Deride them as suburban coffeehouse fodder and tribal-tattooed twentysomething hippie store-bought diversity, but the modern world-music compilation -- particularly the Putumayo company's collections and Wrasse's annual sampler -- is the way most Americans hear the genre that's come to encompass, literally, everybody else's music. On two new comps that threaten an attempt at covering the whole planet, these two manage to do something different: Compile decent albums that whet the appetite for xeno-sonics without drowning in an academic ethnomusicology approach that would turn off most people -- in Pittsburgh or Phenom Phen. To appreciate the world of music one must stretch a little further than a Starbucks-bought sampler. But in a music industry where the choices are either dogmatically narrow local radio or the shocking vastness of Internet radio, this is as good a place as any to start -- and a better place than many.
World Groove samples the modern four-on-the-floor lounge sounds of the world -- stuff that would fit equally well on a London dance floor or as background to your samosas in a First Avenue restaurant. Contributions like French producers Major Boys' "Sous le Soleil," which appeared on the Hotel Costes series amongst many mixes, will be known to general deep-lounge fans. Others, such as Zap Mama's excellent "Miss.Q.In" and Turkish R&B singer Mustafa Sandal's Ottoman-Timbaland cut "Aya Benzer," might seem familiar as recent xenophile hits. But if someone picks up World Groove for "Sous le Soleil" and goes back to get Malian guitarist Issa Bagayogo's excellent Six Degrees album Tassoumakan based on his spiritual house chant "Nogo," that seems like a definite triumph for the disc.
While World Groove concentrates on the popular eclectic-house style, World 2004 doesn't specifically concentrate on anything. And that's OK, because it means that a double-disc set bookended by modern foreign-dub sounds (Brazilians Fat Marley's multi-syncopated ghost dub "Xin," and New Zealand band Fat Freddy's Drop's epic "Hope") can contain within it straight tangos, klezmer confusions, Nigerian rap and a myriad of hyphenated hyperboles. There's not the thematic connection you'll find on World Groove: While there certainly is groove-oriented ethnic fusions here, like Sidestepper's "Dame Te Querer," a deep-bass slice of Cuban dance-floor machismo, and DJ Dolores Y Orchestra Santa Massa's Brazilian chant and drum and bass "A Danca da Moda," there're also cuts of more sentimental pallor, such as Israeli café crooner Chava Alberstein's "Fellini in New York" and the Italian equivalent, Gianmaria Testa's "Dentro al Cinema."
World Groove and World 2004 take two different approaches to dipping listeners' toes in the global musical pool, and each is successful in its own way. The modern vibe-filled coffeehouse groover will require each one to begin their descent into the big-city basement records shops where the Algerian dub discs sit next to bhangra Jay-Z remixes. But he or she will also require much more: It's just a start, but it's as good a one as any.