Performance as distraction

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Some years ago, I did some work for a music festival in London that specialises in presenting African music genres. I would go to concerts in venues across the city, act as a representative of the organisers and make sure that preparations for each event would run smoothly. I saw many shows and took photographs of bands in performance.

On one occasion, I saw a band that was then flavour of the month amongst World Music aficionados. Listening to them play, I couldn’t work out anything unusual or different from several other acts that I had seen in the festival, so I was mystified as to why they stood out from the multitude of bands at that point in time.

After observing the audience for a while however, it suddenly dawned on me that the secret to the group’s short lived success was something to do with the audience’s perception of what they were doing. Many folks in the audience were behaving like tourists, even though it was clear to me that they were Londoners. There was something in the atmosphere that the band created that was evocative of being somewhere exotic, with a warm temperature and splashes of tropical colour.

The band was providing an experience that seemed to be the sonic equivalent of a mini break on the Canary Islands, or somewhere similar. Then I understood the appeal of World Music genres to its primary audiences. Yet it felt to me, (as an artist who could see between the joins) that the whole exercise was illusory and escapist in nature.

What does the unspoken deal between World Music performers and audiences have to tell an impartial observer about social cohesion, inclusion and the presence of folks of diverse heritages in day to day life in contemporary Britain? This is a complex question to answer. Personally, I feel that the world of Grime is much more progressive, even though I don’t feel drawn to it as a listener.

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