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Rhythm and Flow

Rhythm and Flow
CD Shorts

Thursday, December 17, 2009
By Advocate Staff

Tony Vacca and World Rhythms Ensemble:
Rhythm and Flow (World Rhythms)

This local legend eats, sleeps and breathes musical fusion, and the latest release from Tony Vacca and World Rhythms Ensemble doesn't disappoint those accustomed to his varied blend of West African percussion, jazz and unusual spoken-word. The third track, "Horn Funkadelic," is just what it purports to be: a funky sound trip featuring Tim Moran on saxophone. The 22-minute first track, "Dance Beneath the Diamond Sky/Baoule Dance Song," begins like something ambient you might hear in yoga class, and then builds to a high-energy jam with all of Vacca's familiar percussive elements. Vacca and his slate of skillful collaborators have created a masterfully played album in which saxophone meets djembe, English meets Amharic, and apparently, Vacca even meets a dragon: "In a dream I scale the wall of a fortress/ I slay a dragon guard/ I elude the demons of a sorceror/ I draw the tarot card marked love." "Amy Littlefield

Rhythm Mission

Rhythm Mission - CD Review
Sunday Republican, Leisure, May 9, 1999
Kevin O'Hare, Playback Tony Vacca and the World Rhythms Ensemble

"On previous discs like his masterful 1992 collaboration with Tim Moran ("Dance Beneath The Diamond Sky"), percussionist and balafon player Tony Vacca proved to be a mesmerizing force.

Blending rhythms that span cultures and continents, Vacca's latest release is yet another sterling effort. Much of the magic comes courtesy of Vacca's work on the balafon, an ancient African instrument that preceded the xylophone. Collaborating again with saxophonist and flute player Moran, as well as a first-rate band anchored by bassist Joe Sallins and Baaba Maal tama drummer Massamba Diop, the ensemble weaves wonder on instrumentals such as the double-sax driven "Streetwise," the gently melodic "Baoule Dance Song," and the mystical "Blessing."

Adding fuel to the fire are a few surprising vocals, giving cuts such as "Tama Doctor," a funky, fun, hip-hop groove. That kind of eclecticism is what has always set Vacca apart from the crowd, but it's the air-tight interplay between musicians that breathes life into this set."

Zen Rant

CD Review
Vacca Rants, By Josh Shear, Editor of The Journal Bravo

"A glimmer of light, my lost and sacred soul, a long dark night to make the wounded whole. A call, a cry, a sorrow so deep that I pray to God my soul to keep from dying."

Easthampton percussionist and poet Tony Vacca gives us a look deep into his soul with his new CD project, Zen Rant.

Vacca has acted as a vehicle for introducing Americans to traditional African music and musicians, and has helped bridge some of the gaps in language and culture between the traditions of Americans and Africans.

In the late 1970s, Vacca met Massamba Diop, who is perhaps the greatest tama drum player in the world. The tama drum, also known as the "talking" drum, has strings or ropes between the instrument's two heads. Adding or removing pressure on the strings changes the pitch of the drum.

Since then, Vacca has taken several trips to Diop's native Dakar, Senegal, and has met some amazing musicians. He has also worked with some fantastic Americans, from hip-hop pioneer Abiodun Oyewule (Last Poets) to Ludlow bassist Joe Sallins.

Vacca heads up the World Rhythms ensemble, a project of American and African (mostly Senegalese) musicians which performs in many different lineups and many different styles. Typical of a World Rhythms project is lots of percussion, some bass, and Tim Moran's saxophone pieces. The music is jazz, rumba, samba, reggae, hip hop, traditional storytelling (guirot) the all encompassing "world beat."

Vacca adds something new to Zen Rant: his own poetry. Oyewule, Diop, Sallins, Moran and other friends Gokh-bi System, Barou Sall, Omar all help out, and above all the sounds, Vacca speaks his mind in free-form poetry and essays.

The disc provides a look into the soul of a man who often comes across as strictly business. His concentration on stage is intense, his presence in public is humble, and his words on Zen Rant give us another look at Vacca.

Message From Home

Gokh-bi System "Message From Home.Suma Deuk Waay" CD Review

Larry Parnass, Thursday, March 14, 2002, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, MA

The Gokh-Bi System, a rap and hip-hop group from Senegal, has played in the area before, but not with a stunning recorded statement at the ready. "Message From Home" (World Rhythms) beautifully packages this five-member group's arresting sound, lifted from the streets and violence of their native Dakar.

This recording, more than any I've heard, unites voices and drums. Each pushes the other to say more, be more, achieve more. The interplay ratchets up the intensity. I defy any listener to come away from the opening track, "Suma Deuk Waay," unmoved.

Producer Tony Vacca, a globe-trotting percussionist from the Valley, presents the Gokh-Bi System with the grace of a skilled ambassador. For the project, Vacca tapped the talents of Massamba Diop, the tama drummer for one of the most successful Senegalese singers, Baaba Maal.

Thorough and interesting accompanying notes with the CD explain the message of that first track - an appeal pounded out with equal insistence by the tama and mbung bung drums and by the layered words of its rappers. What they say is this: "Come to my neighborhood if you want to know who I am."

It is the perfect opening, for the next 11 tracks do that and more. Listeners are taken to the Senegalese neighborhoods where life pulses just this way. The words and percussion move together, as inseparable as water and flora in a tide pool.

The tracks carry titles like "Identity," "Human Rights," "Children, "Africa," and many other words that are left untranslated - "Xaesal," "Siburay," "Harissa." The pieces seem not to be composed, but rather lifted wholesale from life.

"Identity" employs a little turntable scratching, playfully linking the sound to another hemisphere.

Voices rise and subside, sometimes soft and searching, other times pleading and shouting. The voices fully become rhythmic instruments and make the Gokh-Bi System's music more insistent than other, more melodic examples of world music. The voices knit as tightly as in a cappella singing. They are charismatic beyond belief, even if you can't understand, word for word, what they are saying. The number of layers present here, and the interplay of tones, pitches and background motifs, is staggering. Sounds pop up and chime across the entire spectrum.

The notes make clear how pointed many of these messages are. They are veritable sermons, many of them about God. The lovely and mournful "Xaesal," which features Joe Sallins on bass, laments she who would despise her blackness. "Here I come to praise my color," the accompanying translation says of the song. "Women of Dakar, I sing the divine beauty of your black skin."

"Human Rights" contains some singing in English, with a refrain that calls for activism. The meaning of this project is never in doubt, though. It takes listeners deep into the neighborhood, with expert guides. The trip can't be compared to anything else I know. It must be taken.

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