Habib Koité: Kharifa

Everyone loves a love song, which explains why nobody composed What the World Needs Now is Responsibility Sweet Responsibility. Everyone touts diversity, yet there is Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All time” (*499 in English). If you seek wisdom in entertainment it’s useful to look beyond the market driven universe. A good place to start is with Habib Koité, the Malian singer-songwriter, born into a griot family of 17 siblings … More Habib Koité: Kharifa

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

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

La Mòssa: a moss’!

Based in Avignon, the women of La Mòssa are polyphonic and polyglot; they have varied music backgrounds (jazz, folk, rock, roots), they tell stories old and recent, true-to-life, fanciful and surreal, describing marriage and courtship, evoking wars, witches and mermaids. There’s an elegant coherence to it all, as if they carry a world of lore in a small purse—labeled “roads women have traveled” and closed with a clasp of attitude. What binds all the facets … More La Mòssa: a moss’!

Balarù: Gravure

Do Baroque concertos composed for harpsichord sound as good with piano? Does a Languedoc cabernet sauvignon taste as good today as it did in 1850, before blight forced French winemakers to import American vine roots? For better or worse, music and viticulture face mergers, evolution, assimilation—and when taste is involved there are no right or wrong answers. But one fine day the four musicians of Balarù, from Piedmont in Italy’s … More Balarù: Gravure

Kanazoé Orkestra: Tolonso

Time to discuss immigration in musical terms. Popular songs in the so-called developed world revolve mostly around romantic relationships, with an uptick in recent decades of alcohol and drug themes. Lyrics in the developing world focus more on survival, conflict, society and family. Kanazoé Orkestra is a microcosm of immigrant-music dynamics, based in Toulouse and led by Burkina Faso-born Seydou “Kanazoé” Diabaté, balafon master and … More Kanazoé Orkestra: Tolonso

Le Vent du Nord: Territoires

Oz, Neverwhere, Asteroid B-612—great artists create worlds or pair real domains with fantasylands to explore larger questions. Count in this company Le Vent du Nord, vanguard of Québec’s progressive folk movement. On Territoires, they tread overlapping realms—the Québec and New France of today and of history, of the heart, imagination and aspiration. No surrealism in these territories but the ensemble more than compensates with soundscapes … More Le Vent du Nord: Territoires