January 21, 2015
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Real World 25
If you wanted an iconic image of all that was wrong with progressive music in the mid 1970s then you would hardly do any better than looking at Peter Gabriel in his Genesis incarnation. He started wearing bat wings and a fox’s head and reached his nadir by appearing on stage in a flower costume. He claimed that he did it to entertain the crowd whilst the rest of the band spent ages tuning and re-tuning their instruments. No wonder many of us embraced punk music!
Having given such offence to good taste and musical sensibilities, Gabriel has for the thirty five years trodden a path to musical redemption. He, along with Thomas Brooman and Bob Hooton, was the driving force behind the launch of the WOMAD festival which first made its appearance in July 1982 in Shepton Mallet. The festival which showcased what has now been classed as world music – a rather pejorative term used to describe music that doesn’t easily fall into the sanitised US/UK rock and pop categories – proved successful, albeit after a rocky start, and is still thriving now. Out of the festival was born the record label, Real World, which ran out of a small studio in Box in Wiltshire whose purpose was to give artists who fell outside of the then A&R man’s definition of a musician a platform to get their music aired. Having Gabriel’s imprimatur gave the label the headstart it needed and this compilation celebrates the first twenty five years of the label’s existence.
This is a three CD box set (no pun intended) and is organised in a way that showcases the highlights or classic points in the label’s development on the first CD, highlights some of the more outré recordings or tracks that beg rediscovery on the second and then a selection of listeners’ favourites on the third. With 48 tracks and such an eclectic range of musical styles, languages and geographic regions there are inevitably some tracks which grab you more than others but for a compilation there are fewer turkeys in the track listing than you might expect.
The opening track on the first CD is the wonderful Musst Musst by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan whose vocal gymnastics and devotional Islamic chanting when mixed with a backing track by Massive Attack created such a hypnotic groove that it entered the UK charts but caused outrage (natch) in Pakistan. A brave opening track as after such a spiritual groove the only way could have been down. But the quality of many of the tracks maintains that opening impact.
There are too many tracks to highlight but the Taureg blues band Toumast, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Ronny Ongala whose lively Zairian soukous is impossible to ignore on the dance floor, Papa Wemba, the Imagined Village and the Afro Celt Sound System are my particular favourites after the first couple of listens. But the beauty of a compilation such as this is that you can just put it on either on straight play or shuffle and let the music wash over you. Every listen is bound to unlock new surprises for you.
Music comes in all shapes and sizes as this wonderful testament to Real World’s contribution to the musical scene over the last quarter of a century amply demonstrates. Peter Gabriel, you are almost forgiven!