Top World Beat CDs

A sampling of the music recommended below in a YouTube channel, enjoy!

Milton: Milton Nascimento

Perhaps the world’s most emotionally stirring and evocative singer, Milton Nascimento, hails from Brazil’s Minas Gerais state. His album Milton, which I caught playing in a Georgetown (D.C.) record shop, would be No. 1 on my desert island disks list. Nascimento rocks with jazz greats Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Toninho Horta and others. At least four tracks are nothing short of magnificent: “Raca,” “Fairy Tale Song,” “Cravo E Canela” and “One Coin.”

The highlight of Angelus is Nascimento’s collaboration with James Taylor on “Only A Dream in Rio.” This will make you want to hop the next plane to Brazil:

Strange taste of a tropical fruit
Romantic language of the Portuguese
Melody on a wooden flute
Samba floating in the summer breeze

Firin’ in FoutaBaaba Maal

You’ll be hard pressed to find two back-to-back tracks as strong as “Swing Yela” and “Mbaye” on any other World Beat recording.

The former sounds a bit like Jamaican toasting, with more complex contrapuntal rhythms, and the latter has the horn-section muscle of Stax recordings mixed with the swing and melody of Brazil.

“Salimoun” mixes a push-along snare drum, the runs of the string kora and a lovely chorus.

One of the strongest, most accessible yet original musical recordings in the World Beat canon — hence we start it off as a favorite in our top 12.

Iso: Ismael Lo

Like his more famous countryman, Baaba Maal, Ismael Lo hails from Senegal and released a high-water mark CD on Mango in 1994.

I bought Iso on a whim at a Borders store in Rockville, Md., because I loved the image on the cover: a tall man standing head lowered, arms raised, palms up, in front of a tawny desert.

My guess that the lovely design represented an advanced sentiment toward beauty in both music and art proved correct.

Some of the songs are pretty, adorned by guitar, harmonica and a few string, but others explode with African energy: Nafanta, Baol Baol, Wassalia, Setsinala (tracks 2, 6, 9 and 10)

This CD will make you happy, if you like happy music at all!

Oye Como Va: Tito Puente

Do you love horns? This showcases salsa master Tito Puente, with wall-to-wall hip swiveling tunes. Some of the best trumpets you could ever hope to hear on “Ran Kan Kan” (track 12). Tito has a good number of excellent CDs, but this may be one of his best the best for those who love a dance groove.


Night Song: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

It took me a good while to discover Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I’d seen his CDs in the racks at Baltimore’s Soundgarden in Fells Point, and he looked like a balding, overweight cult figure. No doubt his music was strange, I figured.

Then I got to subscribing to satellite radio, which used to have dedicated channels for World Beat, reggae and Afro-pop.

In no time I was exposed to the ineluctable beauty of Nusrat’s voice, and began collecting his music, with a preference to his more pop stylings.

I start with Night Song, with the wonderful tracks “My Heart, My Life,” “Intoxicated,” “My Comfort Remains,” “Longing” and “Sweet Pain.” To a remarkable extent, each title perfectly captures the atmosphere of the song.

Next comes the worth-the-search Mustt Mustt, with remarkable tracks including the title one, “Tracery,” “Avenue” and “Nothing Without You.” Listeners are divided on the collection of remixes by other artists, Star Rise; track 2, “My Heart My Life” by Talvin Singh seems to me sublime, and the other tracks marry techno-drive with voice samples. For a more traditional feel, try Intoxicated Spirit, where Nusrat spins magic for dozens of minutes in the cyclical “Yeh Jo Halka Halka.”

Aye: Angelique Kidjo

rocks and pounds with one strong track after another. This may be Afro-pop’s answer to “Thriller,” strong, confident, polished, monster beats. Kidjo, originally from Benin, looks like Grace Jones and sings with girl rapper aggression. Hang on for this ride — horns, James Brown down beats, scratchy congas, and Kidjo singing of Yoruba gods and goddesses, love and helping others. Her more recent album, Eve, also delights, check out the track “Hello,” compiled on the YouTube World Beat channel above. And she crushes “Voodoo Child” in her cover on Oremi.

Rai Rebels: Various artists

Rai Rebels captures the liberation music found in the port city of Oman in Algeria. Hypnotic Arab melodies marry a strong percussive beat for some of the most distinctively compelling music around.

I could listen to “Sidi Boumeddiene” by Cheb Khaled on repeat for hours on end, for the extended instrumental of fading drums that make its conclusion.

Beautiful Wasteland: Capercaillie

Beautiful Wasteland showcases the Scottish group Capercaillie at its Celtic best — and blends Afro influences, much like Afro Celt Sound System and Baaba Maal’s Nomad Soul. Vocalist Karen Matheson starts out languidly on the relaxed “Mionam,” then collaborate with Sibeba from Guinea on “Inexile.” They start to rock on track 3, “The Tree,” featuring traditional “mouth music,” where the vocals are percussive, non-language, and have to be heard to understood! More mouth music on the lovely “Hebridean Hale-Bopp” and “Finlay’s.”

Go try to figure out why African and Celtic music share such buoyancy — some branches of our human family tree just seem to enjoy themselves!

And speaking of African and Celtic music:

Volume 1: Sound Magic: Afro Celt Sound System

Afro Celt Sound System doesn’t succeed every second of every track, but it certainly wins often enough — the grooves build and build, making this a strong candidate as a driving or “work to it” CD.

The Afro Celts came back more accessibly in their second CD, Volume 2: Release, with its strong and snaky title track, as well as “Lovers of Light,” “Eirann” and “Big Cat.” They began to flesh out a body of work that makes them one of the most intriguing world beat bands in the world.

Volume 3, Further in Time, provides more great work in “Colossus,” “Lagan” and “The Silken Wrap.”

Most recently, we have Seed, which the band toured behind and bought to the 2003 Baltimore Artscape — what a thrill for Afro Celt fans such as myself to see their terrific stage presentation, especially of “Eirann.” Great songs on Seed include the title track, “Rise Above It” and “Deep Channel.”

Putumayo: French Caribbean

To me, Putumayo seems to have a magical touch for finding tuneful songs from hidden corners of the world. I find that you cannot go far wrong with their selections.

Their focus has improved and improved over the years. Even so, their earliest compilations — World Instrumental and World Vocal — are fun even in their wild eclecticism.

I surprised myself when I decided to see how many of their compilations I had — 19! Good music to work to, to set a mood, to evoke travel.

The Best of the Brothers Cazimero

The Best of the Brothers Cazimero is bound to land on the CD players of anyone who has spent any time in Hawaii, as a means to summoning the beauty of the islands though far away.

The song “Nani Hanalei” takes me directly to the lovely island of Kauai, and the CD as a whole reminds me of driving on Molokai near sunset as the local public radio station played tunes from the Brothers Cazimero. They sing in Hawaiian and English, and this disk serves as a nice summary of the career.

Comparsa: Deep Forest

I managed not to hear about Deep Forest until just before Comparsa came out in 1998. My friend Kathleen Gaskell Blankenship lent me their first CD, Deep Forest, for which I will be ever grateful, because I love listening to it.

As an immediate Deep Forest fan, I then bought Boheme, and finally, Comparsa.

Deep Forest is really two French musicians, Eric Mouquet and Michel Sanchez, who sample historical recordings of tribal and ethnic groups and then add a modern world/rock soundscape to the vocals.

Think of the first CD, Deep Forest, as the pygmy album, based largely on tribes in Cameroon, Boheme as the operatic, gypsy, Eastern European album, and Comparsa as the Madagascar, Cuba and Weather Report album. Comparsa is probably my favorite — no surprise for someone who has written about Madagascar and enjoys Weather Report!

Mysterious Traveller: Weather Report

Most people would place Weather Report in the jazz category, rather than World Beat. But let me be different and argue that the international pedigree of this incarnation of Weather Report (Josef Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Alphonso Johnson, Dom Um Romao, Ishmael Wilburn and Miroslav Vitous) places it in the world category, as do the rhythms, percussions and harmonies of this masterwork.

Mysterious Traveller displays a world flavor on the tracks “Nubian Sundance” and “Jungle Book,” but the strongest track has to be the title one — indeed, its echoing electric piano and impatient percussion and surging patterns are as mysterious as a streaking otherwordly comet, as shown on the lovely cover art.

Afro American Latin: Mongo Santamaria

This is good music to take on a Florida vacation or to bring sunshine into your home year-round. Completely astounding that this was recorded in 1969, it sounds as fresh as today. “Me and You Baby” (track 6), “Mi Reina Guajira” (12) and “Philadelphia” (13) stand out, with riffs in homage to James Brown.