Top 10 reasons why Dubya stands for World Beat in 2000

If you've just landed a job in the incoming Dubya administration and your name isn't Condoleezza Rice, then you probably need a refresher course on international affairs. This is particularly true if you think the Western Alliance refers to liberals from California and Oregon, and the Eastern Bloc means voters in New York and New Jersey. What better place to start than with music? Here, then, are 10 reasons to check out this year's bounty of world music releases:
10. Your new boss's wife just had afternoon tea at the White House with Hillary, and you don't know where tea comes from: Music From the Tea Lands (Putumayo) will straighten you out. Tasty sips from China, India, Japan, Indonesia and more are here. You even get to find out where Tatarstan is — in the Udmurt Republic — which will come in handy if you ever get stuck in the elevator with saucy Condoleezza (or require the perfect condiment to a roasted Dan Quayle).
9. If Qawwality education in America — reflecting true multicultural values — is a top priority: Look no further than Zindagi (City of Tribes) by the Ali Khan Band, featuring the brother and sister team of Sukhawat Ali Khan and Riffat Salamat. The pure hypnotic Pakistani qawwali tradition in which the two singers were trained is augmented by rap, electronica and bhangra overtones. Focus groups suggest this could be a hit with younger urban voters.
8 and 7. As relentless as new Windows releases and continuing Cuban sanctions, but much more welcome and less likely to lead to headaches and hunger: Of this year's crop of Buena Vista Social Club spin-offs, the best two are BVSC presents Omara Portuondo (World Circuit), from the diva who charmed the masses at the Rialto Theater in September, and Tribute to the Cuarteto Patria (Higher Octave) from Eliades Ochoa. Bonus points: Ochoa looks like a regular Texan with his trademark cowboy hat and boots, and he speaks Spanish, just like the incoming Presidente. Then there is the family values connection: sister Maria has a dinger of an album out, too, Asi Quiero Vivir (Blue Jackel).
6. Looking for a going-away present for outgoing Secretary of State Madeline Albright? Ghetto Tango (Wartime Yiddish Theater) (Traditional Crossroads) by Adrienne Cooper and Zalmen Mlotek might just fit the bill. The voice and piano performances are stirring, and the songs — written in Jewish ghettos as well as death camps during World War II — are personal, political, satirical, funny, sad and tragic. A true testament of the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. (Al Gore take note.)
5. You haven't been able to secure Sinatra for the Inaugural Ball, Streisand's not available — busy packing her bags — and Fleetwood Mac is unsuitable (though Stevie's starting to look like Nancy Reagan). Sorry, can't help you here, but French President Jacques Chirac, who recently pressed the flesh with George W., recommends any of the singers on The Story of Chanson (Hemisphere). True, Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier are also dead, but let's not get too fuzzy with the math.
4. George W. has expressed a liking for new country music: May we suggest the appropriately titled Yal (Tinder) by Takfarinas, the latest Algerian star to take a shot at the American market. New country? Well, we suspect Algeria is a new country to W., as it had not been a major player in Texan politics in recent years. Straight-ahead rai, Turkish violins, gypsy rhythms, romping horns, mournful Arabic balladry and modern, occasionally rap- and techno-inflected party music, all get a look in.
3. Ricky Martin? Too expensive, need surplus to blow on tax cuts: Percussionist and singer Chichi Peralta from the Dominican Republic is much more affordable, and judging by the music on his latest ... De Vuelta al Barrio (Caiman), he could show Ricky a few things when it comes to shaking all over.
2. It's a hit with the voters in Zimbabwe, and that's good enough for you: Paivepo (Putumayo) by Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi is the biggest selling album of all time in Zimbabwe. The rhythm of this music is totally contagious — as we found out live when Tuku played in Atlanta last year — from mbira (thumb piano) inspired chimurenga and South African mpaqanga to the distinctive home-grown JIT pop style.
1. As we've been reminded several times in recent weeks, it ain't over till the fat lady sings, and so here's our nomination for the Inaugural Ball: Hefty Virginia Rodrigues, from Bahia in Brazil, unmistakably reminds one of Cape Verde's Cesaria Evora on her amazing second album, Nos (Hannibal). This is a voice to sit back and savor, uncluttered by the over-arrangements typical of so many other recent Brazilian releases. Her choir-trained voice delivers songs about Carnival and its roots in African religious culture and faith, with definite nods to her admitted love of American divas Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday. Delightful and direct, this is cultural diva-sity at its finest.
Honorable mentions:
Never could tell the difference between one Middle Eastern country and the next? The Third Planet (World Class) will confuse you ever further. With the alternating voices of Iraq's Nazar and Algeria's Smail Kouider Aissa, and occasional vocal assists from tabla master Rashmi V. Bhatt from India, this one is all over the map and proud of it.
Some of the tracks on The Story of Arabic Song (Hemisphere/EMI/Metro Blue) go on for 10 minutes or more, and are much the better for it. Gems from decades past sung by male crooners Mohamed Abdou (Saudi Arabia) and Mohamed Abdel Wahab (Egypt), and female stars Fairuz (Lebanon) and Oum Kolsoum (Egypt) are a revelation in these Abbey Road-remastered versions.
If winter has you dreaming of warming your toes with some logs in the fireplace — or even better, basking in the warmth of the South Pacific: Try South Seas (ARC), in which Tokelauan pate (log drum) forms the backbone of this smorgasbord of atmospheric Samoan and Polynesian rhythm and song, performed by Te Vaka, a 10-piece New Zealand-based band of tropical island ex-patriots.
Latinas (Women of Latin America) (Putumayo) is notable for its breadth, from Peru's Susana Baca (who packed the Red Light Cafe earlier this year) to artists from Columbia, Argentina, Colombia and Chile in addition to the expected Cuba and Brazil.
If handsome young hombres gyrating to cascading flamenco guitar, hands held high as they punctuate the air with their own crisp palmas (hand claps) are your thing, try Patriarca (Alula) by Spain's Miguel Angel Cortes, winner of the 1994 Paco de Lucia Guitar Award. You may have to supply your own hombres. u
For more world beat information and archives, visit John C. Falstaff's website at www.pd.org/~jcf.