Guitarist / vocalist Vieux Farka TourÃ©. (Lassi Kon )
As the steady flow of international musicians performing in the United States grew to a torrent at the end of the 1990s, it seemed that the world truly had grown smaller. Over the past decade though, the flood has slowed to a trickle, with rising air fares, difficulty in procuring visas and diminishing support from cash-strapped record labels locking many foreign artists out of the U.S. market.
Yet even if it's become more challenging to see acts from around the world play live locally, their music remains accessible. Here are 10 (mostly) international performers who had memorable recordings released this year.
Forro for All
"Light a Candle"
With its origins as country dance music in Brazil's impoverished northeast, forro is an unlikely style to find a foothold in Manhattan's hipster redoubts. But in the hands of percussionist Mauro Refosco and fellow Brazilian expats, Forro for All has infiltrated the Big Apple with an infectious, grooving sound driven by the metallic ting of the triangle and resounding whump of the frame drum zabumba. This is party music that travels well.
The celebrated eight-woman Bay Area vocal ensemble explores a typically polyglot collection of music from Bulgaria, Albania, Georgia, Romania and other points east, songs that all share a common purpose if not language. The combination of lulling melodies and stark, often startling harmonies creates an exquisitely pleasurable frisson.
"Alan Lomax in Haiti"
After more than 70 years on the shelf, the treasure trove of field recordings capturing singers, voodoo ceremonies, church services and carnival celebrations gathered by Alan Lomax on a 1936-37 trip to Haiti has been liberated. With audio and film shot by the folklorist, this 10-disc box set includes lyrics and extensive notes by Haitian music scholar Gage Averill. The booklet also includes Lomax's Haitian diaries, but it's the raw power of the music that makes this a fascinating package.
In the six years since her last album, Mali's Sangaré has expanded her extensive business empire and cemented her status as West Africa's most charismatic and outspoken female musician. She returns in top form, her clarion Wassoulou style infused with bracing jolts of Afrobeat (courtesy of drum great Tony Allen) and funk (via James Brown horn greats Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis). Built on a polyrhythmic latticework of traditional West African instruments, Sangaré's incantatory songs diagnose the social ills of Mali, while calling upon her sisters to demand fair treatment.
(Sony Music Latin)
The first of two volumes capturing the beloved Argentine matriarch of nueva canción singing duets with a dazzling, multigenerational cast of Latin American artists, "Cantora" is an extraordinary parting gift by Sosa, who passed away last October at the age of 74. Largely unfrayed by time, her sumptuous voice sounds as warm and resolute as ever. Among the many high points are a rendition of "Razon de vivir" with Lila Downs that feels like a torch passing and a dramatic version of "Sabiéndose De Los Descalzos" with Julieta Venegas.
(4Q World Connection)
Born in Lisbon to parents from Cape Verde, singer/songwriter Sara Tavares is part of a wave of enthralling young Cape Verdean artists. Unlike most of her peers, she writes and produces her own material, accompanies herself on guitar and carefully constructs each track in the studio. Singing in Cape Verdean creole, Tavares possesses a sunny voice suffused with the West African archipelago's lilting rhythms. "Xinti" artfully engages her cosmopolitan sensibility, reflecting her love of jazz, bossa nova, reggae and R&B, as well as her ethnic heritage.
Vieux Farka Touré
Walking in the footsteps of a legendary parent is surely daunting, but Malian guitarist/composer Vieux Farka Touré confidently steps into the imposing shoes of his late father, Ali Farka Touré, with his second release. While inspired by the sinewy roots music of northwestern Mali that defined his father's bluesy sound, Touré draws on an international array of influences. Co-produced by Israeli bassist Yossi Fine, "Fondo" offers a kaleidoscopic lens into contemporary West Africa, as Touré synthesizes rock, funk, reggae and drum 'n' bass into his original tunes.