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

Kandy Guira: Nagtaba

There’s no progress without struggle, and maybe that’s one reason music developed—to make the hard work less onerous, even joyful. Kandy Guira’s first full-length album captures this spirit. Nagtaba (Together) is an ebullient, activist call for solidarity, understanding, tolerance, love, equality, building Africa’s future and valuing women as agents of change. The Paris-based singer-songwriter from Burkina Faso sparkles in her own universe, having … More Kandy Guira: Nagtaba

Batila: Tatamana

At the junction of multiple roads you often see signs pointing in many directions, and Batila’s debut solo album is a crossroads of sorts. Son of Congolese and Angolan parents, he was raised in Germany and England and now lives in Berlin, but his destination is more about identity—encompassing freedom, cultural integrity and Black love—than a place on the map. His signs are esoteric but he invites us in: Batila, his name, is Kikongo for “one who … More Batila: Tatamana

Curly Strings: Pidu meis eneses & Rahu meis eneses

Art often consists of freezing moments and reassembling them in words, music, digital images or on canvas, and frozen reality is something we’ve all experienced over the past two years. The Estonian band Curly Strings took full advantage of the global timeout and the result of the band’s reflections is an album diptych: The companion covers of Festivity Within (Pidu meis eneses) and Tranquility Within … More Curly Strings: Pidu meis eneses & Rahu meis eneses

Carrie Newcomer: Until Now

There is nothing so strong or safe in an emergency of life, wrote Dickens, as the simple truth. “Emergency of life” is as good a description as any to describe humanity’s plight these past two years, and few contemporary artists are as adept at unearthing simple truths as Carrie Newcomer. On her nineteenth solo album, the Indiana singer-songwriter, essayist and educator wields her warm alto, stirring … More Carrie Newcomer: Until Now

Mónica Giraldo: Hubo un Tiempo

Like ripples on the water or wrinkles in time, the songs of Mónica Giraldo’s seventh album radiate gently. Water and time, in fact, are central features of the Colombian singer-songwriter’s 10-track collection Hubo un Tiempo (There Was a Time), reflecting on the doubts of the pandemic era, the changes we weather alone or share with humanity, and the beauty and certainties that remain. While … More Mónica Giraldo: Hubo un Tiempo

Alena Murang: Sky Songs

The Earth doesn’t move beneath our feet but it does rotate, offering far flung lands with unique cultures a view of the same heavens. Perhaps this explains why Alena Murang’s songs evoke both the mystery of a faraway people and instant identification with their reverence for the sky. Murang is a Malaysian singer-songwriter and prodigy of the sape’, traditional lute of the Dayak peoples who inhabit the riverbanks and highlands of Borneo—and the … More Alena Murang: Sky Songs

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

Sarah Aroeste: Monastir

There’s an exquisite balance in Sarah Aroeste’s homage to a bygone community that lives in her heart under a bygone name. Bitola is North Macedonia’s second largest city, a place of Ottoman and Neoclassical architecture, of commerce and culture. For Aroeste’s family it is (and officially was until 1913) called Monastir, a refuge that became home: After Spain expelled its Jewish population in 1492, many migrated to the Ottoman Empire … More Sarah Aroeste: Monastir

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