BMG Milan, 2001
73138-35950-2
Agricantus, Latin for "song of the wheat fields", is a Palermo, Italy based WorldBeat quintet whose US debut occurred via their Best of Agricantus compilation in 1999. The core formation is made up of Tonj Acquaviva (vocals, synth programming and a veritable arsenal of percussion instruments from around the world); Mario Crispi (assorted indigenous woodwinds and keyboards); Rosie Widerkehr (vocals, keyboards); Mario Rivera (bass, vocals, programming); and Guiseppe Panzeca (various guitar-related instruments like mandolin, oud and setar).


On the cannily titled Ethnosphere, guest artists perform on Arabian violin, kora, mellotrone and authentic Tibetan drone chants.


Agricantus' seamless juxtaposition of modern electronica and ethnic styles from around the globe enjoys -- if only approximate --precedents in Jamshied Sharifi's A Prayer for the Soul of Layla; the Deep Forest trilogy; certain parts of the Dead Can Dance library or Lisa Gerrard's later solo work; and excerpts from groups such as Vas, Tulku or the Malaysian AsiaBeat ensemble.


Part of their highly successful deconstructionist recipe is the member's direct mastery of ancient instruments and multi-lingual vocals. Rather than dumpster-dive into the global aural hard drive to sample others and reassemble their snippets into sonic collages, Agricantus actually performs and sings every single line or effect.


This makes for a unique musical coherence, Taking full advantage of the latest hi-tech production methods, Agricantus retains a powerful organic flavor and -- beautifully manifesting their name's inner meaning -- a solidly earth rather than electronica centered focus.


Another vital ingredient to this Italian recipe is German lead singer Rosie Wiederkehr -- blessed with haunting pipes that can carry a heart-wrenching anthem as readily as ghostly Shamanistic incantations -- who switches tongues as casually as leading actresses change outfits from scene to scene. German, French, English and Italian are recognizable, many others are not.


Add Tibetan chanting, Acquaviva and Rivera on alternating lead or background vocals, and whatever sense of geographical identity remained evaporates. This is yet another sign of how the initial unfolding of the information/communication age of Aquarius has already exploded many old and confining concepts and continues to undermine others.


With its densely layered arrangements, exotic instrumental timbres and neo-tribal vocals, Ethnosphere is a very strong and substantial entry into the WorldBeat / Ethnic Fusion catalogue and should appeal to listeners who have worn out the initial appeal of the thinner Enigma and Karma.