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Review

When music tries Esperanto  

Yanni and Enigma feature on this compilation of 'world music'. And lest you go looking, it offers no Indian sounds, except a Sanskrit shloka somewhere

This is World Music
Virgin
Rs 125 (cassette)

It was perhaps inevitable that our post-modern age, characterised by collapsible political, business, literary and musical frontiers, should give rise to an all-encompassing genre that has come to be called 'world music'.

World music seems to be the musical equivalent of Esperanto. Neither can claim to have evolved naturally through history, and so perhaps neither has any of the grandeur, allusiveness or intimacy that time endows natural languages with. But then you can't deny the experimental validity of world music, and the interesting new juxtapositions it can come up with.

The jacket of this album gives you a brief history of world music. "World music," it says, "is a sweeping category used to describe international styles that are neither art nor classical, nor artificially preserved folk music, but rather the living music of ordinary people".

The genre emerged as an answer to the straitjacket of modern merchandising. Small record labels in London found that their releases featuring African and South American artistes "did not find rack space ... because the stores had no category in which they could be put". And so they thought up this name.

Virgin Music's This is World Music could define for you what the genre is all about. It features 14 tracks with sounds from many far-flung regions of the world.

Sacred Spirit's Winter Ceremony  reminds you of old country/folk songs from Peter Paul and Mary. Sacred Spirit blends native American chants and dance songs. A harmonica-like instrument is the highlight.

Kelefa by Abdul Kabirr and The Soto Koto band makes you think you are listening to some vintage disco track like Stayin' Alive from the Beegees. A tinkling instrument plays the lead on a track of African drums and leads on to African voices, and trumpets in the big band jazz style.

Song 3 has some familiar chord progressions and the bossa nova/Latin beat reminded me of countless Hindi film songs. The guitar lead is deft.

Song 4 has a very interesting African male singer's voice on a bleak timpana. Reposeful and introspective. The chord backup comes in late and so do the bass and rhythm guitars, but both are very understated. At a later point the song takes on a canticle-like air. Reminded me of some Sting songs like Fragile and Message in a bottle dating back to his Police days.

Song 5 has interesting chord progressions and the colourful inputs come in again from Africa. Their music opens up huge spaces of thought and vibrant blotches of colour. A bit like our folk music in its directness, and far from the delicate colouring that we are used to in Indian classical styles.

Song 6 is from Enigma and the French murmurs are replaced by a Sanskrit shloka with the trademark Enigma orchestration -- deep beat, Gregorian chants. Yanni's piece Nightingale is a classic in his repertoire, and uses the pentatonic Chinese scale or what we might call Bhoop or Mohana. The tune is soft on the flute, and is backed up by a deep violin ensemble.

There is no representation of Indian attempts at world music in this compilation.

In any case, it too much to expect Indians to show some pride in their musical heritage? The other day when I remarked that there was no hint of Indianness in an Indian rock singer's music, an acquaintance retorted, "Why should there be?"

Let's put it this way. If you don't speak from where you stand, you have nothing to say.

S Suchitra Lata



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