Gwendoline Absalon: Vangasay

The name of Réunion, France’s Indian Ocean department, commemorates the union of radical and bourgeois forces during the French Revolution. So it’s ironic that for much of the twentieth century authorities in Paris prohibited maloya, the island’s iconic music form, on the grounds that it was revolutionary. Maloya itself represents union, the fruit of a blended culture with contributions from … More Gwendoline Absalon: Vangasay

Mah Damba: Hakili Kélé

Individuals merge into families, families into communities, communities into nations and the generations turn. One way we make sense of life’s fabric is through art, distilling human possibility and experience into memorable form. Ancient societies had guardians of oral history but the griot caste of West Africa demonstrates unique resilience, the troubadour-praise singer-historian-genealogists of old transitioning into today’s folk musicians. In modern Mali, Senegal … More Mah Damba: Hakili Kélé

Bab El West: Houdoud

Pandemic isolation can evoke images of The Little Prince, alone on his asteroid, testing the limits of confinement as he imagines transcending space. Similar fabulous journeys are at the heart of Bab El West’s second album, inspired not by Saint-Exupéry but by surrealist poet Paul Éluard’s observation: “’Frontier’ is a one-eyed word but humankind sees the universe with two eyes.” Houdoud (Border) is a natural concept for the Paris-based band whose … More Bab El West: Houdoud

Flavia Coelho: DNA

Joyce’s Ulysses, Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Hugo’s Les Misérables—often a nation’s most critical and loving assessments come from its children abroad. Add to this roster DNA, the fourth album that Brazilian singer-songwriter Flavia Coelho has sent home from Paris, 12 tracks that convey the artist’s irrepressible spirit and the insight of a penetrating novel. Like her DNA, Coelho’s style palette is a glorious mix—Brazilian and Caribbean sounds … More Flavia Coelho: DNA

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

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

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

Wuta Mayi: La Face Cachée

Just as the Congo (Kinshasa) inhabits Africa’s center, Gaspard Wuta Mayi is central to the nation’s musical saga. The rumba singer-songwriter is a veteran of a series of seminal ensembles, including Orchestre Bamboula, which represented the Congo at the landmark 1969 Pan-African Culture Festival in Algiers; TPOK Jazz, the leading Congolese band from the 60s to the 80s; the Paris-based Quatre Étoiles, which surfed the soukous wave … More Wuta Mayi: La Face Cachée

Sissi Imaziten: Anzur

If exile is painful it is also a powerful creative force. Artists from Victor Hugo to Bob Marley, from Gloria Estefan to James Joyce, have not only clung to lands that they or their parents left behind, they also put their heritage on everyone’s cultural map. So it is with Sissi Imaziten, who grew up in an immigrant family in France but whose crystalline voice in Kabyle—the principal Berber (Amazigh) language in Algeria—evokes a world in the Tell Atlas Mountains … More Sissi Imaziten: Anzur

Clio: Déjà Venise

Clio doesn’t so much write songs as paint them. Her lyrics flow in conversational tones, filling each story like brush strokes on a canvas. On Déjà Venise (Already in Venice), her second album, the French singer-songwriter is concerned mostly with couples on the verge of connecting or disconnecting. Her portraits, often simultaneously realist and impressionist, are composed of images—unsipped coffee on a counter, a departed lover’s footprints in snow … More Clio: Déjà Venise