Musicians mixed the old and the new, with vocals from Indigenous American tribes and flute music from the ancient Mayan courts among the year’s album highlights
Sound artist Liew Niyomkarn’s latest album wove poignant field recordings from her rural birthplace in northern Thailand with pulsing synths and plucked lyres to create a meditative reimagining of home. Recorded between Thailand and her current base in Antwerp, the album plays like a nostalgic blur of memory music.
The Colombian multi-instrumentalist brought a playfully experimental sensibility to the salsa, bolero and merengue music she grew up with, warping the percussion that usually drives these intuitively rhythmic genres into an alien new entity. Above all, her crystalline falsetto soars beautifully, giving melodic shape to her ever-shifting instrumental foundations.
Powwow singer Joe Rainey’s debut album Niineta is part ethnomusicology and part experimental subversion, as he sampled group vocal performances from Indigenous American inter-tribal gatherings before processing them through producer Andrew Broder’s electronic palette. Added instrumentation such as grandiose strings and distorted kick drums bring this traditional music into enticingly new spaces. Read the review
Showcasing the frenetic new sound of Nigeria’s dancefloors, Moves Recordings’ Cruise! Nigerian Freebeat is a goldmine of a compilation. Traversing everything from the acid freakout of DJ Stainless’s Kill Them All to DJ Cora’s polyrhythmic frenzy on Kalumba Freebeat, cruise music blends African-origin genres such as gqom and amapiano into a roughshod sound of its own.
Texan trio Khruangbin paired their languorous, head-nodding instrumentals with Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré’s piercing melodies on a record that celebrated the desert blues work of his late father, Ali Farka Touré. Allowing only subtle, improvised additions to Ali’s beguiling arrangements, the quartet provide a new platform to showcase their timeless power.
Armed with a nine-person choir and instrumental sexet, South African drummer Tumi Mogorosi’s debut album was a maximal sensory assault. It is a dense and challenging listen but in surrendering to his cacophony, audiences are lifted by the human, primal power of gathered voices to realise a music that feels both ancient and prescient. Read the review
Jazz bassist and vocalist Sélène Saint-Aimé’s second album offered 11 deep-swinging compositions, elevating itself from satisfying jazz trio fare into something truly special by virtue of her improvised, otherworldly vocalisations. Eschewing language for scat, her crystalline falsetto switches seamlessly into bassy, staccato tones to produce a formidable yet deeply human range. Read the review
Mexican-American producer Delia Beatriz, AKA Debit, unearthed flutes from the ancient Mayan courts on her debut LP, sampling and processing these rarely heard sounds through a machine-learning program to create woozy, ambient soundscapes. Making the past new once more, The Long Count is a deliciously strange and all-consuming listening experience. Read the review
Virtuoso drummer Sarathy Korwar delivered a captivating mix of rhythmic textures on his second album of 2022, following June’s dancefloor-focused Shruti Dances with DJ Auntie Flo. Collaborating with producer Photay, Korwar’s Kalak is a powerhouse of looping, overlapping percussion that envelops the listener like the palindrome of the record’s title. Read the review
One of dub music’s most mercurial singers, capable of meandering around bass-heavy vibrations and clattering percussion with his vibrato-fuelled falsetto, Horace Andy delivered a late-career best on this collaboration with British producer Adrian Sherwood, creating darkened versions of earlier classics that showcase his matured voice, now an earthier and more vulnerable tenor. Read the review