This year's Grammy nominees in the best world music album category are a curiously diverse collection: the Chieftains, an Irish group; banjo player Bela Fleck (with V.M. Bhatt and Jie-Bing Chen); the Gipsy Kings; Indian classical sarodist Ali Akbar Khan; Pakistani qwaali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (with Michael Brook); and jazz keyboard player-composer Joe Zawinul.
Of course, world music is by definition diverse, and there's nothing particularly wrong with any of these selections (even though the Grammy folks have managed to omit the entire continent of Africa).
But wait a minute. In the best traditional folk album category, we find (along with John Hartford, Pete Seeger, and Norman and Nancy Blake) another nod to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan--and one to Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Why aren't they in the world music category?
These questions reflect the understandable complications in compressing 75% or more of the world's music into a single award category. And there are no real answers, yet.
Last year, the trustees of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences made an initial attempt to resolve the problem by broadening the definition of world music to include non-Western classical music. But that was little more than a Band-Aid.
More extensive solutions are needed--solutions that will offer, for one thing, geographic parity for important areas (such as Africa). Solutions that will create a nomination and award process that more accurately reflects the multiplicity of important and influential musics that exist beyond the borders of this country. Solutions that do not ask the academy membership to pick between John Hartford's "Wild Hog in the Red Brush" and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's "Intoxicated Spirit."
In the Stores: Rounder Records has followed up its impressive "Global Divas" collection with an even more compelling three-CD set, "Divine Divas: A World of Women's Voices." The range of performers included is astounding, from such well-known names as Ani DiFranco, Cassandra Wilson, Alison Krauss and Tish Hinojosa to far less familiar but no less gifted singers from every corner of the world.
There simply is never a dull moment in this remarkable chronicle of creative female talent, and everyone will have his or her own favorites. But don't overlook DiFranco's stirring reinvention of "Amazing Grace," the soulful singing of Peru's Susan Baca, Malouma Mint Maideh's blend of African and Arabic musics, Judy Frankel's touching Jewish lullaby, and an atmospheric performance by the late Toto Bissainthe, Haiti's "queen minstrel." As with the previous collection, "Divine Divas" is specially priced and includes a donation to UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) for every album sold. . . .
The haunting vocals in the already much-honored movie "The English Patient" were provided by Hungarian singer Marta Sebestyen, a major international performer both solo and with the groups Muszikas and Deep Forest. Her reading of the Muszikas song "Szerelem, Szerelem" winds through the film's seductively romantic scenes.
Now, Hannibal Records has released a more comprehensive view of Sebestyen's work, "Marta Sebestyen, the Voice of the English Patient." Included are "Szerelem, Szerelem" as well as "Lullaby for Katherine," which was written by Sebestyen for the picture, and a variety of selections from her many fascinating albums.
On Tour: Senegal's Baaba Maal justifiably is known as one of Africa's world music superstars. His recent appearances in the United States have been with the Africa Fete tour; now he is bringing his 13-piece ensemble to the Southland for two concerts of his own, Feb. 21 at the Veterans Wadsworth Theatre, (310) 825-4401, and Feb. 22 at El Camino College's Marsee Auditorium, (310) 329-5345.
Maal has been a pioneer in fusing traditional instruments such as the 21-string kora with electronic instruments and pop rhythms. He sees powerful connections between the music of Africa and contemporary Western music such as country blues and rap. "When you hear the Wolof music in Dakar," he says, "you can see one man who talks during the rhythm, as they do in rap music. And when Senegalese youths listen to rap, they dance to it, like they would do to Wolof."
Around Town: Carnival is in full swing with music, dancing, eating and costume contests. Among the highlights: Zydeco music and Cajun food with Lisa Haley and the Zydecats at the Moonlight Tango, tonight, (818) 788-2000. . . . A costume contest and the introduction of the new bum-bum dance by Christiane Callil and the Girls From Ipanema, tonight and Feb. 21 at the Century Club in Century City, (310) 553-6000, and Feb. 17 and 24 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Cinegrill, (213) 466-7000. . . . More costume contests, dancing and nonstop samba rhythms at "Brazil Carnival '97" Saturday night at the Hollywood Palladium, (213) 653-8848. . . . Boozoo Chavis' zydeco accordion music Saturday at the Ash Grove, (310) 656-8500, and Tuesday at Billboard Live, (310) 788-1712. . . . The Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans in Mardi Gras food and music celebrations, Feb. 18 and 19 at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, (310) 916-8500.
A world music night Monday at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church will feature traditional Armenian woodwind and percussion music by master duduk and shivl player Norik Manoukian, whose work was heard in "Dead Man Walking," (818) 449-3689. . . . LunaPark's busy schedule of world music acts this month features Brazilian singer Neila, introducing her first solo album, next Friday. Anatolia arrives on Feb. 21 with Turkish trance music. Image will play Caribbean soul music Feb. 22. And every Saturday at the club, global mix music is served up by D.J. Sanchez. Information: (310) 652-0611.