Carlinhos Brown ignited the world this year with the long-awaited domestic release of "Alfagamabetizado." A smash hit in Brazil, Brown’s dazzling blend of rock, funk, samba, carnival percussion and cosmic weirdness quickly earned him the American nickname of the "Brazilian Prince (Artist Formerly Known As)." Brown’s instrumental-prowess and chameleon-like imagery prelude an artist with stunning creativity and vision.
"Ne La Thiass"
As a child in the 1950’s, Senegalese artist Cheikh Lo immersed himself in earfuls of imported 78rpm Cuban son records with their mercury-cool rhythms and sensuous vibe. Years later, Lo released an EP cassette tape of originals chocked full of Latin influences that caught fire throughout Africa. "Ne La Thiass" contains the EP plus three new songs produced by Youssou N’Dour. Lo ’s golden voice is subtly captured as it soars with spiritual intonations augmented by brushed drums, acoustic guitar, bass, and African-based percussion.
Continuing his exploration of Brazilian music, Arto "No Wave" Lindsay and his crew of New York groove masters (DJ Spooky, Melvin Gibbs [Rollins Band], Bernie Worrell) stab into Brazilian rhythms and nylon-strung melancholy with up-town drum and bass and sampled atmospheres. More richly satisfying than the recurrently languid "O Corpo Sutil," Lindsay’s voice is acutely developed with meticulous sonic arrangements of interplay between wispy melody and thundering undercurrents of rhythm.
With all the attention this year on electronica, Talvin Singh’s collection of Asian underground dub and drum & bass (mainstays from his Anohka nightclub) remains one of the genre’s most original creations. Eastern tablas and vocal drones in club-oriented music is definitely nothing new, but Singh’s aural passport expertly blends classical Indian ragas and frenetic tablas into the fabric of trip-hop and drum and bass.
With "Seven," Zap Mama jumped ship from their constrained polyrhythmic scat attack (losing a member or two in the process) only to be dually acclaimed for bravery and condemned for selling out. In truth, Zap Mama breathed fresh air into their craft by incorporating soukous, reggae, soul (Phoebe Snow’s ‘Poetry Man’ with Spearhead), and hip hop to produce a thrilling cross-cultural blend devoid of classification.
Gilberto Gil, Brazilian elder statesman and griot, clearly has a lot on his mind these days -- specifically the murky, almost utopian crossroad between art, physics and philosophy. From this mental paradigm flows some of the best music he has ever made. A twenty-track explosion of richly melodic Brazilian MPB from its master.
"Cabo Verde," the follow-up to 1994’s highly acclaimed "Cesaria Evora," features Evora’s gorgeous, smoky voice, which knowingly slides notes like the slow passage of time. Widely recognized as the "barefoot diva" of the morna, Evora sings about nostalgia, fate, and love in an intelligible tone that transcends language barriers by plunging straight to the heart.
Mini All Stars
"Clearly, my dear, this is the best of all Haiti" (Vive Compas). The Mini All Stars, an assemblage of old members from Nemours Jean Baptiste’s (inventor of the immensely popular compas style of tropical music in 1955) original group and compas-influenced youngsters, swing with slinky guitars, surging horns and red-hot accordions. Like Zairian soukous, compas demands plenty of endurance, and rewards the ears with plenty of pastoral melodies and driving percussion.
Ska -- the essential root of reggae and pervasive media term for many popular rock groups today, has deeper roots than most are aware of. The Skatalites were the top dancehall band of their day who recorded more hits together than any other musical ensemble in Jamaica's history. Amazingly fresh after thirty years, their high-flying swing is still essential party music - then and now.
"Born to Jive"
One of South Africa’s greatest pop groups, The Soul Brothers’ stomping "gumboot" rhythms borrow from American r&b and soul to create a swinging push and pull township groove. Jubilant Hammond organ solos mesh with pulsating saxes and wildly tremulous vocals that never rest.
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