Shakira: El Dorado

Shakira’s eleventh studio album, launched in 2017, showed her in peak form—bearing in mind that with Grammys galore, career record sales over 60 million and YouTube views topping 12 billion, her “peak” has an altitude mere superstars can’t reach. But the El Dorado World Tour scheduled to begin last November was delayed seven months by a vocal cord hemorrhage, and as the Colombian singer-songwriter wondered if she would ever perform … More Shakira: El Dorado

Curly Strings: Hoolima

All societies revere music, but surely Estonia ranks first among equals when it comes to the power of song. The 1987-91 Singing Revolution, involving mass-scale performances of patriotic anthems, was a pivotal step in ending the Soviet occupation. Fast forward 27 years and the nation seems focused less on traditional music than on engaging with the wider world, but there is still something deeply Estonian about the quest to create new … More Curly Strings: Hoolima

Namvula: Quiet Revolutions

The difference between Namvula Rennie’s 2014 debut album and her new release Quiet Revolutions mirrors the distinction between a short story anthology and a novel—on one hand a lovely collection in which each song reflects a specific musical universe, on the other an enchanting holistic sound expressing many facets of an integrated identity. The Scottish-Zambian singer-songwriter has imbibed folk, jazz, Latin, Afro-beat and traditional Zambian influences … More Namvula: Quiet Revolutions

Cuca Roseta: Luz

Rather than linger over beautiful sunsets, our ancestors ran home at dusk, so fraught with danger and superstition was the night. Advanced societies tend to take light for granted. On her fourth album, Cuca Roseta shows a preindustrial appreciation for light’s physical and spiritual dimensions—illumination and inspiration—and treats fado, Portugal’s signature music form, as a natural source of joy and introspection. Roseta is a singer and songwriter … More Cuca Roseta: Luz

2Frères: La Route

You can’t take the country out of the boy. And with 2Frères—Erik and Sonny Caouette—you can’t really take the boys out the country, either. When the retro folk-rockers dreamed big, they moved from Chapais, population 1,600 and 700 kilometers north of Montreal, to Cowansville, population 12,000 and 90 kilometers east of Québec’s culture capital. So far and no farther. Unpretentious family guys, they conquered the airwaves (with invaluable input … More 2Frères: La Route

Flor de Toloache: Las Caras Lindas

“Whatever women do,” observed the feminist pioneer Charlotte Whitton, “they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” No surprise that when Flor de Toloache became the first all-female mariachi band in New York City—and a rarity on the wider mariachi stage—they encountered skeptics. But the group’s first album earned a Grammy nomination … More Flor de Toloache: Las Caras Lindas

Afrika Mamas: Iphupho

A common symbol of Zulu culture is the cowhide shield, ever present in images of the warrior-king Shaka and also the centerpiece on the official crest of KwaZulu-Natal, the South African province that is the heartland of the Zulu people. But as history merges with herstory, it’s evident that societies are shielded not only by warriors but also by strong women. And no group embodies the idea of protective Zulu women more than the a cappella ensemble … More Afrika Mamas: Iphupho

Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II

The song Shpatsir in Vald (A Walk in the Forest) has everything—poignant dialogue between lovers about to be separated by war, a dulcet Russian waltz melody and the spellbinding voice of Sophie Milman (video 1). The lyrics were penned in 1944, but the song wasn’t released until 2018—and therein lies a story. The Soviet Union, World War II: A team of ethnomusicologists led by … More Yiddish Glory: The Lost Songs of World War II

Julie Fowlis: Alterum

The starting point is harmony between Scottish Gaelic—“spoken for over a thousand years,” Julie Fowlis observes, “yet considered otherworldly on its own shores”—and her enchanting, heaven-to-earth voice. On Alterum, she approaches otherness not only as a homegrown/uncommon language but also as a series of dimensions—a mystical plane of nearby hidden realms (magical/supernatural); proximate elements that give one another definition (land/sea) … More Julie Fowlis: Alterum

Sigrid Moldestad: Vere Her

Sigrid Moldestad’s stature as a composer rests on more than her exquisite melodies. OnVere Her(Being Here) she aligns elements of nature and imagination—love and mortality, stress and relief; rain and sun; memory and hope; yesterday, today and tomorrow—finding joyful, nostalgic and melancholic beauty in life’s twists and contrasts. Though rooted in Norwegian folk, Moldestad nonetheless allows her songs to turn like flowers toward whichever genre … More Sigrid Moldestad: Vere Her