A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003 :::
A Welcome Return for Music Lovers. Regular readers will know that A Mind That Suits believes firmly there are two kinds of multiculturalism, the unrealistic and the realistic. The unrealistic assumes that there are no real differences between cultures and that it should be easy for different kinds of people to live together. The realistic kind admits that cultural differences are real and often vast, and that the work needed to learn another culture can be rewarding but is often very difficult.

Nowhere is this distinction more obvious than in music. People who hang out in coffee houses constantly brag about the new music they have discovered, almost invariably because they heard it on NPR that morning. The only problem is, almost all this music sounds the same. It is usually both soothing and sad. Sometimes it is soothing and happy. A Mind That Suits has a perfectly wonderful Putomayo CD called "An Afro-Portugese Odyssey," but a couple of listens left him perplexed. So he checked the Putomayo website, and the reason became clear. The founder relates unashamedly that he sought out only happy music. His records thus make you happy, but also reassure you that you are connected to the world. The same with the sad music: part of the satisfaction its devotees get is from the feeling that they are participating in the world's suffering from the comfort of their luxurious living room decorated, like Frazier's apartment, with tasteful artifacts from around the world.

The enforced uniformity of emotion and its related limited selection of musical styles is telling. Life is uniform? Life has its share of ups and downs no matter where you live, (provided it is not under a totalitarian regime. Even then, the human spirit being what it is, people are able to find things to celebrate.)

Far, far better are the Rough Guide compilations from various countries. With them, one gets a real sampling of the music of a region or country, and they cover the full range of human emotion. A Mind That Suits does not like all the music on his Rough Guide Brazilian Music compilation, whereas the Putomayo recording, with lots of Brazilian music, is immediately accessible. A Mind That Suits finds the Rough Guide CD far more satisfying.

For people who really love music, then, there is truly happy news: Nonesuch Records is bringing out its old Nonesuch Explorer series on CD. As recounted in a perceptive essay by Ed Ward in this morning's review section of the Journal, Nonesuch liberated "world" music from the preconceptions of anthropologists. Their compilers realized "that not only had the cultures they worked in developed their own popular musics in urban areas, but that their adoption of Western instruments and forms uusally bent the foreigners tools to their own indigenous scales and rhythms." That is realistic multicultularism played out in music, and A Mind That Suits is overjoyed.

Nonesuch Explorer provides several disks for each country or region, with a one-disk sampler for each series, so you can taste before you devour. If you want to try something new, and wish to escape the anesthetizing tyranny of NPR's bland offerings, keep your eye out for the Nonesuch Explorer series

Real music fans should always doff their hats when they hear the name of Nonesuch, because they--together with the New York Public Library--were largely responsible for bringing Scott Joplin back from obscurity, setting the stage for his widespread popularity following the release of The Sting.

Speaking of the Rough Guides. A Mind That Suits has a beloved friend, a priest, who has taken full advantage of the ubiquity of the Franciscans to take super cheap vacations in some very obscure parts of the Western Hemisphere. He swears by the Lonely Planet guides, but A Mind That Suits believes the Rough Guides are equally reliable. But even here the two kinds of multiculturalism are on display. The Rough Guide to Rome, the favorite city of A Mind That Suits, is perceptive and dependable, but the MiniRough Guide to Rome for 2000 also exults that Rome "finally" has a good sushi place. Why would you go to Rome to eat sushi? Rome is surrounded by two provinces of farms that provide a nearly year-round supply of delicious fresh food, which the Romans cook thoroughly without destroying it. "Raw fish" is not on their diet, and they have one of the oldest, and most delicious, cuisines in the world.

Speaking of raw. It is a conceit of modern elite cooking that less cooked is better. It can be, but it is not always. And a real world traveler would not come away from Rome complaining that they overcook their food.

Have a great day.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 9:10 AM



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What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

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