Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Early World Music

Live8 was criticised in some quarters for having insufficient regard to African artists, particularly given the focus of the concert on African poverty. This criticism showed recognition of the fact that the sounds and variety of popular music are far more diverse now than they have been in previous decades - popular music is no longer the sole preserve of Western Europe and North America. Hats off particularly to Andy Kershaw, and the BBC who have given him a platform, for bringing much world music to the attention of British hearers.

It could be argued that Paul Simon ("Graceland", "Rhythm of the Saints") and David Byrne ("Rei Momo") were influential in first bringing African and South American music into the mainstream. However, in the early 70's, a serious attempt was made to bring African music, rhythms and themes to the mainstream - by somebody who would probably be regarded by many people as the antithesis of progress in music - Neil Diamond.

Of "Tap Root Manuscript", Neil Diamond wrote:

When rhythm and blues lost its sensuality for me I fell in love with a woman named gospel. We met secretly in the churches of Harlem, and made love at revival meetings in Mississippi. And loving her as I did, I found a great yearning to know of her roots. And I found them. And they were in Africa. And they left me breathless. The African Trilogy is an attempt to convey my passion for the folk music of that black continent.

On one side (pre CD era, of course!) was a series of conventional tracks, including the single "Cracklin' Rosie" and a cover of "He ain't heavy, he's my brother." On the other side were a set of songs that used African rhythms, African voices, and African themes. See also the reviews on Amazon.com. This is a stunning and significant piece of work: it never fulfilled the potential it had to revolutionise popular music in the West, but it is remarkable nonetheless.