Fantastic Voyage

Get off your high horse and listen to some fine world music at "Putumayo: Latinas -- Women of Latin America"

To express an appreciation for world music is to invite being characterized as a hippie. Sure, Amoeba's world music aisles are loaded with dreadlocked white people in Birkenstocks. Certainly Gipsy Kings fans are often found at String Cheese Incident shows. But are you going to dismiss sublime international sounds -- everything from Jamaican mento to Cajun boogie to Middle Eastern klezmer -- just because of a few stylistic quibbles?

For open-minded music lovers, the New York label Putumayo has emerged as world music's Goliath by releasing popular themed records -- Celtic folk, African-tinged techno, that sort of thing -- that sample tunes from multiple artists rather than sticking to a single group. Much as David Byrne's Luaka Bop became a '90s international music arbiter, Putumayo's collections often grant standout status for little-known foreign artists.

Its latest, Women of Latin America, smoothly moves from Mexican ranchera to melancholy Portuguese-style fado to Brazilian samba/reggae, with songs that range from haunting (Mariana Montalvo's "India Song" displays her wistful voice and her skill on the Andean charango guitar) to irresistibly rhythmic (Totó La Momposina's "Yo Me Llama Cumbia" closes out the record with a flirty folk-dance romp).

Totó La Momposina performs at the "Putumayo" 
Totó La Momposina performs at the "Putumayo" concert.

Three of the album's singers bring their solo sets to Marin as "Putumayo: Latinas -- Women of Latin America" makes its sole local stop. Hailing from Colombia, Chile, and Brazil, respectively, artists La Momposina, Montalvo, and Belo Velloso offer music that skips through an entire range of styles (African-rooted cumbia, bossa nova, Andean flute melodies, etc.), making for a heady tour of Latin musical traditions. Appreciating such a mixed bag may take a bit of practice for genre newbies. But for world music fans, it's nothing less than a gorgeous globe-trotting journey.

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