Nour: L’élégance des mots crus

Are the words Nour refers to in the title of her fourth album elegant because they are raw, or because they are believed—or is it both? From the lyric ambiguity we can’t be sure, and that seems to be the elegant point. The album represents catharsis, the artist asserts, a coming to terms with romantic misfortune, and her resilience can be seen in every corner, from the post-rupture breakup metaphors (great void … More Nour: L’élégance des mots crus

Lúcia de Carvalho: Pwanga

Lúcia de Carvalho has a friend who coaches people in writing personal testimonies designed to increase self-esteem. At the end of a project in Angola the friend asked the women farmers she had worked with to pose for a photo and noticed that no one smiled. A translator advised her to reassemble the group and ask, in Chokwe, “Pwanga ni puy?” (Light or darkness?)—and he women all responded “Pwanga!” as their faces lit up. This is the … More Lúcia de Carvalho: Pwanga

Le Vent du Nord: 20 Printemps

Though their high-latitude homeland is more than twice the size of France, the Québécois know they’re surrounded by North America’s immense Anglophone universe and their geographic awareness has helped shape the tenacity and vibrancy of their culture. One of Quebec’s most dynamic musical forces is Le Vent du Nord, a folk band whose anniversary album, 20 Printemps (20 Springs) … More Le Vent du Nord: 20 Printemps

Zaz: Isa

Isabelle Geffroy grew up as Isa but went on stage as Zaz, the larger-than-life avatar of a shy extrovert who came to personify twenty-first century French chanson. Success didn’t spoil her but after her fourth album in 2018 she needed a break. “I was all Zaz, all outward-looking, with 100,000 projects,” she says. “The problem was that I wasn’t taking care of Isa.” During her hiatus she quit cigarettes, alcohol and coffee, became a vegetarian and got … More Zaz: Isa

Syssi Mananga: Mopepe Mama

The title track of Syssi Mananga’s captivating second album is an autobiographical ballad of freedom and motherhood, one concept pulling toward exploration, the other toward roots. Mopepe means “wind” in Lingala and the singer-songwriter is an amalgam of the boundaries she traverses as easily as the breeze and lineages she nourishes within. Daughter of a Congolese mother and Belgian father … More Syssi Mananga: Mopepe Mama

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

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

Céline Banza: Praefatio

Céline Banza’s voice is so utterly captivating it seems to eliminate emotional distance, merging melancholy with hope, grievance with comfort, artist with audience. On her debut album the Congolese singer-songwriter tells stories of love, separation and chauvinism—plus childhood innocence lost and miraculously recovered. Time has been as thin as space in her 24 years: Born in Kinshasa in 1997, she composed songs before age seven and her father … More Céline Banza: Praefatio

Fely Tchaco: Yita (Deep Water)

Migration is a universal story: All humanity came out of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Voluntary or involuntary, migration is constant, driven by push-pull factors like dreams, exploration, climate change, conflict, hunger and persecution. Yita (Deep Water), the title track of Fely Tchaco’s fifth album, is a soaring elegy for migrants who never reached their destination and also a hymn … More Fely Tchaco: Yita (Deep Water)