BBC Awards for World Music Poll Winner’s Concert feat. Gotan Project and Debashish Bhattacharya

BBC Awards

In the early days of human civilization, we considered any sort of vaguely orchestrated sound to be music. These days, after stupendous developments in music technology and the advent of the greatest intellectual refinery of all time — the Internet — we’ve become discerning info-nerds. Classification has evolved into an algorithm of genres and subgenres: indie-tronica, crunk-soul, ghetto-folk. To demonstrate how this system works, a friend of mine once wrote an article for our student newspaper about a new genre called ‘Fong’; he had invented the name. Soon thereafter, he was approached by a reader who, in an earnest and quietly chastising manner, said that Fong was not new at all and had, in fact, already run its course. So how is it that with the existence of such differentiation within Anglo-American music we still use the singular term “World Music” to refer to anything and everything outside of the familiar? Despite the fact that “World Music” spans continents, cultures, and even historical epochs, it continues to suffer the effects of its package-holiday representation in the West (not least due to the god-awful Buddha-Bar compilations and their progeny). Even in the early ’60s, when World Music seemed to make in-roads into the West via artists like Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, and Donovan, it actually functioned more as decorative icing — a sitar here and a melodic noodle there. Few LSD-fuelled bands of the ’60s could resist the addition of token Indian or Hindustani elements, and such flourishes smacked of cultural tourism. This continued well into the ’80s, with even Graceland remaining essentially a Paul Simon record with feathers. It was not until the release of records like Buena Vista Social Club and the success of artists like Manu Dibango, Ali Farka Touré, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan that World Music regained its teeth. It is against this background of reclaimed independence that Great Britain’s Radio 3, home of respected show World Routes, presented the Poll Winner’s Concert for the BBC Awards for World Music 2007. The winners of all three of the awards, including an Audience Award, had been announced in late March at the Pigalle Club in Piccadilly by a panel of judges — all of whom certainly know their kotos from their koras. The awards ceremony, held at the Barbican, was a chance to separate the wheat from the chaff. The categories announced at the ceremony (nice blueberry canapés, by the way) included Africa (won by Mahmoud Ahmeda), Asia Pacific (won by Debashish Bhattacharya), Americas (won by gypsy-punk nutters Gogol Bordello), Europe (won by French oddball Camille), Middle East and North Africa (won by Ghada Shbeir), Newcomer (K’Naan), Culture Crossing (won by Maurice El Medioni & Roberto Rodriguez), Club Global (won by Gotan Project), and Album of the Year (won by the late Ali Farka Touré’s Savane). The Poll Winners’ concert, which featured some of these victors, was an overall success, with superb live performances from Debashish Bhattacharya and Audience Award winner Ghada Shbeir. Less convincing were Gotan Project, whose dull, repetitive disco-tango probably did more damage to the genre than help it. Unfortunately, the impressive young K’Naan could not perform as his wife was giving birth, but we were privy to a video showcasing his innovative style of rap (though some older members of the audience occasionally cringed at some of the more choice phrasings). Of course awards smack of our Western competitive spirit, but it’s about time all the pre-packaged, bongo-whacking poseurs were separated from the true, authentic artists. Since World Music is still entangled with some of the vague fluff of the New Age, there’s nothing like a good, rigorous vote to sift though it, to help give some definition and detail to the genre. These and similar awards give us a map, some signposts and distinctions, and act as a window into that new land. How else can we ever hope to have a Saharan Rumba Crunk-Core section in HMV?