Musical Racism

Editor’s Box from fRoots 301 (July 2008)
Regular readers of fRoots are a pretty broad-minded lot: not surprising considering the breadth of stuff we chuck at you, I suppose! We certainly don’t expect you to automatically like everything we draw your attention to, but your feedback says that, generally speaking, you are grateful for the tips and the opportunity to check things out. And that is greatly aided these days by not only our internet radio show, now a podcast too by the way, but symbiosis with things like MySpace and YouTube.

No two readers will have a matching set of personal tastes, and certainly the person who likes everything is a very rare animal indeed. We all have our blind spots, the musical genres that simply fail to engage. That’s one of the things that makes the musical world such an interesting and lively place. It’s great fun when you get a lightbulb moment, often when a friend – or a magazine or radio DJ – leads you by the ears through the right door. It has taken me a lifetime to find the bits of classical music that appeal, but thanks to some guidance I’m beginning to get an inkling that there’s something there. The same thing happened at some point with certain Latin musics, distanced as I had been by an early trumpet phobia, probably entirely the responsibility of that bloody Eddie Calvert record that was always on the radio when I was laid up in bed with some childhood illness! Once I’d found the Latin stuff that worked, so did trumpets from elsewhere. Powerful therapy! The thing is, you’ve got to be open to giving it a try.

Then there are the genres that outstay their welcome, by being relentlessly unchanging or made to sound trite by more inspiring music that you discover later. I’m pretty much done with most rock and country music these days, the rhythm sections of the former in particular sounding so four square and dull after exposure to the delights of the rest of this polyrhythmic planet.

Musicians are often more open and non-dogmatic in their tastes than most – that’s why traditions evolve – and our researches have shown that we do have a lot of players among our readership, even if just for private pleasure. Maybe that goes some way to explaining your unusual willingness to try new flavours compared to readers of some other specialist magazines and writers on the e-walls.

I’m still shocked when I encounter musical racism (sorry, strong word) and attempts at sonic ethnic cleansing (sorry, another one). In recent months I’ve seen regular occurrences elsewhere of the stuff that used to soil our letters pages back in the 1980s, from all extremes. For every suggestion that there’s no place in UK folk festivals for traditionally-based music from other cultures there’s somebody out there – seriously – proposing that Womad shouldn’t programme white musicians (though one suspects that there are degrees of whiteness graded by language and distance from these shores). For every knee-jerk loather of anything related to English folk music there’s a cultural ostrich believing that nobody from ‘abroad’ holds a candle to the lowliest amateur practitioner of Britfolk.

They’re all bonkers!

Ian Anderson


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