This is for Online & Off, The Shed’s collection of notes for documentaries to be made when the resources are available. See more at
In the Telegraph of 10.5.2010, world-music specialist Mark Hudson proposed that the market for world music grew from one track, headlined as: The Song That Transformed Our Tastes Forever. The Shed also recommends it.
Not so long ago, pop progressed in straight lines. In the Seventies, when I first got seriously interested in music, there was barely a rock musician over 30, everything new could be gleaned from a weekly sitting with NME, and 99.9 per cent of it was taking place in Britain and the United States. Now popular music is a multi-generational, poly-continental phenomenon that moves backwards and sideways as well as forwards.
Sounds and ideas spark against each other across vast distances of time, space and culture. Take the example of the Senegalese group Etoile de Dakar (the subject of a retrospective released this week), who disbanded in 1981, but helped rock the Western music monolith off its axis, inadvertently giving rise to an entire socio-cultural phenomenon – world music – and all with just one track.
In 1981, when Etoile de Dakar’s song Jalo appeared on Island Records’ pioneering compilation Sound d’Afrique, most people in Britain – even those at the vanguard of the capital’s music scene – had barely heard of Senegal. The idea that the country’s music might have some bearing on the global future of music would have seemed risible. While Island and its rival Virgin were beginning to look at the commercial potential of African music, it was to the sunny, good-time sounds of the Congo and Nigeria that they turned their attention.
But here, with Jalo, was a track that told an utterly different story about Africa and its music: two extraordinary voices, one a high-pitched shriek, the other dark, tarry, majestically bluesy, heard over a lilting Latin rhythm – a ragged, scarily intense sound that seemed to tap into something deep and primal.
That was the West’s first taste of the music of the griots – West Africa’s hereditary praise singers – which was to become one of the most significant strands in the world music boom of the late Eighties. Youssou N’Dour, owner of that extraordinary gilded, high-pitched voice, became one of world music’s biggest stars. That one song opened up new vistas and questions about music: the way its oblique, visceral relation to rock and blues was offset by an apparent spirituality that went beyond the music’s obvious Islamic influence. And how had that incongruous Latin American element come into the frame?
The full cutting is at http://tinyurl.com/324ek/
The retrospective album referred to is Once Upon a Time in Senegal.
The track is on YouTube at
The Shed looked up the dates of Duck Rock (1983), Graceland (1986) and Talking Timbuktu (1994).
PS: In 2009, Kitty Empire in Observer said Buraka Som Sistema, from an Angolan suburb of Lisbon, were “just about the most exciting live act you could ever wish to see”.
Sample them at
Read Kitty Empire’s review of one of their concerts at
More later …