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

Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn

“Pity the nation,” wrote Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “that knows no language but its own.” Far more satisfying than pity is listening to Wu Fei and Abigail Washburn, who know one another’s languages and express their familiarity in profoundly local and transcendently global music. Wu is a Beijing-born composer, singer and master of the 21-string guzheng; Washburn an Illinois-born, Grammy winning singer-songwriter and clawhammer banjo … More Wu Fei & Abigail Washburn

Alex Cuba: Sublime

Dickens was right in concept but exaggerated the singularity of his age: It is always, in every era and every land, the best and worst of times. Great art often emerges from hard lessons, but sometimes songs written before a crisis rush toward our freshly frazzled nerves like first responders. When he released Sublime last fall Alex Cuba couldn’t have known a pandemic was imminent but today the music of his seventh album penetrates the haze of uncertainty … More Alex Cuba: Sublime

Aziza Brahim: Sahari

On the poignant album cover a girl in ballet shoes and a tutu poses against the backdrop of a refugee camp. Aziza Brahim’s enchanting desert blues are yet to come but the singer-songwriter has already riveted our attention to the story of her people. Brahim herself was born in a camp a year after her mother fled Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, Spain’s last colonial foothold in Africa. The 1975 invasion displaced tens of thousands, many of … More Aziza Brahim: Sahari

Lakou Mizik: HaitiaNola

Iko Iko is a much-covered song about the collision of two Mardi Gras Indian tribes. On their second album, the Haitian ensemble Lakou Mizik reworks it as Iko Kreyòl, leaving the cryptic chorus intact but applying new verses about pride in the Creole heritage that also stamped both New Orleans and their own land (video 1). It’s part of an electrifying collaboration of the acclaimed roots band with an illustrious roster of Big Easy musicians … More Lakou Mizik: HaitiaNola

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

Kaumaakonga: Taoba

The singer-musicians of Kaumaakonga are outliers because their ancestors traveled far. Their two small islands—Mungava and Mungiki, from which they derive Avaiki, the name of their Polynesian culture and language—occupy a corner of the Solomon Islands, which are predominantly Melanesian.* Centuries before Europe’s Age of Exploration, Polynesian navigators plied the vast Pacific in canoes, using a wayfinding toolbox of sun and stars, waves and … More Kaumaakonga: Taoba

Flor de Toloache: Indestructible

Imaginary exercise: Build an album around three quotes that express enduring truths. 1) “All you need is love;” 2) “Immigrants strengthen the fabric of American life;” 3) “A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Okay, this isn’t the real origin story of Flor de Toloache’s intoxicating third album, but it does reflect how neatly and profoundly their … More Flor de Toloache: Indestructible

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

Roberta Sá: Giro

For better or worse the world always turns, and though the release of Roberta Sá’s Giro (Spin) predates the current global pandemic by several months, it provides a useful lens for looking back with longing and forward with hope at a universe that now seems stuck in the ice of fear, compounded by social distancing. The music reminds us that it’s a beautiful/complicated universe revolving around love—present and absent, creeping and rushing … More Roberta Sá: Giro