Fatoumata Diawara: Fenfo

The Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara is often described in terms of her voice—soulful, sensuous, poignant, passionate—but perhaps the foundational qualities she brings to her music are wisdom and independence. She knows the value of tradition because she has tested its boundaries—at 19 she defied her family, avoiding an arranged marriage by running off to join a French theater company. She understands the importance of … More Fatoumata Diawara: Fenfo

Kendji Girac: Amigo

As one of France’s leading recording artists, Kendji Girac knows the rigors of a marathon tour—indeed, before voice or instrument, his earliest training was for the road. He was born in the Dordogne to a family of Catalan-speaking Gypsies who spent six months of every year in a caravan. His father taught him to prune trees and his grandfather taught him guitar. When he was 16 his uncle filmed him singing a flamenco adaptation of Bella, a popular hip-hop … More Kendji Girac: Amigo

Catarina dos Santos: Rádio Kriola

The subtitle of Catarina dos Santos’ second album is “Reflections on Portuguese Identity,” a subject as big as the ocean that touches Portugal, Africa and Brazil and as small as the working-class town where she grew up. Facing Lisbon across the Tagus, Barreiro is home to families from Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea, Mozambique and inland Portugal. From an early age, Dos Santos—whose father … More Catarina dos Santos: Rádio Kriola

Ann O’aro

She stares from the album cover—stark, vulnerable, penetrating. From outside, Ann O’aro’s life may seem in search of a metaphor, a verbal contrivance to make it sound less horrifying, but she’s beyond that. As a child, she played piano, organ and flute. And as a child, she was raped by her father who, when Ann was 15, committed suicide. After school, she left her home on Réunion, the French island in the Indian Ocean, working as a tattoo artist … More Ann O’aro

Duarte: Só a Cantar

Duarte is a fado purist, making no concession to other genres, just Portuguese and acoustic guitars, bass and his sensitive, expressive voice. Literally and figuratively, he takes pains to be authentic as he explores the nuances of loss and makes Só a Cantar (Singing Alone), his fourth album, more hopeful than some of his earlier work. He laments warmed-over fado for tourists: “We’ve lost the dark side,” he said in an interview with Public Radio International—referring … More Duarte: Só a Cantar

Fulya Özlem & Akustik Kabare: Mânidar Boşluk

The singer-songwriter Fulya Özlem spent years studying and performing abroad, tracing a path that includes English, Scottish and Irish folk, tango, Latin jazz, bossa nova, French and Spanish Renaissance compositions, Sephardic music and rebetiko before returning to her native Istanbul. On Mânidar Boşluk (The Conspicuous Abyss), her third album, she explores something that was always part … More Fulya Özlem & Akustik Kabare: Mânidar Boşluk

Mari Kalkun: Ilmamõtsan

One of Europe’s smallest nations, Estonia is also among the most heavily forested. “The woods are a sacred place for many of us,” observes folksinger-songwriter Mari Kalkun. “Many Estonians have a spiritual connection to the trees, and a walk in the forest can be compared to a mini-pilgrimage.” Kalkun’s music is based on ancient regilaul chants, which she refreshes with newly composed works, and at the heart of Ilmamõtsan (In the Wood … More Mari Kalkun: Ilmamõtsan

Manuel Malou: Unomundo

Think global, act local. The mantra applies to government planning, the environment and business, but it’s also a defining feature of music—and few artists active today have embodied the concept longer than the French-Spanish singer-songwriter Manuel Malou. When he was eight he won a flamenco competition in Paris; as a teenager, he was in the vanguard of Spain’s post-Franco cultural awakening and, as part of Los Golfos, created an enduring … More Manuel Malou: Unomundo

Rachael McShane & The Cartographers: When All Is Still

Sex, death and rebellion are the stuff of tavern gossip and folk music, and they reach their fullest resonance when delivered with a healthy dose of irreverence. This is the payload of When All Is Still, a rollicking album of comedy and calamity, mischief and mayhem, by Rachael McShane and her band. Yorkshire-born and Newcastle-based … More Rachael McShane & The Cartographers: When All Is Still

Nour: Après L’orage

They can be meteorological or emotional, a vortex of personal, political or technological upheaval or even (nowadays) a whirlwind of Tweets. Storms typically require cleanup, but what about the flip side—the light that’s more lucid, the ungoverned mess that mixes things up, leaving arrangements never before seen but that, just maybe, make logical or absurdist sense? What about fear and insecurity weathered and what we learn from it all? Nour isn’t … More Nour: Après L’orage