It’s that time of year again where we sift through all the CD reviews from the past year and give you our top picks, as well as offer up some cool ideas to help you shop for those music lovers on your list. Let me assure you, dear readers, the gifts on our Christmas list are not just the best-selling items but the stuff we’d actually like to see stuffed into our stockings. So, let’s get to it with our top world music CD picks of 2007 which includes selections by world music writers, DJs and industry professionals.
For those on your “especially nice” gift list, you might be looking for an Apple iPod. There is the Apple 30 GB iPod AAC/Mp3 Video Player that stores up to 7,500 songs, gobs of video, including photos, but this one comes with a whopping $4,200 price tag. The best bet might be the more reasonably priced Apple 4 GB iPod nano AAC/MP3 Player for $149.00 that promises to play 24 hours of music or 5 hours of tv shows, movies or podcasts on a single charge. There’s also the Apple 8 GB iPod nano AAC/MP3 Player priced at $189.99 with a larger display and an enhanced system for browsing music and video.
In the mid-range of iPod heaven is the Apple 80 GB iPod Classic priced at $244.99. It boasts 40 hours of audio playback and allows the user to search music by playlist, artist, album, song, genre or composer. Now if you have it in your mind to replace your sister’s tired old cassette player and want a deal, the Apple 1 GB iPod shuffle Purple comes in at a bargain price of $78.99, which leaves you enough money left over to buy her that sequined Santa sweater as a bonus. While the Shuffle might be considered by some to be lacking, this clever little Shuffle holds a respectable 240 songs and is quite nice for the price.
If you’re looking outside Apple there is the Zune 30 GB Digital Media Player for $174.00 that holds up to 7,500 songs, sports a 3” screen and automatically imports songs from iTunes or Windows Media Player. The $99.99 Sandisk SDMX4-4096 Sansa e260 4 GB MP3 Player with SD Espansion Slot comes with FM tuner with recording capability and a voice recorder for only $99.99. The rechargeable battery allows for up to 20 hours of play.
Priced at $30.53 the SanDisk Sansa M240 1 GB MP3 Player is a steal. This player holds up to 16 hours of MP3 files or 32 hours of WMA audio, has an FM radio, built-in microphone and voice recorder. Operating on a single AAA battery, it plays up to 19 hours of music. Finally there’s the Creative Zen V Plus 4 GB Portable Media Player for $94.99 that holds up to 2000 songs, has a 1.5” display and plays up to 15 hours on rechargeable battery.
Now one of the trends in music software, that for some reason completely bypassed me, is now available in mega form. It’s the Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock Bundle with Guitar. Intended to “unleash your inner rock star” this software boasts 70 of the best rock anthems ever! Now I don’t know if this is something you’d allow downloaded on the family computer, but it’s a great gift for that mega rock guitarist wannabe who perhaps has a computer in his room or uses the one down in the basement. Unfortunately, the long, stringy rock star wig is not included.
If you’re looking for other music software that doesn’t include a wild person swinging a guitar around your precious collectibles, I would take a look at Music Ace Starter for $19.99 or Music Ace Deluxe for a mere $49.99. Both are intended to teach music basics like rhythm, pitch, theory and note reading, but the added feature of the Music Doodle Pad that allows you to create your own music makes it fun. There’s also Band in a Box 2007 for $69.99 or Finale Songwriter 2007 software priced at $44.95 that allows the user to add vocal harmonies or drum sections to a composition before printing the whole song out as sheet music.
Now with all this music making going on what you need is a good pair of headphones or rather the budding musician needs a good pair of headphones. Maybe you both need a pair of headphones. Sennheiser HD 202 Headphones are nicely priced at $23.40. With a 10-foot cable and cushy ear pads, these babies will keep that “inner rock star” virtually silent for the rest of the people in the house. The JBuds Hi-Fi Noise-Reducing Ear Buds are another option. These sleek ear buds are compatible with iPods, MP3 players, CD players, DVD players and laptops and cost only $17.95. Now if you are looking to go wireless there are the Sennheiser RS 130 Wireless Surround Sound Headphones with Charging Cradle ) for $109.99. Beyond the great sound of these headphones is the two-year warranty.
Headphones make a great gift for the music lover on your list and for those that live with the music lover. Now I know there are warnings about increasing the volume too far on the instructional booklets that come with these headphones, but nothing can replace the stern lecture about hearing loss that should be administered when giving headphones as a gift. Should the eyes of the recipient of said lecture start to glaze over just give them a little shake to make sure they are listening.
Now for some more fun stuff. There are some excellent books on music that would make a nice addition to anyone’s collection. Global Minstrels: Voices of World Music by Elijah Wald, or Josephine Powell’s Tito Puente: When the Drums Are Dreaming or Robert Palmer’s book Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta are good for starters.
Elijah Wald has two other books, Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues or Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns and Guerillas, that might be of interest.
My personal choice would have to be the The Rough Guide to World Music 3, volume 1. 3, featuring the music of Africa and the Middle East. There’s also the Rough Guide to World Music Volume Two, Latin and North America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. These fabulous books are chocked full of information and stunning photographs; as if one could expect anything less from the Rough Guides.
If DVDs are on your list, there are several that might be the perfect stocking stuffer. A Visit to Ali Farka Toure, Los Zafiros – Music From The Edge Of Time , Celtic Woman, New Journey: Live from Slane Castle, Ireland or Shanda about Oliver Mtukudzi are all simply wonderful.
There are plenty of other DVDs out there to tempt the music lover, like DVD/2 CD set Loreena McKennitt: Nights from the Alhambra , Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars or Música Cubana: Live in Amsterdam.
If you are seeking a world musical instrument to give as a gift Novica.com has a wonderful selection. Novica has djembes, kendangs from Java, bougarabous from West Africa, Andean hand drums, kalimbas from Bali and Java and Brazil, gongs and xylophones, rainsticks and maracas, panpipes and ceramic flutes. These instruments are so beautifully crafted they could even be used as decorative touches to liven up any music lover’s home. Novica does even better than other musical instrument sellers by sending along with the instrument a card about the craftsman who made the instrument. Novica supports artisans from all over the world and we think that’s a good thing. Novica also has oodles of other goodies as well, like rugs, clothing, games, jewelry, Christmas ornaments and card, masks and lots of goodies for the children. They have a collection of Alpaca finger puppets from the Andes that I wouldn’t mind playing with myself.
Speaking of kids, Putumayo has some wonderful collection for children. Putumayo Kids Presents Brazilian Playground is a sure way to get lazy children up off the couch, away from the television and dancing around, while teaching them about world music. You can feel especially good about buying this CD in that the company uses a portion of the proceeds from the sale to help the Axé Project that supports the education of underprivileged children in Brazil. Now if Brazil isn’t what you had in mind, the Putumayo Kids’ collection is full of other fun stuff like Animal Playground, Caribbean Playground, Reggae Playground, Asian Dreamland, African Playground, Hawaiian Playground, Latin Playground and Celtic Dreamland. All of these CDs are an excellent way to teach music and culture, and the artwork is pretty great too.
This is where I would normally offer toy musical instrument suggestions for kids to start learning about music on, but I’m not going to do it this year. There have been too many warnings and recalls of items for children due of lead paint or other contaminates that I simply refuse to make any recommendations unless I have assurances from the company that the items have been tested properly. My advice for anyone looking to buy beginning instruments or toy sets for any children would be to go to a local toy store, not a chain store, and look carefully at the labels. I would even go so far as to grill the store employees to ask where the toy was made and by what company. Learning music is such a valuable gift; spoiling it with a tainted instrument seems not only wrong but somehow criminal.
I’ve offered just a few gift ideas for the music enthusiast on your list, but don’t discount giving a starter set of music lessons. An inexpensive guitar or drum set and five music lessons with a reputable, local teacher would be the perfect gift for the child or young adult or even a parent, spouse or partner with too much time on their hands that’s on your list. Remember the skills used in learning music will help the under-achieving child in math and science later on in school.
Dance classes are another equally splendid gift idea. Think about it warming up all those cold January nights with a couple of tango or salsa lessons. This is the perfect thing to get couples together once a week to do something truly exciting while getting a good workout without having to go to the gym.
Finally, this is the time of year to think about those in need, so we ask you not to forget some of our favorite charities.
VH1 Save the Music Foundation is one of those exceptional programs trying to put music education back in the schools. The program purchases musical instruments for school music programs that are slated for the chopping block. This program often sponsors fundraising events, so you should keep an eye out for events happening near you.
Our friends at Freemuse.org could always use a donation as they campaign for the freedom of musical expression for musicians and composers around the world. Being able to read well-written reports of the madness that is censorship is well worth a couple of bucks.
The Music Maker Relief Foundation, Inc. provides housing and other essentials for musicians that time and the record companies forgot. To make the donation sweeter, Music Maker Relief Foundation is offering two CDs this year. Blues, Sweet Blues is a collection of 40 tracks from 40 artists and Christmas with Cootie is piedmont blues singer Cootie Stark’s tribute to the holidays.
Wardance.org is taking their documentary War Dance to theaters across the country. The documentary is story of three children from Northern Uganda who must leave their brutal experiences as rebel soldiers for the Lord’s Resistance Army behind them and open themselves to the world of music and dance that will allow them and their country to heal. The filmmakers’ production company, Shine Global, is dedicating 100% of their profits to help Doctors Without Borders, IRC, AMREF, PATANGO Music and Dance Fund.
I hope that you’ve found something on our list that will make your holiday shopping a little easier or that you’ve found something to put on you own wish list. All of us here at World Music Central wish you a happy, healthy holiday season filled with good music, excellent company and delicious conversation.