There's NO SUCH THING as WORLD MUSIC - Except for ... EVERYTHING
MUSIC is not a GENRE - Season 2 Episode #32
ALL ABOUT IT
FEATURED SONG: REC - “Sing Owwt” (from Syncopy for the Weird)
Calling something “world music” is like calling people “Earth humans”. In other words: DUH. It’s a genre name that has come to mean something simply because the music industry said it should. But when you poke it, when you dig deeper and flesh out what it’s really saying, you quickly discover that it’s nothing more than a American/Euro-centric way to marginalize any kind of music that’s from “somewhere else”. It’s like the term “exotic”. At first it seems innocuous, but when you pick at it you start to understand that it’s actually meant to DIVIDE not UNITE. It’s meant to characterize something or someone less familiar as also LESS RELEVANT than our core culture.
And again, as I’ve said so many times, we’re as much victims as we are participants in this. We ALL bristle at times from exposure to something unfamiliar. It’s what we do next that counts the most. Do we accept that off-putting feeling and characterize something or someone as “lesser than”? Or do we try to connect with and understand that “otherness”? So yes, we’ve got work to do. But we’re also VICTIMS in that we’ve been fed misinformation & division at every turn. Every step of the way, since the music industry was born, we have been told to like what “our kind” is expected to like, and to ignore or even demonize music that doesn’t fit in those preordained boxes. Once you see that – once you feel how arbitrary genres & labels are, then your senses start to pick up signs & similarities in things you never thought you’d get into.
I say all this because I went through it. This week’s selections, from more or less my formative years, all seemed somehow “foreign” to me when I first heard them. Looking back now from 2020’s pop music vantage point, it seems silly. Every aspect of every one of these releases is SUPER PRESENT in the pop world today, to the point where we barely notice the dozens of non-western influences swirling around. But back then, as with just about every era before & after, music that wasn’t rock or pop or dance or country was what? … “exotic”. It’s doubly silly in these cases because all of these releases are hybrids, merging American/British music with other forms. Again pointing out the futility of trying to describe music by simply giving it a genre label.
UB40 started in 1978 in England, at a time when reggae & ska were huge in underground circles. They had a diverse background, and their love of and immersion into the world of electro-rock tinged reggae made them one of the most successful reggae bands of all time. The album I have is all cover tunes, and catapulted them to international success.
Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine started in 1975 as the Miami Latin Boys. They’re a Cuban-American band with heavy Latin music elements mixed with American pop & dance. “Conga” – their first big hit, and “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” straddle the period when their name changed from just Miami Sound Machine, as Gloria Estefan became more & more popular.
The Jets are a Tongan-American band that started in 1977 in Minneapolis as Quasar, and are made up of Mormon brothers & sisters (Osmonds anyone?). They had eight top-ten hits in the late 1980s, all dance-pop-r&b tunes. “Crush on You” was their first big hit, and an incredible song. Until two days ago, I assumed all these years they were Latin-American, partly because there were a lot of Latin-American artists at the time, partly because of their look, and partly because their name reminded me of West Side Story, though they got it from an Elton John song.
Nardo Ranks is a Jamaican dancehall reggae artist, whose music melds reggae, pop, hip hop and electronic elements. He’s one of the first dancehall artists to cross over into the American mainstream, with his debut 1990 single, “Burrup”, which I have because my brother didn’t want it anymore. Dancehall is a style that also started in the 1970s, but didn’t start to gain any significant commercial success until the 1980s.
ALL of the above styles put together practically define the 2020 pop landscape. Perfect examples: reggaeton is an offshoot of dancehall, which is an offshoot of traditional reggae, and it’s EVERYWHERE. As is Latin music – and Bad Bunny is at the nexus of both of these styles. That is, IF you mix them with pop/dance/r&b, a la The Jets. So yeah, this week’s five selections are basically the DNA of 2020 music.
Non-western culture music has seeped into much of my work, though not prominently. I’ve done a lot of soundtrack music that incorporates styles and/or languages from other countries. The best and most recent hybrid example, though, is my band REC’s latest single:
REC - “Sing Owwt” - https://youtu.be/M_KX7sQABzM
Do you remember any of these bands? Do you hear their descendants and offshoots in today’s music? Do you get what I’m saying about all this stuff being no more “worldly” than anything mainstream America (and Canada & Britain) produces? Have there been times in your music history when you were put off by certain kinds of music? Did you keep it at arm’s length, or did you give it time – and TAKE the time – to get to know it and let it sink in? Discuss dammit!