The folks at Putumayo have to be patting themselves on the back. Over the past decade, they've not only helped bring world music to a traditionally white-bread audience, they've brought really good world music to those same listeners. In addition to broadening the musical palettes of many listeners who would ordinarily shy way from, say, Cuban son or Columbian cumbia, Putumayo has done it in a way that's highly -- dare we say -- educational. Part of the joy of any Putumayo CD, in fact, is in its packaging. In addition to those colorful cover illustrations by Nicola Heindl, there's also a textbook's worth of background information, all explained in breezily written text. So you actually learn while listening. Pretty cool, and painless, too.
Which brings us to Putumayo's Afro-Portuguese Odyssey. More in line with the label's recent, languid World Lounge collection than its kick-butt Latin Groove CD, this is a kinder, gentler world music collection.
The artists on this CD perform what is termed Lusophone music -- that is, music from countries where the people speak Portuguese or Portuguese-influenced dialect, like Cape Verde's Crioulo language.
These countries include Portugal's former African colonies -- Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique. These countries each have distinct histories, cultures, and traditions. The only real glue that symbolically links them, in fact, is a national language that originated far from any of their borders. The liner notes found on this CD explain that Portuguese rule was particularly oppressive -- and the Lusophone countries were among the last African colonies to achieve their independence, some as recently as 30 years ago.
Because of the political turmoil that still exists in some of their homelands, many of the musicians found on An Afro Portuguese Odyssey don't even live in Africa -- some reside in Europe or the States -- but they retain strong ties to the Lusophone tradition, be it high-spirited, Brazilian-influenced samba or Afro-Cuban salsa. The salsa influence -- which is laced through so many songs here -- is especially strong on Banda Maravilha's "Canta Forte," Jovino Dos Santos' "Africa Mamâe," and Leonel Almeida's "Ti Jôm Póca". Lusophone pop can -- depending on the musician, their country and various influences -- be utterly exuberant or downright melancholic.
Africa's Portuguese-speaking countries have undoubtedly been impacted by Latin music; the artists on this collection mingle Brazilian samba with Afro-Cuban salsa. That's not all: Cape Verde's morna and coladeira, Mozambique's marrabenta, Angola's semba and kizomba, and Guinea's gumbé are freely represented here, making An Afro-Portuguese Odyssey one of Putumayo's most diverse collections ever. Highlights include Guinean vocalist Eneida Marta, whose mellow take on "Na Bu Mons" makes ennui sound like a desired state. Singer Bidente mingles African blues and flamenco on the compelling "Considjo di Garandis" and Zé Manel, whose "Bu Fidjo Femia" is a welcome return after two decades away from the recording studio.
World music lovers will not be disappointed.