(Above): Afro Celt Sound System
In November 2012, we started a series called ‘Take Five’, which would recommend five albums or artistes from various genres of international music. This series will be carried once in two months. The first two parts talked of British alternative rock and classical crossover, respectively. This month, we look at five essential albums in world music.
(Above) Toumani Diabate (left) and Ali Farka Toure
THE term ‘world music’ is rather vague. It has no standard definition, and yet, there are a few loose theories about what it means. To add to the confusion, we have terms like world fusion, global fusion, ethnic fusion and worldbeat, which mean pretty much the same.
For the Americans, world music includes any music created outside the US, outside the western classical sphere and outside any English language music produced in countries other than the US (read: England, Australia, New Zealand). Thus, for someone in that continent, Indian music is also part of world music.
Here in India, Indian music is anything but world music. Indians believe world music is music produced in any part of the world, except the English-speaking countries (the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand), except for very clearly-defined genres like jazz, the blues or electronic dance music, and except for music produced by neighbouring countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Whatever the definition, ‘world music’ quite simply exposes listeners from one part of the world to music from other regions. And for someone in India, it would include music from Africa, Latin America, Europe minus its western classical element, the Middle East and the Far East.
The popularity of world music has increased over the past decade or so. Rock musician Peter Gabriel has played a major role by organising the World of Music Arts & Dance (Womad) festival and also starting the label Real World Records to promote music from different geographical regions. Other labels like ECM and Nonesuch Records have done their bit too, while the Grammy awards have a category for best world music album.
In the late 90s, the release of ‘Buena Vista Social Club’, an album and film featuring Cuban musician Juan de Marcos Gonsalez and American guitarist Ry Cooder, and featuring old-timers like Compay Segundo, Ruben Gonzales and Ibrahim Ferrer, led to the revival of Cuban and Latin American music.
Those who haven’t really followed the genre may wonder where to begin, as both record stores and YouTube are flooded with such albums and videos. Keeping this in mind, we suggest essential five albums that can be used as an introduction to this genre. Since we are keeping Indian audiences primarily in mind, we shall not talk of Indian music, even though an Argentinian or Albanian reading this blog may believe Indian music is world music.
This, of course, is a very basic introduction, which omits music from certain specific and important parts of the world. It’s ideal enough for beginners, though.
Mongo Santamaria – Sabroso (Cuba): Cuban conga player and composer Santamaria is best-known for composing the jazz standard ‘Afro Blue’ in the late 50s. In the 1960 album ‘Sabroso’, he focused on traditional Cuban music played by a charanga (ensemble) that included violinists, a flautist, trumpeter, tenor saxophonist, pianist, bassist and timbale player, besides vocalists.
The album contains 13 songs, filled with energy and rustic melody. In fact, the songs revolve on dance forms like the mambo and pachanga, thus making them vibrant. The stand-out cuts are ‘Pachanga pa ti’, ‘Mambo de cuco’, the catchy ‘El bote’ and the live version of ‘Para ti’.
This is traditional Latin American music at its best.
Hevia – Tierra de Nadie (Spain): Jose Angel Hevia Velesco, popularly known as Hevia, is a Spanish player of the bagpipes. He also invented the midi electronic bagpipes, which he often plays live. Hevia specialises in music from the Asturian region of Spain.
Released in 1998, ‘Tierra de Nadie’ is Hevia’s debut album. It instantly got noticed because of its opening track ‘Busindre Reel’, a foot-tapping tune that became quite a rage. Other songs like ‘Llaciana’, ‘Gaviotes’ and ‘La Linea Trazada’ brim with infectious melody.
Though his later albums did not match it both in terms of quality and success, ‘Tierra’ should definitely be checked out.
Mickey Hart – Planet Drum (various): Best known as drummer of rock band Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart diversified into global percussion with the 1991 album ‘Planet Drum’. It won the first Grammy for best world music album.
As the title suggests, ‘Planet Drum’ featured percussionists from all over the world. Besides Hart, an American, it had tabla player Zakir Hussain and ghatam (a type of pot) exponent Vikku Vinayakram from India, talking drum player Sikiru Adepoju and Babatunde Olatunji from Nigeria, conga player Giovanni Hidalgo and Frank Colon from Puerto Rico , and drummer Airto Moreira from Brazil. Airto’s wife Flora Purim provided vocal support.
The album, which has 13 tracks, set the trend for similar percussion-based albums featuring rhythmic styles from various regions. In terms of sound, it’s a masterpiece.
Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate – In The Heart of the Moon (Mali): The West African country of Mali has produced some amazing musicians, including singer Salif Keita, guitarist Ali Farka Toure and his son Vieux, and brothers Sidiki and Toumani Diabate, who play the kora, a 21-stringed bridge harp.
In this classic album, Ali Farka Toure and Toumani collaborate to produce 12 tracks based mostly on Songhai traditions of the north Mali and the Bambara traditions of southern Mali and neighbouring Guinea. Released in 2005, it was recorded without rehearsals, and also features a guest appearance by the renowned Ry Cooder on three tracks.
Toure, who passed away in 2006, was known to blend traditional Malian music with the blues, and this album provides a fantastic exposure to the music of West Africa. After Toure’s death, the album ‘Ali and Toumani’ was released in 2010.
Afro-Celt Sound System – Further In Time (Various): As the name suggests, Afro-Celt Sound System blends African and Celtic music, but to make it trendier, it adds modern electronic dance sounds like trip-hop and techno, resulting in a heady cocktail.
The 2001 release ‘Further in Time’ is the group’s third album, after ‘Sound Magic’ and ‘Release’, which featured the famous ‘Eireann’. The group uses African instruments like the kora harp, talking drums and djembe (a percussion instrument), Celtic instruments like the Uilleann pipes and Indian instruments like tabla and dhol drum, beside guitars, mandolins, pianos, keyboards, flutes and drums.
The 12-track set has guest appearances by Peter Gabriel on ‘When You’re Falling’ and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant on ‘Life Begin Again’. The band later renamed itself to Afrocelts, and though it’s cut down on releases of late, remains one of the pioneers of world music.
While these five albums can provide a good beginning to world music, there’s obviously much, much more to choose from. Fifty years after her death, French singer Edith Piaf is still a rage across Europe, and is now bracketed in the world music category. Angelique Kidjo of Benin, Africa, is one of the frontrunners of this genre. Her performance in Mumbai two years ago was memorable.
Others you may try include Umm Kulthumm of Egypt, Youssou N’Dour from Senegal, Ofra Haza from Israel, Ladysmith Black Mambazzo from South Africa, Varttina from Finland, Aomusic from the US, Japan’s Kazue Sawae on the stringed instrument koto and Sevara Nazarkhan from Uzbekhistan. Besides these, there are flamenco guitarists Paco de Lucia, Paco Pena, Jesse Cook, Ottmar Leibert and the duo of Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah.
The list is endless, but once you get into some of them, you’ll automatically discover more. World music is an ocean which just keeps growing larger.