Aziza Brahim: Sahari

On the poignant album cover a girl in ballet shoes and a tutu poses against the backdrop of a refugee camp. Aziza Brahim’s enchanting desert blues are yet to come but the singer-songwriter has already riveted our attention to the story of her people. Brahim herself was born in a camp a year after her mother fled Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, Spain’s last colonial foothold in Africa. The 1975 invasion displaced tens of thousands, many of … More Aziza Brahim: Sahari

Lakou Mizik: HaitiaNola

Iko Iko is a much-covered song about the collision of two Mardi Gras Indian tribes. On their second album, the Haitian ensemble Lakou Mizik reworks it as Iko Kreyòl, leaving the cryptic chorus intact but applying new verses about pride in the Creole heritage that also stamped both New Orleans and their own land (video 1). It’s part of an electrifying collaboration of the acclaimed roots band with an illustrious roster of Big Easy musicians … More Lakou Mizik: HaitiaNola

Erza Muqoli

At 14, Erza Muqoli has already led an eventful life, her success framed by a dramatic family backstory. The heart of her biography is her incandescent voice, at once floating and penetrating, girlish and mature. She burst on the French music scene at age 9, singing on a TV talent show, which led to her joining Kids United, a vocal group formed in 2015 to promote UNICEF programs. In three years the ensemble released three number-one albums … More Erza Muqoli

Kaumaakonga: Taoba

The singer-musicians of Kaumaakonga are outliers because their ancestors traveled far. Their two small islands—Mungava and Mungiki, from which they derive Avaiki, the name of their Polynesian culture and language—occupy a corner of the Solomon Islands, which are predominantly Melanesian.* Centuries before Europe’s Age of Exploration, Polynesian navigators plied the vast Pacific in canoes, using a wayfinding toolbox of sun and stars, waves and … More Kaumaakonga: Taoba

Flor de Toloache: Indestructible

Imaginary exercise: Build an album around three quotes that express enduring truths. 1) “All you need is love;” 2) “Immigrants strengthen the fabric of American life;” 3) “A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Okay, this isn’t the real origin story of Flor de Toloache’s intoxicating third album, but it does reflect how neatly and profoundly their … More Flor de Toloache: Indestructible

Jean-Marc Sauvagnargues & A Banda: Saudade

It defies neat translation, but you can feel it: Saudade, the Portuguese word at the intersection of longing, melancholy and nostalgia—with sometimes a measure of hope. When Jean-Marc Sauvagnargues and the five members of A Banda (The Band) released their 11-track bossa nova revival-renewal album a few months ago, it was an instant classic of golden age songs, nimble adaptations and elegant … More Jean-Marc Sauvagnargues & A Banda: Saudade

Roberta Sá: Giro

For better or worse the world always turns, and though the release of Roberta Sá’s Giro (Spin) predates the current global pandemic by several months, it provides a useful lens for looking back with longing and forward with hope at a universe that now seems stuck in the ice of fear, compounded by social distancing. The music reminds us that it’s a beautiful/complicated universe revolving around love—present and absent, creeping and rushing … More Roberta Sá: Giro

Kefaya + Elaha Soroor: Songs of Our Mothers

Kefaya’s 2016 debut album was a sumptuous stew of world sounds, but when Giuliano Modarelli and Al MacSween, founders of the London-based pan-cultural collective, met Afghan singer-songwriter Elaha Soroor, they discovered a radiant and particularistic voice they were happy to make the focal point of their universal ethos. Songs of Our Mothers unites Soroor’s story—of seeking equality but … More Kefaya + Elaha Soroor: Songs of Our Mothers

Coe, Peters & Smyth: The Road to Peterloo

Events buried in history can shape society long after they have faded from view. Many Britons have recently become reacquainted with a seminal chapter in their national story—the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. Notwithstanding the victory over Napoleon four years earlier, Britain faced domestic turmoil, especially in the northern industrial towns; mechanization had slashed textile workers’ … More Coe, Peters & Smyth: The Road to Peterloo

Souad Massi: Oumniya

“Government,” observed Ibn Khaldoun. “is an institution that prevents injustices, except those it commits itself.” For more than a year, peaceful demonstrators in Algeria have been challenging an entrenched, corrupt regime bent on fulfilling the definition articulated by the fourteenth-century Muslim sage. One of the most eloquent voices in support of the protests is that of Souad Massi, the Algiers-born, Paris-based artist who has spent much of her career … More Souad Massi: Oumniya