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Best Of World Music - 2020

Angelica Garcia
Former RVA living musician Angelica Garcia released the spectacular "Cha Cha Palace" this year and it was fantastic! (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Full disclosure: I’m a nerd. A nerd when it comes to lists--especially around the end of the year. Best movies, TV Shows, trends--the whole lot. But when it comes to compiling my own, in the genre of world music, I get a bit tongue-tied, or finger cramped. Reading a list is one one, but having to lay it all out in an order that decries a truly “#1 pick” is hard.

Because I feel like my top choices are constantly shifting depending on my mood. For example, I’m on a silly Facebook page dedicated to Elvis Costello. On a regular basis, people proclaim their most favorite album. And, like clockwork (I could’ve tried to tie in Hey Clockface--his new album!), people argue. But I look at his canon of work and know that on some days I may pick “Get Happy!” as his best, while on other days, it may be “Wise Up Ghost.” And it all comes down to mood.

Thankfully, I’m not looking back on the entire works of these artists I’m featuring, but only what they released.

However, it’s still a struggle.

But nonetheless, I’m going to dive in and list my top 10, while adding a tiny explanation. Also, I’m going to list the albums of the artists I’m picking because on all of these, there were too many great songs to pick just one. 

10. Jupiter & Owess - “Na Kozonga”

Ok, this is actually a single--since Jupter’s album has not come out yet. But it’s a foreshadowing of the things to come. Jupiter’s got funk and rhythm and an amazing voice. Hailing from Kinshaha in the Democratic Republic of Congo, his song was in my “Heavy Rotation” because it’s catchy, well crafted and leaves me wanting more.

9. Cheo - “Sopressa”

The album hails from Latin Grammy winner and former founding member of the band Los Amigos Invisibles. Jose Luis "Cheo" Pardo, is based in Brooklyn, NY and hails from Caracas, Venezuela. Again, for me, the sounds on his new album are just unique--and he continues to expand his style and sound from his previous solo and band work.

8. Kelektla - “Kelektla”

The band Keleketla is a musical project that houses people from Johannesburg, London, Lagos, L.A. and West Papua. The band released their self-titled release year, and each song keeps me coming back to hear more. I hope they continue their musical project.

7. Afel Bocoum - “Linde”

The Malian guitarist, normally found somewhat in the background, stepped out into his own this year with an amazing, full-bodied album. His guitar swoops in and wraps you around in his sound. It takes you far away but doesn’t leave you desolate and wondering how you got there but just reassures you that you’re in good hands.

6. Coreyah - “Clap & Applause”

This is the band’s fourth album--and I wish I would’ve heard about them sooner. The six-piece band has been described as a “Korean psychedelic folk band” and it’s spot on. Their sound is just so unique (again--a big thing for me) and catchy and fun to listen to. They blend traditional Korean instruments with up-to-date grooves and intertwine Balkan gypsy grooves with South American and African beats with a dab of Anglo-American Rock n’ Roll.

5. Cornershop - “England is a Garden”

You’d be almost right in thinking that we haven’t heard from this U.K. band in sometime--but that’d be incorrect. Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres, under their Ample Play record label, have been putting out amazing, interesting music for years--normally highlighting other artists, like Matsuki Ayumu. But this year gave us a well-crafted, album full of infectious beats, grooves and humor. The record has some heavy rockers like “No Rock Save in Roll” or “Slingshot” are pure, turn the knob up to 11 tunes. I picked “One Careful Lady Owner,” to feature but could have easily picked “I’m a Wooden Soldier” or “Everyhwere That Wog Army Roam” because each is just good. Singh also comes up with the best titles. Check out how/why in my interviewwith him. 

4. Fantomaticos - “Esquinas”

You may have heard me play tracks off their new release on almost every show. That’s because this Brazilian rock band has been slowly releasing new songs every few months off this album. And with each new release, I kept wanting more. The four-piece band have been playing for years, but you can’t tell--since their sound is urgent and it pulls you in. Part of “Esquinas” was created and released as the band had to work around the realities of the pandemic. And you can hear the results of this with the feelings of isolation that hovers around each song but doesn’t push you away. Like, Cornerhop’s album, I could’ve picked any number of tracks that were released for this--but I chose “Coisa Com Coisa” because in looking back at my playlists, it’s the one I played the most. It’s got a great beat and the guitars are amazing and reminds me of the band Washed Out’s theme song “Life of Leisure” from the TV Show “Portlandia” in that it takes you to another place. 

3. Ladama - “Oye Mujer”

I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear the second album by the all-female band Ladama, who hail from all different parts of South America. Their first self-titled album blew me away--and this one does too. So many great, well crafted songs--songs of purpose, of joy and of a call to action. The band consistently work to highlight the struggles of women---and when not having to deal with a pandemic, donate their talents to workshops to help their causes. Like the previous albums above, I could’ve picked any number of songs because each one is just so good. 

2. Ceu - “APKA!”

Another Brazilian musician and yet another artist who just amazes me. She first caught my attention years ago with her cover of Bob Marley’s “Concrete Jungle,” because her voice is perfect--it lifts you up, brings you close and if you shut your eyes, takes you to faraway places. After hearing that, I began to search for more from her. Her last album “Tropix,” was another masterpiece in that Ceu continues to evolve and stretch her vocal range and sound--which she continues to do on “APKA!” named for what her son says when he’s happy. With so many great songs on this album it’s hard to pick just one. Also, you can hear more about this album from my interview with her. 

  1. 1. Angelica Garcia - “Cha Cha Palace”

When this former local Richmond-area musician released her second album this year--the entire planet took notice (from former President Barack Obama to multiple Best of lists). And it’s no wonder, her album is an urgent call and a declarative sentence that says “I’m here! And this is what matters!” Garcia crafts hooks and harmonies and grooves that can’t be ignored. Even though it’s in your face, it’s not like an obnoxious friend you can’t quite shake. So many tracks on this compete for my favorites: “Jicama,” “Karma the Knife (which was re-released),” “Guadalupe,” “It Don’t Hinder Me” or my new favorite “Lucifer Waiting,” are infectious loops of joy. But the almost quieter ones, like “I Don’t Believe in Death,” or “Agua De Rosa,” are crafted with soft touches that hold on to you. You can and should check out my interview with her.

“Cha Cha Palace” is an album that derives to be put on repeat. 

You can hear more of my “Best of 2020” show Saturday night on VPM Music. 93.1 or 107.3FM locally or streamed via this website. Follow me on Twitter at @vpm_IanStewart or find me on Facebook at The World Music Show on VPM.

Happy New Year and I’ll see you on the flipside for 2021.


Ian M. Stewart is the transportation reporter and fill-in anchor for VPM News.
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