Monday, February 22, 2010

'Can you hear the spirit calling, as it's carried across the waves..'

On the way home this evening, we had the radio on and unexpectedly came across the fifth installment of NPR's '50 Great Voices', a list of "influential singers around the world — living or dead, famous or not".

I'd heard about the project a while ago when they first announced it, but I didn't know when it was starting and it turned out I'd missed the first few episodes - Iggy Pop, 'Afghanistan's Elvis' Ahmad Zahir, Mahalia Jackson and Maria Callas were the first artists profiled - so I was happy to catch this one, featuring Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Like a lot of other people in the West, I'd heard his work with Peter Gabriel and Eddie Vedder, but not much of his earlier material. This really nice NPR piece highlights what a great performer he was and the degree of his influence, both at home and among the Pakistani and Sufi communities around the world. If you get a chance, it's well worth a listen.

The rest of the series will unfold over the coming year, revealing a list that will doubtless provoke plenty of debate.

For example, I don't think I noticed Woody Guthrie on the list of "nominees" but I may have been mistaken. Although Dylan is on there.

Also although Van Morrison makes the list, I was sort of hoping that someone like Tommy Makem or Christy Moore might have been considered to represent Ireland's musical contribution (and not that I've anything against John McCormack of course, but, really, how "unique" was his voice, and wasn't he more famous for interpreting Italian music?)

In all, though, the show is a very cool idea indeed and I'll be catching up with the episodes on the NPR site from now on.

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