Think Inside the Globe

Th!nk Global: West Africa Unwired

Th!nk Global: West Africa Unwired (World Music Network RGNET 1169CD, 2006)

Th!nk Global: Bellydance (World Music Network RGNET 1161CD, 2006)

These releases remind me a bit of the pre-CD era when records came packed in cardboard and not much else. World Music Network, already the label behind the fine Rough Guide and Introducing lines, now unveils Th!nk Global, an environmentally and socially conscious series packaged entirely in recycled card (no plastic) and produced in conjunction with two very worthy causes (Amnesty International and Oxfam).

But while you’ll be doing right by this planet you call home and its people, buy these collections for the music.

West Africa Unwired not only features superstars the caliber of Baaba Maal, Boubacar Traoré and Toumani Diabate, but emerging talents like Gnawa bluesman Nuru Kane, Tuareg/Wodaabe band Etran Finatawa (also responsible for one of 2006’s best debut CDs) and Senegal’s new shining star Daby Balde.

Note the “Unwired” of the title- this music is rich with koras, balafons, n’goni lutes, acoustic guitars, earthy percussion and muezzin-like vocals that are pure raw brilliance even when a degree of contemporary edge (as with Mali’s Issa Bagayogo) is evident. Absolutely terrific.

Various Artists – Think Global: Bellydance

The Bellydance disc is likewise a sumptuous selection of a varied style that has survived everything from kitschy stereotyping to Islamic fundamentalism. Many of the best in the raqs sharki business are here, including Egyptian master percussionist Hossam Ramzy, Turkish Sufi multi-instrumentalist great Omar Faruk Tekbilek and Syria’s esteemed Salatin El Tarab Orchestra.

There are both instrumental and vocal pieces, some basking in near-symphonic lushness, others sparser but no less striking, still others factoring in subtle Gypsy, jazz and Mediterranean fusion. What’s constant is the mosaic of pan-Arabic percussion, stringed and wind instruments that give every track a beauty and grandeur that may put you in mind of gyrating midriffs or just send you blissfully off to a desert dreamland.

Buy West Africa Unwired and Bellydance.

Author: Tom Orr

Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.