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What I’m listening to this week: World Reggae

July 16, 2009

Putumayo Presents: World Reggae – 2004

I referenced this album when I wrote my review of Amadou & Mariam and I thought that it was time to give it its own proper review this week.  World Reggae is a compilation album, but it’s not your average compilation of sub-par songs that weren’t really good enough to appear somewhere else.  The reggae found here is diverse and most of the tracks are top-notch.  It can be difficult to find great reggae and when you start moving out of Jamaica, the odds get even worse.  Luckily, Putumayo has done the legwork for you and part of the fun of this album is discovering new and unique artists you’d probably never hear of otherwise.

Reggae is globally popular thanks to artists like Bob Marley, and you can definitely hear how far the influence has spread on many tracks on World Reggae.  The first track, “Pas De Problèmes” by French group Kana, has early reggae ska horns throughout, and a distinctive roots reggae drum beat.  Algerian group Intik also use the ska rhythm on guitar for “Notre Devoir”, which incorporates a backing girl group that is reminiscent of the I Threes.  Nigerian artist Majek Fashek sticks the closest to Marley-style reggae on “African Unity”.  The song cribs Marley-isms and Fashek cribs Marley’s delivery, but it’s a satisfying track because Fashek is a good musician and not simply an imitator.  Popular reggae artist Alpha Blondy has the most convincing hold on traditional style on the excellent horn-and-beat filled “Lalogo”, which he sings in the Bambara language.

One of the best parts of World Reggae is seeing how reggae styles can get mixed in with regional flavors, and there are even a couple of tracks that have Latin influence.  “Riberonzinha” by Maria de Barros of Cape Verde is an enchanting mix of Latin drumbeats and breezy African reggae that is made all the better by her smooth and rich vocals.  There’s a fascinating blend of Celtic violins and Spanish lyrics in the Más Y Más track “Agua” and it’s also one of the more socially charged on the album.

Another interesting combination is reggae with distinctly Eastern sounds, like the sitar, gypsy violins, and meditative chanting.  British-Indian artist Apache Indian sounds like a mix between the Conscious Entertainer himself, Anthony B, and Jewish reggae hero Matisyahu.  His track “Om Numah Shivaya” is trance-like with cool chanting and it’s different enough to stand out.  “Ya Laymi” by French Algerian group Gnawa Diffusion has a little bit of it all – sitar, eastern-tinged vocalizations – but they also throw in the whole kitchen sink and have Latin and African flair and roots reggae sounds to boot.

For my money, the tracks I haven’t mentioned yet are also some of the best.  “Maguinha do Sá Viana” by Brazilian Alê Muniz has a skanking rhythm and a traditional reggae guitar line, and is just a song that makes you feel happy to hear (and the lyrics aren’t in English, so let’s just hope he’s not singing about death and destruction!).  “Babylone Buildings” by Chris Combette is fantastic and again utilizes the I Three formula, and “Rawagu” by Bernard Uedre is a joyous celebration that is not just a good world reggae song, but an awesome song in general.

Putumayo Presents: World Reggae is without a doubt worth owning.  It’s a musical experience that you’re not going to get anywhere else and it opens your eyes, not just to reggae, but to reggae’s growing influence in music.  These songs are bright, lively, and summery and this album will put you in a much better mood than when you started it.

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