Erol Josué, "Régleman" Raised in Haiti and now based in the United States, Josué integrates his triple calling as singer, choreographer, and ordained Vodou priest in an exceptional debut that parallels the liturgy of a Vodou ceremony with detours into layered electronics and tender lyrical passages reminiscent of French chanson.
Various artists, "What's Happening in Pernambuco" Recife in northeast Brazil is a sprawling port city off the tourism trail: perfect conditions for a progressive arts movement. Mixing global pop and electronica with local rhythms, mangue (mangrove) beat is open to the world yet infused with the spirit of place, as this stellar compilation attests.
Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective, "Wátina" The breakout of Garifuna music from Belize was a big story in world music this year; singer Palacio was its lead ambassador, with an album drenched in the historical memory of exile and isolation, yet wearing its cultural significance lightly. Perhaps the year's most soulful release in any genre.
Amir ElSaffar, "Two Rivers" Trumpeter ElSaffar visited Baghdad in 2002 to explore his Iraqi roots and study the local maqam classical form. Now he uses maqams as melodic core of fierce jazz improvisations, backed by top talent from the New York avant-garde and Arabic music scenes. Ambitious and deftly executed.
DJ Rekha, "Basement Bhangra" Based on Punjabi folk rhythms and adapted through encounters with hip-hop and reggae, bhangra is the party music of the South Asian diaspora; the long-awaited compilation from the scene's foremost DJ strikes an appealing balance between classics and new tracks from US and UK artists.
M.I.A., "Kala" The Sri Lankan provocatrice eases up on the tendentious imagery and expands her freewheeling post-globalization funk to everything from Arab-pop licks to Aboriginal children rapping. She may be the hipster crowd's brown darling, but she's after bigger, more subversive goals, and she remains on track.
Kiran Ahluwalia, "Wanderlust" Toronto-raised Ahluwalia is becoming a major contemporary interpreter of ghazal, the Indo-Persian romantic song; here she adds a cross-cultural twist with fado instruments and ornamentation, but more as a gentle suggestion of emotional kinship than as an attempt at fusion.
Bettye LaVette, "The Scene of the Crime" Recorded on the hallowed ground of Muscle Shoals, Ala., with fearless Southern rockers Drive-By Truckers as backing band, the second album in journeywoman LaVette's comeback is inquisitive, vulnerable, and raw. It's retro-soul without an ounce of pastiche.
Terence Blanchard, "A Tale of God's Will" A New Orleans elegy and important work of post-Katrina art. Trumpeter Blanchard's cinematic style eerily suits the theme to begin with, but because he is a native whose loved ones felt the devastation, his playing and arrangements convey boundless outrage, compassion, and faith.
Electric Kulintang, "Dialects" Percussionists Susie Ibarra and Roberto Rodriguez ally her Filipino and his Cuban heritage with a project mixing kulintang gongs, Latin hand drums, and field recordings from Mindanao. Tonal contrasts and computer effects make this an exploration of spaces just beyond the familiar.