The endlessly innovative Sardinian guitarist and singer Paolo Angeli created carefully constructed yet dreamy music with his souped-up guitar at an Oct. 23 daytime showcase. One of the first sets during this year's event, Angeli set the pace for musicianship and excitement.
Hats, undershirts, folk, punk: Russia's Otava Yo brought huge energy and good humor to their Oct. 23 performance.
Long a sideman, Honduran guitarist Guayo Cedeño stepped into the limelight with a fantastic set that combined cumbia and surf guitar on the first night of WOMEX showcases, Oct. 23.
South Korean group Noreum Machi brought a wild, shamanistic energy to their Oct. 24th WOMEX showcase.
Congolese-Belgian singer Baloji — already a veteran of New York's globalFEST — turned in one of the most talked-about and self-assured sets at WOMEX Oct. 24.
One of the biggest surprises of this year's edition of WOMEX was Maru Tarang, a group that blends Rajasthani folk music with Western slide guitar.
In their late-night Oct. 24 set, Angolan-Portuguese band Batida blended a vintage 1970s Angolan sound with modern electronic dance music and a socially conscious perspective.
Smoky-voiced Portuguese singer and guitarist Lula Pena mixed her native land's fado style with an international blend of Cape Verdean, Brazilian and French sounds in her eclectic Oct. 25 performance.
Arizona's Orkesta Mendoza — the only U.S.-based group to perform at WOMEX 2014 — turned in a blistering set Oct. 25.
Galicia's own sweet-voiced Davide Salvado mixed ancient traditional songs with a modern attitude in his Oct. 25 performance.
Mexican horns most certainly don't automatically mean mariachi. Heavy jazz, driven hard by brass and drums, was what the Mexican band Troker offered at their Oct. 25 showcase.
Colombia's Tribu Baharú transformed the WOMEX tent into a sweaty dance party with their high-energy, very entertaining take on Afro-Colombian champeta music.
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WOMEX – The World Music Expo – is kind of like a traveling SXSW for global music. Mostly an industry affair, with about 2,000 attendees from 100 countries, the five days of nonstop showcases, panel discussion, meetings, film screenings and schmoozing (did I mention the concerts? Concerts too) end up setting the the pace for the year that follows. I came home from this year's festival – held this year in the city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain – totally revved up and inspired by what I saw and heard.
This year's WOMEX proved to be an incredibly strong one for Latin and Caribbean music, thanks to acts like Honduras' Guayo Cedeño, Colombia's Tribu Baharú and Mexico's Troker. And a few artists and groups I already knew and loved were out in full force: the Congolese-Belgian singer Baloji's show was relentlessly tight; I couldn't tear myself away from the utterly charming El Gusto Orchestra, from Algeria, or the recently renamed Orkesta Mendoza, the only U.S. group to showcase at WOMEX 2014.
The most exciting artists I heard this year were new to me, and they tended to be either hard-driving modernists or performers who presented roots music in innovative ways. I know I missed plenty of wonderful stuff, trying to navigate overlapping showcases throughout Santiago's old quarter. Maybe by the time next year's event lands in Budapest I'll finally have figured out how to clone myself.
Latitudes: Top 10 Musical Discoveries From WOMEX 2014
Colombia: Tribu Baharú
Despite a WOMEX audience that leans towards promoters and agents generally far more interested in observing than participating in a show, certain sets got the whole audience dancing in a hot, sweaty mess. (Despite the late October date and a location not far from the Atlantic Ocean, Santiago enjoyed summer-like temperatures throughout this year's conference.) The foremost case in point was Colombia's Tribu Baharú, whose Afro-Caribbean beats and party vibe got the whole crowd moving.
Spain: Davide Salvado
One of my favorite discoveries this year was Galician singer Davide Salvado. With his slightly bedraggled, woke-up-this-way stage look, he could easily be mistaken as the front man of an up-and-coming indie band. Instead, Salvado uses his gorgeous, sweet tenor to sing the old music of his native land. I had the deep pleasure of hearing Salvado twice during this trip to Spain: once on the amplified WOMEX stage, but even more magically two weeks ago, in an intimate, once-in-a-lifetime performance organized by Wapapura in a remote, 9th-century monastery in Galicia's rural Ribeira Sacra region. With a traditional sound and a modern look, Salvado has found a way to bring ancient sounds of Galicia that stretch back to a pre-Christian, Celtic heritage feel very modern and relatable.
If you plugged your ears and just looked at this band from Mexico, you might take them for metalheads. But that's not what Troker does — at least, not exactly. What they play is what you might call heavy jazz: lots of horns, deep bass, pummeling rhythms and a fierce, huge sound, with a very occasional reference to both mariachi and hip-hop. I can't wait to get both A Blog Supreme and Alt.Latino to hear them.
Russia: Otava Yo
From St. Petersburg, Otava Yo is equal parts punk and Russian folk. With a lineup of lyre-like gusli, bagpipes, fiddles, guitar, bass and drums, they brought huge energy and serious fun to an outdoor WOMEX stage.
Italy: Paolo Angeli
Speaking of punk and jazz, there's Paolo Angeli. Sardinia's madly imaginative master of the guitar — albeit a fabulously souped-up guitar of his own invention — veers, in dreamy and almost stream-of-consciousness kind of way, between the traditional music of his island homeland, improvisational jazz and punk with a palette of super-saturated colors and amazing textures.
Honduras: Guayo Cedeño
Guitarist Guayo Cedeño has played in the bands of two of the most exciting artists to emerge from the Caribbean: the late Andy Palacio, from Belize, and Honduras' Aurelio Martinez. Stepping into the spotlight with his own band, Cedeño proved during his psychedelic-tinged solos that he's a real guitar hero with chops to burn.
South Korea: Noreum Machi
This was perhaps the most unexpected find at this year's WOMEX for me. Noreum Machi's pre-show materials seemed, to me at least (and completely unfairly), to presage a folkloric, "welcome to the sounds of our country" show. What we got instead was a shamanistic and utterly visceral performance full of pounding drums, crashing gongs and wild horns.
India/Australia: Maru Tarang
A premier slide guitarist from Australia teams up with three Rajasthani folk musicians? Doesn't sound promising, perhaps — but Jeff Lang and his collaborators in Maru Tarang (tabla player Bobby Singh, sarangi artist Asin Khan Langa and percussionist Bhungar Manganiyar) have found a gently beautiful wellspring in common ground. Pairing the slide guitar with the dusky sarangi (a bowed, fretless string instrument) was particularly inspired: On both instruments, the musicians glided between notes with both elegance and deep soulfulness.
Portugal: Lula Pena
Armed with nothing but her guitar and her smoky alto, Lula Pena was utterly transfixing. Salting a blend of Portuguese fado and Cape Verdean morna with some French cabaret, Brazilian bossa nova and other elements, this artist took her music to elemental roots: the perfect soundtrack for a dark, seaside club.
In a set that mixed old 1970s Angolan samples, modern EDM, projected visuals and hard beats, Batida proved a perfect late-night set for WOMEX. You know who would be a great stage partner for them? A Tribe Called Red.