This is Hugs and Kisses #12, a weekly Sound of the City column from UK-based music writer Mr. Everett True, author of Nirvana: The Biography (da Capo Press) and publisher of Plan B Magazine, a title dedicated to writing about music (and media) with barely a nod towards demographics.
A Hawk And A Hacksaw. . . pretending to be Romanian
HUGS AND KISSES
The Outbursts of Everett True
This week: That misguided phrase ‘world music’
“Celebrating 20 Years of World Music,” boasts the free cover-mounted CD Global-A-Go-Go! given away with this month’s Uncut magazine. The names trailed include Robert Plant recording with his guitarist live in Timbuktu; Damon Alban (Blur, Gorillaz) tinkling the piano in support of Mali Music; the eminently worthy Ry Cooder doing his whole eminently worthy Ry Cooder thing; relocated East European gypsy-punks Gogol Bordello pretending not to be from new York; an Algerian band covering The Clash’s Fatwa-baiting song ‘Rock The Casbah’; an American band pretending to be Romanian (A Hawk And A Hacksaw) and. . . I’m sure you get the picture.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m being a little pedantic here. Maybe I shouldn’t really be finding offensive a term (‘world music’) that seeks to encompass around 95 per cent of the world’s music (both in terms of sales and musical divergence) simply because a handful of marketing people and record labels in the West decided a while back that we need a phrase that describes everything that “isn’t us,” that isn’t thoroughly Americanised, that doesn’t follow the same set of rules blindly, that has its own many, many, many different ways of seeing and playing and hearing, and culture. I mean, for all I know, the originators of the phrase ‘world music’ didn’t intend the term to be parochial, all-encompassing, patronising, ghettoising…but it sure as hell feels that way.
And what’s with this anniversary that Uncut are trumpeting? Open the magazine and you’ll discover that world music is “an eclectic array of global sounds” (no shit, Sherlock). Open the magazine and you’ll discover the facts: apparently, world music was all the NME’s doing…hell, no one from any country outside America and the UK even thought to make music before the Eighties…when in 1987, a collection of independent labels and doubtless well-meaning sorts from the UK got together and discovered to artificially create a new marketing term, launching it with a cover-mounted NME cassette tape…(Um, never mind that world music had been around since at least 1982, when France held its inaugural World Music Day. I guess, that’s the point the champions of ‘world music’ are making…it doesn’t count if it takes place outside America or the UK.)
I’m intrigued. Do all the other countries take this xenophobic view of music, and categorise all sounds from outside their immediate neighbours as ‘world,’ placing Norwegian death-metal next to Steve Reich ambience next to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry next to early 20th classical next to The Ronettes next to Serge Gainsbourg next to Ukrainian throat singing…and so on…in one rack? And even if they did, wouldn’t it still be a fairer representation of the opposing culture than currently takes place?
How dare they? How fucking dare they? How dare Uncut – 20 years on from a misguided attempt by a few individuals to right the imbalance between Western rock and…um…everything else; and about 15 years on from everyone else ridiculing said attempt and dismissing it as hopelessly patronising (with elements of jingoism thrown in) – revive a terminology that should have been thrown out around the time women stopped being treated as second class citizens in Western music?
If you’re looking for a kick-ass compilation of non-Western music, try The Very Best Of Ethiopiques.
Hugs And Kisses Top 5
Five songs that I like
1. THE ROYAL WE, “That Ain’t My Sweet Love” (from the Geographic album The Royal We). The spirit of the early Go-Go’s lives on.
2. THE PANCAKES, “Jane And Jenny” (from the Someone Good compilation Add To Friends). The spirit of non-threatening boy-boy rock lives on.
3. CLOCKCLEANER, “Vomiting Mirrors” (from the Load album Babylon Rules). The spirit of Bauhaus lives on (the first ‘l’ is silent).
4. KATE NASH, “Mouthwash” (forthcoming Fiction single). The spirit of Lily Allen lives in a thousand hopeful A&R men’s dreams.
5. SCRAPPY HOOD (from MILK KAN), “I’m Only Islamic” (CD-R). The spirit of Patrik Fitzgerald lives on.