The Putumayo label has a long history of putting out quality world music compilations, including a series of “groove” albums that have been pretty good at avoiding the pitfalls of too much modernizing. With their new African Beat and Latin Beat releases, their intent seems to be selecting works that split the difference between traditional and modern in the most seamless manner possible, in order to please fans on both sides. They largely succeed.
African Beat has many a good moment, with tracks that often start out in the village before traveling to the city. Such is the case with South Africa’s late Busi Mhlongo who gives us Zulu vocals on a higher plane than techno backing. The Ivory Coast’s Yode & Siro and the Congolese/South African collective Afro-Fiesta kicks off acoustic before letting in the cutting edge. Also noteworthy are Vieux Farka Toure’s remixed Malian blues, tech-treated reggae from another Malian, Adama Yalomba, and some chant-meets-chill courtesy of Senegal’s Lek Sen. Nigerian artist 9ice and Fredy Massamba out of Congo-Brazzaville are a little too close to American rap for my taste (even while sounding far less full of themselves than their Western counterparts), but the closing Afrobeat by Les Barons (from France, ironically) is mighty nice.Drawing on source material from countries in both hemispheres (ranging from the US, Colombia and Cuba to Spain, the UK and New Zealand), Latin Beat updates cumbia, son, nuevo flamenco, rumba, Afro-Cuban jazz and more. Highlights include Charanga Cakewalk’s zesty lounge leanings, Grupo Lokito sounding no less Cuban for being European, Sola Rosa’s deftly giddy blend of analog and digital sounds, Edesio’s meeting of old and new Havana and the way Mariposa Solar takes folkloric Colombian sounds and gives them a newly hypnotic plugging-in. Again, not every track is a complete winner, though the album as a whole is a definite keeper.
Both discs feature eye-catching cover designs and informative liner notes, longtime staples of Putumayo releases. Still, the music’s the thing, and these collections deliver sounds that will appeal both to the movers and to the laid back.