Fiamma Fumana, Onda (Omnium Recordings, 2006)

Fiamma Fumana built a solid reputation in world music circles with their first two albums, 1.0 and home, both of which combined the folk traditions of the province of Emilia Romagna in northern Italy with state-of-the-art electronics. The third album Onda ("Wave") finds the band in a state of transition, as their original singer Sylvia "Fiamma" Orlandi has left to pursue a solo career. The remaining members Albertico Cottica (accordion, piano, guitar), Lady Jessica Lombardi (piva emiliana bagpipes), and Mehdin Paolos (DJ) recruited Lisa Kant to take Fiamma's place, and have pressed on undaunted.

Despite the change in singers, Onda picks up sonically right where home left off. The band continues to find ways to put the sound of accordions and bagpipes into Italian dance clubs, and make old music sound fresh and hip. The one obvious expansion of the band's sound is the inclusion of rap in the opening song "Prendi L'Onda (Ride The Wave)." One of the two rappers used is Jovanotti, best known in the U.S. for hosting a fun but short-lived program of international music videos called Earth To MTV in the very early nineties. Kant deserves a lot of credit for stepping right in and sounding like she's always been there, and Cottica and Lombardi do a fine job of making sure their instruments fit in with the electronics instead of clashing with them.

While most of the songs on previous Fiamma Fumana albums were traditional, most of the songwriting on Onda is instead done in tandem by Cottica and Lombardi. Like the music, the styles in the lyrics cross several generations. Some of the lyrics are based on traditional songs and sung with the help of Coro delle Modine di Novi, a choir of elderly female rice weeders from the city of Modena in Emilia Romagna. Other songs have much more modern subject matter; "Check In," for example, talks about keeping touch electronically with friends and family while on the road. There are a lot of samples used on the album, the most significant of which are a couple of quotes from the late Scottish musician Martyn Bennett. Bennett combined traditional Scottish music with urban grooves. His influence on Fiamma Fumana's music is acknowledged in the liner notes, and the album is dedicated to his memory.

When I reviewed home a few years ago, I compared Fiamma Fumana with The Afro Celt Sound System, an Irish band which espouses a similar philosophy regarding the combination of traditional and ultra-modern influences. I felt that the band was still looking for the right amount of musicality to balance the electronics. Happily, I feel they've come closer with Onda. The album works nicely all the way through, whether the songs are more traditional ballads like "Angiolina" or pulsating dance tracks like "Non di Sola Andata (There Are No One Way Journeys)." The change in singers could have easily impeded the band's progress, but that didn't happen at all. Fiamma Fumana were already a pretty good band, but Onda shows a marked improvement over its predecessor. I'm confident that they will continue to get better with subsequent albums.

Overall grade: B+

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