Various Artists: Bamboo on the Mountains

An intriguing title from Smithsonian Folkways is Bamboo on the Mountains (Smithsonian Folkways 40456; 73:40), a beguiling chronicle of music by the Kmhmu people of Southeast Asia. Recorded both in their homelands of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, and in their new abodes as transplanted peoples in Southern California, the music here relies on exotic variations on reed instruments as we might know them, with pipes, mouth organs, bamboo tube-based instruments, and facets of percussion and vocals. This is wholly enchanting, unaffected music, made by mountain people who seem detached from the ravages of global village culture. The medium, as conveyed through the musical uses of the prevalent bamboo, becomes a message of natural unity, in a beautiful ritual display. Clearly, this is one of the finest world music albums of the year, for its value in revealing an obscure cultural tradition, let alone its sheer, unique musical poetry.