A definitive-as-dammit collection mapping the gestation of a genre invented out of the necessity to provide some marketing oomph to a burgeoning scene that couldn’t penetrate the elephant hide of mainstream music industry conservatism despite accruing listeners, artists and movers and shakers swimming against the tide of what compiler Nigel Williamson calls “a cacophony of synths and drum machines”.
This is ‘World Music’ before it was labelled as such, early-to-mid eighties tracks that were hitting curious folkies and discerning “what next?” post-punkers from roughly three angles. Whether it be witnessing Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck’s circular acoustic guitar figures in one of the handful of supportive venues, hearing Jali Musa Jawara’s headily vigorous kora and ghostly falsetto played by Peel, Kershaw or Gillett, or reading here or in City Limits the back story to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s chest-thumping Sufi praise music, there were game-shifting ear-openers aplenty for the trad-seekers.
While those artists celebrated and disseminated their roots, others keen to harness the latest studio gadgetry decamped to Paris or Brussels, availing themselves of the drum-tracks and synths that were all but killing western pop music. Fortunately the likes of Antillean zouksters Kassav’ and soukous star Kanda Bongo Man managed to find the polyrhythm setting and thus kept the dance-floor jumping, while Salif Keita’s searing Islamic wail burst through a mist of studio trickery. And the Chebs and Chabas of Algeria wouldn’t be 80s rai-stars if their guttural yearnings weren’t presented on a bubbling bed of digitised beats and buzzing synths. And the addictive sugar-rush of intertwining guitars that courses through Souzy Kasseya’s mighty Le Telephone Sonne sits in a production of unalloyed 80s clarity.
Finally there were those genres swept up in the general rush for difference, most notably the Latin American sounds that were already a swinging fixture on the club scene. Salsa, samba and cumbia are well-represented here via punchy Joe Arroyo, sinuous Gilberto Gil and super-caffeinated Rudolfo Y Su Tipica RA7.
All that plus Youssou’s epochal Immigres, a trio of hopping southern African gems, and the unadulterated harmonies of the Bulgarian State Choir. The latter are the only purely east European representation, so no room for Hungary’s Marta Sebestyen or Nadka Karadjova’s imperious A Lambkin Has Commenced Bleating. There’s no soca either, no King Sunny Adé or Fela and none of the accordions that shook the ‘world’ world. No matter, this essential snapshot has so much wealth on offer it can afford the occasional unavoidable omission.