Cover Story: Eleven reasons to love world music in 2003

11. The world's most infectious music is spreading fast. Proof positive can be found in two fine Putumayo collections: Salsa Around the World sees bands from Scotland, Greece, Morocco, India and Japan strut their stuff with confidence alongside acts from Senegal and Haiti; and Brazilian Groove includes, in addition to artists hailing from close to the Amazon, some convincing bossa nova, samba and funk from France, Holland and Italy.

10. The Jews are still wandering the world. The evidence on the two-CD set, The Hidden Gate — Jewish Music Around the World (Rounder) is pretty compelling: terrific tracks from Zimbabwe, Brazil and India sit alongside equally surprising contributions from Iraq, Argentina, Greece and Australia.

9. Field recordings can be stunning. The 50-CD Anthology of World Music (Rounder) series — featuring field recordings from the last 40 years — shows just how exciting natural, unadorned music can be, if the volumes devoted to Lebanon, Azerbaijan and Pakistan are any guide.

8. Some of the coolest sounds hail from Chile. For over 35 years, Inti-Illimani have been exemplary ambassadors of their native Chile. They stick to the pure stuff on their typically haunting latest release, Lugares Comunes (Green Linnet).

7. Madagascar has more thrills than NASCAR any day. Malagasy music is a long overdue discovery: Choose between the vibrant Omeko Anao (The New Voice of Madagascar) (ARC) by seasoned chanteuse Hantira, or Soro (Tinder), the latest funky offering from relative newcomer Miary Lepiera.

6. Afro-Cuban jazz. It's a toss-up between pianist Elio Villafranca's punchy Incantations (Pimienta), on which he's joined by guitarist Pat Martino, and Omar Sosa's spacey, contemplative, solo piano A New Life (OTA).

5. Some people can never go home. Starry Nights in Western Sahara (Rounder) chronicles some of the extraordinarily powerful music of the tribal Saharawis, a dispossessed desert people caught between Algeria and Morocco. With little more than hypnotic vocals in the Hassaniya language and handclaps, they sing of romance and their political aspirations of independence.

4. You've always wanted to go to Cleveland. Be warned: This corner of Ohio has more Slovenians than any other city on the planet, and they're not afraid to use them. The Ukrainian, Slovakian, Croatian and Hungarian mix (from several waves of immigration spanning over a century) found on Harmonia's Music of Eastern Europe (Traditional Crossroads) will have your toes tapping in no time, be it to feisty Carpathian wedding music or blistering Transylvanian fiddle extravaganzas.

3. Afropop. Pick from these three winners: Senegal's Idrissa Diop rocks (with killer horns galore) on Yakar (Tinder). U.K.-based kora and percussion player Seckou Keita (from Senegal/Mali) has his highly touted Baiyo album reissued for U.S. distribution, retitled as Mali on ARC Records. Zimbabwe's chimurenga maestro Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited return in style with Toi Toi (Anonym).

2. Arabian Knights and Damsels. One of each for you (both on MondoMelodia/Ark 21): Nubian Egyptian superstar Mohamed Mounir's Earth ... Peace starts with the airwave-friendly "Madad," a smart update of an old Sufi chant, while equally well-established Samira Said from Morocco mixes high-energy tarab and rai on her latest, Youm Wara Youm.

1. Cesaria Evora. The bare-footed Cape Verdean diva continues to smoke with Voz d'Amor (Bluebird/BMG). As she demonstrated on a recent visit to town, her art is a carefully aged product, like a fine brandy. Savor it while you can.

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