Globespinning: New releases from Africa and Mideast show power of musical fusion

Hans Nayna
Hans Nayna

North American and British music so dominates the pop landscape that it’s easy to forget there’s a whole world of music out there deserving of exposure.

With Globespinning, we’re going to be cocking our ears to the rest of the planet to hear what’s out there that’s worthwhile. First stop this week: Africa and the Middle East, where many seemingly unlikely influences are coming together in unique and wonderful ways.

Hans Nayna, Music for the Soul

Singer-guitarist Nayna hails from the small, largely French- and Creole-speaking island of Mauritius, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, but his influences are from well beyond those shores. Just take a look at the video of his bracing, full-band live take on Eminem’s Lose Yourself online.

There’s more where that came from on his striking debut album, Music for the Soul, just released on iTunes on Tuesday. Singing mostly in English (though, on two tracks, he sings in French or Mauritian Creole), he crafts a lyrical, soulful brand of melodic rock-pop topped by expressive, smoky vocals that needs no translation on such songs as Le King, Rule the World, Mo Lam and the title track.

He’s an immediately accessible performer who, depending on the musical moment, could attract fans of Paolo Nutini, George Ezra, Ben Harper, Sting, John Mayer, Dave Matthews, James Bay or Leon Bridges, but he infuses the style with his distinctive personality. Equally impressive is the recently uploaded live concert video that offers a taste of what he’s about on stage.

He was a finalist on a Voice-like series called RunStar on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, and he won on a similar show, Grand Casting de L’Ocean Indien, on the island of Mayotte. There’s absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t be able to find an audience on this side of the planet.

A-wa, Habib Galbi

With so much conflict in the Middle East, it’s notable when something as simple as a pop band can provide even a temporary salve. In this case, it’s the three Haim sisters — Tair, Liron and Tagel — who are the Israel-based, Yemeni-Jewish group called A-wa, which is Arabic for the word “yes.”

Their colorful video for the Yemenite-language track Habib Galbi (Love of My Heart), an infectious blend of traditional vocals/lyrics of a desert people paired with electro beats, last year went viral all over the Mideast as well as in the dance-music and world-music underground.

Produced by Tomer Yosef, of the respected Israeli Gypsy-punk outfit Balkan Beat Box, the threesome was even featured on the Facebook page for Mipsterz (Muslim hipsters).

There’s no denying A-wa’s infectious appeal on the Habib Galbi EP. The song has a repetitive musical refrain, anchored to a sinewy groove, that is prime earworm material even if you can’t understand a word. The EP features several mixes of the track and at least one other, Shamak Zabad Radai, that has an even more convincing groove.

But we will have to wait and see if they can be more than just a flash in the sand when they release their new album is released shortly.

Whatever the outcome, the entire project is a cheeky tribute to the late Ofra Haza who became famous for blending traditional Yemeni songs and dance music back in the ’80s. She was a groundbreaking figure probably unknown to the current generation of clubgoers.

Imarhan, Imarhan

Even though the northwestern African country of Mali has endured civil unrest in recent years, with its northern territory briefly falling under the sway of jihadists who banned music, it continues to show just how rich its musical heritage is.

The band Imarhan, a spinoff the group Tartit, continues the tradition of Tuareg rock pioneered by Tinirawen who mix the handclapping rhythms and music of the nomadic Tuareg people with rock and blues-style guitars. On their debut album, Imarhan veer from more hypnotic slower numbers (Ibas Ichikkou) to the more uptempo jams (Tahabort).

While not as transporting an introduction into the world of Tuareg rock as Tinirawen’s seductive calls across the Sahara, as explosive as the work of Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure nor as ready for Western prime time as the “desert punk” quartet Songhoy Blues, Imarhan’s more low-key style insinuates itself into your consciousness.

Cary Darling: 817-390-7571, @carydar

Globespinning is an occasional look at music from around the world.