ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE; on the Record Peter Bacon Chooses His Top Five World Music Recordings and Argues That the Crossover Appeal of Some High-Profile Collaborations Best Serve to Bring out the Traditional Aspects of This Style of Music
Byline: Peter Bacon
World music is obviously not a musical style at all but a simple marketing ploy to sell music from around the world that doesn't easily fit into any other category, though most of it has strong links with its homeland's traditional folk music.
Some, indeed, is authentic folk music but the most exciting, and accessible, are the modern creations of artists who have mixed their tradition with modern influences, in the form of instruments or styles or even, as is the latest trend, fused their own country's music with that of another, a kind of United Nations of sound.
1 SALIF KEITA Soro (Mango/Sterns): Hearing the title track bursting forth from Andy Kershaw's Radio 1 show in 1987 is a memory that still gives me goose bumps.
One of the greatest singers in the world, and a direct descendent of the warrior king who founded the empire of Mali in West Africa in 1240, Keita is also a very modern musical fusionist, who mixes his centuries-old Manding culture with what was in 1987 state-of-the-art Parisian funk-rock fusion.
His voice soars like a muezzin over a great bubbling cauldron of a band and heart-gladdening backing singers.
2 BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB (World Circuit): The ancient stars of Cuba who had ended up shining shoes and facing death in poverty but, thanks to American roots guitarist Ry Cooder, ended up playing Carnegie Hall and selling this album in shed loads.
A perfect synthesis of traditional folk and dance music, with heaps of style. Conjures up Havana around you at a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket.
3 CESARIA EVORA Cesaria (RCA): From a bleak, volcanic, poverty-stricken island off the West African coast comes another potential pensioner who deserves to outsell most of what passes for music in the pop racks of today's CD superstores. After spending a lifetime singing in the bars of Cape Verde and subsequent visits to Portugal, she finally made her debut recording at the age of 47. This one is from 1995 and was nominated for a Grammy. When she appeared in New York on the strength of it the audience included David Bowie and Madonna.
It's a lilting, lovely album of Portuguese blues with more than a touch of gentle Latin rhythms from a mainly acoustic band featuring acoustic guitar and percussion sweetened by clarinet and violin.
4 ALI FARKA TOURE & RY COODER Talking Timbuktu (World Circuit): The magic Cooder touch again, this time sitting in with the master guitarist from Mali. It shouldn't have been such a surprise when Toure first became more available to Western ears that he sounded remarkably similar to a Delta bluesman - where, after all, did the blues come from? The American bluesman Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown sits in on one tune to complete the circle, but mostly this is a strongly West African acoustic stringed-things disc. …