It wasnt too long ago that world music was limited to stylistic dalliances by Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon, or that hard-to-find section in a record store. Thanks to the Internet and changing times, this is no longer the case.
Americas melting pot nature has resulted in creative and innovate sounds and styles coming from colliding cultures. With this in mind, Seattle radio station KEXP is exploring the unique soundscape with the launch of Immigrant Songs, a new online series highlighting the music emanating from the red, white and blues vibrant immigrant communities.
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Ive been doing a show focusing on international music since 1993, KEXP disc jockey Darek Mazzone told VOXXI. Ive seen the transition of what is considered world music to incorporate a lot more complexity and depth to the music. One of the things that really struck me is that so many of these artists are immigrants.
They come to the states, as an example, and the immigrant experience allows them to actually more often than not to really open up to other things. Like their experience is very traumatic and with change in general, you get to explore different parts of yourself that you might not have been able to when youre in your own home country or region.
Immigrant Songs features in-studio performances, interviews with local and national artists and written content. Mazzone said the music often delves into two areas: The immigrant experience in America, as well as holding onto homeland cultures.
However, its the latter that often reshapes traditional music into something new with hints of something old.
The thing thats amazing about music and especially artists, they work together, Mazzone said. That melting pot is even more pronounced in musicians because musicians play together. Thats what they do and music is one of those things you inherently absorb into your style and you put together.
So, its holding onto it but also the changing of it, which is compelling.
One example is Seattles Chimurenga Renaissance [http://www.maraire.net/], which features Tendai Maraire (Shabazz Palaces) and Hussein Kalonji. Both are offspring of talented African musicians taking hip-hip into a different and new direction by combining traditional instrumentation (Zimbabwe and Congolese rhythm structures) with a modern sensibility.
Its like theyre creating their own interpretation, and whether its world music or not really doesnt matter anymore, Mazzone said. Its no longer in that frame.
Immigrant Songs, which will also be highlighted on KEXP shows WoPop and El Sonido, is partially funded by the Vilcek Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of immigrant contributions to the arts and sciences.
We were drawn to KEXPs legacy of discovering the best new artists in all genres of music, and bringing them to a worldwide audience, said Rick Kinsel, executive director of the Vilcek Foundation. “Through the Immigrant Songs series, we are excited to meet the next wave of foreign-born musicians. We will be watching and listening to the ways these artists reshape the boundaries of American music.
Ethiopian born singer-songwriter Meklit Hadero is the inaugural artist spotlighted on Immigrant Songs. Mazzone, who hosts El Sonido, said Hadero is reframing the image of her native land not as a place of hunger and despair but as a complex, compelling and really intriguing culture.
She has done some really fabulous work with music and the culture, Mazzone said.
It would appear the next step in the immigrant experience is the assimilation of the music into the mainstream; however, Mazzone points out its already taking place.
A band like Vampire Weekend is basically African Hi-Life sung in English, Mazzone said. You have his audience who can sense authenticity. Like Buena Vista Social Club blowing up. Its Cuban but it doesnt really matter to artists who are like coming up right now.
Theres something about this music that speaks to us all.