Music

Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Planet Rock

Neal Hayes

A new Rough Guide proves that although the world is small, it has no shortage of regional variations on the theme of rock and roll.


Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Planet Rock

Label: World Music Network
US Release Date: 2006-06-06
UK Release Date: 2006-06-06
Amazon
iTunes

In 1982, when Afrika Bambaata borrowed from Kraftwerk in the legendary single "Planet Rock", he was working at the cutting edge of musical innovation. Today, in an age where obscure global folk music is only a mouse click away, an American DJ using a German group's music seems relatively commonplace. Music has indeed changed in the past two decades, and "Planet Rock" has connotations Bambaata could never have realized. A new entry in a popular world music survey series, The Rough Guide to Planet Rock, testifies to these facts. The album was assembled by Johannes Heretsch, a German radio DJ who specializes in global rock, and it presents vivid sonic documentation of the way musicians around the world freely combine indigenous music and Western popular styles.

The creators of the Rough Guide recordings follow an approach which has both its advantages and its drawbacks, offering a kaleidoscopic set of tracks that focus on a particular theme such as the music of a specific country. The advantage of such an approach is that these compilations introduce listeners to a variety of world music with which they are probably not familiar. The disadvantage is that the records cover so much musical ground that they are unable to explore any one style in any considerable depth. For this reason, each album's strength lies in the quality of its individual tracks. As The Rough Guide to Planet Rock demonstrates, this quality often varies greatly.

Planet Rock succeeds magnificently as an introduction to exotic rock music. The album presents a number of different styles which even the most adventurous listeners rarely hear in a rock context, including Algerian raï and Moroccan gnawa music. On the best tracks on this collection, the synergy between the different musical traditions is breathtaking. On "I Would Never Want To Be Young Again" by Gogol Bordello, the hyper, distorted electric guitars infuse the gypsy folk melodies with a rabid energy that distinguishes the band from the punk-rock masses. Similarly, on Les Boukakes' "Sidi H'Bibi", the African percussion invigorates the guitar licks and keyboard vamps and makes for truly exciting music.

Unfortunately, not all the tracks on Planet Rock are successful. The main problem with the album is that the sonic elements occasionally only add up to novelty songs. Despite a few clever lyrical turns and a fresh blend of klezmer and funk beats, the Hip Hop Hoodios' "Kike on the Mic" loses most of its charm after a few listens. Yat-Kha's version of "In a Gadda Da Vida" is another slight disappointment. Band leader Albert Kuvezin's throat singing is amazing -- at times the vocalist sustains multiple notes -- and the busy strings provide an appropriately trippy accompaniment. In the end, though, the four-minute cover, bereft of the sprawling, druggy splendor which has helped the Iron Butterfly song endure for so long, seems somewhat shallow.

Fortunately, a few less-than-compelling tracks do not spoil Planet Rock. Overall, the album provides a valuable new window on the phenomenon of rock music. Western listeners are too often flooded by formulaic rock music that stresses volume over substance. From the handclaps on Tinariwen's "Qualahila Ar Tesninam" to the megaphone-amplified thumb pianos on Konono No. 1's "Ungudi Wele Wele", the tracks on Planet Rock prove that rock music can be much more than a wall of ultra-distorted guitars and crashing cymbals. Providing new insight into one of the most well-worn styles in Western popular music is no mean feat, and it is enough to earn The Rough Guide to Planet Rock a solid recommendation.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image