Sunday, July 16, 2006

Music to My Ears

Long before music from Jamaica and France and Ethiopia and India and Bali and all points East and West was repackaged as Politically Correct, Multi-Cultural World Music, I developed a taste for popular and folk music from assorted corners of the globe.

After all, I did live in Chicago, where obscure little radio stations were beamed to the many ethnic groups in the city. Programs such as the Sakura Hour -- and plenty of polkas -- were the meat and potatoes of the AM dial and fun to listen to.

But maybe I should thank Mike Nichols. Yes, that Mike Nichols. His movie career didn't take off until several years after his first public performance -- as a DJ on that original model for every Good Music Station, WFMT in Chicago. Mike's late Saturday night show was called "The Midnight Special," featuring primarily the Pete Seeger/Woody Guthrie variety of American folk music. (Note: this show is still on the air, over 50 years later!)

But he did introduce his listeners to more exotic fare periodically. He had a favorite album featuring a sexy Egyptian lady who probably would be stoned by the Muslim Brotherhood these days. He played a wonderful flamenco LP that included a chilling version of the saetas (a religious processional.) And I'm pretty sure that I heard South American flute music on that show, as well.

Which is the reason I made it down to the Kokepelli Kitsch show on the Square today -- an announcement in the Courier that Andean Nation had the official platform this year; the last time I heard a similar group here, they were busking -- as were the flute players that frequented Old Town Victoria during the tourist season a few years back.

I popped for a CD -- but not a pipe; I'm long past the age when it would be easy to learn an instrument.

Just as haunting as the Bolivian/Peruvian/ Ecuadorian music is fado, from Portugal. I had the good fortune to first hear this music in a Lisbon courtyard. As the World Music Center explains: "whatever its origins, its themes have remained constant: destiny, betrayal in love, death and despair. A typical lyric goes: 'Why did you leave me, where did you go? I walk the streets looking at every place we were together, except you’re not there.' It’s a sad music and a fado performance is not successful if an audience is not moved to tears."

Popular music from India is usually more upbeat, especially movie music -- a lush and fascinating blend of Eastern and Western styles. To get a quick taste, go to the official web site for Krrish. This hit is an Indian version of Superman. Yes, he does leap tall buildings in a single bound! But this movie is from the Sub-Continent, which means a requisite number of song-and-dance numbers, too.

Reggae never quite filled the bill for me; don't know why. On the other hand, restaurants in Chicago's Greek town down around Halstead & Taylor were for all practical purposes night clubs, with musical entertainment (and belly dancers, of course). Great sounds. I also liked Edith Piaf in her day. Not to mention Japanese pop music.

And let me close with this admission: I was thrilled the day a bagpiper showed up in the alley, piping for all he was worth.

Did I happen to mention J.S. Bach......

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