Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Given what “world music” is – music from all over the world, duh! – you'd think it had been with us always.
“World music” as we know it today only made itself known by that description after June 29, 1987, the day when some British record importers, promoters and like-minded people working with artists from all over the world got together and hatched a concept.
Like all great ideas it emerged from a pub – The Empress of Russia in Islington, London – but unlike most great pub ideas it actually made it out the door after closing time.
That day these people discussed their problem: How do we get people interested in all this fantastic and different music from places like Mali and Bali, Fiji and Tbilisi . . .?
The CDs were being imported and sometimes the artists even touring outside of their home countries (notably at Womad festivals, which had initially limped but after a few false starts had begun to sprint). But there was no specific place in record shops where you could find their music.
So they proposed the idea of “world music” as a catch-all marketing banner under which they could place their music in shops.
And for a while Samoan church choirs were there alongside Korean hip-hop, but as the genres grew and more artists recorded and found success, stores created separate bins and the next thing you know . . .
Today world music is just another weave in the tapestry of popular sounds – we can perhaps credit the high profile of artists such as Buena Vista Social Club for moving it from record shops to living rooms and concert halls – and no one needs ask what a Womad is anymore.
(Before the first Womad came to New Zealand in the early Nineties many surveyed thought it was a women's festival.)
And this year's Womad at that beautiful site in New Plymouth typically features musical diversity, a few pop acts (they've always been part of the programme) and artist you don't know now but will be talking about for years to come once you've seen them.
So let's raise a glass – as they doubtless did at the Empress of Russia almost 27 years ago – and toast who is coming to Taranaki this weekend. And here are my picks of whom to see. Follow the intralinks for more on those artists.
OF THE ASIAN PERSUASION
Shanren from Southwest China are going to be interesting. They grew up on illegally sourced rock records (Led Zepp etc) and started out as a punk-rock'n'roll band in Beijing before realising they missed their beautiful home province of Yunnan. So on their latest album Left-Foot Dance of the Yi they reconnect with their roots on traditional songs, then hit the metal-edge button on the amps. They are folk-rock-reggae from China (and dress the part).
Japan is providing an equally unexpected band: Osaka Monaurail take their lead from jazz-funk and especially James Brown. So expect some furious stagecraft and funk beyond the call of duty.
On a more traditional tip: Asif Ali Khan from Pakistan studied under the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan so brings the soaring, soul-penetrating sound of Sufi qawalli music to Womad. Anyone who has caught a qawalli act previously will be heading for front of stage early.
OUT OF AFRICA
Mokoomba from Zimbabwe might most conform to people's idea of African music: they are young, hot and rocking, and will bring the dance vibe (and get all those interpretive dancers to their feet, be warned).
But look out to for the great Emel Mathlouthi from Tunisia who turn her beautiful voice into a powerhouse megaphone to broadcast political messages of liberation. She's really something and not many artists from Tunisia draw a line between Joan Baez and Radiohead, nor have had a song (the title track of that album) become the soundtrack to a liberation struggle. Not to be missed.
And of course firebrand Femi Kuti.
EUROPE FOR THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
The safe money is on the exceptional Ane Brun who is variously attributed to Sweden and Norway because she mostly lives between the two. A diamond voice and songs existing between elevating pop, folk and classical, she's guaranteed to deliver. Arrive early, get down front, and be ready to dance because she does that too.
For a more noisy European experience you could so worse than Los Coronas from Spain, especially if Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western soundtracks (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly etc) or twanging surf-rock (the Ventures, Safaris) means anything to you. They rock. In stetsons.
If a more laidback, deeper groove is your thing then be there for France's Dub Inc. Their name tells you all you need to know, except expect songs in Arabic, Berber, English and of course . . .
La Chiva Gantiva are from Belgium (except they mostly come from Colombia) but they toss out rap, rock, soul and Latin grooves. You've been warned.
And finally but hardly least, the exceptional Carminho from Portugal has almost reinvented soulful fado from late-night clubs. She'll transport you to a smoky bar where hurt men and women soak battered souls in dark wine and her moving songs.
Oh, and Breabach out of Scotland are terrific. Forget jokes about why do bagpipers always walk when they are playing? (A: To get away from the noise). These people rock (with pipes and fiddle!)
STATESIDE WALKING THE WALK
Nice to see NIneties sensations Arrested Development back because their brand of consciousness hip-hop was always understated and appealing; then there's retro-futurist Pokey LaFarge bringing swing, jazz, country blues and the spirit of the 30s into the new millennium, Indo-rockers Red Baraat out of Brooklyn shoving bhangra, Bollywood and hip-hop beats together, and Makana offering Hawaiian slack-key guitar takes on folk, bluegrass and blues . . .
Thoroughly elsewhere is Mallorca-born singer Buika who lives in Florida and was once a Tina Turner impersonator in Las Vegas. Doesn't come much more “world” than that, but she has found her true self in a sort of jazz-fado-flamenco and soul idiom and she will bring all that – plus some Billie Holiday comparisons – when she performs.
Umm, then there is Them and Us? Them being Australia (Airileke originally out of PNG bringing Melanesian drumming, trance and doubtless some goodtime dub-reggae grooves) and the Us contingent being: Delaney Davidson, Kimbra (yes!), Latinaotearoa (just as it says on the box), Moana and the Tribe, Tim Finn, the Bads and many more.
And there are others on the bill (how could I not mention Spain's harmonica virtuoso Antonio Serrano?) plus NZ Masterchef Jax Hamilton's food'n'chat events at the taste of the World tent, artists in conversation, good food . . .
Of course . . . but you'll find them for yourself over the weekend of March 14-16
RECOMMENDED ALBUMS BY WOMAD VISITORS AVAILABLE AT JB HI-FI STORES
Shanren, Left Foot Dance of the Yi
Emel Mathlouthi: Kelmti Horra
Buika: La Noche Mas Larga
Mokoomba: Rising Tide
La Chiva Gantiva: Vivo
Airileke: Weapon of Choice
and of course albums by locals like The Bads, Kimbra, Latinaotearoa, Tim Finn, Moana and the Tribe . . .
AND there's a very useful Womad 2014 compilation available, so you have no reason to say to a stranger next to you, “Sorry I don't know”. Better to say, “Oh yeah, they're fantastic. This is . . .”