Although I can drone away about the minutiae of pop music until the cows come home – a pithy apercu here, a deconstructed semiological signifier there – when it comes to my other great love, quote-unquote “world” music, I generally clam up. This is because, where “world” music is concerned, I find I have no particular desire to do anything other than simply listen to the stuff, devoid of any background knowledge or cultural context. For me, the music works on an almost entirely abstract level – as pure form and feeling, articulated and embellished by a strong sense of craft and technique.
Thus it is that I scarcely even bother to scan the translated lyrics, choosing instead to wallow in the sound of the voices. Indeed, a lyric sung in English generally comes as an unwelcome intrusion of literal meaning, jarring against my cliché-primed sensibilities. Keep the meaning obscure, and you keep the mystery intact.
I am also well aware that what we middle class white Europeans like to call “world music” is actually a carefully packaged marketing niche, and that the stuff that “world music” audiences rave over isn’t always the stuff that goes down best in its countries of origin. Example: the last Youssou N’Dour album (the critically acclaimed Egypt) bombed in Senegal, because you couldn’t dance to it. Meanwhile the most popular pan-African artists are probably Sting, Phil Collins, Bob Marley, Eminem and 50 Cent.
In other words, it’s easy to fall into a false trap of cultural tourism, where the attractively packaged “world music” album is actually about as representative of that country’s culture as the beautifully carved wooden ornaments that you can only find in souvenir shops.
Or consider the situation in reverse, where a native African tells you that he really loves your English music: Kate Rusby, Eliza Carthy, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. Which, of course, is not without its adherents (and rightly so) – but it’s hardly the stuff which you’ll hear booming out of doorways as you stroll down “typical” English streets.
So, maybe for “world” music, it would be better to say “roots” music instead. But then again, I’m no purist. What about all that Senegalese hip hop? Or the contemporary, cosmopolitan influences which Manu Chao has brought to bear on the new Amadou & Mariam album? Or the scratch DJ-ing on the Ojos De Brujo and Miguel ‘Anga’ Diaz albums? Or Rachid Taha collaborating with Steve Hillage and covering The Clash?
And that’s the other problem: reading about “world” music is not only beside the point – but, well, a little bit boring, like a coursework assignment. Better by far to sidestep all the fascinating facts, all the “Is it representative?”, “Am I being marketed to?” head-f**ks, all the cultural tourism baggage…
…and just enjoy the music. Which I do, constantly. Especially at weekends, or in the car, or at any other time where K is within earshot. (In the Venn diagram of our musical tastes, the intersection of the circles is marked “world/roots”.)
Which brings me to my point. If I’m not going to blog about my love of “world” music, then perhaps it’s better if I let the music speak for itself.
In which case, here’s Part One of the Troubled Diva Rough Guide To “World” Music: a continuous mix, containing nine songs, and lasting for half the length of a CD. The second half of the CD will be along in a few days’ time, and the full track listing will appear a few days after that, along with links to all the featured albums.
In the two mixes, I have focused mainly on albums which have come out in the past 18 months or so, with one or two tracks thrown in for historical interest. About half the tracks are African, with the remainder coming from all over the world.
Here are four Yousendit links, all to the same file, which should provide enough downloads to be going on with. Even if you have no particular interest in “world” music, I would strongly advise you to take a listen anyway; if nothing else, these selections make a great soundtrack for sunny afternoons and hot, sticky nights.
Suddenly, Eurovision seems like months ago. Ah, let’s hear it for proper music!