In 2023, Putumayo celebrates its 30th anniversary. Known for its joyful compilations of international music, featuring album covers illustrated by British artist Nicola Heindl, Putumayo World Music has been considered a pioneer in developing the non-traditional market of gift, health food, children’s and other specialty stores as outlets for music. The company’s commitment to helping communities in the countries where the music originates led to the label contributing more than half a million dollars to non-profit organizations around the world. In 2021, Putumayo was awarded the Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Award by Folk Alliance International.
Kirtans and bhajans became a staple of their offerings and as part of their 30th anniversary offerings, they just released African Yoga. This new album features beautiful voices and soothing melodies for Yoga and relaxation drawn across the African continent and was co-curated by Putumayo World Music founder, Dan Storper, and New Orleans musician and Yoga instructor, Seán Johnson. Storper recently reflected on the company’s unusual history from its headquarters in New Orleans: “I really find it hard to believe we’re entering our 30th year as a record label that emerged from the positive response to the music I was playing in my international handicraft and clothing shops.
African Yoga opens with the laid-back instrumental “Mako Mady” by Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Ségal. Born in Egypt and raised in Germany, Fetsum was inspired by his world travels to write the next song, “Birth Of A River.” The energy accelerates with “Kumbatia” by Buddha’s Lounge, featuring the voice of Malian singer Kalifa Koné and the enchanting tones of the kora (a 21-stringed African harp). Senegalese Karim Dabo follows with the tender “Au Revoir.” Since moving to South Africa to pursue her musical dreams, Zimbabwean singer Berita has collaborated with Hugh Masekela, Oliver Mtukudzi and other legends. Her vocals on “Ndikhawulele” bring a dose of laid-back soul to the collection.
African Yoga features several African musicians who have recorded and performed with some of the world’s biggest stars. Kimi Djabaté of Guinea-Bissau, who recently recorded a duet with Madonna, performs “Ná,” a moving song in appreciation of his late mother. Cameroonian Henri Dikongué continues the flow with “C’est La Vie” (This is Life), a catchy melody with universal lyrics about the beauty and mystery of childbirth. When world-renowned Israeli songwriter Idan Raichel and Malian guitar aficionado Vieux Farka Touré met unexpectedly in an airport, they struck up an instant connection leading them to record several albums together. Here they present their enchanting “Mon Amour.” “Ekanasong” by promising Gambian newcomer Suntou Susso follows, demonstrating the beauty of the kora and his mellifluous vocals.
The kora continues to glimmer on “Miliamba,” another striking international partnership, this time between Ablaye Cissoko of Senegal and German trumpeter Volker Goetze. African Yoga winds down with rising South African star Ami Faku singing a peaceful version of her hit song “Ndikhethe Wena.” The collection closes with the late Geoffrey Oryema’s soothingly atmospheric “Land of Anaka,” produced by Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno.
Whether listeners are looking to relax, practice Yoga or simply immerse themselves in the rich and diverse musical tapestry of the African continent, African Yoga is a good place to begin.