“Gifts of song”

A global musical heritage

by Keith Purtell

Every sample here speaks for itself. Just enjoy the music. (The order of artists is random.)

[Short on time? Click the PLAY link here, then click once on the name of the first song listed in the player. It will automatically play all the song samples for you.] >PLAY 

Bobby “Blue” Bland

Early in his career, while his voice was still strong, Bland recorded some of the most powerful blues, R&B and soul ever heard. Some of the credit goes to Bill Harvey’s band, especially trumpeter Joe Scott, who helped Bland develop his phrasing and power. During the 50s and 60s, Bland was an undisputed lion of the stage. >PLAY 

Dennis Brown

Dennis Brown’s 30-year career in reggae produced a stream of hits. Instead of choosing a song that started as reggae, I’ve included two versions of a song written by a British blues player and made famous Mexican guitarist. What Brown does with the song — twice — is amazing. >PLAY 

Vinicius Cantuaria

Beginning with gently thrumming strings, “Agua Rasa” is one of the best and most subtle ballads written and recorded by this Brazilian singer, songwriter, guitarist, drummer and percussionist. >PLAY 

Neko Case

Case delivers “I Missed The Point” with the same remarkable voice and attractive arrangement she has become noted for. Then, somewhere along the line, if you really listen to the lyrics, you realize she’s talking to God. >PLAY 

Thievery Corporation

In theory, Thievery Corporation’s songs aren’t really about anything. They’re instrumentals in which any vocals are only one of the colored threads that make up the tapestry. But it’s a lush sonic tapestry, sensual and rhythmic. >PLAY 


Cranes have been inexplicably labeled as just one of the better “trance-pop” or “shoegaze” bands. There may be a few similarities to such bands, but Cranes defy the limitations of category. Their songs are mysterious, but not in such a way that leaves the listener on the outside. You may not know what Alison Shaw’s childlike voice is trying to tell you, but she guides you through songs that range from thoughtful to expansive, sometimes on a solid rhythmic groove and sometimes floating. >PLAY 

“In The Morning”

This isn’t about a band or song, but a lovely example of the sound of an ancient Chinese flute called the dizi. Cultures from all over the world seem to have each created flutes independently. The metal flute we Westerners are most familiar is sadly the one with the least unique voice. Here’s a taste of something special. Performed by Zhan Yongming ( Zhan Yongming ). >PLAY 

“Memories of Yesterday’s People” by Woodrow “Wotko” Haney

Haney was a full-blood Native American from the Muscogee-Creek Nation. He released a variety of cassettes during his life, but apparently none of his compelling work was ever picked up by a record company, not even one specializing in ethnic material. He mixes music from Native American flute with some a capella songs straight from the heart, without any attempt to modernize. This is grandfather music from the root of the great tree. I wish I had been able to find more than one of his cassettes, but they are scattered across the country. >PLAY 

Dang Kim Hien

Vietnamese musician Dang Kim Hien lives in Australia and performs both contemporary and traditional music with devotion and commitment. >PLAY 

Sofi Hellborg

Imagine this: Beautiful blonde Swedish girl Sofi learns to play jazz and discovers Afro-beat, a kind of music that combines African “high life,” jazz and some James Brown funk. Afro-beat was co-invented by Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo (Ransome) Kuti and his drummer, Tony Allen. By the time Sofi becomes a respected saxophonist, Fela has died. But she finds Allen and they make more Afro-beat. True story. >PLAY 


This Chilean folk group came together in 1971 and named themselves Illapu, an aboriginal word which means “flash of lightning.” Illapu played a style of music called “andina.” But you don’t really need the history; just listen to this amazing song. >PLAY 

Chen Jun

Chen Jun is a master of the Chinese instrument called the erhu. It is the great-grandfather of the instrument we know as a violin, yet it only has two strings. It’s not an impressive-looking instrument, but its sound is deeply ambrosial, perhaps more so than the violin. I can’t comprehend how Chen Jun evokes such powerful music from such a simple object. >PLAY 

Fela Anikulapo (Ransome) Kuti

Fela Anikulapo (Ransome) Kuti, usually known as just Fela, was a true giant of African music. Fela was also one of those rare people in music history who invented an entirely new genre of music; Afro-beat. Here’s a sample. >PLAY 

Jimmy LaFave

“Walk Away Renée” was the first song that ever had an emotional effect on me. I was in the fourth grade, and it touched my heart. It was the starting point for my life-long love of music. I didn’t think anyone could do as good a version as the original by Left Banke (composed by their keyboard player Michael Brown), but Austin-based singer Jimmy LaFave pours his heart into his rendition. >PLAY 

Ijahman Levi

Levi hit his peak early when he recorded for Island label owner Chris Blackwell, but broke away saying he felt that some of Blackwell’s business practices were questionable. I’ve never found out what he meant by that. What’s unfortunate about their parting is that the Geoffrey Chung production made possible through the contract with Blackwell brought out the best in Levi’s songs. His music here is from “Are We A Warrior.” (His other Island release was “Haile I Hymn.”) >PLAY 

Amadou & Mariam

Rarely if ever heard on radio stations in the U.S., African music is an extremely diverse and pleasurable genre wrought with complex rhythms and unique instruments. Amadou & Mariam are a gifted husband-and-wife musical team. This is from their hit recording “Dimance a Bamako.” >PLAY 

Takoda Magick

Takoda Magick is a young white woman in the United Kingdom who plays the Native American Flute with intuitive grace. The topic of white people playing the NAF is a little touchy. Some feel that white musicians are (again) appropriating a part of Native American culture. Others say the NAF, like many other unique features of non-European cultures, is a gift to the world. There’s also the question of how faithful a non-Native American can be to the music of a culture they didn’t grow up in. In this case, one of the reasons I included Takoda is that she is very true to the spirit of NAF music I’ve heard from Native American artists. Her music is only available at her website, www.myspace.com/takodamagick She has not recorded a CD. Yet. >PLAY 

Mississippi Fred McDowell

Like Woodrow Haney (mentioned above), McDowell’s music is from the root of a great musical tree. McDowell is drenched in all the best traits of the blues. He’s a prime example of why someone invented the word “authentic.” This is slide guitar performed with a piece of bone (literally) and McDowell’s non-nonsense, let’s-play-this-for-the-people vocals. Funky, sly, sexual, unmistakable and irresistible. >PLAY 

Coyote Oldman

I’ve included the music of Barry Stramp and Michael Graham here because it’s a compelling offshoot of the rising tide of interest in the Native American flute. As “Coyote Oldman,” they also include other types of flutes and pipes, and some other instruments, but it’s the way Native American music has influenced them that is most intriguing. >PLAY 

Augustus Pablo

Pablo was the best individual reggae artist to emerge from Jamaica during the past several decades besides Bob Marley. He had two careers; one as a producer for other musicians and then his own solo work. Although his production work was always first rate, his solo performances release the shining star of his unique, “Far East” sound. He’s mystical and funky at the same time, and one song — “Islington Rock” — evokes a majestic sense of looking deep into the historic pathways of Afro-Caribbean music. >PLAY 

Peter Phippen

Phippen has made a career of performing with ethnic flutes from around the world. He stands out because of his ability to create music that is true to the spirit of each of those cultures. I included him here because of his considerable facility with the Native American flute, as well as a flute from India called a bansuri. The music sample titled "Bansuri Outtake" is not on any of Phippen’s CDs. It was recorded to demonstrate the quality of the instrument’s sound for an online merchant who sells them, yet stands on it’s own as a lovely solo. (Note that the picture that appears when playing the outtake shows Phippen with a Native American flute, not a bansuri.) During playback of the first sample, clicking the INFO box will lead to a purchase site. Doing the same during outtake sample will lead to the flute vendor site where you can hear Peter’s full demo. You may also want to visit his official website. >PLAY 

John Rainer, Jr.

Rainer, a full-blood member of the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, was a major figure in Native American flute music. He recorded few CDs, but the quality of his performances and the timing of his arrival on the music scene made him highly influential. Probably the only instance of successfully mixing the NAF with accompanying instruments that I know of. (Mr. Rainer passed June 14, 2011.) >PLAY 

Erik Satie

French composer and pianist Satie (1866–1925) created a lot of music that unfortunately causes him to sometimes be labeled “inaccessible” or “experimental.” However, he is best known for a small number of compositions that expressed a deep sense of quiet reverie. He was a friend of “impressionist” composer Claude Debusssy, and I'm convinced that the two influenced each other in subtle ways. This sample features all three of the famous “Gymnopedies,” but I’ve not been able to identify the pianist. >PLAY 

Jeff Sharel

Sharel’s sound is a hybrid of several music forms. He describes himself as “Down-tempo / Electronica / Nu-Jazz.” He stands out from other artists under that same general description because of his greater originality and the hypnotic quality of his songs. >PLAY 

The Skatalites

The Skatalites were a group of top-tier Jamaican musicians who performed a type of music called ska, which predated reggae. They often took names of movies, television shows and famous/infamous people as a pretext for their wildly exciting big-band Afro-Caribbean performances. >PLAY 

Swingle Singers

This entry is almost retro, since the Swingle Singers began and performed most of their best music in or after 1962. Although they are primarily a vocal group, they don’t use lyrics. Instead, each singer takes the role of a musical instrument and delivers notes in the melody via a pitched syllable like “da da da.” Their rhythm section, usually excellent work on drums and bass, adds a jazz flavor to everything they perform, whether it’s J.S. Bach or the Beatles. I included two samples here to illustrate their range: from red-hot swing to a glowing, graceful classical piece. >PLAY 

Black Uhuru

Maybe it’s not fair to compare reggae artists to rock artists, but, for the benefit of anyone not familiar with reggae I’ll say this: Black Uhuru is to reggae what the Rolling Stones were to rock ’n’ roll. In other words, a great band so potent that they verged on scary. When you hear their music, it’s easy to imagine Jamaican parents warning their teenagers to stay away from that bad Black Uhuru and listen to something mellow instead. Crank up the volume on this one. >PLAY 


Kansas City songwriter/singer/guitarist Scott Easterday formed the first incarnation of Expassionates in 1998, which resulted in the CD “Verse Chorus Bridge.” Later, Easterday changed the band’s lineup and sound. That was captured on the 2008 CD “Landscapes.” The feel of their music went from moody and intense to more animated and upbeat. All of Easterday's songs have a carefully-crafted signature that occupies parts of the same sonic space as rock, jazz, country, folk, and something else I can’t quite define. I first discovered the band and became acquainted with Easterday when I lived in Kansas City. The only thing missing is a CD of their remarkable live work, including some intimate performances by Easterday playing solo. (Hint, hint, Scott.) >PLAY 


Please allow me to introduce a term you may have never heard: library music. No, not Muzak played in libraries. Library music is usually instrumental and intended to convey a certain mood or emotion. Most of the people who buy it are film producers who want to enhance their sound track without the cost of paying a composer for an original score. What’s interesting is that a few library music recording artists came up with material that is good enough to stand on its own. Umiliani is a prime example. >PLAY 

Caetano Veloso

Brazilian poet and pop singer Veloso enjoys a huge following outside the U.S. He has an eclectic style and an engaging singing voice. His style is a hybrid of many international influences. >PLAY 

The Chinese sheng

The sheng is yet another of the many contributions made to world cultures by the Chinese. This remarkable contrivance is a “free reed” instrument consisting essentially of vertical pipes emerging from a spherical base. The musician blows through a short mouthpiece into the base, and creates the musical notes by using his/her fingertips to cover and uncover holes in the pipes. The sheng’s inherent tonal qualities are distinctive and gracefully authoritative. This clip by musician Wu Wei is an excellent interpretation of Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 3.” >PLAY 

Tommy Wildcat

If you look at the list of best-selling Native American flute players, Wildcat is nowhere near the top. He may not even be on most people’s “best in category” lists. Here’s what makes Wildcat unique and why he deserves consideration as one of the top Native American flutists in the world. A full-blood Native American, he grew up in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, home of the (removed) Cherokee Nation. Wildcat absorbed the finest qualities of his people, and you can feel that dignity and sensitivity in his recordings. He seldom uses flourishes and embellishments. Yet, he plays in a haunting and evocative manner where each note drops like a leaf. His melodic lines are steady as he walks through a place of peace. (In addition to finding his music by clicking the “Info” box on the music player below, you can learn more about Wildcat at these websites: Official Website and Wikipedia.org).

If you can’t see songs at the bottom of the list, use the small downward-pointing black triangle in the top right area of the player.

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