Growing up in 1960s Belfast, I remember the excitement when my dad brought back a green pepper from Smithfield market in the seedier part of the city centre. Some time later, I think I sampled an avocado pear and didn’t think much of it, foolish child that I was.
As with food, so with music. Just as peppers from the plastic tunnels of Spain and the greenhouses of Holland are the standard fare of supermarkets these days from Falmouth to Fishguard, so we have assimilated music from Benin to Viet Nam and cellophane-wrapped it as ‘world music’.
In 1960s Belfast, music came courtesy of Irish showbands, or from across the Irish Sea, or – if your ears were a little more open – from across the North Atlantic Ocean. Otherwise, there was only the occasional aberration like The Singing Nun, who hailed I think from Belgium. And Nina and Frederick, who derived from the principality of Denmark.
This week, I received a wonderful double CD of 80s World Music Classics courtesy of the Nascente label, which seems dedicated to re-packaging great music from all over the globe at a most reasonable price. The compilation was inspired by dear old Charlie Gillett, who died fairly recently at an age when he would have just been getting used to having a free bus pass. Charlie was a lovely unassuming man who wrote the classic tome about American R&B, The Sound of the City. He used to host a late-night music show on Channel Four with some daft dingbat, who couldn’t string a sentence together without making you cringe with embarrassment. I think she’s still alive.
All the classics of that exciting era of discovery are here. All the tracks that my friend, Pete, discovered while working as a teacher in the Gambia and thereafter packaged on a series of cassette tapes christened The Africa Series, which he copied selflessly for his friends. Before those tapes, my own limited idea of world music consisted of Jamaican reggae and Nigerian music courtesy of Osibisa and King Sunny Adé (whom Island tried to market as ‘the African Bob Marley’).
They’re all here. There’s a track from Salif Keita’s album, Soro, which introduced me to the extraordinary angelic voice of the albino minstrel from Mali. There’s a track from the first of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares albums, which acquainted western listeners with the cademces and slightly unsettling harmonies of Bulgarian female choral music. There’s Gilberto Gil’s original ‘Todo Menina Baiana’, which was covered, bizarrely, by Georgie Fame and produced, even more bizarrely, by Stock, Aitken and Waterman. There’s some jit jive from the Bhundu Boys of Zimbabwe, who treated my wife and me at the Leadmill, Sheffield (blissfully unaware as we were at that time of the misery that would befall that nation) to some of the most joyful music we had ever witnessed. There’s one of the tracks that broke Cheb Khaled in the UK, the moustachioed Algerian rai singer with the cheeky grin. There’s…
|'Forward in all directions!'|
Enough already! Save to mention the 3 Mustaphas 3, whose track ‘Linda Linda’ concludes the first of these two succulent CDs (‘Don’t say that word!’). Supposedly the nephews of Uncle Patrel Mustapha, Hijaz Mustapha, Sabah Habas Mustapha, Houzam Mustapha, Niaveti Ill et al were all pseudonyms of good old British musicians, who were surely the musical equivalents of the legendary music hall sand-dancers, Wilson, Keppel and Betty. Their slogan ‘Forward in all directions!’ reflected an ability to play convincingly music from all over the globe and to mix genres (such as Country music sung in Japanese) with reckless abandon. Unsurprisingly, such fez-wearing lunatic genius earned them the patronage of John Peel the Divine.
Anyway, if you want the best overview of the burgeoning world music scene in the 1980s at the best price this side of Pound Stretchers, buy this handsome CD. There. I’ve done my bit to justify my promotional copy. If you’ll excuse, I must arise and go now, and go to the great chateau of Curemonte (‘un des plus beaux villages de France’) for a concert of jazz this evening. It’s a tribute to Oscar Peterson. I know nothing about the pianist nor his group, but listening to jazz inside a beautifully restored medieval chateau appeals to my bourgeois sense of discretion.
Besides, we’re not yet in high summer (despite the weather), when the cultural cup overfloweth, so you have to grab such offerings with both hands during the rest of the year. ‘Wish me luck, as I wave you goodbye…’