10. Sarah Haras – Mirage
Bahraini experimental producer Sarah Haras meanders between ambience and aggression on Mirage, warping the distinctive oud melodies of Khaliji folk music within thick waves of distortion and shimmering, abstracted vocal patterns. The result encloses the listener in a trance-like sound bath that almost crosses into dancefloor catharsis.
9. Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
The self-taught Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar has been compared to Jimi Hendrix thanks to his aptitude for thundering distortion. Yet Afrique Victime sets him and his band squarely in their own lane, building colossal jams to replicate the force of their live shows and imbuing their lyrics with a narrative of protest against the postcolonial exploitation of the continent. Read the full review.
Joyous celebration … Balimaya Project. Photograph: No credit
8. Balimaya Project – Wolo So
This 16-piece London-based percussive ensemble is a force to be reckoned with. Merging the syncopated rhythms of the west African Mandé peoples with an improvisational jazz mentality, their debut album is a joyous celebration of drumming’s intrinsic power to move us – and to make us move.
7. Native Soul – Teenage Dreams
On their debut album, the South African duo channel amapiano, the country’s latest subgenre of house music. Combining minimal percussion with dubby momentum, the 18 and 19-year-old pair embody the claustrophobic urban setting of their music’s making in its combination of melodic darkness and clattering rhythms. Read the full review.
6. Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince
On Vulture Prince, dedicated to her late brother, vocalist and composer Arooj Aftab uses the existential yearning of Urdu ghazals to explore the painful, isolating experience of loss, eschewing traditional instrumentation for harps, strings and keys. But Aftab’s delicate voice is the star here, stretching syllables to contain ineffable emotion.
Self-assured debut … Jaubi. Photograph: Uzma Rao
5. Jaubi – Nafs at Peace
The Pakistani improvisational quartet followed 2020’s collaborative Ragas From Lahore LP with this remarkably self-assured debut group album. Meant to evoke a Qur’anic journeying of the self, it incorporates guitar and synths along with tabla and sarangi into an intuitive fusion. It reaches its apex on the title track as band members solo through spiritual jazz and Indian classical references. Read the full review.
4. Arushi Jain – Under the Lilac Sky
Reframing Indian classical ragas in the context of modernist modular synth composition, the Indian American composer set herself a potentially insurmountable task for her debut album. Yet the result is an intricate and engaging tessellation of drones, vocals and synth patterns, with its sequencing meant to evoke the calm passage of day to night. Read the full review.