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The Musical Worlds of WOMEX

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The Musical Worlds of WOMEX

The Musical Worlds of WOMEX

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Well, plenty of music at the WOMEX this year. That's a conference of thousands of international music industry folks gathering to discuss the genre known as world music. Our critic Will Hermes, was there. And he was encouraged by what he heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WILL HERMES: Every industry has its boondoggles. And for those in the world music trade, the World Music Expo, better known as WOMEX, is it. It's a five- day event showcasing new bands from every corner of the planet. And it's been held the past couple years in Seville, Spain.

Meeting conference goers, after tough days spent networking, scamming CDs and doing shots of weird ethnic liquors at the FIBES convention center, spend their nights eating tapas, drinking Rioja and catching shows in the old city. One might wander in on a flamboyant Romanian brass band, like Damian & Brothers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: Or a streetwise Brazilian brass band, like Siba e a Fuloresta

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing in foreign language)

HERMES: Or a slightly goofy, but very impressive harmonica quartet from Finland named Svang, whose recordings would make great public radio theme music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HERMES: Among the hot topics at WOMEX this year were the ongoing nightmare of musicians trying to obtain travel visas post-9/11 and the general woes of the music industry wrestling with digital distribution. Then there's the weakness of the dollar. Many acts are skipping U.S. tours this year altogether because the exchange rate is so bad. But the artistic story this year suggested it may be the most exciting time for world music since Paul Simon made "Graceland."

There's a crop of young American acts approaching the genre less as ethnomusicology and more like pop, from the hip-hop collage approach of New York's Balkan Beat Box to the emigre garage rock of L.A.'s Dengue Fever, who headlined the festival's final night. Truly, you haven't lived until you've danced wildly to '60s-style Cambodian psychedelia with a few hundred drunken Spaniards.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

HERMES: And Africa remains an incredibly fertile source of music. The co-ed group, Toumast, are one of a number of great rock bands rooted, astonishingly enough, in the nomadic Touareg tribes of Northwestern Africa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

HERMES: Then there was the coming-out party for 24-year-old Seun Kuti, the second son of Nigerian music legend Fela Kuti.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

HERMES: With members of his late father's band playing alongside the younger musicians and with the words Fela Lives tattooed across his back, Seun Kuti made world music that completely transcended the term, utterly African yet thoroughly cosmopolitan. It was the highlight of the WOMEX world music festival, which reminded me how the best art can assert cultural pride while promoting cross-cultural unity. It's a pretty good trick, and it's as necessary as ever.

NORRIS: Our critic is Will Hermes. There are stories about some of artist feature at WOMEX at NPR's new music website, NPR.org/music.

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