On paper at least, Onda Sonora -- Red Hot + Lisbon, the latest Red Hot release to donate its proceeds to fund AIDS research, is a shaky concept at best. Gathering superstars from various nations who sing in Portuguese (such as Brazilians Caetano Veloso, Marisa Monte, and Carlinhos Brown; the Mozambican rapper General D; Cape Verdian singer Lura; Angolan singer Filipe Mukenga; and Portuguese groups like the Underground Sound of Lisbon and the Delfins) along with other artists who presumably have enough love of Portuguese or Brazilian music to merit their inclusion (David Byrne, DJ Spooky, and k.d. lang), the album presumes that the various styles of music from countries under the former Portuguese colonial umbrella are connected by more than just their language, which isn't necessarily true. But Onda Sonora, thankfully for us, didn't take place on paper, and the end result of the album is a gorgeous tapestry that is somehow coherently interwoven with all these disparate (though, perhaps predictably, mostly Brazilian) styles. It's probably the best Red Hot release to be issued so far, both because of the strength of its individual tracks and also because it blends so well, taking the listener on a varied ride that touches down on everything from Brazilian Afro-pop (Bonga, Marisa Monte, and Carlinhos Brown's "Mulemba Xangola") to world-beat drum and bass (Simentera and DJ Soul Slinger's "A Mar") to traditional Portuguese balladeering (k.d. lang's "Fado Hilario").
The name of the game here is collaboration, and though there are moments that sound a little forced (such as the Underground Sound of Lisbon's remix of Angolan singer Filipe Mukenga, which sticks a dated European house backdrop behind a beautiful African vocal choir), most of the pairings, which were all arranged specifically for this album, work like magic. On David Byrne and Caetano Veloso's opening duet, "Dreamworld: Marco de Canaveses," it sounds as though the two singers recorded their parts on different continents (which they did), but the song manages to be a gorgeous piece of Brazilian/world-beat pop, complete with theremin strains and a string section. Likewise Marisa Monte and Carlinhos Brown's encounter with Angolan singer Bonga is such a perfect slice of samba-tinged Afro-beat that it makes one wish these three would quit fooling around and start recording an entire album together. But Onda Sonora succeeds all the way through on more than just the strength of its superstar contributions. Tasteful interludes from the likes of DJ Shadow, DJ Wally, and Vinicius Cantuaria move the disc effortlessly from one vibe to the next, piecing together its diverse styles into that rare compilation album that functions just fine without your CD player's skip button. The disc's producers, Beco Dranoff and Andres Levin, undoubtedly deserve much of the credit for this, recognizing that the far-flung musical strains of the Portuguese colonial legacy could be fashioned into an album as enchanting and seamless as this one.