spacer
The Vacuum Issue 5 spacer Issue 5
Around The World At 33rpm - World Music
by Katy Radford
spacer
Fuelled by a bucketful of Bacardi breezers and in anticipation of a dance with a hard-shell soft-hearted Vinny lookalike, the girls and their handbags head for the floor. The band isn't due on stage for another hour but the DJ overtures with a map of the evening's rhythms and sounds. As Northern Ireland's complexion becomes more diverse, and with more varied cultural practices now the norm, it is easier than ever to access classes in 'Belly' dancing, salsa, and a selection of European folk dances, and not hard to find somewhere on a Saturday night to practice your moves.
spacer
But the success of the nebulously termed 'world music' as a commercially viable product, is contingent on a highly exoticised and partial notion of a vinyl atlas. Promotional forces lurk behind the cultural colonial forays of those great white saviours of our popular musical souls, Mssrs Blackwell, Simon, Gabriel and Cooder. It is their commercial milita that ensure only beats and grooves of appropriate length, performed by visually marketable musicians from sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are at the forefront of our relationships with music of the world. You can't turn round in a record shop now but for a Buena Vista here, there and everywhere. Doubtless great music to dance to, to listen to and to make, but certainly not the only world music out there.
spacer
Some of the more enlightened local promoters have seen the value of engaging acts whose repertoires also draw on heritages from Asia and the middle east. These performers, with musical legacies not directly linked to African music in the diaspora can add a challenge to the bump and grind of the more familiar soundscapes which have become lowest common denominator in world music appreciation. It's fine that the social narratives that music can reflect for the displaced and the diasporic is patently not of leading concern to the Saturday night crowd: I'm not for one minute suggesting that audiences should abandon the dance floor and queue in an orderly fashion to join the rarified and dubious preserve of ethnomusicologists and other informed anoraks nodding in silent appreciation at whining drones and creeping microtones. But rather that by tuning our ears to other forms of music making we acknowledge a more democratic access to and mainstreaming of musical worlds. In doing so music provides an exposure, however limited, not just to entertainment for entertainment's sake, but also to the political, religious and economic aspirations of both the performers and their indigenous audiences. Who'd have thought Mongolian over throat singing would have gone down such a treat up the Falls?
spacer
spacer
For a place that has such a disproportionate sense of its own importance in global terms, Northern Ireland is characteristically musically conservative and reluctant to look without blinkers. Despite years of musical trading and bartering between neighbourhood communities and islands, we are horn locked in a load of essentialist nonsense about ours and theirs, yours and mine. Unionists rail against the 'traditional' canon, which they associate exclusively with nationalism, conveniently omitting their Scottish antecedents input into repertoire of gigs and reels. Nationalists talk of the intimidating dundering of the Lambeg drum, opportunely neglecting its traditional role on AOH parades. Music here is as divisive as elsewhere, rarely used as the powerful tool that it could be to build bridges across interfaces. Rather it is all too often a baboon's arse that we display and use to represent our differences to one another.
spacer
It has taken years of dedication on the part of a number of local musicians and promoters to up the ante and populairse world music here. The packaging and commodification of electronic beats and trancey dancey themes that draw on a marriage of instruments and influences from cross cultural contexts can be dismissed by the purists as a melting-pot of hybridisation. Worse still, in this place where the sanctimonious religious and moral high-ground reigns supreme, popularised music of the world takes traditional sacred instruments and puts them into secular contexts. So what? These are all just excuses not to get up and dance. It should be a cause of celebration that NI audiences are able to access both live and recorded music that brings small pockets of musicians out of isolation or community ghettoes and able to establish and integrate into a wider society. It is the revenge of the colonised to serve up a hot dish in this cold climate. Slug back your breezer and head for the floor, you never know who you might end up dancing with.
spacer
Around The World At 33rpm - World Music
spacer
spacer
home | information | issues | artists & writers | columns | reviews
spacer