Putumayo There, Pal

Jamaica, Cajun, Arabic Groove, Carnival (Putumayo)
Various Artists

By David Lilly

It's examination time, people. There's no grading. No need to hyperventilate in apprehension of the dreaded "F" written on your paper in red ink, so don't sweat it. There are only two questions, and I'm even going to give you one of the answers. First, what record label releases compilation CDs containing music that's as colorful as the artwork of the CD's covers and booklets? The answer: Putumayo World Music.

Second, a lot of the music is joyful and will probably inspire you to shake your booty, so does it matter that you won't understand much of what's being sung? Your answer goes here ___. Okay, the test is over, so let the party begin! This record label brings you fun and infectious music from above and below the equator, across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the other side of the world and as close to home as New Orleans.

Of these four CDs, the music of Jamaica is the heaviest, but it's much lighter than Goth or Metal. It might also be the strangest, since some of it has an undercurrent of foreboding, causing an uneasy, apprehensive feeling - singing about oppression and injustice can cause that. Yet the rhythm section gets inside you and won't leave you alone, and that's the fun part. The songs on this disc present several legends of Jamaica, including some wider known Reggae artists like Toots and the Mayalls' lively "Reggae Got Soul," Jimmy Cliff's "Give The People What They Want," Black Uhuru's "Sponji Reggae," and Peter Tosh's soothing "Mystery Babylon." With all due respect to the late Bob Marley, this is an excellent disc for anyone who thinks Reggae was born and died with him.

During the intro to "Moi Et Toi," the first song on Arabic Groove, it's easy to envision a veiled and jeweled woman performing raqs sharki (also known as belly dancing), her body speaking a language of its own. Visions also come to mind of a cobra snake rising up from a basket to dance, while a snake charmer coaxes with a flute-like instrument (known in Arabia as a been, dafli or dumduma) close by. Once the percussion starts, the urge to dance will likely rise up in the listener as well. The rhythm section on this CD is such that if an Aerobics instructor used this music for their class, they might instead refer to the workout as "Aerabics." Consistently infectious beats beckon the listener into motion, while melodies of romance, eroticism, joy - and sometimes of lost love - abound and enthrall.

Our next stop is Louisiana, otherwise known as Cajun territory. There's a lot of fiddling and accordion playing and a whole lot of spirit here. Listening to Cajun music, you can get the idea that these people invented parties and fun. They really didn't, but what PBS cooking show have you had the most fun watching? I'll bet it was Justin Wilson's "Louisiana Cookin." In the Action/Adventure section of video stores, even though the territorial theme is dark, this music is wonderfully represented in the film "Southern Comfort," (starring Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe). This CD lacks nationally famous names, but most are well-known or legendary in Louisiana. There's one clever name, too. On "Lafayette Breakdown," by the Cajun Playboys - a side project of the Mamou Playboys - fiddler David Greely used his father's first name and his mother's maiden name, to be credited as "Roscoe Theriot," in a creative nod to the "masks" of Mardi Gras. Almost every song on this disc is very upbeat. The exception is Pott Folse's "Hey La Bas," which is relaxed, not to mention erotic. I highly recommend this disc right now, while it can still be used to enhance your cookouts of summer 2001.

Finally, we visit the Carnival world. Synonyms for the word "carnival" include merrymaking, revelry, frolic, party, ball, festival, celebration and jubilee. All those words are appropriate for this fun disc that presents music from New Orleans, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, Barbados and Trinidad. Anyone who speaks English can sing along with Eddie Bo on "I Know You Mardi Gras." For those who insist on singing along with everything, God bless the bi- and multilingual among you. If spirit and groove are all you need, you may well bliss out on the entire disc.

If any of the music on these 4 discs inspires you to learn to speak other languages, that is as cool as the music itself. Putumayo also releases CDs by individual performers or groups, but most of my familiarity is with the compilations of various artists. I can't recommend this stuff highly enough, especially to all musically or culturally adventurous people who haven't heard it. Have a look around at www.putumayo.com

I thank my editor very much for providing me with these discs.