Kamel El Harrachi: Nouara

Nouara is Algerian chaâbi at its best—11 evocative folk-blues songs of elusive love, nostalgia, hope and self-awareness, served in Kamel El Harrachi’s silky voice. Throughout his career the artist’s challenge has actually been his strength: Son of the pioneering singer-songwriter and chaâbi modernizer Dahmane El Harrachi, Kamel has built on his father’s monumental oeuvre, never viewing it as a shadow. His second album embraces this musical heritage … More Kamel El Harrachi: Nouara

Dobet Gnahoré: Couleur

The magic in The Wizard of Oz begins when a tornado wrenches Dorothy from her home in sepia-toned Kansas and drops her into a Technicolor universe. Something similar happens with Couleur (Color), Dobet Gnahoré’s sixth album, an exploration of women’s empowerment that emerges not from a fictional whirlwind but a worldwide crisis. Gnahoré, the first Grammy winner from Côte d’Ivoire, has spent the better part of 20 years commuting … More Dobet Gnahoré: Couleur

Kady Diarra: Burkina Hakili

Beauty happens when an artist arranges disparate parts and pieces into a fixed space, making arresting sense of out of confusion. Kady Diarra’s third album is a cornucopia of pleasures and wisdom, reflecting her life, her homeland (Burkina Faso), her region (West Africa) and her griot heritage. Her songs, conveyed by her extraordinary voice and magnetic personality, are entertaining to be sure, but also nurturing. She is rooted and nomadic, blending the … More Kady Diarra: Burkina Hakili

Vaiteani: Signs

Imagine an archipelago, nine islands sharing a common culture but each welcoming visitors with a sign indicating its singular stories and features: One isle is focused on dance, another on flowers, others on music creation, parenthood, kisses, and the embrace of everything and its opposite. This is the universe Vaiteani paints on their second album, elements that begin separately and merge into creations greater than the sum of their parts. This is also … More Vaiteani: Signs

Ann O’aro: Longoz

The longose is an invasive species that suffocates other vegetation. On her second album, Ann O’aro likens the tree—which flourishes on Réunion, her home island—to traumatic memories that smother the spirit. Symbolism is the latest step in O’aro’s personal-artistic arc: Her 2018 debut album was a stunning exercise—and exorcism—in scorched-earth blues, confronting childhood rape by her alcoholic father, who committed suicide when she was 15 … More Ann O’aro: Longoz

Trio Bacana: Transatlântikèr

From their name choices you might not guess that the women of Trio Bacana are French, residents of an ancient walled town in Brittany. Bacana is Brazilian Portuguese slang for “cool,” and the awesome trio’s 2017 debut album was an all-Brazilian affair. Transatlântikèr is an invented word combining the oceanic highway linking France to the Americas with kèr—meaning “village” in Breton and “heart” in Réunion Creole. Cultivating their roots in samba … More Trio Bacana: Transatlântikèr

Francis Cabrel: À l’aube revenant

On his fourteenth album Francis Cabrel exhibits a striking mix of freshness and nostalgia, reminding fans new and old why his voice, pen and ever-expanding canon of folk-blues-chanson remain so central to the soundtrack of the French-speaking world. Aside from its evocative treatment of modern and courtly love, freedom and alienation, technological tyranny and global warming, the … More Francis Cabrel: À l’aube revenant

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