Various ‘80s World Music Classics: When the World Was Young’ 2CD (Nascente) 5/5

The 1980s was a crucial decade for world roots music in that it was during this era that the very term ‘world music’ was first coined by the music industry and at the very time when commercially music from the more obscure parts of the world was just beginning to be marketed in Western Europe and North America. It was an intensely exciting time to discover new sounds and what this new anthology succeeds in doing is to capture the essence of those sounds from that emerging interest. For many the very first ‘ethnic’ sound they heard outside mainstream rock was that of the Bulgarian state female choir and this as early as the mid-1970s They were better known as Le mystère des voix bulgares and from their very first international album is selected ‘Kalimanko u denkou’ which showcases the wonderful vocal talents of the choir. 

In general the anthology is neatly divided up into different musical regions and in club land Brazil occupied an important part. Tania Maria was a singer who actually appealed primarily to the jazz-funk crowd and one can hear why on the bubbly funk-bass driven ‘Come with me’ which was an underground hit in 1983. Thereafter DJs began searching for other examples of Brazilian music and two of the most loved are contained here. A reworking of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t no sunshine’ is transformed into a samba beat by Sivuca while Gilberto Gil scored a European hit with the irresistible ‘Todo menina baiana’. West African music really made deep inroads into the UK world music scene as it was developing and Salif Keita’s album ‘Soro’ was quite simply a seminal moment. From that album ‘Sina’ is but one example of the Malian singer’s craft. More acoustic forms of West African music were to be found in the dream pairing of Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck and the title track of their wonderful ‘Lam toro’ is chosen here. Youssou N’Dour was just beginning to make a name for himself and ‘Immigrés’ went a long way to cementing his reputation. Other styles were fully matured such as Ghanaian highlife and Eric Ageyman became a standard-bearer of the genre with his club hit ‘I don’t care’. In fact dance oriented grooves attracted a whole new audience to African music with the sterling efforts of DJs Andy Kershaw and John Peel crucial to the success in the UK of the Bhundu Boys from Zimbabwe. Here they offer the up-tempo ‘Hupeny hwangu’. In neighbouring South Africa mbaqanga rhythms were starting to export and two of the main exponents were Mahlathini with his growling voice and the Mahotella Queens. The two combine to offer up ‘Thokozile’.

Perhaps some of the most interesting tracks are to be found in the less easily to define category when various national popular music genres were starting to take off. Take for example North African rai from Khaled and Fadela, then young chebab, with cheap instrumentation, which has continued to be popular among the large Maghrebian communities in France and even regularly entered the French pop charts, or ghaal music from Najma Akhtar, or even the late great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. All the aforementioned found their way into the record collections of a new generation who found the discoveries totally invigorating at a time when the pop charts were becoming increasingly uniform and muzak driven.

The Spanish-speaking Latin music world is a little light on the ground here, but there is no denying that Columbian singer Joe Arroyo with his infectious mix of cumbia and salsa grooves captivated the UK audience during the late 1980s and into the early 1990s.

One of his many hits was ‘Yamelemau’ included herein. More traditional cumbia scored a surprise chart hit thanks to a coffee advert which transported Rudolfo y su Tipica RA7 from obscurity to stardom with the one-off success of ‘La colegiala. The tune is instantly recognisable. Bizarrely there is just one reggae inclusion from Tenor Saw, a worthy artist who died far too early in his mid-twenties. Reggae is unquestionably an integral part of the world music scene, though it does operate largely independently and precedes any kind of ‘world’ music awareness by at least a couple of decades and is well served on CD. A few surprising omissions. Franco, Fela Kuti, Eddie Palmieri and Ali Farka Toure would be obvious inclusions alongside possibly Tito Puente and Celia Cruz or Ruben Blades, but all these artists have been chronicled in-depth elsewhere and even two very generously timed CDs are simply not enough to cover all the musical territory. Otherwise an exemplary compilation with well illustrated sleeve notes and informative details on individual songs.

Tim Stenhouse