Friday, March 13, 2009

Abstract Index Playlist - March 11/09

I unfortunately didn't get to speak with Sublime Frequencies' Alan Bishop when conducting interviews for my recent "state of the world" article. The quotes in the article came from a detailed email interview which was quite interesting. He is rightfully cynical about the methods and motives of many players in the 'world music industry' while maintaining his admiration for the pioneers of the category: labels such as Folkways, Nonesuch Explorer, and Chant Du Monde.

While it is impossible to act completely transparently as an agent bringing musical obscurities to North American audiences, Sublime Frequencies does not over- mythologize its artists by lingering on exotic backstories that make for great editorial copy. One of Bishop's quotes in the interview cuts to the quick of the dilemma of the 'world music journalist' - it's impossible for any one person to have a strong critical knowledge of every single one of hundreds of genres which might end up on one's desk, so the backstory and the circumstances surrounding a recording tend to be written about disproportionately. Bishop said "most journalists are hardly qualified to discuss the music (we put out) simply because they’ve never spent any time listening to/researching it before. They tend to focus on the label itself; its methods, aesthetic, marketing, business practices, etc—or the personalities of those behind the label. This is due to the fact they are not remotely qualified to discuss the music itself seriously. Rarely are we impressed by a journalist’s knowledge of music."

Any music journalist will encounter music they can't get a handle on and one of two things will happen: they'll embrace the challenge and try to find out more about it to convey a more considered opinion, or they'll reject it because they can't understand it and won't try, usually for fear of looking stupid. I'll always take the former path, even if I run the risk of getting it wrong. I'm also guilty as Bishop charged - I haven't said jack about this music yet, I've only written about issues surrounding its distribution. In my experience, music nerds crave this kind of analysis, though it's easy to tip the balance too far in this direction.

As for the disc in question, Group Bombino, from Agadez in Niger, is even more live and lowdown than boogie shuffle of Tinariwen, and the presence of a drum kit reminds me of some of the more successful blues-rock-funk crossover sides of John Lee Hooker or Bo Diddley. Unlike Tinariwen, the recordings are super-saturated with noise which creates sympathetic (or wildly aggressive!) droning throughout the music, occasionally compressing other instruments lower in the mix. At times, as on this week's track, the guitars get into a nearly heavy metal thunder, which makes me wonder whether any Black Sabbath cassettes made it out to the Sahara.

SF wisely pressed this title on LP - Side B is electric, side A is acoustic but no less intense. I'm no vinyl acolyte, but this music sounds so sweet coming off wax... This label continues to do great work not just in celebrating underexplored sounds of the world, but in striking a balance between information and mystery.


blues for c - aki takase/konrad bauer (victo)
perdido - the clarinet summit (black saint)
counter vibes - the uncommitted (no label)
they - ddmmyyyy (we are busy bodies)
jardim dos deuses - joyce, mauricio maestro, nana vasconcelos (far out)
bulgun - ervena orgaeva (smithsonian folkways)
cafe svetlana - ahilea (essay)
ragga mami - shukar collective (eastblok)
broken jazz hands - biblio (5 1/4)
(re) produktiv - professor psygrooves (jarring effects)
eronafene tihoussayene - group bombino (sublime frequencies)
mrs. morris - charles spearin (arts and crafts)
brown dog - pau torres (testing ground)
shrugging into spring - clive bell/sylvia hallett (emanem)
sun cycles - nicole mitchell (delmark)
loonich - radikal dub kolektiv (no label)
one more draw - friendliness & human rights (no label)
to them - smoke (echo beach)
travelling man - digitaldubs & ras mcbean (digitaldubs)
breaking down the pressure - singers and players (on-u sound)
you don't care - cornell campbell (moll-selekta)
the world needs love - tommy mccook (treasure isle)

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