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Real or Unreal World?

PostPosted: Mon Jul 03, 2006 5:39 pm
by howard male
Garth's mention of Q Magazine (in the Canon Cathedral topic) reminded me that I really should put a posting up about the Real World 20th Anniversary Party I attended last Wednesday afternoon and evening out in the wilds of Wiltshire. The presence of Peter Gabriel himself, plus Eric Clapton and Midge Ure could perhaps fuel the notion that Real World is the Q of world music labels, or am I being a little unfair?

I am curious to know what others feel about the whole Real World thing. Do they have a house style? And if so, do you like it? I don't own many Real World recordings and I've always been under the impression there is a destinctive and rather off-putting leaden quality to some of the stuff - a kind of hangover of eighties production values. I was quite fond of the Los De Abajo album they put out last year and also the first Severa Nazarrkan album, but the new Mapfumo is the least compelling thing he's done for a while and the Charles Musslewhite left me completely cold even though I've enjoyed some of his previous work.

It was certainly interesting to find myself in their huge high ceilinged studio for the press conference, overlooking a mini lake, rolling hillocks, and a manmade waterfall listening to selected tracks from future releases from Severa Nazarkhan, Little Axe, Daby Toure, Adrian Sherwood and others. When the first track we were played kicked in, and the sound wasn't coming from the banks of visible speakers of various sizes directly in front of us, but from ten foot high speakers built into the walls, I suddenly felt this was maybe part of the problem: Real World recordings nearly always sound BIG, and big isn't always the right ambience for world music. The best of this bunch, ironically (at least from just hearing one track) was the Little Axe - it just sounded more Real despite the fact it was less World. Sevara (for like all the best pop stars and would-be pop stars she seems to now be going for the single short-and-sappy name) sounded disappointingly westernised, though she was at pains to point out that this was the direction she wanted to go in. But I shall reserve judgement until I hear the rest of the album. She was a delightfully lively little thing though - a long way from the austere trad costumed lady of her promo photos. Though I suppose this is in keeping with the fact she is a Kiley-style pop star back home in Uzbekistan.

In the evening there was a concert featuring some of the above artists and once again Little Axe came off best. A firework display gave those behind the scenes time to quickly burn CDs featuring tracks from the performance we had just seen, and it was all very a very slick and cosy operation. So once again - what do others think of Real World?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 04, 2006 10:33 am
by Chris Walsh
I reckon they're a hugely important label on the scene, up there with World Circuit... although I must admit a lot of their stuff just isn't my bag.
Like you Howard, it's more to do with the way the records are produced than the music itself that puts me off. That said, I do think that it's vital that there is a label out there 'westernizing' world music... people need a way in - and sometimes starting with a World Circuit (or other) release as a first experience is a bit too much of an ask.
Thinking back on how I got into WM, it was through people like Rabih Abou Khalil and David Fiuczynski... and that was only because I was into Jazz in a big way and wanted to hear some other takes on it. I'm still of the opinio that Jazz is the ultimate confluence of genre's - free of the usual snootiness that often pervades rock, country, world and pop. In my retail years, I always found that the jazz fans could be guided over to the world music department with the least kicking and screaming. I can't tell you how many times people have asked for the BVSC record, only to be totally put off to discover that it's not in the rock n' pop bit.

PostPosted: Fri Jul 07, 2006 7:00 pm
by Rod B.
I’m very glad that you raised this issue, Howard, because I remember being really disappointed by the Los de Abajo CD when it first came out, and wondering how much their move to Real World had to do with it. For me, LdA vs the Lunatics lacks the musical impact, energy or inventiveness of their CDs on Luaka Bop. Three things:

1. the production may be of the highest technical standards, but for me it is too clean, too bright, too precise, for this type of music;
2. At 65 minutes the CD itself is just too long to retain attention, not helped because the weaker tracks are themselves too long (one towards the end over seven minutes);
3. Finally, it all seems too obviously targeted at the UK Womad-going audience (how else to make sense of the inclusion of the cover of that horrible Fun Boy Three song and the strange Natacha Atlas duet tacked on the end).

This is not to say it is a bad CD, just a rather safe and uncompelling one compared with their previous two.

How much the above is down to Real World is a completely different question as I haven’t heard enough of their CDs to be able to tell. The only other one I own is Ozomatli’s Street Signs, and although I think that is disappointing in very similar ways to the Los de Abajo CD, I’m not sure what if anything Real World had to do with its production. And by contrast, Real World picked up Estrella Morente’s Mi Cante y una Poema for release in the UK (originally it was out on Virgin in Spain), and that CD is of course more or less faultless!

PostPosted: Sat Jul 08, 2006 1:18 am
by howard male
I know what you mean about shiny, Rod, and about the CD being too long, but the length has always been a problem for me with LDA albums (as with may albums these days) but at least it wasn't completely crippled by the production values some Real World albums have - it still cracks along, and sounds like a live band at the peak of their powers.

I've just had a look at my Real World albums, and three which have worked are: The Blind Boys of Alabama's Spirit of the Century, The Musicians of the Nile, and Toto La Momposina Y Sus Tambores, the latter two just sound like very polished field recordings to me - which is no bad thing.