These days, there's no shortage of good world music compilations, and though many established niche labels now compete for your world beat buck, none is more deserving of your ducats than Putumayo, which specializes in albums revolved around a particular theme, a neat way of connecting not only the artists, but their cultural traditions, emphasizing the unifying principle of rhythm and its universal applications. Music from the Chocolate Lands is a perfect example: twelve tracks by artists from countries that produce chocolate.
As concepts go, this one is simple enough, but it's executed brilliantly. You might find yourself fixated on the very first song, Toto Bona Lokua's "Lisanga" -- so sweet and tasty, it's easy to develop a craving for it -- but the rest of Chocolate Lands is nearly as deliciously satisfying. Peru's Susana Baca and Mexican Americans Ozomatli are the most recognizable artists here, but the lack of overt familiarity shouldn't be a hindrance to enjoying the wonderfully melodic, mostly acoustic sensibilities of Marcantonio's "Sabia" (Brazil), Dobet Gnahoré's "Kakou" (Ivory Coast), or Teresa Bright's "Tihore Mai Te Rangi" (Hawaii).
Wrasse's World 2004 offers even more artists from different corners of the globe, but the two-disc set casts its net a little too wide, bouncing from Argentina to Germany to Russia to the Congo to Israel to Italy to Algeria to New Zealand, to name a few. Completing this aural trek should earn world beatniks the musical equivalent of frequent-flyer miles; however, the common threads between the juju and soukous of Kanda Bongo Man, the supermodel-gone-chanteuse glam of Carla Bruni, and the Arabian pop of Khaled aren't particularly apparent. Still, World 2004 does offer many global statements, perhaps none more significant than Israeli-Palestinian-English outfit Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble, whose "Dal'ouna on the Return" does what generations of special envoys and world leaders have failed to do: make peace in the Middle East. That a nonaggression pact could be sealed on the dancefloor -- through the fusing of traditional and electronic beats -- rather than in the staterooms of political circles speaks volumes about the kind of power music has in the world today.
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