Despite a global pandemic, there continued to be a steady stream of global sounds throughout 2020. And if we couldn’t travel literally, perhaps more of us will be inclined to do so musically and discover some of the great work that musicians from all around the world have to offer.
This year you could travel the Silk Road from one end — with the Chinese band Manhu and Mongolian ensemble Khusugtun — to the other — with Turkish oud player Mehmet Polat — or explore the whole route with 3,14 (whose 2020 release takes its title from the scientific name for the silk worm.)
It’s hard to resist almost any Afrobeat, and there were quite a number of choices this year, but especially so if you go to the source (Nigeria’s Bantu) or one of its more unlikely outposts (Lithuania’s Ojibo Afrobeat).
As usual, there were so many great and different sounds and styles of Latin music to choose from; from the salsa jazz of master pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba with electric vocalist Aymee Nuviola (easy to see why she was chosen to play Celia Cruz in a Colombian telenovela), to the rock influenced approaches to Mexican marimba music (Son Rompe Pera) and cumbia (Santa Fe’s Nohe y Sus Santos), to classic son (Buena Vista guitarist Eliades Ochoa), and lively yet elegant Brazilian choro (Aquarela).
Reggae fans could savor the Ernest Ranglin-like reggae-jazz of guitarist Kubix, or the offbeat yet entrancing meeting of reggae and theremin from Italian artist Gaudi.
Speaking of music from unusual places, the Mexican brass band Los Rurales combined Oaxacan and Balkan music. Nation Beat seamlessly fused Brazilian and Crescent City sounds. Morocco’s Majid Bekkas served up inventive North African psychedelic jazz. And the always fascinating cellist Matthieu Saglio brought together an international cast of musicians for his own evocative world jazz fusion.
And old sounds got new treatments. Some of the finest township sounds to be released internationally since the heyday of Graceland appeared this year thanks to the great Vusi Mahlasela. Trio Tekke continued its fascinating exploration and re-invention of Greek rembetiko music. And Solas co-founder Seamus Egan stepped out on his own for a new and expressive take on traditional Irish music.
Those and many more fascinating musical excursions were available in 2020.
Here are the Global Village Top 25 Favorites of the year in alphabetical order:
1. 3,14 – Bombyx Mori (Worlds Within Worlds)
2. Alhousseini Anivolla & Girum Mezmur – Afropentatonism (Piranha)
3. Aquarela – A Bela Vida (Buda Musique)
4. Bab L’Bluz – Nayda! (Real World)
5. Bantu – Everybody Get Agenda (Soledad)
6. Majid Bekkas – Magic Spirit Quartet (ACT)
7. Xabier Diaz & Adufeiras de Salitre – The Silenced Cathedrals (Musicas de Salitre Spain)
8. Seamus Egan – Early Bright (THL)
9. Gaudi – 100 Years of Theremin (Dubmission)
10. Amir John Hadad – Andalucia (Galileo)
11. Khusugtun – Jangar (Buda Musique)
12. KUBIX – Guitar Chant (Attik)
13. Jaakko Laitinen & Vaara Raha – Borek (Playground)
14. Vusi Mahlasela – Shebeen Queen (ATO)
15. Manhu — Voices of the Sani (Riverboat)
16. Nation Beat – The Royal Chase (Nation Beat Music)
17. Nohe & Sus Santos – Tempestad (Avokado)
18. Eliades Ochoa — Vamos a Bailar un Son (Eliades Ochoa)
19. Ojibo Afrobeat – Ojiboland (Ojibo Afrobeat)
20. Mehmet Polat – The Promise (Aftab)
21. Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Aymee Nuviola – Viento y Tiempo (Top Stop)
22. Los Rurales – Ocotita (Classicos Latinos/Cugate)
23. Matthieu Saglio – El Camino de los Vientos (ACT)
24. Son Rompe Pera – Batuco (Aya)
25. Trio Tekke – Strovilos (Riverboat)