A long time ago, at another radio station in a faraway land, I worked a Sunday morning shift from about 7:00 a.m. until Noon. During that shift, I had to play a national show called "Flashback," in which the host would play songs from the 1970s and 80s (though, to me at the time, that wasn't much of a "Flashback." In any event, while dreaming up this week's World Music Show (2/16), I remembered that job I had and thought, "Hmm, how would that apply to World Music?"
So, in that nutshell you have the genesis for this week's show (and, no, there will be no Genesis on this week's show). I figure that in playing some global music through the decades, perhaps the world will become a little bit closer to all of us. Now, of course, the question begs "Where to begin?" And, as we all know, music from around the globe has been played in the U.S. for Centuries, in the form of Classical music. But this show's gist takes a more modern bent--the farthest back I usually go is to the late 1940's or early 1950's. And, if you're a frequent listener to the program, then you know that I tend to favor a more pop-ish or folkish beat than a more classical one. That's my territory and where my passion lies.
And a good place to start as any is with the great band leader and television/screen star Desi Arnaz. Getting his start in radio and in the nightclub circuit, Arnaz built a solid fanbase with his introduction of Cuban and Conga beats to many Americans. In fact, Arnaz claims he was the first to bring the sounds of the Conga to American ears--that said, he actually wasn't, but he did popularize it. And what better song to start our Flashback World Music Show, than with Arnaz's trademark "Babalu."?
Also in this first set, will be other giants of early World Music (though, it wasn't really defined as that at the time), by the legends Carmen Miranda and Harry Belafonte. Like Arnaz, both of these stars were heavy travelers on the nightclub circuit. Sadly, though, Miranda felt she never got the respect and appreciation she deserved. She felt that many only thought of her as the lady singer with the fruit on her head. And really, I can now understand this more, since my first knowledge of her came as a caricature through Bugs Bunny cartoons and from the Bop Hope/Bing Crosby road movies. But in being able to look back at her career now, you can see that she was an accomplished singer and guitarist.
From that 1950s' era, we move to the turbelent 60's. But in this case, I'm not thinking about the social and political upheaval which gripped much of the planet, but instead I'm talking about the musical liberation that many countries suddenly felt. There was a ton of great music happening during this decade--especially in France, Brazil and Japan. From those countries, we'll hear from France's France Gall and Anna Karina; as well from Astrud Gilberto (who famously didn't want to sing her signature song "Girl from Ipanema); and from Eiko Shuri, who was part of the Ye-Ye-movement, which highlighted girl pop groups around the globe. We'll also hear from France's Elvis Presely, otherwise known as Johnny Hallyday and from the singer Eileen, who covers (and adds her own twist to) Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are made for Walking."
I'm sure you're following the progression of this Flashback show by now, so to move forward (or back), some highlights from the 1970's, include a foray into some early Ska music by Dave & Ansell Collins and from a young Jimmy Cliff. And if you think Ska was the only offbeat music happening at the time, there were actually Ska-subsets, called Two Tone Ska and Rocksteady. Also in this set will be tracks from Nigeria, which at this time was experiencing an explosion in Highlife, Afrobeat and Afro-Funk music. We'll hear from The Immortals and from Rex Williams, who were two of most popular artists touring Nigeria at that time. And we'll hear some Psychedelic funk music from Turkey by Kalyanji Anandji and some Funk-Rock Eruptions that were coming out of Communist Hungry, by Omega Redstar. Plus, to cap off this decade and this hour, we'll hear some experimental New Wave music, that featured world beats, by the Talking Heads (who were a forerunner in terms of infusing world beats into their music).
For hour two, the needle on the turntable (sure, I know you know that I'm playing CD's but, I like the image) will get stuck in the 1980s. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, is that there was a ton of great music coming from all over the map. And two, there are a few examples I want to play of Western style Pop Music which definitely showcases an underbeat of World Beat influence these artists had in their music.
And, with some of the music in the 1980's, there was a political freedom that many artists were now suddenly allowed or felt comfortable expressing. Now, whether this stems from societal freedoms or political ones, I can't quite answer, but you can sense and hear this freedom of expression in some tunes. For instance, in Peter Tosh's song "Legalize It," in which he was singing about loosening the reigns on Marijuana usage in his country or in Peter Gabriel's song "Biko," in which he was eulogizing the death of South African Aparthied opponent Stephen Biko, these songs couldn't have come out any other earlier decade--let alone be played on FM radio. But, this topic is perhaps better for a collegiate paper than in a blog about World Music.
To continue the Flashback theme in this decade, we'll also hear some updated Ska music from one of my favorite bands still today, The English Beat, and we'll hear some British and Irish music from The Sundays and The Cranberries, who sounds transcended their borders. Also in this segment, I have to play at least one song off of Paul Simon's amazing and phenominal album "Graceland," because Simon really took a risk with this LP at the time. Do you remember why? He used musicians from South Africa when at a time when the world's eyes were on that country. In fact, there was a musical boycott of Western artists playing there. So to record there and to use lcoal musicians, Simon was taking a big risk. But Simon thought that by using musicians from this region he would bring their plight closer to the rest of world--and it worked, too. Wedged in this set too, will be a couple of great guitar-driven tracks from Soweto.
Some other highlights in this hour will be from Baaba Maal and from Bebel Gilberto (in a nice bookend to her mother's track back in the first hour). After this Flashback show, perhaps you'll be able to get a better picture of what was going on in the rest of the world. Because if you're like me, during these decades, my musical playlist was limited to a few areas of the world, and in some cases, what I was hearing, actually had some World Beats intertwined into the tracks, though, I didn't realize it at the time.
The World Music Show is heard Saturday nights at 10:00 p.m. on WCVE Public Radio, 88.9FM or online via this website. Follow the show on Twitter, @wcveworldmusic