There was a lot of great music released in 2016. It was hard to narrow down our favorites to a Top 20 list, but here it is. Each of us picked five of our favorites to highlight.
1. Bombino, "Azel"
Bombino's a terrific guitarist from Niger in West Africa.
After several releases, he's cemented a reputation in rock circles with his inexhaustible guitar licks. He recorded "Azel" in Woodstock, New York. This album is truly "world rock."
2. My Bubba, "Big Bad Good"
Gudbjörg Tómasdóttir is from Iceland and My Larsdotter is from Sweden. Together they are the compelling duo My Bubba. They met as roommates and soon discovered they both loved to write songs, and sing them together. When they harmonize the sound is delicate and soothing.
3. M.I.A, "AIM"
M.I.A.'s "AIM" is protest music for the new century (and protest music isn't always pretty to listen to). But the British-born, Sri Lankan rapper writes songs that are innovative and make a point, whether it's exposing what it's like to really be on the run as a refugee, or creating new language and sounds to express herself. M.I.A. is unique and more articulate than most artists on the pop scene today.
4. Elza Soares, "A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo"
Elza Soares is a national icon in Brazil. At 79 years old, she can do what she wants. And as a "woman at the end of the world," as the name says, she's released a bold and brash album. I love it.
5. Allen Toussaint, "American Tunes"
We play a lot of music that is not American on the show, but when I got this posthumous release from the great New Orleans pianist, singer and composer Allen Toussaint, I just had to include it. It's been a trying year for many of us, and Toussaint's music helped make things a little better. You can listen here to our tribute to Toussaint, who passed away in November 2015.
Marco doesn't want you to miss these albums, either:
La Yegros, "Magnetismo"
Blitz the Ambassador, "Diasporadical"
Gaby Moreno, "Ilusión"
Lakou Mizik, "Wa Di Yo"
Hannah Williams and the Affirmations, "Late Nights and Heartbreaks"
1. Cocofunka, "Chúcaro"
This is hands-down my favorite release of the year. Cocofunka is an indie band from Costa Rica, and here they've released an album that's high in energy, polish and production. They enlisted local producer Mario Miranda and Felipe Álvarez, who produced last year's release from Bomba Estereo, to help with the production.
2. Kate Bush, "Before the Dawn (Live)"
Fans from around the globe flew to London to catch Kate Bush in concert back in 2014. It was her first series of concerts in 35 years, and I was lucky to catch one of those shows. Now I can relive the moment with this release.
3. Roberto Fonseca, "Abuc"
A celebration of Cuban music from the island nation's jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca. Now, you may think this is a retrospective — some best-of 1950s/60s Cuban music — but it's not. Fonseca wrote or co-wrote most of the tunes, so they're new, but with a vintage twist.
4. Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate, "Monistic Theory"
This is the second album from a dynamic duo. Joe Driscoll is a rapper and songwriter from Syracuse, New York, while Sekou Kouyate is a master kora player from Guinea. Their backgrounds may be worlds apart, but their music shows what can happen when two worlds collide.
5. Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra, "AHEO"
The Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra released their self-titled album this year. Nigerian Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen was invited to Haiti to give a one-off concert with local musicians back in 2014. Allen and the Haitian musicians had just five days to rehearse for the show — and the results can be heard on the group's one and only album.
April wants you to check out these albums, too:
Michael Kiwanuka, "Love & Hate"
Leyla McCalla, "A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey"
Leonard Cohen, "You Want it Darker"
Harold López-Nussa, "El Viaje"
Listen to a selection of the songs from our favorite albums on Spotify: