can watch and listen at home. World music has been late to the game, but given its innate foreign-ness, DVDs can help neophytes understand the music more readily by providing some context. Producers of DVDs have been creating that context in a number of ways.

There is, of course, the concert DVD, which certainly offers a new dimension to a listener, particularly if the artist has that rare talent to light up a stage. Mariza, who sings Portuguese fado, released Live in London and it demonstrates why she has been such a quick-rising star. Mariza tries to bring an intimate feel to her shows and the DVD's camera work captures that ambience as well as showing off her powerful singing.

cd cover The multi-culti agitprop band Ozomatli recently released Live at the Fillmore, which portrays the raucous, righteous fun of one of their concerts. The additional footage of things like bassist Wil-Dog Abers riffing about the skin-care products the band receives in award-show gift bags is amusing, but strictly for fans. These home movie add-ons - like many DVD "bonuses" - are a bit entertaining, if somewhat disposable.

Palm Pictures has the most innovative take on DVDs. They are publishing a series of DVD/CD combinations along with National Geographic magazine. The handsome sets focus on a single topic and feature music that is played over travelogue-type photos. The sets also include National Geographic fold-out maps and liner notes that act as a primer for the given subject.

cd cover Palm Pictures' Vedic Paths looks at India, with music that leans toward the modern, but doesn't go as far as "Asian Underground" electronic dance music. The photography of India is as lovely as one would expect from National Geographic and the liner notes give the reader a fairly good idea about Indian culture and religion.

The company also released a set that focuses on the charismatic Senegalese singer Baaba Maal. The DVD features a profile of the singer with interviews and a walk through the village where he grew up. In addition, the DVD has songs from one of his exuberant concerts.

Shanachie Records has released a series of DVDs on major world-music figures, letting different directors take varied approaches. The DVD profiling the Brazilian star Carlinhos Brown is an entertaining look at a quirky, wildly creative star. The Brown DVD opens by following him as he walks through the Candeal section of Salvador where he grew up. Stopping to chat and play with people, one gets a sense of his almost-familial relationship with Candeal, where he has built a combination recording studio and music school. His impromptu jams highlight what a natural musician he is.

While there are stereophiles with home theaters surpassing the sound quality you can get in a noisy club, watching an artist, even on a high-definition plasma TV, still cannot recreate what happens between an audience and a performer. Make a New Year's resolution to try and catch that magic. January alone offers two world-music smorgasbords in New York: Globalfest, with 13 artists playing on the 21th and 22nd, 2005 at Joe's Pub (; and the singular Golden Festival (, which has about 30 bands, mostly but not exclusively Balkan, playing on January 13th and 14th, 2006. If you live near any city anywhere in the world, you are sure to find something near you, as well.

Certainly check out some DVDs and add a dimension to your listening, but then get out and discover what escapes being digitized: the excitement of being part of the spark, the moment of creation. - Marty Lipp

(Editor's note: You are not welcome at without 'the latest Flash plugin' on your computer... kind of like an electronic dress code at the virtual door, I guess it keeps out the digital riff-raff. "Hey man, where's your red shoes and batik shirt?" - CF)

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