NOISE OF THE WORLD: NON-WESTERN ARTISTS IN THEIR OWN WORDS
By Hank Bordowitz
(Soft Skull Press, 384 pages) Hank Bordowitz is an excellent writer and a man of exquisitely ephemeral musical tastes. His championing of non-mainstream and non-Western artists has played a large role in bringing much-deserving music to the attention of people who otherwise wouldn't know better. However, in Noise of the World, Bordowitz steps aside, writing maybe a dozen of the nearly 400 pages and letting the rest be filled with the "A" parts of his many interviews with those artists who are thoughtlessly stuffed into "world music" bins across the country.
With a cast of interviewees ranging from heavyweights like Ravi Shankar, Fela Kuti and Jimmy Cliff to less-sung legends like Hassan Hakmoun, Osamu Kitajima and Vijay Anand, Bordowitz allows the musicians to run through their opinions and insights. What's most surprising is how many of the artists tend to focus in on the marketing of their music, rather than the creative processes that go into making it. To be sure, there's plenty of insight into the musicians' inspirations, but (and this may be due to Bordowitz's lines of questions) it's shocking to hear so many of the subjects carp on their unfair treatment outside of their homelands. "But we're stars in Exotic-land," so many of them seem to be saying, "so why can't we break through in America?"
That minor quibble aside, reading Ernest Ranglin give a beautiful and eloquent reggae history lesson or just knowing that Fela's chest was puffed to its egocentric extremes during his interview give Noise of the World plenty of between-the-lines context and make it a fascinating read.