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Album Review: Kutumba
AO Music
Cover image of the album Kutumba by AO Music
AO Music
2021 / Abbeywood Records
46 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Kutumba (pronounced Coo-toom-ba) is the sixth studio album from pan-cultural, World Fusion group AO Music. The title is a Sanskrit word for "family" and the album serves as a reminder that as one evolving humanity, we are a sovereign "family." From the liner notes: "This album is a call for recognition of ourselves in each other, and for deep solace in the hearth of that connection, so listen LOUDLY!" A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the album will go toward providing sustainable support for children orphaned by natural disaster and conflict via AO Foundation International.

The twelve tracks on Kutumba feature the four primary artists - Richard Gannaway (vocals, stringed instruments), Miriam Stockley (vocals), Jay Oliver (keyboards, synths, samples) and Sandeep Chowta (contributing production) - as well as guest artists that include children's choirs from around the world. Recorded in Canada, Siberia, India and China/Tibet, the instrumentation is varied and lyrics are sung in several languages including vocalese (made up phonetics intended to inspire one's own interpretation). The CD includes a fifteen-page booklet with lyrics, translations, and extensive information about the instrumentation and artists who appear on each track. There are also several wonderful photos of children from around the world gracing the pages - a beautiful package! The music is joyful and life-affirming, celebrating the human spirit that resides in all of us no matter where we live.

Kutumba opens with "Nashu." Richard Gannaway traveled 6000 miles to Siberia (Russia) to record The Zvony Folk Children's Ensemble singing this lively song which also features the voices of Rainbow Children's School's 2nd grade in Asheville, NC, Stockley's vocals, Varijashree (vocal improv and bansuri), Gannaway (Irish bouzouki) and Oliver (string arrangement, synth bass and percussion). Just try to keep your feet still with this one! Upbeat and graceful, "Di De Na" is one of the songs that uses vocalese for the lyrics and features Stockley (vocals), Varijashree (vocal improv and bansuri), Gannaway (Irish bouzouki), and Oliver (synth bass and percussion). "Makale" is a vocal duet with Gannaway and Emily Tessmer of Orenda Blu with lyrics in English and Polynesian. It also features the voices of children at The Gokulam School of Music in Bangalore, India - a favorite. "Somelele" is sung by Stockley in Xhosa (one of the official languages of South Africa and Zimbabwe). The instrumentation for this one is light and uncomplicated, enhancing Stockley's beautiful and expressive voice. The title track is an instrumental composed and performed by Jay Oliver. Driven by drums and other percussion, this mysterious piece is another favorite. "Laniakea" blends Celtic and Indian instrumentation with Polynesian and English lyrics to create a lively song sung by Emily Tessmer and Richard Gannaway with vocal improv by Varijashree. "Lotus" is based on a traditional Tibetan folk song adapted by Gannaway and Stockley. Lead vocals are by Sang Ding Duo Jie "Sunny," backed by Stockley. "Final Ascent" is an instrumental composed and performed by Gannaway and brings this intriguing album to a close.

Fascinating music for a great cause, Kutumba is available from Amazon, Apple Music/iTunes and streaming sites like Spotify. Give it a listen!
May 20, 2021
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