The 15 Best Global Music Albums
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The 15 Best Global Music Albums of 2011

The best global music albums of 2011 prove there’s energy surging everywhere around music, this human-made fight to find an approximation of the inexpressible.

The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble – Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff and Levon Eskenian [ECM]

The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble

Gurdjieff (d.1949) was an Armenian-born mystic and the solo piano pieces he co-composed with the Russian pianist Thomas de Hartmann had Armenian roots. Eskenian has bared those roots, turned the piano compositions into compositions for a group, and executed the results on Armenian folk instruments — everything very strong, very delicate, a cobweb ache with the subtle tensile power of the region’s brilliant liturgical music. The musicians of Taraf De Haïdouks tried something a little bit similar years ago, repossessing classical numbers (Béla Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances”, Aram Khachaturian’s “Lezghinka”) that’d been inspired by their Romany traditions, but the experiment was only half-successful. The journey from one cosmos to the other made them wobble. In the hands of the Ensemble, it’s more or less perfect.


The Jolly Boys featuring Albert Minott – Great Expectations [Geejam]

The Jolly Boys featuring Albert Minott - Great Expectations

With a combined age of something over 300 years, the Jolly Boys know a thing or two about how to make music. This album, their first with singer Albert Minott, is a masterful set of covers (plus a couple of originals) that signals the guys’ unwillingness to go gently into that good night of retirement. Metaphorically flipping the bird at anyone who thinks they’re too outdated to keep up with the cool kids, the mento stalwarts put their unique spin on Iggy Pop (“Nightclubbin'”), Lou Reed (“Perfect Day”), the Rolling Stones (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want”), and even Bobby Fuller by way of the Clash (“I Fought the Law”). A cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” is a highlight, but the record as a whole exudes such freshness and crusty energy that it’s a joy throughout. Think early reggae without the Rastafarian references and you’ll be close to the overall vibe. A terrific album for chilling out on a sunny afternoon, partying late at night, driving cross country, or just about any other time.


Mamani Keita – Gagner L’Argent Français [No Format]

Mamani Keita - Gagner L'Argent Francais

A Malian singer in Paris performing Euro-Mandinka trad-popular with kora, etc., is not going to win awards for originality in this post-Salif Keita world unless she does something radical. Mamani doesn’t, but, ow, this is a great flavor of the established idea — it might be just ice cream, but it’s exceptional ice cream, a really dense delicious ice cream, ice cream you’d be proud to go out with. You call your friends over to the truck — hey, try this ice cream! Long ago a former backup singer for Salif Keita, she rocks out like she’s in one of his large-scale live shows, taking a big, storming style and laying her voice on like pepper. French native Nicolas Repac backs her up with everything he’s got.


Amjad Ali Khan and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra – Samaagam [World Village]

Amjad Ali Khan and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra - Samaagam

The latest in a long line of hereditary sarod players from central India, Amjad Ali Khan received a come-here invite from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and together they made this concerto, an alert collaboration based around a series of ragas. The east and west classical registers meet and glimpse one another, borrowing ideas, knitting them up, and passing them regularly back ‘n’ forth for evaluation. Samaagam is a slow-burning album, full of detail and pattern — so detailed, in fact, that it seems slower than it actually is, in the way that an intricate picture slows time down when you stop and try to take in every part.


Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal – Chamber Music [No Format]

Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal - Chamber Music

A reflective album from a couple of virtuosos, Sissoko and Segal offer a set of kora and cello duets that manage to bring the nuances of each instrument to the fore without either player overpowering the other. Occasional flourishes of balafon and vocals add variety, but this record focuses squarely on the two maestros. As well it should: the thrumming “Oscarine” shows how perfectly suited these instruments are, at least in the hands of these musicians. Other standout tracks include the balafon-inflected “Houdesti,” while “Regret — A Kader Barry” enjoys the expressive contributions of vocalist Awa Sanagho. Forget the urgent dance rhythms of Afro-pop: this is contemplative music ideal for staring out the window at the rain.

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