Here’s a beautiful Irish folk song by Irish folk revival band Clannad, sung in Irish Gaelic. I literally have not an inkling what it’s about. Gaelic is interesting because it’s almost completely unrelated to English, despite being right next door geographically. It’s not even in the wheelhouse of Germanic languages. For a non-speaker, there’s no shared roots or common vocabulary that would allow them to understand at least a basic gist. English speakers can’t even grasp the phonetics. Which explains a lot about why the English were so eager to wipe out Irish language and culture; it’s much harder to colonize your neighbors when you can’t eavesdrop on their conversations. They failed, of course.
What reggae music really needed in 1982 was more vocoder. So thought the members of Black Uhuru, and it turned out they were right. Black Uhuru really took roots reggae into the 80’s and kept it relevant and stayed abreast of new technology, pretty much singlehandedly. They dabbled with synthesizers and electronic effects and studio trickery, vocoders included – just enough to sound timely, but not so much as to lose their sense of rootedness. It sounds like island music, and it recognizably like 80’s music. That’s a tough balance to strike, but Black Uhuru had an amazing run of classic albums throughout the decade and all the way into the 90’s.
It’s ok to check your brain at the door sometimes and just lose yourself to Shakira and her raging lady-boner. I’m not suggesting that Shakira is dumb. She is an incredibly accomplished person. But with all of her myriad talents, all she really wants to do is make people dance. We music critics tend to give unpretentious, happy music the side-eye, presuming that there has to be something lacking. Lack of soul, lack of talent, lack of passion, lack of anything to say. All of which, fair enough, do tend to be lacking in an entertainment landscape that leans increasingly on the work of robots. But I shouldn’t have to defend the joy that only a well made pop song can bring. Just pure animal euphoria, a three minute escape pod from reality. That’s what Shakira does, and she’s one of the best at doing it. She knows that music is one of the most powerful forces of unification; it’s the only surefire way to make people drop their differences and fraternize, even if only for an evening. She’s a superstar all across the fucking planet because her tunes need no translation, and everybody wants to dance, and it’s that simple. (But she still records English versions of all her hits, because she’s nice like that [and American audiences are racist]).
This is for those of you who make the distinction between Irish, Scottish and English traditional folk music. I’m actually not one of those people; I wouldn’t know just from hearing something where in the UK it originated. But I’d like to. And I know that those in the know are quite feisty about making those regional distinctions. Unfortunately, I live in the United States, where most people don’t comprehend that strong cultural differences can exist within a country as geographically small and by-American-standards homogeneous as the UK. It’s all a bit exotic to me as well. Anyway, this is Silly Wizard, who represented Scotland in the great folk music revival of the 1970’s, and they’re paying tribute to an area of Scotland famed for its contributions to fashion.
Not your father’s Purple Haze. This is your Irish granny’s Purple Haze. If your Irish granny was the legendary Maire Brennan, that is. I suppose she’s referring to some mystical misty dell, not whatever drug references most of us associate the phrase ‘purple haze’ with. It’s all about the atmosphere, anyway, which to me feels very cozy. This is prime teatime music, and I find it very comforting. I guess a lot of people find Irish music ‘comforting’ and it’s kind of a coffeehouse cliche, but still… Cliches have to come from somewhere, after all.
Here is another Geoffrey Oryema song, which I initially considered skipping over for fear of redundancy. But then I discovered some good quality video of the artist performing at Woodstock ’94. That was thing, and I think it’s gone down as one of those ill-advised mildly embarrassing things from the 90’s, like hacky sack and No Fear t-shirts. But they did book Geoffrey Oryema to play in front of several thousand people, so that’s a positive. You would think that Oryema’s music is too intimate to translate well to festival stages, but it actually sounds surprisingly good. If the audience seems somnolent, well, I assume they’re all deeply, deeply stoned, and honestly, that sounds quite pleasant to me. I mean, festivals are exhausting, and you get subjected to a lot of mediocre acts desperately trying to play to the back of the crowd, and opportunities to just sit back and enjoy some fine musicianship are actually pretty rare. So yeah, that looks like a good time to me.
Is there such a thing as intense relaxation? If that is not too much of an oxymoron, then this is the most intensely relaxing music. Too call Geoffrey Oryema’s music ‘exotic’ would be cliche (and racist) but I have to call it something, so I’ll go with otherworldly. Oryema’s Exile is a unique offering. Thanks to the production of the all-powerful Brian Eno, it avoids the tropes of the ‘world music’ market. No aggressive drumming, choral ululation or happy platitudes. Oryema has also made albums with Peter Gabriel, and the difference is striking. Gabriel, though honorable of intention, belongs to the school of production that sells African artists to Western audiences only in ‘African drag’, marketed by uplifting backstories of struggle, as if their artistic achievements can’t be taken seriously on their own terms. Oryema, of course, has his backstory; his family fled political persecution in Uganda. Exile is the name of the album, and it is a state of being. The album is an emotional meditation, a sustained atmosphere of bittersweet nostalgia. Almost none of it is in English, and it doesn’t need to be. It is rather experimental in that sense; it doesn’t sell its story, it implies it.