Top Ten

September 7, 2007

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1. Manu Chao- Radiolina
The Spanish-French global mash-up artist is back with his first studio release in six years and as always, he offers up a smorgasbord of musical flavors.

Radiolina
has Caribbean, latin, dub, funk and a good dose of rock. And of course with Manu Chao, the lyrics are at times political and not in a subtle way.

The song Politik Kills takes a rather dim view of politics. Most of his songs are in sung in Spanish, this is one of the few he sings in English.

Chao once said he doesn't need the U.S. because of his huge popularity in Europe and Latin America. That statement probably turns off lots of U.S. music lovers, however, judging by the packed crowds that have come out to see him perform this year in the states, it seems like the U.S. needs Manu Chao.

2. Nomad Soundsystem- Nomad Soundsystem
Speaking of Manu Chao, there's a tune on this Berlin based group's debut that has a bit of Manu flavor. But this quintet is by no means an imitator.

They have their own musical style with roots in North Africa rather than Latin America, reflecting the diversity of Berlin. The first track, No/W Peace, opens with a sample of a Muezzin delivering the Islamic call to prayer.

Lead vocalist Karim Sfaxi is from Tunisia and at times his delivery is reminiscent of rai superstar Khaled, especially on the dance friendly Fatima.

While the emphasis is on the groove, it's not all computer generated sounds. Besides Sfaxi, who plays keyboards, most of the others play live instruments that range from the accordion to the North African drum called the bendir.

There's no shortage of 'fusion world music', but with a musical line-up that also includes cello and lap-steel, Nomad Soundsystem sets itself apart from the pack.

3. Kwame Nash- Payday
Chicago has a rather large Ghanaian community yet its not easy finding live music or local releases. Payday by Kwame Nash provides a glimpse into how some Ghanaians are updating the sounds from home.

The bouncy and intricate highlife guitar is ever present, but there are also some computer programmed elements, mostly strings.

Sugar Mommy is a  mixed bag of sounds with the first few bars sound North African then there's a short hip hop intro before Kwame takes over with some gospel tinged vocals.

Payday tops off with an instrumental version of Sugar Mommy.

4. Columbiafrica: The Mystic Orchestra-Voodoo Love Inna Champeta Land
When you think of Columbian music, chances are you you think cumbia. Back in the late 1960s black Columbians living along the Caribbean coast discovered music from the Congo.

Highlife and soukous music was fused with cumbia and other Columbian forms such as Chalupa and salsa as well as Haitian compas.

The result is a musical form called Champeta; mostly upbeat tunes sung in Spanish. On Voodoo Love Inna Champeta-land, three of Champeta's leading vocalists team up with some of Africa's premiere musicians to create some highly danceable music. Put away the Pilates DVD and play Mini Kusuto and you'll get just as good a work out!

5. Brazzaville- East L.A. Breeze
David Brown used to play saxophone in Beck's band, but since 1997 the L.A. native has been making his own music with his group Brazzaville. Brown now resides in Barcelona Spain, but before settling down there, he traveled to such far away places as India and Brazil. His music and stories reflect his world travels. The sound can be moody and with a lounge feel-using a trombone one moment then a haunting violin the next.

Many of Brown's songs are autobiographical and East L.A. Breeze is no exception. In Star Called Sun, Brown sings about his dead mother who tells him that there's really nothing to worry about in life. The band is hugely popular in Russia and for Star Called Sun, Brown uses the chords and melody from a post-Glasnot band called Kino and inserts his own haunting yet "positive" lyrics. If you like Tom Waits or Morphine, you'll enjoy Brazzaville's music.

6. Toots & The Maytals- Light Your Light
Frederick "Toots" Hibbert is in his early 60's but his voice is as powerful and soulful as it was when he began his professional career in the early 1960's. His gospel background remains a presence in his latest Light Your Light.

His last release was a collection of some of his past hits sung with various musicians but on this outing it's mostly just his voice. There's one duet with one of his favorite singers Bonnie Raitt. But the most powerful tunes are when he's got the spotlight all to himself especially the Otis Redding tune Pain In My Heart.

Toots refers to Redding as his one time tutor not in the real sense of course, but you can hear the influence of the great soul singer in Hibbert's version of the song. Toots Hibbert is the man known for giving the name reggae to this particular brand of Jamaican music and he also gives reggae its most soulful expression.

7. Zap Mama- Supermoon
When Marie Daulne formed Zap Mama in 1990, the all female group was strictly a cappella. for the past few releases, instruments have been added but the vocals- mostly Daulne's these days remain in the forefront.

On Supermoon, Daulne throws in everything from vibes, horns and percussion to accordion and some electronics. Toma Taboo opens with a dash of electronic nob twisting with Daulne's voice put through some sort of processor as she sings in French, then a James Brown guitar riff slips in before the songs takes off on an afro-funk ride.

8. Extra Golden- Hera Ma Nono
Mixing and matching musical styles from disparate parts of the world is happening with more frequency so it doesn't seem so out of place to make a record that marries indie rock with African benga music. Benga was created by the Luo musicians near Lake Victoria when they began playing traditional rhythms and melodies on electric instruments primarily guitar.

Extra Golden was born a few years back when Washington based guitarist  Ian Eagelson traveled to Kenya for his doctoral work in that country's music. His band Golden which included fellow guitarist Alex Minoff, eventually teamed up with Orchestra Extra Solar Africa a Nairobi band with singer/guitarist Otieno Jagwasi. He died about a year before Extra Golden released its debut in 2006.

On its sophomore effort Hera Ma Nono, long time Kenyan benga artist Opiyo Bilongo takes over on guitar and vocals. And according to the band's label, Chicago's Thrill Jockey Records, drummer Onyango Wuod Omari got a brand new drum kit for the recording and the result is a fuller sound. Omari also takes his turn on a few vocals.

The music isn't pure benga nor is it meant to be. The first track kicks off with a groove reminiscent of a tune by the 1960's band the Rascals. The tune Jakolando was penned and sung by Otieno's brother Onyango Jagwasi. The song is a tribute to his brother and takes its title from a nickname they both shared.

9. Shahram and Hafez Nazeri- The Passion of Rumi
This month marks the 800th anniversary of one of the Persia and the world's most renowned poets, Rumi. He was a 13th century Persian Muslim poet who's works transcended ethnic borders and has over the year been translated into many languages including English.

Many artists have over the years set his poems to song and one of those artists is a man known as the Pavarotti of Iran, Sharam Nazeri. He's been performing Persian classical and Sufi Music from most of his 67 years.
On this release, The Passion of Rumi, Nazeri lends his soaring and emotive voice to compositions by his son Hafez. Hafez says his approach to the music on this six years in the making album is fundamentally different from typical Persian classical pieces interns of harmony, mood and other aspects.

For instance, on Beyond, Hafez utilizes two Persian classical music forms blending them with a technique of classic Persian vocals to create what he calls a yet unidentified musical form. The music provides an aura of mystic, but it's Shahram Nazeri's voice that is the real draw.

10. Tunng- Good Arrows
Good Arrows, from the London-based band Tunng has some pretty good songs. The six piece band's sound still retains the folktronic elements from itsearlier work, but the added instruments like clarinet, melodica and hammer dulcimer bring a fuller sound.

The album's sound is constantly shifting from the acoustic guitar dominated Spoons to King which with its minor keyed plucking strings beginning, sounds like a lead into  a Tuuvan throat ensemble. King segues into a lilting Nick Drake-esque number with crackles of fire recorded in Big Sur California.

Good Arrows
is experimental pop that manages to bend genres into new forms.