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Rough Guide

The Rough Guide To The Best Music You've Never Heard



This Rough Guide concocts a collection of laid-back music you can hear pumped out from street-side coffee-houses across North Africa and the Middle East. Sip the historic infusion with musical masters Maurice El Medioni, Akim El Sikameya, Ali Hassan Kuban, Salamat and Abdel Gadir Salim.

The compilation offers a rare glimpse at some of the very best music from around the globe. The journey takes us to Africa, showcasing the dynamic grooves of the north, such as the driving gnawa trance and the desert blues – nomadic traditions inspired by the dunes of the Sahara. Two legendary peoples from this region, the Tuareg and the Wodaabe, have joined forces in Etran Finatawa to play nostalgic and haunting songs with driving beats, compelling voices and wonderfully laid-back guitars. Moving towards the west of the continent, we find the exceptional singer and songwriter Daby Balde, whose arrangements bring smoothly hypnotic sounds to life. His captivating vocals and stunning melodies make him a rising star of Senegal, yet in other African tracks we can also discover the uplifting rhythms of Mozambique and the modern songs of Somalia.

On the way to Asia we find the distinctive sounds of the Middle East. The innovative Jordanian ensemble Dozan celebrates Arabic folk culture with a beautiful blend of mystical melodies and haunting contemporary compositions. Further east, the Afghani singer and harmonium player Ahmad Sham performs delicate devotional music based on Sufi poetry, a tradition that survived the immensely restrictive Taliban rule. Another Asian flavour appears in the Mongolian folk revival movement. The Beijing-based group Hanggaienriches this ethnic heritage of magical songs with traditional instruments, throat singing and a touch of punk rock. The many colours of India emerge in a wonderful unity in the improvisations of slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya. With a Grammy nomination and a BBC World Music Award under his belt, he celebrates eternal love in a dazzling fusion of Carnatic music from the south and Hindustani music from the north. The energetic dance grooves of bhangra already point to the meeting of Eastern and Western influences, as British Asian bands add synthesizers and serious basslines to Punjabi rhythms and lyrics. One of the genre’s pioneers, Achanak, has taken these beats around the globe, from Canada to Malaysia and Europe.

The British Isles are home to splendidly rich musical traditions, including those of the Highlands, where Scottish folk tunes are played on fiddles, pipes, harps and drums alongside enchanting voices such as that of singer Maggie MacInnes. Although continental Europe offers an astonishing cultural diversity, some influences have managed to reach across it. Gypsy musicians have taken their vibrant, passionate style to Spain, where the Andalusian flamenco genre combines song, guitar and dance. The soulful melodies and creative percussions of Hungarian Gypsies also make it impossible to sit still, and the case is no different in Russia. The exceptionally virtuosic guitarists of the renowned Kolpakov Duo have played tender and infectious Gypsy melodies everywhere from Moscow to New York. The impact of such musicians is even present in the romantic and playful café music of Paris, which also takes a hint from tango and jazz. The accordion-infused ballads and dances have an especially fresh and adventurous sound in the interpretations of the band Beltuner.

Across the Atlantic, Latin rhythms give the pulse of many a nation. Cuba’s leading songroup, Sierra Maestra has brought about the revival of the style, playing legendary tunes from the 1920s in the original arrangements. The son genre has also migrated to the United States, to become part of the sauce that is the Latin sound of the Big Apple. A New Yorker of Puerto Rican origin, Wayne Gorbea plays relentless grooves and dynamic arrangements and has for decades been a favourite of salsa lovers. Dances can take more modern forms, as well, as Miami’s party band, the Spam Allstars, illustrate with a powerful and light-hearted mix of Latin funk, horns, hip-hop and dub. The phenomenal American guitarist Bob Brozman provides another unparalleled experience, playing each instrumental part of an entire orchestra himself, resulting in the exquisite tune, heard here, of an Afro-Caribbean calypso. Yet the transformative influence on club scenes all over the world comes from the shores of Brazil in the form of Axial, where charming acoustic bossa nova grooves meet electronic ingenuity.

Travelling at the speed of musical sound will certainly reveal some of the finest unheard treasures that the cultures of our planet hold and create today.