October, 2004 By David Hutcheon
There are no screens at WOMAD, but the suspicion lingers that if
we had seen David Byrne's hands close up, "hate" and "love"
would have been inked across his knuckles. In October 1999, he penned
a piece in the New York Times entitled I Hate World Music, which
argued that the tag created a ghetto and gave an irrelevancy to
most of the planet's artists and music. So here he is, five years
on, playing in the biggest world music ghetto in Britain, to people
who might know him as the man behind the Luaka Bop label rather
than the man in the big suit. If this isn't his natural realm, his
opening remark - "Welcome to the food court." still hits
the nail on the head; this year, consumables and consumer goods
were far more interesting than the music.
Oh, of course there were
gems to be found. Byrne's set was one of them, and solely bettered
by Malourna, a Mauritanian Arab whose charisma was only upstaged
by a backing band worthy of Atlantic-era Aretha. But, with a set
that ranged from Verdi and the current Grown Backwards
LP, to Dada and the best of the Heads, the weekend belonged to the
only world music ghetto soul born in Dumbarton.
With a band that is three-quarters
rhythm section (drums, bass and Mauro Refosco's behemoth percussion
rig), it's an easy leap from "rock" to "world".
And if you prefer a sense of exotic, the Tosca Strings add fills
that suggest a song could morph at any moment into Shaft or Papa
Was a Rolling Stone. The crowd know all the words and happily get
the chorus of Psycho Killer wrong every time, while Nieve Melody
or And She Was are received as rapturously as Road to Nowhere and
Once In a Lifetime. If the question "Where do old Talking Heads
fans go?" ever comes up in Trivial Persuit, you know the answer.
And they still love the man with the Jarmuschian silver hair, who
moves as if on rollerskates and plays discordant guitar solos.
"We don't live in
an ideal world, but we try and negotiate some path of least pain,
compromise and least horrible smells," reflects Mr I Hate World
Music later. "It would be ideal if the best WOMAD performers
played Glastonbury among the pop acts on equal billing, we aren't
the yet. In an ideal world none of this would matter and the best
music would be the most popular, but that world is another universe,
soon o be discovered by Voyager...and they will laugh at the pathetic
piece of vinyl we compiled for them." See? He doesn't hate
world music, this is a love that dare not speak its name.
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