Best Global Albums of 2021
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The 10 Best Global Music Albums of 2021

In talking about music as global, it’s critical to understand movement as a part of it. The albums on this list are all products of global musical encounters.

5 Gájanas – Čihkkojuvvon [Bafe’s Factory]

The joik tradition of the Sámi people indigenous to largely subarctic regions of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and the Kola Peninsula has long found its way into projects of local politics and so-called world music alike. Four-piece Gájanas, based in northern Finland, combine it with prog-rock on debut album Čihkkojuvvon. Firmly planted in a dynamic present, the group combines song, joik, and nature-inspired lyrics with heavy instrumental solos and complex melodic structures.

Frontwoman Hildá Länsman builds from lullaby-soft to near-growling and back again throughout the album, her melismatic vocals soaring alongside Nicholas Francett’s wailing guitar lines on “Almmi dolat”, rooted by cello and Erkki Feodoroff’s bass on “Diamántadulvvit”, and always supported by Kevin Francett’s bombastic drumming. Ending on a buoyant note with “Vuolgge muinna”, this is a richly textured album that moves through moments of serenity and ferocity with equal purpose. The whole mix is energized by the band’s youth and the traditions they bear.

4 Yndi – Noir Brésil [Nascimento/Grand Musique]

Yndi - Noir Bresil

Based in Berlin, raised in Paris, and with roots in Brazil, Yndi Ferreira draws on her past, present, and future in creating the luscious soundscape of Noir Brésil. This electropop fantasy is the artist’s first album under her own mononym. Yndi combines Afro-Brazilian-influenced percussion, mellow guitar, dramatic piano, streamlined electronics, and her winsome voice, an especially vulnerable instrument that serves as the album’s poignant emotional core from start to finish and anchors Noir Brésil’s moody pop.

Self-produced, it nonetheless feels expensive, extravagant, huge; it has an atmosphere on a planetary scale and inescapable thematic and sonic gravity. By melding together sonic palettes from her ancestral lineage and her direct personal experience, Yndi makes fresh and inimitable music, all her own, no matter how nostalgic and familiar the sounds might be to her audiences. Poetic, sometimes primordial, and always passionate, Noir Brésil stands out as a dynamic and borderline spiritual work of pop music and signals great things ahead for Yndi as she continues down this promising and complex new leg of her journey.

3 Kasai Allstars – Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound [Crammed Discs]

Kasai Allstars – Black Ants Always Fly Together

Seventeen years have passed since the start of Crammed Discs’ eclectic Congotronics series, a set of albums primarily by Congolese artists united under the loose and self-explanatory local category of tradi-moderne. On Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound, the series undergoes a welcome change as Kasai Allstars’ Mopero Mupemba takes the production helm to craft the series’ most modern installation to date. The 25-piece group builds on foundations of folkloric performance traditions of the Kasai region, the polyrhythms hitting as tightly as ever, but this time, contemporary pop bounce gives the group new color and life. Jubilant vocals and a range of DIY electronic and acoustic beats and instruments—cyclical guitars, plugged-in mbira—maintain a collaborative ethos that centers the whole group in the creative process rather than adapting them to the supposed tastes of an outside audience. This is a new listening experience for the Congotronics series: exciting, angular, insider-focused, and brilliantly inventive.

2 Joseph Ray and Lakou Mizik – Leave the Bones [Anjunadeep]

Joseph Ray and Lakou Mizik – Leave the Bones

The sounds of multi-generational ensemble Lakou Mizik’s mizik rasin—Haitian roots music—gain new resonance with the help of electronic producer Joseph Ray, whom the group sought out after meeting him at one of their shows. Together, they have broadened each other’s worldview, with Ray’s initial hopes of sampling them for later use transformed into a much more equal partnership that allows Lakou Mizik to be heard in full. The selections on Leave the Bones are atmospheric takes on the band’s enlivening group sounds and let the group’s many voices and polyrhythms come forth robust and resonant amid ethereal, echoing ambience. Ray opens the path for his collaborators rather than burying them in gimmicks or extracting them in bits and pieces, and the result is spiritually fortifying and sonically brilliant. Rara dance, protest chants, and other expressions of spirituality and culture fill each track on Leave the Bones, an unprecedented new addition to the contemporary rasin canon.

1 Yat-Kha – We Will Never Die [The Lollipoppe Shoppe]

Yat-Kha – We Will Never Die

We Will Never Die opens with Albert Kuvezin strumming a Delta blues-style guitar flourish and singing with a guttural growl, two essential elements of Yat-Kha’s Tuvan folk-meets-raw rock style. Soon, they’re joined by a third: Sholban Mongush’s horsehead igil, a heavenly drone that grounds “Kongurgai” firmly in the mountains and plains of southeastern Siberia. As Kuvezin breaks into a loping triple meter and lets loose with his roaring kanzat kargyraa – a particularly deep form of throat-singing that brings to mind Tom Waits – he fills the vast sonic landscape. Yat-Kha is riding again.

We Will Never Die is the first new studio album from the Tuvan iconoclasts in 11 years. It’s Yat-Kha at its most stripped-down, Kuvezin and Mongush in melancholy combination, and it’s a resounding success. Laid bare, Yat-Kha’s sound today rivals even the best of its work: the tightness of Yenisei-Punk, the intrigue of tuva.rock, the subdued beauty of Dalai Beldiri. The instruments are fresh, and Kuvezin’s voice is still untouchable. This is a breathtakingly beautiful product of isolation that draws on a myriad of influences from across the artistic spectrum—covers of “Solitude” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and an Osip Mandelstam poem round out the album’s tracklisting—all while fulfilling the album’s titular promise: Yat-Kha endures.