Thursday, 22 October 2009

BBC Awards for World Music: Report for Pop Matters, June 2007

BBC Awards for World Music Poll Winner’s Concert
27th May
Review: Adam Green

In the early days of human civilization, music was any sort of vaguely orchestrated sound. Yet these days, after stupendous developments in music technology and the advent of the greatest intellectual refinery of all time – namely the internet – we have become info-nerds of great discernment. Classification has evolved into an algorithm of genres and subgenres; indie-tronica, crunk-soul, ghetto-folk. A friend of mine once wrote an article for our student newspaper about a new genre called ‘Fong’. In fact he had invented the name. Soon thereafter, though, he was approached by a reader who said, in an earnest and quietly chastising manner, that Fong was not new at all, and had in fact already run its course.
So how is it that with such differentiation within Anglo-American music, we are still lumped with the singular term ‘World Music’ to refer to anything and everything outside? ‘World Music’ spans continents, cultures and even historical epochs but suffers a package-holiday representation in the West (not least due to the god-awful ‘Buddha Bar’ compilations and their endless progeny).
Even in the early 60’s, when World Music seemed to make authentic in-roads into the West via Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia and Donovan, it actually functioned more as decorative icing – a sitar here and a melodic noodle there. Few LSD-fuelled bands of the 60’s could resist the addition of token Indian or Hindustani elements, and it smacked a little of cultural tourism. This continued well into the 80’s, with even Graceland remaining essentially a Paul Simon record with feathers.
It was not until the release of records like Buena Vista Social Club, and the success of artists like Manu Dibango, Ali Farka Toure and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan that World Music was given its balls back. Ibrahim Ferrer, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Baaba Maal have also all contributed to its mainstream success and credibility. This process has been aided and articulated by able commentators like fRoots and Songlines, along with the on-going activity within Real World, the label set up by Peter Gabriel and the WOMAD organisation in 1989, and of course World Circuit.
It is against this background of reclaimed independence that Radio 3, home of respected show World Routes, presented the Poll Winner’s Concert for the BBC Awards for World Music 2007. The event, held at the Barbican, UK, on 27th May, was a chance to separate the wheat from the chaff. The winners of the awards were first announced in late March at the Pigalle Club in Piccadilly by a panel of judges, all of whom certainly knew their koto’s from their kora’s.
The winners announced at the nominations ceremony (nice blueberry canapés, by the way) were; Africa (won by Mahmoud Ahmeda), Asia Pacific (won by Debashish Bhattacharya), Americas (won by punk-gypsy nutters Gogol Bordello), Europe (won by French oddball Camille), Middle East and North Africa (won by Ghada Shbeir), Newcomer (K’Naan), Culture Crossing (won by Maurice El Medioni & Roberto Rodriguez), Club Global (won by Gotan Project) and Album of the Year (won by the late Ali Farka Toure’s ‘Savane’)
The Poll Winners’ concert saw the performance of some of these victors, and was overall a success, with superb live performances from Debashish Bhattacharya and Ghada Shbeir, who also won the Audience Award. Less convincing were Gotan Project, whose dull, repetitive disco-tango probably did more damage to the genre than it did good. Unfortunately the impressive young K’Naan could not perform, as his wife was giving birth, though we were privy to a video showcasing his impressive style of rap (though some more aged members of the audience occasionally strained to hear words they might be better off not hearing).
Of course awards smack of our Western competitive spirit, but it’s about time some of the lousy bongo-whacking twits be separated from the real artists. Since World Music is entangled with some of the vague fluff of the New Age, there’s nothing like a good, rigorous vote to sift though it, to help give some definition and detail to the genre. These and similar awards give us a map, some signposts and distinctions, and act as a window into that new land. How else can we ever hope to have a Saharan Rumba Crunk-Core section in HMV?