As Anglophone pop finally meets its commercial match in Spanish-language music and Asian styles of all shapes and country of origin, “world music” is a goofier marketing term than ever. So let me put it this way: None of the music recommended this week is sung in English, and nobody here's gonna get a call from Drake next week. (Though Hama should.)
Hama – Houmeissa
The notes say this smart and playful Nigerian electronic composer is responding to “fourth-world ethnoambient,” an often muzzy, exoticizing subgenre that learned all the wrong lessons from Brian Eno and Jon Hassell’s brilliant 1980 Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics, falling calamitously in love with didgeridoos and tablas and solemnly pureeing multiple cultural traditions into meditative kitsch. If so, Hama’s response must be “Wake up!” For starters these brilliant synth patterns, purportedly drawn from melodies sung by West African herders and nomads, with some wedding tunes thrown in ’cause why not, are about as ambient as a singalong on a school bus—the source material’s too catchy, the crosscurrent arrangements too busy, and you could probably even dance to the beats. A tune may get a little sillier stripped of its context through electronic reprocessing, but that hardly cheapens its effect. In fact, that gives the tune a chance to prove how hardy it was to begin with, and in Hama’s hands, these melodies thrive. GO
Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba – Miri
Once a sought-after sideman, now a justifiably honored fixture on the world music circuit, this Malian ngoni master packed up his lute and hied off to his home village on the banks of the Niger for album number five with his group, and that locale might explain the slight loss of intensity. But even in ruminative mode Kouyate is too restless and imaginative an improviser to offer relaxation rather than invigoration. The sole misstep is a collaboration with the Guantanamo outfit Madera Limpia called “Wele Cuba,” one of those awkward global fusions a band tosses in when worried its sound’s lost its freshness. But from the exquisite vocal refrain that Kouyate’s lines wend around on the opener, “Kanougnon,” through the closing seven-minute elegy to his mother, Ngoni Ba’s inexhaustible font of melody offers a cheery riposte to the age of austerity. GO
Juan Wauters – La Onda de Juan Pablo
This footloose Uruguayan-American garage-rocker’s folkie traipse through Latin America is dilettantish and unprepossessing in all the right ways. Wauters has an ear for distinctive instrumentation as a hook in itself—I remember the multi-tracked sax that rips through “Blues Chilango” and the 25-string guitarrón chileno that reverberates on “Mi Vida” more vividly than the simple, sturdy melodies Wauters delivers in his thin, charming voice. And I suspect he wouldn’t be unhappy to learn that. SLOW
Alfredo Rodríguez & Pedrito Martinez – Duologue
Afro-Cuban jazz, not jazz with Afro-Cuban trappings. As a singer, Martinez sharpens his Spanish lyrics with a semblance of a West African keen, and as a percussionist his rhythms set the parameters for pianist Rodríguez to work within, making him think fast as his improvisations dart between the snare beats. This eventually slides into the generic and the overripe, with one lyric that celebrates “musica” sounding as though it’s been translated from Grammyspeak. But these collaborators shine when their repertoire ranges widely, reconfiguring “Thriller” before producer Quincy Jones’ very ears by turning chord progressions inside-out and defamiliarizing the original compositional elements that remain or just goofing through “Super Mario Bros 3.” SLOW
Songs Inspired by the Film Roma
Cross-promotional shtick gussied up as artistic expression, “inspired by” collections are harmless enough that the occasional prize like the Black Panther soundtrack justifies the charade. (I remain #TeamSlobOnMeKnob btw.) But whatever you’d call these dour, arty, and sluggish responses, “inspired” ain’t it. At least Billie Eilish’s “When I Was Older,” based on a quote from the film itself, generates some moody elan. But whether Beck’s making a lush dirge of Colourbox’s “Tarantula” or Laura Marling’s singing “Those Were the Days” the way everyone sings “Those Were the Days,” this whole shop is stocked with secondhand goods. (And that includes the original songs too.) As for Patti Smith, she really must be a genius, because Cuaron’s movie apparently inspired her to write “Wing,” even though she first recorded it 23 years ago. I’ll grant them this: Songs Inspired by the Film Cold War woulda been worse.
Go Slow No is a weekly survey of new and overlooked album releases. The rating system is pretty self-explanatory: GO means listen to this now, SLOW means check it out when you get a chance, and means run screaming from the room if you hear so much as a note of it.