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More Favorite Music of 2011: Day 5


Exotic, edgy DeVotchka, a musical jewel of Denver, plus South Africa's Vusi Mahlasela, spokesman for liberation: Music that stands on its own regardless of any lofty message.... Part of our final 2011 picks.

Edgy gypsy punk describes the pulsating art of Denver-based band DeVotchka whose name means “girl” in Russian. They seem ripe for scoring the next Bond movie but don't call them slick. Oscar-nominated for their 2006 soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine, DeVotchka accompanies their ninth CD, 100 Lovers, with numerous sepia photos taken likely at Great Sand Dunes National Park, though the aural experience points to the Middle East. Much of this music feels as rough and bleak as the landscape pictured, albeit mutli-layered with strings, percussion, and occasionally children’s choir, but also saxes, and the accordion-like bandoneon, a staple of South American tango ensembles.

This world-music offers a feast of fascinating musical textures darting around. Their complex song, “Contrabanda,” starts with hesitant bursts of trumpet like truck horns then the music swirls and pleads: “The troops are deserting / The backwater burning… Are you with me / Or against me.” If you asked to hear the range of KUNC’s music, DeVotchka fits on the fringe, balancing out our gentle guitar ballads. Bravo. (I’d say “One Hundred Other Lovers” is one of their least edgy creations, and to quirky animation here.)


Singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela, “Mr. African Folk,” played at the 2010 World Cup opening, has collaborated with Dave Matthews and Josh Groban, and stirred a recent TED conference with his message of struggle and freedom. This is one inspiring fellow. Taj Mahal and Angelique Kidjo joined him in recording his seventh album, "Say Africa," full of flowing guitar-centered pieces. Although lacking here exotic indigenous instruments you might expect, Mahlasela nonetheless proclaims, "I may be walking in the streets of a city called London but the dust on my boots and the rhythm of my feet and my heartbeat Say Africa." The song "Ntate Mandela" features a community choir, a hymn to Nelson Mandela in sound and images here.


A "Mahlasela" footnote: Yesterday, The World Cafe's David Dye aired his lengthy, fine interview with Adele. She confessed not knowing many Nashville artists, that's not something widespread on British radio, she said (understandably). So Adele was bowled over upon hearing a compilation of them. Her experience is a reminder to seek out the music of other lands for an enriching experience.

A full music list will be posted tomorrow (along with a recap of Wendy's list). Or you can review the picks made on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. What were your favorite picks of 2011? Let us know in the comments box below. -PJ

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