It’s been a long time since the last Pine Tree Republic post – over eight months, to be exact! I’ve experienced lots of exciting changes over that time, including travelling to China in the spring, and starting on my PhD this fall. Admittedly, I’ve let those changes knock me off course in terms of keeping a regular blogging habit, so one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2018 is to get back to blogging regularly, and to do it throughout the year. I’ve gotten a lot from the process of thinking more clearly about issues around the world and organizing my thoughts into something that’s (hopefully) readable. Mostly, I’ve really enjoyed the conversations that have been sparked by blog posts, both on- and offline.
I’m not quite sure yet what my blog posts over the coming year will look like: I am thinking of focusing a little less on news of the week, and using this blog as a way to get feedback on some initial research ideas for my PhD (spoiler alert – expect more writing on climate change, migration, and related policy issues!). However, I still plan on exploring events around the world. I’d especially like to continue “The View From…” series that features interviews with people who have personal insights on those events. This has been the most informative and rewarding part of the blog for me. So, if you’re looking for a way to share your perspective on something going on, please get in touch!
Finally, I also plan to continue sharing some of my favourite recent music and books on this blog. To start off the new year on a light note, here is a list of my favourite world music albums from 2017. Happy New Year to everyone in the Pine Tree Republic community, and looking forward to lots of good conversations in 2018!
- Ladilikan – Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet (Mali/United States)
I love Malian music in all its forms (as you’ll see later in this list!), but this album is a bit different from the other albums that typically make it out of the West African country. Trio Da Kali comprises three Malian virtuosos from the griot tradition – a long line of musical storytellers and poets from West Africa (you can read more about Malian griots in a previous post here). The trio includes Hawa Diabaté on vocals, Fodé Lassana Diabaté on the xylophone-like balafon, and Mamadou Kouayté on the bass ngoni lute. They are paired with the Kronos Quartet, a string quartet from San Francisco with a dizzying discography that touches on seemingly every corner of the globe (see another previous post here on their Arctic-inspired album). This collaboration results in a harmonious blending of styles: this album feels at times rooted in ancient tradition, while also exploring a jazzy, more modern sound. It is exactly what a cross-cultural collaboration should sound like.
Featured Track: “Eh Ya Ye”
- Résistance – Songhoy Blues (Mali)
Another favourite band from Mali, Songhoy Blues, creates high-energy music that fuses the rhythmic vamps of the Sahel “desert blues” tradition with fuzzy garage-rock from the West. (You can read more about Songhoy Blues and their previous release, Music in Exile, in this previous post.) Their 2017 album, Résistance, ups their commitment to political commentary, with songs exploring their new hometown of Bamako, and the importance of voting to change Mali’s deteriorating situation. This is a situation the band knows all too well – it is in exile from its hometown of Timbuktu after Islamist groups took control of the region and banned the playing of music. But beyond the lyrics, Résistance a collection of 12 mostly upbeat, seriously funky tracks. If I have one criticism, it’s that this album seems like a move towards more Western radio-friendly sounds; I hope the band continues to explore their home’s rich traditions while bringing the party in future albums.
Featured Track: “Bamako”
- San Cristóbal Baile Inn – Boogat (Mexico/Canada)
Boogat is a DJ hailing from Montreal, from Mexican and Paraguayan descent, who blends Latin American rhythms and hip-hop with a dash of French for good measure. He draws from this rich musical mosaic to produce fun, danceable albums that take you on a journey across the Americas. Whereas his previous releases (also featured on a previous post!) include songs about the immigrant’s experience in Montreal, this album is a love letter to Mexico, and explores even more rhythms from across Latin America, all while keeping his trademark humour (the song “Tanto Tattoo” at first sounds like hard-core hip-hop, until you find out it’s about who have too many tattoos). Much like Résistance, San Cristóbal Baile Inn will encourage you to dance, this time to rhythms ranging from reggaeton, cumbia, and many others.
Featured Track: “Sabes Muy Bien”
- Republique Amazone – Les Amazones d’Afrique (West Africa)
In a year where issues of gender inequality were publicly discussed like seldom before, one of the most interesting bands on the world circuit was an all-women’s supergroup from West Africa, Les Amazones d’Afrique. Consisting of well-established vocalists like Angelique Kidjo, Kandia Kouyaté, and Mariam Doumbia (from the duo Amadou & Mariam), the 10-person group also features several up-and-coming female musicians from the region. Their inaugural album, Republique Amazone, mixes songs in French, English, Bambara, and Fon, often highlighting female perspectives on daily and political life. The album includes infectious sounds of African funk, industrial rock, and electronica. This is an album to chill out to, and worth many repeat listens to discover all the amazing talent in this group.
Featured Track: “Dombolo”
- Cubafonía – Daymé Arocena (Cuba)
Whereas the other albums on this year´s list involve artists who already have an international profile, Cuba’s Dayme Arocena exploded onto the scene in 2017 with her album, Cubafonía. Still in her mid-20s, Arocena already possesses a mature jazz singer’s voice. But what makes Cubafonía so exciting is that it truly is a bridge between Cuban and West African music traditions. More than most albums in the Afro-Cuban genre, Cubafonía explores both worlds and the jazz songbook in 11 beautiful tracks. Cuban jazz has a proud tradition, and Arocena is poised to lead the next generation.
Feature Track: “Negra Caridad”
- Ayo – Bomba Estéreo (Colombia)
Bomba Estereo is a genre-bending collective from Colombia with an exciting approach to bringing South American music to the world. Perhaps more than any other band I have heard, they have successfully merged Latin rhythms and mainstream pop to produce a unique sound. Their latest release, Ayo, is their most unique and satisfying record yet: a sonic adventure through the Caribbean, combined with indie rock sensibilities and powerful messages of freedom. The track “Internacionales” picks up from their 2015 hit “Soy Yo”, celebrating Latinx identity in all its forms. Combining cumbia and other rhythms with dreamy electro-pop, this album is worth savouring for the unique musical and lyrical journey it takes you on with each listen.
Featured Track: “Ayo”
- ABUC – Roberto Fonseca (Cuba)
If Daymé Arocena represents the future of Cuban jazz, pianist Roberto Fonseca represents its spiritual past and present. Fonseca grew up immersed in the music: his father was a drummer, his mother a singer. At an early age, Fonseca travelled with the famous Buena Vista Social Club, the main purveyor of traditional Cuban music to the world. Since then, Fonseca has struck out on his own to give his take on Afro-Caribbean traditions. ABUC – “Cuba” spelled backwards (not that I noticed that before reading it in another review!) – is a soulful experience unlike anything else I listened to in 2017. From the initial clave beats of “Cubano Chant”, to the electro-tango “Tumbao De La Unidad”, to the spoken-word poetry of Velas y Flores, and everything in between, you can feel centuries of history course through every track. Oh, and Fonseca is an absolute virtuoso on the piano. This is a time-bending musical treasure.
Featured Track: “Cubano Chant”
I hope you enjoyed this list and discovered some great new music. As always, please share any discoveries you made over the past months in the comment section below, and I look forward to many good conversations in 2018!