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No White Elephant Gifts Here

If you’re not familiar with the term “White Elephant Gift,” then let me explain. It’s basically regifting a gift you’re not too thrilled with. And they’re usually given during holiday parties, where most of the gifts are unusually tacky, funny or downright strange (that’s right, I’m talking to you Talking Bass Wall fixture!). Some of the gifts can be very cool, though, and thus during the gift exchange part of the party, participants can “take” a gift they like better than the one they opened—usually up to three times. It’s a fun party to be at.

But what does this have to do with this week’s World Music Show (12/16)? Well, needless to say the gift you’re getting will be more of the Best 2017 threw down my chimney. That’s right, three of the four shows this December are all “Best Of” shows, with the final one—the “best of the best,” landing on December 30th (since next week will be the annual Holiday World Music Show).

Let’s get right to some of the best gifts of the year.

Arian Saleh: Antionette
This world music folk troubadour sure knows his way around some great styles of music. From electronic tango music, to Gypsy and Middle Eastern swing, Saleh crafts some very interesting songs.

Imelda May: Life Love Fresh Blood
The Irish singer Imelda May, who showed up on a previous “Best Of” show this month, has been putting out records for some time. But on this particular one, she’s hitting all the right notes. Her songs are deep felt, stoic and powerful, while at the same lilting and up-lifting. And don’t think just because she’s Irish, that all these tracks will have you doing Irish line dancing; and don’t expect those melodic harmonies of the women you may see on those PBS Celtic specials during pledge time (not that anything is wrong with either of these). But instead, May is a gifted singer/songwriter and musician.

La Vida Boheme: La Lucha
This band nails the Latin alternative rock scene in a refreshing way. Their blend of 80s New Wave with more rooted rock hits all the right notes (so, sorry for the cliches). But their style also has some grit, which could be because they had to basically flee their homeland of Venezuela due to all the political turmoil in that country. They landed in Mexico, which has given them the space to breathe and let their music speak volumes.

Polock: Magnetic Overload
Like La Vida Boheme, this band tackles Latin alternative music with grit and style. And even though they’ve named themselves after the famed painter, their music isn’t abstract at all—but it is experimental. The tracks at times can be raw, while also being stylistic.

 

Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
Whenever a long-running band such as Orchestra Baobab, who’ve been playing together in many different incarnations, put out a new album, you can either be excited to hear to see if they still “got it” or dread the outcome, thinking that maybe should just hang it up. Well, the former is the case on this dedication to one of their late singers. They’ve still “got” the Afro-Cuban beats going and they still sound fresh, new and alive. Plus, because this is a dedication to a band member, the tracks are also moving in a way that you don’t expect many Afro-Cuban songs to be.

Pink Martini: Je Dis Oui!
This Portland, Oregon based outfit never ceases to amaze me. Whether they’re going big, with strings, full orchestra or smaller with the swooning voice of either China Forbes, Storm Large or even Ari Shapiro (yes, NPR’s very own), their take on all sorts of styles makes everything they touch work. They’re arrangements are delicate pieces. And this latest CD, they’ve gone all over the  map (which they’ve done before), in terms of tackling a new style—in this case Middle Eastern songs, such as some in Farsi. But, the album is not all Middle Eastern beats, there’s even some great covers, such as “Blue Moon,” and “Pata Pata.” The album is an accompaniment to what leader Thomas Lauderdale has been doing—he’s working on a film score where much of this music will show up.

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino (CGS): Canzoniere
Now, if you haven’t heard me play this yet, it’s because I just got this CD and already I’m loving it. On Canzoniere, which means “Songbook,” they explore the Western Pop song, but though their own lense. In fact the band’s leader, Mauro Durante, says that when you look at the cover art of their CD, the tomato sauce that’s inside the Coke bottle is to reflect their own homemade style. “It’s a good metaphor for our process,” says Durante. Their style is what you’d think—poppy, but not sugar coated—fun, but not cutesy. I like it so much that I’m playing two tracks off it, one featuring Piers Faccini.

Throughout the rest of the show, they’ll be some other great music from this past year, as well as tracks from all over the past decades, so be sure to tune in. The World Music Show airs Saturday nights from 8:00-10:00 p.m. on 88.9 WCVE Richmond Public Radio. You can stream the show and get track listings via this website. And you can follow the show on Twitter @wcveworldmusic and on Facebook at The World Music Show on WCVE.