The Best World Music of 2010

by Richard Elliott, David Maine, and Deanne Sole

15 December 2010

 

Konono No. 1 to Various Artists


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Konono No. 1

Assume Crash Position

(Crammed Discs)
US: 8 Jun 2010
UK: 17 May 2010

Review [9.Jun.2010]
Konono No. 1
Assume Crash Position

Assume Crash Position was abrasive, brilliant proof that Congolese trance masters Konono No. 1 were not to be classed as a temporary hip trend, but that theirs was a sustained and grounded aesthetic that predated and superseded comparisons with European experimental rock, trance, and electronica artists. Papa Mingiedi’s group has been honing its unique take on bazombo trance music for around four decades. Here, Mingiedi explores the extent of that history, delving into numbers performed by the first incarnation of the band and also slyly employing the talents of a young Konono tribute band from Kinshasa who mimic the distinctive distorted likembé sound with electric guitars. Highlights abounded—from the epic likembé-and-drum workouts “Wumbanzanga” and “Konono Wa Wa Wa” to the praise song “Makembe” and the closing track “Nakobala Lisusu Te”, a meditative solo performance by Mingiedi. Richard Elliott

 

 


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Lula Pena

Troubadour

(Mbari)
US: Import
UK: Import

Lula Pena
Troubadour

2010 proved to be another successful year for Portuguese fado and its derivatives. The fourth album by the brilliant young fadista Ana Moura received international distribution, while the second album by Deolinda was met with only marginally less acclaim than the group’s debut. But the real surprise came with the long-awaited follow-up to singer-guitarist Lula Pena’s classic 1998 album [phados]. Troubadour followed closely in its predecessor’s footsteps, offering up a stark, haunted take on fado that took in Portuguese folk music, French chanson, Latin American nueva canción and Anglo-American pop, all stripped down to the wood. Over seven longish “Acts”, Pena wove fragments from other writers into her own songs, using voice, guitar, and silence to mesmeric effect. Her take on the Amália Rodrigues classic “Fado de Cada Um” is startling, as is the closing number that mixes two distinctly non-fado songs, Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy” and Mirah’s “Pollen”. Richard Elliott

 

 


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Rana Santacruz

Chicavasco

(Oasis)
US: 17 Nov 2009
UK: Import

Review [19.May.2010]
Rana Santacruz
Chicavasco

I was at a Thanksgiving dinner when one member of the family told me that another member of the family played musical instruments. “What kind of instrument does he play?,” I asked. “The piano,” she said. “And the accordion.” She laughed. “Who plays the accordion anymore!” Oh! I thought. Like Rana Santacruz! Mexican by birth, now based in New York City, Santacruz plays the accordion in a style you could call international indie folk-rock, or something equally vague. There’s some Mexican in there, some U.S. country, something like a sea shanty, all done with the odd tenacious thin-tough quality of Zach Condon’s Beirut. The publicity looks on him as a kind of Sign, a sign that the ethnic makeup of the U.S. is changing, something unique to the northern Melting Pot, but you could probably go to various parts of Latin America and find similar noises. He’s just very good at it. Deanne Sole

 

 


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Omar Souleyman

Jazeera Nights

(Sublime Frequencies)
US: 11 May 2010
UK: 10 May 2010

Review [15.Dec.2010]
Omar Souleyman
Jazeera Nights

This is the third collection of recordings from the Syrian dabke master released by maverick U.S. world music label Sublime Frequencies. The sound is as startling as ever, as Souleyman’s voice—veering between assertive bark and romantic yearning—is mixed with the “Arabic-modified synthesizers” of Rizan Sa’id. Instrumentation and vocals root us in the Levant, but the music takes us on cosmic explorations that leave us with a sense of distance from the music’s source, a feeling underlined by the hissy, tinny sound of many of the recordings, gathered from 15 years of Souleyman cassette releases. The beat invariably wins through, urging us to shut up and dance even as Souleyman is singing about tattooed Bedouin women and tears that will make stones cry. Richard Elliott

 

 


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Carmen Souza

Protegid

(Galileo MC)
US: 8 Jul 2010
UK: Import

Review [7.Jul.2010]
Carmen Souza
Protegid

If Cesaria Evora is morna‘s great international traditionalist, then Carmen Souza deserves consideration as its up-and-coming innovator. On this album, which fuses old-style Cape Verdean lament with Ella Fitzgeraldean jazz, she sings as if every syllable deserves its own complex personality. The fusion is smart, and the delivery has soul—soul and warmth. Protegid is an album of terrific unbarred warmth. Deanne Sole

 

 


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Vieux Farka Toure

Live

(Six Degrees)
US: 29 Jun 2010
UK: 29 Nov 2010

Vieux Farka Toure
Live

It’s a little rough in spots, as befits a live album, but boy can this fellow play. Fusing traditional African instrumentation and rhythms with a red-hot guitar sensibility, Vieux has moved firmly past his father’s towering shadow. Yes, the album relies a little too heavily on 2009’s Fondo, culling the lion’s share of its tracks from that album; but the energy bursting through is fairly irresistible, as is the fluid guitar and kora work and the dancing, polyrhythmic percussion. And when he tears into “Walaidu”, a highlight from his dad’s landmark Talking Timbuktu collaboration with Ry Cooder, the experience becomes transcendent. David Maine

 

 


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Various Artists

Egypt Noir

(Piranha)
US: 11 May 2010
UK: Import

Review [15.Sep.2010]
Various Artists
Egypt Noir

There have been so many reissues of great music this year, I felt justified in including this one, a truly magnificent sampling of sub-Saharan Nubian musicians working an Afro-Arab fusion of styles in the 1970s. Different from your expected Afro-pop, it isn’t precisely Middle Eastern music either—although that flavor is certainly strong. Highlights include Ali Hassan Kuban’s lively “Bettitogor Agil” and the funky harmonica and wah-wah guitar of Alnubia Band’s “Kobana”. Soft, breathy vocals from Salwa Abou Greisha alternate with plucked oud lines on “Galbi El Atouf” before the song breaks into a soft, insistent shuffle as unexpected as it is captivating. David Maine

 

 


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Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Desert Blues

(World Music Network)
US: 10 Aug 2010
UK: 26 Jul 2010

Review [18.Nov.2010]
Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Desert Blues

Another compilation, though this one at least is concerned with a musical movement that is very much contemporary. Ever since Tinariwen burst into the world’s musical consciousness a few years ago, interest has mounted in other bands that plow similar musical ground. This compilation is a fine place to start for anyone looking to explore the music of western Africa, particularly the arid climes of Mali, Mauritania, and Western Sahara. Featuring “Tenhert”, one of the strongest tracks from Tinariwen’s latest album, as well as contributions from Tinariwen alums Terkaft, the Rough Guide is truly a revelation in its lesser-known contributors such as Mariam Hassan and Malouma, both of whom deliver standout cuts featuring gale-force vocals. The album includes an entire bonus disc featuring a 2008 album from the excellent Etran Finatawa, who also released a new album this year. David Maine

 

 

 


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Various Artists

Shangaan Electro

(Honest Jon’s)
US: 6 Jul 2010
UK: 12 Jul 2010

Various Artists
Shangaan Electro

Shangaan electro is a form of dance music popular among the Shangaan people who live between southern Mozambique and the South African provinces of Limpopo and Johannesburg. It’s characterized by the combination of hyper-fast beats (180 bpm on average), warped electro instrumentation that places a strong emphasis on sampled marimba, and slower-paced traditional elements such as chanting and hand claps. This mixing of temporal registers makes the music weird and compelling and provides one of the most distinctive styles around. This typically excellent compilation from Honest Jon’s gathers material from Tiyiselani Vomaseve (traditional Shangaan music with “marimba bass”), Nka Mwewe (township choruses with frantic, dance-oriented beats), the mask-wearing Tshetsha Boys (bizarre costumes, frighteningly fast dance moves, infectious chorus lines), and others involved in the Shangaan scene. Richard Elliott

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