the-best-world-music-of-2015
Cienpies Design. Via Shutterstock.

The Best World Music of 2015

Selections from Brazil, Cuba, Gaza, Mali, and Romania, highlight this list compiled by five enthusiastic world music writers.

This year I’ve enlisted some writers from beyond the PopMatters universe to compile our best-of list: Cliff Furnald, founder and editor of Rootsworld, the online world music magazine, and two regular Rootsworld contributors, Lee Blackstone and Michael Stone. Michal Shapiro is a New York-based videographer who regularly covers international acts. She contributes not album reviews but videos of three memorable performances from the past year.

Our album picks cover Brazil, Cuba, Cyprus, Gaza, Italy, Mali, Romania, Occitania (southern France), Estonia, and Canada. They demonstrate world music’s “glocality” ― though rooted in particular local idioms (southern Italian pizzica; Cypriot folk music), the recordings also incorporate elements from other traditions and genres (Subcarpaţi’s mix of hiphop, techno, and Romanian folk.) Politics figure strongly in a number of the selections (the “electronic intifada” of the Palestinian collective, Checkpoint 303; the protest songs of Italy’s Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino).

Michal Shapiro’s camera captured New York appearances by Tunisian vocalist Emel Mathlouthi at GlobalFEST 2015 and the Guinean-Canadian duo Fula Flute, at the Jazz Journalists Association Awards 2015 held at the Blue Note jazz club. From Budapest, Shapiro brings us Belem, the folk-fusion duo of Didier Laloy and Kathy Adam, at the WOMEX festival.

Furnald, Stone, and Blackstone each have chosen three albums; my pick rounds out our top ten. The list is in alphabetical order according to the performer’s name, followed by links to Shapiro’s videos. — George de Stefano

 

Artist: Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino

Album: Quaranta

Label: Ponderosa

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/c/canzoniere-grecanico-salentino-album-2015-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino
Quaranta

The past year was a landmark one for Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino (aka CGS), a band from the Salento peninsula of Italy’s southern Puglia region. The road-tested ensemble has attracted a devoted following far beyond their home base, thrilling audiences throughout Italy, Europe, North America, and Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) with their up-to-date take on pizzica tarantata, a centuries-old folk form that originally was a ritual healing music. The band was founded in 1975 by singer-songwriter Daniele Durante and his cousin Rina; Daniele’s son Mauro, a virtuoso violinist and percussionist, heads the current edition. Quaranta (40) acknowledges the band’s history while the American folk/world music producer Ian Brennan leads them in some new directions. There’s less pizzica than on its predecessor, Pizzica Indiavolata and more contemporary folk music and folk-derived material; there even are Appalachian echoes (“Pu e to rodo t’orio”). Just as noteworthy is the album’s political stance, with protest songs that take on environmental destruction, unemployment and poverty, and immigration, past and present. With Quaranta, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino has made an outstanding album that feels both of the moment and timeless. — George de Stefano

 

Artist: Checkpoint 303

Album: The Iqrit Files

Label: Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/c/checkpoint-303-album-2015-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Checkpoint 303
The Iqrit Files

An electronic Intifada is the logical—perhaps inevitable—product of Gaza’s effective incarceration, where children can distinguish the sounds of different types of tanks, warplanes, mere surveillance drones, and those armed with deadly missiles. Yet an unrelenting seven-decade assault on Palestinian identity, livelihood, dignity, and human rights has not quelled the creative spirit. Checkpoint 303 is a popular collective whose The Iqrit Files concerns the 1948 evacuation and destruction of the Palestinian village Iqrit, and descendants’ efforts to return. It combines field recordings, radio broadcast clips, ambient sound, Jawaher Shofani and Wardeh Sbeit’s ritual Upper Galilee singing, and Jihad Sbeit’s poetry, blended with samples, including Eleanor Roosevelt reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN roll call vote making it international law (“In 1948”); Nelson Mandela’s 1990 prison-release interview (“A’ataba”); a 1980 Bob Marley interview (“I Climbed the Top of the Mountain”); a military checkpoint’s menacing sounds (“Road to Jerusalem”); and demonstrators’ chanting return to Iqrit to bury their dead: “They do not accept us living there, but we are still allowed to die there.” — Michael Stone

 

Artist: Dupain

Album: Sòrga

Label: Buda Musique

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/d/dupain-album-2015-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Dupain
Sòrga

A decade after the stunning Les Vivants, Dupain return with Sòrga, an album inspired by a book of poetry published in 1958 by the Parisian and Occitan scholar, Maxence Bernheim de Villers. Lead singer Sam Karpienia has always rooted the band in Occitan, a southern European (southern France, Monaco, and smaller parts of Italy and Spain) linguistic culture dating back to the Middle Ages. Dupain’s sound is built around Karpienia (vocals and mandolin), Pierre-Laurent Bertolino (hurdy-gurdy), Gurvant Le Gac (flutes), Emmanuel Reymond (bass), and Francois Rossi (drums). Arabic and other Mediterranean influences mix with Dupain’s reading of Bernheim’s poetry, the flutes lacing themselves around dense hurdy-gurdy drones. The sound is both complex and spacious. “La Sòrga” and “Vagant Trepaire” show Dupain’s ability to settle into a groove while highlighting Occitanian expressiveness. Sòrga is dizzyingly spiritual, acoustic music, played with real passion. — Lee Blackstone

 

Artist: The Henrys

Album: Quiet Industry

Label: Artist release (www.thehenrys.ca )

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/h/henrys-album-2015-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

The Henrys
Quiet Industry

Guitarist Don Rooke has been the driving force behind bands that almost no one has heard of since the Henrys were conceived in Toronto in 1990. This despite critical acclaim for almost every project he has laid hand upon string to create. His primary tool is a kona resonator guitar that lends so much of the music a warm, humane feel, whether it is strummed, plucked, hammered or slid upon. Although the Henrys are mostly known as an instrumental ensemble that occasionally uses voices (Mary Margaret O’Hara being one of the more noted contributors), Rooke began delving deeper into lyrics in recent years, and Quiet Industry is a project conceived for words. It has a remarkable singer, Gregory Hoskins, to deliver them. Hoskins has a wonderful range and a fragile delivery that makes some of the songs seem like eggshells about to break. With an ensemble of prepared piano, violin, pump organs, bass and drums, Rooke and company find sly humor and anguished poetry in an hommage to folk, blues and jazz sensibilities and at times, a loving satire of pop music. The Henrys are the tycoons of a Quiet Industry that produces sublime tapestries and sturdy widgets of the most elusive kind. — Cliff Furnald

 

Artist: Kandia Kouyaté

Album: Renascence

Label: Stern’s Africa

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/k/kandia-kouyate-album-2015-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Kandia Kouyaté
Renascence

Malian vocalist Kandia Kouyaté spent years in musical exile after a stroke in 2004, but when legendary producer Ibrahima Sylla convinced her the time was ripe to come back to her music, she reluctantly agreed. In spite of Sylla’s death in 2013, in the midst of the recording process, we were graced with her Renascence this year, and it is an epic return to form for the singer who had become known as “La Dangereuse” for the spell she could cast on an audience. Recorded in Africa and Europe, this album highlights all that is potent in both the music of jeliya and in the voice of one of its great jelimuso, offering both traditional landscapes and modern enhancements that bring immediacy to her work in the 21st century. — Cliff Furnald

 

Artist: Monsieur Doumani

Album: Sikoses

Label: Artist release (www.monsieurdoumani.com)

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/m/monsieur-doumani-album-2015-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Monsieur Doumani
Sikoses

This Cypriot trio of Antonis Antonious (tzouras, a relative of the bouzouki), Angelos Ionas (guitar), and Demetris Yiasemides (flute and trombone) came out of nowhere in 2013 with a raw, homespun recording called Grippy Grappy. Their mix of humor, politics and musicianship made them an immediate favorite. I feared that their sudden popularity among critics and the music literati might have made their 2015 follow up one of those over-produced, guest-laden, mid-size label affairs that mar many a band’s career. Instead, they came through with Sikoses, an album every bit as political and humorous, and full of the same reckless abandon that made the first recording so compelling. They add a few touches of electronics here and there, some punk and jazz references, but overall, it still has the feel of local street musicians on a mission to make the folk music of Cyprus relevant in the 21st century. — Cliff Furnald

Part Two

Artist: Tiganá Santana

Album: Tempo & Magma

Label: Ajabu!

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/t/tigan-santana-album-2015-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Tiganá Santana
Ajabu!

Born in Salvador, Bahia, Tiganá Santana is a poet-composer who is immersed in the Congo-Angola-Bantu roots of Afro-Brazilian spirituality and expressive culture. Playing a distinctive five-string violão-tambor (“drum-guitar”), possessing a spellbinding voice, Santana won a UNESCO artistic residency that took him to Senegal, culminating in the Dakar session of Tempo & Magma his third release. Among Santana’s collaborators is Mãe Stella de Oxossi, nonagenarian priestess of Candomblé, and popular singer Céu, in work that embraces the hemispheric breadth and depth of the African Diaspora. The recording’s sparseness entails a delicate interplay between his extraordinary vocal expressivity and a restrained underpinning of Brazilian and West African call-and-response singing and instrumentation. This mesmerizing work leads listeners into a sublime abode where music and spirituality converge, tracing humanity’s primeval roving across the African continent and far beyond. — Michael Stone

 

Artist: Omar Sosa Quarteto AfroCubano

Album: Ilé

Label: Otá

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/o/omar-sosa-album-2015-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Omar Sosa Quarteto AfroCubano
Ilé

Cuban pianist-composer-bandleader Omar Sosa remains deeply rooted in Cuba’s Lucumí spiritual tradition, from which comes his new album’s title, Ilé, home, earth. Sosa’s artistry reflects a joyous freedom and meditative temperament, heard in the complex sonic layering and profound humanity that is his signature on record and in person. Here Sosa is literally at home with fellow Camagüey conservatory mates Leandro Saint-Hill (alto and soprano saxes, flute, clarinet, vocals) and Ernesto Simpson (drums, kalimba, vocals), buoyed also by a long partnership with Mozambique’s Childo Tomas (electric bass, kalimba, vocals). This tight and versatile quartet interweaves idioms from across the globe without ever a hint of the derivative, a swinging sense of home in a wondrous universe of musical curiosity. Ilé conveys a deep feeling of longing, a swirling sense of eternal change in an immaculate voicing of Cuban, Spanish, and African Diaspora influences — product of a vexed transatlantic history in all its paradoxical outcomes, past into present. llé projects a delicate, true-north, world-jazz sensibility, a lightness of being-in-music beyond category, if not beyond time itself. — Michael Stone

 

Artist: Subcarpaţi

Album: Pielea de gaina

and

Culese din Cartier Prezinta Argatu’ Vol. III

Label: Artist release (http://subcarpati.com/)

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/s/subcarpati-album-2015-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Subcarpaţi
Pielea de gaina

Subcarpaţi are nothing less than a Romanian phenomenon. Organized around MC Bean, Alexe Marius Andrei, and DJ Limun, Subcarpaţi have evolved into a collective that delves deep into Romanian folk tunes and marries them with a myriad of electronic forms. Subcarpaţi are much more than a hip-hop crew: ambient sounds, dubstep, and Detroit techno are organically folded around traditional instruments. Pielea da gaina (roughly, Goosebumps) is a masterwork that utilizes plenty of Romanian doina, a melancholic, hypnotic music. Culese din Cartier (Around the Neighborhood) is a Subcarpaţi side project that samples well-known Romanian and Roma songs in experimental sound settings. Prezinta Argatu’ Volume III is a deep and dark adventure, with terrific vocals and cimbalom floating over beats derived from the rhythms of traditional music. All of Subcarpaţi’s music is downloadable from their website, http://subcarpati.com/. — Lee Blackstone

 

Artist: Trad. Attack!

Album: AH!

Label: Nordic Notes

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/t/trad-attack-album-2015-200×200.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Trad. Attack!
AH!

Winners of the Estonian Ethno Music Awards 2015, Trad.Attack! is an eclectic trio that features Sandra Sillamaa’s work on Estonian bagpipe (and other wind instruments), Jalmar Vabarna on guitar, and Tonu Tubli on drums. The group’s first full-length recording is rounded out by Rainer Koik, a “sound artist”, and many of the songs and tunes feature field recordings of magical incantations (and even a spell for butter, “Precious Cream”). On “Black Snake”, an archival sample warns a snake to forego biting, set atop a musical foundation of manic jew’s harp and guitar. Trad.Attack! have a gutsy, earthy sound, which recalls both the Latvian band Iļģi, as well as the Nordic squall of Hedningarna. AH! also features a peculiar pop sensibility in its presentation, the album artwork depicting disco balls and cavorting mandrake roots. Trad.Attack!’s fertile music marks them as a group to watch. — Lee Blackstone

Artist: Belem

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Belem
“Senn”, Womex 2015, Budapest

Didier Laloy and Kathy Adam’s collaboration, “Belem” is a winner all around, displaying a history of various involvements in other genres and aggregates. Laloy is a widely respected diatonic accordion player and Kathy Adam’s classical chops are without dispute. Laloy’s stage presence is charismatic, even when confined to a chair, and in this performance of his composition “SENN”, it is fascinating to see these two communicating wordlessly, passing musical messages to one another throughout. Together they make extraordinarily pleasing music with sonorities that sink deep into the bones. What comes across, to me, is a kind of chamber music, intimate as it should be, and creating a space in which one can wander within one’s self or as a shared experience with others. — Michal Shapiro

 

Artist: Fula Flute

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Fula Flute
“The Blessing”, The Blue Note, New York

Kudos to Howard Mandel for booking this act to open the Jazz Journalists Association Awards 2015 at the Blue Note Jazz Club. The focus of the evening was on Jazz piano, with Randy Weston receiving a lifetime achievement award, Women in Jazz (with Mimi Jones and Antoinette Montague performing) and African-Jazz ties (Fula Flute, made up of Bailo Bah –the master– and Sylvain Leroux, both playing the tambin.) — Michal Shapiro

 

Artist: Emel Mathlouthi

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

Emel Mathlouthi
“Layem” /”Al Bab”, GlobalFEST 2015, New York

Tunisian singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi had to deal with an unexpected turn during her set at GlobalFEST 2015. Webster Hall’s Studio room was packed. Described in the program as “Electro-inspired voice of Tunisia’s Arab Spring” she was accompanied by synths and drums and as such she was delivering a solid show, and keeping the audience of presenters and other music biz types swaying and clapping. I was having a tough time shooting in the crowded room, and after the 5th person bumped into me and ruined the shot, I got ticked off enough to rudely elbow my way into the front of the room. And that’s when it happened. The PA imploded. And that’s how I caught Emel’s most engaging song of the set; one in which her warmth and humor really shone. My thanks to Michael Jones for taking my camcorder sound and making it more listenable.

Emel Mathlouthi was a rising star in Tunisian song, (albeit through smuggled tapes, as her music was banned in Tunisia for its political implications) but she truly shot to prominence when she was asked to sing her song “Kelmti Horra” (my word is free) during a demonstration in Tunis, which became a video that went viral. The song went on to become an anthem of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. — Michal Shapiro

PopMatters is moving to a new hosting company to resolve our tech issues. Thanks for your patience.
PopMatters is moving to a new hosting company to resolve our tech issues. Thanks for your patience.