This is the last time you will see the phrase "world music" appear in this newspaper. A holdover from the precious, batik-printed, WOMAD '80s, the term failed on many levels long ago.
There's a vibrant underground of urban sounds coming out of several of the most politically tense nations in the world. Some have yet to be co-opted by America's monster music machine, and they allow sharp, fresh glimpses into streets and pop cultures that might otherwise go undiscovered. Thanks to the internet and adventurous radio programming—Darek Mazzone's Tuesday evening Wo' Pop set on KEXP, for example—it's easier than ever to discover what the rest of the world is listening to.
From: Angola and Portugal Sounds like:Angry Portuguese rhymes spit over fast, hard-hitting electro beats Major players: Buraka Som Sistema, Tony Amado, Os Lambas
Kuduro translates to "hardass" in Portuguese, the language of Angola, a south-central African nation colonized by Portugal in the 1600s. In the mid-1990s, Kuduro started as a kind of Angolan dance music, with bits of reggae and techno and kizomba, a slow, sexual style from the capital city of Luanda's DJ scene. Since then, it's incorporated hardcore hiphop lyricism, and artists like Os Turbantes and Os Lambas (watch their "Comboio II" on YouTube) have started laying down fast, dark flows in Creole slang.
Meanwhile, a mass Angolan immigration back to Portugal has brought the sound to Lisbon and changed Kuduro from the ghetto style it once was to a staple for European club DJs. Mainly responsible is Buraka Som Sistema, a Lisbon-based electro-dance group who recently blasted their "progressive Kuduro" sound at the UK's Glastonbury Festival. Diplo has been hyping Kuduro on his Mad Decent podcast, which means it won't be long before its jagged beats are all over Gwen Stefani's next single.
From: Stockholm, Malmo Sounds like: Jazzy funk to gangsta rap, with slick, optimistic Swedish slang Major players: Timbuktu, Promoe, Chords
Hiphop has been around in Sweden almost as long as it has in America. The current Swedish sound deviates from the American, borrowing from British grime and Danish and Indian hiphop, occupying its own little niche of squeaky-clean synthesizers and philosophical "Rinkeby Swedish" slang rhymes. There are gangsta and booty styles, but the best Swedish hiphop is on the positive, alternative side. Promoe leads the pack, sporting white dreadlocks and an extra-long, Norse-god-ish beard. Timbuktu's new single "Lika Barn Avvika Bast Del 2" also reveals him as powerful MC. Chords—the Swedish answer to Peanut Butter Wolf—just collaborated with J-Ro, formerly of Tha Alkoholics, who moved to Malmo, Sweden, in 2004. J-Ro has since started up a clothing shop and founded a label, Juju Records, that most of the guys mentioned have recorded on.
Soca and Ragga Soca
From: Trinidad, Tobago, St. Vincent Sounds like: R. Kelly and Stevie Wonder hanging out in a Caribbean disco Major players: Bunji Garlin, Machel Montano, Kevin Lyttle
Soca started off as a mix of soul and calypso music ("so" plus "ca"); if you've ever heard "Hot Hot Hot" by Buster Poindexter you understand the campy novelty it once was. Recently, artists like Bunji Garlin have fused soca with Jamaican dancehall, supplementing jumpy calypso beats for dancehall's more angular riddims, and creating the sub-genre of ragga soca. The music can lean toward the candy-coated sex anthems of reggaeton—Cocorosie covers soca pop songs at their concerts—but it can also lean toward the urbanized grit of Kingston barkers like Bounty Killa. Machel Montano and his Xtatik band are the most visible soca artists, and their instantly likable sound stands between the two extremes, with U2 covers, anti-drunk-driving lyrics, and onstage jumping-splits antics. In the last year, Montano graced the cover of The Fader magazine and sold out Madison Square Garden. With all this attention, soca has been accused of triteness and hyperactivity, but give it time—it's still a new genre trying to prove itself next to the neighboring megastars of Jamaica.
From: Tanzania Sounds like: The Ghetto Blasters playing Tupac in Swahili on the streets of East Africa Major players: X Plastaz, Gangwe Mobb, Juma Nature
Bongo Flava (roughly, "use-your-brain music") is the slang term for Swahili rap from Dar es Salaam, the urban center for East African music. Old-school Swahili rap from the '90s managed to blend soft synth melodies with angry rhymes in the same way as Dr. Dre's G-funk, and the forefront MCs of Tanzania haven't changed much since then. Juma Nature is the bongo-flava artist of choice, flaunting fast party tracks, AIDS-conscious lyrics, and videos that are all over YouTube (check out "Hakuna Kulala"). But the most exciting bongo flava is coming from X Plastaz, one of the few groups who manage to step out of the shadow of American influence by integrating the choppy, breathy singing style of traditional Masai music. X Plastaz's Maasai Hip Hop, released a few years ago, rivals any recent American hiphop album, both for fat, head-bobbing beats and innovative lyrical flow. Bongo Flava remains one of the few windows into an East African urban life otherwise utterly ignored by Westerners.
From: The Sahara Sounds like: Hippie rebels in the desert jamming on raw, trancey blues-rock Major players: Tinariwen, Ensemble Tartit, Etran Finatawa
The Tuareg are a nomadic people who've wandered the Sahara for more than a thousand years—from Niger to Sudan to Mali and back. Their traditional music uses unusual instruments like the imzad (a single-string fiddle) and tinde drum, and a repetitive, trance-like vocal style. Formed in the '70s, Ensemble Tartit are probably the most likable of the traditional bands and their recent disc Amarat (out this year on the fantastic Crammed label) is straight-up Saharan freak-folk. But most of the instantly satisfying Tuareg music comes from bands like Tinariwen, who ditched the traditional instruments, picked up electric guitars, and built a new genre simply called "guitar." African guitars are normally twangy and clean; these have a dirty-blues distortion that usually comes out of American amps. Earlier this year, Tinariwen released Aman Iman, a foot-stomping, hand-clapping album that every Devendra Banhart fan should own. A documentary, Teshumara, or the Guitars of the Revolution, also came out recently. It captures the Tuareg musicians' plight—from struggling for independence from Mali's government to opening for the Rolling Stones.