Michael Church: The best World albums of 2008

‘Gabi Lunca’s wonderful voice is darkly suggestive of all the pleasures of life’
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The Independent Culture

Iraq's historic culture is now a memory: Daoud and Saleh Al-Kuwaity's 'Masters of Iraqi Music' is a reminder of the civilization Blair and Bush destroyed, through remastered recordings by two of the country's greatest players.

And the brightest lights of Cuban music have gone out: 'Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall' eternalises that magical moment when Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzalez, and Ibrahim Ferrer first hit the big time.

This wonderfully atmospheric CD recalls the band in its first flush of dizzy success. Meanwhile Gabi Lunca's 'Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol 5' reflects the artistry of the supreme diva of Romania's musica lautareasca: a wonderful voice, darkly suggestive of all the pleasures of life as it sails with clarinet, violin, and trumpet above drum and cimbalom accompaniment. Garth Cartwright's 'Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians' lays out the whole glittering Balkan canvas, with Kocani Orkestar, Taraf de Haidouks, and Fanfare Ciocarlia balanced by Romica Puceanu, Saban Bajramovic and Sofi Marinova's extraordinary vocal ornamentation.

Rough Guide's best this year were 'Arabic Café' and 'Turkish Café'. Forget the connotations of our British "café": think backgammon, hookahs, newspapers, intellectual debate, and absorb the music these things have stimulated.

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