Ten Great New International Music Releases from 2017

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, December 19, 2017 07:15pm | Post a Comment

By Michael Henning

Tony Allen, The Source

10. Tony Allen - The Source (Blue Note)

Now 77 years old, Allen still plays with the vigor of someone 50 years younger, managing to sound both extremely tight and also suitably loose on this new record. He doesn't miss a beat, carrying the eclectic array of compositions with his fantastically funky rhythms. On top of that, he somehow manages to make his extraordinary playing sound effortless, like he is barely trying. The tunes themselves range from Afrobeat stompers to more laid back, jazzy grooves.


antibalas, where the gods are in peace

9. Antibalas - Where The Gods Are In Peace (Daptone)

Brooklyn's now legendary Antibalas are probably the best known and most successful of the modern crop of Afrobeat bands, and for good reason. They've been at it for almost 20 years now, and have released six excellent studio albums along the way. Their new one, on the always reliable Daptone label, is another high mark for them, with some of their most impassioned playing yet, and their politically and socially conscious lyrics resound even more in these troubling times.



8. Ariwo - Ariwo (Manana)

Dubby Afro-Cuban electronica from an Iranian producer? Wow! This one really blew my mind and that doesn't happen as often these days... The excellently programed beats themselves would be enough to make this excellent, but these four long tracks also seamlessly incorporate some truly smokin' authentic Cuban percussion and fiery trumpet, courtesy of some cats who can really play. Ridiculously great music that breaks new ground, and easily one of my favorite finds of 2017.


Orchestra Baobab

7. Orchestra Baobab - Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (World Circuit)

After a hiatus of nearly 10 years since their last album of new material, the mighty Orchestra Baobab is back! Going on nearly 50 years as a band, this new album finds them without recently deceased singer Ndiouga Dieng, who had been with them since their third album was released in 1975. Additionally, founding member Berthelemy Attiso is missing in action, as his duties as a lawyer in his native Togo unfortunately kept him from contributing here. I expected his absence to be a huge loss, as his playing is always incredible and he was quite integral to their sound. Instead, kora player Abaye Cissoke joins in, and in the process they offer up their finest record since 1982's essential Pirates Choice, sounding truly inspired and fresh while also being rooted in a more traditional style than any of their previous work. It is a joy to hear them do a handful of kora-led, Manding griot style tunes usually associated with Malian artists like Toumani Diabate, and they even add a couple of fantastic reworkings of traditional Guineean songs. A few lively Afro-Cuban selections round out the album, making this pan-African journey a rich, rewarding adventure. A beautiful return to form from this legendary Senegalese group!
Gamalan of the Walking Warriors

6. Gamelan Beleganjur and the Music of the Ngaben Funerary Ritual in Bali - The Gamelan of the Walking Warriors (Akuphone)

A modern gamelan record that lives up to the epic sounding title. Recording quality is nice but not sterile, and the overall dynamic is in that perfect spot between controlled and raw, making these longish, mostly traditional-sounding pieces a joy to hear. These are pretty typical of the Balinese style, with rhythmic complexity a significant focus. For the uninitiated who don't have a clue what all this means, Gamelan music is the name given to music performed by (mostly Indonesian) groups who play large sets of tuned gongs. The rhythms and tonalities might sound unusual to our western ears, but they are strikingly beautiful nonetheless.
Kondi Band

5. Kondi Band - Salone (Strut) 

A groovy modern update on the classic African thumb piano sound. Deeply resonant kondi (thumb piano) blends with tasteful electronic rhythms to give this a forward thinking album a unique identity. Add some understated singing, and you have something that will appeal to fans of those recent Francis Bebey reissues, Konono No. 1, and other lamellophone innovators.


Orchestre Les Mangelepa

4. Orchestre Les Mangalepa - Last Band Standing (Strut) 

One of the greatest bands of 1970's Kenya turns in a contemporary studio album that captures the joy and groove that they were well-known for back then. Fans of Orchestra Baobab, Franco, Rochereau, Orchestra Super Mazembe, and other iconic African groups in that vein should definitely check this out.


Jauna Molina

3. Juana Molina - Halo (Crammed Discs)

The queen of progressive Latin Rock utilizes repetition and syncopation masterfully (including some odd time signatures), and also some very interesting keyboard/synth textures. Once that solid foundation is built, her fluid lyrical flow takes over, guiding her songs in a way that highlights her unique voice.


Super Ape Returns to Conquer

2. Lee "Scratch" Perry & Subatomic Sound System - Super Ape Returns To Conquer (Subatomic Sound)

Subatomic Sound System produces some new tunes and also reworks a bunch of Lee Perry classics to great effect, yielding these very modern, bass-heavy, spacy vocal cuts, along with some dubs for good measure. Scratch sounds inspired for the first time in quite a while and this is easily the best new pure reggae album I've heard this year, and maybe the best in the last couple of years.


Msafiri Zawose

1. Msafiri Zawose - Uhamiaji (Soundway)

Msafiri Zawose is the fifth son of legendary Tanzanian musician Hukwe Zawose, and he has been carrying on the legacy that his father began decades ago, finding new ways to keep the traditional music fresh. The good folks at Soundway Records have released his new album Uhamiaji, a wonderfully rich modern take on the timeless Gogo sound. He worked with UK-based producer Sam Jones to create an album that brings his music into the future (and possibly even some adventurous clubs), while also maintaining the vital essence of this ancient tradition. So good!


Relevant Tags

Orchestre Les Mangalepa (1), Kondi Band (1), Gamelan (2), Orchestra Baobab (1), Ariwo (1), Indonesia (4), World Music (147), African Music (9), Africa (20), Msafiri Zawose (2), Best Of 2017 (19), Antibalas (4), Fela Kuti (13), Tony Allen (3), Michael Henning (9), Juana Molina (6), Latin Music (5), Latin Rock (5), Lee Scratch Perry (4)