World Music redefined by blogs

World Music, a phrase that literally should include all cultures’ sounds but as a genre has become narrowed, softened and commercialized, is being re-invigorated by a new cadre of bloggers with interests in adventure and discovery as well as analytic study, according to Ross Simoninini in the Village Voice Aug 20 – 26 issue. At last, it’s easy to reach beyond those pleasant Putumayo greatest hist packages (“guaranteed to make you feel good”) for fuller access to what’s played and heard all over the globe.

I grew up buying bargain-priced lps in the Nonesuch Explorer Series, gaining an interest in Indonesian gamelan, Ghanian highlife,shepherd’s flute from Burundi and marimba ensembles of Kenya. I developed a belief that recorded music offers an easy way to travel. Ravi Shankar, Jali Foday Musa Suso, Celia Cruz, Umm Kulthum, King Sunny Adé, Bismillah Khan, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Mbuti pygmies, Tibetan Gyoto monks, Brazilian samba schools, guitar bands of the New Guinea rainforest, Middle Eastern oud, Mexican corridos, Andean panpipes and Japanese shakuhachi have all stretched my ears and blown my mind.

But when I edited Rhythm Music (now Global Rhythm) magazine in the early ’90s, “world music” was a term glibly used to cover reggae, Celtic and Irish bands, new agey Native Americans, Afro-pop and other forms ready-made for Western tastes and production values more so than whatever was indigenous to less frequented corners of the planet. Teaching a two-credit elective called “World Music” at New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies this summer, I used everything from the staged gypsy performances of Latcho Drom to in-class appearances by Moroccan Gnawa musician Hassan Hakmoun with composer-percussionist Adam Rudolph to demonstrate it’s all that plus much more.
Thanks to Simonini for bringing to light some devoted amateur and maverick professional ethnomusicologists who emphasize the points — that the world’s musics are infinite, its fusions and cross-influences unpredictable and all the time proliferating — online. Free MP3s and downloads are available  from the deep African Voodoo Funk, Nigerian Igbo Likembe blog, Awesome Tapes From Africa, Ghetto BassquakeBenn Loxo Du Taccu (“world music for the masses”), the Cool Places blog/radio show. These sites, of course, all have links to others. There’s no end to what can be heard, although a quick sampling suggests that the focus is not on field recordings of so-called “primitive” peoples but rather unimaginable adaptations of the tropes that make for international hits with localized traditions and preferences. The sound quality of the files is sometimes less than pristine, but time spent surveying these sites is rewarded with abundant surprise.
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  1. says

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
    HM: Thanks!