It only dawned on me recently, after learning that The Tragically Hip are practically unheard of in the States, that my musical scope may be less than I had initially thought. If the Tragically Hip are only able to reach 129 on Billboard’s top 200 in our neighboring country, how the hell are we ever supposed to know about the wonderful music that comes out of countries an ocean away?
This sobering thought resulted in hours of Internet research, and a few migraines, but I was compensated with copious amounts of new music.
I’ve picked out five of the best artists I could find and compiled a list of musicians for a buffet of international melody.
Artist: Tim Maia
Country of origin: Brazil
Recommended Listening: Brother, Father, Sister and Mother
Much like Vincent van Gogh or Nick Drake, Tim Maia never gained international success while he was alive.
Born in Rio de Janeiro in the early ‘40s, Maia was inspired by soul, R&B, and blues. His music is reminiscent of samba and bossa nova. It features a range of percussive instruments, and also incorporates horns, Motown-style drums, and a phenomenal use of the clavinet, all of which give his music an element of funk, nearly on par with Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”
Apart from his career as a musician, Maia led an outrageously colourful lifestyle. Before becoming a member of the Brazilian Socialist Party, Maia developed an infamous reputation amongst multi-national authorities, having been arrested for theft and drug possession both in Brazil and the U.S. on numerous occasions.
Unsurprisingly, his reckless lifestyle eventually caught up with him, and after years of cocaine, whiskey, and marijuana (a combination he liked to call “the triathlon”), he passed away. His music carries on his legacy — and, if Hollywood knows what’s good, hopefully a biopic as well.
Artist: Orchestra Baobab
Country of origin: Senegal
Recommended Listening: Utrus Horas
Orchestra Baobab is an out-of-fashion, traditional Senegalese band that makes the list simply for their undeniable talent. While most of the other artists on this list have similarities with some popular musical style, Orchestra Baobab ventures further into a traditional style of music, drawing from elements of Cuban jazz and afrobeat. Regardless, their mesmerizing arrangements can still be appreciated, and their saxophone game is on a level all by itself.
Initially formed in 1970, Orchestra Baobab quickly became one of the dominant African bands to get international recognition, up there with the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (for those who don’t know, they are a popular South-African band known for collaborating with Paul Simon, and, more recently, for having been mentioned in Mean Girls) Orchestra Baobab never quite reached that peak in western pop culture, but nevertheless remains a force to be reckoned with in Afro-Cuban music.
Country of origin: Colombia
Recommended Listening: Absence Heard Presence Felt
If J Dilla had ever decided to up and move to Colombia, he would probably sound something like Quantic: the smoothest of beats, but with a certain South American flavour.
Will Holland, the name behind the pseudonym was initially born in Worcestershire before moving to Colombia. There, he set up a recording studio and spent ample time formulating a genre that combined salsa and bossa nova with soul-based instrumentals — reminiscent of the backing tracks heard in certain 90’s hip/hop. The result is gorgeous, and gives off a certain level of tranquility — peaceful to the point of jeopardizing your productivity if not listened to strictly whilst on vacation.
Country of origin: Japan
Recommended Listening: C
In a utopic world, where English speaking and non-English speaking musicians are all thrown into one giant tub of musical history. Maybe then would Takashi Kashikura of Toe dethrone John Bonham of Led Zeppelin as the “world’s best drummer.” Seriously, go listen to songs like “New Sentimentality” or “Tremolo + Delay” and you’ll see just how stupid good this guy is.
In fact, the whole concept of this band is a little ridiculous. In trying to describe them, the first step would be to label them as Math-rock, but it’s also important to note the elements of acoustic guitar that add an oddly peaceful aura to a genre laced with so many counterintuitive rhythms. Somehow, Toe pulls it off, and the result is a wonderfully tranquil yet intriguing arrangement of sounds.
Presently, Toe remains up and active, continuing to baffle the eardrums of anyone curious enough to listen.
Country of origin: Uganda
Recommended Listening: “Natty Dread” and then “Pink Drunken Elephant,” in that order.
To avoid lying by omission it is important to note that, while all the artists on this list are phenomenally skilled and very much worth listening to, I couldn’t help but save the best for last.
Born in Kampala, Uganda, before immigrating to Sweden to launch her career as a musician, Jaqee is an elaborate collage of reggae, jazz, and soul music, all mixed into one. Pulling inspiration from all kinds of different music from around the world, she includes elements of American and Euro-centric pop music. Jaqee is the ultimate speaker-blasting/foot-stomping/bass-thumping singer to be included on this list. She has often described herself as a “musical chameleon”, having no set musical style, but her uncanny ability to hit every note so perfectly sets her far apart from the herd. Her voice is filled with energy and raw emotion, blossoming straight from her lively backup band. Her music is upbeat and danceable, eventually making you question how she’s managed to avoid western audiences for this long.