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Best Albums of 2016

Top 10 world music albums

Céu performing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images for Tokyo 2020


“Dans la légende” An immense hit in France, the second album by reclusive brothers Nabil and Tarik Andrieu, from the working-class suburb of Corbeil-Essonnes, confirms their seismic effect on France’s always-busy hip-hop scene. Woozy, melodic, and densely textured, with disabused lyrics that hover between sweetness and bitter profanity, it’s a landmark not just for French pop but for hip-hop overall.


“Tropix” Céu, from São Paulo, has a way of referencing the canon of Brazilian popular music — including samba, bossa nova, Tropicalia, and their derivations — yet never sounding the least bit imitative. Her astute songwriting, great musical taste (with top collaborators from Brazil’s rock and electronica scenes), and uncanny interplay of vocal languor and assertion are here at their peak.



“Habana Dreams” An extraordinary percussionist who settled in the United States nearly 20 years ago, Martínez returned to Havana to record in the legendary EGREM studios, with local artists joining his band on a fiery, soulful Afro-Cuban program. Back in New York, Wynton Marsalis, Ruben Blades, and Angelique Kidjo added material. The musicianship is exceptional, and so is the feeling.


“The Playmaker” Nigeria’s pop scene, Africa’s busiest and most influential, runs mostly on hits; even the good albums run long, with too much filler. Phyno, who comes from the city of Enugu and raps mostly in Igbo, breaks the pattern with his compelling second album and its nimble flow, top-tier guest features, and some retro highlife tracks for extra sweetness.


“Manara” Brooklyn-based singer Alsarah has forged a niche making music that draws deep on her Nubian culture (she was born in Sudan) while making the most of the cosmopolitan talent base that has cross-fertilized global roots music with electronic experimentalism in her adopted hometown. “Manara” is her group’s most finished achievement yet.



“Wa Di Yo” A one-off project of mizik rasin (roots music) players after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti made music so good, they had to become a full-fledged band. “Wa Di Yo” signals a renewal of the traditional style, long eclipsed by tinny pop, and closes a generation gap, with young players surrounding elders like the spiritual-minded drummer Samba Zao.


“Magnetismo” Martina Yegros, from Buenos Aires, is a recent force in the thriving electro-cumbia scene that has given fresh texture and energy to folk music from Argentina and Colombia in particular. Her sound has the style’s alluring swing and propulsion, but her songs add a welcome unruly vibe, treading the edges of soul, punk, and cabaret.


“Zougloumanity” A major figure in zouglou, a spare music of tricky percussions and quasi-rap lyrics that had a major social and political impact in Côte d’Ivoire some 10 to 20 years ago, Soum Bill returns with a lavish double album that has full-band orchestrations, reggae and funk accents, and the plaintive singing style that gives his social protest songs a tender feel.


“Né So” The cosmopolitan Traoré is known for her hushed vocals but can raise the volume and pace like the best of her Malian peers. She sings here for Mali, which has suffered several years of war, but also for our broader, battered humanity. The songs range from classic Malian to crossover and a tad preachy — and a mesmerizing cover of “Strange Fruit.”



“Forever de génération en génération” This is a sad album, because it’s the compilation of fresh work the Congolese superstar Papa Wemba left behind when he died — after collapsing on stage — in April. But it’s a beautiful album too, with young collaborators from Congo, Mali, and Tanzania lending a contemporary, pan-African feel, and Wemba’s exquisite voice guiding the proceedings.



“Land of Gold” After returning to her roots on a pure sitar album dedicated to her late father Ravi, Anoushka Shankar veers out on a hard-to-classify but stirring disc addressing the global refugee crisis. M.I.A. shows up on a nervy pop track; so does Vanessa Redgrave, reading a text. Best of all is the long suite “Crossing the Rubicon,” where Shankar does all the stretching.

Siddhartha Mitter can be reached at siddharthamitter@gmail.com.