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25 décembre 2008

THE OTHER STREAM: Some of 2008's best albums

Since its inception 10 years ago, "The Other Stream" has been a monthly column devoted to showcasing uncompromising artists who go beyond the commercial mainstream -- be it in rock, jazz, hip-hop, avant garde, World Music or some hybrids that are almost impossible to categorize.

Their music explores almost every genre you can imagine -- and any number you can't -- with skill and imagination, humor and pathos, if little regard for conventional "commercial" appeal. Some sing in languages you've never heard. Others don't sing at all, preferring to let their instruments express what words alone sometimes cannot.

A number of these artists are fearless innovators or reverent traditionalists, while others revere the traditions they are boldly reshaping. These are some of our favorite "Other Stream" albums of 2008. For listeners seeking sonic thrills, musical chills and consistently rewarding listening, the adventures start here.

Orchestra Baobab, "Made in Dakar," World Music/Nonesuch (

Groove, in all its many manifestations, is an art for the multinational members of Senegal's Orchestra Baobab (shown at right), who teamed up in 1970, disbanded in 1985, and have been hailed as returning heroes in many parts of the world since reactivating in 2001.

With its second album since reuniting, this 11-man band mixes new and old songs while reaffirming its mastery of rhythm, melody and the ability to create musical propulsion in virtually any tempo, no matter how relaxed or accelerated. Ghanian high-life, Jamaican reggae, Congolese rumba, Senegalese mbalax, the salsa hybrid mbalsa and all manner of Afro-Cuban styles are performed with consistently infectious results. They are joined by such stellar guests artists as Afropop superstar (and longtime Peter Gabriel collaborator) Youssou N'Dour and Cuban trombone star Jesus "Aguaje" Ramos of the Buena Vista Social Club.

On top of this dance-happy melange are brassy vamps and the wonderfully fluid guitar work of Barthelemy Attisso. Better still are the alluring vocals of Assane Mboup, who sings in French, Malinke, Wolof and Portuguese Creole. His sweet falsetto rivals that of Smokey Robinson and Aaron Neville in their primes, while Orchestra Baobab's pulsating ensemble work makes every song a celebration. (...)

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