News, reviews and commentary on afrobeat and related music from Africa, The Caribbean and The Americas

Friday, August 01, 2008

Searching for 'Authenticity' in World Music

By Kenny Eaton

Searching for ‘authenticity’ in music and art creates an uproar of debate amongst those involved. As an American, how can I ever truly experience ‘authentic’ foreign culture, especially music? Experiencing Moroccan music as an American is undeniably different from experiencing it as a native Moroccan, right? For those involved in the quest for 'authenticity', questions like these are commonplace.

I was shown an intriguing article in the Guardian that addresses these issues by our good friend and music supporter, Joe Uehlein. His band, Joe Uehlein and the U-Liners, plays a variety of music in the roots-rock genre and is heavily active on the American East Coast. Check it out:

“Brian Jones had a miserable trip to Morocco. After Keith Richards stole his girlfriend, he followed Paul Bowles's advice to head into the hills above Tangier, to record pre-Islamic Berber trance music in the village of Jajouka. He made the recordings, but during a night of hashish hallucinations saw himself as a sacrificial goat ready for slaughter. On his return to Britain, he was kicked out of the Rolling Stones, then drowned in suspicious circumstances. As a memorial, the Stones issued his Moroccan recordings on their label; in my view, it was the first "world music" recording.

Recordings of "foreign" music had, until then, been sanitised exotica such as the "Banana Boat Song" and "Wimoweh", or exportable indigenous commercial LPs of Latin dance music, or academic field recordings. Jones was the first to take an exotic music on its own authentic terms for no other reason than that he thought it would be entertaining for outsiders.

His motives foreshadowed our own: he felt the Stones had lost their early R&B edge and gone soft with pop success. In Jajouka, he sought a return to the raw energy of the blues records that had maddened his parents back in Cheltenham. The rise of world music in the 1980s was triggered in part by our own disillusion with pop and a search for the kind of energy we once found in Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan or even the Stones.

World music festivals today fall into two groups. A quest for authenticity leads audiences to experience "local culture" at events in the Sahara desert, Zanzibar, Essaouira, the Spanish and Colombian Cartagenas, Rajasthan, Siberia, Hungary, Salento, Jamaica and Brazil. Then there are the various Womad and other festivals throughout the European summer that present as wide a variety as possible. The first Womad festival, held in1983 at the ICA in London's Pall Mall, included a concert that captured the range of the world's music. The opening "act" was an Aboriginal group from Arnhem Land who chanted while banging stones together. The second half was a set by the Frank Chickens, a pair of Japanese women who sang themes from monster movies to backing-track cassettes...

In Fez, I got to know a young Moroccan who restores houses - and loves traditional music. Most of his neighbours in the medina, he says, long to move to a modern apartment in the Nouvelle Ville outside the walls. But many who have moved there now tell him they want to come back. He, meanwhile, trains young craftsmen in the techniques that built this magical city, where the urban clamour includes everything imaginable save the sound of the engine. It may not change the world, but I can recommend sitting under an ancient oak listening to even older vocal and instrumental techniques as a way to gather inspiration for the struggles to come.”

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful article and very timely given the growing interconnectedness of the world and our growing ability to hear "world music." I find it interesting that so many blogs centred on Africa seem to focus mostly on the 1970s as if nothing ever happened after that...perhaps due the search for "authenticity," implying that anything that came after that was "suspect" or corrupted. I do have to say that I'm not a huge fan of rap and obviously it has swept the continent and perhaps threatens to push out the "authentic" music, but that seems to be the way the cookie crumbles these days.

    Best wishes from Canada,