various artists,
Putumayo World Party
(Putumayo, 2007)

Now this is more like it!

The last Putumayo compilation disc I had the opportunity to review for Rambles.NET was A New Groove. It was an album I quite enjoyed but one I felt was less than ambitious in so far as it didn't really bring a world view to club music.

Putumayo World Party doesn't suffer from the same deficiencies. The listener is treated to music from four continents (North and South America, Europe and Africa) and a number of island nations (Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique). Still, at just 44 minutes in length, there's room to have squeezed in a few more tracks so that Asia and Australia could have been added to the mix. The world is larger than 10 tracks can ever reflect.

With the exceptions of Burning Spear and Laid Back, I was unfamiliar with the artists featured on World Party. But the mix of emerging talents, including Argentina's Los Pinguos, founded in 1999, and established performers like Burning Spear, who began a recording career in 1969, is inspired. Both of the aforementioned artists have provided magnificent tracks for this compilation.

The ska-influenced rhythms and smooth vocals on the Los Pinguos track, "My Love," embody the cross-fertilizing energy that makes world music so exciting. Meanwhile, Burning Spear's "Walk" demonstrates that unadulterated, regional musical styles such as reggae have tremendous life left in their bones. "Walk" is perhaps my favorite song on this disc, with its globe-trotting lyric and slow-burning reggae arrangement.

Other highlights include "Minde Se," which marries West African traditions to Cuban rhythms filtered through the Paris underground music scene. Laurent Hounsavi worked as a busker in Paris subway stations after moving from his native Benin in 1990. His music blends diverse cultural elements seamlessly into a delicious, steamy musical elixer. Further along on the disc the rollicking cajun number "Just One Kiss" by Beau Jocque & the Zydeco Hi-Rollers is a perfect party track. It's next to impossible to stay seated as I write this paragraph while the track plays in my headphones. The rhythm is infectious, the vocal passionate and loose, the accordion rambunctious. Andrus "Beau Jocque" Espre died of a heart attack in 1999, just a dozen years into his musical career, but his music is so much a celebration of life that he's certain to be an enduring influence on the zydeco scene.

I wish a few more tracks had the rough-edged exuberance of "Just One Kiss." Certainly the traditional French Caribbean zouk rhythms of Jean-Philippe Marthely's "Wote Monte" lose a fair bit of their punch as a result of the song's overly precise, almost sterile production. The track is much cleaner than ideal, though the shouts and passionate vocal delivery almost manage to carry the listener past the impersonal keyboard sounds and an overly smooth arrangement.

The following track, "Groovin' on a Feeling" by Denmark's Laid Back, is another studio confection. But here the studio techniques have been turned into an integral component of the song and the resulting track, while not one of my favorites, is a catchy, modern danceclub number with interesting Caribbean overtones.

"Cochabamba," the closing track in this collection, comes from the combo Sarazino. Lamine Fellah, originally from Algeria, and Walid Nahas, a native of Lebanon, formed Sarazino in Montreal in 1995 but Fellah relocated to Ecuador in order to "deepen his understanding of Latin American culture." If this isn't world music I don't know what is. It's a near perfect way to close out a wonderfully diverse, exciting, vibrant assortment of music from around the globe.

review by
Gregg Thurlbeck

9 February 2008

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