Various Artists

The Secret Museum of Mankind: Ethnic Music Classics: 1925-1948, Vol. 1-2

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We think of world music as a term that only came into vogue in the 1980s. But in fact ethnic music from around the world has been recorded since the early 20th century, for both ethnomusicology purposes and the popular market. This excellent series collects 46 tracks from all corners of the globe, in about just as many styles, from rare 78s. It's almost useless to single out highlights when the range is so wide. There are recordings from India, Nigeria, Vietnam, Jamaica, and Poland, and more obscure regions like the Visayan Islands, Basque Spain, Trinidad, New Caledonia, Cape Breton, Kazakhstan, and Tibet, as well as dozens more. The sound has been cleaned up pretty well (it's much better than the average 1920s-early-'30s blues compilation, for instance). It's a good survey of early world music recordings, and a fascinating glimpse of styles that were sparsely documented, or now extinct. And it's not purely an ethnomusicological museum piece: most if not all of the tracks are primarily there to be enjoyed as entertaining, emotional performances, on par with today's high-class world music albums.