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18 août 2008

Mixed traditions at World Music Awards

By Nick Kimberley, Evening Standard 31.07.08

This was the most whole-hearted of the Proms' forays beyond the Western classical tradition, offering music from three continents, some ancient, some modern, some post-modern. Each act had won a Radio 3 Award for World Music and constituted a miniature Womad. Indeed most of them played Womad last weekend.

Sa Dingding, a sensation in her native China, certainly puts on a show, with keening vocals, multiple costume changes, kung fu dancers and a band blending old Chinese and new Western instruments. Unfortunately the Chinese elements are subsumed within, and sometimes obliterated by, a thoroughly Western aesthetic. In a word, her music has been MTVed, although her work with almost forgotten languages presumably has a political dimension in China.

There was a more symbiotic blend of cultures between British guitarist Justin Adams and Gambian fiddler Juldeh Camara, who produced such a range of colour from his one-string riti that you wondered why the European violin needs four strings. Hardly less remarkable is the Malian ngoni, a kind of guitar-cum-banjo that, in the hands of Bassekou Kouyaté and his band Ngoni Ba, whips up a guttural tunefulness in which amplification becomes part of the instrumental make-up. Here, the gulf between Mississippi and Africa disappeared.

For dancing, nothing equalled the exuberance of Spain's Son de la Frontera. Their music sticks close to flamenco tradition, although Cuban guitar, less percussive than Spanish, produces a gentler inflection. The dancing, with amplified foot-stamping and virtuoso hand-clapping, had an equine grace, while the singing came from some deep well of anguish.

Any such event poses the question at the heart of the very notion of "world music": is globalisation a force for freedomor cultural homogenisation? On that one, over to you.

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