Colossus: West Oaktown
Acid jazz made an official comeback in 2005, perhaps best symbolized by this double CD. The result of importing an English jazz-funkhead like Charlie Tate to urban Oakland and letting him marinate, West Oaktown's combination of complex time signatures, soulful mood swings, chilled beats and scientific raps from Capitol A, Roots Manuva and Azeem made it hip to be cool like dat all over again.
Emmanuel Jal & Abdel Gadir Salim: Ceasefire
(Riverboat/World Music Network)
Perhaps the only thing more fascinating than this groundbreaking fusion of traditional East African rhythms with up-to-the-minute electronics and stirring raps are the artists' own stories. MC Emmanuel Jal hails from southern Sudan, and Abdel Gadir Salim is from the north. Their historic collaboration constitutes a strong cry for unity, healing the civil-war-ravaged nation with insistent messages of peace as well as captivating melodic textures.
Seu Jorge: Cru
This South American singer and actor (City of God, the Bowie guy in The Life Aquatic) has the versatility to pull off Elvis Presley and Serge Gainsbourg covers, Brasil-electro remixes ("Tive Raz¨o") and acoustic ballads ("Fiore de la Città") on Cru, which lives up to its title (it means raw in Portuguese). Jorge globalized and energized the singer-songwriter shtick with percussive rhythms, soothing guitars and a dash of electronic treatments, all held together by his intense vocal delivery.
Orishas: El Kilo
On its third album, the Latin Grammy-winning Cuban trio Orishas which broke new ground for international hip-hop on its previous two releases leaped beyond any artistic statement attempted by their American rap counterparts in 2005. Infused with Afro-Cuban musical sensibilities, El Kilo is a spirited, rhythmic triumph from start to finish, a confidently executed effort assuring us that the Orishas' juju is only getting stronger.
DJ Cheb i Sabbah: La Kahena
After thoroughly exploring the trancelike qualities of Hindustani music, original world beatnik Cheb i Sabbah turns to the trancelike qualities of the Arabian diaspora, bringing les voix du Magreb to the fore with an intoxicating excursion into Moroccan gnaoua styles. Gently stitching electro-dub layers onto traditional rhythmic garb, La Kahena fits like a disco-ready djellaba its flavorful beats and beautifully melodic vocals make it the musical equivalent of chicken tagine.