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Discover World Music! A Sampling for You to Try

Updated on March 13, 2016
(public domain image)
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If world music is an unknown genre to you, or you'd like some new artists to check out, I have some suggestions to try. Especially if you're stuck in the rut of pop or country music, why not branch out a bit and listed to some unique and interesting artists?

World music is not as popular in the U.S. as in Europe or other places around the world, partly because Americans tend to shy away from anything in a foreign language and because world music isn't promoted on radio and television as much as other genres, like pop and country, are. If you are put off by the language "barrier", don't let that stop you! After all, people in foreign countries often listen to and enjoy American music and they may have no idea what the lyrics mean!

Since people in the U.S. are not exposed as regularly to the rich variety of world music out there, many have no idea what awaits them in the music of other countries and cultures. Be brave and take a journey into this under-appreciated genre by sampling some exciting and talented artists from around the world.

Start With A Latin Beat

One subset of world music that is probably familiar is Latin music, as there is a growing population of Spanish and Portuguese speaking people in the U.S from Mexico, South America and Brazil. But Latin music is much more than Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony! More Americans are discovering the amazing fluidity of Ottmar Liebert's (who is actually native to Germany) flamenco guitar, and the rustic, hand-clapping rhythms of the Gipsy Kings.

Listen to Liebert!

Liebert has collaborated with such greats as Carlos Santana and famous trumpet player Jeff Elliott to produce a sound that is distinctly Hispanic, full of the drama and romance that characterizes this genre of music. Be transported to another place on Leibert's soaring flamenco pieces to where palm trees whisper in the breeze and sangría is served in frosted glasses. His precision with the guitar will blow you away and his back-up is top-notch.

The Gipsy Kings, who originated in the south of France (France's southern border meets the northern border of Spain) will get your blood pumping with their raw, rhythmic versions of traditional Latin folk tunes as well as some more well known Spanish language tunes such as "Volaré". Their lively guitars, combined with an array of traditional instruments such as timbales and cabasas lends an authentic sound that makes you want to at least tap your feet if not jump up and dance! The vocals are typically passionate and characteristically rough in tone, a quality that takes getting used to for some people, but it does grow on you!

One of the things to keep in mind as you explore world music is to give it a chance! Play your selections over several times on different days for your ear to become accustomed to sounds that may not be familiar at first. It's called "cultivating a taste" for something new! My favorite offerings from Ottmar Liebert and the Gipsy Kings are Nouveau Flamenco (Liebert) and Mosaique (Gipsy Kings). They are probably my two favorite Latin albums. Give them a shot!

Listen to the Gipsy Kings!


Top O' the Mornin'!

Another sub set of the world music genre that has become popular in the U.S. is Celtic music. Many have gotten hooked on the ethereal sounds of Enya, the classic melodies of Celtic Woman, or the beauty of the Irish Tenors' rich voices. But there is much more from the Green Isle to get to know! Celtic music ranges from snappy folk songs to heartbreaking ballads to raucous tunes with heavy percussion. Take a virtual trip across the sea to those misty shores and listen!

Listen to Clannad

If you have not gotten into Celtic music as of yet, one idea to start with is the group Clannad. Their sounds are hauntingly reminiscent of the misty green Emerald Isle. Much of their music is adapted from traditional Irish folk songs, and Clannad was featured in the movie "Last of the Mohicans" whose theme "I Will Find You" will be familiar to most listeners. This song is on most of their "best of" albums, including Celtic Themes, which is a good one to start with if Clannad is new to you.

Another Irish group who gained popularity from a feature film is Gaelic Storm. They have the rollicking, toe-tapping sound that created so much energy in the third-class party scene on the movie Titanic. Their album Herding Cats is my favorite of theirs, but they all display Gaelic Storm's energetic mixture of rowdy voices and dance-able instrumentals which they play with gusto. A great Celtic group to try.

Clannad and many other Celtic singers/groups sing in both English and their native Irish Gaelic language. Personally, I prefer the the Irish. This beautiful language has a lilting, almost mystical quality to it with the slower selections, and adds a touch of bawdy humor to the more lively tracks.

If you are already familiar with these two Celtic groups, then I would suggest a slightly more obscure Irish musician named Kieran Fahy. His album The Woman From Tuam, from the 1990's which is mostly instrumental, captures the wild Celtic spirit, both with his heart-pumping reels and jigs and his more soulful variations of some traditional Irish folk melodies.

Listen to Gaelic Storm

Don't Stop There!

But definitely don't stop with just Latin and Celtic music. There's a whole world of terrific musicians and groups around the world to sample. Try a great afro/jazz group called Bembeya Jazz National. They are a group from Guinea who were a huge hit in the 70's, but they have also put out some since 2000 as well, including a self-titled CD, Bembeya, that is very good. Talk about wanting to get up and dance! It's hard to keep still listening to the swinging sounds of their lively songs. The band includes a variety of horns that weave in and out with the vocals in varying harmonies. They're irresistibly bouncy and dance-able and, though many of their albums are imports and out of print, you can still find them online.

Another sound from Africa is an artist named Angelique Kidjo from the west African nation of Benin. Her full-throated voice pours out its sultry sound to songs that range from rhythm & blues to jazz to folk, all with an exotic African flavor. Her back ups are outstanding too. A good CD to listen to is her "best of" album entitled Keep Moving On.

Listen to Angelique Kidjo!

Listen to La Bottine Souriante!

A little closer to home is a French Canadian group called La Bottine Souriante. I recently purchased their CD La Mistrine, and it is a colorful mix of Celtic sounds combined with the flair of French and even a touch of Latin. The effect is a collection of fiery songs that you'll be humming all day. It is really different, unlike anything I've heard before and well worth checking out.

One Great Way to Sample World Music

No discussion of world music can go without mentioning the Putumayo label. Putumayo World Music is a good resource for those just venturing into the genre of world music. They offer loads of CDs designed to introduce the listener to the music of various countries and cultures throughout the world. They are mostly compilation albums, but they do feature some individual artists as well. I know that many don't care for compilation albums, but I have found several of these compilations that I do enjoy, such as Arabic Grooves, featuring artists from the Arabic-speaking world and their World Lounge CD, which graces its audience with chill out sounds from around the globe. Putumayo also offers a series of world music CDs for children, which are great for broadening the musical horizons of your kids!

Try a World Music Compilation

Whichever world music most interests you, don't be afraid to go for it! The language differences are really not a problem, and many CDs that are marketed in the U.S. have inserts with the lyrics in both the native language and English, so you know what the song is about! But really, you don't need to even understand the lyrics to fully enjoy the sounds, moods and unique experiences you will have when you explore the genre of world music.

(and don't forget to answer the poll below!)

Do You Enjoy World Music?

Let us know which world music choices you have or would like to explore!

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