NONESUCH EXPLORER SERIES: AFRICA (Nonesuch) Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
long before the hip boutique labels of Peter Gabriel and David Byrne, world music was pure and unadulterated exotica, the result of people lugging 50-pound portable recording kits on their backs through Ghana and Bali.Hundreds of records were released documenting the music of Africa, India and Asia for curious North American listeners, none more influential than Nonesuch's sprawling Explorer Series. Released between 1967 and 84, the 87 original albums in the series were the global equivalent of Alan Lomax's legendary blues and prison song sessions in the deep South, a mix of field recordings, private concerts and casual music drawn from every continent.
Heavily sampled, records in the Explorer Series have been hugely influential but out of print for years. Now, Nonesuch has embarked on a stunningly ambitious program to reissue all 87 discs over the next three years. The reissues are coming in geographic regions. First up is the 13-disc series of African recordings.
The Explorer title suggests that musicologists like David Lewiston and David Fanshawe thrashed their way through the bush to collect previously unheard sounds from obscure civilizations.
That's not far from the truth. Discs in the Africa series range from a two-CD set of the driving thumb piano music of Zimbabwe's Shona people and a set of West African instrumental drum music to an excellent collection of funky, guitar-driven Ghanaian highlife.
Formal performances aside, the real highlights here are the incidental bits. What good is trekking through the bush if you don't get any bush sounds? Included in the Africa series is a disc of just that: Sounds Of The Jungle includes monkey screams, hippo grunts, shrieking birds and other terrifying, unidentifiable noises. Perfect for alienating your guests. There's also 40 minutes of witchcraft songs.
Fans used to the Real World approach of highly stylized, almost synthetic global music will be in for a shock, but this is the music of the world as raw as it gets -- one take, no overdubs and no celebrity sing-alongs. Clear off a firstname.lastname@example.org