by Brian Jahn and Tom Weber Da Capo Publishing, 1998, $18.95 ISBN 0-306-80853-6
Every country puts its own ethnic spin on music whose roots are in Africa
World music, world beat, or fusion as it's known to some, is fast becoming the language of every country's musical tongue. Whatever you call it, it's a music that does more for race relations than the latest legislative bill.
For many of us, world music means all things reggae. But the "riddims" of the islands only scratch the surface of what it means to be one planet under a groove. While world music has its roots in Africa, it's become more than just African beats. Every country has its own ethnic spin on the music so that it becomes indigenous to them. Simply put, this music from all over the world can encompass a lot. As David Byrne writes in Music Hound World: The Essential Album Guide, a definitive album tome to world beat could mean "Balinese gamelan, metal salsa, Turkish pop singers, German techno with exotic samples, African guitar pop bands, African field recordings and Japanese pop."
In the foreword to The Black Chord: Visions of the Groove Connections Between Afrobeats, Rhythms & Blues, Hip Hop and More by Vivien Goldman and David Corio, Isaac Hayes wrote that he knew that the funky, smoky beats of old school soul and the shout-your-way-into-heaven gospel lick music he heard on movie soundtracks as a child, were all somehow derived from Africa.
Black Chord draws unusual but interesting polemic parallels between R&B great Fats Domino, and contemporaries like teen R&B star Monica and jazz poets like Jayne Cortez. Hayes' comment mirrors the seemingly sudden ascent of world music into the lives of everyday people. Prime examples are CNN's "World Beat" program, which airs regularly on Sunday afternoons and the plethora of radio stations that play artists as diverse as Angelique Kidjo's (Benin) afro funk, Ladysmith Black Mambazo's (South Africa) a capella, the Bhundu Boys' (Zimbabwe) roots rhythms, and Sister Carol's (Jamaica) patois-ridden reggae riddims.
In the book Reggae Island by Brian Jahn and Tom Weber, the issue of reggae's specific music growth is addressed and by extension, so is the spread of world fusion. The authors give an esoteric, but thoughtful, emotional response to ethnomusic's ever-increasing popularity. "The message of spirituality, peace, and love in a troubled world" seems to have struck a chord in people. The book has a series of interviews from reggae's all-stars like Buju Banton, Bunny Wailer and Third World, who further expound on world music's reach.
Africana, edited by Kwame Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., offers an excellent timeline of world beat's march to populism, begining in the early 1980s. The authors outline the recognition by the entrepreneurial-minded, who saw the music's commercial appeal and began establishing small, independent record labels specifically designed to capture the ears of a general United States and European audience. Real World Records was instrumental in getting the music to audiences on both sides of the pond. Smaller labels more indigenous to the motherland include Shanacie, which released the recordings of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Mango, enabling Angelique Kidjo to become one of the pioneers in the genre. Co-opting the term world music from the field of ethnomusicology, a new genre of music was born.
Like Hayes, scholars Appiah and Gates found that the music of the world came from an area where the most important element of rhythm has been the most consistent--Africa and its Diaspora: the juju from Nigeria, Soukous from Congo, Chimurenga from Zimbabwe, misik from Haiti and soca from Trinidad. The musicians who've drawn inspiration from it, include Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, and David Byrne.
But in the main it's all world music. And as such, the music has its own biblically-inspired lineage. Perhaps the griots begat the chants who begat the beats who begat the djembe who begat the rhythms who begat the rhymes who begat the Negro spirituals who begat the blues who begat the soul who begat the rap who begat the sampled rap. Inspiration is prima facie evidence of world music's appeal.