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World Music Show "Best Of" Picks for 2018

Bombino's place is well deserved

To fill the void of Best Of lists this time of year--wait, what I mean is, to add to the long list of Best Ofs, on this week’s World Music Show (12/29), I’m going to add more to the canon of fodder that this time of year produces.

But before I begin, there are a few caveats with my Best Of World Music 2018 list. One is that my list will be in no particular order (however, there will be a few major favorites). And two is that all these picks are from music that I was able to get, either on my own by begging record labels or that were graciously sent to me from wonderful record companies and promotional folks. This means that it’s not complete and that if you saw an artist on say the NPR music list, I may or may not have the same picks. And that’s ok. This little dog and pony show is what it is--a way for me to introduce some great world music to RVA and hopefully beyond.

One last thing, this list could’ve been a longer, as there was a great bunch of music sent my way this year. So down below will be a few callouts of songs I think you should check out.

And away we go…

Well Known Musicians Who are Not Worn Out

This was a great year for many musicians who decided to make another album either after a rest or what have you. I’m talking about musicians such as Brazilian Girls--who everyone thought were finished but instead made a joyous return with their CD “Let’s Make Love.” The trio of two men and a woman proved again that they are the dancehall favorites but that they still have things to say. From this release I’m playing their first single called “Pirates,” because it encompasses everything that makes their latest a great cause for celebration.

The Reggae group Black Uhuru are another long running band who were finally able to release their latest album called “As the World Turns.” This came after a few years of false starts. But leader Duckie Simpson still proves he’s got the voice and drive to not make any of the new music and covers, such as his take on the Clash’s “Police & Thief” worthy of being on any list. However, I’ll be playing my one of my favorites called “War Crime.”

The Malian musician Salif Keita just got a CD out under the wire for this year. And it comes with a tinge of bittersweetness. It’s his last album before retiring after being on the World Music scene for decades and for blazing a trail for so many other musicians. On his final release called “Un Autre Blanc” you can still hear the drive that made him a household name in many parts of the globe. The passion is still present. From this new work, I picked “Itarafo,” not only because it features Angelique Kidjo but because it’s just a great song.

And speaking of Angelique Kidjo, her total reimaging of the Talking Heads “Remain in Light” album is just a feat unto itself. Kidjo’s take on that classic was to turn up the Afrobeat. She had mentioned in interviews that when she moved away from Benin to France, it was one of the main albums she listened to on repeat. She saw the potential of what else that record could become. I’m playing “Houses in Motion,” because it’s a track that answers the question “why do this?”

David Byrne is no stranger to Best Of lists. But on his latest release called “American Utopia,” he still proves that he’s got something to say. And he still is deft at weaving in World Music beats throughout his songs--and not in an overdone “look at me” way. It’s just seamless. I’m playing “Everybody’s Coming to My House,” though I could’ve played an other track from this (like “Dog’s Mind.”) that highlights his love of World Music.

You may know the musician Yusuf better as Cat Stevens. However you know him or remember him, he made a great CD this year called “Tell ‘Em I’m Gone,” that pretty much flew under the radar. Which is a shame because on this release, he partners on many tracks with the desert blues band Tinariwen. Plus, he dives into some blues as well as a spectacular cover of “You Are My Sunshine,” which also features Tinariwen. I’m playing the title track because it’s just beautiful. Yusuf hasn’t lost any of the beauty or complexity of his earlier work. His playing is still gentle but powerful and though his voice is a tad deeper now, it still conveys all the same messages. If I had to pick a “number one” for 2018, this would be it--or as close to number one as it could be.

Here’s a List, Regardless

Ok, since my end of the year/Best Of 2018 show has 30 picks, in which I could write a brief synopsis of each, I’m going to streamline the process--but this in no way makes these musicians any less worthy of your ears.

  • Dawn Landes & Piers Faccini “Desert Songs”: Three words: Go Get This. Their collaboration is just a beautiful pairing. It’s the kind of album in which you will get lost in their duets, their playing and eventually get lost in thought. I’m playing “Crying Out Loud.”
  • Delgres ”Mo Jodi”: A trio of French musicians who play a sort of Roots music but with a French Twist. I’m playing the title track.
  • Bombino ”Deran”: This Tuareg guitarist keeps on proving that he has more to say, with nothing on repeat and with nothing getting tiring. Just beautiful, sweeping desert blues from a master who knows his stuff. Track: “Imajghane.”
  • Brownout ”Fear of a Brown Planet”: This band takes on big projects, such as Public Enemy or Black Sabbath and turns those classics into an updated Afrobeat party. Track: “Fight the Power.”
  • Chancha Via Curcuito “Bienaventuranza”: This is one master musician from Buenos Aires who is the whole package--producing, etc. His style on each song is never the same. Track: “Los Pastores.”

  • Johnny & Jaalene “Johnny & Jaalene”: This very young duo out of Los Angeles have taken on the Rockabilly style but have mixed in some great Latin rhythms too. The covers and other tracks are retreads but fresh new takes on the genre. *Thanks to John Porter for passing this along to me. Track: “Teenage Cutie,” by Eddie Cochran.
  • Fantomaticos “Estoneante”: This band out of Brazil kept dropping singles through most of the year, which is great because it gave me a taste of what their actual new CD “No Bosque - Edic_a_o Comemorativa 10 Anos” is all about. They are a fun and talented band and I can’t wait to play more tracks off their new CD.
  • Eljuri “Keep it Up”: Eljuri is a fighter. You can hear her passion when she blazes on her Gibson and in her voice. She lives in New York and you can hear all the commotion that city life brings, but it’s not overpowering by any means. She uses the beat of the streets to her advantage. And it’s because of city life and her commitment to calling out the wrongs of society (i.e. gun violence, domestic abuse) that she put out this song just before the 2018 Midterms. It was rallying cry to give people a glimpse of hope to keep fighting.

Other Call-Outs

  • Femi Kuti “One People/One World.” He doesn’t ride on his father’s coat tails and deserves his own following.
  • The Turbans “Sinko Moy.” This band from “Manywhere” put out a really well done album. And I’m excited to see where they go from here.
  • Ceci Bastida “Bella in Rosa.” You may know this track better as “Pretty in Pink,” the famous and great song by The Psychedelic Furs. Bastida is a master of the cover song and I’m so happy she covered this one.
  • Alex Cuba “Suspendidos en el Tiempo.” He proves once again why he’s been nominated several times for a Grammy. I can’t wait for his latest album.
  • Appalatin “Vida.” This band mixes Appalachian music with Latin beats in a way that makes you think it’s as natural as anything.
  • Nickodemus “Livin’ the Dream.” He’s a DJ/Producer in New York who knows his way around World Beats.
  • Fjorka “Sugarface.” I’m not sure how to explain this person/group but I can say that it’s just so much fun to hear this song.
  • Kuwiasiana “Nada.” Like Appalatin, this band does some great mixing of styles. In this case, it’s music from Kuwait and Louisiana.
  • Lara Klaus “Forca do Gesto.” She’s the backbone of the super group Ladama or the Ladama Project. Each musician in that group brings their own unique perspective to their amazing music. Lara was able to step out in front with her solo effort this year and we’re all happier for it.

Not to be missed are the Brazilian musicians Kassin, Domenico Lancellotti, Adre Sampaio and Jota Erre. Two of these (Kassin and Domenico) are no strangers to Best Of lists since they’ve been playing music together and solo for years. And their latest projects are just amazing. The others are all “new to me” musicians who I enjoyed playing over and over this past year. Lastly, and also a great call out is a track called “Rudy Don’t Smoke,” by K-Man and the 45s. It’s a Ska track that I thought should be here.

Well, there you go--as mentioned the list is incomplete. I know I missed many but two hours goes by very fast. Tune into the World Music Show Saturdays at 8pm on WCVE Music, 93.1 & 107.3FM or stream the show via this website. Get live, streaming track listings here too. Also, follow me on Twitter @wcveworldmusic and on Facebook at the World Music Show on WCVE.