It's been another great year for world music, and I've found a lot to like in the year's album releases. Still, I'm posting this list reluctantly, because I know just how subjective musical tastes can be. DJ Earball has different tastes than Charlie Gillett, or Afropop Worldwide. I simply find that these albums are the ones to which I have returned again and again, digging into the music and repeatedly finding magic within. I hope this list will inform your own musical explorations - and please feel free to post comments or even your own World Music Top 10.
1. Kilema: Lavi-Tani
Madagascar artist Kilema constructs beautiful harmonies. His smooth, soft voice sings songs of travel, nostalgia, rain, and other important themes. A wonderful discovery from an amazing unsigned artist.
2. Fantazia: Mul Sheshe
This UK-Algerian group tells of a fascinating musical journey from Sahara village roots to city sounds, complete with the bittersweet knowledge that there's no going back.
3. Michael Spiro & Michael Williams: BataMbira
Shona and Santeria/Orisha traditions may be miles apart geographically, even spiritually, but in the hands of Michaels Spiro and Williams, their musics blend beautifully, woven so tightly and harmoniously it's hard to believe they weren't always played together.
4. Freshlyground: Nomvula
African-rooted pop that's universal and appealing, with vocals like Gwen Stefani but, well, better - and with music that's far more interesting while just as fun.
5. Eliseo Parra: De Ayer Manana
A touch of Manu Chao anarchy, a little Radio Tarifa multiculturalism, and tons of hard work and imagination from this Iberian musical explorer.
6. Leila: Madama
Powerful women's vocals command your attention from the opening bars on this album from Galacia's Leilia, a group of women singers and percussionists (imagine Varttina with sax and udu and you're partway there).
7. Anoushka Shankar: Rise
The famed daughter takes a step into Indian fusion with delightful results.
8. Shukar Collective: Urban Gypsy
Pairing a traditional form of Roma (Gypsy) singing known as usar ("bear handler") with jazzy basslines and electronic beats, Shukar Collective is like nothing you've ever heard before.
9. Emanuel Jal & Abdel Gadir Salim: Ceasefire
From Sudan's battling regions comes one of the most satisfying collaborations of 2005, combinging a former child soldier rapper from the Christian South with an older classically trained composer from the Muslim North. Symbolic reconciliation never sounded so good.
10.David Krakauer & Klezmer Madness with Socalled: Bubbemeises - Lies My Gramma Told Me
Klezmer meets hiphop with lyrics provided by your grandmother: "Get off the kitchen table or you'll never get married / And never whistle walkin' past where people are buried / If you can kiss your elbows then you're probably gay / and yo if you cross your eyes you know they'll stay that way." (Now on tour, hitting Seattle on Dec. 14 - see calendar for details).
Now I feel like adding a list of great albums that I haven't listed. But I'll let you explore more for youself, within the reviews posted on SoundRoots, or among the scores of world music reviews posted at Spin the Globe, for starters. Let me know about your own favorites, or new discoveries!