Tired of corporate pop? Listen to the music of the world
The American pop music charts may be dominated by insipid, lowest-common denominator fare, but some truly great music is being made around the globe, and more of it is now available to consumers than ever before. The audience for world music is growing as listeners tire of bland corporate pop and seek out more exciting and distinctive sounds. Also, more artists from outside the US and the English-speaking world are touring beyond their home countries, winning new fans and earning much more than they otherwise would have.The term world music became widely used in the 1980s to categorize and market non-Western, traditional music. It has been criticized by some, notably musician David Byrne, for lumping together many types of music and marketing them as exotic.The magazine fRoots defined world music as local music from out there. But world music often combines popular Western styles (rock, jazz, rap and hip hop, blues) with various types of folk or ethnic music. Its probably more accurate to call it glocal a mix of local and global influences. World music is best understood as an umbrella term for a genre that has become increasingly hybrid, mixing different types of traditional and pop styles, from different cultures and musical traditions.There are too many great world music artists recording and touring today to cover in one article. But this roundup introduces some of the most accomplished and well-known figures on the scene. Their recordings are easily available and most of them tour abroad, playing at venues such as WOMAD, founded by world music enthusiast Peter Gabriel, New Yorks World Music Institute, globalFEST and the Chicago World Music Festival, and as headliners of their own shows. The artists listed here, by nationality, represent, if only partially, the wide range of musical styles to be found under the world music umbrella.Algeria/France: KhaledWhen he began his career in Algeria, singer and songwriter Khaled Hadj Ibrahim was known as Cheb Khaled (Kid Khaled). He established himself at a young age as a leader of the style called rai, originally a type of North African folk music that became mixed with Arabic, Spanish and French influences. Now 53, Khaled is regarded as the king of rai by his fans, and for good reason. He is a thrilling vocalist with a rich and flexible baritone who also writes catchy and memorable pop songs. He was hugely popular in Algeria, but he fled to France after Islamic fundamentalists, outraged by his songs about sex and drinking alcohol, threatened his life. He has released numerous albums, including Khaled, Kenza, Sahra, and NSsi Nssi. His latest release, Cest La Vie, features a duet with the Cuban-American rapper Pitbull.Brazil: Seu JorgeSeu Jorge grew up in the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro, and his difficult early years fostered both a tenacious personality and a commitment to social justice and political change. While living on the streets of Rio, he taught himself to play guitar and write songs. His band Farofa Carioca, which he formed in the 1990s, specialized in a unique type of pop samba that enjoyed considerable popularity. In 1999, he left the group to begin a solo career, releasing the critically acclaimed album, Samba Esporte Fino. His second album, Cru, which he recorded in France, mixes love songs and politically-conscious material, in a distinctive style blending bossa nova, samba and rock.Cuba: Pedro Luis FerrerThe bearded, bearish Pedro Luis Ferrer is a singer-songwriter whose recordings have garnered critical acclaim and popularity in Cuba and beyond. But his relationship with the Cuban authorities, and the Cuban music scene, sometimes has been conflict-ridden. When the government felt his songs strayed from social commentary to political protest, he was banned from the airwaves. (Hes lately had fewer problems with official censorship). But hes also had issues with what he sees as the staleness and lack of new ideas in Cuban music. A unique songwriter with a gift for unusual melodies and inventive lyrics (one of his songs imagines a pot party in Havana with sexy female extraterrestrials), he is always looking for new sounds, new approaches. His albums Natural and Rustico are must-haves for fans of great contemporary Cuban music.France: Manu ChaoBorn in Paris to Spanish political exiles, Manu Chao is a world music artist par excellence, his multifaceted sound embracing rock, Spanish, Portuguese and Latin America styles. Now 52, Chao formed his first band, Joint de Culasse, in 1980, playing Clash-influenced punk rock. He became popular and critically praised with his second band, Mano Negra, which he led until 1995. After the end of Mano Negra, he moved to Spain to discover his roots and immerse himself in Madrids eclectic music scene. There, with local musicians, he formed the band Radio Bemba. In 1998, he released Clandestino, which sold millions of copies around the world. He followed it with Proxima Estacion: Esperanza (Next Stop: Hope), a collection of 17 songs in multiple languages, French, Portuguese, Arabic, English, Spanish and Portuol, an invented tongue. After his Spanish sojourn, he returned to Paris in 2004, where he produced an album considered a world music classic Dimanche a Bamako, by the Malian husband and wife duo, Amadou and Mariam.Italy: Canzoniere Grecanico SalentinoCanzoniere Grecanico Salentino --- CGS for short has a fascinating backstory. Founded in 1975 in the southern Italian town of Lecce, by a writer, Rina Durante, and her cousin, singer and guitarist Daniele Durante, the band was one of the leaders of Italys folk music revival during the 1970s, a movement of politically leftist and mostly young Italians who wanted to recover and reinterpret traditional music, especially that of the southern regions. The bands specialty is pizzica tarantata, an intensely rhythmic, centuries-old style that originally was played in peasant healing rituals. Daniele Durantes son Mauro, a virtuoso violinist, percussionist and singer, leads the current version of CGS, which since 2010 has released two superb albums, Focu damore and Pizzica Indiavolata, that comprise re-worked traditional material and original compositions. In the past few years, the band has toured extensively through Europe and North America, winning critical raves and new fans wherever they play.Mali: Rokia TraorThe daughter of a Malian diplomat, Rokia Traor traveled around the world with her family, becoming exposed to a wide range of music. When she became a professional musician at the age of 22, her intention was to become a pop singer, not an exponent of traditional Malian music. But she plays acoustic guitar and incorporates native instruments like the ngoni and the balaba in her sound, producing a unique style that bridges the traditional and the contemporary. A strikingly beautiful woman with a compelling stage presence, she also has acted in plays, including Desdemona 2013, for which she wrote the music. She released her first album, Mouneissa in 1998, followed by Wanita, in 2000, the latter written and arranged entirely by Traor. In 2003, Traor released Bowmbo, followed five years later by the acclaimed Tchamantch, which included her haunting version, sung in English, of Billie Holidays The Man I Love. Her latest album, Beautiful Africa, released in 2013, is her most accomplished effort to date.