The term "world music" is a matter of perspective. In the United States, it's applied generally to anything from outside the U.S.-U.K. pop culture axis.
"In South Africa, you know, music from America is called 'world music,'" Albert Mazibuko, longtime tenor in the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo (above), tells the Sun-Times from his South African home. "But, you know, now all music is world music. It doesn't come from over there, from the 'world.' The world is everywhere."
In the year ahead, that may seem truer than ever. From many corners of the world, 2012 may sound something like 1986, the year the world outside South Africa learned about the then-20-year-old group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, via their collaboration with Paul Simon on his Grammy-winning "Graceland" album.
The mid-'80s featured cultural crossovers from David Byrne & Brian Eno's shortwave production of "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" through Peter Gabriel working with Senegal singer Youssou N'Dour or Lou Reed and Iggy Pop guesting with Yemeni-Israeli singer Ofra Haza.
That whirlwind of success also had its perks for Mambazo -- one of which lead directly to the group's latest album.
"'Graceland' did so many things for ourselves and for our country and for the world," Mazibuko says. "We have collaborated with many wonderful artists since then. The one that always stands out for me is when we recorded with Dolly Parton. ... Our wives loved her! She was their favorite. Even before we joined with Paul Simon, they were always putting on Dolly Parton's music. It was great to meet her and work with her. After 30 minutes in the studio, she disappeared. Then she comes back with a totally different attire, head to toe. It was amazing. I thought, 'Is this a fashion show or a recording session?'"
On Tuesday, the group releases a new double album, "Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Friends," a collection of the group's collaborations with pop stars stretching back to the 1980s. It includes the songs "Homeless" and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" from the "Graceland" album, as well as later versions of both songs recorded with Sarah McLachlan and Melissa Etheridge, respectively. Other pairings on the album include Des'ree ("Ain't No Sunshine"),Taj Mahal ("Mbube"), Emmylou Harris ("Amazing Grace"), Natalie Merchant ("Rain Rain Beautiful Rain"), the late Lou Rawls ("Chain Gang") and the late Phoebe Snow ("People Get Ready"). It also opens with "Knocking on Heaven's Door," performed with Parton.
Last fall, Simon announced he would tour the "Graceland" album, with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, in 2012.
The volume of worldly collaborations is increasing as the new year opens, and many more are expected in the months ahead.
Former Blur and current Gorillaz front man Damon Albarn, for instance, plans to spring several new globe-trotting sounds. In addition to touring Africa Express, Albarn's jam sessions with U.S.-U.K. musicians and those from the nation of Mali, the debut recording is expected from Rocket Juice & the Moon, a trio comprised of Albarn, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and revered Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen (Fela Kuti). The three debuted in October at a festival in Ireland, performing a series of tuneful, rhythmically charged songs. Parts of the debut album were recorded in Chicago.
Rocket Juice & the Moon, "Poison" (live)
Albarn also has hosted regular showcases in London for several international acts signed to his record label, Honest Jon's, including Chicago's own Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. This innovative, long-tone horn band from the South Side -- eight brothers, all sons of Sun Ra Arkestra trumpter Phil Cohran -- supported Blur's 2009 reunion concerts and toured with the Gorillaz. The group released a new EP, "Bulletproof Brass," a few weeks ago.
In Chicago, "Represent Africa" is a new monthly performance series on the third Thursday of each month, spotlighting "musicians and poets of African origin based in America." Its second installment features Brooklyn-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador, Jan. 19 at the Shrine, 2109 S. Wabash.
Some other world music collaborations and rising stars poised for an American pop cultural visa:
-- Touareg rock band Tinariwen has made a name for Saharan music in recent years, appearing numerous times in Chicago, and its just-released album "Tassili" features contributions from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of TV On the Radio and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline.
-- Move over, Cee Lo Green. StooShe, a British-Ghanaian hip-hop trio, releases its second single next month, titled "F--- Me." The collaboration with U.S. rapper Travie McCoy sounds like the Spice Girls with actual R&B chops.
-- Expect to hear more K-pop (from Korea), a geographical genre that just launched its own festival (K-Pop World, Dec. 7 in Seoul). Kanye West previously worked with the trio JYJ (rapping on the single "Ayyy Girl") and has said he plans to do more with the group. South Korea's Super Junior, allegedly the largest boy band in the world at 13 members, is expected to tour more widely. Also, "Bubble Pop," a bubblegum hit from South Korean idol Kim Hyun-a, scored No. 9 on Spin magazine's list of the best singles from 2011.
-- Mirami is a trio of Ukranian women with model-good looks. The sexy, writhing videos have spread online, but it's the sharp dance-pop that has sustained the group's growing popularity.
-- Tokyo quartet the Okamotos, ape the Ramones in their pop-punk sound as well as their names (each 19-year-old member has taken the stage surname Okamoto). Their festival bookings are getting further and further out. Meanwhile, wildly popular Japanese orchestral-metal band X Japan continues its belated infiltration of the West, which began with its U.S. debut at Lollapalooza 2010. Drummer-singer Yoshiki has composed the music for Sunday's Golden Globes telecast.
-- Now that relations are thawing with the south Asian country of Myanmar, the girl band Me N Ma Girls (nice play on words) is finding fans beyond its borders.
-- Adele Emeli Sandé perhaps wisely has dropped her first name, but this Scottish R&B singer (hailed by Simon Cowell as his "favorite," for whatever that fleeting compliment is worth) releases her debut album in June (delayed from February). She's written songs for dozens of others, from matronly singer Susan Boyle to rapper Tinie Tempah, and her scorching contributions to others' recordings (see rapper Wiley's retread of "Never Be Your Woman") have turned heads.
Meanwhile, Ladysmith's Mazibuko is looking to February for a repeat of the African group's success at the Grammys on Feb. 12. "Songs From a Zulu Farm," their 2011 album, is nominated for best world music album.
"I believe we're going to get this one!" he says. "It's in the world music category, and the world knows us now."
Concerts and albums, winter into spring
Several pillars of pop and rock music have scheduled album releases and inevitable tours later in 2012, including Bruce Springsteen, U2, Green Day, Muse, Queens of the Stone Age, Soundgarden, George Michael and the return of Madonna.
In the more immediate future, here are some albums and concerts scheduled in the coming winter and spring months:
The Kills -- One of my favorite shows in 2011, this gritty rock duo should hit just as hard on the return trip. Jan. 20 at the Riviera Theatre. jamusa.com
Ringo Starr -- The wee Beatle is back, with more all-stars in tow, for a new album creatively titled "Ringo 2012." Guests include Van Dyke Parks, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Dave Stewart, Joe Walsh and more. Due Jan. 24 (Hip-O/UMe).
Glen Campbell -- The country legend says farewell on his final tour. Jan. 26-27 at the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet. rialtosquare.com
Lana Del Rey -- Her "Video Games" single was one of the best of '11, and now the debut album from this "gangster Nancy Sinatra" finally appears. Due Jan. 31 (Interscope).
Bobby Womack -- A soul legend leads a powerful bill that includes Millie Jackson and Lattimore. Feb. 4 at the Venue at Horseshoe Casino in Hammond. ticketmaster.com
Jeff Mangum -- The elusive voice behind indie-rock's Neutral Milk Hotel returns. Feb. 6-7 at the Athenaeum Theater. Sold out.
Paul McCartney -- The twee Beatle is back, with more all-stars in tow, for a new album of standards cheekily titled "Kisses on the Bottom." Guests include Eric Clapton, Diana Krall and Stevie Wonder. Due Feb. 7 (Hear Music).
Van Halen -- It's the band's first album with singer David Lee Roth since 1984. Due Feb. 7 (Interscope). Then the reunited band hits Chicago for two shows: Feb. 24 at United Center and April 1 at Allstate Arena. ticketmaster.com.
Peter Frampton -- Wah, wah-wah wah-wah wah. Yes, he's playing "Frampton Comes Alive." Feb. 25 at Chicago Theatre. jamusa.com.
The Del Fuegos -- Dan Zanes sings kids' music now, but when he was a youth himself he and his brother led this garage-rock band, now reunited. Feb. 25 at Lincoln Hall. lincolnhallchicago.com
The Shins -- The indie-rock heroes are finally bringing a new album, "Port of Morrow," produced by Greg Kurstin. Due in March (Aural Apothecary/Columbia).
Lady Antebellum -- The biggest name in new country swings through on an arena tour. March 9 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont. jamusa.com
EMA -- Erika M. Anderson wowed at Pitchfork 2011. Her brooding rock will sound even better in the dark. March 10 at Lincoln Hall. lincolnhallchicago.com
Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble -- The Band's drummer takes his regular hootenannies from the farm to the road, with several guests in tow. March 16-17 at the Old Town School of Folk Music. oldtownschool.org
The Black Keys -- This band's full-frontal guitar attack has earned them mainstream raves and now an arena tour. March 19 at United Center. jamusa.com
B.B. King -- If you've never seen the blues legend, go. If you've seen him a dozen times, go again. March 22-23 at House of Blues. houseofblues.com/chicago.
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds -- Liam Gallagher's Beady Eye was through last year, now it's Noel's post-Oasis project. April 1 at Riviera Theatre. jamusa.com