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Randy Armstrong—Biography

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Hailed by the Boston Globe as a "sure-fingered guitar virtuoso", Randy Armstrong is the co-founder of Do’a World Music Ensembleand UNU MONDO. With a collection of over two hundred instruments from around the world, including acoustic, synthesizer and nylon-string guitars, sitar, balofon, djembe, koto, charango, mbira and a wide variety of percussion and stringed instruments, he has amazed audiences throughout the United States, Canada, Alaska, and India.

Randy recently returned from Central America and West Africa performing and studying with Garifuna musicians and drummers in Dangriga and Hopkins, Belize and Ewe, Fanti and Ga drummers in Accra and Legon, Ghana. He has performed at Carnegie Recital Hall and festivals at Lincoln Center in New York City.

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Unu Mondo (from left to right) Randy Armstrong, Volker Nahrmann, Camara Kambon, Ken Gable, Henrique Almeida

In 1998, Randy was selected as an artist representative to attend a Cultural Trade Mission to Ireland, Northern Ireland and England sponsored by Governor Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and in May 2005 attended a Curatorial Research trip on Son Jarocho music in Xalapa and Veracruz, Mexico for the New England Foundation for the Arts. He was appointed by NH Governor Craig Benson as an arts councilor for the NH State Council on the Arts in 2003 and reappointed by Governor John Lynch in 2008.

In the summer of 2007, Randy toured internationally in Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and South Africa and celebrated the digital and compact disc release of the new and celebrated the digital and compact disc release of the new Armstrong & Aichele: World Tales Volume Two. In 2009, he composed, performed and recorded original music for the NH Theatre Project presentation of Hamletby William Shakespeare. The music score was funded in part by a grant from Meet the Composer, Inc. and The New England Foundation for the Arts. In 2010, Randy composed an original score on recycled percussion for the Phillips Exeter Academy production of Macbeth.

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As a composer and performing artist with Do’a World Music Ensemble, his music has been acclaimed as "a marvelous kaleidoscope of shifting melodies, rhythms, and instrumental colors" by DOWNBEAT magazine. CD REVIEW stated, "guitarist Randy Armstrong…has composed some of the brightest contemporary instrumentals this side of the hemisphere." Do’a’s fifth album, WORLD DANCE, released in 1988, reached the top 10 of several national charts including #7 in BILLBOARD.

Randy Armstrong scored the music for a four-part PBS series, Dinner On The Diner produced by British filmmaker, Jon Guilbert. The series explores four famous train rides through Spain, Scotland, South Africa and Malaysia/Thailand with a double-CD released concurrently with its premiere by Ellipsis Arts nationally distributed by Ryko. "Evocative...Timeless" -Barnes & Noble.com The programs aired on the PBS network in June 2000. In May 2003 his album, No Regrets was released by DOMO Records and reached the top 10 of several radio airplay charts.

In 2005, Randy joined forces with 16 artists from coast to coast on a compilation CD entitled the Tsunami Relief Project released by Atta Girl Records with all profits aiding Tsumami survivors through the CARE Agency. Randy Armstrong has performed, recorded and appeared on over 30 albums and film scores.

Randy holds a degree in composition and world music studies and has conducted workshops at schools, universities and cultural institutions throughout the United States. He is an adjunct faculty instructor of West African drumming and North Indian sitar and tabla at Phillips Exeter Academy and teaches for the Graduate Studies Integrated Arts Program at Plymouth State University.

He also performs with the award-winning storytelling, music and movement duo, Armstrong & Aichele: World Tales that has been receiving wide critical acclaim. With Do’a World Music Ensemble and as a solo artist, he has been the recipient of numerous grants from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, the New England Foundation for the Arts, the state arts councils of Arkansas, Arizona and New York and the National Endowment of the Arts. He has shared the stage with such artists as Dizzy Gillespie, King Sunny Ade, the Paul Winter Consort, Babtunde Olatunji, Pierre Bensusan, Michael Hedges, Eddie Palmieri and Richie Havens.

Do'a World Music Ensemble Review

The World Beat Goes On…

by Laurie Bond, reprint of article appearing in "DIRTY LINEN" Winter '89/90

Before the Talking Heads recorded Remain in Light, before Peter Gabriel programmed his drum machines to play African polyrhythms, before Paul Simon and Graceland, and before the term "world music" was ever coined, there was Do'ah.The band was founded in 1974 by two New Hampshire musicians of eclectic musical skills and taste, Randy Armstrong and Ken LaRoche. Do'ah was one of the very first groups to combine musical instruments and traditions from all over the world to form a new unified whole.

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From left to right: Randy Armstrong, Charlie Jennison, Volker Nahrmann, Ken LaRoche, Marty Quinn

With this year's release of World Dance on the CBS/Global Pacific label, Do'ah's 5th album, the band still includes Armstrong and LaRoche who are joined for the second album by additional musicians Marty Quinn, Volker Nahrmann, and Charlie Jennison. Together these five musicians trade off on over 70 instruments from around the world.

A major focus of Do'ah's music is the peaceful coexistence of the widely diverse peoples and traditions of the planet. Do'ah has earned formal recognition by the United Nations for their highly successful "Peace Tour " of the United States and Canada. Highlights of the tour included the San Francisco International Peace Conference, where Do'ah played to an appreciative audience of over 8000 people. They were also recently part of the first Earth Run and an invitational tour of India.

Do'ah's music can be described in a phrase, "life affirming." The band's name comes from the Arabic term do'a, which means literally "to call to worship." The music itself, while often described as New Age because of its message, is more akin to the world jazz of Don Cherry, Oregon, or Weather Report.

Do'ah's beginnings in the mid-70's as a duo featured Armstrong and LaRoche on guitar and flute. The early recordings spell their name in the traditional Arabic do'a, but was changed to avoid confusion with the punk-rock band DOA (Dead On Arrival!). " That actually happened once," says Armstrong, "we were both playing in the same city and some people showed up expecting DOA, who were playing across town." Certainly, these two bands occupy the opposite ends of the musical spectrum.

Do'ah's music is as many-faceted as the many instruments they play. "Do'ah falls into a lot of categories. So what we've been able to do is cross over into many different markets…" explains Armstrong. "We've played in jazz festivals, we've been on fine arts series, we work at universities, and as a duo we've gone out on the folk circuit."

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From left to right: Ken LaRoche, Volker Nahrmann, Randy Armstrong, Marty Quinn

Indeed this writer's first contact with Do'ah was a duo back in 1982 playing on a stage literally filled with exotic instruments at the now legendary folk club The Folkway, in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Nowadays touring as a quartet, Do'ah; LaRoche, Armstrong, Quinn, and Narhmann, with the occasional addition of Jennison, travel with up to 75 instruments from the band's personal collection of over 400. Ken LaRoche can be found playing concert and alto flute, piano, synthesizer, soprano sax, North Indian bansri flutes, South African kalimba, mbira, and various percussion. Randy Armstrong performs on acoustic and classical guitars, West African balafon, talking drums, mandolin-harp, Japanese biwa, Chinese yueh-chin, sitar, Bolivian charango, and percussion. Marty plays on various exotic percussion and drums, with Volker Narhmann, a native of Germany, on acoustic and electric bass, cellos, and keyboards. These two can provide a tight, and at times even funky, rhythm section.

To sample Do'ah's music, pick any one of their five albums and your ears will be treated to a multi-cultural celebration of textures, rhythms, and voicings. Nowhere is this more evident than on their new album, World Dance, perhaps their most mature work yet. The album opens with "Wayo" which is actually getting a great deal of airplay and was used as background music on TV's "Entertainment Tonight." The song has a great flair for the dramatic hook, which you may find yourself humming afterwards. "Night Season" combines such widely removed instruments as the ceramic ocarina, acoustic guitar and synthesizer. The same goes for the poetically titled "Moth-Like Lovers of the Light." The difference with Do'ah is that its use of synthesizer is as Armstrong puts it, "purely atmospheric." When you hear an African balafon on a track, you can be sure it’s the real thing and not a sampled keyboard.

The centerpiece of the album where all the musicians really stretch out and show their mastery and skill is the album-sided composition "One World Symphony." A suite containing three movements, "World Dance," "19 Letters (19 beat Cycle)," and "The Awakening," featuring the word "Peace" sung in 39 languages and arranged by Marty Quinn.

Do'ah has one other thing going for it that similar bands found in the new age category don't - their music is extremely danceable. With what looks like a hit from the newest album, Do'ah is already in the studio working on the next. An extensive tour of the nation's colleges and universities is planned in 1990-91, and plans are underfoot for a possible European festival tour.

If you enjoy world music and have been looking for a group who plays powerful, optimistic, and danceable tunes, an investigation into Do'ah is definitely in order.