Summing up a whole year of music from the entire world is always a daunting task (I think I've written a sentence like that every year I've done it). But that diversity, that inability to be neatly categorized is just what we love about this inadequate umbrella we call "world music," right? It certainly makes for one hell of a best-of list. That said, a few themes do emerge among our top 25 world albums:
Mali on our minds: The West African country made headlines this year with stories of the conflict and violence there. Malian musicians -- who were cracked down on heavily in some areas -- responded with gorgeous, thoughtful albums that railed against warfare and still found hope. See: Vieux Farka Toure's Mon Pays, Ballaké Sissoko's At Peace, Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba's Jama ko and, especially, Rokia Traoré's impassioned, powerful Beautiful Africa.
The Saharan hotbed: Along with the Malian efforts, several of the year's most interesting albums came from locations in or adjacent to the Sahara. Foundational desert blues outfit Etran Finatawa, Niger's up-and-coming Tal National, and Algeria's rai outlier Rachid Taha all put out fantastic new albums, but it was Niger's contemplative Tuareg rock star Bombino who really hit his stride with the epic Nomad (featuring production by The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach).
Surprising anthologies: I typically avoid comps on my best-of list. But there were several this year that were just too good to leave off: Red Hot + Fela, Peru Maravilloso and my favorite, Khat Thaleth (a groundbreaking collection of Arabic hip-hop), offered a wealth of fascinating nuggets.
The ladies run this: This list is dominated by powerful, charismatic female artists in just about every genre and geographical area covered. Our top four alone will knock your proverbial socks off (do NOT miss Anoushka Shankar's ethereal new effort, which includes duets with sister Norah Jones). But keep moving through the list and you'll be rewarded with female-fronted sounds from Scandinavia (by way of Africa), Madagascar, Cape Verde, Spain, Portugal and the U.K. (by way of Venezuela), from Monoswezi, Lala Njava, Carmen Souza, Buika, Ana Moura and Family Atlantica. Revel in these fierce, captivating female voices!
Top 25 World Albums of 2013:
1. Anoushka Shankar, Traces of You
2. Juana Molina, Wed 21
3. Rokia Traore, Beautiful Africa
4. M.I.A., Matangi
5. Various Artists, Khat Theleth
6. Monoswezi, The Village
7. Bombino, Nomad
8. LaBrassBanda, Europa
9. Lala Njava, Malagasy Blues Song
10. Carmen Souza, Kachupada
11. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, Jama ko
12. Tal National, Kaani
13. Various Artists, Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical and Cumbia
14. Rachid Taha, Zoom
15. Etran Finatawa, The Sahara Sessions
16. Vieux Farka Toure, Mon Pays
17. Ukandanz, Yetchalal
18. Buika, La Noche Más Larga
19. Various Artists, Red Hot + Fela
20. Ballaké Sissoko, At Peace
21. Chicago Afrobeat Project, Nyash UP!
22. Sorie Kondi, Thogolobea
23. Ana Moura, Desfado
24. Mop Mop, Isle of Magic
25. Family Atlantica, Family Atlantica