CD Reviews: Torrential tropical music reigns

Brazilian and Latin musicians, via San Francisco and Boston, join British electronica wizards, via India, to redefine global musical styles.

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

BAT MAKUMBA: 'BOTECO' (Bat Makumba Records, $15.99)

Just try to imagine what a bunch of Brazilians transplanted to the Bay Area would create in the way of a punky samba sound. This exuberant band with a Clash-meets-Carnival sensibility makes a joyous noise while singing mainly in giddy Portuguese, or less convincingly on 2 out of 13 original songs in flat English. The album's title references a Brazilian bistro, although their percussive electric guitar attack and frenzied percussion make one think of a Bahia-based garage band. Some girl from Ipanema would catch a fever from their fire.

SOL Y CANTO: 'CADA DÍA UN REGALO' (MusicAmador, $14.49)

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In spite of personnel changes during their quarter century, this Boston-based band has maintained a steadfast Pan-Latin tinge entirely their own. A constant has been the leadership of guitarist/singer-songwriter Brian Amador and his wife, Rosi, sensitive interpreters of Chilean, Venezuelan, Cuban, and Mexican traditional folk songs, as well as original tunes with those flavors. This is the most diverse and accomplished album of Sol y Canto's career, opening with a dramatic burst of jazz-flamenco singing and closing with an aptly named instrumental titled "Like Flying." Midway is a penultimate romantic Cuban ditty about kissing. Rosi's vocals winningly modulate from coolly coy to warmly committed.

BOMBAY DUB ORCHESTRA: '3 CITIES' (Six Degrees, $16.98)

This is the second release from British electronica music wizards Garry Hughes and Andrew T. Mackay, known by the moniker of "Bombay Dub Orchestra," a suspiciously arty name. But BDO upset my suspicion by gathering together a distinguished group of traditional musicians from southern India in recording studios in Mumbai and Chennai and reverently recording their traditional works performed at white heat. Armed with these tapes, the duo returned to their London studio and began layering various electronic sounds tenderly on top of India's finest. The result? A hypnotic pop sound encased in icy orchestral strings, heated by wailing vocalists.

FEMI KUTI: 'DAY BY DAY' (Mercer Street Records, $15.98)

Son of a hugely talented but recklessly indulgent musical father – could I also be talking about Jakob Dylan or Ziggy Marley? – Femi is one of the career-ascending sons of the late Fela Kuti, Afro-funk superstar. Unlike his brother Seun, Femi has refused to follow too exactly in his father's footsteps. While Fela was stridently irreligious and violently anarchistic, Femi is Christian and peace loving. His well-rehearsed, big brassy band mixes Nigerian dance rhythms with jazz, so when Femi dreamily croons, "Do you Know Miles Davis?" you know he's more coolly mature than his dad ever was.

RANDY'S 50th ANNIVERSARY (17 North Parade, $25.98)

This generous two-CD package (with a bonus DVD documentary about the musicians) offers a sizzling slice of Jamaican musical history, showcasing native R&B and ska as well as primo reggae. These wildly diverse recordings from the 1960s through 1970s all emerged from Randy's recording studio in Kingston, Jamaica, run by Vincent "Randy" Chin. While big names like The Skatalites and Bob Marley grace this 50-tune compilation, the most satisfying surprises come from lesser knowns. Hortense Ellis's "Woman of the Ghetto" is a rare reggae instance of superbly vocalized feminine rage at sexist injustice.

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