World music artist Ben Aylon is scheduled to release his latest album this week. The album, Xalam is scheduled for release through Riverboat Records. The nine-song presentation, which will come less than a year after his then most recent record, Flow Show, is a presentation that most World Music fans will find interesting. That is due in part to the record’s featured songs. This will be discussed shortly. The sequencing of the record’s songs creates its own appeal and will be addressed a little later. The companion booklet that accompanies the album rounds out the album’s most important elements and will also be discussed later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of this 43-minute album. All things considered, they make the album such that most World Music fans will agree it is worth hearing at least once.
Ben Aylon’s debut album Xalam is a work that most World Music fans will find is worth hearing at least once. That is due in part to the album’s featured songs. The songs in question are a mix of instrumentals and full songs with vocals. Sadly, no English translations are provided in the booklet for the lyrics in the songs, which contain vocals (this will be discussed later). That aside, the songs do well to capture Aylon’s connections to Mali and Senegal in their instrumentation and stylistic approaches. The arrangements are stylistically similar to one another with their West African influences. At the same time, there are subtle variances from one to the next. Even being rooted in the music of West Africa, listeners will just as easily catch their similarity to Middle Eastern music, making for lots of discussion in itself. At the same time, one can argue that there is the most subtle Western influence exhibited in this record, too. Case in point is the two-part composition, ‘SeneGambia.’ The song features a slow, almost bluesy arrangement that even hints at some electrified element within its presentation. That seeming Western influence blends so well with the more West African influences to make the eight-minute-plus composition a clear example in itself of what makes the album’s musical arrangements so important to the record’s overall presentation. Much the same can be said of the arrangement featured in ‘Benn Takamba.’ On a different note, ‘Café Touba’ more openly embraces the sounds of Western Africa with its controlled presentation and distinct “movements.” Between this arrangement, the others noted here and the rest of the album’s compositions, the whole of the album’s arrangements make for reason enough for audiences to listen to this record.
Staying on the topic of the album’s musical content, the sequencing thereof also gives audiences reason to listen to the record. The sequencing ensures audiences’ engagement and entertainment just as much as the content itself. The whole thing starts off in up-tempo fashion in the album’s title track. From there, listeners will note a distinct pulling back in ‘Hulem Belibe.’ ‘SeneGambia’ slightly moves the album’s energy in a more forward direction again before passing things on to the album’s next peak, ‘Alafia.’ The album’s final quarter is made up of arrangements that are gradually more subdued than the next, with the finale, ‘Mon Lov’ being the album’s most subdued moment. Looking back through all of this, what audiences will note that there are very deliberate, directed ups and downs throughout the album’s arrangements, in terms of their energies. Those clear movements in energy do their own part to make the album’s content overall even more engaging and entertaining. To that end, the whole makes the album that much more deserving of being heard at least once. Keeping all of this in mind, there is still one more notable item to discuss in examining the album in whole. That last item is the record’s companion booklet.
The booklet that accompanies Ben Aylon’s new album is important to the record’s production because of the background information that it provides. One of the most important of the background items noted in the booklet is in reference to the album’s title. The notes point out that Xalam (pronounced khalam) is a West African musical instrument with connection to the ancient Malian empire. Keeping that in mind, the title is a hint of the music that is featured in the album. Again, the music is connected to Mali and Senegal, so the title was clearly intended in its use here.
Just as interesting to learn through the booklet’s liner notes is that Aylon is Israeli by birth. Along with that note is the revelation that the Middle Eastern influence noted in this review was in fact intentional. So what audiences get here is clearly Aylon’s own cultural influence joining with the West African influences that make up the majority of the album’s musical arrangements. This in itself will not only enhance the listening experience, but will also generate plenty of discussion among listeners.
Another interesting note mentioned in the album’s liner notes is the revelation that this album was not just something assembled over the course of a matter of months. According to the liner notes, it was recorded over the course of years, and apparently around the world. That includes one song recorded “at the foot of the Rock of Gibraltar,” another recorded in Germany, and yet another in a studio of a famous rapper from Dakar. The liner notes add that “improvised hotel rooms” were also used in the recording process. So it sounds like Aylon recorded where and when he could. This adds even more to the overall appeal of the album. It shows that the recording was thought out, not just thrown together as part of some contractual obligation. The appeal ensured through this revelation (and related engagement and entertainment) works with the rest of the information provided in the booklet to show even more why this part of the album is so important to its presentation.
For all of the positives that the companion booklet offers listeners, there is one problem from which it suffers. That one problem is the lack of lyrics, foreign and English. It would have been interesting to know what the vocalists are singing in the album’s full tracks. It is not enough to make the album a failure by any means. At the same time, it just would have been nice to have had that element as part of the whole. That one negative aside, the album in whole proves itself a presentation that most World Music fans will welcome.
Ben Aylon’s latest album, Xalam is a presentation that most World Music fans will find interesting and worth hearing at least once. That is due in part to the album’s musical arrangements. The arrangements bring Aylon’s own Middle Eastern cultural influence together with the intended West African influences and even some seeming Western influence for a unique whole. The sequencing of the featured songs adds its own touch to the listening experience. That is because it makes clear, the obvious thought that went into the ups and downs in the album’s energies. The background information provided about the album in the record’s companion booklet rounds out the most important of the album’s elements. It is certain to generate its own discussions and interest among audiences. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the album. All things considered, they make the record an interesting addition to this year’s field of new World Music albums. Xalam is scheduled for release Friday through Riverboat Records. More information on the album is available along with all of Ben Aylon’s latest news at:
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