If you were put in the position of choosing one collection that defines the parameters of world music, which would it be? There’s no shortage of contenders available, that’s for sure, and by the very nature of their lofty mission, most fail at the task. The British label that calls itself The Essential Guide obviously understands the challenge, and has, until now, chosen instead to take on world music one sub-genre at a time, issuing multi-CD compilations devoted to India, Arabia, salsa, Africa and Brazil.
It would appear from its very title that this new three-discer shoots for a wider goal, but closer inspection reveals that The Essential Guide To World Music limits itself to one CD each covering Africa, South America and the somewhat nebulous turf it defines as When East Meets West. While that means some geographic and musical areas will necessarily be neglected, this still covers plenty of planet, and overall, it’s a satisfying set boasting an impressive roster: The African disc includes music from Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Tony Allen, Amadou et Mariam, Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Tinariwen and Khaled, for example, while South America rounds up choice tracks from Seu Jorge, Bebel Gilberto, Omara Portuondo and Celia Cruz (we didn’t know that Cuba was in South America, but we’ll let it go). The third disc is a deliberate grab bag lobbing together the likes of Pakistan’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, India’s A.R. Rahman and Spain’s Ojos de Brujo. Oddly, it’s the most musically exhilarating of the three discs, perhaps due to its unpredictability and refusal to categorize at all.