10. Major Lazer-Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do
The quote attributed to Ken Kesey in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test comes to mind when I listen to Major Lazer: "You're either on the bus or off the bus." The future of so-called “World Music” has everything mixing the past with the present. This is where most purists jump off the party bus and the rest of us keep going. On the bus still are producers Diplo and Switch, along with Vybz Kartel, T.O.K., Ms. Thing, Turbulence, Mr. Vegas, Mr. Lexx, Santigold, Nina Sky and Amanda Blank. Major Lazer is the link between Reggae Dancehall, Baltimore Club music and Favela Funk, all under the guise of a hard partying Jamaican commando who lost his arm in a secret zombie war in 1984. Think of a club at its peak: dirty, sweaty and full of people trying to make it on the dance floor and that is what Guns is. Major Lazer, along with Buraka Som Sistema and Toy Selectah, are bringing the party back into global party!
9. V/A- The Sound Of Wonder!
This is the latest installment in the B-Music/Finders Keepers series of obscure World Music. The Sound Of Wonder! focuses on Pakistan's little known-to-westerners “Lollywood” sound. What is Lollywood, you say? Lollywood was a tongue in cheek term made up in the late 80’s by Glamour gossip columnist Saleem Nasir because all the Pakistani films were filmed in the city of Lahore. The Pakistani film industry thrived, much like India’s film industry, but had little success outside of Pakistan’s borders. The music on this compilation sounds like a lo-fi, spaced out version of Bollywood music with Urdu lyrics. Most of the tracks on this compilation are done by composer M. Ashraf and singer Nahid Akhtar, with one track containing Noor Jehan, the legendary Pakistani singer who recorded over 10,000 songs in her lifetime and was the first female Pakistani film director. Of all the Finder Keepers releases, I feel this one is their strongest to date.
8. Chico Sonido-Chico Sonido
Perhaps this release could easily be placed in our Electronica department, because it has more to do with DJ Shadow or Cut Chemist than it has to do with anything in the Latin Alternative scene. This mostly instrumental music takes you to somewhat familiar territory. Hip-Hop producers have been sampling records from Latin America for decades, but while average Hip-Hop producer’s beats feel like tourist explorations, Chico Sonido's music is homegrown. Chico Sonido brings together his love of nineties hip-hop beats with his love of Latin American Psyche, Latin Disco and Grupera. Songs such as "Mas Discotheque" and "Ye Ye Ye" are drugged out dance floor excursions. Songs such as "En Mi Sueños" pay tribute to often-sampled sounds of groups like Los Angeles Negros. However, "Y Volar" is my favorite, part Dust Brothers with nods to Hawkwind’s electronic geniuses Dik Mik & Del Dettmar.
7. V/A- Panama! 2 &3: Latin Sounds, Cumbia Tropical and Calypso Funk On The Isthmus 1967-77
The Soundway label always does a great job in finding the most obscure yet amazing tracks from all over the world. Some are so obscure that the residents of those countries have long forgotten about them. What makes the Panama! Series worthwhile is not only the music, but also the history of the country itself. The music that is featured on Vol. 2&3 comes from the Caribbean immigrants who migrated to Panama starting from the early 1900s to help build the Panama Canal. Along with the labor, the Caribbean immigrants brought over their music. Panama's love for Afro-Cuban rhythms, Jazz and Calypso all are due in part to its immigrant culture. Also, during the '60s, many Black Panamanians were influenced by the Black Power movement from the U.S. and incorporated it in their music. Funk, Soul, Salsa and Rock mixed with Panama’s pop culture to create some amazing music. Panama! Vol. 2 captures a moment in time when Panama not only revisited its Caribbean roots, but its African roots as well. Panama! Vols 2 & 3 are chock full of big bands and small combos playing the funkiest of funk, the coolest of Cumbia, and hardest of Salsa.
6. Brownout- Aguilas and Cobras
Brownout is the alter ego of Austin, Texas based Grupo Fantasma, a group known to rock parties all over the world. While Grupo Fantasma makes its mark by playing Cumbia and Salsa, Brownout is the little brother that rebelled against his Tejano Roots and got into Soul and Psychedelic rock instead, resulting in the funkiest Chicano rock albums to come out in many years. Brownout’s horn section is second to none right now. One could understand why Prince asked the band to back him up for a few shows in 2008. Adrian Quesada’s skillful yet restrained guitar playing sounds like Carlos Santana if he was raised on Afro-Beat rather than blues. Aguilas and Cobras is an instant classic of Chicano Rock that ranks with the classics by Malo, Sapo, Santana and El Chicano.
5. Joyce-Visions Of Dawn
This is a lost album of Joyce that dates back to 1976; it is a recording session that she did in Paris with fellow Brazilians Nana Vasconcelos and Maurio Maestro. They took their cue from their participation in the Clube Da Esquina songwriter movement, which included Milton Nacimento, Lo Borges and Nelson Angelo, who made a brilliant album with Joyce back in 1972. Visions Of Dawn flows much in the same vein as those classic Clube Da Esquina albums, with psychedelic folk, bossa nova and jazz leanings. At times, Visions Of Dawn sounds like what was coming out of California during the same era, but there is a melancholy that Brazilian music captures that no other music in the world can. It’s not gloom and doom, but it’s an instant grey cloud that covers like a warm blanket.
4. La Excelencia- Mi Tumbao Social
La Excelencia’s 2006 debut album Salsa Con Conciencia dropped like a bomb on the Salsa Music world. The general consensus was that it reminded Salsa music fans why they got into the music in the first place. Yes, it was danceable, but it was also gritty. La Excelencia's approach seemed so easy and natural that I wondered why other Salsa musicians didn’t follow their lead. Still, the Salsa world continued on its path of one killer track per album, then fillers of covers, remixes and love songs. The thing that I like about Mi Tumbao Social is that it is a great album as a whole. Sure, they have great soneros and excellent musicianship, as do many Salsa groups, but the fact that I can listen to this album from beginning to end without skipping tracks is a minor accomplishment. There are no Salsa Romantica or Reggaeton remixes or long self-indulgent solos to bog the record down. The Fania comparisons are inevitable; mainly because the artists that were signed to Fania had the mentality to not only create great songs, but great albums as well. La Excelencia co-founders Julian Silva (music) and Jose Vazquez-Cofresi (lyrics) wrote some great songs that make you dance and well as think. Not since the prime of Ruben Blades and Willie Colon's Siembra have we been this blessed.
3. V/A-Forge Your Own Chains: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads And Dirges 1968-1974
This was my driving companion through the California desert on some road trips I took this year. When I first listened to it, it reminded me more of a classic mix tape that you got from a friend with an extensive record collection than a compilation of Psychedelic rock. Forge Your Own Chains does not discriminate or patronize; Dirgy gospel can exist with Korean Psychedelic Folk; Colombian hippies Ana Y Jaime's joyous “Nina Nana” is juxtaposed with Top Drawer's “Song of a Sinner,” some drugged out blues by a young man that feels he’s doomed to hell. Ofege from Lagos, Nigeria's “It’s Not Easy” sounds more like the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See” than anything Fela did, but it’s a great love song of merit. Each song on this compilation feels like it belongs, which, given the wide scope of cultures involved, is no small feat. This is the best compilation to come from The Stones Throw family since The Funky 16 Corners.
2. Matias Aguayo-Ay Ay Ay
Much like the now-classic Clandestino by Manu Chao, Ay Ay Ay, Matias Aguayo’s latest full-length, is the sound of a nomadic journey. It’s the natural sounds that you would hear while traveling. The sounds of the streets that plant inside your head and become instant memories of places visited. Ay Ay Ay takes the same journey that Juana Molina has, making layers of one's own voice into an orchestra. But unlike Molina, whose albums sound like hours of obsessed studio work, Aguayo’s approach sounds natural, like someone who wrote the songs in the shower, then recorded them while drying. Along with his effects-filled voice are a few bass lines, minimal samples and beats. On “Ritmo Juarez,” I can imagine being in the darkness of the border town that overlooks the lights of El Paso. The sound of a street carnival in Colombia comes alive in “Juanita” and “Rollerskate” sounds like he was given a microphone at a club and asked to create a party song on the spot. Although Matias Aguayo is filed in the Electronica section, Ay Ay Ay explores more of the world than the average World Music release did in all of 2009.
1.Helado Negro-Awe Owe
This album did not arrive in my hands by conventional means. I did not read about it in the press nor did a record label try to shove it down my throat. In fact, I found it in bin of used CD’s to ready to be priced. I liked the band's name and the cover and that was enough to take a chance. After the first listen, I had to know who these guys were. It turned out it the brainchild of Roberto Carlos Lange, a musician/producer who has worked with Savath and Savalas and School of Seven Bells, among many others. Awe Owe has shades of South America’s psychedelic folk past that meld with Lange’s non-obtrusive beats. Lush vocal, horn and xylophone arrangements made it difficult to tell what era Awe Owe came from. It was the perfect blend of bedroom beat maker and modern day composer, the missing link between Arthur Verocai and El Guincho, with some Spaceman 3 drone to boot. Whatever the case, Awe Owe become the album I came back to the most last year. No matter the weather or my moods, Awe Owe became the perfect soundtrack for 2009.