Real World 25 - Monolith Cocktail

Various Artists   ‘Real World 25’   (Real World)  Released 29th September 2014.

Funnelling some of the most eclectic sounds from the most diverse imaginary radio stations stretched across the globe, onto one label, ex-prog figurehead and WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance) founder, Peter Gabriel launched the Real World imprint back in 1989 as a respectful and supportive environment for world music artists. Fostering a wealth of talent, over the last twenty-five years, Gabriel’s visionary label has helped nurture some of the most spectacular voices and musicians from Timbuktu to Mandalay.


Lying at the heart of this cultural exchange, Gabriel’s converted old mill ‘state-of-the-art’ studio in the quaintly remote English village of Box – near to the omnipresent druidic standing stones of Avebury and Stonehenge – has seen the most exotic caravan procession of musicians pass through its doors. Knocking out over 200 albums, Real World has enriched the musical landscape. However, depending on your viewpoint, they could at least be accorded some blame for encouraging the sort of lame, enervated new age soundtrack beloved by aromatherapy practitioners, homeopathy waiting rooms and people who sell yurt camping experiences. Despite the abundance of venerable acclaimed talent, spread across this celebratory triumvirate of CDs, the odd world muzak misdemeanor can’t help but reinforce those stereotypes. But then the beauty of this survey through the back catalogue is that there is bound to be something that warms even the coldest of hearts, whether it’s transcendental Bhutan verse or esoteric swamp boogie from the USA.

You’ll hear the history, the earnest well-intentioned beginnings, the respect garnered, and read all about the anecdotes and wild tales in the accompanying 28-page booklet, but what about the music….

Split into concatenate chapters, CD number 1 charts ‘significant highlights’ and ‘classics’ from the label’s history, the opening selection introducing (or of course re-introducing) us to the mystical Sufi devotional vocals of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – whose ‘Mustt Mustt’ workout reaches ethereal heights -, the trans global desert song of Maryam Mursal – the Somalia singer/composer predating the electric-blues and soul of Tinariwen and Tamikrest by a decade – and the alternative dub/electronica Bangladesh and UK fusion collective Joi, just for starters. A sort of ‘greatest hits package’, if the term can be applied to such a humble undertaking, continues with a personal favourite, a Gospel inspired bouncing earthy number ‘Run On For A Long Time’ from The Blind Boys Of Alabama, and the Tango-esque Afro-jazz ‘Guragigna’ of Ethiopian/UK union Dub Colossus.

We couldn’t possibly escape a collaboration composition from the main man himself, Gabriel teaming up with an assortment of atavistic-instrument practitioners from Armenia, Egypt and India for ‘The feeling Begins’; taken from the soundtrack he composed for Martin Scorsese’s controversially harangued The Last Temptation Of Christ, the record that would kick start Real World and help fund it (also winning a Grammy for what would be an esoterically-driven psychgeography enriched trip through the middle east).

Part 2 of the meandered exploration, back, through the last 25-years, shines a light on lesser known tracks, rediscovering hitherto obscurities like The Creole Choir Of Cuba’s beautiful shoreline enticing ‘Fey Oh Di Nou’, and Taoist garden instrumental, ‘White Kite’, from Chinese bamboo flute genius Guo Yue. Revelations wise, the cross-fertilized Celtic (there will be a lot of this) and Nordic pining of Finnish band Värttinä recalls the folk rock of The Trees, and the slickly pumped ‘Los De Abajo’ by Resistencia, sounds like a non-threatening Mexican low-ride through south central.

Bereft of the exotic you could also investigate the Balearic shifting sound prayer ‘Mariama’ by Senegal duo Pape & Cheikh or be stirred by the mystique choral tones of the Mara! With Martenitsa Choir’s ‘To My First Love’.

The big hitters- relatively speaking – are next, CD number 3 being the ‘peoples choice’. Public tastes vary of course, fluctuating between impeccable and MOR, Martyn Bennett (a featured artist on this blog and the bombastic opener on our recent Scottish celebration playlist) being a very wise choice. His breakbeat clarion call ‘Move’ (a Caledonian Moby) appropriates the ancestral poetry of his Scottish homeland for the dance floor.

Joseph Arthur’s well intentioned but platitude heavy ‘In The Sun’, I could well do without, and though among the most successful world fusion acts, the trance global cinematic’s of Afro Celt Sound System also fail to interest me, as popular as they appear to be.

Another often referenced and critically garnered act (famously nominated but missing out on the grandiose Mercury Music prize in 2008) The Portico Quarter make an appearance with a suitably moody cerebral jazz score, and there’s also a much-loved song from Congolese soukous musician, Papa Wemba to close proceedings.

A befitting tribute to a world music paragon of virtue, the Real World anniversary collection takes stock and quite rightly, pats itself on its own back for such a sterling effort: bringing attention to music that would never have seen the light of day outside a tiny group of admirers and patrons. Here’s to another 25 years, which has already rolled out albums from Irish-American outfit The Gloaming and extraordinary Welsh-language group, 9Bach ahead of upcoming releases from Garifuna singer/songwriter and guitarist Aurelio and, the already mentioned, label stalwart Joseph Arthur.


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