Latitudes: The International Music You Need To Hear Now
This month's pick of music from around the globe is, for the most part, lifted from current events. From a propaganda song that conquered Egypt in the run-up to the new round of presidential elections to a throwback to a very little-known chapter of the late Maya Angelou's life, the intersection of news and culture is clear. But we've also included a couple of sweet songs just for their own sake.
Magic System (feat. Ahmed Chawki): 'Magic In The Air'
Disappointed by the flop "anthem" from Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez for the 2014 World Cup? Though it also lacks any Brazilian qualities, this joy-filled song from Ivory Coast artists Magic System and Moroccan singer Ahmed Chawki seems to have hit the soccer spot with a lot of fans, who have watched the video more than 9 million times on YouTube. (And maybe Chawki can pass some tips on to Pitbull — they collaborated last year on the international smash "Habibi I Love You.")
A.R. Rahman: 'Million Dollar Dream'
Speaking of sports: Disney is hoping to strike Slumdog Millionaire-size gold by commissioning India's tireless score king A.R. Rahman to repeat his magic on the new sports-underdog movie, Million Dollar Arm. (Jon Hamm goes to India! Cricket! Baseball! Triumph!) Though the film's reviews have been pretty bad, "Million Dollar Dream" — which pairs Australian rapper Iggy Azalea a little uncomfortably with the uncredited Indian filmi playback superstar Sukhwinder Singh (who also appears as one of the singers on the global smash "Jai Ho") — just might get some of the globe's favorite music to mainstream America. Want some more? Check out the iconic 1998 song "Chaiyya Chaiyya," from the 1998 film Dil Se..., also featuring Singh's vocals.
Maya Angelou: 'Run Joe'
She became better known as a poet, memoirist, activist and professor, but in the 1950s, the late Maya Angelou performed as "Miss Calypso." Even though that was a something of a novelty act, you hear the poetry in her singing voice — and vice versa. You can see Angelou and her friend Oprah Winfrey watching and discussing a clip of the young Angelou performing here.
Toumani Diabaté & Sidiki Diabaté: 'Toumani & Sidiki' (album)
One of my favorite new releases comes from Malian kora master Toumani Diabaté, who made his Royal Festival Hall debut in London with his father, Sidiki, in 1987. Last year, Toumani appeared there again with his 23-year-old son, also named Sidiki — marking, they say, the 77th generation of musicians in their family. And though the younger Sidiki spends most of his time producing and performing hip-hop, this double-kora album, out this month, is magical.
Hussain Al Jassmi: 'Boushret Kheir' (Good Omen)
This is one of those songs that tells you more about the state of a nation than aesthetics or tastes. Performed by an Emirati singer named Hussain Al Jassmi, "Boushret Kheir" — which has become omnipresent in Egypt — urged Egyptians to vote in the elections held May 26-28. The people in the video, apparently hailing from across the country, are holding up signs that say things like "Egypt," "vote" and "contribute."
But as apolitical as the video initially seems, it is tailored as a message in favor of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for whom, as our colleague Leila Fadel has been reporting, turnout is the measure of his support. The song was launched on state-run and pro-Sisi television stations. (It's also spawned legions of parodies.)
There's a burgeoning custom of propagandistic, overtly political songs coming out of Egypt, ham-handed as they are. Last year, a group of popular artists, including the internationally known singer Hakim, released a pro-army song called "Teslam Al Ayadi" (Bless Your Hands), replete with stock military footage; pop star Mostafa Kamel, who also appears on "Teslam Al Ayadi," released a separate song, "Waet El Shadaeid," thanking the governments of countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates by name for standing by the military during the "tough times."