Various Artists: Honest Jon’s The World Is Shaking: Cubanismo From the Congo, 1954-55

[Honest Jon's; 2009]

Styles: early Afro-Cuban music
Others: Adikwa Depala, Jene Mpia, Rene Mbu, Vincent Kuli

Almost every other week, we're faced with a slew of new rarities compilations -- Lost Jungle Classics From Brazil Vol. 1! Thai Free Jazz is not a Four Letter Word! 1970's Algerian Proto-Rai Underground! Each illustrates digital culture's ability to crumble borders, expanding taste and perception in truly new and interesting ways. We simply have access to so much that it's hard not to enjoy a wider variety of music, a notion upon which these compilations thrive. Gone are cliquish allegiances to genre. The new "cool" is loving it all, and why not? From a purely musical standpoint, there's plenty to love about a collection like The World Is Shaking: Cubanismo From the Congo, 1954-55. The fact that its focus is so specific -- highlighting a particular blend of Latin, jazz, and African music within a two-year period -- gives us an inversely wider view of time and place.

Many of the tracks are extremely listenable and catchy, enhanced by their primitive recording techniques to allow the entire album to play like a mini-narrative -- a small slice of history that we rarely experience in the West. And to be sure, these musicians -- Jean Mpia, Laurent Lomande, Adikwa Depala, etc. -- were alive and vibrant, considering both song craft and their intended audience the same way that many artists do now. Yet "foreign" or "world" music such as this is still relegated to outmoded archetypes based on a few musical principles, removed from the human element so clear in the music. To put it simply, when we hear music that sounds old, is in a foreign language, or uses musical tools we aren't used to, we file it as "other."

For a long time, that perception of "otherness" has been a polarizing force in the West; trends and ideas of hipness often hop around its fault-line. If you you live in America and possess some "foreign" characteristic, whether it be in your heritage or through your tastes, you have a leg-up in some circles, extending from college campuses to areas of the political arena. Conversely, I've encountered people who held a not-so-hidden disdain for the outliers of crate-digging culture -- that is, the tourists, those who believe they're culturally advanced just for listening to something like, say, The World Is Shaking. It surely wasn't the compilers intent to be swept up in such cultural baggage, but it's unavoidable.

The two most prominent and widely lambasted examples of this ‘tourism’ scenario in popular music are Paul Simon and Vampire Weekend (though there are countless others). Both made records that openly utilized the grounding archetypes of "African music" for their own ends, and the polarizing reception they received often dealt with authenticity and the notion of "otherness." "How dare someone steal so blatantly from this culture! They have no right to it!" was the usual criticism. The criticism is interesting, because it depends on two elements: that the genre being pilfered can be distilled to base elements, and that these base elements are missing from the pilferer's DNA; they are simply using genre-spice, content to let some drops of Africa sit atop their otherwise homogeneous musical stew. In a lot of cases, these charges are accurate -- just watch any Disney movie set in a "far off land" -- but they can also be applied to a compilation like The World Is Shaking. After all, the record's subtitle is Cubanismo From The Congo, which roughly translates to "these people were ripping off music from Cuba." It isn't a stretch to say that the compilation's goal is to highlight a specific period's reliance on Latin rhythms, but it's also important to remember that this wild hybridization eventually led to what we now consider the fundamental "African sound."

That "sound" can be traced back to World War II, when radio stations spread across Africa with both government propaganda and music. Under colonial rule from Britain, France, and Belgium, the diverse regional folk music mixed with imports from the West, but it wasn't until radio hit when a craze of sorts swept Africa in the form of rumba. The World Is Shaking acts as a precursor to the craze, highlighting early uses of guitar, violin, and even kazoo alongside syncopated rhythms and saccharine melodies. It perhaps unintentionally shows how every genre can be traced back to points of early hybridization, often perceived as innovation the first time around. A style will become popular and widely mimicked, like rumba in the 60s, until the cycle continues and we're left with shades of mixed grey. Yet the fact that people still argue over cultural theft means that the hybridization process is alive in the modern era, but for how long? Influences nowadays are no longer limited to region, but now include internet access. If your economic situation is the most prominent factor in determining culture, then an age of highly specialized, wide, bizarre, and ultimately diluted personal heritage is probably what we have to look forward to.

In that light, The World Is Shaking has particular historical significance, because it shows a time when regional elements were still heavily apparent in music. And as successive generations absorbed these sounds, it undoubtedly mixed with their cultures and traditions in increased hybridization. As time goes by, the regional distinctions will be less pronounced, and these compilations will probably grow more quaint and outdated, yet they'll remain vital to understanding how our culture functions through the lens of globalization.

1. Laurent Lomande - Maboka Marie
2. Adikwa Depala - Matete Paris
3. Adikwa Depala - Akei Cimetierre
4. Andre Denis - Cherie N' Aluli Yo
5. Vincent Kuli - Yaka Ko Tala
6. Jean Mpia - Klim
7. Boniface Koufoudila - Ntango N' Abali
8. Robert Yuakarie - Musinichkie
9. Albert Bongu - Koseke Moniga Te
10. Rene Mbu - Boma Limbala
11. Adikwa Depala - C.C.T. Ebongisi Mokiri
12. Fabien Libasi - Bengela Ngai Bosele
13. Laurent Lomande - Elisa
14. Adikwa Depala - Mon Moni Non Dey
15. Boniface Koufoudila - Bino Boton Bosele
16. Norbert Yakari - Kioo Cha Nyumba
17. J.P. Ndagu - Mokolo Bafuti Sanza
18. Boniface Koufoudila - Tokowela Angelique
19. Laurent Lomande - Akimi Magai Na Butu
20. Jean Mpia - Tika Moseka
21. Adikwa Depala - Yoka Ngal

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