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There's More to Babalu

Once in a while, we owe it to ourselves, to those of us who appreciate the history of music, to take a look back to what has come before. On this week's World Music Show (10/13), we'll do just that--briefly. Then we'll forged ahead to music of today. 

But let's get back to the past. Case in point. Desi Arnaz, known for being the straight man to Lucille Ball's wacky persona, is a musician who needs some respect. If you only knew of Desi for his on-screen character, that of Ricky Ricardo, then I'm here to shed a little light on this artist. In post-war America, night clubs were in every major city. They were a place one could go see and hear great, big bands, led by band leaders who were not only leaders, but knew the art of performing. In this climate, arose the sounds of "World Beats," songs from Jamaica, care of Harry Belafonte (who we'll also hear from right after Arnaz) and from Latin America, from people like Desi Arnaz.

In 1945, Arnaz heard the Latin music that was being played in American night clubs and thought he could do better. He said, "...the rhythm is great but the sound is not melodically good enough--it's tinny." Arnaz, however, had precise plans for a Latin-style dance orchestra that would combine the best of both worlds. "My idea," he said "was to combine the Latin rhythms of Machito with the lushness of (Andre) Kostelanetz (who was a contemporary band leader at the time)."

When he said this, at the age of 28, he had already survived quite a load of experiences: earthquakes, a revolution, a world war, and an apprenticeship with the notoriosly chintzy Xaviar Cugat. Plus, he had also starred in a great Broadway show and a series of cheesy movies, led a band in nightclubs and on records. And, he claims, he introduced the Conga to American audiences. 

So, by the time he hit the small screen, to star alongside Ball in "I Love Lucy," Arnaz had quite the musical pedigree. The show was not only a showcase for Ball's antics, but it was supposed to be a showcase for Arnaz's talents as a band leader as well. Now, whether this was lost on the American public at the time or not, I do not know. That's why I like to play a few tracks from his career so we can hear him with the TV off. The songs I'll feature, will be his trademark song "Babalu," which really was his band's killer showstopper. Arnaz has described this piece as a savage prayer to Chango, an African god of war. We'll also hear the song "Cuban Pete," from his repotiore of 1936. This is one of the few standard rhumbas to originate in England, being the only international hit from an English composer. It appeared later on as a classic Lucy-Ricky musical comedy routine.

Now, onward back to the future. Other highlights of the first hour will be a new song from the local Richmond, Va. band Kevin Davis & Ban Caribe. Seen in various spots around town, Davis is a master at playing polyrhythmic tunes that feature instruments like the Congas, Timbalitos, the Steel Pan, Bongos and more. Paired in this set will be a couple of tracks from sessions-guitarist-turned-singer Michael Kiwanuka. His style and voice are like if Nick Drake and Otis Redding got morphed into one person. 

Some other artists to listen up for include tracks by Malaysian ukelele player and singer, Zee Avi, along with the Tuerag guitarist simply known as Bombino, who plays some really sweet desert blues music. I'll cap off hour one with a couple of tracks from one of Ireland's longest running bands--The Chieftains. They perform songs with Bon Iver and The Decemberists

In hour two, we'll start off by hearing a couple of interesting cover tunes done "world music" style. We'll hear a cover of the Jimi Hendrix song "Voodoo Child," done amazingly well by Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo. And we'll a cover of the Jackie Wilson tune "Your Love Keeps Lifting me Higher (Higher and Higher), done Cajun style by Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin'. 

From here, the show will get funky or maybe groovy, or even both. We'll hear some World Lounge music by a German duo known as Jasmon, as well as an Italian cover of a Antonio Carlos Jobim song "Aqua de Beber," done by the band Montefiori Cocktail. Plus, we'll hear some Juju music from the man who put this rhythmic style on the main stage, King Sunny Ade. And, we'll explore some electronic thumb piano (called Kalimba) music from a band out of Kinshasha called Konono No. 1

Near the end of the show, my mind wants to imagine it's summer (sure, we just left it, but what can I say?) by playing some live, recorded Brazilian music from Caetano Veloso, who was an artist in residence of sorts at Carnegie Hall. He brought along David Byrne for support and the tunes features are perfect to futher my imagination (and hopefully yours).

So, there you have it. We'll start with a salute to a couple of classics from some masters and end with new classics from other masters. To borrow a quote from the great WCVE Public Radio personality Grete Dolitz, "Won't you join me?" The World Music Show aires Saturday nights at 10:00 p.m. on WCVE Public Radio, 88.9FM or online via this website. You can also follow my Twitter feed, @wcveworldmusic