The repertoire of what some of us call World Music is a mixture of songs that have been hits in countries outside ‘The West’ and others little known in their own countries but celebrated by at least a few of us beyond their borders.
Most weeks in this programme I play recent releases, but this year I plan to go back every couple of months, to pick out songs that feel like classics, the songs that drew each of us into the fold, made us realise that we could like music in languages other than our own, respond to singers who triggered unfamiliar sensations inside ourselves. The programme starts and ends with two songs that were huge hits in their own regions, while being acclaimed outside too.
The Egyptian Amr Diab has been one of the most popular singers throughout the Middle East since the early 1990s, and ‘Ya Nour El Ein’ (The Light of My Eye) is his biggest hit. It has a strong flamenco feel, as if partly inspired by the Gipsy Kings, and is still as effective at filling dance floors and brightening parties as when it was first released.
Amr Diab Through most of the 1980s, I presented a world music show on London’s first commercial radio station, Capital Radio, and often wished that the station would playlist some of the songs that were most popular with my listeners. But in 1987, I was caught by surprise when I heard a song in Portuguese being played in the daytime that I had never heard before. I still don’t know how or why ‘Toda Menina Baiana’ by the Brazilian singer Gilberto Gil made the grade when so many other contenders didn’t. Somehow, it had been played enough in London clubs to be featured on Capital’s dance music show, and then it moved onto the playlist, with me being the last to catch up. A year later, a new head of music came to the station, who was astonished when he heard Peter Young playing a record in a foreign language during the day. He rushed into the studio to find out what was going on. “It was on Capital’s playlist for weeks a year ago, it’s a record that our listeners know very well”, protested Peter. “I don’t care what it is or what it was”, said Richard Park, “it’s never going to be played in the daytime here again.” And it never was.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Zairian musicians scattered across Africa in much the same way that Brazilian footballers are to be found throughout Europe now. Among the most popular mercenaries who carried soukous into East Africa was Orchestra Super Mazembe. They’re mainly associated with Kenya, where they made most of their recordings, but first stopped off in Zambia for a few years, where they picked up a song written and made popular by another Zairian exile, Nguashi N'Timbo, ‘Shauri Yako’, which they turned into an anthem whose popularity has lasted for decades.
Orchestra Super Mazembe
That same year, ‘Im Nin' Alu’ by Ofra Haza was a surprise British hit, widely played on BBC Radio One, after its unaccompanied vocal intro had become familiar through being sampled in Coldcut’s remix of the song ‘Paid in Full’ by the American hip hop duo, Eric B and Rakim. Ofra Haza was very well-known in Israel at the time, having been its Eurovision representative some years earlier, but her album Yemenite Songs was regarded as an aberration until it attracted attention in the rest of the world. Ofra Haza became a worldwide star, topping the pop chart in Germany and signing to Atlantic Records where she worked with renowned arranger-producer Arif Mardin. Contracting AIDS, she died while still in her early forties.
There have been so many albums and live tours from various Gypsy groups from the Balkans over the past fifteen years, it is difficult to rewind the clock and remember the surprise and exhilaration of listening to the first album by the Roman group Taraf de Haidouks in 1991. The tempo of some tracks was so fast, it seemed impossible that the musicians could stay in time with each other, but it was a slow one that drew me back time and again, ‘Balada Conducatorolui’. For a while I couldn’t make out what the strange sound was on the intro, but gradually understood that it must be some trick with a violin. And then there was that heartfelt vocal, which I learned was celebrating the downfall of President Ceauşescu. Still chilling, after all these years.
I’m in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world when I hear Amr Diam’s seductive Middle East lilting rhythms. And under his hot nights people are dancing. But here It’s raining .
It is disturbing looking at the worn faces on this photo of Taraf de Haiidouks; and listening to the tortured violin and battered toothless voice contradicting their courage in the face of such oppression.
I like Gilberto Gil’s clipped enunciation. Like percussion. [You have to wipe away tears for people like Richard Park so afraid of being seduced by world music. To think of all that his public missed through not hearing more like these.]
Thanks too for the stirring harmonies of Ochestra Super Mazembe and that recognisable guitar sound of Africa, like dusty strings. My i-player is not working suddenly....... Aaah, Saturday is nearly over and this repertoire will be gone...
Amazing. Like being there with them in that bleak interior echoing the constraints of their lives. I'm going to re-listen. I didnt notice this vocalist in the photo on the Forum. He's very gaunt. I liked the way they were so observant of one another. Eyes... eyes ...making sounds