Friday, February 6, 2009

Listen now: World Music contenders for the 2009 Grammies!

Note: Links below will enable you to hear musical samples from the Grammy nominees.

The forthcoming 51st annual Grammy Awards will feature two slots for world music--"#74 - Best Traditional World Music Album" and "#75 - Best Contemporary World Music Album"--among a total of 109 categories of various genres (click here for a complete listing of "Fields" and their "Categories", and here for their full definitions.). Other fields, such as Alternative, New Age, Latin, Folk, Reggae, and Polka, may in fact have a substantial world music (i.e., international and/or traditional) component, and further general categories (e.g., Record of the Year, Album of the Year, etc.) may occasionally include world music artists (click here for a complete listing of all the 2009 Grammy nominees). But suffice it for now to look at--and listen to samples from--this year's competitors in the two world music categories.

As for these two categories, it's informative to look at their definitions as per the Grammy Website. Both are virtually identical in the first part, with the only differences being indicated below in boldface:

"For vocal or instrumental traditional/contemporary world music albums . . . that may combine musical elements indigenous to a culture or country with additional elements of another culture."

It's only in the second part that the distinctions are made between the two:

1) (Traditional): "Non-Western classical music, International non-American and non-British traditional folk music are eligible in this category", and

2) (Contemporary): "The music may also contain elements of popular music styles and/or production techniques. World/Beat, World/Jazz, World Pop, and cross-cultural music with contemporary production techniques are eligible in this category."

Next, we come to the nominees themselves, listed below by album title, artist, and record company. The listing in this blog is designed for your ease of access to information about the nominees and their music. Click on each album title (given first, in "quotation" marks) for some Web-based sample of music from the album nominated (you may have to click on "Listen to samples", or follow some similar prompt). Click on each artist's name (in boldface, following the album title) for further biographical information, and in some cases, pictures of the artist(s). Finally, the artist(s)' own Website is listed, following the record company name.

For Traditional World Music, the entrants are:

"Calcutta Chronicles: Indian Slide Guitar Odyssey" by Debashish Bhattacharya, on Riverboat Records/World Music Network. Artist's Website.

"The Mandé Variations" by Toumani Diabaté, on Nonesuch. Artist's Website.

"Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu" by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, on Heads Up International. Artist's Website.

"Dancing In The Light" by Lakshmi Shankar, on World Village. Related Website.

For Contemporary World Music, the entrants are

"Shake" by Lila Downs, on Manhattan Records/Blue Note. Artist's Website.

"Banda Larga Cordel" by Gilberto Gil, on Warner Music Latina. Artist's Website.

"Global Drum Project" by Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Sikiru Adepoju, and Giovanni Hidalgo, on Shout! Factory. Artists' Website.

"Rokku Mi Rokka (Give And Take)" by Youssou N'Dour, on Nonesuch Records. Artist's Website.

"Live at the Nelson Mandela Theater" by The Soweto Gospel Choir, on Shanachie Entertainment. Artists' Website.

For the record (no pun intended), videos of many of these artists are available on YouTube, as well as on some of their Web pages.

In terms of the national origins of the nominees, two of the "traditional nominees"--Debashish Bhattacharya and Lakshmi Shankar, as well as one of the "contemporary" contenders--Zakir Hussain (of the Global Drum Project)--are all from India, and well known as distinguished practitioners of Hindustani (i.e., North Indian), classical music. Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Soweto Gospel Choir hail from South Africa, Toumani Diabaté from Mali, Sikiru Adepoju (of the Global Drum Project) from Nigeria, and Youssou N'Dour from Senegal--for a total of five nominees from Africa. Of the Hispanic nominees, Lila Downs is from Mexico, Gil is from Brazil, and Giovanni Hidalgo is from Puerto Rico (a U.S. territory). Only Mickey Hart (again, of Global Drum Project), was born in the continental U.S.

As for performance styles, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Soweto Gospel choir are purely a capella vocal groups, singing in rich harmonies without instrumental accompaniment. Lakshmi Shankar, Lila Downs, Gilberto Gil, and Youssou N'Dour are all well-established singers who perform with instrumental accompaniment. And Debashish Bhattacharya (on his version of the western guitar, which he has adapted to his own purposes), Toumani Diabaté (on the kora, a harp-like chordophone with a large gourd as a resonating chamber and a long neck with frets), and the members of the Global Drum Project are all virtuoso instrumentalists. Only the percussionists in the last group fall directly into the category of "cross-cultural" music, in which the drumming of three different continents is skilfully blended into a musical "fusion."

As noted above, there are numerous other examples of what might also be considered world and/or traditional music among the nominees in the remaining 107 Grammy categories. In future entries, I'll try to highlight some of these--i.e., New Age, Latin, or Folk., as well as comment on the winners in the two fields we've discussed (and hopefully, listened to) today.

Finally--a couple of historic notes from my personal experience regarding the nominees:

I remember well the extraordinary impact of Ladysmith Black Mambazo's participation in the groundbreaking "Graceland" album by Paul Simon--one of the earlier (1986) successful mainstream efforts to include "world music" in a contemporary popular context; the album won the Album of the Year Grammy in 1986, and the title song won the Record of the Year Grammy in 1987. And I had the good fortune to meet Debashish Bhattacharya in connection with my writing liner notes for his 2000 release on India Archive Music--Raga Saraswati--so that perhaps I may be permitted a bit of bias in anticipating this year's winners in the World Music categories.

And if any of you do have any predictions or preferences, I'd be most eager to hear about them via the comments option.

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