Those were the days. I could write succinctly then. Joe - this is one perspective and I doubt that it will help you much. I think PG overstates the role of WM in tackling racism. One only has to look at the 60s/70s to see how black music had already been embraced in the UK - Motown, Stax, Philly, reggae, even rock. Arguably, film, TV, football and other sports were late developers by comparison. It was then natural to expect that as the NF gained support in the late 70s/early 80s there would be the studenty and slightly working class Rock Against Racism. With Paul Weller being a high profile contributor, it built on established 60s ground - guitar groups, soul styles, a bit of ska. I identified with it but it seemed a world away from "the world" and "the world of World Music". A far closer reference in terms of outlook, if not music, would be the huge outdoor concert on a London common that I attended in 1986. Called to oppose Apartheid in South Africa, it was Britain facing outwards. The crowd seemed to me to be a mixture of urban mainstream music fans and the white middle class. A very odd affair in which Gary Kemp and Boy George shared the stage with Princess and Gil Scott-Heron, it took place as the industry was becoming more corporate, news was everywhere and people were travelling more to places abroad for their holidays. Of course, it also followed on from Live Aid which in itself recalled the Concert for Bangladesh back in 1971. It was the new commercial era of sincere political cause. But while one of these movements was about this country and the other wasn't, I doubt that knee-jerk racists were ever likely to have been won over by either of them - RAR or Anti-Apartheid. And perhaps that is the only thing that really draws the two closely together.
I don't think that the industry was at root wholly racist either. However, its lens was not naturally on a diversity of culture but rather the far narrower concept of what would sell. By the early 1960s, the profitability of Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Chuck Berry and others could hardly be questioned but there were significant doubts about little known youngsters in Detroit and Kingston. Certain forceful and imaginative individuals pushed through the boundaries of that framework to show that earlier assumptions were not necessarily correct. But it is surely no coincidence either that there was soon to be in the UK an appetite for black music that could be identified as being domestically relevant. The commercial profitability of white Americana was bound to have led to some natural leaning towards black Americana. After all, we allegedly shared the same language. Meanwhile, the growing popularity of West Indian music here reflected immigration patterns. Given that there was considerable ethnic diversity in the UK by the late 1980s, it is tempting, and not wholly ridiculous, to see the emergence of World Music as a similarly reflective phenomenon, albeit one needing a slight nudge. However, I would see another trend as being of greater significance. By that time, there had been over 30 years of pop culture. There was a myriad of tribal cultural groups from each era, some oppositional, and the sense of ongoing development in popular music had partially come to a halt. Some of the earlier styles were ready for musical mix and match. Having been marginalised, World Music was well placed to be a part of it. It could provide fresh inputs, it partially connected with new dance trends and it wasn't burdened by the frozen rock reference points of, say, 1967 and 1977.
I was born in 1962. I first went to WOMAD in the early 1990s. I then went with people of my own age who had surprisingly hippyish rock tastes and hence were a bit out of their own time. The music they liked was popular when they were children. One or two were already parents. We had babies in tow! Those people had some interest in the rave scene, although they were in the upper end of that age bracket. They liked Whirly-Gig and they appreciated what Womad offered to families. I guess that people like Steve Hillage represented to them the connection between the new and the old. I was more the indie guy but with affectionate memories of the singles chart in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That had given me a grounding in reggae and particularly folk and soul. I was somewhere between the Pogues and the Stone Roses in 1989. Both seemed current but they drew on the 1960s folk and rock traditions as well as incorporating aspects of what had occurred in the late 1970s. I saw the latter at Alexandra Palace and soon attended the celtic Fleadh in Finsbury Park on many occasions. I also saw live acts as diverse as Edwyn Collins, Big Audio Dynamite, De La Soul, Black Slate and Christy Moore at that time. I went to a lot of gigs and was open minded musically but within parameters. I listened to Kershaw, Crowley, Harris, Peel. By contrast to others of my age, I hadn't travelled widely although I had just started inter-railing. Any music that was new to me tended to be "another country" so there was nothing especially exotic about WM. Initially, apart from Graceland, it was AK's enthusiasm that worked for me in respect of African music. I liked its unaffected quality and sense of joy. I was unaware of an earlier history of African musicians in London and America.
My first two visits to Womad were rather puzzling. It didn't seem very Peel or Kershaw. I roamed around feeling that the vibe was different from what I had known. There were so many names I didn't comprehend. I veered towards the English and American acts but there weren't many of them. As for the rest, I didn't quite get them. The audience also surprised me. It seemed very white and more middle class than me, at least in my head. One of my group was an English guy born to an African father and a Swedish mother. He used to joke about trying to spot the other black man in the crowd! So in a nutshell this was not a place which spoke to me about racial integration in the UK. It was its own unfathomable island with a uniquely international worldview. Conceptually I thought that was lovely but musically I wasn't so sure and at one point I was getting ready to leave it. But then that very morning I broke away from the group and walked around the site on my own. I saw a group of musicians rehearsing and the music took my breath away. I knew I just had to stay until the afternoon then. The others didn't want to know so I watched them on my own and was hooked. Guo Yue from China and Joji Hirota from Japan. It might not be a coincidence that they leaned towards classicism. What then followed, I think, was an opportunity to see Youssou N'Dour. He was fantastic on whatever night that was - it was late on a Sunday. Somehow, it unlocked resistance. I kept going back, long after the other people had moved on, and found very quickly that I wanted to see a bit of everything. As knowledge improved, and the number of fantastic performances I had witnessed increased, the more I identified with it to the extent that the festival and the music effectively became a spiritual home.
I tend to appreciate musical things for what they are as long as they are enjoyable. Show of Hands once joked that people could see Transglobal Underground instead "if they liked that kind of thing". That seemed to me to be a sense of world roots finding contradictions with modern dance on the grounds of authenticity. Ironically, SOH are wholly English. I believe that it is entirely logical for innovative modern acts, perhaps particularly the cross-cultural collectives, to be welcomed while if there is to be British inclusion, and I do fully support that, it is right that much of it should be roots based. The Imagined Village drew some of these strands together and the Afro Celts have done the same. Both of these can now be placed in a broader world context with the advent of non-British collectives like AfroCubism. Certainly too the audience at Womad is quite a lot more diverse than it used to be. It also seems to relate more on a domestic level but that could just be a change in me. It is the detail that delights - the art, the curious links with cuisine, the distinctiveness of a Lo Cor de La Plana or an Enkh Jargal. As for Radio 3, it has helped me enormously in recent years to have access to World Music of all kinds but it is the academic angle of it that can be most rewarding. I wouldn't find it easy to learn about traditional music elsewhere. GT mentioned Dr Lucy earlier on. I see her as the professor I was never lucky enough to have at my own university. She is one of the main reasons why I continue to pay my licence! All of the presenters though offer interesting angles. That's what I like most about WM now. It is a bit like a rubics cube. You can see so many patterns in the mould and look at them all in endless, colourful ways. Best of luck with your work! Lat.
Last edited by Lateralthinking1; 11-09-11 at 21:12.
I chose this subject because I’ve been exposed to world music since I was a child. My parents played a lot of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and took me to WOMAD festival. For the past few years I’ve been organising music events in Sheffield. The music I collect and DJ has heavy ‘worldy’ influences, and we try to showcase varied live bands. Now that I’m studying human geography I’m keen to combine my love of world music in an academic sense. My tutors made sure we knew how much reading and commitment was involved in a dissertation, so I thought I’d chat to people about music and call it work!
I’m trying to talk to as many people as possible. I’m focussing my study on two community radio stations here in Sheffield: they broadcast a lot of global tunes and have many non-native language shows. Plus Sheffield’s demographic is very mixed: with large Somali, Pakistani and Afro-Caribbean communities. The difficulty for me is to obtain the opinion of listeners of the shows. I’ve done lots of academic reading and spoken to some presenters of shows. These sources are very outspoken about the subject area, as they have a vested interest in the topic. Gaining access to listeners in very difficult. I contacted Philip Tagney, Senior Producer of Late Junction on BBC Radio 3 about my project. He was the one to point me in the direction of this forum, for which I’m very grateful!
I listen to a wide range of world music to be honest, from stuff like Telek which I interpret as quite traditional and relaxing; right through to Polish drum and bass, with artists such as Masala Soundsystem. Would you like to listen to a mix I made? It is geared more towards the club nights I organise, but it gives a flavour of the contemporary songs I like. I can post the link to soundcloud if you’re interested.
Thanks for pointing me in the direction of Dr Lucy Durán. Does she not present shows on Radio 3? I think I may have seen her at WOMAD before she was live on air!
I hope you read this reply and respond. Thanks for your input.