Click names for full bios.
Bulgaria. Breeding ground for music talent. News to you? Well that’s because Ruth Koleva is a different breed of artist. Born into a volatile world of corruption and hardship in post-Communist Eastern Europe, she endured a difficult childhood largely spent without her mother, found salvation in the classics (Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole) and became ‘tour-hardened’ by jaunts to far-flung destinations such as India and Thailand in the company of her Olympian father (a weightlifting trainer). From there, Koleva quickly developed into a rounded musician, spending an eye-opening year at the Hollywood Pop Academy and embarking on free-spirited excursions into several local scenes including soul, hip hop and the more ephemeral but nonetheless popular bass movement. All this before the age of 18.
More recently, Koleva has become an ambassador for the best of Bulgaria – the youngest recipient of GRAZIA’s Woman of the Year award and Best Female Singer award at 2012’s BG Radio Awards, no less – sharing the stage with imperious jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin, reaching the finals of TV show Music Idol, recording her highly acclaimed ‘warm-up album’ (Within Whispers) and garnering praise from a kindred spirit, N’Dambi.
So where next for someone who has achieved so much in such a short period? The stars, of course. “I want to tour and collaborate far and wide – western Europe, the US, Asia – walking my own path and finding my own sound,” says Koleva. That sound is undeniably soulful and intricate, an effort to bring each listener closer to their own emotions. “To give you that feeling of first love, the butterflies in your stomach, a hunger for more,” as she puts it. The power of her music is subtle, slowly turning your attention and rewarding those who spend time with it.
There is a power wielded over us by Brazil and its golden age of music. The sixties and seventies was a time of perfect pop: catchy, positive, life-affirming – and yet so much more. It helps to have produced a plethora of masterful songwriters: Chico Buarque, Joao Bosco, Joao Gilberto, Edu Lobo, Caetano Veloso, Tom Jobim, Marcos Valle… But for Dutch singer Agnes Gosling, one giant soars above all others. "Through Milton Nascimento I have learned about this totally different style of song," she explains. "His sound is instantly recognisable yet indescribable, and that is something to aspire to."
Nascimento is one of Brazil's most reverred artists, a mystical figure whose first singing partners were "the echoes in the mountains" of Minas Gerais. It was his name that Gosling kept coming back to when she began to select some of her favourite songs her debut album, Cais. "I can't recall the first time I heard Milton," she says, "but I remember listening to the Elis Regina compilation Nada Será Como Antes, and suddenly realising that all my favourite compositions were written by him."
Regina is another titan of Brazilian music, a vocalist whose dynamic range earned her the nicknames "Furacao" ("Hurricane") and "Pimentinha" ("Little Pepper"). It is clear that she – together with another heroine, Dusty Springfield – has shaped the character of Gosling's timbre and intonation as much as Nascimento has influenced her harmonies and arrangements. Two examples are her assured renditions of 'Vera Cruz' and 'Caxangá', each combining a highly attuned rhythm section (Richard Spaven on drums and Robin Mullarkey on bass) with a finely nuanced arrangement (anchored by pianist Gideon van Gelder).
Seravince is an exciting new project from keyboardist and composer Vincent Helbers (aka Flowriders) that skillfully melds jazz, soul and hip hop as well as broken beat, the often imitated but seldom grasped sound of pre-millennial, subterranean London. It’s a continuum of MPS-era George Duke, the Plantation Lullabies of Meshell Ndegecello, Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor experiment and Dego and Kaidi Tatham’s Silhouette Brown.
The album is called Hear to See and it is a deceptively fiery statement from an artist that continues to defy categorisation. “First and foremost, it’s about being true to yourself,” says Helbers, who released his first album (Starcraft) back in 2005 prior to expanding his palette on the highly acclaimed R.U.E.D.Y. in 2007. “I don’t like to limit myself to one particular style. When I write I try to be as open-minded as possible so that all the music I listen to comes out unconsciously … and often unexpectedly. Of course that can be challenging when you’re trying to make an album because there are no boundaries. It has a character all of its own.”
The DNA of this album reads like a connoisseur’s wet dream. Helbers mentions three artists in particular: jazz polymath Herbie Hancock (“a master in the use of space, both when writing or playing); hip hop iconoclast J Dilla (“I love the rhythmical tension and release in his music, how he could take a two-bar figure, repeat endlessly and make it sound great”) and the prolific Mizell Brothers (“who could combine countless instruments without cluttering the mix or clouding the beauty of the music”).