Yasmin Levy’s La Juderia (Connecting Cultures, NI380) was not only an important (and scholarly) marker of Jewish diasporic music, it was also beautifully performed, the Israeli singer teasing more nuances than you thought possible from her material. Lost talent was commemorated in the late Kirsty MacColl’s three-CD boxed set, From Croydon To Cuba (EMI, NI377), while You’ve Stolen My Heart was a stunning and jaw-droppingly risky homage to film composer RD Burman by his widow, the peerless Bollywood singer Asha Bhosle (accompanied by elephant) and the Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch, NI382).
But if you beg, steal, borrow one release of 2005, make it In the Heart of the Moon by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté (WorldCircuit, NI381). This meeting by two stellar Malian musicians stands in its own place and its own time as the gentle interplay of kora and guitar send out frissons of information that take in Delta blues, New York art music and more besides. Diabaté and Touré seem to be engaged in a conversation that is simply timeless.
Fred Halliday’s 100 Myths About the Middle East (Saqi Books, NI379) topped the list as a splendidly simple and direct – and yet profoundly erudite – debunking of what ‘everybody knows’ about this most contested part of the world. We stay in the same region for the best fiction, with Yasuf al-Qa’id’s War in the Land of Egypt (Arris Books, NI378) – the first of this excellent Egyptian writer’s 11 novels to be translated into English. With The Corporation (Constable, NI376) Joel Balkan brought to bear humanity, keen intelligence and legal expertise to make the case for re-regulating corporations in order to gain democratic control over them. While Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark (Canongate, NI385) offered a vivid and inspiring narration of ‘the untold history of people power’ which eloquently made the case for hope as a political and philosophical tool.
It was a good year for political cinema.
The Edukators (NI377) is an engaging thriller that questions political violence and suggests that material security shouldn’t imprison us, but free us to be ourselves.
In Machuca (NI379), an élite secondary school offers free education to boys from a nearby shanty town. Set in Chile during the Allende Government, it’s an original, illuminating perspective on social divisions in the majority world.
Veteran Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène’s Moolaadé (NI380) reveals the extraordinary and heroic in the ordinary and everyday, and the pressure from women for social change. Subtle, thematically resonant and beautiful to watch, it’s a great film.
Wild Side (NI378), is about the extraordinary lives of a transsexual and her lovers and their very ordinary need for love and reassurance. Shot by Agnès Godard, it will unsettle sexual conservatives, but its sparse beauty lingers in the mind.