I don't know about the "guru" thing, but I'm glad to be here.
For me the big attraction to world music is learning about people and their cultures. You really get to know people best by sharing their food and sharing their songs. So I love studying folk music instruments and rhythms and traveling around the world to experience the people who create them.
We are lucky to have some amazing folk-world musicians right here in town, like Celtic fiddler Bill Verdier, world-class tabla guru Maja Devon, session pros John Mock (who's made a career of playing different world instruments and styles) and Jeff Coffin, and of course our percussionists who cover, with varying degrees of authenticity, a HUGE range of musical cultures and styles.
To paraphrase Miss Lynn, "I'm proud to be a World Music Guru!" Thanks, Pete, for accepting me. I feel as though I've been inducted into an ancient, secret society. Is there some cryptic sign or secret handshake members use to identify themselves in public? Do we wear furry horned hats like Fred and Barney did at meetings of the Loyal Order of Water Buffalos? Do we adopt aliases (aka Koto, Djembe, Zurla, etc.) to conceal our cabalistic and oft misunderstood devotion to World Music from our mainstream musical colleagues, our families, our employers? Do we get jackets?
Just asking. I'm fully content to wear the honor and any trappings of "Guru" membership on the inside. But jackets would be so cool.
To answer Pete's open question: What I love about World Music is deeply rooted in my distant youth. My ethnic heritage is Croatian and I grew up in Pittsburgh - literally the quintessential American "melting pot" city. Every neighborhood had a Croatian Club on one corner, a Ukrainian Club on another and Serbian, Polish, German, Irish and Italian Clubs just down the street. Each club always had some incredible "ethnic" band from around town and across the country that played music for listening, dancing, crying, celebrating and, most of all, drinking. Every church had a marvelous choir that sang hymns and even complete masses and liturgies in beautiful native languages and inspiring folk music idioms. Also, Pittsburgh was (and, I believe, still is) home to an annual folk festival that showcased these and many other (American, African, Indian, Middle-Eastern, Chinese, Filipino, etc.) musical, dance, culinary and cultural traditions - all presented by local community participants.
And then there was The Hill House, Walt Harper's Attic, Ebenezer Baptist Church and dozens of other venues where the legacy of African-American folk and spiritual music flourished in Pittsburgh's gifted jazz, blues, soul, R&B and gospel performers. In short, the city was a treasure trove of musical and cultural diversity and a World Music microcosm. This incredible spectrum of sounds and experiences had a profound, lifelong influence on me.
As a result, I learned and understood, at an early age, that the world extended far beyond America's borders and airwaves, that "the universal language" had no borders, no limitations and no exclusivity (it is the original open source code), and that truly great music was not merely confined to high Western Classical or mainstream popular genres. Oops! Sorry Pete. I meant genera.
I also fell in love with Eastern European folk music, especially Bulgarian dance and choral music. I took up the clarinet because 1) at the time, Bulgarian music didn't quite sound right on an alto sax, 2) I loved the technical challenge of those twisted Aksak rhythms (5/8, 7/8, 9/16, 11/16, etc.) that all read like wrench sizes and 3) I wanted to learn to play like my first and greatest Bulgarian clarinet hero, Petko Radev. Listen to "Krivo Sadovsko Horo" at:
and you'll hear why. BTW, that's in 13/16, the articulations are just insane and, in certain phrases, he plays across the break on almost every other note. Ask a classically-trained concert clarinetist to do that and they'll spit at you. :-) Anyway, suffice it to say that if I had a nickel for every note of Bulgarian dance music I've played since then, I'd have more money than Warren Buffet.
However, it took me a while to realize that Radev and the local ethnic bands playing Bulgarian folk music on Western instruments (clarinet, accordion, trumpet, string bass, guitar, etc.) were only emulating indigenous Bulgarian instruments. Once I heard the Bulgarian masters playing gajda, kaval, gadulka, tambura, etc., it was game over. I discovered the purity and the passion that can only be expressed by "native" instruments (and I don't mean Kontact). I began to explore the music of other cultures and grew to appreciate their individual instruments and artistry.
Now, many years later, I'm more drawn to World Music elements I hear in the works of popular musicians, such as Sting, Pat Metheny, Earth, Wind and Fire and many others. Call me crazy, but Indian-, Arabic- and Celtic-based pop music is absolutely intoxicating to me. And, after moving to Nashville, I even started to dig Bluegrass-laced Country. What really interests me now is how these elemental rhythms, sounds, textures and inflections might play an even greater role in commercially successful mainstream American music.
As the rest of our planet continues to get smaller, more intimate and more culturally conversant, it seems we Americans continue to resist external influences, especially on our hermetic, some would say stagnant, musical culture. That's unfortunate because World Music has so much to offer, so many ways to enrich our own unique dialect of the universal language. It's said that every American is originally from somewhere else on Earth. And although we have a 500-year history, we have a short memory. We should embrace all of our past, all of our musical and cultural roots and traditions. They are our history and our legacy. We should use them freely to help weave new musical tapestries that celebrate where we came from, how we got here, who we are today and where we'll be tomorrow. Their colors will be more vibrant, their voices more compelling, their beauty more captivating and their meaning more enduring.
I'm man enough to admit that I'm a rabid, unapologetic fan of The Sing-Off - NBC's annual, live, all-a-cappella music competition. The participating groups display truly amazing talent, creativity and downright guts as they face of a broad range of vocal and stylistic challenges from week to week. With the Sing-Off finals still fresh in my mind and the holiday season's traditional carols ever present in my ears, I'm reminded of another a cappella vocal tradition from my ancestral homeland of Croatia. It's called "Klapa."
The province along the Adriatic coast of Croatia is called Dalmatia. It's home to the storybook-castle city of Dubrovnik and other beautiful seaside resorts, as well as important fishing and shipping industries. The Klapa singing tradition and vocal style arose naturally hundreds of years ago among Dalmatian sailors to help while away long, laborious days and even longer and lonelier nights at sea and in port. It has been influenced by various cultures throughout the Mediterranean region, yet has managed to retain its unique soul, style and substance.
The word "klapa" is also used to describe an a cappella vocal group - typically between 4 and 12 singers and typically men, although women's klapas have recently emerged and been accepted into the tradition. Without doubt, my favorite klapa is Klapa Cambi from Dubrovnik.
In the spirit of World Music celebration, I just wanted to share one of their signature songs with you. It's called Lozu U Skripu. Klapa Cambi won't win The Sing-Off, but perhaps they'll win your hearts as they have won mine. Enjoy!
This is LUSH & BEAUTIFUL! Thank you, Russ, for blessing me with this music! Candidly, I think it would blow away the show. When I hear the Dartmouth Aires, I hear a huge influence in what they do in this. Thanks again, Russ! Excellent
And now for something totally demoralizing, especially to those of us who face the constant struggle to do anything original. I was recently introduced to a magical talent by the name of Beata Palya (beh-YAH-tah PAHL-yah). If you're like me and have never heard of her, you're in for a shock. Bea is almost considered a national treasure in her native Hungary. She is also highly successful throughout Europe and the rest of the world is gradually learning about her tremendous gifts.
Bea is a true World Music Guru. She grew up loving and performing Hungarian folk music and soon began incorporating Bulgarian and Romanian folk music into her repertoire, as well. As her popularity and bank account grew, Bea began to travel and learn other World Music styles - notably Indian and Persian. And if that's not enough, she somehow added progressive jazz into her mix. The result was a Goulash of musical ingredients that became the signature sound of her early career.
I've included a tantalizing taste below. Lovas Dal (Horse Song) is a quintessential, tour de force example of Bea's folk/jazz fusion. The creativity at work here is mind-blowing. Please ignore the video portion. It was added by the person who posted the song on YouTube and not by Bea. Although it contains pictures of horses, it's pretty useless. I suggest you just sit back, close your eyes and prepare to be astonished.
The main instrumentation includes vocal, acoustic bass, World percussion, cymbalum (Hungary's highly advanced variant of the hammered dulcimer), kaval (a Bulgarian flute), soprano saxes and incidental piano. All are monster players, but the dueling saxes are just killer. On one "side" of the mix, the sax is playing in the Hungarian (or is it Romanian or both?) folk idiom. On the other side, it plays these unearthly jazz licks in response. Tres cool.
Also, the kaval player is among the best I've ever heard. If you're not familiar with the kaval, it is essentially a wooden tube with holes in it. The tone holes are covered using the fleshy portions of the fingers in between the knuckles and not the fingertips. There is no mouthpiece, no keys and no "tonguing." That means there is no way to "stop" a tone unless you quit breathing or play different note. It requires far more wind to play than a Highland bagpipe and better breath control than an oboe. The natural sound is unique and hauntingly beautiful. However, this guy plays in an "unnatural" sub-harmonic register, which is almost like the opposite of the altissimo range on a sax.
Now, I'm here to tell you that just getting sounds out of a kaval is hard enough. Playing in this range (and at this speed) is something only a select few master players can ever hope to manage. However, this guy not only nails it, but he also hums along as he plays! I figure he must have a second set of lungs in him somewhere.
Anyway, enough ethnomusicology. Enjoy!