The Year's Best World Music

Banning Eyre, senior editor of Afropop.org, shines the spotlight on the best world music this year.

His favorites include music from Mali, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Senegal, but Watina, the new album from Andy Palacio, stood above the rest. Palacio is of the Garifuna culture in Belize. Watina brings together Garifuna musicians of several generations from Belize, Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to preserve the language and culture of the Garifuna people. Eyre calls the album a breakthrough for Afro-Central American folk-pop.

The Year's Best World Music

Watina

Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective

  • Artist: Andy Palacio
  • Album: Watina
  • Song: Wátina [I Called Out]

A landmark release for Afro-Central American folk-pop, with understated, percussion- and guitar-driven grooves. Voices of experience -- notably Palacio's reedy, pensive baritone -- sing songs built to last. (Listen: "Watina")

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  • "Wátina [I Called Out]"
  • Album: Watina
  • Artist: Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective
  • Label: Cumbancha
 
Bassekou

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba

  • Artist: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
  • Album: Segu Blue
  • Song: Ngoni Fola

One of Mali's hottest string pickers puts the spotlight on his humble-looking instrument -- the ngoni lute -- and makes it roar. Four ngonis cut a wide swath through this country's rich folklore, topped by distinguished guest vocalists Oumou Sangare, Kasse Mady Diabate and others. (Listen: "Ngoni Fola")

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  • "Ngoni Fola"
  • Album: Segu Blue
  • Artist: Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba
  • Label: Out Here
  • Released: 2007
 
Bembeya

Bembeya Jazz National

  • Artist: Bembeya Jazz National
  • Album: The Syliphone Years
  • Song: Armée Guinéenne

The best compilation yet to survey music from one of West Africa's all-time greatest dance bands during its '60s and '70s heyday. Two CDs gives you enough sinewy, brassy grooves to dance to through a full Saturday night. (Listen: "Armée Guinéenne")

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  • "Armée Guinéenne"
  • Album: The Syliphone Years
  • Artist: Bembeya Jazz National
  • Label: Stern's Music
  • Released: 2004
 
Cê

Caetano Veloso

  • Artist: Caetano Veloso
  • Album:
  • Song: Outro

Veloso may be a graybeard of popular Brazilian music -- and one of Dylan-esque stature -- but he's still got the soul of a teenager. Working with his son and other twentysomethings, he uses his spare, melodious rock songs to muse about sex, aging, heroes and more. (Listen: "Outro")

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  • "Outro"
  • Album:
  • Artist: Caetano Veloso
  • Label: Nonesuch
 
Dee Dee

Dee Dee Bridgewater

  • Artist: Dee Dee Bridgewater
  • Album: Red Earth
  • Song: Children Go 'Round [DeMissènw]

An American jazzwoman goes "home" to Bamako, Mali, and collaborates with a broad array of that musical city's best singers and string-pickers. The musical ideas flow both ways on one of the best African jazz records ever made. (Listen: "Children Go 'Round [Demisènw]")

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  • "Children Go 'Round [DeMissènw]"
  • Album: Red Earth
  • Artist: Dee Dee Bridgewater
  • Label: Emarcy / Umgd
  • Released: 2007
 
Puerto Plata

Puerto Plata

  • Artist: Puerto Plata
  • Album: Mujer de Cabaret
  • Song: Baracoa [Live]

A surprise revival release from a veteran of the Dominican Republic's folksy, pre-bachata son style delivers breathless, acoustic merengue and more. Digging into nylon strings, Plata's two soloists deliver some of the tastiest and most nimble acoustic-guitar work this year. (Listen: "Baracoa")

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  • "Baracoa [Live]"
  • Album: Mujer de Cabaret
  • Artist: Puerto Plata
  • Label: iAso
  • Released: 2007
 
Assads

Sergio and Odair Assad

  • Artist: Sergio and Odair Assad
  • Album: Jardim abandonado
  • Song: Tahhiyya Li Ossoulina

Two brothers from Brazil with Arabia in their genes, and long a legendary classical guitar duo, the Assads defy genre. Whether original pieces or gems by Gershwin, Debussy or Jobim, music becomes a thing of warmth and perfection in their hands. (Listen: "Tahhiyya Li Ossoulina")

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  • "Tahhiyya Li Ossoulina"
  • Album: Jardim abandonado
  • Artist: Sergio and Odair Assad
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2007
 
Aman Iman: Water Is Life

Tinariwen

  • Artist: Tinariwen
  • Album: Aman Iman: Water Is Life
  • Song: Matadjem Yinkmixan

This is the best produced of three albums these kings of desert rock have made since they strode out of the Malian desert in the late '90s. Tinariwen's raw, authentic roots music is distinguished by aching melodies and casually brilliant electric guitar work that easily dons the cloak of rock 'n' roll. (Listen: "Matadjem Yinmixam")

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  • "Matadjem Yinkmixan"
  • Album: Aman Iman: Water Is Life
  • Artist: Tinariwen
  • Label: World Village
  • Released: 2007
 
The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru

Various Artists

  • Artist: Various Artists
  • Album: The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru
  • Song: Sonido Amazonico

Of this year's many exceptional reissue titles, this wins the "unexpected" prize. Party-hardy oil workers in the Peruvian Amazon crank out a delightful amalgam of surf, cumbia and Andean folklore. (Listen: "Sonido Amazonica [D.R.I.]" by Los Mirlos)

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  • "Sonido Amazonico"
  • Album: The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias From Peru
  • Artist: Various Artists
  • Label: Barbes
  • Released: 2007
 
Rokku Mi Rokka

Youssou N'Dour

  • Artist: Youssou N'Dour
  • Album: Rokku Mi Rokka
  • Song: Sama Gàmmu [My Rival]

Africa's most popular singer and bandleader trades percussive drive for folksy intimacy as he explores the sounds of Senegal's desert north -- for N'Dour, the deep homeland of blues, soul, hip-hop and more. As always, killer pop hooks are delivered by one of the most inspiring and vital voices in pop music anywhere today. (Listen: "Sama Gàmmu")

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  • "Sama Gàmmu [My Rival]"
  • Album: Rokku Mi Rokka
  • Artist: Youssou N'Dour
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Released: 2007
 

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