The World Health organisation has promised that there will be enough COVID-19 vaccinations to cover 20% of the population. However, John Nkengasong, head of The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said that they will need to vaccinate 60% of the population in order to get rid of the virus and achieve herd immunity. The World Bank has also set aside $12 billion to help “developing countries” finance their immunisation programs.
In September, US Republican Senator Thom Tillis introduced the America First Vaccine Act. This act would prohibit the export of any COVID-19 vaccine developed using government funding until firms had met US demand for it. “Once that vaccine is developed, Americans should get the vaccine first, before it goes to other countries, ensuring that they receive a return on their investment,” Tillis said in a statement.
The British government recently announced a £4 billion cut in international aid. The likely impact of this will be that one million girls will be deprived of an education, seven million girls will lose access to contraception, four million people will be deprived of clean water and one hundred thousand children will die through a lack of (non-COVID) vaccinations.
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of part of a culture by another culture. On the occasions when the adoption is by a dominant culture, the concept can be perceived to be very aggressive, even resembling colonialism. Although cultural appropriation might be unavoidable when multiple cultures come together, it can also involve exploitation.
In my view, even labelling music “World Music” is an insidious form of cultural appropriation. The inference is that there is Western music and then there is everything else – world music. In the same way that richer countries look down on poorer countries economically and humanely, it’s all too easy (and I have done this myself many times) to label indigenous folk music as world music. The album went on to win the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music Album. One definition of “World Music” that I’ve seen is that it is “all the music in the world” (“World Music: A Very Short Introduction” by Philip Bohlman). That seems about right to me. But not very helpful, I admit. The magazine Folk Roots once claimed that a better definition of World Music is that it is “local music from out there”.
Wikipedia lists the following examples of music that, at one time or another, has been classified as world music: Chinese guzheng music, Indian raga music, Tibetan chants, the village music of the Balkans, Nordic folk music, Latin music, Indonesian music, and the many forms of folk and tribal music of the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Oceania, Central America and South America. That just about covers the whole world – apart from most of Europe and the USA.
Therefore, I am going to say that this album is not a world music album. It is a recording of songs made by Ali Farke Touré and Toumani Diabaté who are musicians from Mali. As much as I want to steer away from cultural appropriation and colonialism, the significant aspects of Ali Farke Touré musical career appear to have been i) a guitar style that has been identified as similar to John Lee Hooker and ii) his widespread fame owes a lot to a collaboration with Ry Cooder called “Talking Timbuktu”. In other words, two American musicians are the “important” reference points. Toumani Diabaté’s main instrument is the kora which typically has 21-strings which are played by plucking with the fingers, and combines features of the lute and a harp. The recording session gave Toumani Diabaté the opportunity to learn directly from Ali Farke Touré, who he described as “one of the great, great, great musicians” and “a prophet of the blues.“
I played this album this morning, while I was eating my breakfast and it was perfect. The musicians claimed that their music flowed out naturally and that is why there were no rehearsals. The words that come to mind when describing the music are “gentle”, “insistent” and “tender”. Before they met to make this record, they had only been in each other’s company for a total of three hours. Ali Farke Toure described the sessions as “a very important meeting in the realm at the heart of the moon“, thus giving the album its title.
Ry Cooder plays a Kawai piano on two tracks and a Ripley guitar on one track but apart from some bass and percussion, there are no other musicians. The album was recorded in the conference room of the Mande Hotel in Mali. Most of the music here dates back to the “Jurana Kura” cultural movement, which was part of the Malian independence struggle in the 1950s and early ’60s.
Respect and appreciation of a different musical style without condescension, patronisation or colonialism seem to be in order. Whether the same aspects are going to apply to saving millions of lives through a sharing of a vaccination is something that, unfortunately, I’m not holding out much hope for.