In a recent e-mail, reader Ed King made a very good point. Being new to WorldMusic, he has no clue how to begin building a modest library. And the growing volume of reviews on our site doesn't much help either if sensory overload is the problem to begin with. Even the best of intentions on our part can thus backfire. Let's hope that today's first installment of an overview article will begin to remedy some of this. But first, a heartfelt confirmation about The Fellowship of Ignorance. I feel just like Ed when I stare at the Pop/Rock, R&B, Soul, Jazz and Blues sections at my local Borders and Barnes & Nobles. Why? I grew up studying the classical clarinet from a very early age on and also played the piano, albeit less brilliantly. This rather single-minded focus unintentionally bypassed immersion in the popular music of my youth. What's utterly basic to you and inconceivable as being unfamiliar is confounding news to me. When my school mates got involved in the teen idol worship of Shawn Cassidy and discussed Deep Purple and Santana, I was practicing Françaix and Spohr and Brahms. We might as well have lived on different planets. While they were sharing common ground, I was stationed on a tiny moon whose orbit rarely intersected theirs.

By the time I got into audio, I had long since given up on a career as a classical musician, traveled all over Europe and India and spent years
experimenting rather than committing to any particular replacement career. When the time came to augment my first system with software, I quite naturally dove into WorldMusic as the one genre that was least specifically tied to any one culture and most alive with inventive hybridization. I haven't looked back since. In fact, I consider this genre the most compelling one to mine as it veritably teems with creativity. True, I'd love to broaden my own musical horizon. But there I feel just like Ed and perhaps you - I'd need somebody familiar with Blues or Jazz to take me by the hand, point out the key figures and identify the seminal albums that define the genre's stylistic vernacular.

My formative past is exclusively classical. I'm tabula rasa when it comes to mainstream music. In the meantime, the monthly crop of what appears in the WorldMusic category is a never-ending invitation to catch up and I'm by now reasonably attuned to the general topography even though for a truly comprehensive overview, you should consult with a professional DJ or radio station programmer. This sorry excuse explains the focus of what makes up our WorldMusic pages. That said, where to start if you're completely new? Without further ado, here are some artists and specific albums in the Flamenco genre you should consider which don't require specialized interest to be enjoyable. Future installments will cover other categories.

Flamenco: If you love guitar, some of the technically most gifted players work in this metier. Paco de Lucia is the watershed phenomenon that divides the before-and-after scene. We'll concern ourselves exclusively with the post-Lucia period. Here Vicente Amigo, Gerardo Nuñez and Tomatito are the most obvious stars though players like Rafael Riqueni, Juan-Manuel Cañnizares, Juan Carmona, Chuscales, Chicuelo, Enrique del Melchor and Moraito should also be on your list.

Instrumental: Vicente Amigo
  • Vivencias Imaginadas | Sony CDZ-81782 - stunning guitar work
  • Ciudad de las Ideas | BMG 74321 78495 2 - Latin Grammy material
  • Amor, Dulce Muerte | Sony 500875 2 - a quasi best-of compilation that includes tracks from the hard-to-find Poeta
  • Poeta | Sony SRCS 8532 - a symphonic Concierto for Flamenco guitar and vocalists that's true audiophile demo material both sonically and musically

Instrumental: Gerardo Nuñez
  • Calima | Alula 1007 - mindboggling fretwork and crossover numbers

Instrumental: Tomatito

  • Paseo de los Castañas | Emarcy 014 313-2 - sports George Benson on the central track
  • Michael Camilo & Tomatito - Spain | Verve 314 561 545-2 - Flamenco guitar and Jazz piano

Instrumental: Rafael Riqueni, Pascual Gallo, Manolo Sanlucar, Juan Carmona
  • Rafael Riqueni - Alzazar de Cristal | Ethnic B 6823 - very beautiful compositions
  • Pascual Gallo - Emma | Daqui 332 007, Harmonia Mundi 87 - simultaneous guitar and oud duels
  • Manolo Sanlucar - Tauromagia | Polydor 835 552-2 - classical semi-symphonic tone poem in Poetas vein
  • Juan Carmona - Borboreo | l'empreinte digitale ED 13055 - some vocals by Duquende

Instrumental: Thierry 'Titi' Robin, Adam del Monte, Curandero with Miguel Espinoza and Ty Burhoe
  • Thierry 'Titi' Robin - Gitans | Silex Y225035 - a classic French Gypsy/Flamenco album
  • Thierry 'Titi' Robin - Un Ciel de Cuivre | Naive Y225091 - more French-style Flamenco
  • Adam del Monte | Viaje a un nuevo Mundo | Lyricon 21113 - a brilliant American Flamenco guitarist
  • Curandero | Silverwave 905 - Flamenco guitar and tablas

Flamenco: If you love incendiary vocals, Pakistani Quawwali and Flamenco Jondo are two worlds you simply must visit. Unfortunately, much of the insider tips require visiting these respective scenes on location and the following comments are thus peculiar to living abroad while relying on export offerings. The most famous male Flamenco cantaor is Camaron de la Isla. Close seconds are Enrique Morente and El Lebrijano. Among the most promising younger successors are El Pele, El Potito, Duquende and Miguel Poveda. José Mercé, José Menese, Kalifa and Pepe de Lucia are other heavy hitters. On the active female side, Carmen Linares represents the older front, Estrella Morente and Ginesa Ortega the up-anc-comers. Not purely Flamenco but famous for his poetry and compositions is Javier Ruibal. When it comes to Flamenco crossover with Salsa and Jazz, the Ketama ensemble of the Carmona clan rules the roost.

Male Vocals - The Classics: Camaron de la Isla, Enrique Morente, El Lebrijano
  • Camaron - Una Leyenda Flamenca | Philips 314 512 822 -2 and 823-2 - an expert 25-track 2-disc compilation spanning the years 1969 - 1992 that's the best entry into this artist's ouevre
  • Enrique Morente - Negra, Si Tu Supieras | Nuevos Medios 15 602
  • El Lebrijano & Orquesta Andalusi de Tanger - Encuentros | Ace Records CDORB 024 - a classic which juxtaposes Arabo-Andalus Moroccan and Spanish Flamenco ensembles
  • El Lebrijano - Suenos en el Aire | Flamenco & Duende 02803

Male Vocals - The Young Lions: Miguel Poveda, Duquende, El Potito, El Pele
  • Miguel Poveda - Viento del Este | Nuevos Medios 15 675
  • Duquende - Samaruco | Polydor 97314 543908 2 8
  • El Potito | Nuevos Medios Coleccion 15 829 - a great compilation
  • El Pele & Vicente Amigo - Canto | Ariola 82876559282 - perhaps the best of its kind

Female Vocals: Carmen Linares, Ginese Ortega, Estrella Morente
  • Carmen Linares - Un Ramito De Locura | Mercury 0044001775420 with the Gerardo Nuñez trio
  • Ginesa Ortega - Siento | Harmonia Mundi 987011 with Chicuelo on guitar
  • Estrella Morente - My Songs and A Poem | RealWorld 7243 8 11435 2 0 - her debut album

Line-up of vocal and instrumentals stars: Ketama, El Potito, Chano Labato, Montse Cortés, Rancapino, Manolo Caracol, Pepe Luis Carmona, José Mercé | Paco de Lucia, Juan-Manuel Cañizares, Pepe Habichuela, Tomatito
  • Juan Habichuela - De La Zambra Al Duende | Mercury 534556 -2 - a collaboration with the who's who of modern-day Flamenco and thus an excellent broad-scale introduction

The best Flamenco crossover efforts: Ketama, Abed Azrié, Javier Ruibal, Miguel Poveda, Vicente Pradal
  • Ketama - El Arte de lo Invisible - Philips 314-514871-2 - excellent intro to this very active formation
  • Abed Azrié - Suerte | l'empreinte digitale 13029 - Flamenco/Arab hybrid; one of my all-time favorites
  • Javier Ruibal - Sahara | Riverboat 1030 - Ketama-esque/Mediterranean fusion
  • Miguel Poveda - Poemas Del Exilio | Harmonia Mundi 987047 - transcribes and arranges Rafael Alberti's poems for solo vocals and chamber music ensemble
  • Vicente Pradal - La Nuit Obscure | L'empreinte digitale 13111 - sets St. John of the Cross' famous "Dark Night of the Soul" for three tenors, piano, flamenco guitar and double bass

Needless to say, this is just the tip of the iceberg and Flamenco aficionados will undoubtedly miss seeing their favorites mentioned. Alas, to serve its function as a list of introductory recommendations, less is more. Happy tunes - olé!