Now in their fourth year, the Songlines Music Awards have become one of the most coveted prizes in world music. The awards showcase outstanding talent from all corners of the globe. Former winners include Goran Bregovic, Staff Benda Bilili, Bellowhead and Amadou & Mariam. Voted by readers of Songlines magazine and the general public, there are four categories: Best Artist, Best Group, Cross-Cultural Collaboration and Newcomer, the final nominees are the top four in each category from the public vote. Songlines is releasing a compilation album featuring all 16 nominated artists, ranging from Tinariwen to Trio Tekke, from Anoushka Shankar to Abigail Washburn
First things first: Songlines is a great magazine. Each of the eight issues that come out per year will satisfy the hunger and curiosity of those who wish to have their musical and geographical horizons broadened in an intelligent manner. However, they have done themselves no favours by releasing this jarring, borderline offensive, marketing department-led awards tie-in compilation.
Evidence has proven that awards ceremonies tend to favour safe or conservative consensus thinking. They can be ridden with concessionary thinking and sometimes feature judges too close to the subject. But when this is applied to the delicate arena of ‘world music’ – a dizzyingly wide selection of sounds which the magazine describes as “politics, history, ethnicity and the environment” – it appears all the more morally unedifying.
Everyone knows how good Touareg blues rockers Tinariwen are. They don’t need to win another award – especially not after releasing their least well-realised album in ages, Tassili, in the same a year that Tamikrest released the far superior Toumastin. But all of this is by the by – the real question is why have compilers included the track Tenere Taqqim Tossam, given that it is mainly sung in English by the Americans Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone of Brooklyn band TV on the Radio? We all know this proud band of musician tribesmen can do better on their own and don’t need this kind of patronage.
And things get much worse. What is Ry Cooder doing here? The idea that his b-list satirical sub-prime country number No Banker Left Behind is somehow an amazing example of what ‘world music’ has to offer in 2012 is risible. But then quite a few of the ‘global brands’ here are merely presenting an ersatz, Westernised, diluted version of exciting indigenous music. Why do we have to listen to the British Bollywood Brass Band when we could be having our minds blown by Boban i Marko Marković Orkestar from Serbia? During a period where Syrian wedding singer Omar Souleyman is pushing his DIY rave/traditional raï hybrid into new shapes, and when Congolese dance band Konono No.1 are blazing a trail through venues across the world, why are Songlines presenting us with the Kronos Quartet from America?
The enjoyment of weird and wonderful music from around the globe doesn’t have to go hand in hand with a politically correct post-Colonial guilt complex but, whether consciously or not, the compilers of this album are suggesting that Westerners do this kind of thing a little bit better. And that’s just unforgivable.
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