"World music" can be a hard sell in America, as evidenced by the slow progress foreign artists have made against hometown heroes such as Britney Spears and Puff Daddy. On one hand, you have Ma & Pa Stockbroker, who don't get the appeal of anything that doesn't have English lyrics; on the other stand the diligent hordes of world music aficionados, who tend to be a picky bunch, wary of corporate encroachment on what they consider their personal turf. Thus, there's an admirable bravado on the part of Mondo Melodia, a specialty label founded by pop impresario Miles Copeland, which has launched a daunting line of world music releases. On the surface, Copeland's label follows the template set by the much-maligned Putumayo label, which many purists reviled as the "Wal-Mart of world music." Like Putumayo, Mondo Melodia seeks to brand itself with a brightly colored, garishly cartoonish art style, a readily-identifiable "look" that sets its releases apart from other albums on the shelf. What is surprising, though, is the strength of the music within. Each of these discs is packed with a solid representation of its given style, and each is highly listenable. Mondo Melodia achieves the accessibility that Putumayo sought without making compromises in the music, or delving too deeply in the sugary, synthy crossovers that have given "world music" a bad name. As introductions to modern African pop, or the softer side of Indian "Bollywood" film music, these compilations are quite effective. Particularly striking is the Mondo Greece collection, which miraculously skips over the timeworn, stereotypical bouzouki music that many associate with Greek culture (and gyro houses) in favor of modern Athenian folk and pop from the 1990s. Like the other titles in this series, it's far more entertaining, subtle, and engaging than you might imagine.
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