“World Music” has always been a strange catch-all term for American music buyers. The category lazily pits K-Pop singer Psy against French chanteuse Carla Bruni as though there were only a dozen musical genres outside of the United States.
Every now and then one of those musical genres becomes trendy, and for a few months it appears we all might start wearing guyaberas to work. In honor of the appearance by members of the Buena Vista Social Club at the Segerstrom Center this Tuesday, here are five world music trends that momentarily boosted the tourism in their home countries.
1. Bossa Nova
Who to thank: Stan Getz
It is a little too convenient that the term “bossa nova” is Brazilian for “new trend.” American jazz saxophonist Stan Getz already had a twenty year career when he teamed up with vocalist Astrud Gilberto and guitarist Joao Gilberto to record Antonio Carlos Jobim's “Girl From Ipanema” in 1964. The wispy tune instantly entered into the cocktail lounge book of standards and opened the door for countless other artists to try their hand at the craze. Surely the “tall and tan and young and lovely” roaming the beaches of Rio picked up a few choice English phrases in the mid 1960s.
2. Indian Sitar
Who to thank: George Harrison
After George Harrison added a sitar to the Beatles' “Norwegian Wood” in 1965, a lot of recording studios had to invest in the lengthy lute for future sessions. The Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Mamas N the Papas and the Animals all put the Indian instrument to use on their pop hits, which really helped sitarist Ravi Shankar book some higher profile gigs. Shankar was the ambassador of Indian classical music, introducing the unique droning sounds of the sitar along with the melodic sounds of the tabla drums to a generation of stoners looking to just mellow out.
3. Gregorian Chant
Who to thank: Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos
In 1994, a 20-year-old recording of Spanish monks sold over three million copies in the United States. Was America finally ready to embrace a monastic lifestyle? Had they finally found inner peace and true purpose? No. They found something that helped make a massage more relaxing and was easier to obtain than anti-depressants. The anonymous monks never did hit the tour circuit and were probably unaware that their interpretation on a thousand year old tradition was so popular in mall gift shops.
4. Irish Folk Music
Who to thank: The Chieftains
The Chieftains had been plugging away since the early 1960s but didn't come to define traditional Irish folk music until Stanley Kubrick hired them to record the score for Barry Lyndon in 1975. They've subsequently been solidly booked for Christmas and St. Patrick's Day through the rest of the century. Their Guiness-friendly sound mirrors a lot of American folk music and has provided many an excuse to spend four hours in a pub on a Sunday night. But, the odds are that anyone you know with a Chieftains record likely doesn't have any other Irish music in their collection. Except for maybe U2.
Buena Vista Social Club
Who to thank: Ry Cooder
When musician Ry Cooder came back with a record of Cuban old timers in 1997, he instantly provided the soundtrack for any Spanish-speaking eatery with a CD player. The acoustic boleros and guajiras were omnipresent in this sound. However you feel about Cooder receiving as much credit as he gets for “discovering” this group of musicians, he was instrumental in helping these Cuban artists secure gigs, (a lot of gigs) simply by attaching the phrase “Buena Vista Social Club” to show posters.