Global Juke Joint: Your International Starter Album

When it comes to music that transports you out of the banality of your office cubicle, there’s no one like nuyorican house DJ “Little” Louie Vega, one-half of 90s music production team Masters at Work – not Lou Bega of that “Mambo No. 5” foolishness – to pilot you from Harlem to Havana to Harare and back. You don’t have to be “into house music” to appreciate the melodious, dance-inducing journey of Vega’s one and only full-length album, 2004’s Elements of Life, which sits squarely atop my list of the most inspiring cross-cultural music collections in existence.

Having grown up with Puerto Rican salsa legend Hector Lavoe as his uncle and the re-mixing of black and Latino cultures Uptown in the 70s, Vega connects all the cultures of the Diaspora with a solid polyrhythmic foundation on each track. He seamlessly links salsa, samba, bossa nova, R&B, jazz, tango, house, and a little Santería for good measure, while singers coo and croon in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Yoruba. Vega harnesses the energy and verve of each rhythm in a way only a New Yorker born-and-bred can: the rumba “Summer Night in Spanish Harlem” is a popping percussion-only paean to the spirits that inhabit black folks’ music, recorded live on the subway, that morphs deliciously into a raucous salsa.

This is the perfect starter for your new, internationalized music collection. Get this album and get lifted.

My favorite track: “Cerca de Mí,” house with a sprinkle of soca (a French Caribbean beat) and smooth-voiced Raúl Midón laying it down in English and Spanish. Religious. (Ignore the video…just close your eyes and listen).

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