Top World Music Albums and Other Nonsuch for 2016
For this week’s World Music Show (12/31), I’m going to take a different route. Instead of regurgitating every little snippet of what I’ll be playing (though, I know some of you perhaps enjoy the read and the ride as much I enjoy writing them), I’m going to break down my “Best of” list like so many other musical countdowns do across the spectrum, meaning it’ll be a Letterman-esque Top Ten list. If I were to include everything I’m playing this week, the list would be “Top 28.”
On my list you may find some matches to other top countdown lists. But, you may also find some that are only specific to Richmond. Plus, as an aside, I’ll include a couple non-CD highlights of what I enjoyed about putting on the World Music Show—this, the cap to my 9th Season—in a section I’ll call “Nonsuch.”
With that, let the countdown begin!
10. Eljuri “La Lucha.” (Manovill records. EljuriMusic.com) This is the Ecuadorian born/New York guitarist’s third release and on each of her releases, she expands and stretches her musical muscles. She’s been dubbed a Latina who rocks, and that sums it up quite well. On “La Lucha,” she once again works with legends Sly & Robbie on one track—but unlike her other CDs, this one is produced solely by her, which allows her complete control of her sound. Stand out track: “Bang Bang,” which addresses gun violence.
9. Ana Moura “Moura.” (Universal Music. Facebook/anamoura). In the world of Fado music, the often softly sung, melodic and moving music that came about in Portugal, Ana Moura (who used to be a Rock N’ Roll singer in Portugal) stands out as one of the giants. On this CD, her seventh, she again ups her exploration of Fado by giving us songs such as “Moura Encantada,” and “Ai Ei,” which highlight her beautiful vocal range. On this CD, she worked with legendary producer Larry Klein, who put his signature on many a Joni Mitchell CD.
8. The Frightnrs “Nothing More to Say.” (Dapsone Records. Thefrightnrs.com). Sadly, this debut album may be the band’s only release. During the production of this CD, the group's lead singer, Dan Klein, died from ALS earlier this summer. Much of the album was recorded after he was diagnosed last fall, which makes the songs on here all the more poignant, sweet and piercing. Their style is a throwback or perhaps on homage to the Rocksteady beats from the 60s, while at the same time they aren’t dated. The songs cover romance and the like, but do so in a fresh way. Stand out tracks: “All My Tears” (penned by Klein), and “Hey Brother.”
7. Karsh Kale “Up.” (Six Degrees. Karshkale.com). Kale is one of the pioneers of a genre known as Tabla Beat Music or Asian Underground music. He earns that title because of his skills at mastering everything—multiple instruments, production and orchestration. He’s able to take this sub-genre and bring it to a larger audience. Like on his earlier LPs, Kale also knows how to surround himself with talented musicians and singers, in this case people like singer/rapper Sa Dingding, Milan Xai, and Benny Dayal. His songs will take you on an electronic beat ride worthy of admission. Stand out tracks: “Play,” “Shiva,” and “Wake.”
6. Leni Stern “Dakar Suite.” (Lenistern.com). Stern started out as a New York Jazz musician, having worked with legends such as Bill Frisell. But over her 20-year career, this Munich born artist developed a taste for World Music. And in last several years, her tastes have led her to Africa. Like Kale, Stern plays a multitude of instruments, including the piano and the Ngoni. And she knows how to work with some very talented musicians. On Dakar Suite, she is able to pull of her talents together which results in a speculate sounding fusion of all sorts of beats. Stand out tracks: “Fisherman,” “Oshone,” and “Tuareg Dance.”
5. A Tie bewteen Pink Martini “Je Dis Oui!” and Piers Faccini "I Dreamed and Island" (Heinz Records. PinkMartini.com/Six Degrees Records piersfaccini.com). It was a hard choice with these two, as they both came out around the same time near the end of this year. I'll start with Pink Martini. Once again this Portland, Oregon based band proves that they’re no flash in the pan. Having put out a slew of albums that draw on everything from French music to big band swing to even well-crafted pop songs, Pink Martini have put together an LP that encompasses sounds from South Africa (Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata”), and Armenian folk songs (“Ov Sirun Sirun”). Plus, for the first time, band leader Thomas Lauderdale and crew put together a ton of songs for an upcoming film release called “Souvenir.” And, as per other Pink CDs, this one features a bevy of vocalists like China Forbes, Storm Large, Rufus Wainwright and NPR’s Ari Sharpiro. Stand out tracks: “Pata Pata,” “Love for Sale,” and “The Butterfly Song.” As for Piers Facinni's LP "I Dreamed an Island," it's a global and personal masterpiece. One in which he strived—and succeeded in wirting songs in "Real Time," which means he took a look at the world at large and wrote some beautiful songs about what was going on. From the Paris attacks, to Drone to the U.S. Presidential run, he took it all in an put out a great CD. Stand out tracks: “Oiseau” written the day after the 2015 Paris attacks as a plea to the world to wake from its terrorist nightmare; “Drone” describing the aftermath of a Syrian drone strike on a devastated town; and “Bring Down The Wall” as a response to a U.S. presidential candidate’s idea of building a wall along the US-Mexico border.
4. Miramar “Dedication to Sylvia Rexach.” (Barbes Records. Miramar.com). The only local RVA release to make my top ten this year (however, tune into the show, because there is one more local favorite of mine). This CD, featuring the trio of Rei Alvarez, Marylesse Simmons (Both of Bio Ritmo) and Laura Ann Singh (Fado Nosso), is full of beautifully crafted Boleros that were written by Puerto Rican composer Sylvia Rexach. Rexach was one of the only female Bolero composers in the 1940s and 50s, and she was well regarded as a trailblazer. Miramar updates her music and brings it to a new audience. Stand out tracks: “Sin Ti,” “Por Seimpre,” and “Tus Pasos.”
3. Carrie Rodriguez + The Sacred Hearts “Lola.” (Luz Records. CarrieRodriguez.com). This musician, based out of Austin, Tx, has crafted an album that combines a whole bunch of great stuff, including a little bit of Country, Tex Mex, Folk and some Rock. Rodriguez has a way of weaving her stellar voice in and out of tracks, singing in both English and Spanish, that is never overpowering—rather, it’s inviting and rich. Stand out tracks: “Llano Estacado,” “Noche de Ronda,” and “The West Side.”
2. Nouvelle Vague “I Could Be Happy.” (Kwaidan Records. Nouvellevague.com). The reason this CD reached number two on my list is because all the songs they cover—and they are cover songs—are from one of the decades I treasure the most—the 1980s. Nouvelle Vague has perfected the art in taking tracks from that decade and are able to redraft them into a dreamy, surreal pillow in which to rest my head. On this go-round, they take a not from the 80s band Altered Images (where the titles from) and put out a slew of great covers. I love finding new ways to listen to songs I’ve heard a dozen times before. Stand out tracks: “I Want to Be Sedated,” “All Cats are Gray,” and “I Could be Happy.”
1. Ceu “Tropix.” (Six Degrees. Ceu.com) This is number one on my list because this Brazilian singer is always surprising me. She’s taken me from covers (Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle”) to classic Brazil tracks on her debut, self-titled CD to some great live music, to this feat. Tropix, which is a combination of the words “Tropical” and “Pixel,” lets her flex some of creative, producing side as well as gives her songs an electronic bump. It’s no wonder she was nominated for a Grammy for best New World album. Stand out tracks: “Perfume Do Invisivel,” “A Menina E O Monstro” and “Sangria.”
Some other great CDs this year in no particular order are: Bacao Rhythm Steel Band “55.” “Konono No.1 Meets Batida.” Daniela Mercury “Virtual Vinyl.” Dom La Nena “Cantando.” Pitbullsonacid “Dragonfly Windowpane Flashback (local RVA)” and Los Hacheros “Bambulaye.”
On this year's World Music Show, I feel as if I was able to take some major leaps in terms of stretching the style and outreach of the show. In one of those stretches, I created a show within a show called "A Different Spin," in which I invited local musicians into the studio to bring in their favorite music. The artists I invited all brought way too many CDs to play, which is a good thing, as we had a ton to chose from. Guests on this year's list included: Brian (B-Snaptet, Afro-Zen Allstars, Lurray) and Bernadatte Cruse (Fado Nosso, Suenos Gitanos), Mighty Joshua, Rei Alveraz and Marylesse Simmons (Bio Ritmo, Miramar).
Plus, I was able to land some really great interviews, with people like Dave Wakeling (Enlgish Beat, General Public), Femi Koya, Kinobe and Albert Mazibuko (Ladysmith Black Mambazo). Plus, back in August we did our first ever BirthdayBash which featured two bands (Afro-Zen Allstars and Complicated Animals), and great food and beer. All of these were highlights from this year.
As for next year? Well, look for me to keep on stretching. Until then, thanks to everyone at WCVE, including the Digital Team, the Promotions Team and the On-Air staff. The World Music Show is heard Saturday nights from 8:00-10:00 p.m. on Richmond Public Radio, 88.9FM WCVE. You can stream the show online at ideastations.org and join the fun on Twitter @wcveworldmusic and on Facebook at The World Music Show on WCVE.