The 10 best global albums of 2020


Aquiles Navarro and Tcheser Holmes – Heritage of the Invisible II

This is a heavy record in every sense. Aquiles Navarro’s synths are so guttural they rattle the listener’s teeth, while Tcheser Holmes’s drumming is by turns textural and pummelling. The combination makes for a cathartic scream of improvised Afro-Caribbean and Latin jazz – a mind-cleansing and immersive sound.


Hailu Mergia – Yene Mircha

Ethiopian jazz multi-instrumentalist Hailu Mergia has a knack for turning what might seem like a kitsch collection of sparkling synths, twanging accordions and electronic drum pads into a swinging and joyous listen. On his second solo record, he meanders through soul and references to Stevie Wonder, dub and organ funk in just 35 minutes.


Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela – Rejoice

The death of drummer Tony Allen in April was an enormous loss. This album with trumpeter Hugh Masekela was recorded in 2010, prior to the latter’s passing in 2018, and later overdubbed by Allen. It is an apt tribute to two giants of African music: a beautiful combination of swing and Afrobeat, showcasing both musicians’ unyielding command of their instruments.


Various artists – Keleketla!

Ninja Tune founders Coldcut present this collaboration between African and British artists, co-curated by Johannesburg collective Spaza’s label Mushroom Hour Half Hour. Keleketla means “response” in Sepedi, and the record takes the shape of a dialogue between Coldcut’s electronics, the scratching of turntablist DeeJay Random, Tony Allen’s distinctive Afrobeat drumming and the rapping of hip-hop collective Soundz of the South. A beguiling cross-cultural conversation.


Various artists – Chalo

Producer Jitwam and his Jazz Diaries label shine a light on the deeply varied and often under-sung musical styles of the south Asian diaspora in the first of a potentially endless series of charity compilations. Among this album’s 28 tracks are a deeply emotive string piece from classical composer VS Narasimhan, frenetic electronics from Ahadadream and a slice of guitar-led ambience from Nabihah Iqbal.


Tenderlonious – Ragas from Lahore

London jazz impresario Ed Cawthorne follows in the footsteps of his spiritual jazz forebears John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef with this expansive take on Indian classical ragas, featuring Pakistani improvisatory group Jaubi. Disrupting the typical acoustic instrumentation with synths played by Marek Pędziwiatr, Cawthorne places the traditions of jazz and raga in dialogue, presenting new avenues for their interpretation.


Babe, Terror – Horizogon

The discordant drone that rumbles through Brazilian producer Claudio Szynkier’s album Horizogon feels like the perfect metaphor for the consistent sense of anxious unease that has followed us in 2020. Written during a period of self-imposed isolation in São Paulo in 2019, Horizogon is a remarkable feat of wordless storytelling, its time-warped sequencing evoking hopefulness cut through with dread.


SPAZA – Uprize!

The South African free jazz collective’s fierce, improvised soundtrack for a documentary film on the 1976 Soweto Uprising plays as a cathartic yet unfortunate mirroring of the racial tensions of 2020. The group intercut propulsive, dark rhythms with vocalist Nonku Phiri’s hopeful falsetto, making for a deeply touching work of both historic testimony and a remarkably prescient suite of mood music.


DJ Diaki – Balani Fou

On his debut album, the Malian DJ delivers an adrenaline-fuelled, electronic take on the percussive, chromatic sounds of the west African marimba-style balafon instrument. Overwhelming and unrelentingly paced, its 10 tracks pile rhythm on top of rhythm, assimilating the feel of footwork with arpeggiated synths and drum machines to create a new, triple-speed afrobeat. Balani Fou is a gem in the roster of Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes, which is steadily destabilising the perception of Europe and the US as dance music’s strongholds.


Various artists – London Is the Place for Me 7 & 8

This ecstatic and illuminating celebration of Windrush generation music compiled by the Honest Jon’s Records label spans everything from Louise Bennett-Coverley’s patois Christmas songs to Mississippi-born Marie Bryant’s plaintive jazz, and calypso king Lord Kitchener’s tales of immigrant assimilation in the 1950s. As with Steve McQueen’s vibrant small-screen examinations of the Windrush generation in Small Axe, London Is the Place for Me bolsters the necessary appreciation of West Indian and west African cultures’ inextricable presence in the makeup of modern Britain.

• What were your favourite albums from artists around the world this year? Share your tips in the comments below.