You don’t have to understand global finance to enjoy Drop the Debt, but you will be contributing to one of the noblest social movements of our time: This world music comp benefits groups working to get Third World debt canceled. Weighty political stuff, but the album doesn’t buckle under the burden; instead, it’s a cornucopia of new and underexposed talent that just happens to benefit a good cause.
Brazil contributes some of the best tracks. Singer-songwriter Chico Cesar teams up with France’s Fabulous Troubadours for a spastic pop-rap-tropicalia tune that translates roughly to “You’ve Gotta Pay.” Elsewhere, the phenomenal singer Lenine is an incredible find, huge in Brazil but little-known here. Clearly an inheritor of the best of the Brazilian pop tradition, he’s in a class with greats like Gilberto Gil.
As for Cameroon’s Sally Nyolo, her unusual voice is less about power and more about personality, and she’s intriguingly paired with Japan’s Shingo2, which leads to serious world-mingling high jinks. And Colombian folk repository Toto la Momposina is a living treasure of traditional folk music and dance; her contribution is a characteristic gem.
Finally, if you don’t get chills listening to Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi sing about farming, you should go home and sit in the closet for a week. “A farmer is a person, the land is land,” he sings. “Mr. Farmer, pick up your hoe and till.” A painful sentiment, considering Mtukudzi’s country has gone from being southern Africa’s breadbasket to a famine zone. Pick Drop the Debt up; you won’t regret it musically or socially.