I received a note from Ludovica at Modern Matters, promoting a pair of new releases on the Nyege Nyege Tapes and Hakuna Kulala labels. I’ll return to both in a moment. First, I’d like to share something that’s been on my mind for some time. This (I hope) will explain why I often say no to requests for coverage of “world music” recordings.
The idea of world music first landed on my radar screen in the mid-1980s. Paul Simon’s invitation to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and other South African artists to join him in the recording of Graceland broadened the global audience for non-Western music significantly. Around the same time, the World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) organization, backed by Peter Gabriel, delighted listeners with introductions to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and a host of other major artists.
For college radio nerds like me, these acts broadened our appreciation of music in important ways. Programs previously dedicated to alternative rock began to feature Bulgarian vocal choirs, zydeco, Celtic music and much more. It was a beautiful mess of conflicting rhythms and social references. The artists’ differences – both cultural and musical – turned what we called “open-format programming” into a celebration of dissimilarity.
Over time, these various styles of music began to appeal to open-minded listeners at least in part because they sounded nothing like conventional Western music. In other words, the same instincts that draw music fans to the avant garde – an appetite for new and interesting sounds – led some to music made by artists in different parts of the world.
And while there’s nothing wrong with programming all of these styles of music side by side, it is deeply problematic when world music is presented in the context of musical experimentation. Just because something sounds different to you and me doesn’t mean it should be categorized alongside the work of an artist who has purposely set out to make unconventional music.
Avant-garde music is consciously different. It is not solely a reaction to traditional musics, but that is clearly part of its appeal.
On the other hand, music from other parts of the world that doesn’t conform to traditional western standards should be seen in a different light. It is not a reaction to western conventions, it exists outside of those conventions.
I think we do that music a disservice when we present it in an avant-garde context. There is an important difference between music made by an Asian composer designed to push the boundaries of jazz, and music made by an African composer whose aim it is to remain true to the traditions of this or that local culture.
Lumping the two together positions the latter as a reaction to Western or other norms. That’s not just wrong, it’s insensitive.
That all said, these two releases sent over by Ludovica are terrific examples of innovation on the African continent.
Nyege Nyege Tapes has a new 15-track compilation out dedicated to Northern Uganda’s Electronic Acholi dance music movement. Electro Acholi Kaboom From Northern Uganda features traditional Acholi courtship songs, reinterpreted between 2003 and 2008. These tracks constitute the emergence of electronic Acholi music in the region.
Hakuna Kulala is releasing a six-track EP by Rey Sapienz, an exiled Kampala-based producer now based in the Nord Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. Sapienz combines Soukous and Kalindula sounds with electronics.
Besides being great recordings, both can be fairly classified as experimental. The artists are consciously pushing boundaries, reinterpreting conventional music styles. They’re well worth your time.