Sunday, January 11, 2009

Top 10 World Music Albums

To continue my lists of top 10 albums, I thought I'd go to world music. I want to stress of course that there is by no means a real list of the 10 best albums of world music ever. Who could listen to all of that stuff? There's so much! But here are 10 that I like an awful lot.

1. Tom Ze--Estuando o Pagode. I hate Mr. Trend for actually meeting Tom Ze. This strange and incredibly cool album by a man in his eighth decade is cooler than basically any other album ever. The lyrics, which I of course don't understand, are a paean to women's liberation, the music is kick ass, and as for the orgasmic donkey, well you judge that for yourself.

2. Buena Vista Social Club. Yes, this is a cliche. It's also a great album. Ferrer, Segundo, Portundo, Gonzalez--these are jawdropping musicians who were nearly lost to obscurity. God bless Ry Cooder for doing the work to bring their music back to the world. Also, a boo to the American government for fining Cooder for visiting Cuba illegally. Give me a break.

3. The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia. I know the Ethiopiques series is more complete, but this is a great intro to the Ethiopian jazz movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. Combining jazz with traditional Ethiopian music, these musicians made some of the decade's music, regardless of country. Unfortunately, the arrival of the Stalinists in the mid 70s killed this scene dead. Why are communists so anti-music and creative expression? It's really a great weakness of these movements.

4. The Music of Islam series. I believe this runs to 16 volumes of music that Celestial Harmonies put out in the mid 90s. If you like traditional Islamic vocal music, this is the greatest music ever. If you don't, I guess you won't care for it at all. I think it's beautiful.

5. Tinariwen, Aman Iman: Water is Life. This band of Tourweg people from Mali is African blues at its best. Of the desert, this music goes straight to the soul. I feel like an idiot spewing cliches talking like this, but it's really kick ass.

6. Si Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba. After Castro took over, the Cuban tourist industry and the connections with the United States basically ended. But that doesn't mean Cubans weren't still making awesome music. This collection, the first of a promised series, highlights the great stuff played on Cuban radio stations during the late 60s and early 70s. It's still of traditional Cuban music but also infused with funk and psychedelia. Can you beat this? No.

7. Muzsikas, Maramoros--The Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania. One of the first world music albums I ever bought. Made with the great Hungarian singer Marta Sebestyen, this album tries to recreate the beautiful pre-Holocaust Jewish music of Transylvania. I can't really say whether they succeeded or not; so much of that was lost forever. But they do make some really amazing and heartwrenching music.

8. Conjunto! Texas-Mexican Border Music. I don't even know how many volumes of this exist. Put out by Rounder in the early 90s, this is a great introduction to the music of the border. I know Trend hates this stuff. This makes me question his character. I was in New York last week. On the 7 Train to Queens, a couple of norteno guys came on and played a really fantastic song. How do people not like Mexican music? This is a great place to start for that awesome tradition.

9. The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru. More great 70s music. It seems that the 70s was the greatest decade for popular music around the world, not just in the US and England. Like the Cuban and Ethiopian albums listed above, this album of Peruvian music combines traditional musical forms with the amazing new music arriving from the North during these years. Wow.

10. The Darjeeling Limited Soundtrack. This is kind of a cop out. It's not really an artistic statement per se, and of course it includes a lot of western songs too. But it was a brilliant move for Wes Anderson to steal songs from those great old Satajit Ray and Merchant & Ivory Indian films. That was really freaking first rate music, probably some of the best soundtracks of all time. It still works for Anderson's film and it is worth mentioning here.