The Best World Music

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The CD of the year is Amadou & Mariam’s Dimanche … Bamako (Because), an unlikely marriage of desert blues and the hardest funk in Africa. The blind Malian couple were a well-kept secret: Manu Chao dragged them into the limelight without softening their attack. Souad Massi’s Mesk Elil (Wrasse) has some magical duets, notably with Daby Toure. Los de Abajo’s LDA Vs. The Lunatics (Real World) brims with furious Mexican punk-ska.

Veteran Senegalese Thione Seck and Cheikh Lo made fine albums in Orientations (Stern’s) and Lamp Fall (World Circuit) respectively, experimenting with music beyond west Africa. Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate collaborate for the first time on In The Heart Of The Moon (World Circuit). Golden Afrique Vols 1 and 2 (Network) recapture forgotten highlights of west Africa and the Congo. Congotronic (Crammed) was pulsating industrial trance from central Africa. The Rough Guide to the Music of Madagascar is impeccable. Africa Remix (Milan) highlights gems from all over the continent.

The Kronos Quartet may seem an unlikely backing band for Bollywood superstar Asha Bhosle, more used to 777-piece orchestras, but You’ve Stolen My Heart (Nonesuch) is triumphant. Songs From The Steppes (Topic) celebrates the nomadic heritage of Kazakhstan. Iraqi superstar Ilham Al Madfai played a storming set at Womad and got a compilation on EMI, Voice of Iraq, every song a classic.

The drummer Manu Katche finally leads a band on Neighbourhood (ECM), with a frontline of Jan Garbarek and Tomasz Stanko. David Krakauer splices hip-hop and Klezmer on Bubbemeises (Label Bleu). Yasmin Levy brings alive the Ladino culture of Jewish medieval Spain on La Juderia (Connecting Cultures).

Ry Cooder, accustomed to chaperoning world music stars, made his own quirky comeback with Chavez Ravine (Nonesuch), a concept album about 1940s Los Angeles that repaid close listening. John Tams’s The Reckoning (Topic) flies the flag for melancholy English folk; Susheela Raman’s Crocodiles (EMI/Narada) for spicy modern English folk; Duw A Wyr (Babel) for Welsh hymnal folk. The Honest Jon’s label produced two fascinating collections, of the postwar London Commonwealth diaspora on London Is The Place For Me 2 and of the blind New York avant-garde musician, in Moondog.

Two compilations stand out. Charlie Gillett’s Sound Of The World (Wrasse), majored on Russian artists this year. And German label Network marks 25 years with Emociones, with contributions from every continent, including “Bwana” by Baco: whispery, paper-thin reggae from the tiny island of Mayotte that proves there is music everywhere, if only you know where to listen.

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