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.
Here’s someone I haven’t played in a bit: Eek-a-Mouse. I wonder what that guy’s been up to. From the last time I checked on him, he’s been incorporating more hip hop and going for a harder sound on his last few records. Trying to stay relevant, I guess. I thought it wasn’t the best transition. But I’ve been listening to U-Neek since 1991 and don’t care about anything else. It’s the Mouse’s masterpiece, and nothing else will ever compare. Which, at the time, was the perfectly modernized reggae sound; more uptempo, more dancehall, even more hip hop, but still recognizable. It was, I guess, very much of its time; just check out the trendy ransom-note cover font. It’s a nineties classic.
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.