With the holiday buying season now kicking off as early as the week after Halloween, it's no surprise that record companies specializing in world music are out of the gates early with a large array of new product. Among the releases are several attractive, seasonal world music albums:
*** 1/2 "World Christmas," Metro Blue. This must-have release is a collection of utterly fascinating new takes on mostly familiar songs. Among the many riches in this gorgeous album are Papa Wemba and Mino Cinelu's lovely rendering of "Angels We Have Heard on High," Angelique Kidjo's insistently rhythmic "O Holy Night," Cesaria Evora's soulful "Natal" and the Gipsy Kings' energetic "Navidad."
** 1/2 "A Brasilian Christmas," Astor Place. An interesting concept that doesn't always succeed as well as one might expect. Well-known Brazilian artists such as Ivan Lins, Dori Caymmi and Joyce and Joao Bosco sing familiar Christmas numbers--"Silent Night," "Jingle Bells," etc. In some cases, the mix is fascinating: Lins' warm reading of "White Christmas" and Bosco's crisply rhythmic "I'll Be Home for Christmas." But in others, the tone seems more skewed toward familiar American studio sounds than the brisk Brazilian colors promised by the album title.
*** "Kwanzaa Party," Rounder. An omnibus collection commemorating the African American holiday, which takes place the week between Christmas and New Year's (the word means "first fruits of the harvest" in Swahili). Since Kwanzaa is intended to celebrate strength, unity and optimism in the African American community, it's appropriate that the selections in this buoyant recording are dominated by upbeat, joyous party music. In a deeper sense, the album reveals the powerful impact that the African diaspora has had upon the cultures of the world, via selections that include gospel music, Cuban grooves, soukous, Brazilian forro and American blues.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).
Around Town: Concerts and club appearances this month are also bubbling over with a kaleidoscopic array of world music, with a bit of something for almost every taste.
For those who have not yet gotten full value out of their Halloween costumes, the Century Club is holding a belated celebration and costume contest tonight--"Halloween in Rio," featuring Christiane Callil's sensuous Brazilian vocals and the vigorous sambas of the Girls From Ipanema. Callil's colorful show repeats on Nov. 15 and 29. (310) 553-6000. . . . Also tonight, Lokua Kanza, a sweet-voiced Zairian singer-songwriter, performs his lyrical blending of African rhythms with American-style pop songs at LunaPark. (310) 652-0611. . . . Appearing on Saturday at the same club, Yoka Enzenze, a Zairian band that includes players from Tabu Ley Rochereau's band, performs. . . . Los Papines, a stirring Cuban drum ensemble, celebrates its 35th anniversary with appearances at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater on Monday, (310) 852-2101, and at the Ash Grove on Nov. 23, (310) 656-8500.
On Wednesday, Pakistan's Sabri Brothers, qawwali singers who were well-known around the world well before Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan arrived on the scene, bring their similarly ecstatic music to the Wadsworth. . . . Next Friday, Inti-Illimani, a group that was one of the creative forces behind the emergence of South America's nueva cancion in the '70s and '80s, performs at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium. (818) 395-4695. . . . The great master Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji--reportedly an early influence upon John Coltrane's interest in African culture--makes his first Los Angeles appearance in 10 years at the Ash Grove on Nov. 10.
World Music Freebies: The UCLA Armand Hammer Museum presents three excellent programs this month. All are Saturday performances at 2 p.m. and free to the public. On Saturday, Expresion Oaxaquena performs traditional music from Oaxaca to honor the Day of the Dead; on Nov. 9, sarod player David Trasoff plays ragas from North India with tabla player Abhiman Kaushal; and on Nov. 16, Adawe, a group of female drummers and singers, performs traditional music from West Africa. (310) 443-7000.