Top Ten Favorites, World Music 2014

Jan 8, 2015

by: Glen Alpert - Crossing Borders on KRCB-FM, Sundays 1 to 3pm


In a welcoming speech to a live recording by the Soweto Gospel Choir this last year, Archbishop Desmond Tutu had this to say: “Music is an international language which speaks to the heart and to the soul….music is an integral part of our lives. We sing when we’re happy. We sing when we’re sad. At birth, at weddings, at funerals. It is an integral part of our heritage and an important part of our future.  Our world is in need of healing. It seeks belief and craves upliftment.”

This spark of human spirit comes from music from all over the globe. I have found each of my favorite world music recordings this year possess this quality of upliftment.

1) Aziza Brahim. Soutak


Aziza Brahim sings the story of her people, the Sahrawi. They were expecting to have their own country, Western Sahara, as they were assured by the departing colonial power, Spain. However, the king of Morocco launched a surge of Moroccan emigrants and soldiers to essentially annex the Western Sahara. Since then, the area has been a pawn of geopolitics and oppression, war and uneasy truce. The UN mandate for an election and restoration of the Sahrawi's land rights has been in kind of a weird limbo for a long time while generations now have languished in refugee camps in Algeria. This has been a longstanding humanitarian and cultural crisis and of this Aziza well as some of the traditional songs of her people and newer songs from her experiences living in Spain. Hypnotic desert blues meets beautiful voice, propulsive arrangements, important ideas…this is my favorite record this year. (Western Sahara) [Glitterbeat Records, Feb.]

2) Aurelio. Landini

With Andy Palacio’s death in 2008, Aurelio Martinez has become the leading exponent of Garifuna music. This music is the province of the descendants of escaped African slaves and the indigenous Caribs living along the Caribbean coasts of Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Aurelio’s last album, 2011’s superb Laru Beya was a wonderful homage, not only to Andy Palacio but also to the African roots of this distinctive music. In Landini, he celebrates much closer to home with the music of his mother and his motherland. Landini translates to  “the landing” where the people of his small village would gather to share the local music. Joyous rhythms, emotive vocals and slinky guitar riffs augment this home grown feeling. Very filling music. (Honduras)[Real World, Sept.]


3) Toumani and Sidiki Diabate. Toumani and Sidiki 

I’ve never heard a kora player finer than Toumani Diabate. His virtuosity shines clearly on his solo recordings.  His many collaborative projects, whether a flamenco infused outing with the group, Ketama or the legendary sessions with his fellow transcendent Malian master, Ali Farka Toure, show a rarified level of empathy and communication. And now, for the first time he records with his son, Sidiki, who has carved his own rich musical path.  This is a meeting where father and son play respectfully, lovingly, and most definitely, gorgeously. (Mali) [Nonesuch, May]

4) Various artists. Wired For Sound: Mozambique

This is a project that you’d love however the music turned out. Members of Freshlyground, a hard-hitting multi-cultural band out of Capetown, took a solar and battery powered remote recording studio in their 4x4 into northern Mozambique. They partnered with community radio to encourage creativity and discourse while finding stirring new music in many forms. Subtle post-production was tastefully applied back in South Africa. That the music is so diverse, distinctive and sublime makes this one of my favorite recordings of the year. (Mozambique) [Freeground Records, June]



5) Bonsoir, Catin. Light The Stars


Bonsoir, Catin is a powerhouse Cajun band at the peak of its powers.  Fiddler Anya Burgess, rhythm guitarist Christina Balfa and bassist Yvette Landry are impeccable instrumentalists and singers. Kristie Guillory, on accordion, composed many new songs to add to the traditional fare. Bonsoir, Catin thoughtfully and soulfully represents a proud south Louisiana musical culture while carrying it forward in the 21st Century. (USA) [Valcour Records, April]


6) Cumbia All Stars. Tigres en Fuga

The bands playing the cumbia rhythms in the popular music of Columbia and Peru differ in their presentation.  The founding Columbian branch of cumbia tends to feature accordion and larger band arrangements. However, around Lima and environs, a kind of twangy, surf rock guitar with a touch of psychedelia drove the music. The Cumbia All Stars unite luminaries drawn from some of the major bands of the golden age of 70’s and 80’s Peruvian cumbia in a stunning and contemporary reprise. The rhythms are irresistible. It may well be impossible to remain still while listening to this music. (Peru) [World Village, July]



7) Olcay Bayir. Neva/Harmony


On the heels of Cigdem Aslan’s sterling album, Mortissa, from last year, another young Turkish Kurdish expatriate woman, Olcay Bayir, has crafted one of the finest world music records of 2014. Olcay Bayir, with her Anatolian roots and opera trained voice, deeply mines the confluence between the west, Middle East and orient that is the cornerstone of Turkish music and of this recording. (Turkey) [Riverboat Records, Oct.]


8) Djessou Mory Kante. River Strings – Maninka Guitar

This is a wonderful guitar record that is distinctly West African, but something more as well. While deeply rooted in the Mande tradition, there is a certain improvisational freedom in the hands of a highly accomplished player as he evokes the bond between Guinea and Mali along the Niger River. (Guinea) [Sterms Africa, Oct.]





9) Boulpik. Konpa Lanka

Franckel Sifranc is a highly respected singer and songwriter in Haiti’s troubadour tradition. He formed Boulpik a decade ago and the band continues to play at social events and in the streets of Port-au-Prince. They sing in Haitian Creole with the unique instrumentation of two banjos, hand drums, maracas, and large bass thumb piano (maniboula). Their mission has been to chronicle, to uplift, to make people dance and smile and to sustain a living in a difficult economy. This delightful recording helps preserve a unique musical niche and expands it to an international audience. Mission accomplished. (Haiti) [Lusafrica, July]


10) Quraishi. Mountain Melodies

Afghan music has been besieged from decades of war and cultural repression. Quaraishi, whose family not long ago emigrated from Kabul to New York City, has played Afghanistans’s national instrument, the lute-like rabab since childhood. Quraishi masterfully advances the musical legacy of his native land with a finely recorded album resonant with influences of local mountains and Asian regions. (Afghanistan) [Evergreene Music, July]




Ten more…

11) The Toure-Raichel Collective. The Paris Sessions (Mali, Israel) [Cumbancha, Sept.]

12) Sousou and Maher Sissoko. Africa Moo Baalu (Senegal, Sweden) [ARC Music, Feb.]

13) Sondorgo. Tamburocket Hungarian Fireworks (Hungary) [Riverboat, July]

14) Johnny Clegg. Best Live and Unplugged at the Baxter Theatre, Cape Town (South Africa) [Appleseed Records, April]

15) Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocarlia. Devil’s Tale (Canada, Romania) [Asphalt Tango, Feb.]

16) Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca. La Rumba SoYo (Angola, DRC, USA) [Cumbancha, June]

17) Bebel Gilberto. Tudo  (Brazil) [Sony Masterworks, Aug.]

18) Nistha Raj. Exit 1 (USA, India) [Nistha Raj, Feb]

19) Habib Koite. Soo (Mali) [Contre Jour, Feb.]

20) Chinbat Bassankhuu. The Art of the Mongolian Yatga (Mongolia) [ARC Music, July]


And five great historic issues, reissues -


  1.  Fela Kuti and various artists. Finding Fela (Nigeria) [Knitting Factory, July]
  2.  Abelardo Barroso. Cha-Cha-Cha (Cuba) [World Circuit, Nov.)
  3.  Papa Lemon. New Orleans Ukelele Maestro and Tent Show Troubadour (USA) [Arhoolie Records, Feb.]
  4.  Les Ambassadeurs. Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako (Mali) [Sterns Africa, Sept.]
  5.  Various Artists. Haiti Direct (Haiti) [Strut Records, Jan.]