Thursday, March 1, 2012

in search of the lost chord

When I first started in Radioland, I was told there were already enough people playing permutations of rock and/or roll so I would have to play other stuff. Since I was on early in the morning it didn't matter too much what the format was so I kept it freeform and chilled out for the first couple years, segueing from the hip-hop show before me with the more world, arty neo-soul/trip-hop kind of stuff that one of my college roommates turned me onto, beat-heavy, organic, and chilled out.

There are certain strains of sound that have always intrigued me but as I've said before in other corners of the Internets, "world music" has been unfairly haunted by the twin specters of grainy and incomprehensible field recordings or overly slick PaulSimoned pop with synthesizers and drum machines killing any kind of soul-baring.

Lakewood and Cleveland Public Library's fantastic collection was my first jumping-off point, with its reissues and shelves of obscurities to be unearthed. While there were some that weren't very good, or just too weird (the Chinese self-healing new age CDs that supposedly cure cancer and menstrual cramps), I stumbled across the polyglot Clashness of Manu Chao, the sparkling guitar work of Amadou and Mariam, Tinariwen's blues, and the incredible Dengue Fever, resurrecting long-gone Khmer rock that all but disappeared under Pol Pot.

One of my fellow DJs also introduced me to Holy Warbles, which allowed me to take my curiosity about sundry parts of the world and discover obscurities that I may never have stumbled across on my own and offered a window into the cultural history of these countries that the powers that be in my own land label as backwards or uncultured or just a place of carnage and crazies.

The obscurity of much of this esoterica, of backwoods gospel, apocalyptic roots reggae far removed from fratparty bro-ness, monkish chants from Armenia, spooky noochies soundtracks, Angolan rumba, raga performed on piano and slide guitar, and sundry psychedelique funkenfuzz from brighter climes brightened up my Tuesday mornings and my mix CDs for sundry folk considerably and also made me sound like a terribly pretentious person waxing rhapsodic about Pakistani playback singers and Moroccan gnawa trance even though I like the Red Hot Chili Peppers as much as any 20-something Clevelandian.

Just like others shouldn't judge the Great Satan by certain powers that be and pop stars, we really shouldn't be doing the same to other nations too, even if their heads of state constantly act a fool or global events transpired as such that when we think of certain places, we think only of starving children or genocide or people who kill other people. I suppose this screws up the narrative that's easy, but when the framework doesn't show the entire picture, that framework needs to be adjusted.

 The constant thread that winds through many of these acts are how much vibrant culture was cut off by dictatorship and general awfulness of people in power with their own religious or ideological agendas or languishing in obscurity. Selda went to prison for this song, Nahid Akhtar's career was cut short by marriage and some of her songs were banned for reasons of "obscenity," the jazz scene in Ethiopia vanished with the advent of the Mengistu dictatorship in 1974, Ros Sereysothea died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and Witch, with their love of Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones, never got too far outside their hometown.


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  2. Once again, you've stepped off the rocketship, sorry, spaceship, to enlightenment, but I forgive thy sinne of method omission because of Witch.

  3. thanks for the tunes, here is a bit of south africa that probably fits their contemporary struggles a bit better than LBM: