Afghan hip-hop, Indonesian folk metal and South African spiritual jazz were among this year's sonic highlights from around the world.

Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime

Born in a nomad camp in Niger and now a leading figure of desert rock, Mdou Moctar stands out as the most innovative artist in contemporary Saharan music – the modern heir to Jimi Hendrix if there ever was one. On his sixth album Afrique Victime, he continues to refract Hendrix’s spirit through the prism of his own Tuareg guitar style. The result is a livewire offering which bristles with energy: Moctar’s guitar chops are stunning on their own, but when wedded to rippling polyrhythms it verges on a transcendental experience.

Jaubi – Nafs at Peace

Pakistani quartet Jaubi gained international recognition with 2020’s Ragas from Lahore, a collab with British jazz instrumentalist Tenderlonious that tapped into the spiritual jazz tradition of reworking Indian classical compositions. During those same sessions Jaubi recorded a thematic suite Nafs at Peace, now released as their debut album. Drawing on the Quranic evocation of “nafs“ (the ego/self) through seven instrumental pieces, the group incorporates Hindustani ragas, the spiritual jazz of John Coltrane and Yusuf Lateef, together with sample-heavy production.

Altin Gun – Yol

Grammy-nominated Amsterdam-based Turkish psych revivalists Altin Gun draw from the rich and incredibly diverse traditions of Turkish folk music to create a contemporary stew of hallucinogenic rock, funk and pop. On their third album Yol, the sonic palette has expanded to embrace shimmering synths and retro drum machines, in an 80s-laced disco romp that marks a thrilling evolution for the band.

4 Mars – Super Somali Sounds from the Gulf of Tadjoura

In 2019, Ostinato Records became the first label to get access to the Djibouti Radio and Television (RTD) archives, releasing The Dancing Devils of Djibouti in 2020 to become the first album ever produced in the country for international distribution. Next up from the RTD trove is 40-member Somali band 4 Mars, and Super Somali Sounds from the Gulf of Tadjoura sees Somali disco, 70’s funk, 80’s synth-pop, Yemeni ballads, Bollywood melodies and even reggae all converge – making it a truly cosmopolitan offering.

Farhot – Kabul Fire Vol. 2

German-Afghan hip-hop producer Farhot’s follow up to his first solo effort Kabul Fire Vol. 1 comes 8 years later, and it’s worth the wait. Splicing together Afghan folk samples and documentaries with tasty J Dilla-style beats and raw production chops, Farhot makes sure to wear his immigrant identity on his sleeve while creating an impressive sonic collage that is a stirring homage to Afghanistan.

Malcolm Jiyani –  Umdali

Enigmatic South African trombonist and multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Jiyane’s debut as a bandleader is a 45-minute improvisatory affair that channels the compositional depth of legendary South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and references the jazz-funk motifs of Herbie Hancock. With a bunch of talented musicians from Soweto’s jamming scene, Umdali charts out a life-affirming statement in the face of individual strife.

Alex Malheiros – Tempos Futuros

Bassist of the legendary Brazilian space-funk trio Azymuth, Alex Malheiros’ album Tempos Futuros blends together his signature jazz-funk bass lines with cosmic synths, disco grooves and samba-inflected drum rhythms that capture the same fusion magic that we were accustomed to hearing on classic Azymuth material. 

Electric Jalaba – El Hal / The Feeling

Electric Jalaba are a British six-piece led by Moroccan-born singer and guimbri (a rectangular three-stringed lute) player Simo Lagnawi, a prominent Gnawa musician in the UK. On their third album over nine improvised tracks, the band pay homage to Gnawa by combining electronic textures and a groovy, psychedelic repertoire in Arabic while injecting small doses of the remnants of West African dialects.

Samba Toure – Binga

Following in the footsteps of Malian blues legend Ali Farka Toure, singer and guitarist Samba Toure returns to his native land to share what he defines as “pure Songhoy music”. Binga, named after the area he grew up in, carries his trademark political edge but with deeper reflection; a slightly more positive feeling about the fate of Mali, and contemplation about his own relationship with his homeland.

Senyawa – Alkisah

Indonesian experimental metal duo Senyawa continue to push the boundaries with their latest offering. Using homemade instruments – locally crafted from bamboo and traditional agricultural tools – Alkisah sees vocalist Rully Shabara and multi-instrumentalist Wukir Suryadi locked in a series of hypnotic shamanistic chants, seemingly directing their animalistic wails and junkyard clatter to conjure up animist spirits buried in some hellish, mythical landscape.


Source: TRT World