We've already caught some flak for using the term "world music." Some think it is some all-encompassing term that throws way too much music into one secondary, ghettoized basket. It's a meaningless classification for everything not from the first-world colonizers, the critics complain. Well, too bad. It's what we all know and it works.
"Rock" is not fair either and let's not even get started on "R&B." If anything, it's all world music now. Technology has erased the borders. Pop stars sample Bollywood soundtracks, Scandinavians play samba music, and there are country music bars in Japan. The ruling gods of world-beat electronica picked the best name for the times: Thievery Corporation. Anyone can now find influences and snippets from anywhere on the planet. It's a global village festival. A hip-hop nation. A jam band world. Let the mash-ups begin!
Tijuana Sessions, Vol. 3
We say: Your local cheesy Mexican restaurant band meets the city's hottest club DJ
It's really hard these days to hear something so surprising that it grabs you by the ears and makes you say, "Now that's different!" Nortec Collective does grab you by the ears--then jerks up the sides of your mouth until your smile stretches up like that of The Grinch. This band of multi-musicians and mixers combines the traditional norteno music of Mexican border towns with the techno of the land up above (thus creating "nortec").
Much electronica seems to be meant for chilling out beside the dance floor while looking as cool and unemotional as a fashion model. This album is refreshing different: it makes you want to smile and even chuckle while you're grooving.
Imagine a caricature Mexican band, complete with sombreros, accordion, and tuba, and then imagine them backed up by speakers pumping out dance tracks from the trippiest, most fun-loving late-night DJs in town. Sounds ridiculous right? The traditional Mexican snippets are legit, but so are the beats. The tuba blats, the trumpet blares, and the acoustic guitar is strumming--all while the dance floor bass is pumping and the drumbeats are cracking. When lyrics do pop up, they use only a few sentences to tell a story, relying on movie-worthy voiceovers and sound samples like squealing tires to explain the rest. Okay, so maybe it is ridiculous--but amazingly infectious. And even more fun than a night of cheap prescription pills and lime-stuffed Coronas in Tijuana.
Live At Stubbs
We say: So this Hasidic Jew walks into a reggae bar and says...
"Yo, where's the mic?"
I thought this had to be a novelty album joke when I saw the description. A Hasidic Jew--curly sideburns, long beard and all--from Brooklyn, singing Reggae music, with lyrics quoting the Torah. Yeah, right.
But then I started playing it and "Holy s*&#! It's emotional fire and brimstone, Zion style, with a tight live band playing like they own the place.
This is a live album that feels live and alive. A singer manages to work an audience in Austin--probably the only city in Texas that doesn't believe the church should be the state--into a frenzy singing songs like "Lord Raise Me Up." That's some serious talent. Some say that good music shines through no matter what it's all about, which is probably why so much music with religious overtones doesn't go anywhere: the music is so bland that nobody would listen to it if it weren't for the hope of some sin saving. This, on the other hand, is like the best gospel music--strong enough to make an atheist want to stand up and shout, "Halleluiah!"
Calling this reggae music doesn't quite do it justice either though. While songs like "Aish Tarrid" and "Exaltation" would be right at home in a Negril nightclub, "King Without a Crown" just plain rocks. The bass, drums and vocals are perfectly meshed, but in a way that still sounds spontaneous. Matisyahu is not the world's most powerful vocalist by any means, and his range isn't anything spectacular, but like any great front man, his passion and presence make it all irrelevant. On "Beat Box" he even injects some vocal scratches--beat-boy style--then breaks into a hip-hop funk song that wouldn't be out of place on a Cypress Hill CD.
The only question I had after the third listen was, when's he coming to my town?
The Now Sound of Brazil, Volume 2
We say: A soundtrack for whatever gives you pleasure.
There's something about the Portuguese language that makes it work so well with music. The way it wraps it sounds around a lyric so effortlessly. The way one word slides into another like honey off a spoon, before being picked up a carried along by the syncopated rhythms that fit in under the phrases perfectly. While most of the music of Latin America seems to verbally grab you by the shoulder and pull you along to dance, the music of Brazil caresses your shoulder and waves for you to follow.
These laid-back nuances make the music a perfect match for electronic updates, creating the ultimate lounge music. This collection is from the Six Degrees label, which hardly ever puts out something lousy. Their partnership with Brazil's Ziriguiboom label gives them access to the best contemporary Brazilian artists, those making music that still has a foot in Brazil. So we get songs that manage to be clearly of a place, yet certainly not your father's samba.
It starts with Bibel Gilberto, who has reached world music superstar status--deservedly--then she shows up later with a second track. "Samba Da Minha Terra" and "Essa Moca ta Diferente" by Bossacucanova almost dare you to get out of your seat. Producer Apollo Nove mixes vintage synthesizers and Hawaiian sounds with distinctively Brazilian rhythms to produce a new kind of crooner music.
"Trancelim de Marfim," by DJ Dolores is so good we get to hear it twice, but with versions so strikingly different that it is astounding they both work so well. The first is a lush soundscape of strings, electronics clicks and bleeps, and even samples of clanging silverware and dishes, with the vocals drifting in and out like a dream. The second is a driving, dance-friendly track with trombone, maracas, and vocals front and center. This is one of the most interesting and solid contemporary Brazilian music albums you could hope to find. Whether this is the first one you've bought or the 20th, it will be a joy all the way through.
This month's music reviews were written by Tim Leffel, who spent seven years working for RCA Records before discovering that devoting his life to promoting lousy music was not so glamorous after all. He is author of The World's Cheapest Destinations and is co-author of Hip-Hop, Inc.: Success Strategies of the Rap Moguls.