No matter what record stores or radio stations may tell you, there is no single genre of music called "World Music." Artists in Africa sound different from artists in Ireland, and both sound different from the native sounds of Spain. Putumayo World Music is one of America's biggest record labels catering to fns of music from around the world, but even it can sometimes forget that.
Travel the World with Putumayo is a compilation of music videos from around the world, which has its inherent advantages and disadvantages. There is no guarantee that just because a listener enjoys, say, African tribal chants that said listener will also appreciate Brazilian electro-bossa and traditional Gaelic music.
However, the disc serves as a buffet of sorts for those who are willing to turn off top 40 radio or MTV in search of different types of music. Not all of the tracks will appeal to everyone, but there will be something on this disc for any individual viewer.
So, with the caveats in place that music tastes can vary wildly between individuals and that all of the music on Travel the World with Putumayo is well made, these were the standout tracks for me:
The most disappointing songs for me were the Brazilian efforts (by Chico Cesar and Rita Ribeiro). Both were very Africa-influenced, which added to an already Africa-centric focus to the DVD; African artists recorded half of the disc's songs and contributed both of the live performances. It's doubly disappointing because Putumayo has such a deep roster of Brazilian artists, including some excellent bossa nova musicians.
- Gotan Project, Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre): The most crossover-friendly song on the DVD, with obvious nods to bands along the Thievery Corporation/18th Street Lounge Music label wavelength. It's a sample-driven piece of downbeat that fizzles a bit towards the end, but shows promise.
- Tukuleur, Africa: Hip-hop is global, and the duo Tukuleur shows off its Senegalese roots in the video for Africa. Sampling 80s hits also is apparently worldwide; the hook for the song is lifted directly from the Toto hit of the same name. Never underestimate the power of Puffy.
- Mary Jane Lamond, Bog a Lochain: An ethereal voice singing in Gaelic. What's not to love?
- Kotoja, Sawale: Perfectly acceptable reggae from Nigeria.
It is nearly impossible to give an across the board video grade for Travel the World with Putumayo. Different directors and different production companies in different countries around the world filmed each of the videos. The transfer of said videos is about what one could expect from a showing on digital cable.
The sound is a pretty straightforward 2.0 stereo, with the effect no different than that of MTV or VH-1. There's been no discernable attempt to "re-master" any of the videos and no tricks or gimmicks (throwing drums on one channel and vocals on another, for instance).
There are two live performances included for songs from Oliver Mtukudzi and Habib Koite. Neither truly captures the energy of live music and both come off as flat as a result.
Also included is a featurette on the founding and story of Putumayo, a self-congratulatory fluff piece that makes the label sound like its goal in life is to save the cultural soul of ignorant Americans.
Travel the World with Putumayo qualifies as a "must rent." It's difficult to recommend buying it because very few people will love every single one of the 12 videos included on the disc. But it is a great starting point for someone interested in expanding his/her musical tastes. Think of Travel the World with Putumayo as a "world music" sampler plate, then seek out CDs of the artists that appeal to you.