A to Z of World Music

Posted on September 30th, 2015 in Features, Recent posts by .

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Confused, bewildered and overwhelmed by the mayhem of global sounds? World music is a maze. And what you need is a good map. So here is our A to Z of world music, taking you from Africa Express to Zimbabwe, from Balkan brass to qawwali and from cumbia to WOMAD. Words: Simon Broughton, Jane Cornwell & Nigel Williamson. Illustration: Andy Potts

atozAAfrica Express

Many Western pop stars develop a fascination with African music but their interest seldom goes much further than incorporating an Afrobeat rhythm or a Touareg guitar groove into their own work. Blur’s Damon Albarn was determined to take the process to another level with Africa Express, creating an open-door platform to bring together African and Anglo-American musicians. Over the last decade, Africa Express has curated a series of fascinating collaborations, both onstage and on record, as the likes of Paul McCartney, Paul Weller and Roots Manuva have jammed with Amadou & Mariam, Bassekou Kouyaté and countless others, exposing African music to a mainstream rock audience as never before. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Various Artists, Africa Express Presents Terry Riley’s in C Mali (Transgressive, 2014)

 

atozBBalkan Brass

There’s been a big boom in Balkan brass in recent years, kicked off by Emir Kusturica and Goran Bregović in the landmark film Underground. It’s become an international party music led by Serbia’s Boban Marković, Macedonia’s Kočani Orkestar and Romania’s Fanfare Ciocărlia. The huge Guča festival has become symbol of Balkan brass in all its intoxicating excess. But the music is nothing new. It was born from a fusion of the military bands of the Ottoman Turks and the Habsburg Empire in the 19th century. SB

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Boban & Marko Marković Orchestra vs Fanfare Ciocărlia, Balkan Brass Battle (Asphalt Tango, 2011)

 

atozCCumbiaCumbia

Originating in Colombia’s Caribbean coastal region, the rhythms of cumbia are said to lie in a courtship dance practiced among African slaves, but were swiftly fused with Hispanic influences to create a tropical Afro-Caribbean dance style that went viral across South America. The golden age of traditional cumbia came in the mid-20th century when its influence reached North America and the likes of Nat King Cole recorded cumbia songs. But in recent years the music has been given a contemporary, urban twist to enjoy a thrilling revival on club dance floors as tecnocumbia and nu-cumbia, incorporating elements of hip-hop, dancehall, dub and electronica. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Various Artists, The Rough Guide to Cumbia (World Music Network, 2013)

 

atozDDiabaté dynasty

West African musical heritage has for centuries been preserved by a hereditary griot caste that has handed down traditional knowledge and virtuosi from father to son. Toumani Diabaté, currently the poet laureate among the world’s kora players, claims a griot lineage of family musicians stretching back 71 generations. His father, Sidiki Diabaté, who originally hailed from the Gambia, was a kora player of legendary fame and his younger brother Mamadou Sidiki Diabaté is a prominent virtuoso. Toumani’s son, also named Sidiki, is the latest recruit to the family tradition, recently recording a spectacular album of kora duets with his father. Another branch of the family, the Jobartehs, continues to dominate Gambian kora playing. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté, Toumani & Sidiki (World Circuit, 2014)

 

atozEÉthiopiques series

The golden age of Ethiopian music ran from the 1950s to the 70s, when the likes of Mahmoud Ahmed, Tlahoun Gèssèssè and Mulatu Astatke filled the nightclubs of Addis Ababa with an intoxicating style of Ethio-jazz, which hypnotically blended pentatonic Ethiopian scales with Western instrumentation. This spectacular but fading heritage was brought back into the spotlight by the award-winning Éthiopiques series of CD reissues, launched by the French ethnomusicologist Francis Falceto on Buda Musique in 1998, and which now runs to a treasure trove of 29 volumes. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Various Artists, The Very Best of Éthiopiques (Manteca, 2007)

 

atozFFado

There’s been a recent revival of Portuguese fado as a new generation of young artists have become interested in its melancholic beauty. The music was born in Lisbon in the early 19th century, became internationally famous in the 1950s, thanks to Amália Rodrigues, but was seen as tainted by the fascist regime a er the revolution that overthrew the dictatorship in 1974. That’s now forgotten and singers like Mariza, Ana Moura, Cristina Branco, Carminho and Gisela João have driven a spectacular rebirth in Portugal and increasingly around the world. Male singers seem less exportable but Carlos do Carmo and Ricardo Ribeiro are superb. And fado’s secret weapon, of course, is the tingling beauty of the Portuguese guitar. SB See also The Songlines Essential 10: Portuguese Fado Albums.

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Mariza, Transparente (EMI, 2005)

 

atozGGraceland

Paul Simon landed himself in hot water when he flew to South Africa in 1985 to begin recording Graceland with black township musicians. Accused of breaking the UN’s cultural boycott against the apartheid regime, with the distance of time the controversy now seems perverse and his response unanswerable. ‘What it represented was the essence of anti-apartheid in that it was a collaboration between blacks and whites to make music that people everywhere enjoyed,’ he said. ‘It was completely the opposite from what the apartheid regime said, which is that one group of people were inferior. Here, there were no inferiors or superiors, just an acknowledgement of everybody’s work as a musician. It was a powerful statement.’ Whatever the politics, he created a landmark album in the history of world music, which won a Grammy award and took the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo to a global audience. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Paul Simon, Graceland (Warner Bros, 1986)

 

atozHGeorge-Kahumoku-Jr-Matt-Thayer-Free1Hawaiian slack-key

One of the world’s greatest acoustic guitar traditions, this solo fingerpicked style is as it says: the practice of loosening some strings from standard tunings to make opening tunings. Sweet and soulful, personal and flexible, with the thumb playing bassline and the fingers improvising around the melody, slack-key has been evolving since the 1830s (when Spanish and Mexican cowboys brought guitars to Hawaii) but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it surged in popularity. Look out for albums by late elders such as Gabby Pahinui and Sonny Chillingworth and by George Kahumoku Jr and young innovator, Makana Cameron. JC

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Makana Cameron, Ki Ho’Alu: A Journey of Hawaiian Slack Key (Punahele, 2003)

 

atozIIsland Records

Founded by Chris Blackwell, Island Records brought reggae to the world in the 1970s via the likes of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals and Burning Spear. Inspired by the label’s success in transforming a rhythm from a tiny Caribbean island into a global musical powerhouse, in the 80s it became the first major label to take world music seriously, signing King Sunny Adé, Salif Keita, Angélique Kidjo and Baaba Maal, among others. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM King Sunny Adé, Juju Music (Island, 1982)

 

atozJAntônio Carlos Jobim

The compositions of the classically-trained ‘Tom’ Jobim encapsulate the essence of Brazilian cool. The prime mover behind the creation of bossa nova, his ‘Garota de Ipanema’ (The Girl from Ipanema) is not only the best-known example of the lilting genre but became one of the most recorded songs of all time after bossa nova took off not only in Rio but conquered the world and was championed by American jazz musicians. Jobim’s compositions have been recorded by almost every significant Brazilian artist and the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, both of whom recorded entire albums of his songs. NW See also Bossa nova – the Ultimate Guide

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Antônio Carlos Jobim, The Girl from Ipanema: The Antônio Carlos Jobim Songbook (Verve, 1995)

 

atozKFela-Kuti-free2Fela Kuti

Fela Anikulapo Kuti, aka ‘he who carries death in his pouch,’ wasn’t just the man who invented Afrobeat, that fiery mix of jazz, soul, funk, highlife and traditional Nigerian and Ghanaian music. He was one of the 20th century’s most influential African figures. A singer, saxophonist and bandleader whose music gave voice to the oppressed, he withstood the wrath of corrupt Nigerian governments. When Fela died in 1997, a million people joined his funeral procession through Lagos. His sons Femi and Seun, along with the likes of Dele Sosimi are keeping the Afrobeat flag flying. JC See also Fela Kuti: A Beginner’s Guide

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Fela Kuti, The Best of the Black President, Vols 1 & 2 (Knitting Factory Records)

 

atozLAlan Lomax

A recent biography of the folklorist Alan Lomax was subtitled The Man Who Recorded the World. And it was no exaggeration, for Lomax’s role in preserving folk music from around the globe was unparalleled. His starting point was accompanying his father on his first field trip to the Deep South in 1933, the pair discovered Lead Belly and recorded his vast repertoire. Working for the Library of Congress, Lomax recorded the likes of Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie and Big Bill Broonzy and then turned his attention to the rest of the world, in particular Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Russia, Romania and the Caribbean. NW

RECOMMENDED ALBUM Various Artists, Alan Lomax Popular Songbook (Rounder, 2003)

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