We say: Forget the Beatles remasters, here's where your disposable income should go.
The sound of Sahara desert blues as delivered by the likes of Etran Finatawa and Tinariwen has been one of the great revelations in world music this past decade: the chant and trance–like quality of the singing married to the stinging and expressive bluesy guitars is immediately commanding. And on their fourth album Tinariwen have delivered their most persuasive statement yet. This is a stunning album.
Recorded in Mali but mixed in France, the crisp but not overly polished sound allows the guitar line–up lead by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib to weave and counter–punch, to conjure up the spirit of the desert but also an imagined studio session where Hound Dog Taylor and Jimi Hendrix might have swapped lines with King Sunny Ade and Nicky Skopelitis.
There is an ineffable sadness in some songs (the slow "Enseqi Ehad Didagh/I Lie Down Tonight" where Ag Alhabib sings, "I'm thirsty, parched, my heart and soul crave water") but equally there are passages of uplifting beauty.
It is impossible to imagine a world music album this year that will have so much emotional and musical power.
We say: Pull out your passport; you will be getting it stamped in exotic places.
Often referred to as a "gypsy guitarist", Thierry (a.k.a. Titi) Robin is so much more than that: he plays oud and bouzouki as well as he does guitars, is a composer of great stature and nuance, and if you were to trust anyone with a world music concept album spread over two discs it would be him.
Here with various small ensembles (clarinet, violin, saxophones, various traditional percussion instruments), Robin leads from the front on a sweeping suite in seven movements, which transports the listener across vast distances (emotional as much as musical) with references to flamenco, North African, Middle Eastern and Indian sounds.
This ambitious work is so lengthy (and possibly even demanding because of that) it would be expected to falter in places, but the sureness with which these pieces reflect each other means they interlock like separate but overlapping days in an exotic, almost dreamlike journey.
Music to immerse yourself in, and be transported by.
Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street
We say: Mysterious and evocative, this trumpeter creates his own worlds of music.
American trumpeter Hassell first came to attention in the early Eighties when he was a fellow traveler with Brian Eno in the idiom of quasi–ambient world music. Hassell's unusual technique (far removed from Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong) allows for breathy soundscapes of great charm and mystery, and he always seems to be suggesting a far off place. He coined the phrase "fourth world music" to describe this stateless style.
For this album on the ECM jazz label he brings in discreet electric guitars, there are references to minimalist repetition, slightly unsettling percussion, and in places barely suggested hints of North African and Middle Eastern music as if heard down the end of a long corridor.
Hassell isn't a "world music" artist as most would understand it; rather he is someone who creates his own world of music. And his world is a very nice and welcoming place to be.
The Kronos Quartet
We say: World music for the suit and gown world.
For over three decades this innovative and forward–looking quartet has embraced world music and worked with the likes of the Inuit singer Tagaq (who gives Yoko Ono a run for her money in the confrontational vocal stakes) as well as bringing the music of Astor Piazzolla, African and Indian, contemporary Eastern Europeans, the Throat Singers of Tuva, and others to classical audiences.
For this conceptual outing they play music from the Middle East to India (a seven minute raga by Ram Narayan) and Ethiopia, "areas surrounded by water and prone to catastrophic flooding". There are guest vocalists Alim and Fargana Qasimov from Azerbaijan on the dramatic "Getme Getme" recorded live at the Barbican, and the closer is a 21–minute treatment of "Hold Me Neighbour In This Storm" by the Serbian composer Aleksanda Vrebalov.
Floodplain grabs your attention with "Ya Habibi Ta'ala" (a Middle Eastern tango which was a pop hit in the Forties) through "Tashweesh" written by the Palestinian collective Ramallah Underground and the thumping and staccato "Oh Mother" which uses a sample from an Iraqi song.
This is another thrilling album from Kronos who have redefined both the notion of string quartets and world music.
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 new collection The Idiot Boy Who Flew is out now through www.publicaddressbooks.com