Best Global Music Albums of 2022
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The 10 Best Global Music Albums of 2022

The best global music albums demonstrate how much art comes specifically from connections between people and the importance of the places they bring with them.


Oumou Sangaré
(World Circuit)

True blues reign supreme on Timbuktu, the latest album from renowned artist, activist, and entrepreneur Oumou Sangaré. Accompanied by longtime collaborator Mamadou Sidibé on ngoni and Delgrès frontman Pascal Danaë on dobro and slide guitar, Sangaré is as high-spirited as ever. Danaë’s wailing strings, the album’s first growling sounds on the opening track “Wassulu Don”, make for a powerful complement to Sangaré’s commanding vocals as she sings out love songs and anthems of empowerment and social justice.

Not a sound is wasted here; the simplicity of the instrumentation allows for complex displays of musical virtuosity from Sangaré, Sidibé, Danaë, and the occasional guest (Balla Kouyaté’s lively balafon drives “Kêlê Magni” forward at a pace both smooth and hectic). As always, Sangaré reigns over a diverse palette in terms of moods and themes. “Sira” soars, “Degui N’Kelena” ponders, “Gniani Sara” walks with heavy tread… the list goes on, and colorfully. That’s the case for most things Oumou Sangaré does, and in Timbuktu, it’s clear that the years only make her stronger.


(City Slang)

Kel Tamasheq group Imarhan continue to rise to the top of contemporary tichoumaren with the brilliant 2022 release Aboogi. Named for the studio the band recently finished constructing in their hometown of Tamanrasset, Algeria, Aboogi has its share of international guest artists—Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys, Tinariwen’s Japonais and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, singer Sulafa Elyas, and French Gnawa musician Marco Ngoni—but ultimately puts Imarhan front-and-center. Interweaving guitar lines, clearly and brilliantly executed, make for subtly brilliant textures.

The tender strength of lead singer Sadam’s voice adds a particular poignancy to each carefully produced track. He delivers gorgeous ballads of love, war, and community alongside epic tales based on folk themes and stories, always to gorgeous effect. Imarhan, though, is at its core a group effort, and it’s the warmth that comes from layers and harmonies that makes Aboogi so breathtaking. From the tragically allegorical “Achinkad” to the plaintive yearning of “Asof” and lilting finale “Adar Newlan”, Imarhan continues to make elegant music with nimble hands and throats on Aboogi.


Pierre Kwenders
José Louis and the Paradox of Love
(Arts & Crafts)

Born in Kinshasa and long based in Montréal, the artist known as Pierre Kwenders opens his heart to build a vast world on José Louis and the Paradox of Love. It’s an unfailingly catchy album full of thoughtful tributes: spacey dance track “Liberté Égalité Sagacité” and “Coupé” both invoke late Ivorian coupé-décalé artist Douk Saga; warm and brassy “Papa Wemba” is named for the late Congolese rumba rock pioneer. Even Kwenders’ stage name is an homage, specifically to his grandfather.

He speaks volumes about his roots through stylistic and collaborative choices, as well, gliding between Lingala, French, English, Shiluba, and Kikongo language lyrics in tracks that layer synthpop, EDM, rumba, jazz, and R&B in luscious and intricate compositions that feature talented artists like Medearis “MD” Dixon on saxophone, Chimurenga Renaissance members Tendai Maraire and Hussein Kalonji, and velvet-throated vocalists Ngabo, Sônge, and Anaiis. José Louis is nothing if not polished, and yet a spirit of play and experimentation triumphs throughout, the key to going beyond the clinical label of producer to become a true artist.


Gogi Dzodzuashvili and Mzia Arabuli
Ias Utkharit
(CES Records)

Over the last 21 years, electronic musician Gogi Dzodzuahsvili and actress Mzia Arabuli have repeatedly collided, putting together music with one foot in Georgia’s folkloric past and one in its synth-driven future. On Ias Utkharit, we hear some of the results as the unlikely duo of Tbilisi-based performers make their distinct sounds in precarious tandem. Arabuli’s voice is a fine mist over Dzodzuashvili’s often-restless keys and beats, a striking combination that allows them to pull folk songs, pagan and Christian ritual texts, and classic poems into dizzying, pointillistic swirls.

“Dideba” goes from a Christmas hymn to a cinematic chase, while “Erta Chita” is a Minotaur Shock-esque take on a lullaby. They also create zero-gravity chillout tracks; “Vepkhi da Mokme” is a particularly stunning blend of trip-hop and slowed-down surf guitar. Though sharply contrasting on the surface, Dzodzuashvili and Arabuli turn out to be good for each other. The latter’s honeyed voice runs in winding loops through the former’s scenes of pulsing ambience, and the soundscapes that emerge are visionary.


Vieux Farka Touré et Khruangbin
(Dead Oceans)

He may be the son of one of Mali’s most globally well-known artists, but Vieux Farka Touré has more than made his own way in the musical world, frequently collaborating with artists of all styles and origins. This year, he released two stellar albums, both of which deserve to be on year-end lists. What puts Ali over the top is its emphasis on connection. Here, Vieux teams up with Houston psych rock trio Khruangbin to cover eleven of father Ali Farka Touré’s blues-tinged compositions, each selected by one of Ali’s children. They are masterful renditions. Vieux’s guitar sings with an unparalleled voice, as vital a being as any other ensemble member. Khruangbin lays down a warm and dubby atmosphere on guitar, bass, and drums, effortlessly chic as they usher Vieux forward to take his father’s music to different planes of sonic reality. Boundaries of time, place, generation, and genre fall to their knees in the rapturous tunes of Ali.


Congotronics International
Where’s the One?
(Crammed Discs)

If last year’s Kasai Allstars album proved that Crammed Discs’ Congotronics series is capable of meaningful growth, Where’s the One? serves as a reminder that there’s always been an immense vision at its core. Put together from decade-old live and studio recordings and painstakingly tweaked to perfection, the tracks on Where’s the One? walk a fine line between chaotic jumble and cosmic assemblage. Ultimately, it might be a little bit of both—in the best possible way.

The Congotronics International cast reads like an experimental indie rock supergroup, featuring Konono No.1, Kasai Allstars, Deerhoof, Juana Molina, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, and Skeletons’ Matt Mehlan, and sounds like everything that entails. The sounds of Congolese tradi-moderne rock sit at the eye of a hurricane of phenomenal DIY musicianship. On Where’s the One?, in sync means being in constant motion and not knowing exactly where, when, or if things are going to end, and on this ride, that’s positively thrilling.