New Year’s Eve Playlist From Around the World


All over the world, New Years Eve will look very different this year, but the applause and cheers at midnight may have a catharsis that hasn’t been seen for a while. People will surely celebrate the passing of 2020.

And these celebrations, whether with a small one A group of friends, household members only or solo, will need a soundtrack.

Even with so much put on hold, musicians still managed to make music this year. Coming from releases around the world, this playlist shows how a guitar rock band from Mali, a dream pop singer from South Korea, a reggae legend from Jamaica and others managed to take small moments during a generally difficult time to express joy. You will find beats to dance to, new genres to fall in love with, and hopefully connections to different cultures that will make you feel a little closer to the rest of the world – even if you pop the cork of a champagne bottle and a toast himself.

The flashing lights, the booming bass, the crowd of dancing crowds … For most of us, nightclubs are such distant memories that we have withdrawn into the realm of fantasy. This track from the latest album by French-Malian singer Aya Nakamura brings it all back. The mid tempo, the rolling beat and the glittering synth hook are full of energy and possibilities, much like the beginning of an evening.

What do you get when you combine a global producer from the UK, the loop melodies of a Congolese soukous guitarist and a Colombian champeta star known for catapulting an Afro-Colombian dance genre into the 21st century? This is an absolute approximation of what it would sound like if the whole world were partying at once.

Anchored in the guembri, a three-string bass lute traditionally used by the Gnawa in North Africa, this transcontinental quartet creates exuberant, head-banging music. Somewhere in the mix you’ll find the hypnotic loops of the religious music of Gnawa, poetry from the Sahara, and the ruthless departure from fuzz rock and blues. And every listening reveals a little more.

Highlife – an energetic genre of music powered by guitars and horns – originated in Ghana in the early 20th century. This song by UK-based afrofuturist band Onipa shows what happens when these musical ideas spread across time and space and evolve over time. It takes exactly 16 seconds for the foot-stomping blow to set, and it doesn’t give way until after the last drum roll almost five minutes later.

Songhoy Blues, a rock band from northern Mali, knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity. The band was formed in 2012 in Bamako, Mali’s capital, after they fled their home region amid a fundamentalist Islamist uprising. Her music, characterized by the squeak of electric guitars over repetitive polyrhythms, evokes resilience and determination – two qualities we’ll be leaning on in 2021.

A snippet from a song-inspired music collection might seem like an odd addition to a playlist for a party, but a few seconds after that groove makes more sense. If you dig into the rich melodies of this collective of Garifuna musicians from Belize, you can feel especially good that the proceeds from the purchase of the record will go to help protect endangered birds.

This is what happens when two legends, South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and Nigerian percussion virtuoso Tony Allen end up in the same room. Most of the album was recorded in London in 2010, but the finished product wasn’t released until that year. This song, a homage to Allen’s former bandmate Fela Kuti, shows both musicians in perfect lock step; Mr. Masekela’s trumpet melodies and vocal lines flow between the cracks of Mr. Allen’s loping rhythms. The song is especially poignant now, as Masekela died in 2018 and Allen died this year.

Toots Hibbert, considered one of the ancestors of reggae music, was one of the many musical pioneers we lost this year. His band’s final album, Got to Be Tough, was released less than two weeks before Hibbert’s death and is a testament to his legacy, both in terms of music and activism. There are slow-burning reggae jams, calls to party, social rally screams and then this ska-inflected cover of the Bob Marley classic that turns the roots reggae song into something eminently danceable.

Sexores, an Ecuadorian duo from Mexico City, don’t exactly specialize in party music. But occasionally, among the dark undercurrents of shoegaze, synth-pop, and psychedelia, they encounter something that feels cheering. “Volantia” is driving and shimmering beautiful and a song to shake off the cobwebs of 2020.

Every party has to come to an end, including this one. This dreamy, washed-out track from South Korean producer and singer Aseul is the sound of the last call in a bar. It drips with nostalgia and the high whine of the synthesizers cuts through the mix like the first light of a new year after a long night. It invites you to take a breath and hope for what comes next.

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