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Music All ears

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Dance around the world

If The New York Times Kelefa Sanneh is right, the next sensation in world music could well be a husband-and-wife team who wear their sunglasses at night: Amadou & Mariam have taken France by storm with Dimanche A Bamako (Nonesuch), the irresistible record they made over a year ago with Manu Chao that has now been released here. Sprouting from the traditional blues of their native Mali, A&Ms music grew to embrace the kind of far-flung influences that make African records hits in multicultural corners of Europe.

One of the duos most famous countrymen, Ali Farka Toure, also has a recent release on Nonesuch: Red & Green digs back before the records that made the Mali bluesman an international star in the 90s. The reissue pairs two albums from 1984 and 1988 alongside a brief but ecstatic liner essay in which the BBCs Andy Kershaw recalls how a chance encounter rescued AFT from retirement before the world had ever heard of him.

Ali Farka Toures blending of Malian tradition with American music sounds so natural that Westerners often imagine it was totally homegrown. You cant say that for the tracks on Loves a Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa, the latest must-have compilation from Luaka Bop. This is music for blowing minds: slices of wax on which James Brown, Hendrix, and a hundred weirder influences are filtered through distinctly African sensibilities, resulting in music that is both wonderfully unplaceable and a kick-ass party soundtrack.

Speaking of Luaka Bop, the labels Los De Abajo have released a two-CD live set on the authorized bootleg label Kufala (www.kufala.com). The collection proves that the groups tropipunk blend of latin dance styles with Mexico City rock is not something that only works in the studio.

Purer examples of Latin dance music or, since pure is a crazy word to apply to such melting-pot sounds, examples whose sound mostly ignores the rock era can be found on two great new titles: Cubas Sierra Maestra returns from a few-year absence with Son: Soul of a Nation (Riverboat), which is devoted to exploring the roots of the loosely defined genre known as Son. The group swings with laid-back charm, and surely wouldnt mind if you wanted to compare them to the Buena Vista Social Club. On Para Todos Ustedes (Smithsonian Folkways), Los Pleneros de la 21 turn the heat up a bit, with a jazzy romp through bomba and plena, the building blocks of Afro-Puerto Rican music.

If those discs are too hot for summer, Francisco Céspedes will happily slow things down on Autorretrato (Warner Latina), an album of ballads and torch songs on which the Cuban songwriter and retired physician almost comes across as an heir to the French chanson tradition. Over in Cape Verde, Maria de Barros is vying to inherit the mantle of her godmother, Cesaria Evora. Her new Dança Ma Mi (Dance With Me) (EMI) doesnt always stick with the regal romanticism of Evoras records she flirts with more modern sounds and with dancier tempos but de Barros delivers enough intoxicating tracks to make her worth watching.

Hopping briefly to India, Peter Gabriels Realworld label offers a disc devoted to the Sarod, a shorter and more melody-oriented cousin of the sitar that has its roots in Afghanistan. Moksha, by sixth-generation Sarod player Amjad Ali Khan, carries on the musics tradition without sounding quite like most of the traditional Indian records you may have heard.

Ali Farka Toures blending of Malian tradition with American music sounds so natural that Westerners often imagine it was totally homegrown.

Odds are, youve never heard anything like the music of Debashish Bhattacharya. On his Calcutta Slide-Guitar (Riverboat Records), Bhattacharya shows off three guitars he designed for himself, finger picked instruments on which he blends thousand-year-old Indian traditions with slide techniques borrowed from Hawaiian steel guitar.

World Music Network, which distributes Riverboat Records, has been cranking out a series of compilations inspired by the Rough Guide line of travel books. Some of the discs arent what youd call essential purchases the Rough Guide to Irish Music, ... to Salsa Dance, and ... to Celtic Music arent exactly eye-opening, although they do go beyond the usual suspects but some stray off the commercially proven path: Guides to the Sahara, the Sudan, and Bolivia may fill gaps you didnt know existed in your ethnographic music collection, while Dub makes danceable sense of a genre so sprawling that it can intimidate newcomers.

The coolest Rough installment, though, returns to the Latin arena: The Rough Guide to Boogaloo dives into one of Latin musics shortest-lived trends, a playful 60s style that simplified rhythms for the gringos while freeing up arrangements for soul-based instrumental solos. It can be goofy stuff Bobby Valentín puts a spin on the Batman TV theme thats worthy of The Late Shows Paul Shaffer but if good times are the point of dance music, boogaloo was a fad that died too soon, no matter how silly it was.

By John DeFore


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