A to Z of World Music (Part 2)

Posted on September 30th, 2015 in News, Recent posts by .

atozMMiriam Makeba

Known as ‘Mama Africa’, the singing conscience of her people, Makeba was still a wide-eyed ingénue in her 20s when she went into exile in the late 50s. She became the first black South African artist to become an international star with hits such as ‘Pata Pata’. She was not able to return home to South Africa until 1990. By then she had become perhaps second only to Mandela as an ambassador for those suffering under the yoke of apartheid and an emblem for the perseverance and fortitude of a continent. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa (Milan, 2015)



The ney is a reed flute that is central to the mystical Sufi music in Turkey and Iran. When you hear the yearning, breathy, plaintive sounds of the ney you are transported into a spiritual dimension – which is why it’s so frequently used in film soundtracks. It’s at the heart of the music of the Mevlevi (whirling dervishes). Rumi’s most famous poem begins with the ney lamenting being cut from the reed bed as a symbol of man being disconnected from God. As Rumi has become the world’s most popular mystic poet, so the ney has become the mystical instrument of choice worldwide. Foremost among Turkish players, Kudsi Erguner comes from several generations of neyzen in Istanbul and is a true master of the instrument. SB See also Sufi music: A Beginner’s Guide

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Kudsi Erguner, Ney: The Sacred Flute of the Whirling Dervishes (Al Sur, 1996)


atozOOrquesta Buena Vista Social Club

The Buena Vista Social Club was never meant to be a band. But what a band it turned out to be. The Grammy-winning 1997 disc and its follow-up albums made superstars of the likes of crooner Ibrahim Ferrer, pianist Rubén González and the ‘Fiancée of filin,’ Omara Portuondo. They toured the world and then they toured it again, with new members coming in to replace each elderly Cuban maestro who chachachá-ed off to the sky. After 20 glorious years the BVSC recently bid farewell with an extensive world tour deftly prefixed by ‘Orquesta.’ Less adiós, perhaps, than ¡hasta la vista! JC

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Buena Vista Social Club, Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit, 1997)


atozPAstor Piazzolla

Argentinian tango has enjoyed several golden ages inspired by many bold innovators, including such early pioneers as Carlos Gardel and Aníbal Troilo. But it was the work of composer, bandoneón player and arranger Astor Piazzolla from the 1950s onwards that radically opened up tango, incorporating elements from jazz and classical music into a style that came to be known as nuevo tango. A cerebral haemorrhage in 1990 left him in a coma from which he never regained consciousness. He died two years later at the relatively young age of 71 but he’s still tango’s towering titan. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Astor Piazzolla, Tango: Zero Hour (Nonesuch, 1986)



It perhaps seems unlikely that qawwali, a spiritual music from the Islamic shrines of Pakistan and India could become a worldwide musical sensation, but that is what happened thanks to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (1948-1997). Qawwali as a musical form goes back to the 13th century and features lead and supporting vocals, with clapping and percussion. It envelops you like an ocean. Nusrat had long been recognised as a sensational performer in Pakistan, and then started performing in the West. His performances at WOMAD led to several recordings for Real World and collaborations with Michael Brook. SB See also Sufi music: A Beginner’s Guide

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mustt Mustt (Real World, 1990)



The name derives from the Spanish word rumbo, which means ‘par ,’ and although, like salsa, the term has become something of a catch-all, its use invariably guarantees a good time. In Cuba, rumba was initially used to describe a specific dance form but became a term for almost any percussive, upbeat party music. ‘El Manisero’ (The Peanut Vendor), which became the first Cuban million-seller in the 1930s, is widely acknowledged as the launch pad of a pre-rock’n’roll worldwide ‘rumba craze’ spearheaded by the likes of Pérez Prado and Beny Moré. It remains at the heart of Cuban dance music but has also migrated to Africa where rumba congolaise evolved into soukous, while flamenco rumba and rumba catalane are popular forms in Spain. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Beny Moré with Pérez Prado and His Orchestra, El Barbaro del Ritmo (Pure Sounds, 1995)



‘S’ is for sitar and for its most virtuosic exponent – for surely no musician has ever been more synonymous with his instrument than Ravi Shankar. His sitar playing reaffirmed the history and the beauty of Indian classical music and its highest form of expression in the raga. But he was also a great innovator who brought Indian music to Western audiences via collaborations with the likes of violinist Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison. Today his daughter and foremost pupil Anoushka Shankar continues his work. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Ravi Shankar, India’s Master Musician (EMI/Angel, 1999)



The snaking electric guitar lines and funky, camel-gait rhythms of Tinariwen sounded enticingly and exotically new when first unleashed on the world via their debut album in 2001 – the same year the group helped to launch the now famous Festival in the Desert in the remote sand dunes of northern Mali, where the Touareg make their nomadic home. Since then a caravan of further Touareg guitar groups such as Teraka, Toumast and Tamikrest has emerged from the desert to make the sound familiar without ever losing its thrill. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Tinariwen, Aman Iman (Independiente, 2007)


atozUUilleann pipes

‘Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling, from glen to glen, and down the mountain side’ is perhaps the most famous opening line in Irish song – and nothing characterises Celtic music better than the haunting sound of the uilleann pipes. With their bittersweet tone, the Irish pipes have a quite different harmonic structure and richer emotional range than the Scottish bagpipes and have produced a long line of virtuoso players, the most revered of whom is Séamus Ennis (1919-1982), who was first recorded by Alan Lomax in 1951. Na Píobairí Uilleann, co-founded by Ennis in 1968, is an organisation dedicated to the promotion of the uilleann pipes and its music. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Séamus Ennis, Forty Years of Irish Piping (Green Linnet, 1974)



After Sibelius and heavy metal, Värttinä (the Finnish word for ‘spindle’) must be Finland’s biggest musical success. They combine elements of their fellow musicians in their unique approach – Sibelius’ love for the old runo songs of Karelia with the full-on vocal power of metalheads. It’s the fiery female vocals and a sense of women power that makes the Värttinä sound. The group celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2013 and the current vocalists are founding member Mari Kaasinen, together with Susan Aho and Karoliina Kantelinen. SB

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Värttinä, Miero (Real World, 2006)



Founded by Peter Gabriel and some of his mates in 1980, this good-natured celebration of multicultural arts, music and dance takes place each July in the pastoral grounds of Charlton Park, a stately home owned by the Earl of Suffolk, in Wiltshire. Similar events happen in other countries around the world, including Australia’s stellar WOMADelaide. A three-day platform for artists from everywhere, WOMAD is a microcosm of a world we all should be living in, what with its Global Village and one-love vibe. Look out for the tall, trademark silk flags, flapping gently over an alt-music utopia. JC

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Various Artists, 30: Real World at WOMAD (Real World, 2012)



Go anywhere in Greece, and they know the name Xylouris. But go to Crete, the home of this musical dynasty, and they call them by other names too: Psarantonis, the great singer and lyra player; his lute-playing brother, Psaroyiannis; and their late sibling Psaranikos, aka the singer and lyra player Nikos Xylouris, a figurehead for the movement that brought down the military junta in 1973. There’s also George Xylouris, singer, lauto player and Psarantonis’ son; George’s oud-playing brother, Lambis; and sister and singer Nicki. Then there’s George’s three Greek-Australian kids, and George’s current project Xylouris White, a duo with Dirty Three drummer Jim White. Music in the DNA? Obviously. JC

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Psarantonis & the Ensemble Xylouris, Mountain Rebels (Network, 2008)


atozYYoussou-N'Dour-Youri-Lenquette-FreeYoussou N’Dour

The best-known African singer in the world, thanks largely to his collaborations with Peter Gabriel, Sting, and Neneh Cherry for the international 1994 megahit ‘7 Seconds’, Youssou’s celebrity eventually led to him becoming a Senegalese MP. But political office remains secondary to his supple, soulful tenor voice and the thrilling dance style known as mbalax, which he pioneered and has elevated him to the role of globally-feted ambassador not only for Senegalese music but for African culture in general. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Youssou N’Dour, The Guide (Wommat) (Sony, 1994)



Zimbabwe’s transition from white colonial rule to independent republic may have soured in recent years, but its music has provided an indestructible backbeat through good times and bad. The jit jive of the Bhundu Boys made them one of the best-known African acts of the late 80s and the singer and guitarist Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi remains an iconic figure. But the undisputed ‘Lion of Zimbabwe’ is Thomas Mapfumo, who adopted traditional mbira (thumb piano) into a contemporary style and soundtracked the liberation war with his militant chimurenga music. He then became a critic of the Mugabe regime and went into exile in the US, but his music remains as potent as ever. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Thomas Mapfumo, The Chimurenga Singles 1976-1980 (Shanachie, 1984)


← A to L

This article originally appeared in Songlines #110 (Aug/Sept 2015). Subscribe to Songlines

Photo credits: George Kahumoku Jr (© Matt Thayer); Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (© Ishida Masataka); Youssou N’Dour (© Youri Lenquette)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Switch to our mobile site