Not  a compilation of my favourite music from 2018, but ten tracks from bands, singers and music that I discovered for the first time last year. Many I should have known about already, but I’m glad I’ve discovered now. And I might make this an annual post…


Driss El Maloumi, Imtidad
(from the album Makan)

Possibly my favourite discovery from last year. Driss El Maloumi is a Moroccan oud player, his style lyrical and haunting, melding classical Arabic and modern jazz, and quite gorgeous.


Eric Bibb, Rory Block & Maria Muldaur, Bessie’s Advice
(from the album Sisters & Brothers)

This, too, could be my favourite discovery from last year – it’s a 2004 album by Eric Bibb, Maria Muldaur and Rory Block. Each, on their own, is decent without being outstanding. Together, they have created a stunning album on the borders of jazz, gospel and blues.


Mahsa Vahdat, Vanishing Lines
(from the album Traces of an Old Vineyard)

I’d heard of Masha Vahdat (she works with Freemuse, the anti-censorship music organization with which I’m also involved) but never really listened to her. Banned, as a woman, from singing in public in her native Iran she has extraordinary bravery in continuing to teach in Iran and to perform and record outside. She also possesses a wonderfully soulful voice.



RL Burnside, Just Like a Bird Without a Feather
(From the album First Recordings)

I’ve long been a fan of the blues guitarist Cedric Burnside, but I’ve really listened to Burnside senior before. And more’s the pity. It’s a terrific updating of delta blues.


Kaleo, No Good
(from the album A/B)

An Icelandic band that reminds me of a bit of Gomez from the 1990s.


The War and Treaty, Are You Ready to Love Me?
(from the album Healing Tide)

In some ways a throwback to 70s r’n’b, The War and Treaty – aka Michael and Tanya Trotter – provide a kind of swamp Southern funky sound.


Tarek Abdallah & Adel Shams El-Din,
Ni Sama’l Ni Qadim
(from the album Wasla)

Another master oud player, the Egyptian Tarek Abdallah teamed up for his album Wasla with percussionist Adel Shams El-Din. draws from music of the Nahda period, from the early decades of the 20th century.


Leyla McCalla, Heart of Gold
(from the album Vari-Colored Songs)

American-born, with Haitian roots and a love for the great Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, McCalla is a classically trained cellist and languid folk singer. Her 2013 album Vari-Colored Songs, a tribute to Hughes, combines Hughes’ poetry set to music with traditional Haitian and self-penned songs.


Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Spectra
(from the album Aequa)

Spare and impressionistic, the work of contemporary classical Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir is a real find. This is from her 2018 album Aequa.


Sergei Rachmaninov, Liturgy of St John Chrysostom

It’s not that I’ve suddenly discovered Rachmaninov. But while I’ve always loved his Vespers, I’ve never listened to his Liturgy before. It’s beautiful.


  1. Kenan, if you like Driss El Maloumi have you discovered the Tunisian our player, Anouar Brahem. All his albums on ECM are gems. The most recent is Blue Maqams.

  2. Ha! Just read your jazz list in Related, above. No need for my suggestion! Thanks for the time well spent reading your posts and Observer columns

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