In these heady days when record labels stack up and trade bands like so many cigarette cards, cultural branding is difficult to avoid. Like any other commercial genre, artists in world music are vulnerable to the whims of the season, and whether they are ‘in’ or ‘out’ is beyond any objective judgement of quality. Who is the Gotan Project for 2004? And is Mali the new Cuba? Perhaps the only answer of sorts lies in the fact that the record industry generally forces an act into a single category, whereas the artists themselves will spend half an hour describing their music as an endless combination of influences and fusions.
Madonna and Kylie can slide successfully through styles as often as their management allow. But can you imagine Bulgarian musicians, no matter how good, gaining acceptance as a salsa band? Or Mexican throat singers? This is a particularity of the world music scene. And being labelled Gypsy throws up a whole different set of problems. For starters, no Roma will thank you for it. And when you have musicians from a number of ethnic backgrounds, simply playing tunes that touch them – from Balkan to klezmer to Arabic to Afghan – the label can start to come unstuck. If world music seeks out ‘authenticity’, let us revel in and celebrate the unauthenticity of Beshodrom. This is the sound of cultures colliding: acoustic and electronic, folk and urban, local and transnational. It is the sound of Central Europe reclaiming its position as a major centre of creativity, it exemplifies the energy that is pouring out of the region in myriad new ways.
So next time you tell your friends about this rocking Gypsy band you heard, be aware. Maybe a better category would be honest. Oh… and funky as hell.