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Michal Shapiro
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Michal Shapiro is a videographer, musician, music journalist and record producer. She blogs regularly about music and musicians near and far.

Entries by Michal Shapiro

A FAM Trip to Azerbaijan, Land of Fire (video)

(0) Comments | Posted January 6, 2016 | 8:48 AM


Azerbaijan FAM from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

How would a travel agent know that Azerbaijan is a great travel destination, unless they had already been there? How would they know if the guides are knowledgeable, if there is an infrastructure that supports tourism? How the food is? What it is actually like to BE there? These are the reasons that FAM -familiarization- trips exist within the travel industry. -And while these have not been my specific concerns as a journalist reporting on world music and culture, when Panorama Travel, a leading provider of such tours, extended an invite to visit Azerbaijan and Georgia, I accepted without hesitation. I could not resist the opportunity to visit countries I was so curious about. The Caucasus region, long isolated under the USSR, is a region known for its ethnic and linguistic diversity--and an abundance of cultural riches.

First off: Azerbaijan surprised me with its modernity. In fact it has a moniker as the "Dubai of the Caucasus." It is exceptionally oil and natural gas rich (Marco Polo even commented on oil that gushed from the ground there) and was a pioneer in oil extraction as far back as 1871. The resulting largesse has resulted in a great deal of development and investment in infrastructure. This is no third world country. Azerbaijan Airlines is also no newcomer to the flight industry--it was a major internal cargo carrier during the Soviet era. Since independence, the purchase of new Airbus and Boeing aircraft has transformed its fleet from one hauling goods to pampering its first class passengers. Tourism is a big part of the economy, and all the hotels and resorts we visited -beginning with the impressive Fairmont, in Baku, to the various Qafqaz hotels in the ski areas were full service luxury facilities, with huge swimming pools, (sometimes more than one!) impressive spas, lounges and first rate food. The rooms were plush, with sweeping views that had me keeping my curtains open at all times.

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Despite the aggressive modernization that is so prevalent, the good news is that Azerbaijan's culture and traditions are still intact, albeit molded by its turbulent geopolitical history. Hence the influence of Persia, Turkey and Russia are apparent. And like other post Soviet nations, its monuments and historic sites are surprisingly accessible. One rarely finds a barrier to an entrance, and how often does one get close enough to touch a petroglyph? I found the people to be friendly and inquisitive, and the very low profile of alcohol culture to be refreshing. Young people still have a certain politesse and formality, instilled by their parents' traditions.

Of course, I have to write something about the music! There is a real interest among young people in their musical heritage, which the government promotes vigorously. The courtly music repertoire of Maqam is learned in conservatory, and then expressed within western forms like jazz and classical orchestral, as well as traditional, with concerts given regularly. In fact, the music behind my video, by pianist Emil Mammadov is an excellent example of contemporary Azeri Maqam-based Jazz. And although the musicians that played for us in the restaurant are members of the Azerbaijan State Orchestra, in the video they are playing danceable folk music.

The three days we spent in Azerbaijan were intense, but I still came away with the feeling that there was much more to enjoy and experience. I am glad that I brought back a jar of exquisitely fragrant Azerbaijani honey purchased at a roadside stand. One taste brings back so many sweet memories!

My thanks to Kat Vallera of traveloni.com and Nadine Godwin for permitting me to use their photographs and for editorial input, and to Nargiz Abdullayeva, of the
Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan, for giving me her only copy of the excellent compilation "Musique Azerbaidjanaise: Jazz."

Next FAM post: Republic of Georgia!

To find out more about

Panorama Travel: http://panoramatravel.com/
Azerbaijan Airlines: https://www.azal.az/
QavQaz Hotels: http://www.qafqazhotels.com/
Fairmont Baku Hotel: http://www.fairmont.com/baku/
SilkWay: http://swtravel.az/en/
Traveloni:...

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The Unifying Force of Jazz: Pangea Jazz Fest (Video)

(0) Comments | Posted December 31, 2015 | 7:21 AM

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I have been interested in the relationship of Jazz and World Music ever since I started seriously noticing the many fusions of the two, back around 1995. Not that they weren't around before, that's just when I actually started remarking on it.

It's...

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Playing Found Objects: Bufa & Sons (Video)

(0) Comments | Posted December 16, 2015 | 1:53 PM

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Here's something that should put a grin on your face.

I only found out about Xavi Lozano because someone dragged me to the other side of the trade fair of the Fira Mediterranea de Manresa saying "you MUST hear this man!"

Mr. Lozano...

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Dynamic Duo: Didier Laloy and Kathy Adam Live at WOMEX

(0) Comments | Posted December 4, 2015 | 10:56 AM

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I make it a point to shoot the daycases at WOMEX because always I find something unexpected, of exceptional quality. This year, I found several, and Didier Laloy and Kathy Adam swept me away from their first few notes.

Didier Laloy and Kathy Adam live at WOMEX 2015 from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

Didier Laloy and Kathy Adam's collaboration, "Belem" is a winner all around, displaying a history of various involvements in other genres and aggregates. Laloy is a widely respected diatonic accordion player and Kathy Adam's classical chops are without dispute. Laloy's stage presence is animated and charismatic, even when confined to a chair, and in this performance of his composition "SENN," it is fascinating to see these two communicating wordlessly, passing musical messages to one another throughout. Together they make extraordinarily pleasing music with sonorities that sink deep into the bones. What comes across, to me, is a kind of classical chamber music, intimate as it should be, and creating a space in which one can wander within one's self or as a shared experience with others.

Stay tuned for more standouts from the daycases at WOMEX 2015!

For more of Michal's world music videos visit

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Feathers Soft as... Brass: Federspiel at WOMEX 2015 (VIDEO)

(0) Comments | Posted November 4, 2015 | 11:43 AM

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Among the array of fine bands that are presented at WOMEX (the World Music Expo), there's always one that surprises me. This year it was Federspiel.

But let me backtrack a bit. I'm quite lazy when it comes to researching all the...

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Video: "A Rainy Night in Georgia (The Republic)"

(2) Comments | Posted October 7, 2015 | 11:54 AM

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The second leg of my trip to the Caucasus (first stop Azerbaijan; video to come) was the Republic of Georgia.

We travelled from the Tbilisi airport directly into the wine country of Kakheti; our destination the high altitudes of Sighnaghi, a...

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Paulo Flores, Angola's Ambassador of Semba in N.Y.C. (video)

(0) Comments | Posted August 19, 2015 | 5:13 PM

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Bringing any world music artist over to the U.S.A. has gotten increasingly difficult over the years, and the recent computer fiasco over at U.S. Visa Control made Paulo Flores' concert in New York City a cliff-hanger. But we are all the luckier...
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Quebecois Innovators in NYC: Le Vent Du Nord (video)

(0) Comments | Posted June 23, 2015 | 12:07 PM

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Le Vent du Nord (The North Wind) is one of Quebecois music's premiere exponents, and they performed a rousing set at Roulette as part of a "French Connection" series presented by Robert Browning Associates. They are innovators in the tradition, who as one...

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Manresa Revisited (video)

(1) Comments | Posted May 28, 2015 | 11:30 AM

Manresa Revisited from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

This year's report on the Fira Mediterrània de Manresa finds me once again trying to capture the torrent of events and concerts that make up this city-wide festival. My last report was concert-centric, but this time around, I decided to cover a bit more of the culinary and street life.

Although it has its charming old section, Manresa's main attraction year round is the monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat, carved out of the mountain that overlooks the city, affording a remarkable vista of Catalonia. But I've yet to visit the monastery because the festival keeps me hopping; there is something interesting happening somewhere, all the time. With over 300 events to coordinate, I imagine that the staff of the Fira has only about two weeks rest after the dust settles before they are back to work for the next one.

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That is not to say there is no time for a visitor to just sit and relax...I spent several pleasant hours at the Vermuteria, pictured above. With its broad avenues, quiet plazas and narrow side streets, Manresa is sprinkled with restaurants and wine bars, where one can always choose to slow down with something savory, be it liquid or solid. During the festival there is an entire avenue set aside for dining al fresco, and one can also stroll at a leisurely pace, sampling from the local food booths.

The festival brings in all kinds of talent -- for example Toumani and Sidiki Diabate of Mali were there to enchant with the rippling sounds of their kora duets -- but there is a definite emphasis on Catalan and Iberian culture. There is music, dance, theater, and all kinds of street entertainment. There was a beatbox concert with full orchestra backup, and a lyrical choreographed dance piece performed by elderly women. There were rides and entertainment just for kids, and I found myself consistently surprised and entertained by it all.

This is a not a festival set up in a field somewhere with tents and bandstands. The old town is the setting for this celebration, and the locals most definitely participate spiritedly. It is a civilized and happy efflorescence of culture and fellow-feeling, and with Barcelona only 50 kilometers away, it is an event worth planning a trip around.

To see complete songs by Eliseo Parra, and Redi Hasa and Maria Mazzotta, visit inter-muse.com

To find out more about the Fira Mediterrània de Manresa, visit:...

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Folk Chamber Music: Sam Lee at GlobalFEST (Video)

(0) Comments | Posted March 24, 2015 | 8:18 AM

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I had heard great things about Sam Lee's performance at WOMEX 2012. (I missed it for reasons too boring to go into.) So I was determined to catch his set at GlobalFEST. He went on right after the PA crashed during Emel Mathlouthi's...

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When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Keep Singing (2 videos)

(1) Comments | Posted February 19, 2015 | 12:35 PM

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It took over an hour for the sound check. Now you've got a full house enraptured by your music. You're going full throttle, the audience is totally with you, and then--
No amplification. Nada.

I present to you two performances I captured,...

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A Love Song for a Whale (video)

(0) Comments | Posted February 9, 2015 | 6:32 AM

As Kathryn Roberts explains in this video, she has a thing for whales and always wanted to sing a song about one. But she did not want to sing a traditional whaling song, in which the subject is generally the dangers or hardships of hunting them.

I will leave...

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Iberian Variations: Opening Night at WOMEX (video)

(0) Comments | Posted January 7, 2015 | 10:01 AM

Note: I am presenting over half an hour of music in this video so if you wish to skip around in it, I have provided the time code for the beginnings of each segment.

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This past WOMEX was held in Santiago de Compostela...

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A Carol for Our Times: The Melrose Quartet Perform 'Sing John Ball' (VIDEO)

(0) Comments | Posted November 30, 2014 | 6:25 AM

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As a music journalist it may seem out of place to bring up the socio-political issues of the day. But in the music that I have recently covered at the English Folk Expo, I found this song whose words and music stir me,...

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The Cold Fury of Jealousy: Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker At Homegrown Festival and EFEx

(0) Comments | Posted November 6, 2014 | 6:18 PM

THE COLD FURY OF JEALOUSY: Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker At Homegrown Festival and EFEx from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

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I'd go back if I could
Take you down and bury you in the woods
Steal your past and erase it if I could
Don't think I wouldn't, I would

For how dare you love anyone but me
How could you love anyone but me

Like a captive I would keep you chained
Keep every moment in every single day
And every person who's ever meant a thing to you
I'd erase them that's what I would do

For how dare you love anyone but me
How could you love anyone but me

And this madness, what am I thinking of?
So destructive for my love
I'm a coward and I'm trying not scream
"Oh you traitor what have you done to me"

How dare you love anyone but me
How could you love anyone but me

And I've seen you, laughing in the light
I see it over and over every night
And it's torture to think of you with her instead
And it hurts no less for being only in my head

How dare you love anyone but me
How could you love anyone but me

......Yes, she has a beautiful voice. Yes, it's wonderfully played. But this song is such a totally honest and riveting expression of bare naked jealousy and speaks so directly (as sometimes only folk music can) that I knew as soon as I heard it that it would be my favorite tune in the set.
'Nuff said.

For more about the artists visit: josienneclarke.co.uk/
For more of Michal's music videos:...

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Show of Hands Plays The Best Halloween Song I Have Ever Heard (video)

(0) Comments | Posted October 30, 2014 | 2:35 PM

Show of Hands Plays The Best Halloween Song I Have Ever Heard from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

"Go light the lantern at your door
And honour those who've gone before
The worlds that part us now are twain
For Hallow's Eve is here again."

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of attending the English Folk Expo or EFEx. (And I'll be posting a LOT about EFEx and the artists later!)

Although I love English folk music, I had never heard of a single artist that performed during those three intensive days. The level of musicianship was amazingly high, and certainly one of the most memorable performances was by the knockout power trio Show of Hands, who packed the spacious Drill Hall in the Castle Armory. This song immediately struck me as one I wanted to share right away as Halloween approaches. It's called "Hallow's Eve" and was written by Chris Hoban, a music teacher and friend of the band from their hometown of Topsham in Devon.

It describes a holiday that is a far cry from the Halloween we now "celebrate." I have no problem with children dressing up and going door to door asking for sweets. I do have misgivings about forgetting the true, older spirit of the holiday, which is much closer to the Day of the Dead; in which the souls of our forebears are able to communicate with us, and we with them.

As this song states it is a time of both joy and reflection, as the fruits of harvest are gathered in, we await the harshness of winter, and we contemplate the cycles of the seasons and our lives.

So when you place that candle in your Jack o' Lantern this year, maybe think of it as more than just a smiley-face carved in a pumpkin. Take a moment and "honour those who've gone before."


For more information about Show of Hands visit: http://www.showofhands.co.uk/
For more information about the EFEx visit: http://www.englishfolkexpo.com/
For more of Michal's world music videos visit:...

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Czech's Mix Part 3: Clarinet Factory (VIDEO)

(0) Comments | Posted October 4, 2014 | 5:01 PM

Czech's Mix Part 3: Clarinet Factory from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

One of the surprising performances at the Crossroads Festival (part of the Colours of Ostrava Festival) in Czech Republic, was from the ensemble called the Clarinet Factory. Made up of heavily classically credentialed players, they made music that was seductive to the ear. Although they had a screen behind them that was presumably showing images to amuse the eye, I found it to be superfluous; the music was more than enough to keep my mind from wandering. Like vocal groups comprised of siblings who have an uncanny blend, the various registers of clarinets produced a similar kind of ear candy. And from the classical training all of these men have, they have derived a great sense of time and tone. I don't know if I would have been quite as enchanted with them if it were not for the angelic singing of Vojtěch Nýdl. His sweet tenor floated beautifully above the closely meshed timbres of the ensemble.

For more information about Clarinet Factory visit:
clarinet-factory.cz/en/

To see another vocal from the Clarinet Factory, visit...

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Czech's Mix Part 2: Singing in Tongues (Video)

(0) Comments | Posted September 29, 2014 | 12:23 PM

In my last vlog, I spotlighted the folk performers at the Crossroads Festival (Part of the Colours of Ostrava Festival) in Czech Republic. This time around, I'm covering two very different bands that I had previously known about through their striking videos.

I first became acquainted with...

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At the Izmir Jazz Festival: Exploring the Connections Between Turkish and Polish Music

(0) Comments | Posted September 8, 2014 | 12:09 PM

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A few years ago I discovered the music of the Janusz Prusinowski Trio, and it led to an invitation to the very exciting Mazurka Festival that they organize in Warsaw every year. I had no idea, however, that it would eventually...

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Czech's Mix: Crossroads Festival in Ostrava Part 1 (video)

(1) Comments | Posted September 5, 2014 | 8:34 AM

The massive Colours of Ostrava Festival books major (and less major) acts from the world over. This year, there was a special opening night entitled "Crossroads" dedicated solely to currents in Czech music. Bands of every stripe were selected, from Jazz influenced Free Improv, to Folk, to Things Uncategorizable, but...

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