Missing Latin America

Various Artists – World 2003: Music without Frontiers
Various Artists

World 2003: Music without Frontiers (Narada World 72435-90071-2-0, 2003)

This is Narada’s annual sampling of “World Music” favorites from the hands of the BBC radio DJ Charlie Gillett. In 35 tracks on 2 CDs, Gillett offers listeners his own “best of 2003” selection. Europe, Africa and the Middle East are well represented by the selections offered. One of the compilations greatest weaknesses, however, is the virtual absence of any music from Latin America and the Caribbean. Only two recordings purport to cover this rich, varied and very active musical sphere, and they are not terribly representative. Fewer tracks of Spanish alternative music would have been preferable to make room for a worthy sampling of the wealth of music from Latin America.

Among the 35 tracks there is a certain sameness in terms of sound and tempo. Most numbers feature almost exclusively acoustic instrumentation, while leisurely tempos and gentle sounds abound, almost as if the compiler did not want to jar the sensibilities of the listener with anything that was “difficult” for Western ears. More than a few numbers veer perilously close to fern bar music. Another even more disturbing trend, apparent on several numbers, is Western musical norms and values being imposed on artists with little or no experience and exposure in Western markets. Several numbers take fine artists from such places as Uzbekistan and team them up with European producers to give their music the “Real World Sound”, repackaging it to appeal to Western ears.

Maybe it is time for us in the West to take off the training wheels and begin to deal with popular music outside of the Anglo-Saxon dominated sphere on its own terms, not in some watered down reworking purportedly custom-made for our narrow listening habits. The tracks that work best are ones that don’t attempt to appeal to the World Music market. The best examples are the Portuguese fado tracks and ones by African artists who mastermind their own fusions of local musical traditions with foreign elements, working from the inside out, in total control of their material and their sound.

Buy World 2003: Music without Frontiers in North America.

Buy World 2003: Music without Frontiers in Europe.

Author: Marie Jost

Marie Jost received her doctorate in art history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a flamenco and world music aficionado, a Hong Kong film enthusiast, and an ardent Leslie Cheung fan. Ms. Jost currently resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S.A.