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The Year's Best World Music

Banning Eyre, senior editor of, shines the spotlight on the best world music this year.

His favorites include music from Mali, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Senegal, but Watina, the new album from Andy Palacio, stood above the rest. Palacio is of the Garifuna culture in Belize. Watina brings together Garifuna musicians of several generations from Belize, Guatemala and Honduras in an effort to preserve the language and culture of the Garifuna people. Eyre calls the album a breakthrough for Afro-Central American folk-pop.

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Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective

A landmark release for Afro-Central American folk-pop, with understated, percussion- and guitar-driven grooves. Voices of experience -- notably Palacio's reedy, pensive baritone -- sing songs built to last. (Listen: "Watina")

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba

One of Mali's hottest string pickers puts the spotlight on his humble-looking instrument -- the ngoni lute -- and makes it roar. Four ngonis cut a wide swath through this country's rich folklore, topped by distinguished guest vocalists Oumou Sangare, Kasse Mady Diabate and others. (Listen: "Ngoni Fola")

Bembeya Jazz National

The best compilation yet to survey music from one of West Africa's all-time greatest dance bands during its '60s and '70s heyday. Two CDs gives you enough sinewy, brassy grooves to dance to through a full Saturday night. (Listen: "Armée Guinéenne")

Caetano Veloso

Veloso may be a graybeard of popular Brazilian music -- and one of Dylan-esque stature -- but he's still got the soul of a teenager. Working with his son and other twentysomethings, he uses his spare, melodious rock songs to muse about sex, aging, heroes and more. (Listen: "Outro")

Dee Dee Bridgewater

An American jazzwoman goes "home" to Bamako, Mali, and collaborates with a broad array of that musical city's best singers and string-pickers. The musical ideas flow both ways on one of the best African jazz records ever made. (Listen: "Children Go 'Round [Demisènw]")

Puerto Plata

A surprise revival release from a veteran of the Dominican Republic's folksy, pre-bachata son style delivers breathless, acoustic merengue and more. Digging into nylon strings, Plata's two soloists deliver some of the tastiest and most nimble acoustic-guitar work this year. (Listen: "Baracoa")

Sergio and Odair Assad

Two brothers from Brazil with Arabia in their genes, and long a legendary classical guitar duo, the Assads defy genre. Whether original pieces or gems by Gershwin, Debussy or Jobim, music becomes a thing of warmth and perfection in their hands. (Listen: "Tahhiyya Li Ossoulina")


This is the best produced of three albums these kings of desert rock have made since they strode out of the Malian desert in the late '90s. Tinariwen's raw, authentic roots music is distinguished by aching melodies and casually brilliant electric guitar work that easily dons the cloak of rock 'n' roll. (Listen: "Matadjem Yinmixam")

Various Artists

Of this year's many exceptional reissue titles, this wins the "unexpected" prize. Party-hardy oil workers in the Peruvian Amazon crank out a delightful amalgam of surf, cumbia and Andean folklore. (Listen: "Sonido Amazonica [D.R.I.]" by Los Mirlos)

Youssou N'Dour

Africa's most popular singer and bandleader trades percussive drive for folksy intimacy as he explores the sounds of Senegal's desert north -- for N'Dour, the deep homeland of blues, soul, hip-hop and more. As always, killer pop hooks are delivered by one of the most inspiring and vital voices in pop music anywhere today. (Listen: "Sama Gàmmu")

Banning Eyre