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Ian Anderson

The Editor's Box

Ian Anderson's comment column

Thirty years ago as I write, I’d just returned from my first music trip to the African continent, an inspiring voyage to the Gambia and Senegal. I’d already had a hand in organising the first UK folk club tour by an Italian traditional band, and was soon to set about doing the same for some West African kora maestros. The same month, fRoots helped produce the massive English Roots Against Apartheid ceilidh, where ‘incomers’ like Billy Bragg, the 3 Mustaphas 3 and the Mekons happily played alongside top folk dance bands of the day. The British folk scene generally welcomed all this with open arms.

Back then there was a climate of curiosity for what musicians from other cultures did. People realised that anybody who loves their own traditions and keeps them going in the face of musik-biz globalisation is a kindred spirit, from Athens to the Appalachians. This joy of discovery spread into the mainstream too. It’s thirty years this coming June since ‘world music’ got invented as a label for a catch-all box in record shops, such was the swell of interest and broad appeal.

As time passed, there were unexpected spin-offs. Quite a few people would have personal epiphanies: “How come all these Asian/African/Latin musicians are so deeply involved with and proud of their own traditions but I don’t know anything about mine?” And they began to explore.

It seems strange now, not to mention disappointing, that such questing curiosity has receded, especially when access to everything has become so much easier since the internet became ubiquitous. So in this issue you’ll find a more blatant attempt than usual to catalyse things. Sometimes we just do it without pointing it out – we’ve had several entire issues devoted to women artists without labelling them as such ­– in the hope that a subliminal message is the most effective. But this one’s intentional and we want you to notice, and think.

Alongside pieces on local folk scene veterans and talented newcomers you’ll find features on a trio from nearby Europe who’ve already made their mark on UK festivals, a master instrumentalist from Spain who has collaborated across cultures including with one of England’s finest, two different delvings into local cultures to record hidden traditions, and others using their roots to create new music. But perhaps most importantly there’s a tip-of-the-iceberg run round many wonderful artists from different (but definitely not ‘exotic’) cultures living right here in Article 50 Land, ready to share.

I was nearly brought to tears by those inspiring marches by women and minority cultural communities worldwide, joining together to fight back against the tide of sexism and xenophobia propagated by the monster who has just seized the White House. We can do this with musical unity too.

That’s the message then, but forgive me for pointing something else out again. fRoots constantly needs the support of its readers and I draw your attention to our continuing and vital appeal. We can’t do it alone in these tough (and bound to get worse) times. Thanks if you’ve already responded: please consider it if you haven’t.

Ian Anderson

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