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Three global bands to look out for, courtesy of WOMEX

Every fall, musicians, artist managers, concert presenters and record labels from all over the world gather somewhere in Europe for a conference and festival called WOMEX. This year's event took place in Lisbon, Portugal — and here are some top picks for up-and-coming artists who performed showcases at WOMEX 2022.

The first thing to know about WOMEX (a.k.a. the Worldwide Music Expo) is that although the organizers do sell some tickets to the public, it's primarily aimed at music industry professionals as a place to find new talent — and it's fundamentally a launching ground for global artists. It's also an especially important resource for the people who book music festivals and performance venues across the United States. For example, the Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha went from WOMEX to booking a Tiny Desk concert and frequent tours across the U.S.

Son Rompe Pera

One of the bands to make a stir at WOMEX 2022 was Son Rompe Pera, a band from Mexico City. They're already slated to play New York's globalFEST at Lincoln Center in January and to appear at SXSW in March.

Son Rompe Pera was founded by a set of three brothers, the Gamas, who wanted to keep their family tradition of marimba alive. As kids, they played alongside their dad at local events. But they also played in punk bands as teenagers. At the group's live shows, you see and hear both of those sides: their sound is really polished cumbia, but their look and energy is very punk-metal — lots of tattoos and hipster haircuts and jumping around on stage. The WOMEX crowd went wild for them.

Rina Das Baul

That's an example of a band bringing modern energy to old music. But there's always something for everyone at WOMEX. Attendees came from 116 countries, with more than 60 musical showcases on tap. That means there's always something for everyone — from very contemporary performers to musicians who are dedicated to making sure that tradition is observed. One of the latter is a wonderful singer from India named Rina Das Baul.

Rina Das Baul is a traditional vocalist who comes from a small village in the Indian state of West Bengal. She is part of a spiritual community, the Bauls, whose adherents are wandering mystics who sing praises to God. She sings accompanying herself on a one-stringed instrument and a drum attached to her hip — and her voice is pure and full of sunshine.

Al Bilali Soudan

Another standout was a band from Mali called Al Bilali Soudan. Lots of people have gotten to know and love Tuareg music of the Sahara — the so-called "desert blues" — thanks to artists like the band Tinariwen and the guitarist and singer Bombino, among others. You'll hear a similar style from Al Bilali Soudan, which shares its moniker with an ancient name for the city of Timbuktu.

What's striking and different in Al Bilali Soudan's music is its percussion, which just hits like a ton of bricks. It's a rhythm called takamba, pounded out on calabashes like a heartbeat.

The first time I heard takamba was in Mali in 2003, which coincidentally also marked the first time I heard Tinariwen live — but none of the other Tuareg groups that have made it big internationally make takamba so central to their sound as Al Bilali Soudan has. Simply put, it's a style that I'm always really happy to hear. In the weeks just before WOMEX, Al Bilali Soudan had its first tour of the U.S., but undoubtedly the band's appearance in Portugal will widen its international reach. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Transcript:

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Every fall, musicians, artists, managers, concert presenters and record labels from all over the world gather in Europe for a conference and festival called WOMEX. This year, WOMEX took place in Lisbon, Portugal, and NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas was there. Hey, Anastasia.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So this is aimed at industry professionals, not so much fans. Why is that?

TSIOULCAS: So WOMEX does sell tickets to people who just want to come hear some cool new music. But it's not a place for fans, necessarily. WOMEX is a gathering for industry professionals to find new talent. And it's become a very fundamental launching ground for global artists. It's a huge resource for the folks who book festivals and venues across our country. So, for example, DakhaBrakha from Ukraine - you might remember them - they went from WOMEX to booking a Tiny Desk Concert and then frequently touring the U.S. Just this year alone, they performed more than 60 dates across this country.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHO Z-POD DUBA")

DAKHABRAKHA: (Singing in Ukrainian).

SHAPIRO: OK. So take us to Lisbon. You saw all these acts. Who jumped out at you?

TSIOULCAS: Well, I want to kick things off with an amazing band from Mexico. They're already booked to play New York's Global Fest in January, and then they'll be appearing at South by Southwest in March.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAJARO CENZONTLE")

SON ROMPE PERA: (Singing in Spanish).

TSIOULCAS: This is a band from Mexico City called Son Rompe Pera. The group was founded by a set of three brothers, the Gamas. And they wanted to keep their family tradition of marimba playing alive. As kids, they'd play alongside their dad at local events. But they also played in punk bands as teenagers.

(SOUNDBITE OF SON ROMPE PERA SONG, "PAJARO CENZONTLE")

TSIOULCAS: And their music is pretty relaxed. You're not quite getting the full experience with just the audio. Their sound is really polished cumbia, but their look and their energy is very punk metal, lots of tattoos and hipster haircuts and jumping around onstage. And the WOMEX crowd went wild for them.

SHAPIRO: So kind of a new take on an old sound there. What else did you see?

TSIOULCAS: People at WOMEX this year came from 116 countries, and there's always something for everyone, from very contemporary performers, like the ones we just heard, to musicians who are truly dedicated to making sure tradition is observed. And one of the latter is a wonderful singer from India named Rina Das Baul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NABO ANURAGI JOGI")

RINA DAS BAUL: (Singing in non-English language).

TSIOULCAS: Rina Das Baul is a traditional vocalist from India, and she's from a small village in the state of West Bengal. She comes from a spiritual community called the Bauls, whose adherents are wandering mystics who sing praises to God. So she sings, accompanying herself on a one-stringed instrument with a drum actually attached to her hip that she plays at the same time. And her voice is just so pure and full of sunshine, I could have listened to her all night.

SHAPIRO: Wow. So dozens of showcases across more than 100 countries. I'm sure it's tough to pick standouts, but give us another one.

TSIOULCAS: So lots of people have gotten to know and love Tuareg music of the Sahara thanks to artists like the band Tinariwen and the guitarist and singer Bombino, among others. And that style of desert music has been popularized by the name desert blues.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KHADEIDJA")

AL BILALI SOUDAN: (Singing in non-English language).

TSIOULCAS: This group is similar. Their name is Al Bilali Soudan, which is also an ancient name for the city of Timbuktu in Mali. And they're similar to Tinariwen and Bombino groups like that who have made it really big here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KHADEIDJA")

AL BILALI SOUDAN: (Singing in non-English language).

TSIOULCAS: And what I want you to hear is that percussion. It just hits me like a ton of bricks every time. It's a rhythm called to takamba. It's pounded out on calabashes like a heartbeat. The first time I heard that dance and that rhythm was also in Mali. And I have to say, none of the other Tuareg groups that have made it big internationally make that takamba sound so central as Al Bilali Soudan does. And it just makes me so happy every time I hear it. Al Bilali Soudan recently started touring the U.S., but I think their appearance at WOMEX is really what's going to kick them into drive in terms of U.S. touring.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas, just back from Lisbon. Thank you.

TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF AL BILALI SOUDAN SONG, "KHADEIDJA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.