The Best World Music of 2012

Deanne Sole, Matt Cibula, David Maine
The Toure-Raichel Collective

The end-of-the-year list! We think. We consider. We consider Ethiopians. We consider a lot of the world as well.

The end-of-the-year list! We think. We consider. One person likes one thing. Another person likes another thing. World Music Network proposes that we consider Ethiopians. I consider Ethiopians. I do not include any Ethiopians but it is a narrow miss. I like the Ethiopian brothers Nazarene and their Meditation, especially the part where they call their president a bloodsucking vampire parasite. They do it with such verve. But I deny them. The British world music magazine fRootssays that homegrown folk music featured heavily in their 2012 critics' polls because of the economic downturn. So much in music depends on the non-musical portions of the world. Lists are mutable. fRoots neglects the Ethiopians too. Ethiopia much neglected overall. Matt saves the Ethiopians. He likes Samuel Yirga and Guzo. Dave believes that The Tel Aviv Sessions by the Toure-Raichel Collective is the album of the year. I think that 2012 has not been a bad year for off-kilter music, the kind produced by people with a vision of themselves that is not quite regular. Sotho Sounds is one example. I have not included them either. I have not included most people. If I were a musician I probably would not even have included myself. "No, no," I would think. "Let an Ethiopian have her spot instead. Let it be those enthusiastic people from Dub Colossus with the two-tone shoes." Deanne Sole

Everything follows in alphabetical order by artist.


Artist: Amadou & Mariam

Album: Folila

Label: Nonesuch


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Amadou & Mariam

Malian superstars Amadou & Mariam release what is possibly their strongest set yet with 2012’s Folila, which sees the duo expanding their sonic territory with a host of inspired guest musicians. Santigold shows up on opener “Dougou Badia”, while gravel-throated Frenchman Bertrand Cantat offers his vocals in a quartet of songs. More important than the guests, though -- and there are several others -- is the fact that their contributions complement the music perfectly, never overshadowing the core duo’s own powerful singing (or Amadou’s dextrous guitar work). Wondering what mid-21st-century pop music might sound like? You’d do well to start by looking here. David Maine


Artist: Arnaldo Antunes/Edgard Scandurra/Toumani Diabaté

Album: A Curva da Cintura

Label: Mais Um Discos


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Arnaldo Antunes/Edgard Scandurra/Toumani Diabaté
A Curva da Cintura

There were a number of good international collaborations this year: While the Himalayans and Appalachians doing "Cluck Old Hen" on fiddle and sarangi was an interesting moment, and an inexperienced Mexican group even had a shot at the Congo, this three-way effort between Toumani Diabaté and two Brazilians (one rocker, one crooner) stands above all of them, proof that that radical freedom can come from extreme professionalism. The three musicians have three different ideas about what music should be and yet they never clash; instead they spice one another, they make the song turn a corner, they never seem to be struggling, nobody has to slow down or speed up -- problems that affected some of the other collaborations. Here, the three men chase their own notions, the rocker rocks, the kora ripples, and with effortless magic, they fit themselves together, one slotting into the other, neat as Russian dolls. Deanne Sole

Artist: C. Joynes and Stephanie Hladowski

Album: The Wild Wild Berry

Label: Bo'Weavil


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C. Joynes and Stephanie Hladowski
The Wild Wild Berry

This is an unfearing and bare-bones album with a weird and stirring fidelity to the original eccentricity of the songs it discovered on decades-old English field recordings. Lyrics strange as undoctored Grimms. A 15th-century carol in which the child Jesus shoots a group of bullies off to hell during a game and Mum spanks him with a branch. The branch subsequently cursed forever. The silvery ancient folk-warble has been incorporated into Hladowski's voice, the professional singer borrowing the way the amateur clamps down iron-clad onto a difficult syllable, the dead amateur singer respected, echoed, not filleted out, instead collaborated with, sympathetically felt. It's not only the lyrics they're keeping, and the tune, but it's also the scale. Distinctive, this, pub singing but uncanny. Deanne Sole


Artist: Debashish Bhattacharya

Album: Live in Calcutta

Label: Riverboat


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Debashish Bhattacharya
Live in Calcutta

I chose Calcutta for its all-over attention to improvised detail, this being one of those albums that repays quiet attentiveness and Debashish Bhattacharya being supreme on his adapted-to-India slide guitar. The partnership between himself and Subhasis Bhattacharjee on the tabla is especially tight, the embroidery expertly measured out -- the pickety squeaking near the end of track two being so unexpected -- and the quiet moments expertly portioned -- those moments of tense sitaresque spangly zumm. The last track finishes off an evening of alaapsand raga-parts with a dive into "Nature Boy", the set-up being so incredibly simple and everything seeming so fresh and just-invented: a lot being done with a little. Can also be found as a bonus CD with The Rough Guide to the Music of India. Deanne Sole


Artist: Kinky

Album: Sueño de la Máquina

Label: Nacional


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Sueño de la Máquina

In our time of greatest need, Monterrey’s dance-rock titans delivered their best album, a straight-ahead set of smart electro-pop with big fat guitars and the finest drummer around. A lot of these songs don’t end up where they start, twisting and turning and shape-shifting in a way that we haven’t really seen from Kinky. “Tripolar” seems to sample about 16 beats and styles, but hangs together against all odds. But when they put their heads down and charge, like on the '80s-inflected “Perfecta” or the galloping “Alma de Néon”, this band is a hard-assed rhinoceros and you really don’t have a lot of choice about whether you feel like shaking your culo or not. (Bonus points for the fake phone call and the video game noises in “Back in 1999”.) Matt Cibula

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