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CD 1995 BMG/Milan 35685-2, France
Personel: Florian Fricke (piano), Guido Hieronymus (keyboards & engineering, electric guitar), Maya Rose (Yukatan) (vocals), Daniel Fichelscher (accoustic guitar), Children Choir from Kathmandu
Produced by Florian Fricke and Frank Fiedler
City Raga marked a new direction in Popol Vuh's style and broadened the sound of their musical experiments. Reflecting the ambient dance music of the trendy international club scene, Florian Fricke described the latest project this way: "City Raga is a concept album, i.e. the tracks are not put together at random but instead they describe a rhythmic, danceable way of life in our cities."
Milan Records Homepage
Popol Vuh are pioneers of "new age" music. Not that John Tesh kind of "new age," but music that moves the soul...instead of making you want to move out of earshot. Lead by Florian Fricke, Popol Vuh's new release, City Raga, is an eclectic mix of styles and instrumentation, once again seperating it from most of the "new age" pack, who tend to rely totally on synthesizers for their music.
Fricke, along with Maya Rose (voice), Daniel Fichelscher (acoustic guitar), and Guido Hieronymus (keyboards, engineering & electric guitar) are certainly originals in a genre that falls into one of two categories: too simplistic (some - but certainly not all - Phillip Glass) or too gaudy (Tesh, Yanni).
In all honesty, though, I must admit that before this album arrived on my doorstep, I had never even heard of Popol Vuh. I had heard their work before, in the 1978 Walter Herzog adaptation of Nosferatu. And after hearing City Raga, I was a bit ashamed of the fact that while I didn't know who they were, I liked their work, and never bothered to find out more.
The Denver Post said that Popol Vuh "combine European classicism and Gregorian chants with acoustic-oriented sounds inspired by indigenous peoples' music." And although you can certainly hear the "indigenous peoples' music" part, this album has more in common with Deep Forest than it does with Enigma or a group of monks. The vocals of Rose, which seem to rise from your speakers effortlessly, are some of the most compelling in some time. In many ways, she's the "anti-diva." Her vocals don't make you stand back and say "Damn! That girl can sing!" as much as they bring you further into the music itself.
And like the work of Tangerine Dream, who come from the same German avant-garde scene as Popol Vuh, the tracks on this album can be best described as "cinematic." Tracks like "Last Village" and "Running Deep" seem perfect for film, and it's a wonder that someone outside of Germany hasn't picked up on Popol Vuh to do more film work.
If there is any other album I can compare this work to, it would have to be Tangerine Dream's Canyon Dreams album from a few years back. The album was a soundtrack for a video they scored which feature the beauty of The Grand Canyon. Likewise, City Raga could be a soundtrack for a video on...say, a rain forest or something of that nature. The music expresses an understanding for the majesty of nature that Tesh (and I know I'm guilty of Tesh-bashing, but so what) and others can't convey...no matter if they played at Red Rocks or not.Sean Eric McGill's home page
Time marches on, and by the mid 90s Florian Fricke apparently had reconciled with the electronic technology that he avoided for years for expressing his musical ideas. Prog fans may be comforted to know that Popol Vuh didn't rest on its laurels and did indeed transform, but may be discomfited to learn that the band's old flowing, organic sound has been largely retired in search of a new vision: "Mystic House" music.
Still, if you listen closely, you will hear, for example, the ghost of "Aguirre" show up on "Last Village." Fricke's role on this album is primarily as a producer and lead writer. The real arms and legs of the album, however, are new collaborator Guido Hieronymus, who manually speaking handles practically everything on here. Vuh warhorse Daniel Fichelscher shows up to lend his blessing to the project, just on "Morning Raga." I can respect this new direction, and this music fits in quite well for a period where artists like The Orb and Future Sound of London thrived. Still, this interesting blend of ambient and world music within techno is probably not going to be of too much interest to most prog fans.
One further, non-music related ramble: I found the most interesting thing about this release was actually the back of the CD booklet, which gives some insight to the album's creation. Vocalist Maya Rose is ostensibly an old friend (ex-lover?) of Florian who hasn't corresponded with him in years, perhaps decades. She writes from Mexico with an update of what she is up to: teaching German, modeling in art classes for spare money, cooking and washing. She writes: "Two years now in Merida/Yucatan3 X per week Atztecan [sic] and Tibetan dance-meditation just around the corner of our house...But 'the day' seems closer...music. Welcome - if ever you are close...send you love and light, Maya." Fricke's daughter, Anna, writes back from Munich. She explains that her father has sampled Maya's voice for the album, and that she hopes Maya is not angry but they couldn't find out where she was. Anna: "Hello Maya, you don't know me, but maybe you do know me...You write in your letter that you are getting slowly closer to 'the day,' but I believe or let's say I know it- you are very close to the day. I think you can really write in an open way and let your feelings go..."
I was quite inspired by reading their correspondence, virtual strangers across the globe. It has a simple, emotional directness, a generosity, and sense of mystery. Very refreshing, and if anything gives me some hope that not everybody out there in the world has been hit by the "my cell-phone, my stock options" ideals which I see embraced all too often over here daily.
One of the biggest disappointments of the year for me has been POPOL VUH's "City Raga" cd. I've long loved their music. I am a big fan of their early mystico-trance work and I even defended them as the greatest "new age" band ever when they went in that direction. But now, ugh! What are they doing? "City Raga" seems like some kind of lame attempt to cash-in on the techno scene, or perhaps the popularity of the ENIGMA and DEEP FOREST brand of disco-world-music. Horrid electro beats and "funky" bass permeate this disc. The funny thing is it seems as though the beats/bass were just layered over POPOL VUH's music. It sounds like you couid strip away all of that nonsense and there wouid be a pretty good album underneath. Well, when they went "new age" everyone else abandoned them. Now l'm going to have to do the same and pray they return to their roots soon. "City Raga" comes from Milan records c/o BMG distribution.Audio review by Timothy Renner for Nyx Obscura 1997
La musique de Fricke est noyee dans un imbroglio de dance ethnique, dite "mystic house" a effet bof garanti. On n'entend meme plus le piano de l'auteur... Coupable = Hieronymous.from Opposition de phase site
Dance music after Beethoven
This german group makes music and, in despite of the labels (dance music, classic...) Popol Vuh integrates influiences of the Orient and Ocident (especially in this CD City Raga the ancient latin american musical tradition (maia, azteca, inca) and in my opinion is a classical music, a music that inscribes the human nature. City Raga is strange, dancing, reflexive, a mistery. There's other groups in this tradition of work (like Cirque du Soleil, Dead Can Dance, the brazilian group Karnak and others). A beautiful and special CD demonstrating that is possible the music after Beethoven in despite of Beethoven or because of his Masterpiece oeuvre... --This text refers to an out of print or available edition of this title.Walter Doege, M.D., from Porto Alegre, Brazil., June 20, 1998
Dance, Shiva, Dance
The music of India is the starting place for this German group's exploration of musical hybridization. Accessible, dancy, and smooth.A music fan from Lake Geneva, WI , May 18, 1998
For your refined taste
I have to confess I'm not much of an expert concerning Popol Vuh. I was first introduced to the band through Werner Herzog's remake of Murnau's classic film, "Nosferatu", to which Popol Vuh composed the score. But the only other, whole, record of their's I've listened to is the combined album "In the Gardens of Pharao/Aguirre", which btw. is an excellent album, but comparing it to "City Raga" would be like comparing night and day.
I can understand that many die hard prog fans will balk when faced with "City Raga". But to one who's not really used to the "old sound" of the band the ambient, ethnic, techno rhythms of "City Raga" sound very fresh and exciting.
The tracks on "City Raga" are greatly varied. From the groovy rhythms of "Wanted Maya" to the slow and beautiful, maybe even lazy, "Last Village", to the harried tempo of "Tears of Concrete". And leading us through them all we have the beautiful and mysterious voice of Maya Rose.
The story of the vocalist turns out to be quite interesting and it certainly gives the listener another view of the album and its songs. On the inside of the CD booklet are two letters printed side by side. One from Maya to Florian and a reply from Anna Fricke, Florian's daughter. The story they tell is very touching.
Maya writes from Mexico describing her dreary, nomadic, life, working for pennies as a model for art students, teaching german, washing, cooking, etc. She asks Florian if she could work with him on some project so she wouldn't go crazy.
Anna Fricke replys that she already is on one of his records. Apparently Florian had a tape Maya had sent him some years before. And as he could not get in touch with her he sampled her voice from the tape and used it in "City Raga".
Anna ends her letter by apologizing for using Maya's voice without her permission and saying that Florian would like to do another album with her. Sadly I do not know what became of that.
***** (5/5 Beautiful and Mysterious)Posted by burke on Wednesday November 14, 2001 for Yagrebu.net