The millennium coverage on PBS was an extraordinarily colorful overview of the creative fashion in which countries around the world welcomed the new century. In addition, for fans of world music, it provided some additionally fascinating insights via the choices that were made to illustrate individual cultures.
One of the feeds from India, for example, might as well have come from a Hollywood Boulevard dance club, replete with a noisy DJ and pounding electronic grooves. A scene from Portugal, on the other hand, presented a corps of young musicians, dressed in white, playing a huge collection of drums on a picturesque hillside.
The early transmissions from the Pacific, as the new year made its first global appearance, ranged from foot-stomping, grunting and chanting islander dances to a kind of avant-garde music presentation from Sydney. The latter featured performers risking life and limb, playing their instruments from positions high on the wavelike roof of the Sydney Opera House.
The feed from China was extraordinary, its size, scope and color a perfect reflection of the world's most populous country. And it was great fun to experience the range of music from Europe, from Viennese waltzes and the "Beer Barrel Polka" to a multicultural musical happening from Ireland featuring Afro Celt Sound System.
Perhaps most fascinating of all--and, to some extent, worrisome--was the pervasive impact of U.S. sounds, rhythms and movement. Hip-hop dancing was everywhere, as were smoke machines, rock and rap rhythms, soaring guitars and synthesizers and MTV-type presentations.
When the music seemed little more than an attempt at simulation of U.S./British styles--as it sometimes did--one could only wonder at the international potential for musical homogenization. But there also were segments--the Afro Celts were a good example, as were the Russians--in which the familiar rock, etc., elements were transformed by local cultural aspects. And it was in those moments, when a piquant melody suddenly surfaced over a rock beat, or hip-hop movements were tinged with balletic articulation--as well as the moments in which traditional music took the spotlight--that Millennium 2000 offered a real hope for the capacity of cultures to retain their individuality, even within a wired world.
Grammy Glance: The problem with the Grammys' world music album category is that it presumes to encompass the 80% or so of the world's music that isn't American or British pop into a single grouping. Fortunately, the expansion of the Latin music categories has opened up places for gifted traditional performers such as Eliades Ochoa and Ibrahim Ferrer.
But that still leaves a lot of territory to cover with five nominated albums. And this year, far better than they have in the past, the voters have chosen an impressive set of releases: Afro Celt Sound System's "Volume 2, Release," Cesaria Evora's "Cafe Atlantico," Salif Keita's "Papa," Ali Farka Toure's "Niafunke" and Caetano Veloso's "Livro." A little something for everyone, from Afro Celt's high-decibel mix of jigs and reels with African rhythms to Evora's plaintive mornas, from the passion of Keita and Toure to the cool, intelligent articulateness of Veloso. Any one would make a worthy winner.
Still, there were numerous other choices. Here a quick, random, personal list of a few of last year's releases that were equally deserving:
* Ruth Wieder Magan, "Songs to the Invisible God." A program of unaccompanied songs ranging from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers to the incantations of the cabala and folk songs from medieval Spain.
* Barbarito Torres, "Havana Cafe." A delightful collection by a traditional Cuban lutist.
* Eileen Ivers, "Crossing the Bridge." The brilliant Celtic violinist in a set of numbers that establish stunning connections among Celtic music, jazz, rock, folk and Middle Eastern rhythms.
* Grupo Vocal Desandann, "Descendants." A vocal and percussion ensemble from eastern Cuba, singing mostly in Creole, on tunes ranging from early son to Haitian meringue and rustic rabodey rhythms.
* Cheb Mami, "Meli, Meli." One of the defining voices of rai music, expanding his eclectic palette to include rap vocals from Alliance Ethnique's K-Mel.
* San Antonio Vocal Arts Ensemble, "El Milagro de Guadalupe." A follow-up to the group's "Guadalupe--Vergen de Los Indios," further examining, with laborious historical accuracy, the cultural encounters between Europeans and Native Americans in Mexico and Central America taking place in the volatile years of the mid-16th century.