Latitudes: International Music You Must Hear Now

The artist from Belgium known as Stromae poses in Paris in July 2013. i i

hide captionThe artist from Belgium known as Stromae poses in Paris in July 2013.

AFP/AFP/Getty Images
The artist from Belgium known as Stromae poses in Paris in July 2013.

The artist from Belgium known as Stromae poses in Paris in July 2013.

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Globally, it's been a very busy month for music, especially at the intersection of art and politics. There's the brand-new Pussy Riot video from Sochi published Wednesday, as well a real groundbreaker of a video released on Valentine's Day by the Iranian legend Googoosh — one that celebrates LGBT relationships and apparently has already been widely viewed illegally within Iran itself.

But there is a lot of other great new music to hear — politically topical and not — plus the curious case of a years-old, Balkan-flavored track that's made its way to the heights of the American charts in a slightly different guise. Come take a listen.

The International Tracks You Must Hear This Month

Cover for Racine Carrée

Stromae: 'Tous Les Mêmes' (All The Same)

  • Artist: Stromae
  • Album: Racine Carrée

The 28-year-old Belgian artist known as Stromae has emerged as a megastar in Europe, with a cache of sleek songs. His eye-popping, stylish videos have captured something on the order of 180 million views on YouTube that dwell on themes that he's been known to call "suicide dance."

Stromae's runaway hit "Papaoutai" last year was based on lyrics that indicted an absent father (his own, whom he did not grow up with, was killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994), and won a spot as one of our 100 favorite songs of 2013 here at NPR Music.

This time around, he's returned to the topic of useless men, singing — and partly filmed, in gender-bending curves — as a woman at the end of an affair. "Vous les hommes êtes tous les mêmes/Macho mais cheap/Bande de mauviettes infidèles/Si prévisibles," s/he begins, on top of an irresistible rhythm. "You men, you're all the same/Macho but cheap/A bunch of weak cheaters/So predictable." (You get the idea.)

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  • "Tous les mêmes"
  • Album: Racine Carrée
  • Artist: Stromae
  • Label: UMG
  • Released: 2013
StromaeVEVO/YouTube
 
Cover for El Sekka Shemal

Cairokee: 'Ghareeb Fi Belad Ghareeba' (Stranger In A Strange Land)

  • Artist: Cairokee
  • Album: El Sekka Shemal

For many years after they formed in 2003, the band Cairokee was strictly an underground act. Then, during the Arab Spring, they became part of Egypt's "soundtrack of the revolution." They even played on popular satirist Bassem Youssef's return to the airwaves earlier this month after a three-month suspension from television for unspecified "editorial violations" and "attacking symbols of the state."

With their newest album, El Sekka Shemal (The Wrong Turn), being released this month (and, interestingly enough, sponsored by Coca-Cola), Cairokee is turning to what the band calls a more "Oriental, authentic" sound, including the track "Agmal Ma Aandy" which features Souad Massi, the Algerian chanteuse whom we've had on a Tiny Desk Concert.

One of the standout cuts from Sekka Shemal is "Ghareeb Fi Belad Ghareeba," featuring full-throated singer Abd El Baset Hamouda. The video, directed by Moustafa Aamer, portrays Cairo right now in a series of visually poetic insights, with a keeper of a song that powerfully meshes old and new.

Moustafa Aamer/YouTube
 
Cover for Mini World

Indila: 'Dernière Danse' (Last Dance)

  • Artist: Indila
  • Album: Mini World

Over the past few years, the French singer and songwriter Indila has made a string of appearances as a hyper-autotuned exotique featured on tracks like TLF's "Criminel" (Criminal) and Rohff's "Thug Mariage" (Thug Marriage). But this single, which heralds the arrival of her first solo album, Mini World, finds her plugging into something more direct and open-hearted.

Now No. 2 on the French charts, her song "Dernière Danse (Last Dance)" has a catchy little opening that is maybe a tad too reminiscent of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know." Yet it opens up into a sweetly performed, lyrically wry commentary on what it's like to be an outsider in France. (Born in Paris, Indila claims Algerian, Cambodian, Egyptian and Indian ancestry.) Opening with the line "Ô ma douce souffrance" (Oh my sweet suffering), Indila very cleverly references — and subverts — the famous chorus of Charles Trenet's patriotic chestnut "Douce France" (Sweet France). While that's an idea already explored by Algerian-French star Rachid Taha with his band Carte de Séjour back in the 1980s in their own Trenet cover, it's great to see Indila reinterpreting this theme for another generation.

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  • "Mini World"
  • Album: Mini World
  • Artist: Indila
  • Label: Universal Music France
  • Released: 2114
VEVO/YouTube
 
Cover for Medea

Eleni Karaindrou: 'Medea's Lament'

  • Artist: Eleni Karaindrou
  • Album: Medea

Amidst a trove of mostly pop songs this month, this album — and it should be listened to as an album — is admittedly not easy listening. It's Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou's score to Euripides' classic tragedy Medea, as staged in modern Greek by director Antonis Antypas at the Athens and Epidaurus Festival in 2011.

But you don't have to see that staging, or even understand the language, to appreciate the dark beauty of Karaindrou's work. A veteran composer for stage and screen who has collaborated with Antypas nearly two dozen times before on other theatrical productions, Karaindrou has a master's palette. She builds intense — and nearly unbearable — dramatic tension within a very spare framework of lutes (the lafta and lyra), ney flute, clarinets, cello, santouri hammered dulcimer, the bendir frame drum and female voices.

Listen, for example, to the brief first lament from Medea (sung by the smoky-voiced Karaindrou herself), with its perfect balance of mad beauty and austerity. It's a total complement to the nature of the drama, and to the ancient settings where Antypas' stagings were produced, the ancient theater of Epidaurus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens, on the slopes of the Acropolis. It also works just as well as solely an aural experience. Sit back and let your imagination take over.

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  • "Medea"
  • Album: Medea
  • Artist: Eleni Karaindrou
  • Label: ECM
  • Released: 2014
 
Cover for Nu Med

Balkan Beat Box: 'Hermetico'

  • Artist: Balkan Beat Box
  • Album: Nu Med

Since it's not new music, let's call this one a bonus track — and it's become absolutely inescapable, thanks to Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty," featuring 2 Chainz. You know that chorus of luscious saxophones that punctuate the Derulo song? Well, those come from the New York band Balkan Beat Box, from the song "Hermetico" that appeared on their 2007 album Nu Med. The band released it on Jdub, a nonprofit label focused on current and interesting Jewish music that unfortunately went defunct in 2011 because of financial problems. Although the band's website hasn't been updated in months, the good news is that BBB's three core members are all credited as songwriters on the Derulo track.

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Purchase Featured Music

  • "Hermetico"
  • Album: Nu Med
  • Artist: Balkan Beat Box
  • Label: Cram World
  • Released: 2007
YouTube
 

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