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The best of world music in 2023

Arooj Aftab (left), Vijay Iyer (center) and Shahzad Ismaily (right). (Courtesy of Ebru Yildiz)
Arooj Aftab (left), Vijay Iyer (center) and Shahzad Ismaily (right). (Courtesy of Ebru Yildiz)

Here’s a little New Year’s gift to you: A front-row seat to a thrilling and diverse selection of world music albums from 2023.

We sampled songs from some of the best singer-songwriters around the globe in the company of music journalist and DJ extraordinaire Betto Arcos.

Arcoes is a regular contributor to NPR and BBC Radio 3 and also the author of “Music Stories from the Cosmic Barrio”.

He joined us to present five songs he picked from South America to North Africa, many of which he heard live in person.

Betto Arcos is a music journalist and DJ. (Alejandra Barragán)

World music picks from Betto Arcos

“Sajni” by Arooj Aftab, Shahzad Ismaily and Vijay Iyer

Arooj Aftab was born in Pakistan and lives and works in Brooklyn. She collaborated with jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily for the album “Love in Exile.” In 2022, she was the first Pakistani artist to ever win a Grammy.

Watch on YouTube.

Silvia Pérez Cruz. (Courtesy of Sony Music Spain)

“Planetes I Orinetes” by Silvia Perez Cruz

Silvia Perez Cruz is a singer-songwriter from Catalonia, Spain. She founded a Flamenco group and began a solo career, singing in several languages including Catalan.

Watch on YouTube.

“Oriental Dance” by The Gurdjieff Ensemble with director Levon Eskenian 

The Gurdjiefff Ensemble. (Courtesy of Nagy Attila/ECM Records)

The Gurdjieff Ensemble plays traditional Armenian and Middle Eastern music, much of it on ancient folk instruments.

“Tenere Den” by Tinariwen

Tinariwen. (Courtesy)

Tinariwen is a group of Saharan Tuareg musicians from Mali. They sing in their native Tamashek language about their daily life. Their music is infused with country and blues elements and called “desert blues.” Their international career took off more than two decades ago and they have collaborated with many other bands.

Watch on YouTube.

“La Rancho Parranda” by Rancho Aparte

Rancho Aparte. (Courtesy)

Rancho Aparte is a high-energy group from Colombia whose music is rooted in Colombian and Afro-Colombian traditional dance and music. This track is a danceable tune about partying and is perfect to kick off the new year.

Watch on YouTube.


Adeline Sire produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Sire also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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