“World Music” is such a misnomer. What is “World Music” after all? Could not every music be considered as “World Music”? From the perspective of big record companies based in the United States and United Kingdom, “World Music” is everything that is not American or British. It is another synonymous for “Exotic”. Something played in a cool café in London, Paris, San Francisco or New York. But as these same sounds, considered as traditional or folk, blend or fuse with highly commercial music, we wonder if “World Music” is spreading or diluting itself. This same question unveils my own personal agenda: to promote the music from my country of origin. I came from Brazil, a place well-known for its rich musicality. Yet, like a number of Brazilians of my generation, I grew up listening to more British and American songs than Brazilian songs. How and why this could ever have happened is something that I wish to explain later in this blog.
It was not until going to the University to study Journalism and hanging around with a bunch of cool Bohemians that I came to pay attention and enjoy Brazilian music. With them I learnt how to dance samba, lambada, forro, the lyrics of a few Bossa Nova, Rural Rock and contemporary pop Brazilian songs. Once I moved to England, I was surprised to find out that most of the Brazilian songs promoted abroad were more than 30 years old. My new friends were just as surprised when I made them listen to Brazilian rock songs. Often their comments, followed by a pause in which they seemed to be carefully choosing the right words to say, were: “It sounds quite modern”. Such statements come across as if anything foreign could not be modern, as if modern was an euphemism for “civilised”, “sophisticated” or even “not tacky”. Although this situation has changed slightly, thanks to digital technologies, the prevailing stereotype about Brazilian music is still the one of Carmen Miranda wearing a fruit bowl as a hat, singing and dancing on platform shoes, while a band plays maracas in the background. Meanwhile, “Bossa Nova” is reduced to the song “Girl of Ipanema”. Much more disturbing is when asking a number of Americans and British, which song comes to their mind when talking about Brazil. They often say is “Copacabana”, by Barry Manillow, while you look for somewhere to hide before they start singing the tune and dancing with mocking arm movements.
But to promote Brazilian music is just a small part of my agenda. I would not be able to resist exploring music from all over the world, finding similarities and inspiration from them. After all, Brazilian music has embraced all musical styles since we came to understand ourselves as part of a new nation. From the very formation of our culture, we were influenced by music from all over the world. We even welcomed Rock-in-Roll, Disco, Techno-pop, Hip-hop and Rap music and fused with our own sounds. Many times this acceptance had an alienating enthusiasm. Quite often, it arrived reluctantly, while new hybrid styles appeared out of wit or with an “adapt to survive” approach.
Bear in mind that I have no intention of creating an online catalogue about World Music. National Geographic has done that. I would not pretend to follow-up whatever is the latest in this genre. Publications such as “The Guardian” also have done that. It is neither my intention to offer online learning material. Coursera is already delivering a free online course on “Listening to World Music” that lasts for 7 weeks and I am glad to recommend it. This blog is just my own “Labour of love” in which through my personal way, I hope to surprise, provoke and engage you on discussions beyond harmony and tunes, without forgetting to have a lots of fun along the way. After all, this is a trip – a good trip, in which I also wish to learn more and discover new perspectives beyond the one of a Brazilian who lives in UK, or from a British person who was born in Brazil.
Yes, it would be just nice to limit this exploration to the aesthetics qualities of the songs. But I would grow bored of it very quickly, and I bet you would too. Unveiling the historical, political, environmental, technological and social factors that inspire artists is what makes this topic so exciting to me. By joining the Coursera course and engaging with online communities on World Music, I made some surprising discoveries that I would like to share. Wouldn’t you be surprised or even shocked to find out that a song sung in a different language, that made you dance madly in a rave during the 90s, was actually a traditional lament song? Or that Aboriginal Australians can have so much in common with Irish Folk Music? Or that just like people, every song connects to each other with less than 6 degrees of separation? As a matter of fact, while I was cataloguing my posts by geographical regions, it was impossible not to attribute most of the songs to more than one continent. It was even more complicated trying to catalogue them by countries. It becomes clear when adopting such labelling system that borders and national identity are just artificial concepts. So, if I have managed to make you curious enough, just join me on this “Magical Mystery Tour”, leave your comments or just share the posts with other like-minded people. I have no illusions about the magical powers of music bringing the world to “be as one”. But I would not doubt about the sound of drums exorcising the fear that lies beneath every type of pride and prejudices. Who knows how far we can go “at every breath we take, every move we make, every step we take”, every tune we hear…