World Grooves and Some of the Best Music the Rest of the Planet has to Offer

Various Artists
Afro-Portuguese Odyssey
(Putumayo Presents)

When talking roots, it’s hard to get farther down the musical tree than Africa. So when searching for rootsy compositions evocative of deep blue seas, rural villages where chickens cluck about the streets and a soulful spirituality far removed from the media-saturated din of contemporary life, your first stop should be Putumayo Presents’ An Afro-Portuguese Odyssey.

As the thirteen cuts on the CD attest, the so-called Lusophone countries of Mother Africa (Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe) have inspired some of the most fertile folk-based music on the globe. These nations, also known as the PALOP countries (for Paises Africanos de Lingua Oficial Portuguesa, or African countries whose official language is Portuguese), achieved independence only within the last thirty years and share histories that include sometimes brutal oppression under Portuguese colonial rule.

The music on Afro-Portuguese Odyssey proffers the sort of earthy percussion, taut rhythms, buoyant string work and uplifting vocal harmonies that have inspired the likes of Sting, Paul Simon and David Byrne. Many of the Lusophone artists on the CD, including Paulo Flores, Eneida Marta, the Mendes Brothers, Ze Manel and Bidinte, record and perform outside their native countries, having relocated to various points in Europe and the United States. Flores and Jovino dos Santos, in particular, have incorporated Caribbean and Cuban instrumentation into their sound, lending further soul to the mix. As Cape Verdean dos Santos emotes on the final track, an Afro-Cuban salsa titled “Africa Mamae,” “Children of our homeland/Spread across the entire world/The fight to survive/Is everyone’s destiny/Shout ‘Mother Africa.'” They might also shout: “Keep jamming!”

Latin Jazz: La Combinaci�¡n Perfecta
(Smithsonian Folkways)

Tracks by Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Machito and the Afro-Cubans and other classic Latin jazz masters surface on the pleasing Combinaci�¡n Perfecta alongside interpretations by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Some of the recordings have the canned quality of vintage television and film scores, lending the music an old-school feeling that would delight Ricky Ricardo. More contemporary artists include Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez and tenor saxman David Sanchez of Puerto Rico. Perfecta, indeed.

Various Artists
The Silk Road: A Musical Journey
(Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)

On the beautifully packaged two-CD Silk Road, the vast musical landscape of inner Asia is revealed by way of Turkey, Armenia, Iran, Mongolia, Tajikistan and other far-flung and exotic points in what used to be known as the Orient. The first disc focuses on Masters and Traditions, while disc two features Minstrels and Lovers. From the insistent and ethereal strains of the santur (Iranian hammered dulcimer), the percussive pluckings of the Jew’s harp or the bizarre-sounding throat singing of the Turkish Khakas, the vocals and instrumentation on this document are as diverse as the nations spanned by the Silk Road.

Nati Cano’s Mariachi Los Camperos
�¡Viva el Mariachi!
(Smithsonian Folkways)

In addition to shaping mariachi music on their own terms, Los Angelitos Campos and the Camperos have distinguished themselves by backing up Linda Ronstadt in live performances and on her album Canciones de Mi Padre. Cano, who has lived in California for decades, is considered to be the patriarch of mariachi music in North America. Bound through the sagebrush on your trusty steed to the backdrop of classics such as “Tequila con LimÃ?¡n” and “Que Te Vas, Te Vas.” More mariachi than you can shake a gourd at.

Virtuoso From Afghanistan
(Smithsonian Folkways)

Ustad Mohammad Omar, Afghanistan’s finest rabab (short-necked lute) player, teams with legendary tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain (perhaps best known for his work with drummer Mickey Hart) on this recording, which captures the magic of two dervishes as they whirl through the tweaky tonal territory known as Eastern music. With their instrumental help, “the soul goes dancing through the king’s doorway,” to quote a 700-year-old Persian poem.

Revolucion de Amor

Whether contemplating the mercurial nature of love or denouncing brutish political oppression in the Third World, Spanish-speaking pop oufit ManÃ?¡ is a pleasant surprise. Despite an image and sound that at times feels shamelessly derived from better-known Anglo acts such as U2 and Sting, the band, which has garnered multiple Latin Grammys and has been climbing the Billboard charts, has real talent, not to mention political passion. In addition to founding the Selva Negra Foundation, a nonprofit organization that champions humanitarian and environmental conservation issues in Mexico, ManÃ?¡ has toured and recorded with “super estrella” Carlos Santana. Santana delivers some of his signature guitar wizardry on ManÃ?¡’s latest CD, Revolucion de Amor. The band has been recording since the mid-’80s, and it now consists of guitarist Sergio Vallin, drummer/songwriter Alex Gonzalez, singer/songwriter Fher Olvera (pictured) and bassist Juan Calleros. Refreshingly, these guys are more Sandinista than Shakira.

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