Various Artists
The Rough Guide to Planet Rock

World Music Network
Reviewed by: Mike Powell
Reviewed on: 2006-07-14

Posted 07/15/2006 - 02:48:19 PM by GavinM:
 The question with stuff like The Rough Guide to Planet Rock isn’t whether or not a universal acknowledgement of rock music is a good thing—rock is an awesome thing—but whether or not nicknaming our splotched terrestrial experiment “Planet Rock” is just and accurate.

I think both questions are important, and the first one extremely so. I don't subscribe to easy (and false) arguments of one-way U.S. cultural imperialism; nonetheless, exporting commercial musical forms is not unproblematic in any sense. I see it as a much trickier issue than simple genre names, although there are lots of interesting things going on there. For instance, "planet rock" like "world music" is a label with certain implicit assumptions about who is listening, who is creating, and who is getting left out.

What I find very interesting in your review is that you make a distinction between "good" world music and "bad" world music based solely on the Westerners listening to it. Perhaps this trope is unavoidable when discussing "world music" since the label was created to market toward cosmopolitan-minded Westerners aging out of rock music. You stereotype (not entirely speciously) these listener as the yuppies listening to their pan-ethnic global chill-out music: world music = bad. Unfortunately, I don't see Planet Rock as immune from this criticism. Certainly it aspires to, if not pan-ethnic, then multi-ethnic global rockingness: world music for younger, savvier kids who are nonetheless still Western consumers with pretensions of cosmopolitanism. What isn't clear is how music that "rocks" somehow escapes the problems with the yuppie stuff.

The answer is these problems are inherent with ANY music made by those labeled "Others" (and interestingly, even groups from the U.S. can be Others if they sufficiently highlight their ethnicity through language and folk idioms) marketed toward Westerners. By arranging diverse groups playing different musics from around the world on one compilation, labeling it "Planet Rock," and leaving white Americans and Western Europeans as that perpetual zero point (we're all from the same planet, but Arcade Fire and Sufjan will never be on a world music or planet rock comp), this comp falls prey to the EXACT SAME problems as the yuppie stuff.

What gets left out is how these groups function in their own cultural context, which isn't as cut-and-dry as we sensitive liberal Westerners wish. Often popular music groups in nonwestern areas purposely try to fit into the world music circuit we find so abhorrent: not only is it more lucrative than often-poverty-stricken indigenous scenes, but the skilled musicians of these groups often yearn for the cosmopolitan ears we so easily scorn from our positions of priviledge. Indonesian jazz-fusion group Krakatoa is an excellent case in this transformation. My questions run more toward "So what kind of rock-fusion scene is going on with African immigrants in France," or "How do the Congolese get down to Konono?" or "Why/how has rock so invigorated this group of Eastern european immigrants?" More interesting (and "sensitive") than drawing lines in the sand between which kind of world music is hip enough for increasingly savvy (and cynical) Western consumers.

We can't escape these sticky issues simply on how the music sounds. An interesting tack might have been to explore the WHY and HOW "rawer" or "edgier" music is perceived to have more authenticity than that bland yuppie stuff.