All aboard for the annual double-CD trip round many of the planet’s current finest sounds. Our guide as always is writer and broadcaster Charlie Gillett, which means that established world music heavyweights (Gotan Project, Tinariwen), new and emerging talents (Vieux Farka Touré, Mayra Andrade), virtual unknowns (insert your own discoveries here), and the occasional voice from the mainstream (Devendra Banhart) are all welcome, the only criteria being the ability to turn a tune fine enough to hook one of the most discerning quality controllers in the business, and the appropriate style, sound and attitude required to add value to the musical journey.
It’s a weaving yet coherent path on which we are taken, the thread between tracks sometimes clearly audible, as in the way the subtle prompts of accordion on Son Mystère by Berlin’s acoustic big band 17 Hippies bleed into those on Poljanska Balada by Slovenia’s excellent Brina (the latter an uncharacteristic flirtation with folk music from the compiler). Or the way the shuffling beat of Cape Verde’s LA-MC Malcriado nestles so comfortably alongside that of the title track of Andy Palacio’s critically acclaimed album Wàtina - the marriage here between studio creation and a more organic-sounding track typical of the collection as a whole. Other times we can only guess at why it all works so well - Tinariwen to Los De Abajo via Balkan Beat Box? That connection shouldn’t work, but somehow it makes perfect sense in the context of this compilation.
Other highlights and revelations this time round include the sultry Spanish jazz of Buika (her sweet and smoky voice sounding as if it’s been marinated in honey and Marlboro Lights), and an inventively funky contribution from Telmary, sometime rapper with Cuba’s Freehole Negro (who were one of last year’s revelations). And in a rootsier vein, Vieux (and Ali) Farka Touré’s potent desert blues and Elizabeth Ayoub’s sparse, soulful oud-accompanied ballad are a spine-tingling way to round off CD One. All in all, with 30 countries represented on 33 tracks over two CDS, this is one fine compilation, with plenty of interest for newbies and thought-they-knew-it-alls alike.
This review first appeared in fRoots magazine.