World music is, by its very definition, hard to pin down. We are talking about the whole freaking world, after all. On the other hand, there are still trends, clear-cut paths and identifiable currents of buzz, and 2011 boasted several of them. So here are the biggest trends contributing to our own personal Top 25:
1. Dance-Pop. Like every other musical corner on earth right now, global music reverberated with uterus-shaking dance beats. Several of the year's best albums paired the electronic music of the international club circuit with localized pop and folk trends, from grande dame of Turkish pop Sezen Aksu's Arabesque-esque dance-pop to Nuriya's Gypsy-Spanish-Jewish flamenco-pop & B (say that five times fast) to Buraka Som Sistema's ethno-electro.
2. Storied Revivals and Still-Ticking Legends. Crate-diggers, rejoice, for this was the year your dust-loving dreams came true in the form of reissues (Benin "jerk" legend El Rego), hotly anticipated new releases (from beloved Beninese dance legends Orchestre Poly-Rythmo), and sonic revivalism (Dengue Fever and Cambodian Space Project's anachronistic psych-pop, plus Mariza and Sevara Nazarkhan's studious neo-classicism). Also very much on the scene? Luminaries still running that scene with great new albums, from Cheikh Lo to Amr Diab to Boubacar Traore.
3. The Dizzying Speed of Global Communication. In other words, what world music's been doing for years: making geo-political boundaries irrelevant and spinning a wealth of sounds into musical gold, the brilliance of which blurs the line between traditional and popular, global and local. Tinariwen collaborated with TV on the Radio for their latest edition of North African blues-rock. Hanggai rocked Mongolian-Chinese folk-punk. And a lady calling herself tUnE-yArDs turned a hodgepodge of influences into one of the most talked-about albums of the year.
4. Afro-Pop. That's a vague, almost meaningless term stupidly meant to encompass a continent's worth of sound, but oh, the global pop that came out of Africa (and particularly West and Saharan Africa) this year! Afro-pop and rock makes up almost half our list. Dig. In. Your ears will thank you.