There was much to praise in 2008’s music releases. The re-emergence of Sainkho is always to be cherished and, guesting on Huun-Huur-Tu’s Mother-Earth! Father-Sky (Jaro, NI 419), both she and her Tuvan compatriots were in fine fettle. Hector Zazou’s early death was all the sadder given the new directions that he and his collaborators, Swara, pointed towards on In the House of Mirrors (Crammed Discs, NI 417). Laments also featured on Toumani Diabeté’s Mandé Variations (World Circuit), an album of dedications to the departed, including one for Ali Farke Touré. (Diabaté’s album, one of the most luminous of the Malian kora virtuoso’s recordings, sadly slipped through our net.) We gave five stars to Umalali, a first album from The Garifuna Women’s Project (Cumbancha, NI 415). This graceful release, from the descendants of African slaves and indigenous Carib and Arawak people living along the coastline of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, was instrumentally pleasing, but it was the vocalists who made it glow.
From A to X: A Story in Letters (Verso, NI 416) showed John Berger as passionate as ever. This heartrending love story was a searing indictment of authoritarianism in all its forms and a beautiful, poetic hymn to the human spirit. The Rebels’ Hour by Lieve Joris (Atlantic Books, NI 416), was a semi-fictionalized portrait of one of the central players in the tragedy of DR Congo. Our reviewer wrote: ‘I have not read a better account of the daily terror that is life in Congo since Michele Wrong’s In the footsteps of Mr Kurtz’. Taxi by Khaled Al Khamissi (Aflame Books, NI 413) was simple and brilliant – bringing together 58 short fictional dialogues with some of Cairo’s 80,000 cab drivers, drawn from the author’s own experience of taxi journeys through this polluted, turbulent city. My Grandmother by Fethiye Çetin (Verso, NI 412) was a simple, heartwarming memoir with a tragic taboo at its centre – the unmentionable Armenian genocide.
As always, there have been very fine films about the world we live in. Linha de Passe (Walter Salas and Daniela Thomas, NI 416) melded the real and fictional to show a family’s struggle to survive in São Paolo. With a light touch, and moments of lyricism and visual flair, it movingly showed their limited life choices. Our Daily Bread was a wordless, restrained and chilling documentary that simply shows how industrialized food production sacrifices the human and the animal to efficiency. Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven (NI 409) looked at the tangled links between Europe and Asia, young and old, tradition and change, parents, lovers and children. A marvellous, subtle and generous film about what makes us the people we become. For inventiveness of form, Ari Folman’s animated docudrama Waltz with Bashir (NI 418) offered a moving, personal and fresh approach to understanding the massacres that took place in Beirut in 1982.