Uzbekistan's Yulduz Usmanova is a cultural preservationist of the best kind. Her songs are based on the music of rural Uzbeki villages where life is slower and the music is rooted in the culture of her people hidden in the plains of Central Asia. She has chosen to bring this music to the rest of us on an ethno-pop platter.
This tauntingly exotic retrospective of her work spans her three albums on the German label Blue Flame: "Alma Alma," "Jannona," and "Binafscha." The tapping of the doira drum and the flowing rhythms of tanbur are mixed with a paste of drum machines and synth washes. But under all the western embellishment, which sometimes is hard to unwrap, there is always a root of truth. The tanbur always goes back to the village. Usmanova adds her vocals in the Uzbeki language, which in itself is a vast accomplishment in cultural awareness.
However, many will get bored with the 4/4 beats in twelve measure smooth jazz repetitions in pieces like "Yor-Yorlar." Sometimes her desire to popularize the ethnic music brings it a long way from the source. The best songs like "Uchir-Uchir" remain true to the past while the modern overlays do not overwhelm. This album offers the listener a diversion from scratchy field recordings and a chance to sample the beat and melodies of a very remote part of the globe. - Brian Grosjean
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