Albums of the year: World

'Specialist world music companies have been squeezed off the shelves by global pop'
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The Independent Culture

Pride of place goes to the sumptuously-produced new series from Smithsonian Folkways devoted to the music of Central Asia. I can't choose between Tengir-Too: Mountain Music of Kyrgyzstan, Alim and Fargana Qasimov: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan, and Bardic Divas: Women's Voices from Central Asia, because all are wonderful. Meanwhile, records from that epic Seventies LP series the Nonesuch Explorers are now appearing as CDs: Shakuhachi Music: A Bell Ringing in the Empty Sky presents the Zen-Buddhist side of Japan, while Kabuki and Other Traditional Music reflects the boisterousness of its popular theatre.

This year, specialist world music companies have been squeezed off the shelves by Radio 3-sponsored global pop, so a big hand for two still doggedly ploughing their furrow. From Pan comes Nanwoka: Folksongs of Yunnan's Ethnic Minorities, which consists of recordings made in the Nineties in the jungles of southwest China. Meanwhile Topic have brought out a wonderful disc entitled Voices for Humans, Ancestors, and Gods, which lifts the veil on the riches to be found in remote villages of eastern India. Finally, two weddings and a funeral. Fanfare Ciocarlia's Queens and Kings is Romanian Gypsy magic at its best; Weddings Around the World offers a wonderful medley of music dedicated to making the event as happy as possible, and in Ibrahim Ferrer's Mi Sueño, the soul of the Buena Vista Social Club calls cheerfully to us from beyond the grave.

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