Gypsy roots, desert blues, bluegrass top world music

By Staff Reporter on May 02, 2012 11:19 AM EDT

Sitar player Anouska Shankar, whose album "Traveller" takes a journey through the music of India and Spanish flamenco to explore their shared Gypsy roots, was named Best Artist in Songlines magazine's annual world music awards.

At a time of political unrest in Mali, artists from there took two awards - veteran Sahara Desert bluesmen Tinariwen were named as Best Group while their young compatriot Fatoumata Diawara was Best Newcomer.

Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration went to renowned American cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his fellow musicians Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, who combine classical and bluegrass music on "The Goat Rodeo Sessions."

Shankar is the daughter of legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar and the half-sister of Norah Jones. For "Traveller she teamed up with the in-demand Spanish producer Javier Limon, Indian singer Shubha Mudgal, guitarist Pepe Habichuela and singer Buika among others, mixing ragas with flamenco rhythmns.

"She's an amazing sitar player and a heritage you can't beat. She's done classical sitar -- she's one of the best," Songlines publisher Simon Broughton told Reuters. "There's a link between Indian music and flamenco because of the gypsies, who originated in India, and that's what she's exploring. They have made something very special".

Tinariwen, a band of guitar-playing Tuareg, have enjoyed huge success since they emerged from the desert sands to world stages a decade ago. Supporters of an independent Tuareg state, the current strife in Mali has given their music a new topicality.

"They've taken African music to a whole new audience. And now this whole desert story, which we thought was history, is now very much a reality," Broughton said.

For their album "Tassili," they swapped their electric guitars for acoustic instruments.

"It's very laid around the campfire session, very chilled out. You really get the feeling of community from it."

Newcomer Fatoumata Diawara meanwhile has been delighting audiences across Europe in the past year while her debut album "Fatou" has been a best seller. At a show at London's Jazz Café in November, even the waitress jumped up on stage to dance.

"Mali is a hot spot of great music," Broughton said. "She is a very engaging singer. She's an important new voice on the scene. She's popping up at all the festivals."

Ma has often crossed musical frontiers, exploring tango, Brazilian and Asian themes in the past. On his latest venture , he and his cohorts blend classical with the banjos and mandolins of bluegrass for an album which, Broughton said, "never loses its sense of adventure."

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