It's time to give some props to a few of the originators who were able to bring World Music to an American audience. On this week's World Music Show (Saturday, October 1st) we'll tip our hats to artists like: Desi Arnaz, Harry Belafonte and Carmen Miranda. Where would the world have been without their contribution? I'm not sure, but they, along with many others, were able to highlight some really great music from places like Cuba, South America and the Caribbean.
When I was growing up, the "I Love Lucy" show was in reruns and I used to watch it quite a bit. And every time Ricky would perform, they would only play snippets of songs. Even though I knew the show was a fabrication, I knew that Desi's playing was real--but that's all about all I knew. How would I know more? Years later, I of course understood that Desi Arnaz was an amazing musician and band leader. And I always thought that he never really got the props that he deserved. Not only was he skilled at the congas, but he sang, played the guitar and lead numerous orchestras. And, according to him, he introduced the conga to American audiences. One of Desi's goals, was to bridge two styles of music he was hearing in nightclubs in New York in the mid-forties.
"I know exactly the kind of orchestra I want," he said to his agent. "Latin American music in this country has always had a fault. When a band like Machito in New York plays Latin music, the rhythm is great but the sound is...tinny. On the other hand, when (Andre) Kostelanetz plays 'Amor,' it's lush but it has no balls."
Arnaz had the idea to combine both styles. He was 28 at the time and of course went on to create his own memorable style of Cuban music.
As for Carmen Miranda, she was one of the arbiters of Brazilian music in her day. Her claim to fame and her eventual downfall from fame was that darn extremely large fruit hat and outfit she wore in the 1943 movie "The Gang's All Here." Miranda was a Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer, a Broadway actress and Hollywood film star popular in the 1940s and 1950s. By some accounts, she was the highest-earning woman in the United States at that time. And though Miranda was hailed as a talented performer, her later movie roles in the United States soon became cartoonish and full of stereotypes and she grew to resent them. On the bright side, she is considered the precursor of Brazil's Tropicalismo.
And what can be said about the great Harry Belafonte? This man brought a Caribbean sound to millions of people with his movies and nightclub acts. And, through out his career, Belafonte also brought about social changes to the national dialogue through his protests, speeches and behaviors. His music is as good today as it was then.
But, the entire World Music Show isn't just about all three of these legendary performers. Mixed through out the two hours, you'll hear music from: Sergio Mendes, The Black Eyed Peas, Baaba Maal, David Byrne and Paul Simon. Plus, I'll feature a couple of tracks from some Wes Anderson movies, notably "The Darjeeling Limited," and "Rushmore." Anderson always seems to put some really great music in his films. I think this show will have some really great music to tap your feet to.
The World Music aires Saturday nights at 10:00 p.m. on WCVE Public Radio. You can follow live tweets during the broadcast, too. Look me up @wcveworldmusic.