During times when the globalization of one’s art keeps getting more and more possible. Most of the music that comes to our ears comes from two places, the United States or the United Kingdom. Why is that? Well, these two nations house the world’s wealthiest and most important record labels that work day and night to sell us the acts that they represent, regardless of the quality of their art. While some of these labels have opened branches in other countries, the impact that music originated other countries in the US or the UK is relatively small in comparison to the opposite case.
There are some amazingly talented artists around the world, so having this in mind, I put together a small selection of albums from outside of the US or the UK that I believe are worth paying attention to. Enjoy!
Azymuth – Fénix
Genre: Jazz/Samba/Bossa Nova
Origin: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
Favorite Track: Villa Mariana – De Tarde
Azymuth is a jazz band from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil that has been around the city’s colorful music scene with their synth-heavy, Bossanova and Samba infused jazz tunes since the 1970’s. The high voltage Brazilian Trio was formed by José Roberto Bertrami (Piano), Alex Malheiros (Bass) and Ivan Conti (Drums). Azymuth started their career playing in small clubs in Rio while also serving as session musicians. Azymuth’s “Samba Doido” (Crazy Samba) gained attention around South America very quickly and it all led them to a very successful Montreux Jazz Festival in 1977 earned them attention amongst people in the US and eventually landed them a record deal with US’s major jazz label, Milestone Records. Due to their interesting sound, Azymuth music has been covered, remixed, and sampled by a wide range of artists and producers around the world including legendary hip-hop producer J-Dilla.
Fénix is their most recent studio album and the first one since José Roberto Bertrami’s passing in 2012, which evidently caused some line-up changes. The album was just released this past Friday, December 2nd, and it is awesome. This album reeks unbelievable amounts of groove, warmth, and authenticity in a much colorful manner, that only musical heavyweights such as Azymuth can pull off. There are all kinds of virtuosity on this album, the ensemble sounds tight though not necessarily gridded, which amounts for all the grooviness; and every instrument has its own special place in the performance. The Samba and Bossa Nova influences on this record make it go above and beyond in terms of overall vibe. The percussion elements (mostly coming from Samba) are unique and amazing and the chord structures and melodies are strikingly harmonizing, relaxing and beautiful.
I am very glad to have found this gem as soon as it came out, go check it out! It makes me want to be at the beach laying down while listening to this at full volume and sipping on a caipirinha. Absolutely marvelous.
Los Amigos Invisibles – The New Sound Of The Venezuelan Gozadera
Origin: Caracas, Venezuela
Favorite Track: Balada de Chusy
Los Amigos Invisibles are the single most important musical act to ever have come out of Caracas, Venezuela’s vibrant music scene. Los Amigos Invisibles’ hot and flavorful blend of latin music, acid jazz, disco, and funk makes up for what I define as the perfect artistic representation of the typical Venezuelan jokester or as we call it “jodedor.” The group started gaining popularity as they started playing in underground dance shows in Caracas during the mid 90’s, but one thing led to another and they ended up moving to New York in 1997. Shortly after their move to the US, they got signed to David Byrne’s label Luaka Bop, that released their American full-length debut, “The New Sound Of The Venezuelan Gozadera.”
Filled with spacey, futuristic, jazzy soundscapes and funky breaks that will make you dance your butt off. The New Sound Of The Venezuelan Gozadera is one of my favorite albums of all time. The virtuosic instrumental performance from every single one of the group’s members is absolutely breathtaking, more so being in the background of Julio Briceño’s mellow vocals. This albums lyrics are for the most very direct sensual advances written in a very poetic, confident and smooth way, to the point where they stop being inappropriate and become suave and seductive.
The album opens up with the aggressively funky “Ultra Funk” setting the vibe for an album that sets out to be a 1 hour and 15 minutes long very groovy cocktail party. As the album progresses, we start to encounter intricate guitar riffs and solos such as in “Sexy” and “Groupie”; groovy bass lines such in “Balada de Chusy” and amazing keyboard and percussion fills all over. When we get to just after the middle of the album we can find “Ponerte En Cuatro,” which is Los Amigos Invisibles biggest dance hit of their time as a band and the climax of the album. “Ponerte En Cuatro” sets itself out thanks to its hypnotic drum and percussion beats, funky bass lines, spacey synth breaks, frequent rhythmic breakdowns topped off with strikingly catchy rap vocals. After this the vibe of the album progresses to be consistent, among great pieces that follow are action-filled mostly instrumental “Mango Cool” where José Luís “Cheo” Pardo (Guitarist and main songwriter) once again blows us away with a spotless and powerful guitar solo; and another of their major hits “El Disco Anal.”
If you enjoy modern jazz, disco, or funk, this is absolutely a must listen. Their music is filled with flavor, musical ability, originality, and character. 10/10.
Jaubi – The Deconstructed Ego EP
Genre: Instrumental Hip-Hop/Hindustani
Origin: Lahore, Pakistan
Favorite Track: Time: The Donut Of The Heart (J Dilla Cover)
Jaubi is a group of amazingly virtuosic folkloric Hindustani performers from Lahore, Pakistan, who’s music is a unique blend of left-field hip hop and trip hop with elements from North Indian and Pakistani classical music. Their name, Jaubi, means “whatever” in urdu; as they say that their goal is creating whatever sounds good, and whatever feels good.
The whole album is comprised of a set of intricate, deeply enchanting and uniquely exotic pieces of instrumental hip hop beats and even a J-Dilla Cover! These performances are mostly defined by an overall hip hop groove with acoustic elements. The acoustic guitar passages feel sonically warm and incredibly intimate, while the performance is daunting and compelling; the tabla and cajon breaks are full of groove and bad-ass-ness, and the rhythmic vocal performance adds an incredible amount of emotionality and character to the complete product.
The album was released in July this year and has gotten great feedback from audiences all around the globe. One of the best albums I have listened to this year, hands down.
BABYMETAL – Metal Resistance
Origin: Tokyo, Japan
Favorite Track: Amore
The Japanese group BABYMETAL is without a doubt one of the most interesting and controversial acts in the current international metal scene. What has gotten everyone to keep talking so much about them is their unique blend of Japanese schoolgirl, bubblegum pop with power metal, which wraps the whole concept of what the band is.
BABYMETAL was founded in Tokyo around 2010 as a subgroup of a female Japanese idol girl pop called Sakura Gakuin, the idea was to mix and match the groups’ idol pop elements with the ones of heavy metal. Once the idea came to mind, the three vocalists were set up with the Kami Band, which backs their vocals with fast, aggressive and yet melodic power metal. The most amazing thing to me about BABYMETAL is the fact that none of the three front women knew anything about metal before the inception of the group; who knew they were going to be heavy metal’s next international stars. The Japanese group was a quick and huge hit in the metal community and they do not seem to be backing down, as they are close to departing for a UK tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and after that, they are joining Guns N’ Roses for their Japanese tour as the opening act.
Metal Resistance is their second full-length album. Released in April this year by Sony Music Entertainment and it’s regarded by many critics as one of the best albums of the year. Though nothing this great comes without haters, as a handful of resentful metal elitists refuse to call it “real metal”. Even though they refuse to accept it, BABYMETAL is exactly what the doctor ordered for present day metal fans. During times when Heavy Metal has been dying out, and every act has come out more monotone and uninteresting than the other, with few exceptions; BABYMETAL’s innovative and out-of-the-box nature is here to save the day.
Besides the incredibly catchy and unconventional (for metal) female vocals; the virtuosic, fast, aggressive Maiden/Dragonforce influenced instrumentals; and some electronic grooves here and there, Metal Resistance’s production and engineering work is just breath-taking. This is how a metal album should sound like. It instantly makes me want to stand up and start a mosh pit while listening to Japanese idol pop vocals at the same time. It feels weird, but right.
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