Anastasia Tsioulcas

If you think you know what Middle Eastern music sounds like, think again — because Beirut-born electro-pop singer Yasmine Hamdan is positioning herself in an incredibly interesting place. She's singing at the intersection of sexy electronica and iconic Arab tradition, fed in equal parts by PJ Harvey and the legendary Syrian-Egyptian vocalist Asmahan.

It's no secret that gold-winning American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White have become favorite faces in Sochi. But it turns out that the charming White has done his share of woodshedding along with his hard work on the ice.

Chinese-born pianist Yuja Wang isn't one to do anything in half measures. So when we invited her to record a performance in a room at the Steinway & Sons piano factory, she showed up in Queens that frigid morning with her A game.

Classical music has managed to take center stage at sports events in the last few weeks. Soprano Renée Fleming sang the National Anthem at the Super Bowl two weekends ago.

How do you build on the reputation that has made your band the most visible ambassador of an entire people? For its seventh international album, Emmaar, Tinariwen has some striking ideas that were born out of both creativity and absolute necessity.

Claudio Abbado, one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation, died Monday in Bologna, Italy, at age 80. His death was announced by a spokesperson for Bologna's mayor, saying that it followed an unspecified long illness. Abbado had been diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2000; following surgery for that illness, he was transformed into a hauntingly gaunt figure.

She's probably not among your first, or second, or 10th, or 20th-round guesses, but the NFL just announced that American soprano Renee Fleming will sing the national anthem at Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2.

Every January, there's a one-night music festival in New York that showcases artists from around the world. It's called globalFEST, and it's been happening for more than a decade. Over the years, it's become a place for American tastemakers to find new talent from Europe, Africa, Asia and beyond.

For decades, Hassan Hakmoun has been the foremost ambassador of the Gnawa people and their incredible musical and spiritual traditions. A native of Marrakech, Hakmoun grew up in a Gnawa family, whose ancestors were brought from West Africa to North Africa as slaves in the 15th and 16th centuries. At the center of their spiritual practice is music and dance that fuses Islamic mysticism with sub-Saharan African traditions, particularly in all-night trance rituals meant to praise God and heal bodies and minds.

If any band has figured out how to marry breakneck speed with astonishing chops, it's Fanfare Ciocarlia (pronounced "fan-FAR-eh cho-car-LEE-ah"). With a playlist that veers from traditional Romani (Gypsy) tunes to covers of "Born to Be Wild" and Duke Ellington's "Caravan," this brass band from northwestern Romania has set the pace, literally, for close to two decades.

It's hard to know what to make of Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha when it first arrives on stage — but, oh, those tall, furry hats! But from the first moment the group starts performing, it's hard not to get caught up in the magic it weaves.

A YouTube sensation whose song "Chicken in the Corn" has received more than four million views, Jamaica's Brushy One String has captured listeners' imaginations with his stripped-down style, as he uses his rich baritone to accompany a beat-up, single-stringed acoustic guitar.

It's not often that a band composed of stock characters can be a successful live act, so one that boasts "The Mysterious Lady," "The Tiger" and "The Skipper" — all, of course, in costume — might make a newcomer think the shtick is more enjoyable than the music.

Lebanese singer-songwriter Yasmine Hamdan is an eminently cool addition to the indie-pop landscape. She was the co-founder of the groundbreaking duo Soapkills, which might have been the very first electronic band in postwar Beirut. Now a solo artist and based in Europe after a childhood split between Lebanon, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Greece, Hamdan blends new material with reworked traditional songs in a smoky-cool electro-pop setting.

If you've encountered banjo phenomenon Abigail Washburn before, you might know that she's loved China for a long time. In fact, it was her plan to study law at Beijing University that led her to her chosen instrument a little more than a decade ago: She'd wanted to bring "something American" with her to China and started to learn old-time music — and found her destiny.

Imagine the 1950s big-band mambo sound of Perez Prado refracted through the lens of the 21st-century Latino experience in the U.S. That gives just a tiny clue to what's in store during a set with this Arizona band, led by keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Sergio Mendoza. The group also features the rich baritone of Mexican vocalist Salvador Duran, framed by guitar, keyboard, percussion, drums and, of course, brass.

Touareg guitar rock, desert blues: Whatever you call it, it's shorthand for a certain style from the Sahara that has triumphed at festivals and venues across Europe and North America, thanks to acts like Tinariwen and Bombino.

The Amsterdam quintet KiT twists Afro-Caribbean tradition into an accessible, club-ready style. KiT, or Kuenta i Tambu — "Stories and Drums" — takes music from the Caribbean island of Curaçao, merges it with European dance-floor music and kicks it all into high, sweaty gear.

The prime minister of Ireland showed up for The Gloaming's first gig; that's how big the supergroup's formation has been for fans of Irish music. Here at NPR Music, Bob Boilen and I have been waiting anxiously for the band's first album ever since The Gloaming made its U.S. debut at globalFEST in January 2012.

A case stirring intense outrage in the classical music community and starting to gain steam in the mainstream press is getting more mysterious by the day.

The relationship between a teacher and a student can be transformative. It's a particularly important relationship in classical music. A teacher is part mentor, part manager — even a parental figure.

"World music" can mean pretty much anything. French club tracks. Field recordings captured on remote Pacific islands. Bollywood soundtracks. Argentine tangos. Or, for that matter, pop, traditional, classical or religious music from anywhere on the globe — as long as the lyrics aren't sung in English and the instruments aren't "Western" (unless they are).

The year may have suffered a couple of black eyes in the form of shuttered opera companies and orchestras in labor disputes, but as far as recordings go, don't let anyone tell you classical music is dying — the music and musicians are thriving.

This wound up being a spectacular year for elaborate, lavishly packaged reissues. Given all the fabulous classical box sets that appeared this year, you'd think we were in some kind of boom era for music served up on compact discs. (2013? More like 1993.)

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