In celebration of International Women’s Day March 8, Putamayo World Music will release a collection entitled Women of Spirit March 10. The album, featuring extraordinary women artists from around the world, takes the listener on an exciting journey – culturally, emotionally and musically.
Women of Spirit begins with a stunningly exotic duet by Scotland’s Capercaillie and Guinea’s Sibeba that establishes the tone of the album. In “Inexile,” the artists seamlessly blend the moods of Celtic and West African music. Subtle drumming creates a strong rhythmic core and complements jig-like fiddling that later becomes the focus of the song. The voices of the sisters in Sibeba provide an upbeat counterpoint to Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson’s dark, medieval sound.
Many songs on the album are in languages other than English. The absence of a “plot” to follow forces the English-speaking listener to appreciate aspects of the music potentially undervalued. Even if one does not understand the words, the songs are strong enough musically to impress.
One exception is Ani DiFranco’s “Done Wrong,” which seems jarringly out of place in the midst of the celebratory procession. Although not all the songs are happy, “Done Wrong” contains a bitterness that appears incongruous with the goal of “inspiring and uplifting” the listener, the creed written on the album cover. The vocal melody and instrumentals are one-dimensional.
Cassandra Wilson, on the other hand, produces a powerful expression of grief in “Death Letter.” Wilson’s understated, subtly expressive voice evokes the speaker’s sorrow at the death of a man she “didn’t know [she] loved until they laid him down.” The low “wah” of the guitar in the background brings to mind the sound of an organ, while the unexpected pluck of a mandolin adds brightness to the texture of the music.
It is difficult to highlight the best of an album so uniformly compelling. With Women of Spirit, Putamayo continues its tradition of exposing American audiences to worthwhile music difficult to pinpoint in the sea of world music available today.