100 Extraordinary women – Favourite female vocalists 2000 – 2009
27 SEPTEMBER 2009
I give you 100 songs by 100 extraordinary women (or in some cases, groups of women).
The only hard and fast rule was that the songs had to have been first released between 2000 and 2009. This left a vast amount to choose from, and I’m sure I’ll be coming across great artists that I missed for months if not years to come. The obvious omissions are all deliberate though. There is no place here for Britney, Kylie, Beyonce and Madonna, or for various other platinum selling and Grammy winning singers. These are of course personal choices, but let me try and justify them.
I looked for singers who stamped their own character on their songs. I was drawn toward women with strong identities, with strong control over the creative process, whose songs were identifiably theirs. I looked for great vocals, well written songs, and songs that moved me and that I wanted to listen to again and again. Numerous musical styles, cultures and countries are represented here : I wasn’t trying to tick any boxes, but I hope that I did represent some of the best of the cultures that I love. I have tended to exclude artists who did all their best work before 2000 – so in some cases good singers have been left out because I’ve been disappointed by their later output.
Many of these singers may be new to you, but I hope you’ll listen to some of them, there’s some amazing music here of great variety and I’ll certainly be restocking my ipod. Click on the song titles to watch youtube videos of the songs, on the album titles (in brackets) to check out or buy the album on Amazon, or on the artist names to go to their myspace page and listen to some more of their music.
All comments much appreciated – you can leave comments at the bottom of the page.
99 Stella Mwangi (STL) – Makalele (Living for Music 2008)
Stella Mwangi aka STL is a young Kenyan rapper currently working on her 2nd album. This is her response to the violence which rocked Kenya after the 2007 elections.
96 Joana Amendoeira – Sopra o Vento (À flor da pele 2006)
Portuguese fado singer. Fado is to Portugal what flamenco is to Spain, or tango to Argentina: the musical expression of a nation’s soul. Shot through with melancholy, and most often sung in a minor key, it’s sometimes called the Portuguese blues.
95 Anastacia – Made For Lovin’ You (Not That Kind 2000)
A pop singer with a big brassy voice, her career began late : she was already 30 when she appeared in the MTV talent show The Cut. This bluesy footstomper with shades of Tina Turner is from her debut album.
92 Tara Fuki – V dymu (Kapka 2003)
Tara Fuki are two women, Andrea and Dorota from the Czech Republic, both of whom play the cello and sing, creating intricate multilayered melodies. Kapka (Drop) was recorded in a renaissance chateau in Nesovice u Vyškova.
91 The Dresden Dolls – Girl Anachronism (The Dresden Dolls 2004)
Amanda Palmer describes the style of the Massachusetts duo as “Brechtian punk cabaret”, a phrase invented because she was “terrified” that the press would invent a name that “would involve the word gothic.”
90 Spinnerette – Valium Knights (Ghetto Love EP 2008)
Spinnerette are fronted by Australian Brody Dalle, former lead singer of The Distillers. “Booming drums incite each song, giving it a bigger than punk sound, guitars that sometimes crunch like hard rock and sometimes squeal like injured animals, a little synth injected here and there to give it a Saturday Night Live electronica parody groove. It’s all loud and coarse and thoroughly enjoyable. ” (blogcritics.org)
88 Stolen Babies – Year of Judges (There Be Squabbles Ahead 2006)
America’s Stolen Babies nearly defy description with their blend of metal, punk, new wave, electronica and cabaret. Singer Dominique Lenore Persi has a diverse singing range which includes a mighty aggressive scream. The album credits show that she also plays accordion, glockenspiel, and jaw harp.
85 Yungchen Lhamo – 9:11 (Ama 2006)
Tibetan singer, with a song inspired by her adopted city of New York : “I remember that feeling of helplessness. I think we all felt that. Then, of course, we all cried, no matter what country you were from. I moved to New York City with my son at the end of 2000, and America seemed like a monument or a flag to look up at. Now I travel the world, and when I see a city that looks like New York, it reminds me of that day. This song begins and ends with chants reminiscent of a puja for the people who died, with prayers to ease their passage to another world… In order for this tragedy not to happen again, what are we going to do about it? We can only hope the experience has made all of us more human.”
84 Flyleaf – Cassie (Flyleaf 2005)
One for you metalheads, though those who prefer to hear the acoustic version may click here. Cassie Bernall was a student killed in the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. It’s claimed that when one of the gunmen asked her whether she believed in God she answered ‘Yes’, upon which she was shot to death. This exchange, which probably never happened, is the basis of this song.
83 Beth Rowley – Nobody’s Fault But Mine (Little Dreamer 2008)
On her debut album the young Bristol singer seems to want to create a classic ageless sound. Here she takes on a traditional blues number. It shows the strength of her voice, though I’d like to see her show more originality.
82 Miss Kittin – Kittin is High (Batbox 2008)
Miss Kittin is a French DJ. On record she makes magnificent deadpan incantations in a seductive French accent over heavy and funky basslines. The mood is dark but playful.
80 Iyeoka Okoawo – Revolution
Nigerian American performance poet residing in Boston, whose recordings combine spoken word poetry with jazz, blues, gospel and electronic soul. She’s considered one of America’s leading slam poets and has been compared to Nina Simone. “My poems speak of the world around me, inside me, and the world that I want to create. I have poems about women, sisterhood, struggle, love, dreams, heartbreak, and heritage. I write poems of politics, potential, confidence, religion, faith … you name it. I write every day.”
79 Florence and the Machine – Dog days are over (Lungs 2009)
Critically acclaimed rock group who released their much anticipated debut album in July 2009. One of the nominees for the 2009 Mercury Music Prize, they were the bookies favourites to win, though the award went to another female artist Speech Debelle.
78 Corinne Bailey Rae – Choux Pastry Heart (Corinne Bailey Rae 2006)
Having fronted a Leeds indie band as a teenager, she has reinvented herself as a pop/soul solo artist. She says “I love classic songs: because they are so pure and succinct. That’s what I tried to do with my own songs. They are short and sweet, to the point. I like the idea of leaving people wanting more.”
77 Keri Hilson – Tell Him The Truth (In a Perfect World… 2009)
After three years in production, Hilson’s debut album was released this year to mixed reviews. Reviewers praised her voice but said that the singer who’d previously written hits for several other artists hadn’t sufficiently stamped her own identity on her material. Forget the hype and the controversy, this is imply a great R&B song. The backing track is produced by Timbaland.
76 Kiran Ahluwalia – Koka (Kiran Ahluwalia 2005)
As described in the liner notes, ghazals are originally poems, which are set to music and become songs. Ahluwalia, an Indian woman who grew up in Canada, rediscovered this creative art form and designed music to accompany the words of modern day Indian poets. Her inspiration was the discovery of poems written in Urdu and Punjabi by three Toronto Canadian residents of Indian descent. Kiran has asked me to mention that she’s performing at the London Jazz Festival on Nov 17th 2009.
75 Over the Rhine – Ohio (Ohio 2003)
OTR are husband and wife team Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist who named their band after a neighbourhood in Cincinnati Ohio. This ballad with piano accompaniment is one of many highlights on a wide ranging double album.
74 Mayra Andrade – Lua (Navega 2006)
From her website : “In 2006, this new voice emerged from the Cape Verdean archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean with her debut album Navega, a collection of songs that are as grounded in the traditional music from her homeland as they are nourished by different musical styles and colours … Her childhood was immersed in the greatest voices from Cape Verde, but her music draws on all possible sources from radical free jazz to Brazilian music.”
73 Jill Scott – Easy Conversation (Brown Sugar (compilation) 2002)
Scott is an award winning American R&B singer whose easy laid back style epitomises ‘nu soul’. She’s also a published poet and an accomplished actress, currently playing the lead role in the wonderful BBC series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
71 Metric – Sick muse (Fantasies 2009)
Fantasies is the Canadian rock combo’s 3rd album. It was shortlisted for the 2009 Polaris Music Prize, but they found out this week they’d missed out on the prize. Emily Haines “calls Fantasies the ‘simplest and clearest’ writing she’s done, and that direct approach connects well on Sick Muse, Gold Guns Girls, and Gimme Sympathy. (Chorus: ‘Who would you rather be, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?’) The sound avoids fussiness, too: guitar, bass, synth, and percussion, no bloat. ” (The Onion)
69 Moya Brennan – Change my world (Two Horizons 2003)
Brennan played a key role in the revival of Celtic music, having co-founded Clannad in 1970 and recorded 17 albums with them. She launched her solo career in 1992. Two Horizons is a concept album centered on the ancient Hill of Tara, north of Dublin, where kings came to be crowned and harpers came to memorialize their feats in song. Brennan herself plays harp throughout the album.
68 Joss Stone – What were we thinking (Introducing Joss Stone 2007)
White British girls don’t usually make the best soul singers, but Stone carries it off pretty well. She says “Hey, you ignore these things, if you dwell on it then you keep it going – the more you talk about it, and the more you label things as black and white. I don’t label music as a colour, or any style as a colour. It’s just a different shade of skin.” Still only 22, she’s currently in dispute with her record company EMI.
67 Jennifer Hudson – We Gon’ Fight (Jennifer Hudson 2008)
Winner of the 2009 Grammy for best R&B album. The album is a showcase for the stunning vocal talent of the former American Idol finalist, though the songs aren’t all that memorable.
66 Le Tigre – Keep on livin’ (Feminist Sweepstakes 2004)
Kathleen Hanna is a former member of the 1990s punk band Bikini Kill. Unlike Bikini Kill, Le Tigre made heavy use of the drum machine, but the energy and anger is retained. Feminist Sweepstakes has been refered to as “agit pop” for the swipes it takes against various targets, though this song is more about self-affirmation.
64 Hollie Smith – Philosophy (Long Player 2008)
Debut album from the Kiwi soul singer. “It sounds like the balance between singer and songwriter is still weighted heavily towards the former. Though when it fires, and when she hits those big, high, deep, long, loud notes on the better tracks, you also get the feeling this is the beginning of something special, the start of something major. ” (The New Zealand Herald)
63 KT Tunstall – Someday Soon (Drastic Fantastic 2007)
Following the unexpected success of her debut album Eye to the Telescope, the Scottish singer songwriter has created a more poppy radio-friendly follow up, but which still includes wistful gems like this.
62 Vienna Teng – Eric’s song (Waking Hour 2002)
Vienna Teng is a Taiwanese American pianist and singer-songwriter based in NYC. Many of the songs on this album are just piano and vocals proving that she can write a good melody as well as a good song.
60 Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions – Charlotte (Bavarian Fruit Bread 2001)
LA’s Hope Sandoval, frontwoman of Mazzy Star, teamed up with Colm O’Ciosoig (formerly of My Bloody Valentine) to form the band. The project retained the laid-back, slowcore sound of Mazzy Star, and much like Mazzy Star, featured Sandoval’s sensuous, hypnotic voice.
57 Alela Diane – Pirate’s gospel (The Pirate’s Gospel 2006)
Enchanting debut album from the Californian born singer songwriter, now based in Portland, Oregon. In 2009 her musician father Tom Menig quit his day job as a dental technician to go on tour with Diane as a guitarist in her band.
55 Natacha Atlas – Etheric Messages (Foretold in the Language of Dreams 2002)
Music to chill to, or find God to. A departure not only from her recordings with Transglobal Underground but also from her previous solo albums in which she established herself as a diva of quality Arabic dance music.
54 Anaïs Mitchell – Changer (The Brightness 2007)
A gifted singer songwriter with an odd childlike voice, Mitchell grew up on a Vermont sheep farm. In The Brightness, we are told, “listeners are transported to Bethlehem and the Virginia countryside; they bathe in New Mexico moonlight and hear the world whizzing by from the inside of a hobo’s train car. But for all of its worldliness, this is a lovingly homemade album. During the recording process, Anaïs lived above the studio, which was built into an old Vermont gristmill. She could wake up, shake the sleep out of her eyes and record tracks in her pajamas.”
53 Dadawa – In the Setting of the Sun (Seven Days 2006)
Seven Days, an album of Chinese folk melodies, finished as a top-ten CD in China in 2006, remarkably for an alternative music album in that market. Her work on this ground breaking CD was recognized in 2006 by an MTV Asia award for “Leading Female Artist” and the Tom.com award for “Most Influential Woman in Chinese Music”. She is considered to be the pioneer “indie” artist in China, having independently produced her music, videos and films for over a decade.
52 Lura – Raboita Di Rubon Manel (Di Korpu Ku Alma 2005)
Although she was born and grew up in Lisbon, Lura identifies herself as Cape Verdian, the homeland of her parents, and is now following in the footsteps of the great Césaria Évora in bringing the music of the west African islands to a global audience. She has a lighter style compared to Évora, bringing to the mix African dance styles such as Batuku and pop influences.
51 Feist – How My Heart Behaves (The Reminder 2007)
Canadian singer who also performs with the group Broken Social Scene. At Canada’s 2008 Juno awards she won 5 awards including Songwriter of the Year, Artist of the Year, Pop Album of the Year, Album of the Year and Single of the Year. The Reminder is gentle unfussy indie pop in which the vocals are dominant.
50 Bat for Lashes – Sarah (Fur & Gold 2006)
“A Bat for Lashes gig isn’t a performance so much as a visit to Khan’s weird world; a Lewis Carroll landscape of fairytales, princesses, monsters and places – in the evocative Daniel – she ‘runs to in the dark’. Her cut-glass cries and impeccable piano-playing drive music of incredible drama, as if she is trying to break free from the mundane into some otherworldly dimension.” (The Guardian) This song was inspired by a dark sounding novel by JT Leroy.
49 Juliette And The Licks – Shelter Your Needs (…Like a Bolt of Lightning 2004)
Oscar nominated actress Juliette Lewis has appeared in dozens of films, but loves the thrill of being on stage at a rock gig: “Onstage I’m the opposite of shy. I’m the opposite of the girl who wants to look pretty and be liked. I’m somebody who’s spastic and puts myself out there. My heart’s in it, so it’s fun.” The Licks disbanded this year and Lewis has formed a new band The New Romantiques.
47 Mounira Mitchala – Koulnodji (Talou Lena 2008)
Mitchala, known as ‘la panthere douce du Tchad’, is noted for her strong voice and her reinterpretation of traditional Chadian music. In this song she denounces forced marriage and expresses her support for African women oppressed by certain traditions.
45 Souad Massi – Ghir Enta (Deb (Heart Broken) 2003)
Massi is an Algerian singer who since touring with rock band Atakor in the 1990s has created a fusion of styles including more traditional music during her fabulously successful solo career.
42 Julie Fowlis – Ille Dhuinn, ‘s toiigh Leam Thu (Cuilidh 2007)
Fowlis grew up in North Uist, a Gaelic speaking community in the Outer Hebrides. She sings mainly in Gaelic and sees herself as an ambassador for Hebridean culture. In 2008 she was named BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year, and was named by the Scottish Parliament as Scotland’s Gaelic Ambassador – “Tosgaire na Gàidhlig”, the first person to ever receive this honour.
40 Kissey Asplund – Fuss ‘n’ fight (Plethora 2008)
I’ll let Amazon do the talking : “the debut album from Swedish soul sensation Kissey Asplund is a genre defying journey through jazz, hip-hop, dance music, and soul, all with a fresh futuristic twist. Kissey takes us through a range of day-to-day stories of love lost and found, friendships betrayed, relationships on the rocks and even astral traveling. ”
39 Amy Martin – What You’re For
When asked, “What is folk music, anyway?”, Martin said, “To me, it’s music that has an address and a hometown; it comes from somewhere, and it knows it. It speaks to its own time, knows its history, has hopes for the future. It has dirt under its fingernails and lines around its eyes. It hasn’t had the crankiness washed out of it. Musicians are supposed to want fame and glory and billions of dollars these days, but that feels hollow to me. I just want to make music, and to make a life in music. My intention is to do my soul’s work every day. I feel successful when I manage to do that.” She’s done a lot more than this : she’s got her own independent label, Raven’s Wing Records; she’s community music director for the Missoula Family YMCA; she often tours the US supporting various campaigns. I believe this video was made as part of the 2008 Obama election campaign – download the song for free here.
38 Beth Orton – What we begin (Comfort of Strangers (bonus track)2006)
“A folk-rock gem that outfits Orton’s elegant, autumnal daydreams with the comfy, rustic feel of a Nick Drake record.” (Rolling Stone)
37 Yasmin Levy – Naci En Alamo (Vengo) (La Juderia 2005)
Levy’s father was a musicologist and head of the Ladino department at Israel’s national radio station. Although he died when she was a baby, his recordings and the heritage he helped to preserve have greatly influenced her music. In 2002 she went to Seville to study flamenco music; and this, her acclaimed 2nd album, is influenced by flamenco as well as her own Sephardic tradition.
36 Mor Karbasi – Judia (The Beauty and the Sea 2008)
Karbasi is a young London based Israeli singer. “Mor’s voice fills the room. It’s got a range and fluid flexibility……. It’s rich and warm with a finely delivered emotional intensity. The Beauty and the Sea is a remarkable debut.” (Folk Roots)
35 Eleni Mandell – Artificial Fire (Artificial Fire 2009)
Underrated Californian indie artist Eleni Mandell says part of the reason she’s been so prolific as a songwriter is that she’s had so many bad boys to provide dark inspiration. “I feel a little overly intrigued by seedy characters. From a distance it’s what makes them attractive, but in the end it’s what drives you crazy.”
33 Conya Doss – Sign (Love Rain Down 2006)
The singer from Cleveland Ohio is wholly committed to her day job of teaching special needs children. Politics are important in her life (she recorded the song Obama for change) and in her music which is why she’s serious about not recording for the major labels – “My integrity is also important, so I have creative control. There is a definite benefit to being an independent artist. It gives you a peace of mind as you are not rushed on projects and it keeps you grounded.” Her music has received many accolades, and this acoustic soul track shows the reasons why.
32 Thao with the Get Down Stay Down – Beat (Health, Life and Fire) (We Brave Bee Stings and All 2008)
Infectious joyous indie pop from the USA. The band’s 2nd album Know Better Learn Faster is due for release October 13th.
30 Lauryn Hill – I Find It Hard to Say (Rebel) (MTV unplugged 2.0 2002)
Hill’s brilliant personal and soulful 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill won 5 Grammys and universal acclaim, but it didn’t bring her happiness. She became disillusioned with the music industry and dropped out of public life, focusing on her family and on her religious studies. The acoustic album MTV Unplugged was an extraordinary personal statement. With little regard for artistic expectations she poured her complex and at times bizarre thoughts on spirituality and her troubled life out in song. Critics were baffled, Rolling Stone calling the album “a public breakdown”, but it still found a sympathetic audience. This is one of the more accessible tracks, written after the shooting of Amadou Diallo by the New York police in 1999.
28 Kate Bush – King Of The Mountain (Aerial 2005)
The first album for 12 years from the British singer with the distinctive dramatic voice. It contains no great surprises musically, but it’s an album that noone else could have made, and the quality is top drawer. The mood is peaceful and contemplative. As the Guardian put it, it’s “packed with songs that make commonplace events sound extraordinary”.
27 Alison Krauss with Robert Plant – Trampled Rose (Raising Sand 2007)
This Tom Waits song is from her outstanding collaboration with Robert Plant. The project was managed and produced by T Bone Burnett. “Charged with selecting both supporting musicians and material that would illuminate the connection between these two unique artists, Burnett succeeded wondrously. Built on a shared core of modal blues and country soul, filtered through alternating layers of unadorned tenderness and thick, shifting textures, the sounds on Raising Sand extend well beyond anyone’s expectations.” Raising Sand won Album of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards.
26 50 Foot Wave – Clara Bow (Golden Ocean 2005)
Kristin Hersh has released some 16 albums with the Throwing Muses and as a solo artist. Supported here by bassist Bernard Georges and drummer Rob Ahlers, Hersh delivers cogent lyrics in a furious hard hitting style.
25 Aster Aweke – Kabu Tenidobign (Aster’s Ballads 2004)
Aster Aweke has recorded some 20 albums over 3 decades and brought Ethiopian music to the world stage. On this album she brings traditional African folk melodies to life with her skilful arrangements and expressive voice.
24 Erykah Badu – Time’s a Wastin’ (Mama’s Gun 2002)
Her songs are beautifully produced, they seem to flow effortlessly, rising above almost all contemporary R&B by their artistry, and through the warmth, humanity and intelligence of the lyrics.
23 Aynur Dogan – Edali Gelin
Aynur is a Turkish Kurd who makes music rooted in Kurdish tradition. It is not long since Kurdish music was banned in Turkey, and in 2005 a provincial court in Diyarbakir issued a decision (later repealed) to ban Aynur’s Keçe Kurdan album because the title track “encouraged women to go up into the mountains and engage in separatism”.
21 Sleater Kinney – Entertain (The Woods 2005)
Carrie Brownstein : “Corin left a message for me one day saying that we would call ourselves Sleater-Kinney. Up until that moment it had only been a road in a neighboring town. Now it was us. If band names were like baby names, we had picked a Gilbert or Sinclair or Beatrice. When we said, ‘We’ve picked out a name’, we always got a ‘Hmm’, or a head scratch, or a comment as soon as we left the room, like ‘that poor kid will be teased endlessly’. Never listen to other people’s advice about your band name. Otherwise, you will end up with an Ashley, or a Madison.” From the punk influenced band’s 7th and final album.
20 Rokia Traoré – Kèlè mandi (Bowmboï 2003)
“Traoré’s brilliant third album, Bowmboï, is dominated by acoustic instruments and is built upon musical traditions that would have been familiar to her great-grandparents in Mali. But she surrounds her melodies with odd, moody harmonies and infuses her lyrics with irony and nuance. This is a very different kind of African album. The rhythms are more often implied than stated; the arrangements are sparse; and the vocals possess the quiet intimacy of private conversations. ” (Washington Post)
17 Gillian Welch – Elvis Presley Blues (Time (The Revelator) 2003)
Welch performs on the album with her partner and musical collaborator David Rawlings. The album is recorded live, much of it is first takes, and there is very little overdubbing. The result is a stripped down intricately arranged piece of music influenced by and echoing traditional Appalachian folk and old-time country, but also with a contemporary feel.
16 Amber Rubarth – You Will Love This Song (New Green Lines 2008)
Young folk pop singer singwriter from Reno, now based in NYC. The lyrics have such freshness and humour and vulnerability, I love it. But it was another song from the album, Washing Day, which took the 1st place award in the 2007 International Songwriting Competition (Lyrics), which was judged in part by her musical hero, Tom Waits.
14 Goldfrapp – Strict Machine (Black Cherry 2003)
“Where the British pop-electronica duo’s acclaimed debut Felt Mountain was all fur coats and cigarette holders, Black Cherry‘s glam-industrial synths evoke vinyl catsuits, sequined stockings and comparisons to new wave/synth-pop outfits like Blondie and the Eurythmics” (Popmatters). This song is about lab rats in neuroscience experiments.
13 Césaria Évora – Beijo Roubado (Voz d’amor 2004)
Évora achieved success late in life and was over 60 when this album was recorded. “Long known as the queen of the morna, a soulful
genre sung in Creole-Portuguese, she mixes her sentimental folk tunes
filled with longing and sadness with the acoustic sounds of guitar,
cavaquinho, violin, accordian, and clarinet. Évora’s Cape Verdean blues
often speak of the country’s long and bitter history of isolation and
slave trade, as well as emigration: almost two-thirds of the million
Cape Verdeans alive live abroad. “Morna is like the blues because it is
a way to express life’s suffering in music.” ”
12 Mary Gauthier – Mercy Now (Mercy Now 2005)
Louisiana’s Mary Gauthier was another late starter : she began writing songs at age 35. She writes in a folk country style from her life experiences be it family, herself or people she’s met along her incredible life.
11 Concha Buika – Mi niña Lola (Mi Niña Lola 2007)
The husky voiced Buika, backed here by piano, cello and percussion, is a Spanish singer of African descent equally at home singing flamenco, soul, rumba and jazz. In September 2008 she came to international attention with a Grammy nomination for Latin album of the year, Asked to define herself, she says, “Yo soy bisexual, trifásica y tridimensional.”
9 Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Date with the Night (Fever to Tell 2003)
Karen O : “I think the reason we started the band was because we wanted to have fun and fuck around … we want to make a raucous, noisy, emotionally cathartic sound. We were living in New York at a time when people stood there with their arms crossed in the audience, and just felt really indifferent or ambivalent about music. You wanted to just smack them, you know? Break a beer bottle over their head, to wake ‘em up and make them feel something, and that’s still what we want to do now. We want to shake the unshakable, to stir things up, and that’s a lot of the spirit of Zero; it’s like ‘Come on man! Come on! Just feel something, escape, whatever, whatever the emotion is just feel it!’. ”
8 Oumou Sangare – Donso (Seya 2009)
Oumou Sangare is a superstar in her native Mali, home of so many great musicians. Seya (Joy) is her first album for six years. “Perhaps the most fascinating song on the album is Donso. This smouldering bluesy number pays tribute to the traditional hunters of the Wassoulou region. These revered men were not only warriors and protectors, but also healers, philosophers and musicians. Through a contemplation of the nobility of this hunting caste Oumou manages to reinstate a positive view of manhood, thereby healing the wound caused by her father’s abandonment. The pain and anger that it generated have hitherto defined Oumou’s music and her mission to champion the cause of women. In 2005 Oumou’s father Bari Sangare was killed in a car crash. Before he died, Oumou managed to reconcile herself with him.” (The Independent)
7 Sainkho Namtchylak – Old melodie (Stepmother City 2001)
Namtchylak is ‘a woman of the steppes’, a singer from the Russian autonomous republic of Tuva, 4000 meters high from sea-level between Siberia and Mongolia; her music encompasses avant-jazz, electronica, modern composition and Tuvan influences. “Some people perceive traditional music as like a piece of stone from the prehistorical time; archaeologist, he finds it and he keeps it the way it is. But some people really believe that music is a floating river”
6 PJ Harvey – A place called home (Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea 2000)
From the album that won the 2001 Mercury music prize (news of which reached the band while on tour in Washington DC on the fateful day of September 11th). Rock music from the soul.
5 Missy Elliott – 4 my people (Miss E… So Addictive 2001)
The best selling female hip hop artist of all time, and probably also the most influential, she’s stayed at the top through hard work and by pushing herself creatively. This is a supercharged track, there’s so much happening on it.
4 Björk – Aurora (Vespertine 2001)
Every Björk album is unique, with its own sound and feel and instrumentation. After the bleakly beautiful landscapes of Homogenic, Vespertine is a more lush and personal tapestry of electronic music and strings and Björk’s uniquely alien, spectral vocal. “Vespertine is like… those days when it’s snowing outside, and you’re inside with a cup of cocoa and everything’s very magical. You’re euphoric, but you don’t speak for days ’cause you don’t want to.”
3 Patty Griffin – Up to the mountain (Children Running Through 2007)
I’d like to know what Patty Griffin does for her encores. The singer songwriter from Maine has so many strong songs it seems that everyone has their own favourite. She’s admired by her peers, and many other artists have covered her songs. In the end I chose this ballad inspired by a speech of Martin Luther King.
2 Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (Back to Black 2006)
Dark sultry breakup song from the Back to Black album which has sold over 15 million copies and won 5 grammy awards for the singer songwriter with the stormy lifestyle.
1 Mia – Paper Planes (Kala 2007)
British woman of Sri Lankan origin notable for her raw exciting danceable genre-hopping recordings. This song samples Straight to Hell by the Clash, along with gunshots and cash register ringing, and has brilliant subversive lyrics satirising the stereotype that illegal immigrants only want to take Americans money – yet it has stormed the charts around the world, has received massive critical acclaim, and was featured in the film Slumdog Millionaire.