Styles & Forms | Europe | World

Perverse as it may seem, Europe is an important centre for world music. All the prerequisites exist: large populations in a small area, transport, proximity to other continents, affluent consumers, communications …

As rural migrants moved to urban areas and immigrants arrived, Europeans were leaving for the New World (making New York the best place to hear klezmer, the music of Eastern Europe’s Jews). As a result, various forms of folk music achieved popularity far from their home crowd: in the 1980s, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, the Bulgarian women’s national radio choir, became a hit on the indie rock scene. Paris is now at the heart of North Africa: Rachid Taha is a Franco-Algerian rock star who mixes heavy metal guitars with dance beats and rai. Flamenco, the sound of Spain, is a hybrid of Moorish and gypsy influences, and its greatest exponents, such as the singer El Camarón de la Isla, or the most popular, The Gipsy Kings (from southern France), come from cultures that are still outcasts in society.

In Britain, the first time the general population was exposed to world music came when calypso musicians arrived from the West Indies in the 1950s, although there had been earlier flourishes of polite Latin music. The 1960s brought sitars, Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Jajouka and The Incredible String Band. By the 1970s, reggae, Indian classical and bhangra, a Punjabi folk music, were well established, creating a situation in which the Nigerian King Sunny Ade was launched as the successor to Bob Marley as a Third World superstar. In 1982, Peter Gabriel launched WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) to promote world music through album releases, tours and festivals. After a short period of success, however, the mainstream audience proved resistant to music in foreign tongues, record sales rarely matched expectations and eventually the accountants pulled the plug. Despite the demise of WOMAD, the seeds of acceptance had been sown.

Music Aimed At The Streets

It was not until the early 1990s that Britain produced its first lasting indigenous world music, bringing something from outside to the sounds of London’s clubs. The standard-bearers were Transglobal Underground, the former Public Image Limited bassist Jah Wobble (with The Invaders Of The Heart) and Natacha Atlas. This was music aimed at the streets rather than the coffee tables, and it opened many ears and minds to far wider possibilities.

The next stage was the so-called Asian Underground, which collected musicians, primarily from India and Pakistan, and offered them the chance to voice their thoughts on being Asian and British. It was a fashion that soon faded in the mainstream media’s eyes, but the likes of Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney and Asian Dub Foundation had already transcended categorization and become international stars.

In Paris, the archetypal café accordion music was a folk sound that had, like flamenco in Spain, become part of the national identity. Lacking an (anglophonic) rock culture, French music...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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