Global Beat Fusion: Two Malians and a Brazilian

Malian guitarist/vocalist Vieux Farka Touré had his father's name to rely on when first entering the global stage in 2007, but he has far surpassed dependency. Two full-length and two remix albums in just four years, and now his first performance record, simply titled Live (Six Degrees). I've long been a fan of Vieux's exceptional playing and humble attitude--I produced his first set of remixes, and co-remixed one on the second--but I always felt the proper venue for the man, like all great artists, is on stage. He is simply unstoppable well the lights dim and the volume is turned up. Over the years, his guitar playing has intensified, but more importantly, so has the diversity with which he surrounds that instrument. Credit bass player and producer of Fondo, Yossi Fine, who appears on a live rendition of the reggae-influenced "Diaraby Magni," for injecting a tasteful dose of dub. While the one new song here, "Na Maïmouna Poussaniamba," is a nice addition to his catalog, this collection becomes worthwhile when hearing "Souba Souba" and the delicate, patient "Slow Jam." Taken from four locations from his last US tour, Live is the best way to experience this young man in full form except, of course, by catching him this summer when he returns.

While Vieux has made a quick name for himself, it took another Malian guitarist/vocalist decades to reach the international status of deity. But that's exactly what Salif Keita accomplished, against all odds, given that his being born albino should have meant a life of serfdom, not to mention that his lineage was not of a griot, which traditionally barred him from being a singer. Instead, Keita created his own tradition. Outcast from his family, he joined Super Rail Band de Bamako in '67, then Les Ambassadeurs in '73, where he began to make his mark. By the time he reached Paris to work on his solo career in the mid-'80s, Keita was become something of a phenomenon. Dubbed the "Golden Voice of Africa," his latest outing, La Différence (Emarcy) is dedicated to albinos the world over; he even founded a center for albinos in Africa with his recording profits. His role in the public spotlight would not mean as much if his music wasn't top notch. Since 2002's Moffou, the man has not wavered. "Sa Ka Na" plays off the female-male choruses that decorate his nimble guitar lines. The man is in best form during slower moments: the piano-drenched "Folon" and the nearly eight-minute, kora-punctuated "Gaffou" are the songs that lift this man to heights previously unknown.

These men are well established. Brazilian singer Luísa Maita has a long way to go. Given the strength and beauty of her solo debut, Lero-Lero (Cumbancha), I expect it will not take long, however. The 28-year-old São Paulo native comes from music, with her father a singer and mother a concert producer. More than singing, her Syrian Muslim dad rerooted in Brazil and fell in love with the sounds of Antonio Carlos Jobim--he named all three of his daughters after the legend's songs. Maita may have started with bossa nova, but she has grown considerably, recalling recent singers like Ceu and Cibelle with more experimental and beat-oriented tracks, tempered with by a sweet and soulful voice. "Aí Vem Ele" is hands down one of the best tracks in Portuguese I've heard, employing a capoeria rhythm devised by Baden Powell--the melody lingers long after the song ends. After that stunner ends, the unmistakable cuíca leads the listener into the sensuous "Desencabulada," and the highly danceable "Fulaninha." And, of course, the title song, which you can download for free, is what initially drew me into Maita's world. It's a lovely place to inhabit, and I look forward to spending more time here.