We say: A rainbow of styles which are vibrant and alive.
The great Senegalese singer/guitarist Nuru Kane — whose innovative Sigil album of 2006 should be in any sensible collection — has long since freed himself from whatever small box some might have put him in. By living in France and being a well-traveled world citizen, he thinks nothing of pulling in melodic threads from Spanish styles ("Corriendo" here), soul-pop ("Yes We Kane" which nods to the Lee Dorsey/Pointer Sisters hit "Yes We Can", albeit with gypsy violin) and reggae (the rather ordinary "Issoire"). These are alongside influences from Morocco (in his three-string bass, the guimbri, and "Sadye" which acknowledges gnawa music) and some aching Afro-soul ("Bayil").
This diversity is held together by Kane's exceptional guitar and guimbri playing where the weave of sound — especially when with oud, balafon and ngoni from his band members — becomes astonishingly intricate and mesmerizing, as in the swirling melodic currents of the opener "Afrika".
This wide sweep of styles which Kane commands affirms that he, like so many world music artists, is constantly moving on and won't be in anyone's specimen box.
Fado & Piano
Maria Ana Bobone
We say: An old way of looking at an old music, but which sounds new.
For those more familiar with traditional Portuguese fado sung in late-night bars and accompanied by the distinctive acoustic guitar, this rather more stately interpretation might seem to come from the front parlor and be for more elegant settings. Which is the intention, because a century ago fado was accompanied by piano in aristocrats' homes, so Bobone — who both plays and sings — is opening up new possibilities for a modern audience while keeping faithful to something of this romantic and often heartbreaking music's history. And by pulling piano into the foreground (although some pieces do include guitar and/or bass) Bobone offers a very different experience.
That said, some of the music's earthiness is sacrificed for poise and gentility (although "Fado Xuxu" sounds straight from the music hall). Ironically then it is more reflective pieces ("Fria Claridade") which are affecting. So a slightly challenging mixed bag which includes a live track with electronic keyboards (the spirit of Enya in the house?) which stands at uncomfortable variance to everything else, and two songs — "Love Ballad" and "Twilight" — sung in English. So, chamber-fado? A new-old genre.
The Sun of Both Worlds
We say: Seriously spiritual music, not for back-sliders or the unrepentantly secular.
This trio which formed in Istanbul in 2010—playing oud, sehrud (bigger oud), kemence (bowed instruments) and here with vocalists and other instrumentalists—gave themselves the remit of taking traditional Turkish sounds to the world, and especially those styles which intersect with the other styles around the region. Sufism and Islamic spirituality are the common threads.
So here are more than a dozen seamlessly interlocking hymns where the vocals are predominant, but although the arc is impressive (especially the dramatic vocals on the five minute "Bagrimdaki Biten Baslar" over the throbbing voices of the ensemble) this is never going to be easy listening or for the casual listener. Impressive and hypnotic, but dead serious and probably increasingly claustrophobic for most.
The Rough Guide to Samba
We say: Put on your dancin' shoes, twice.
The Rough Guide series can be hit'n'miss on its eclectic compilations but this one gets the target dead center. This despite that the 15 song collection includes the great contemporary singer Marisa Monte alongside the legendary and husky-voiced 55-year-old Alcione, singer-guitarist Roge, electronica artist Loop B, and the funk-influenced Marcio Local in the same space as the traditional Partideiros de Cacique. If that melange seems like a strange cocktail (and invites cocktails come to think of it), then the unifying feature is the toe-tapping or dancefloor-directed style.
You can even just wriggle in your seat on slippery songs like "Coisas Banais" by Teresa Cristina or the emotionally cool Luisa Maita on "Lero-Lero". There's some distance between Alcione at the start and Loop B later, but the running order takes you there by gradually picking up the pace. And, as is the custom with RG albums now, the collection comes with a bonus disc, this by acoustic guitarist-singer Ruivao who provides equally lively music. A good deal of music, and a good deal.
Graham Reid is a New Zealand—based writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His newer collection The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through www.amazon.com. He also hosts his own music/travel/arts website www.elsewhere.co.nz .