a little different this year. Rather than a simple
list, a brief description of our favorite global music
of the year. Albums that had more than a couple songs
we liked, and that we returned to week after week
for airplay or our own enjoyment. We think they'll
bring you enjoyment too. Click on any album name for
more info/song samples.
I'll start with one of the best party albums of the
year, Mahala Rai Banda's Ghetto
Blasters. Giving us perhaps the
best party album of the year, the group's name literally
means "Noble Band from the Ghetto," but
their ghetto music isn't like our ghetto music. Blistering
Balkan speed brass that'll get your heart pumping
and your feet dancing. A very different offering with
roots in Eastern Europe comes from Georgian-rooted
group The Shin. The album Black
Sea Fire shows off their instrumental
and melodic prowess, a sophisticated music that contains
elements of both jazz and Gypsy music, but nothing
like Django Reinhardt. Moving farther west, we get
to Basque group Oreka Tx and their
little known instrument the txalaparta. As the album
Tx implies, this is a traveling,
nomadic album (and companion DVD) in which they travel
to remote lands and make new txalaparta from materials
at hand -- including wood, stone, and ice -- and then
collaborate with local musicians.
Bela Fleck isn't African, but he
created one of the best African albums of the year
Down Your Heart. A collaboration
with African artists ranging from Tanzanian musical
legend Hukwe Zawose to Afel Bocoum, Vusi Mahlasela,
D'Gary, and Oumou Sangare. Bela contributes modestly
on this album, which in its own modest way is as interesting
and exploratory as Paul Simon's Graceland. From Congo,
I'm adding Staff Benda Bilili for
their album Tres
Tres Fort. This is no sympathy vote:
The group's members may be disabled musicians who
roam the area around Kinshasha's zoo in improvised
tricycles, but they're fully able in the area of musical
skills. And the one-stringed "guitar" solos
have to be heard to be believed. Malagasy singer Seheno
was the very latest addition to this list with her
stunning debut album KA,
a sparkling blend of Malagasy rhythms and singing
with jazz, blues, Indian instruments, and more --
all fronted by a woman with a voice to rival Angelique
Kidjo. Finally, we have to add Ba Cissoko's
to this list. I initially struggled to accept Kouyate's
effects-laden kora sound as authentically African.
But in their decade together, the core quartet of
Cissoko (kora), Sekou Kouyate (electric kora), Ibrahima
Kourou Kouyate (bass), and Ibrahim "Kounkoure"
Bah (percussion) have incorporated influences both
old and new and in doing so they've created something
of a new genre that is distinctly African, and distinctly
modern. Whether you call it kora-rock, or Afro-rock,
or electric griot, it's fantastic.
Is Dengue Fever a rock band
or a world-music band? Does it matter? Their music
is infectious, and the documentary film following
the 2005 trip to Cambodia from which the songs on
their album Sleepwalking
Through the Mekong are taken shows
musicians interacting humbly, playfully, and respectfully
with various Cambodian musicians and others they encounter.
The album includes Dengue Fever tracks, collaborations
with Cambodian musicians, and some classic Ethiopian
recordings that show the roots of their modern sound.
South in New Zealand, Moana & The Tribe
brought us another album of empowering Maori music
The famous Maori haka makes several virile appearances
on the album, most notably on "Te Apo,"
which addresses the greed at the heart of many global
trade agreements and includes sounds from the street
protests at the 2006 WTO conference in Hong Kong.
Great conscious music and songwriting that shows a
more mature side of bandleader Moana Maniapoto.
Representing both the north and the south, the Brazilian-NYC
group Forro in the Dark brightened
things up with Light
a Candle, featuring tunes based
(at least loosely) on Brazilian forro dance music,
great music, including breathless flute and incessant
triangle paired with electric guitar. A couple of
songs in quirky but endearing English are included
alongside the great retro rocker, "Perro Loco"
and some other more forro-flavored tunes.
now I'll give you a list. Following are some other
great albums that didn't quite make the cut to be
included above (some by the slightest of margins.
These round out our Top 20 favorites of 2009:
Larry McDonald: Drumquestra
Madera Limpia: La
Ye Dede: Freedom
Fanfare Ciocarlia: Live
Oumou Sangare: Seya
Boban i Marko Markovic: Devla
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: I
Justin Adams & Juldeh Camara: Tell
a few more favorite selections in various categories:
Mulatu Astatke: New
York - Addis - London: The story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou: The
Vodoun Effect-Funk & Sato From Benin's Obscure
Revolution Present Revolution
Ziggy Marley: Family
was a great year for global music. But you can see
that. Thanks for reading, and listening.
Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media