The story of Putumayo World Music is an extraordinary one. Named for a tributary of the Amazon, the Putumayo brand began its life as an avante garde store importing South American crafts and clothing into trendy Manhattan. As he opened more stores, Putumayo founder Dan Storper discovered an unexpected gap in the market. Customers were captivated by the music on his mix tapes and he was flooded by enquiries about the music. After testing the waters with The Best of World Music: World Vocal Storper realised he had found his niche. Since then Putumayo has released dozens of albums and sold millions of CDs all over the world.
World Groove is part of Putumayo's ambitious new foray into the world of electronica and dance. Their previous releases focussed (unsurprisingly) on the more traditional acoustic forms of world music, and even these tracks are more a fusion of electronic and traditional acoustic elements than most pure dance offerings. In fact the usually nebulous word "groove" captures the feel of the music very well - light, upbeat, bouncy and lots of fun.
Although the majority of the tracks tend towards traditional Latin patterns like salsa and rumba, all of them have liberal dollops of local colour. The overall effect of the collection is of something exotic without being foreign - a foray into warm, friendly places where everyone is intent on having fun. Cynics may dismiss this sort of popular fare as "world music lite", but that kind of flippancy ignores the huge range of talent on show here.
The standard edition World Groove includes artists from as far away as Turkey, Germany and Mali, and as close to home as Soweto (in the form of the late great Brenda Fassie). And, if you're lucky enough to get your hand on the limited edition of the album, you can enjoy another whole CD full of great music showcasing the best of Putumayo's Groove and Lounge series.
While there isn't one bad track on either of the CDs, a few stand out from the crowd. French house outfit Rouge Rouge open the CD with a tightly wound foot-tapper named "Attention" that is as irresistible as it is cheeky. Another gem is "Aya Benzer" from Turkish mix-master Mustapha Sandal. This beautifully balanced combination of latin strings, silky smooth Arabic vocals and bouncy Persian house rhythms is incendiary and would have any dance floor on the planet hopping in five seconds flat. Those who enjoy a slightly more exotic flavour will adore "Nogo" from composer Issa Bagayogo. While the Arabic influence is distinct, Bagayogo blends his beats with the traditional Malian instruments and the result is moody, richly textured and captivating.
It's almost a pity that World Groove is classified as "World Music". The label may put a lot of people off who would otherwise adore this mix. Few other albums could manage this combination of undemanding and interesting. Is it worth buying? Without a doubt. Apart from the fact that it makes for great solo listening, it's also perfect for everything from after work drinks get-togethers, to cozy dinner dates to hopping house parties. The only possible problem is how much money you will want to spend on the rest of Putumayo's always expanding range after you have fallen in love with World Groove.
- Alistair Fairweather
WHAT OTHER CRITICS SAID
It's erratic in some places, excellent in others, but fans of electronica and the eclectic will certainly find plenty to enjoy here.- Damian Rafferty for www.fly.co.uk
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