One thing that's easy to forget when listening to "world" music is that, despite the fact that the sounds may be foreign to your ears, the music is nothing but natural to those making it. (We won't get into how obnoxiously self-important the term "world music" is for the moment.) Despite our best efforts, American culture has yet to completely obliterate all forms of nonconforming creative expression. But we're close. Whether it's Phnom Penh or Beirut or Tokyo or Lagos, almost every metropolitan area in the world seems to hum with variations on MTV-friendly sounds, resulting in a weird sort of monosonic blur that requires close listening to coax out the local flavor. This is an overgeneralization, of course, but the consistent, cancer-like momentum of vapid, danceable sexuality does seem to be both unstoppable and all-consuming in a Borg sort of way.
Luckily, perception isn't always truth, and very many communities in very many far-flung places are still quite happy with their own musical traditions, thank you very much. It's those locally popular if somewhat isolated oases of non-market-driven music that are highlighted in a new series curated by the folks responsible for the excellent Rough Guide discs. Dubbed Introducing, the series (actually an entirely new label imprint) focuses on relatively unknown individual artists, rather than offering sweeping overviews of an entire country or musical genre.
The initial trio of Introducing discs explores styles both familiar (the mournfully rollicking klezmer music performed by Sukke) and thoroughly underdocumented (Malagasy tunes by Vakoka and the sparse-but-intense percussive guitar work of South Africa's Shiyani Ngcobo).
Collectively, these three releases are impressive, but it's separately that they offer the most, as all too often "world" musicians are blithely ghettoized by their "form" or geography; whether an artist is "new" or not is often an afterthought. Here, the emotional tug of the A-list players in Vakoka or the relentless maskanda from Ngcobo are revelatory in the way that they highlight the individual artistic missions of the artists playing them. After all, no matter where in the world you are, music is played by musicians. Regardless of how many isolated villages are dotted with satellite dishes, those musicians if they are in fact true artists will always play the music that's closest to their hearts.