Fourth World

Travelling home from work today I was listening to Digital Human on the radio and in particular a piece about Chris Kirkley’s search for authentic music in West Africa, and his discovery that a fiercely independent music culture such as that in Mali had developed surprising ways with the advent of technology.  Using pirated software bands are recording songs in MP3 format and then sharing them actively using bluetooth file transfer on their mobile phones.

The music remains staunchly sub-Saharan, but the method of broadcast shows the intrusion of western technologies, but on the Malian’s own terms.  The bonus of the programme was that there was some great incidental music, the downside, that it didn’t come with a track listing!

I’m no expert on world music, but it has always exerted some hold on me.  Long before Paul Simon’s controversial Graceland, the music of other cultures enthralled me.  Milestones in this musical journey have included much of Peter Gabriel‘s output, the Burundi drums of Joni Mitchell’s The Jungle Line, an album of Himalayan Melodies by Sarangi that I recognised in the alleys of Kathmandu from a hearing at a restaurant the previous evening, and of course:

Jon Hassell/Brian Eno – Fourth World Vol 1 Possible Musics.

Cover of "Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible ...
Cover of Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics

This was an album bought by a school friend purely on the basis of having Brian Eno‘s name on the label.  His collaboration with trumpeter Hassell paved the way for the masterpiece that Eno would record with David Byrne; My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.  Featuring all manner of electronic treatments on a trumpet that sounds nothing like the horn you might expect, my friend hated this album and it eventually found its way to my collection.  I too found it a bit of an oddity, but over the years it has grown in appeal, and other works by Hassell have come my way.

Whatever the method, our sharing of music helps define us wherever we are in the world.

Appropriately enough my portrait today is of a young West African man, Kenneth.  Another Nigerian, I asked him to teach me how to say goodbye in his dialect, which I’m ashamed to say I promptly forgot, and all attempts to find the phrase in Hausa or Yoruba have failed me, so I must resort to Kiswahili and wish him kwaheri and assante sana.

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