My wife and I recently returned from our honeymoon. As with every time I travel internationally, it was a reminder of one of the great benefits of American citizenship: a passport that allows you to journey virtually anywhere. For two weeks, we enjoyed the wonderful, twisting climbs of Lisbon streets, the temperate and gorgeous island of Mallorca, the delicious native cuisine of Sardinia and, finally, Rome—no adjectives needed.
As I’ve written about before on this site, variety is a key ingredient in an optimal health program. Performing the same movements over and over again, week after week, causes you to plateau. Your body adapts; your mind spaces out. Cognitive strength is as important as physical and cardiovascular strength; constantly switching up workouts is the best approach forward. The same can be said of cultures.
A world of sound
To listen to and grapple with foreign languages, watch people’s intriguing pantomimes, attempt to drive with confusing signs and rules, taste new cuisine, hear new music, drink unique alcoholic beverages—human universals run the gamut, but the beauty is in the details. While I’m unlikely to eat horse or donkey in America, these are common meats on the island of Sardinia. Rather than carry my cultural biases everywhere, I surrendered to new experiences. That’s an important component of health, as well.
Alongside cuisine, music is the quickest road into another culture. I learned that two decades ago when I began working as a world music journalist, and my passion for international music has never wavered. How could it, with so much incredible music being released on a weekly basis from every nation on the planet? There’s too much to explore, too many great sounds to experience. An open mind leads to revelatory discoveries, which is the basis of this month’s playlist: 15 tracks released in 2018, representing a world of sound.
We begin in Argentina, where Buenos Aires native Pedro Canale, aka Chanca Vía Circuito, has just released his fifth album. A digital cumbia innovator, he’s been merging African rhythms, murgas, minimal dub, downtempo and ayahuasca ceremonial music since 2005. DJ and producer Nickodemus might be from Long Island, but he’s been spanning the globe for decades for his Turntables on the Hudson parties. His latest record features Argentine female vocal trio Fémina on this dance floor cruiser.
From South America, we head to Jamaica, where 72-year-old reggae singer Cornel Campbell began cutting records in 1956. His latest, with the London-based band Soothsayers, represents the classic dub sound. Speaking of dub, West Indian British reggae singer Hollie Cook—daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook—has been dropping sensational records since 2011. Her latest, “Vessel of Love,” is testament to the mature sound of another generation of musical legacy. (Her godfather is Boy George; her mother sang in Culture Club.)
We also spend time in Africa, an unbelievably generous musical continent. We begin in Nigeria, where Femi Kuti has produced yet another brilliant record, borrowing from papa Fela’s Afrobeat sound in his shorter, sweeter, yet still politically potent tracks. Mali is next up. Samba Touré has released another bluesy record with former protégé of Ali Farka Touré, followed by Fatoumata Diawara’s second full-length record. Then on to the Saharan desert, where Tuareg musicians Bombino (Niger) and Imarhan (Algeria) continue to create some of the best blues-rock albums on the planet.
The Turbans represent the evolution of world music. Their debut record features 11 core musicians spanning the genres of Balkan, Gnawa, Tunisian, Israeli and Indian music. Indian singer Kiran Ahluwalia has always experimented with genres (including Tuareg); “Khafa” is one of my favorite tracks from her entire career.
We stop back in the United Kingdom, where British-Indian singer Susheela Raman’s exploration of gamelan music is one of 2018’s clear winners for innovative record of the year. British singer Tom Misch has been blowing up for two years, but his full-length debut “Geography” has secured his place as a name to pay attention to. The 23-year-old singer asked Pos from De La Soul to guest on the upbeat “It Runs Through Me.” Misch plays in a band with New Zealand native Jordan Rakei, who appears on “Nightmare,” in Wax’s return to the spotlight. “Typical” is one of that album’s top tracks.
Finally, we conclude our globe-trotting journey with Ben Harper, whose second album with classic harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite explores the American blues tradition in all its sad yet hopeful beauty.
Photo credit: Artem Bali, Unsplash