1. SUSANA BACA
“Afrodiaspora’’ Soulful pedagogy from the sublime-voiced Baca, who this year was named Peru’s culture minister, and here leads a grand tour of Africa-rooted music from Latin America and the Caribbean, including New Orleans, with her customary grace and serene mastery.
2. MAMANI KEITA
“Gagner l’argent français’’ A shimmering, just-right set from a Malian woman singer who deserves broader recognition. Also very much a producer’s album, as French arranger Nicolas Repac develops intricate layers of rock and electronic elements, but it’s Keita’s voice that does the transporting.
“Super Sun’’ A superb alternative-soul singer who happens to come from Nigeria – and a male counterpart to that country’s new songstresses such as Asa, Nneka and Ayo. Watch for Bez to emerge in the United States in 2012, starting with a visit to SXSW in March.
4. BALLAKÉ SISSOKO + VINCENT SEGAL
“Chamber Music’’ Recorded deep in the night in Bamako, this exceptional Franco-Malian meeting of cello and kora, mostly duets with a few occasional guests, is austere yet never forbidding; rather, quietly joyous and entirely unexpected.
5. BLITZ THE AMBASSADOR
“Native Sun’’ Ghana-born, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based MC Blitz Bazawule had his breakout year behind this feisty album of socially-minded trans-Atlantic hip-hop, roaming across the funk, Afrobeat and highlife distilled by his excellent working band.
“Kinshasa Succursale’’ Gruff and full of fire, Congolese MC Baloji, who is based in Brussels and raps in French and local languages, returned to Kinshasa to record with Konono No. 1, soukous guitarists and other local luminaries. Urban and urgent.
7. KIRAN AHLUWALIA
“Aam Zameen’’ Ahluwalia’s far-reaching, cosmopolitan innovations on Indian ghazal and Punjabi folk songs keep getting better. On her fifth album she’s joined by Touareg superstars Tinariwen and Terakaft (both of which had fine new records this year as well, by the way).
“Laru Beya’’ Very much the anointed successor to the late Andy Palacio, who revived Garifuna music from Central America’s Caribbean coast, Aurelio delivers with a far-reaching set that folds in local pop and looks back across the ocean to Senegal, with Youssou N’Dour and others contributing.
9. KARSH KALE
“Cinema’’ The Bay Area producer has been scoring films in India lately, but his South Asian-infused electronic sound has always felt cinematic. Here he’s at his seamless best, melding contributions from Indian classical musicians and American rockers with no trace of any fusion awkwardness.
10. DJ JAMJAM
“Oyinbo Swagga Vol. 2’’ (mixtape, available online) Nigeria is a rich new frontier for hip-hop and R&B, plenty of it hyper-commercial; many current top stars (P-Square, M.I., Wizkid, Tiwa Savage, and more) appear on this chock-full mix by a London DJ. Not all the music is great, but the crash-course immersion is frenetic and vital.
“Rayes Le Bled’’ The year’s big surprise in world events was the Arab Spring. Local hip-hop played a part, expressing popular discontent and documenting the uprisings, beginning with this protest song by El General, from Tunisia, where it all began. Be sure to watch the video as well.