I just couldn’t use the word “World” to represent the music of non-north American or British lands. I know International is no better, perhaps I should have chosen “Global.” I dunno. Either way, to limit the best music of the year to 5 songs, covering 90 percent of the globe is silly in its own right. Not to mention the fact that I have hardly even listened to a fraction of a percent of the world music released in 2016. But I did listen to some of it, mostly from Latin America & Africa; really this post should be titled, Best Music of 2016 – mostly Latin America & West Africa. But I’m not gonna do that, because then I’d have to cut out this entire paragraph. And I need to finish this post by tonight so I can move on to songs by Tony Orlando & Dawn and Barry Manilow and how they have their own special ear-worm craters in my brain. Get ready 2017!
Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil – Tres Palabras
I wasn’t going to include a live album, but when you have a release, Dois Amigos, Um Secolo de Musica, featuring two of the most influential and important musicians of all the world, not just in their native Brazil, it warrants inclusion on a list such as this. I had the pleasure of seeing both of them in concert during the past 5-10 years, but never together, and I still kick myself for missing their local performance earlier this year. But now I get to hear it whenever I want, and the recording sounds great, capturing their genial, passionate spirit.
Orkesta Mendoza – Caramelos
This probably shouldn’t qualify, as Orkesta Mendoza is from Tucson, Arizona. But I only learned that today, and if I had been told they were from Cuba, I would have believed it. In fact, band leader Sergio Mendoza had been the main force behind a tribute band honoring Cuban mambo king Perez Prado before forming before Orkesta. So, the resume holds up. “Caramelos” is definitely more rockin’ than most of the other songs on their 2016 release Vamos A Guarachar, but it does capture their unique energy quite well.
Rokia Traore – Ilè
Rokia Traore is an international treasure. She’s soulful, graceful, funky, sleek, raw and 100 other descriptors all in one. I stupidly didn’t go see her perform at the SFJazz this fall, as I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, but that’s about as lame an excuse as there is. I guess, since I’d seen her at the tiny Ashkenaz club in Berkeley a few years ago for 12 dollars, paying 55 to see her at a much further distance was less appealing. But she’s so good, she can captivate a stadium. My bad. Her 2016 album, Ne So, was a bit quieter than her previous releases, but her take on Billy Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” brought back the original’s chilling power. It’s one of 2016’s best albums.
Konono No. 1 – Kinsumba
I chose this song from their 2016 album, Meets Batida, mainly because it is has some more experimental touches than usual. It captures their organic, hypnotic sound but adds some interesting production touches by Batida. If you like this, get the entire album. In fact, get all their albums. Everyone of them is fantastic.
Baaba Maal – Fulani Rock
Baaba Maal has been making music since the 1980s and is a bonafide World music superstar, especially in his native Senegal. He could easily rest on his laurels and put out generic, pleasing records for the rest of his life and go down as one of the greats. But, thankfully, Baaba didn’t do that on his 2016 album, The Traveller. Though clearly more modern sounding than most of his earlier music, with electronic touches, the songwriting has a distinctively grounded, primal quality. It feels vital and from the heart, even if not bound by a unified sound. “Fulani Rock” is the first track, and easily the most upbeat song on the album, maybe the most “cross-over” but that’s not a bad thing. A great song is a great song no matter the clear influences.