I love World Music
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE - Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2018 - 12:00am

I am a big fan of music. Everyone knows that. Through the years, I have listened, enjoyed, grooved on, examined and analyzed all types of music. I never went to music school but my intense interest taught me a lot about music and how to write songs and understand what makes songs tick. I have also learned to appreciate musical patterns in chords, themes, motifs, styles, etc. I can sit down with schooled musicians and not get lost in the conversation. 

During the past years, I have grown a bit tired and weary of Western pop music. By this, I refer to music mostly from the US and England. In the past two decades or so, I feel it’s lost much of its rawness and vitality. There are so few artists now who can speak with authenticity and still manage to shine despite the given dictates and demands of commercialism.

Because of this, I have opened myself to other music from different parts of the world. I am always trying to look for  “organic” stuff. By this I mean music that is original and new. In the ’70s. I could find “organic” artists like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Santana, Steely Dan, etc., who made you wonder where they came from and what music they listened to. 

They all seemed unique. They were very original. They were like prophets who said important things. Their songs hit us on a gut level. They were mostly writing not to please anyone but to express themselves. They did not cater to an audience. The people bought into them. 

There are very few artists these days who can make music like the great ones did. For me, a lot of it had to do with the emergence of music videos. All of a sudden, the world and music business changed. Overnight, gloss was suddenly more important and started to lord it over substance. Bad music could now look “good,” and good music could look “bad.” 

Discovering music from Brazil was one of the best things that ever happened to me, musically. Often we discover foreign sounds only when they hit the US charts. That’s how I discovered Jobim and Sergio Mendez. In 1992, I went to Rio de Janeiro to attend the Earth Summit. I discovered more artists and completely fell in love with Brazilian music. I felt I was at the very source of it. Music was everywhere. I saw one guy playing his guitar at Copacabana Beach. In a few minutes, some people had joined in and started playing percussion with cans and bottles while dozens danced and sang with them. I saw so many brilliant artists. Some of them I even met. Many of them I “met” because I bought their records. 

It was like discovering a new planet, listening to artists like Joyce (Moreno), Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Chico Buarque, Maria Bethânia, Jorge Ben, Milton Nascimento, etc. Their beats were new, their chords complex. The sounds were varied and the percussion was simply out of this world. Yes, they sang in their native tongue (Portuguese), which made their songs sound more authentic to me. They seemed immune to Western pop conventions. They were reveling in their own music and culture. It was refreshing, wonderful and inspiring. 

Since 1981, I have bought 13 more albums by Joyce, and a few more of Caetano Veloso and other Brazilian artists. 

For almost two decades, I almost stopped following and keeping track of the US Top 40. I liked just a few new artists but continued to follow my old favorites. I did not buy any Top 40 CDs for years. Instead I began exploring music from other countries and continents. From Africa, I liked Fela Kuti, Olatunji, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. From Mongolia I learned about throat singing and bought an album by the group Huun-Huur-Tu called “60 Horses is My Herd.” 

When I would go to record bars abroad like Tower records (before the company closed down), I would ask shoppers in the World Music section what countries they were from and which artists from their own countries they could recommend for me to buy. It was the best way to discover new artists.  

I bought more music from Latin artists from Cuba, Mexico, Argentina. I also listened to some old and new Indian music, from Ravi Shankar to Bollywood artists. From Russia, I had an album called “Time Machine” given to me by artist Andre Makarevich whom I met at a conference. It was at the time Gorbachev was still promoting Perestroika and Glasnost. The USSR was on the verge of disintegrating. The title of one of Andre’s songs was I Want to Defect.  I also bought an album by a Russian pop group called Karnak. From Estonia, I met the Urb brothers who were former political prisoners, and we exchanged albums. There was so much to discover. 

Listening to pop songs in another language really gets me excited. Although one can detect Western influence in a majority of them, their cultural identity remains strongly intact.

During the last five years, I have made songs with strong Latin influences. I also wrote songs that were directly inspired by Caetano Veloso and Joyce. I still want to write a song similar to the Urb Brothers’ Moonsong, which I like a lot. 

I feel liberated, being freed from the dominant influence of US and British pop music. I do not care to listen to the newest, nor the latest songs on the radio, like I used to. I have avoided being influenced by music everyone else listens to. I have become a snob, in a good way.

World Music is one of the topics I touch on when I teach at ADMU. I introduce my students to music beyond what they are used to. Their first reaction is mostly shock, which immediately turns into surprise and delight. I see them get really interested. Some of them actually expand their musical tastes and follow some artists I expose them to. 

The world is so rich. It is a pity that most of us appreciate music that only comes from the usual sources, through the usual channels. Commercial music, to me, often means something already preselected for us by the big, greedy establishment and pushed down our throats. 

I like discovering new sounds and artists from all over the world. Their music can touch us in a way that can be a real life-altering experience. Someday, I hope more Filipino music can be heard and liked by people from other parts of the world. But for that to happen, like the rest of the world, we must speak authentically about our own experiences, sing our own songs and dance to our own tunes. 

World Music is a big party. There is no dress code. We must learn to come as we are.

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