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Top 10 World Music Christmas Albums

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We're all entirely too familiar with the standard Christmas music fare: "Jingle Bell Rock", "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "The Nutcracker" and scores of various choirs doing the same ten Christmas carols. Why not add a little spice to your Christmas music collection and include some world music albums? There are many to choose from, from Irish music to reggae and beyond, and your in-laws might even like some of them!

1. Cherish the Ladies - 'On Christmas Night'

Cherish the Ladies - 'On Christmas Night'
(c) Rounder Records, 2004
My in-laws are well-known and highly respected classical musicians, and therefore have exquisite but very picky taste in recorded music. It's rare that an album, especially a Christmas album, finds great praise in that household. This one, by the well-known Irish group Cherish the Ladies, pleased everyone. The top-notch musicianship and stunning choice of songs thrilled the musicians in the house. The CD is soft and elegant, providing perfect ambiance to go with a crackling fire. I plan on buying a dozen copies of it this year to give out as presents.

Read More: Celtic Christmas Music CDs
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2. Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar - 'Ki Ho'alu Christmas'

Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar - 'Ki Ho'alu Christmas'
(c) Windham Hill, 1996
I'm personally a fiend for Hawaiian slack-key guitar. It's bluesy, but with a warm, breezy island quality that lightens things up just a bit. If you, like me, are going to be stuck in a miserably cold place this holiday season, this CD will undoubtedly help you cope with the greyness. It features several slack-key performers, including Keola Beamer and Ledward Ka'apana, doing both traditionals and modern originals.

Read More: Hawaiian Music Christmas CDs
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3. Harry Belafonte - 'To Wish You a Merry Christmas'

Harry Belafonte - 'To Wish You A Merry Christmas'
(c) RCA, 1990
Calypso star Harry Belafonte actually has two Christmas albums available, but I prefer this one, simply because the song selections on this CD are more unique. Most of them are old Christmas carols done in a pop-calypso style, but they are relatively obscure ones. Pleasant, warm and quite different than the other offerings on the market, this album has been a Christmas staple in my house for as long as I can remember.
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4. Jose Luis Madueno & Ricardo Silva - 'Afroandina Christmas'

(c) Goin' Native Records, 2003
Someone gave me this album as a gift one year, and I became completely enamored, even listening to it during the holiday off-season. Madueno and Silva are both well-known Afro-Peruvian musicians, whose styles combine African traditions with Latin and Native Peruvian elements. This album has them performing Christmas songs in their signature cross-cultural style, and while they do perform several very well-known songs (including "Jingle Bells"), they perform them in a completely different and unique fashion.
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5. Sly & Robbie - 'Taxi Christmas'

Sly and Robbie - 'Taxi Christmas'
(c) Ras, 2003
Reggae legends Sly & Robbie are perhaps some of the most prolific musicans and producers in history, so it's no surprise that among the thousands upon thousands of songs they've done, they have made a Christmas album. It's totally great, too... all of the songs are original and brilliantly executed. Your Christmas party will undoubtedly be the coolest one on the block if you're blasting this through your sound system.
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6. Michael Doucet - 'Christmas Bayou'

Michael Doucet - 'Christmas Bayou'
(c) Swallow Records, 1994

Michael Doucet, bandleader of Beausoleil and Cajun fiddle player extraordinaire has made several theme albums. Happily, he seldom disappoints, and this album is one of his best. With a crackshot lineup of backing musicians, including Sonny Landreth, he performs a range of traditional Christmas songs, many from the Cajun repertoire.

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7. R. Carlos Nakai & William Eaton - 'Winter Dreams for Christmas'

R. Carlos Nakai & William Eaton - 'Winter Dreams for Christmas'
(c) Canyon Records, 1993
R. Carlos Nakai is an absolute master of the Native American cedar flute, and on this CD, he and William Eaton give a quiet, contemplative treatment to several Christmas classics. This CD might not have the same wide appeal as, say, a Celtic Christmas CD, but for those fans of Native American flute music, it's a treasure. The songs are, in traditional fashion, performed in an improvisational way, but they're still easily recognizable and really very lovely.
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8. Ashley MacIsaac - 'A Cape Breton Christmas'

Ashley MacIsaac - 'A Cape Breton Christmas'
(c) Linus Entertainment, 1993
This Christmas CD from Cape Breton fiddle genius Ashley MacIsaac is another great choice for fans of Celtic Music. The CD contains many Canadian Celtic versions of well known songs, but a few unexpected twists as well, including a medley of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and "The Devil in the Kitchen". The vocals are fantastic, and the arrangements are quite elegant and beautiful.
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9. Shirim - 'Klezmer Nutcracker'

Shirim - 'Klezmer Nutcracker'
(c) Newport Classic, 1998
Nope, I'm not kidding. This klezmer band arranged and performed the score of The Nutcracker. If your family is like mine: a big religious faith mish-mosh with a sense of humor, you really can't go wrong here. It's fun, well-performed and completely different.
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10. Rockin' Sidney - 'A Holiday Celebration'

Rockin' Sidney - 'A Holiday Celebration'
(c) Valuedisc, 2001
Zydeco pioneer Rockin' Sidney is the force behind this peppy, soulful collection of original Christmas songs. It might be a little bit louder and more in-your-face than most Christmas music, but I personally don't think that's a bad thing. It's guaranteed to kick up any Christmas party.
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