INTERNATIONAL BEAT: Femi Kuti, Ry Cooder, Masters of Persian Music ...

Kuti working on new album; Clinton helps Cooder return to Cuba; Masters of Persian Music tour.

Afrobeat star Femi Kuti is working on his follow-up to last year's Shoki Shoki in Paris. This spring MCA will release a single-disc version of the two-disc album of Shoki remixes released in Europe last year. Kuti will tour the United States this spring with dates in Austin, Texas (April 26-27), Houston (April 28), New Orleans (May 2-3) and Los Angeles (June 17), with more to be added. ...

Guitarist/producer Ry Cooder was able to return to Cuba in January thanks to the assistance of former President Clinton, according to the Baltimore Sun. Cooder produced 1997's Grammy-winning Buena Vista Social Club in Havana, and was fined $25,000 by the Treasury Department in 2000 for failing to obtain a license for the 1996 trip during which the album was recorded. Hoping to return to the island to record guitarist Manuel Galbãn, his application was initially rejected by the State Department's Cuban Affairs section. Days before leaving office, however, Clinton facilitated permission with the help of Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Cooder, who contributed $10,000 to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign, plans to return to Cuba in March to record another disc with Buena Vista singer Ibrahim Ferrer. ...

Singer Mohammed Reza Shajarian, tar lutist Hossein Alizadeh, komancheh (spike fiddle) virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor and percussionist Homayoun Shajarian — touring as the Masters of Persian Music — will perform in Portland, Oregon (February 9), Berkeley, California (February 10), New York (February 24), Washington, DC (February 25), Boston (March 4) and various locales in-between. ... The fine Irish quintet Lúnasa will tour the United States through March 3. They'll make stops in New York (February 10), Seattle (February 13), San Diego (February 18), Taos, New Mexico (February 24) and San Francisco (March 3). ...

Ireland's top-ranking female traditional artist, accordionist Sharon Shannon, will release The Diamond Mountain Sessions on March 13. Guests on the record include Steve Earle, Jackson Browne and John Prine; Irish musicians Donal Lunny, John Hoban, Dessie O'Halloran and Mary Staunton; as well as the Hothouse Flowers, Gallician piper Carlos Nuñez and her own Woodchoppers. Shannon will tour the Midwestern and Eastern United States beginning March 3 in Milwaukee and concluding March 24 in Somerville, Massachusetts. ...

Jesse Arreola, 31, drummer for award-winning Tejano band Los Palominos, died in a bizarre band bus accident February 4 in Port Lavaca, Texas. Arreola was thrown from the bus as it ran a stop sign. He landed in a ditch and the bus ran over him. The other band members, brothers James, Johnny and George Arreola suffered minor injuries, along with the unnamed bus driver. Producer Armando Lichtenberger Jr. told the Associated Press that Jesse Arreola had recently beaten leukemia. Last year the Arreolas scooped up the Best Tejano Performance at both the Grammy and Latin Grammy awards for their song "Por Eso Te Amo." ...

Singer/guitarist Herbert Vianna, co-founder of Brazilian rock group Os Paralamas do Sucesso, suffered serious head injuries Sunday (February 4) when a plane he was piloting crashed off the coast of Angra dos Reis, a popular vacation spot near Rio de Janeiro, Reuters reports. His wife, Lucy, drowned in the accident. Vianna, 39, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was airlifted to a Rio de Janeiro hospital, according to the report. ... Reggae dancehall star Beenie Man, who currently has multiple songs on the Jamaican chart, has formed his own record label, Current Box. Its first project, a single titled "Everybody Knows Your Name," will feature Beenie Man himself, with Gringo, and Brian and Tony Gold. The second single, "Together," will pair Beenie Man with singer Pam Hall. ...

The Istanbul Oriental Ensemble, a group of Turkish Roma (Gypsy) musicians led by Burhan Öçal, will tour the United States in February and March. Their 14-date itinerary begins February 17 in Athens, Georgia, and concludes March 16 in San Francisco. In-between the Ensemble, which recently released the CD Caravanserai,

Tamizdat, the non-profit organization building bridges between America's and Europe's independent music scenes, will showcase Central and Eastern European indie rockers Ecstasy of St. Theresa (Czechoslovakia), Karpaty Magiczne (Poland), Ewa Braun (Poland) and Skulpey (United States-Slovakia) March 16 at the South-By-Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. ... Cape Verde morna singer Cesaria Evora will tour the United States and Canada this summer. Her itinerary begins June 19 at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois, and concludes July 11 at Chastain Park in Atlanta, Georgia, with stops between in New York (June 22), Montreal (June 29), Los Angeles (July 1) and Seattle (July 5). ...

Paolo Conte, Italy's answer to Leonard Cohen, brings his smoky voice, world-weary tunes, stylish piano playing and eight-piece band to the United States next month for a cross-country tour that begins February 22 at Boston's Orpheum Theater and concludes seven dates later at Chicago's Symphony Center. Conte's most recent album is The Best of Paolo Conte. ... Free People, the 15 singing Greek Orthodox monks responsible for last year's I Learned to Live Free (a platinum hit in their home country), return with a new CD, SOS — Save Our Souls. Their earlier rock album provoked Greece's Holy Synod despite its admonitions against drugs, conformity and economic globalization. Their new record also criticizes money, power and technology, while their new video displays a man implanted with a monitoring microchip. ...

Avant-klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer and his Klezmer Madness! band release A New Hot One on March 13. Krakauer and his Klezmer Madness! band mix Rumanian folk idioms with klezmer, rock, funk and outside jazz. Krakauer was recently chosen by the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music to record several pieces for its upcoming 50-CD compilation of American Jewish music. ... Celebrated Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks, whose eponymous U.S. debut appeared in 1999, will undertake a major North American tour. The 24-date trek opens February 28 in Tucson, Arizona, and concludes April 1 in Toledo, Ohio. ...

Takira's Soul Makassar, which reunites the Madagascar-based band with their Indonesian roots, will be released this month in Europe and in the United States in April on Triloka. ... Label M and Graviton: The African Arts Network have created IndigeDisc to release classic African recordings worldwide. IndigeDisc will issue Sound Time by Chief Stephen Osadebe and Apala Messenger by Haruna Ishola this spring. The label plans to release contemporary African music as well as 1960s and '70s material from the legendary Decca West Africa archives by the likes of I.K. Dairo, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey and Batile Alake and the Ramblers. ...

Zimbabwe star Oliver Mtukudzi's lighting engineer was arrested and charged under that country's Law and Maintenance Act earlier this month. The engineer allegedly illuminated President Robert Mugabe's portrait during a performance of Mtukudzi's hit song "Wasakara," which has been interpreted as calling for the President's retirement, according to the Zimbabwe Standard. "I cannot help it if people interpret my songs to mean whatever they want, but this song is not political," Mtukudzi told the paper. ... Finland's Värttinä, the theatrical 10-piece roots-based ensemble fronted by four vivacious vocalists, release their new Ilmatar (Goddess of Air) February 13 on the NorthSide label. ...

Buju Banton, Capleton, Baby Cham, Mr. Vegas, Ghost, Red Rat and Chakademus and Pliers will perform February 17 at the 20th annual Ragga Muffins Festival/Bob Marley Day (angelfire.com/indie/RaggaMuffins/) at the Long Beach Arena in Long Beach, California. The fest's second and more roots-oriented day will include Bunny Wailer, Toots and the Maytals, Shaggy, Culture, Wailing Souls, Marcia Griffiths and Ras Michael. The festival moves to San Diego February 19 and to San Francisco February 23-25. ... Last summer's Latin Alternative Music Conference (latinalternative.com), which drew some 700 musicians and industry types to New York for panel discussions, the Watcha Tour Showcase and "La Banda Elastica" Magazine Awards Show, will be reprised July 7-9 at the city's Hilton Hotel.

— sonicnet.com staff report