Halfway into 2012 and what have we heard to show for it? As it turns out, a lot of new world music has made it to us here in Milwaukee and I've been doing my best to let you all know. Sometimes it's hard to keep up with it, so I thought I'd get my first Sound Travels best of list together to share with you. An early top ten for 2012, and in no particular order (cause I hate ranking things I love), these are the albums that I stand by and hope they work for you too. First up…
Ana Tijoux – La Bala
It's no secret I've got a crush on Ana Tijoux, but that is small potatoes compared to the album she dropped early in 2012 on Nacional Records. Whether you understand her flows or not, it's impossible not to feel the swagger of her amazing cadence and flow. Even better than her first album 1977, La Bala finds the Queen of Chilean rappers digging deep for Andean gold.
Curumin – Arrocha
Fellow South American, Curumin has crafted his own dope follow-up. On the recently released Arrocha, Curumin works more familiar ground as on his last, 2008's Japanpopshow. That's not a bad thing when the palette you paint with is as diverse as his is. Samba, hip hop, reggae and an intriguing sense of how to combine it all is what you'll find if you peep this very hip album.
Ondatrópica – Ondatrópica
"I Ron Man"
The ongoing transformation of the artist once known as Quantic continues. And Will Holland continues to impress from his new home-base in Cali, Colombia. He's teamed up with other Colombian cumbeiros like Frente Cumbeiro's Mario Galeano to craft what to me is the dopest selection of roots cumbia I've heard from our era. I listen to lots of cumbia, and the Ondatropica album is so old-school fresh that it figures it was recorded with all the lost techniques of Colombia's version of Motown, Discos Fuentes.
Amadou & Mariam – Folila
"Nebe Miri feat. Theophilous London"
Though the blind couple are back, not sure many could've forseen their never-ending freshness. Seven albums into a career that is probly far longer than that finds Amadou & Mariam still at their peak. They are so solid, and on their latest, Folila, they find a few friends. Teaming with French singer Bertrand Cantat, singer Theophilous London and Santigold for an album I guarantee to be on the final draft of Best Of's by year's end.
Batida – Batida
If you want to discover something, my advice is for you to peep this one from the Portugual-based audio/video collective known as Batida. African futurism at its finest really, as the crew take Angolan semba and kuduro and re-load it with propulsive and fun electronic beats in a way few have done. There is a lot of Buraka Som Sistema in their sound, although perhaps the debt is really to hip hop in the kind of cultural cannibalism that is key to their ritual as they re-cast Angolan music in fresh new ways.
Janka Nabay & The Bubu Gang – En Yah Sah
There hasn't been an African sound more perfect for hipsters since Konono No. 1 hit stateside seven years ago. And who better to introduce the world to the little-known sound of Sierra Leone's bubu music than the self-proclaimed king of it, Janka Nabay? Though his career was placed on hiatus by years of civil unrest in Sierra Leone and took several strange turns once he got to America, he teamed up with some ambitious indie-rockers to create an album that owes 90% of it's sound to Africa. The other 10% is indie enough to make you groove harder than Vampire Weekend ever did using their inverse of the same formula. En Yah Sah is fun and is a jump-up-and-down good time.
Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars – Radio Salone
Speaking of internal strife in Sierra Leone, SLRAS's name speaks for itself in the matter. But on their latest, Radio Salone, SLRAS have created their best album to date. Showing effortless range in terms of sounds and styles, SLRAS has discovered gold in the Brooklyn-based studios of Daptone Records. A much more confident sound from the crew as they alternately work roots reggae, afropop and tribal drums into an album that is stacked with superb songs.
Jimmy Cliff – Rebirth
Honestly, I thought Jimmy died a while ago. His new album is a firm rebuttal to that mistaken belief, literally and metaphorically. In fact, Rebirth finds Jimmy Cliff in damn-near prime form and the tour he's currently on is redemption for a string of mediocre albums. Interesting covers are balanced by even more interesting originals on an album that will surprise many before the dust of the year settles.
Ba Cissoko – Nimissa
What kind of rap group uses two koras, percussion and bass for beats? Ba Cissoko. That's who. Guinea's Ba Cissoko was a welcome surprise a couple of months back when I first got their album if only for its unexpectedness. Since then, I've become very familiar with the many good tunes on their latest album Nimissa and they keep growing on me. The kora, with its lush cascading meldies the perfect counterpoint to Cissoko's surprisingly nuanced and folky flow. Fans of French hip hop will love this album, and fans of world music should too!
BNegão & Os Seletores de Frequencia – Sintoniza Lá
"Essa e Pra Tocar No Baile"
Last, but not least is the amazing new album from the oft-touring-but-where's-the-new-album-homie, BNegao & Os Seletores de Frequencia. Sintoniza Lá packs a serious punch and the funk is never faked on this fresh new release from one of Brazil's best bands. Legends in their native Brazil, BNegao & OSdF have an album that's actually pretty accessible and lends well to heavy rotation. In fact some of my go-to summer jams are on this album and await your discovery. If you think black America is funky, try afro-Brazil, BNegao won't dissappoint.