Lute Music of North Africa

Various unnamed performers

TradeWind CDA 002

This is a CD-R rather than a CD, but I have no intention of holding that against it!  What I do hold against it is every other aspect of its production and the corrupt immorality of its producer.

Cover picture Let's start with the object itself.  The printing - both text and graphics - on the label, tray card and inlay card is of a barely acceptable standard.  A photo of an 'ud adorns both front and back covers - the front one badly marred by horizontal lines in its lower half (clogged print head, probably), as you may be able to see in this example.  The back photo is accompanied by text saying 'Recorded in Morocco & Tunisia by Mike Head'.  The reverse of the inlay card gives a 66 word account of what Al 'Ud is, followed by the information 'Tracks 1-5 Asilah, Morocco, Tracks 6-7 Tunis, Tracks 8-9 Fes, Morocco'.  The CD's label repeats the information on front and back covers.  This accounts for the total of the documentation of this CD!  No, you didn't miss something ... there aren't any track titles.  And no - the performers are not credited either.  In fact, Mike Head is the only person thought worthy of being accorded the dignity of a name.

Since the copyright symbol is also absent, one might assume that Mr Head did not take the precaution of asking the musicians to sign any contracts assigning him the copyright in the performances he recorded.  If that is the case, then it still resides with them and they would be able to sue him for royalties on sales.  I wonder if they have any relatives living near Weybridge, Surrey - Mr Head's base of operations?  The probable lack of a contract is further borne out by the fact that he appears not to know their names or the titles of the tunes he recorded.  To release a CD for public sales in these circumstances may actually be illegal ... it is certainly utterly immoral!

The inlay and tray cards are those pre-perforated things you get with your Pressit starter pack for dummies, and the CD-R itself reflects this tyro level of production.  The music seems adequately recorded (portable Walkman or similar domestic machine, I would guess) although the singing, which joins the 'ud at times, is distant and indistinct.  There's also some percussion - probably an assortment of drums, rattles, hand-clapping, foot-stomping ... it's difficult to tell - and at two points you hear the applause of a single individual.

Track 1 starts abruptly, halfway through a note, halfway through a piece.  The piece continues for a further 40 seconds or so and then ends.  Next comes some of that introductory or inter-tune improvisational doodling you hear when a player (of almost any instrument) is warming up or getting in the mood.  Then another piece starts and is joined by at least two singers (the percussionists?) after about 15 seconds.  Quiet (sometimes not so quiet) conversation can be heard during the music.  The song ends at 5 minutes and 29 seconds, and one person applauds.  Then there's a bit more doodling followed by the 'Ud player tuning up a couple of strings, some conversation, a bit more improvisation and what might be the beginning of another piece, before Track 1 ends, as abruptly as it started, at 5:55.  After the default 2 second inter-track pause, Track 2 begins, equally abruptly, and contains a similar mishmash of music, doodling, tuning up ... lasting for 8:30 and containing, I think, three separate pieces and ending with a cut-off conversation.  The other tracks, to the extent that I've listened to them, appear to be much the same.  In other words, there has been no editing whatsoever of the original tape or minidisc recording - not even the, one might have thought, obligatory courtesy of attempting to start and end the tracks at the start and end of a song or tune!

In the absence of any information to the contrary, one might conclude that Mike Head wandered into a cafe in Asilah where there were some musicians employed to play background music - certainly not to 'perform'.  He had a recording Walkman with him so he sat near the 'ud player and switched on.  In Tunis and Fes he did the same thing.  On his return home he wondered "How can I exploit these recordings in the cheapest possible way and make the most possible money most easily?"  This CD-R is the result.

The press release accompanying the CD claims that 'Tradewind (or TradeWind or Trade Wind - he obviously hasn't decided which it should be) is a boutique label dedicated to fine music.  Its aim is to make available rare and interesting music - not normally available in conventional record shops.'  This heap of crap is an indication of the level of that 'dedication'.

It goes on to alert us that 'Tradewind plans further releases.  "Music from Crete" is scheduled for the coming months.'  More 'What I did on my foreign holiday ...' tapes.  I hope he doesn't send it to me for review.

I haven't mentioned the music, have I?  It may be a little superfluous in the light of the producer's apparent opinion of the musicians, but I would say that the sets from Asilah and Tunis are fairly competent cafe background music.  The two Fes tracks are solo 'ud, better played, better recorded (he was sat nearer?) and appear to start at the beginning of the piece and certainly end at the end.  We can assume that he'd grasped the fundamentals of recording by this time.

The lack of care evident at every possible level of this production is almost unbelievable.  What it tells us of Mike Head's attitude to the performers and their music is confirmed by his inability to name either the players or the music they performed.  To wonder whether they have ever received any payment, or are likely to receive any sales royalties in the future, seems utterly pointless.

I am ashamed that I belong to the same nation as someone who is prepared to exploit another, and completely powerless, human being in this immoral way; who is unconcerned to parade his disdain for those he is exploiting; and who goes about his shameful business with such a total lack of awareness of his own shoddy workmanship.

Do not buy this CD - do not buy the second one - tell all your friends not to buy them.  If you know Mike Head, tell him what you think of him.  Even if you don't know him, you might wish to express your outrage to Trade Wind Productions - e-mail:

Rod Stradling - 16.1.01

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