I usually don’t try to include too many songs in languages I’m not at least somewhat familiar with. Because, obviously, I don’t know what they’re about to talk about them. The lack of context and understanding isn’t conducive to critical discussion, but it should not be a barrier to enjoyment. That’s why I’m putting up more Rail Band songs. Because I’ve really been enjoying this record, and more people need to get on board. Even people with a wide range of tastes within their own culture may feel alienated by music in a strange language from a culture they know nothing about, but music by artists like Salif Keita should be beyond language barriers. If anything, this music makes plain how much in common is shared by cultures all over the world. Keita grew up listening to postwar Latin Jazz, which was wildly popular in parts of Africa, while learning to play traditional music of Mali. The combination of Malian music and jazz is just the same music coming full circle after slowly evolving as it moved around the globe over the course of centuries.
I have no idea how I happened to stumble upon this particular album by Rail Band ( aka Super Rail Band of the Buffet Hotel de la Gare, Bamako if you’re nasty) but I certainly know who Salif Keita is, and his years with Rail Band are just part of his legacy bringing Malian musicianship to the rest of the world. The group has been active, in a variety of lineups, since 1970, and are known for blending Malian griot and other traditional musical styles with jazz and Latin influences. What we think of as “world music” really is, literally, world music; as more and more people resettle and form diasporic communities so their cultures influence and take from the host cultures. A musical collective like the Rail Band brings together the cultures of dozens of people over the years, with different interests and backgrounds, forming a new tradition.
I just realized that I haven’t listened to Angelique Kidjo in a very long time. Like, almost a year. And I wonder why. She has been one of my favorites ever since I first grabbed one of her promo discs at my local record store, back in analog times. I grabbed it because I like her look on the cover. After I listened to it, I went on a mission to purchase as many of her albums as I could find. I actually had all of her albums on CD at one point, back when that was a pretty impressive achievement. So that’s pretty much part of the soundtrack of my early 20’s right there. I can’t say how much her tunes and positive vibes have made me happy. I need to relisten to every one of those records.
Dreamlike is absolutely right. Ofra Haza became famous for melding Middle Eastern music with pop, and her best known work is dance floor ready club music with a touch of Aleppo pepper to it, so to speak. However, she didn’t always lean Western, or make herself so accessible. Here she leans the other way. It’s an exploration of a vocal style most Westerners weren’t familiar with, and still aren’t in a lot of places. It’s absolutely mesmerizing, although it won’t fill up very many dance floors. She certainly opened a lot of doors for what Americans and Europeans will dance to, and that’s a hefty legacy. The worlds of pop and of more traditional musical styles are so much more entwined now, and more people get to hear so many more things, which is is beautiful.
Do you ever wonder what discerning hipsters in Albania are listening to? Are they dancing to Euro-hip-hop like everyone else, or are they still weeping into their sardines to the dulcet strains of an accordion? Yes, to both. With multicultural musical collectives like Fanfara Tirana and Transglobal Underground, European audiences can enjoy a heady brew of everything the global diaspora has to offer, from Caribbean funk to sub-Saharan beats to American-style gangsta rap to chanson and tango. Not forgetting those homegrown accordion solos. The open bordered EU has birthed a creative scene that’s the musical equivalent of a crowded railway platform, but obviously a lot more festive. Everyone is coming and going from all corners of the world, and everyone brought an instrument.
Alongside the lifelong familiars you watch, listen to and follow over the years, there is the ephemera, random songs for instance, that you remember and hold on to despite not really knowing what they are or where they first appeared or why you liked them in the first place. Who are Arling & Cameron? A couple of Dutch guys who became moderately successful in the European market for their electronic lounge music, or whatever you want to call it, and ended up on a Putumayo compilation for using vaguely Middle Eastern musical samples. Apparently their trademark is using unexpected and often ironic samples from culled from different eras and corners of the world, and it’s earned them equally far-flung collaborators, from Bebel Gilberto to Nina Hagen. In fact, they’ve recorded a number of acclaimed albums, which of course never percolated outside the Euro-market. I would never know about it, were it not for the tireless efforts of the Putumayo record label. The compilation album I bought in the early 2000’s are still leading me down new paths of discovery, which, I’m sure, was the ultimate goal all along.
Bob Marley writes a simple song about a simple, universal experience. It’s that time when your lover has left you, and you know deep down that they were right to leave you, but your life feels bleak and empty all the same. Resigned heartbreak. We’ve all been there. Marley wrote a lot of songs about things that were specific to his own milieu, politically charged songs, ideological songs. He covered a lot of ground, more than most songwriters ever do. It’s impossible to quite pinpoint the key to his popularity, what it was that catapulted him out of his relatively obscure genre and into the realm of pop icon. There were a lot of factors at play, bottomless charisma being not least of them. And one of those factors was surely Marley’s ability to deliver both love songs and political anthems with the same sensitivity and conviction.