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Latitudes: The Global Music You Must Hear In May

Galician bagpiper Cristina Pato and her band.
Galician bagpiper Cristina Pato and her band.

One of the biggest pleasures of listening to global music is hearing artists wed the past, present and future — especially as they create smart, innovative juxtapositions of elements you might think have no musical or cultural commonalities. And this month's roundup is full of those kinds of surprises.

If you're a fan of our Tiny Desk Concerts, you may remember a highly unusual, enormously vital and joyous performance by Galician bagpiper Cristina Pato. She's back with her quartet for an album called Latina, which explores all kinds of great sounds, textures and rhythms from the Latin world, from Spain to Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and beyond. Here's a fandango written by one of her band members, bassist Edward Perez, that tweaks a popular dance rhythm from Spain that migrated across Europe and into the Americas.

Moroccan pop star Saad Lamjarred's new song "Lm3allem" ("Teacher") is not exactly breaking new sonic ground, but the eye-popping video is a total blast — and it seems to be a direct homage to the exciting work of the Moroccan-born, U.K.-based visual artist Hassan Hajjaj (whose work happens to be on display right now at the Newark Museum in New Jersey), down to repeating some of his most familiar images, beginning with those young women on motorbikes.

This video isn't new, but I just came across the 18-year-old female Afghan rapper Sonita Alizadeh, and her song "Brides for Sale," through a feature broadcast earlier this month on the public radio program The World. Raised since age 8 in Tehran, Alizadeh was told by her parents that she would be married off to a man in Afghanistan — because her family needed the dowry money to pay for her brother's wedding. In response, the anguished Alizadeh wrote this song, by turns anguished and acidic.

The upshot: Alizadeh's parents loved the video and told her she didn't have to marry. She is now studying in Utah, but she told The World she'll always sing about Afghanistan.

And the dawn of summer should bring dance parties, so here are two songs to get your groove on. I've been a fan of the band Yiddish Twist Orchestra for a while now. They call what they do "London retropolitan." It's a throwback to the 1950s and early 1960s mashups of big band, mambo, calypso — and Eastern European Jewish music. (See: Bagels and Bongos.) Their new album, Let's!, is hugely fun, and I bet you'll never hear the chestnut "Bei Mir Bistu Shein," birthed in the Yiddish theater of New York's Lower East Side, in quite the same way ever again.

The other is "Tepotzteco," a track from the Oakland duo Dirtwire (David Satori and Evan Fraser). Its name hearkens back to an ancient Aztec temple that attracted worshipers from as far away as Guatemala. But here, it's a song that weaves electronic sounds with cumbia and a West African ngoni lute. But rather than sounding sleek and cold, the song is full of grit and pulsates with life. The video was shot in Guatemala City with dancers from the Heroes Company crew.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.