Pop: New worlds to discover

Bored by rock repeating itself? Heard all the classics you want to? Then this year's world music CDs may be just for you
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The Independent Culture
WHAT WE might loosely call "world music" has been enjoying a renaissance of late. It's taken a long time coming: over the past 10 years or so, artists from Mali to Melanesia have appeared on Western stages, at festivals such as Womad or as support acts to white artists eager to reveal their discoveries to the mainstream.

Indigenous sounds from around the world have been used in film sound- tracks and ad campaigns - think Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Heinz - and have revitalised many a flagging Western career. Now that the classical music industry has exhausted its repertoire and British rock has never seemed so derivative, we're turning on to world music in ever increasing numbers.

"There's so much about that people are encountering it by accident," says Simon Broughton, editor of the quarterly Songlines, a recent Gramophone publication dedicated to "journeys in world music".

"People dip in and out of categories. Now they're as likely to buy an Afro Cuban All-Stars album as to choose the latest Manic Street Preachers."

In addition, increased emphasis on marketing possibilities has changed perceptions, Broughton feels.

"Of course, the music should be good to listen to, but the right presentation and information can provide a window to a lot more besides."

World music CDs are currently being given greater prominence, and even window displays, in megastores such as HMV, Virgin and Tower. Marketing departments, it seems, have realised that the infectious beats and powerful rhythms of a whole host of world music artists offer a perfect auditory escape from the depths of a British winter.

As with any musical genre, of course, there's the good, the bad and the downright unlistenable to. So here is a by-no-means-comprehensive guide to the most keenly awaited releases in coming months.

Imminent must-haves include Fruta Bomba (Tumi) by Cuba's magnificent seven, Jovenes Clasicos del Son. Recipients of the Cuban government's Best Cuban Group of 1997 award, and collaborators with luminaries such as the jazz supremo Winton Marsalis and the Cuban elder statesman Compay Segundo, Jovenes Clasicos del Son mix age-old Cuban son rhythms with soul, jazz, rap and funk.

On a completely different vibe, The Bartok Album (Rykodisc) sees the Hungarian folk musicians Muzikas doffing their pork-pie hats to the composer Bela Bartok with recordings of many of the folk pieces collected and recorded by the Hungarian composer which so inspired him. Led by the star soloist Marta Sebestyen and including the classically trained Romanian violinist Alexander Balanescu, Muzsika's Fiddler on the Roof-type ambience is as sharp as it is seductive.

Four years after the dissolution of Franco-Spanish ethno-punk band Mano Negra, the singer/ songwriter Manu Chao emerges with Clandestino (Palm Pictures). Billed as a "musical photo-journalist", Chao offers nomadic sensibility, Latin-African fusions and a quirky take on melancholy that have proved popular on the Continent; it's reckoned he will also do well here.

For a unique take on Asian music, One and One is One (Real World) by the East End Bengali outfit Joi mixes tablas, sitars and drones with the breakbeat sounds of UK clubland; Sheila Chandra's Moonsung - a Retrospective (Real World) features choice moments from the one-time Monsoon vocalist's foray into solo voice and drones.

Albums by world music greats such as the Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour and the Cape Verdean artist Cesaria Evora have yet to receive confirmed release dates. In May, the Nascente label goes some way to remedying this by launching two double Folk Roots compilations, courtesy of the UK-based Folk Roots magazine. An entire CD of African repertoire includes the likes of N'Dour, Baaba Maal and Ali Farke Toure.

The other CD - Music From the Rest of the World - features Evora, the late, great qawaali singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, the Greek star Eleftheria Arvanitaki and London's Transglobal Underground. It is, like its genre, a mixed bag.