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Wednesday , October 28 2020

Shankar’s refugee album wins nod – Indonesian child prodigy again up for Grammy

This file photo taken on Feb 7, 2012 shows sitarist Anoushka Shankar performing during the ‘Premaanjali Festival 2012’ a musical concert held at the Palace Grounds in Bangalore. (AFP)

NEW YORK, Dec 7, (Agencies): Sitarist Anoushka Shankar was nominated for a Grammy Award on Tuesday for her album inspired by the global refugee crisis, vying with veteran winners in the world music category.

“Land of Gold,” which features rapper M.I.A. and spoken word by actress Vanessa Redgrave, is in the running for Best World Music Album at the music industry’s gala in Los Angeles on Feb 12.

Shankar wrote the album as she reflected on her relative comfort after giving birth to her second child just as a historic number of people fled Syria and other war-torn countries for Europe.

“Music is for me at least a way of responding to the world and processing my feelings, not always consciously,” she told AFP after releasing the album, which is largely instrumental.

It is the sixth Grammy nomination for the 35-year-old Shankar, although she has never won. Her late father Ravi Shankar, who popularized the Indian classical instrument in the West, won two Grammys on his own and two more in collaborations.

The Grammy category for world music, long dominated by a small group of artists, this year has one fresh name — Celtic Woman.

The prolific all-woman Irish ensemble, which brings New Age elements to traditional Celtic music, was nominated for “Destiny.”

Two legendary Brazilian songwriters and political activists, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, were nominated for a live double album.

“Dois Amigos, Um Seculo de Musica” (“Two Friends, a Century of Music”) was recorded in Sao Paulo last year as the two septuagenarian artists went on a world tour.

Gil has won two Grammys previously, while Veloso has won one on his own.

Other nominees included cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who has raked in an impressive 17 Grammys over his career but never in the world music category.

Yo-Yo Ma was nominated for “Sing Me Home,” the French-born Chinese American’s latest album with his evolving Silk Road Ensemble that explores music from across the historical Silk Road that connected Eurasia.

The South African all-male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which has won four Grammys, was nominated for its latest album “Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers.”


Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo, one of Africa’s leading artists, won the award the past two years but did not have a new album eligible for contention.

Meanwhile, Indonesian child prodigy Joey Alexander, who has awed crowds with a piano skill beyond his years, was again nominated for a Grammy Award on Tuesday for Best Improvised Jazz Solo.

The 13-year-old was nominated for his take on “Countdown” off John Coltrane’s classic work “Giant Steps,” which appears on Joey’s second album.

Joey has pulled in growing media attention and audiences drawn to the sight of the bespectacled boy who plays the piano with precocious poise and feeling.

He was also nominated for two Grammys at this year’s awards but did not win. The latest awards will be presented at the music industry’s annual gala in Los Angeles on February 12.

Joey is up this year against some of the biggest names in jazz — including Coltrane’s son Ravi Coltrane, who is nominated for a saxophone solo on the collaborative album “In Movement.”

Also nominated in the category are two leading jazz pianists, Brad Mehldau and Fred Hersch, and fusion guitarist John Scofield.

Mehldau, Hersch and Scofield are all also nominated for Grammys for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, competing against works led by another leading pianist, Kenny Barron, and drummer Peter Erskine.

Born in Bali, Joey took up the piano from an early age as he found inspiration from his parents’ collection of jazz records.

With limited opportunities for formal jazz training in Indonesia, he jammed with adult musicians before his parents eventually moved him to New York.

A profile of him on the popular US television news show “60 Minutes” helped bring his last album onto the weekly Billboard chart of the 200 top-selling US albums — a first for an Indonesian artist.

Sturgill Simpson’s records have defied easy characterization (Country? Americana? Experimental Southern rock?), but this year The Recording Academy decided whatever genre he was, he made one of the best records of the year. And that’s enough for him.

“The fact that there are a million people around the world Googling my name and trying to figure out who the hell I am right now is just enough for me,” the Kentucky-bred singer said with a laugh during a phone interview Tuesday in Nashville, Tennessee.

Simpson’s album, “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” was the surprise underdog nomination for the all-genre album of the year category alongside blockbuster albums by Adele and Beyoncé when the Grammy nominations were announced Tuesday. It was also nominated as best country album of the year.

Although the album was a critical favorite and topped Billboard’s Country Albums chart when it was released, Simpson remains outside of mainstream country music’s radar. Not a blip on country radio, no country music award nominations, but his music incorporates elements of traditional country in the vein of Waylon Jennings, while experimenting with jazz, soul, rock and pop.

“Musically when I open my mouth, it’s going to be a country song,” Simpson said. “But I listen to everything except country music these days in my life. I am trying to encapsulate and incorporate a lot of those elements and also push my understanding of what a country album could be.”

Simpson started his professional career as a musician late in life, after stints in the Navy and working on the railroad and a series of odd jobs throughout the country. His first two records, “High Top Mountain,” in 2013 and “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” in 2014 framed him as a student of the genre as well as an outsider. The later record earned him a Grammy nomination for best Americana album.

“Sailor’s Guide” was recorded in just a week with longtime Nashville engineer David Ferguson, who worked with producer Rick Rubin on Johnny Cash’s last records. Ferguson, who learned under legendary producer Cowboy Jack Clement, added lush orchestration to Simpson’s brash honky-tonk sound. A concept album about his life lessons to his son, the record includes the recently deceased Sharon Jones’ brass band, The Dap-Kings, as well as violin, bagpipes and a cello, and an impressive cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.”

But he caused a bit of controversy this year when he posted on Facebook that the Academy of Country Music Awards should not have created an award named after Merle Haggard when he felt they never showed true love to the country outlaw, who died this year. He later added that he felt like he would be “blackballed” from the industry for his comments.

Simpson had developed a friendship with the country icon over the last couple of years of his life.

“He had a very elastic flexibility as a musician and also a fearlessness,” Simpson said. “Merle made a career out of doing what Merle wanted to do. That was a huge influence and gave me a lot of courage, not only as a musician but as a human being just because sitting and talking to him, he would say things that most people would never say out aloud out of fear of how it might make them look. But with him there was no filter.”

As for whether he still felt blackballed by the industry despite the Grammy nomination, he said he’s always had the support of many musicians, producers and engineers in Nashville.

“This to me tells me that we’re just going to reach a lot more people and it tells me that I have reached a lot more people than I was even aware of,” Simpson said. “And that’s so amazing and humbling. It’s insane.”


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