Sudanese tambo-guitar grooves, strident Afghan street music and dubbed-out folk from Northern Japan were among this year's sonic highlights from around the globe.
1. Kibrom Birhane — Here and There (Flying Carpet Records)
For his third album, critically-acclaimed Ethiopian jazz musician Kibrom Birhane drew on modern Ethio-jazz and knowledge of thousand-year-old musical histories to experiment with Ethiopian jazz motifs, East-African funk, spiritual jazz, soul and psychedelic music. Here and There is an innovative blend of influences ranging from the sacred and profane, and from ancient musical traditions to the work of Birhane’s contemporaries.
2. Sarathy Korwar — Kalak (The Leaf Label)
London-based jazz drummer and composer Sarathy Korwar’s percussive odyssey Kalak muses over questions of time and identity. Employing the double meaning of the word ‘kal’ in Hindi and Urdu (which means both “yesterday” and “tomorrow”), Kalak is an Indo-futurist manifesto that celebrates a rich South Asian culture of music and literature, which resonates with spirituality and community, while envisaging a better future from those building blocks.
3. Wau Wau Collectif — Mariage (Sahel Sounds)
Wau Wau Collectif is a cross-continental collaboration between the Swedish musician Karl Jonas Winqvist, the Senegal producer Aurora Kane and a cast of dozens of Senegalese musicians. Their sophomore album Mariage continues their groundbreaking, inclusive take on West African musical traditions, seamlessly incorporating a wide array of outernational influences to create a cohesive whole, open to experimentation yet equally melodic and spiritually intuned.
4. Noori & His Dorpa Band — Beja Power! Electric Soul & Brass from Sudan's Red Sea Coast (Ostinato Records)
The Beja people, who primarily live along eastern Sudan’s Red Sea coast, have not had their music released globally — until now. Wielding a uniquely fused tambourine and guitar (tambo-guitar), Noori & His Dorpa Band expresses the long-marginalised community’s struggle to keep their culture alive. The album’s tracks showcase hypnotic grooves layered with airy saxophone and electric tambo-guitar-driven melodies, each of which ties into the story of the Beja, while unearthing the cosmopolitan music of the Red Sea in the process.
5. OKI — Tonkori in the moonlight (Mais Um)
Oki, the performing name of Oki Kano, plays folk music from a critically endangered culture: the Ainu, who have been suppressed for centuries by the Japanese. After working in New York in the 1980s, Oki returned to his home island of Hokkaido to weave together threads of Ainu music using a five-stringed ancient harp called the tonkori with international influences like throat singing, dub and African drumming.
6. Naujawanan Baidar — Khedmat Be Khalq (Radio Khiyaban)
Like the preceding two albums from Naujawanan Baidar, the alias of N.R. Safi, Khedmat Be Khalq chews on a strain of Afghan street music where the strident sounds of rubab are set against an encroaching wave of industrial percussion, tape deck aesthetics, and 70’s motorik rhythms. As the album progresses, Safi’s street music aesthetic blossoms into a sort of avant-garde agitprop — a revolutionary sonic statement that writhes against the impacts of imperialism, militarism, and fundamentalism on Afghan culture.
7. Tumi Mogorosi — Group Theory: Black Music (Mushroom Hour Half Hour)
South African drummer Tumi Mogorosi employs a nine-piece choir to create a compelling work of modal jazz harmonies rooted in radical thought, building on the jazz chorale tradition of Max Roach’s It’s Time and Andrew Hill’s Lift Every Voice. In the album notes is the quote: “New Black music is this: find the self then kill it”, taken from US poet Amiri Baraka’s 1965 album The New Wave in Jazz. Fulfilling Baraka’s maxim isn’t easy, but Mogorosi aims to have us surrender to the enormity of his sound, so individual boundaries can collapse into the universal flow of music.
8. Şatellites — Şatellites (Batov Records)
A six-piece band from Israel, the Şatellites honour the 70s golden era of Turkish music. While their self-titled debut album contains primarily cover versions, it adds to the wealth of new sounds inspired by Anatolian folk and rock, recontextualising it by intertwining Middle Eastern rhythms with funky grooves, disco, and psychedelic reverbs.
9. Yin Yin — The Age of Aquarius (Glitterbeat Records)
Maastricht quintet Yin Yin’s second album The Age of Aquarius continues their unique fusion of psych, disco, funk and Southeast Asian music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, but dives even deeper into dancefloor propulsion and space travel atmospherics than their lauded debut. “Tropical funk from an island off the southeast quadrant of the andromeda galaxy,” is how one listener describes it.
10. Sessa — Estrela Acesa (Mexican Summer)
On his second album Estrela Acesa, the Sao Paulo-born Sessa pays tribute to the music of Brazil in the classic styles of Caetano Veloso or Antonio Carlos Jobim. Stradling the intimate and grandiose, Sessa’s sensuous samba-soul is augmented by his nylon string guitar, danceable rhythms, and airy vocal harmonies that are paired with vibrant orchestral arrangements.
Goat — Oh Death (Rocket Recordings)
Kikagaku Moyo — Kumoyo Island (Gurguru Brain)
Kutiman — Open (Siyal Music)
Mohammad Mostafa Heydarian — Songs of Horaman (Radio Khiyaban)
Nyati Mayi & The Astral Synth Transmitters — Lulanga Tales (Bongo Joe)