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Putumayo - World Hits

Released on Putumayo Records, 8/28/07

Putumayo has made a fortune introducing world music to the masses, via an alternative distribution network that includes indie bookstores, upscale boutiques and new age hangouts as well as traditional brick and mortar stores. They tend to pack their best selling compilations with tunes that are easy to digest, but their success has probably led their customers to explore other less mainstream world music sounds.

World Hits gives an 11-song glimpse of the international sounds that scored greater or lesser success in the notoriously xenophobic American market. It’s a mini-history of crossover sound from outside the Anglo-American pop continuum. Mongo Santamaria, a Cuban conguero living in New York took “Watermelon Man”, a Herbie Hancock composition, to the Top 10 in 1963. Its relentless groove and sharp horn charts have made it an AfroCuban standard.

South African songstress Miriam Makeba went into exile in the US in the late 50s. Her worldwide hit “Pata Pata” was recorded a full year before it cracked the US charts in 1967. Its lilting, bouncing melody introduced South African street music to the US two decades before Paul Simon’s mega-hit Graceland. Peter Tosh, a founder member of the Wailers alongside Bob Marley, hit the charts in 1978 with a cover of The Temptations "(You Gotta Walk) Don’t Look Back". He was signed to Rolling Stone Records at the time and Mick Jagger’s vocals on the track helped make it a hit.

“E’mma” wasn’t a big hit in the US, but it was a sensation almost everywhere else on the planet. Senegalese brothers Amadou, Ismaila, Ousmane and Sixu Touré formed Touré Kunda, an African pop band, in the late 70s. “E’mma” is the title track from their first album, cut in 1980. The hypnotic rhythm, which sounds like a blend of reggae and swing, is based on a traditional Senegalese dance from the Casamance region of Senegal. Touré Kunda was one of the first African bands to heavily feature rock guitar in their sound.

Many hits on the album need no introduction. Santana’s version of Tito Puente’s “Oye Como Va” (1970), Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come”, “Bamboleo” by the Gipsy Kings (which swamped the world in 1988 and got the kind of airplay usually reserved for stars like Michael Jackson), and “The Lambada” by Kaoma, which spawned a worldwide dance craze in 1989.

Most world music fans will probably have these tracks in their collection, but the disc would be a great present to give anyone who thinks world music begins and ends with Bob Marley and Paul Simon’s Graceland.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars