Thursday, December 10, 2009
The founder of one of the coolest independent ethno/world music labels ever "Original Music" joined the heavenly gamelan a couple of weeks ago.
John Storm Roberts, World-Music Scholar, Dies at 73
By Margalit Fox, NYTImes
Published: December 10, 2009
John Storm Roberts, an English-born writer, record producer and independent scholar whose work explored the rich, varied and often surprising ways in which the popular music of Africa and Latin America informed that of the United States, died on Nov. 29 in Kingston, N.Y. He was 73 and lived in Kingston.
The cause was complications of a blood clot, his wife, Anne Needham, said.
Long before the term was bandied about, Mr. Roberts was listening to, seeking out and reporting on what is now called world music. He wrote several seminal books on the subject for a general readership, most notably “Black Music of Two Worlds” (Praeger, 1972) and “The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States” (Oxford University, 1979).
“Black Music of Two Worlds” examines the cross-pollination — in both directions — between Africa and the Americas, from the influence of African music on jazz, blues, salsa and samba to the popularity in Nigeria and Zaire of American artists like James Brown and Jimi Hendrix.
John Anthony Storm Roberts was born in London on Feb. 24, 1936. His father, an accountant who often traveled abroad on business, brought him records that were then scarcely available in England: jazz and blues from the United States, Brazilian music by way of Portugal and much else. By the time he was in his early teens, John was irretrievably mesmerized by the sounds that leapt from his turntable.
A polyglot who came to speak more than half a dozen languages, including Swahili, Mr. Roberts received a bachelor’s degree in modern languages from Oxford University. In the mid-1960s he spent several years in Kenya as a reporter and editor on The East African Standard, a regional newspaper. Returning to London, he was a radio producer with the BBC World Service.
Mr. Roberts moved to the United States in 1970, becoming an editor on the periodical Africa Report. He was later a freelance journalist, contributing articles on world music to The Village Voice and other publications.
In the early 1980s, Mr. Roberts cofounded Original Music, a mail-order company that distributed world-music books and records. In those pre-Internet days, Americans outside big cities found these almost as hard to come by as young Mr. Roberts had in postwar England.
In business for nearly two decades, Original Music also released many well-received albums of its own. Among them are “The Sound of Kinshasa,” featuring Zairian guitar music; “Africa Dances,” an anthology of music from more than a dozen countries; and “Songs the Swahili Sing,” devoted to the music of Kenya, an aural kaleidoscope of African, Arab and Indian sounds.
In choosing what to release on the Original Music label, Mr. Roberts did not disdain modern, popular numbers: by his lights, a song simply had to be good. This distinguished him from musicological purists who, in ceaseless quest for the authentic, recorded only material seemingly untouched by modernity.
In an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1987, Mr. Roberts illuminated his selection process.
“I don’t care how esoteric it is, but it’s got to be terrific,” he said. “Not this ‘you-can’t-hear-it-and-it’s-terribly-performed-but-it’s-really-very-interesting-because-it’s-the-only-winkle-gathering-song-to-come-out-of-southeastern-Sussex’ attitude.”
Read the complete NYTimes obit here.
Download the awesome OMCD Street Music of Java here. This was one of my earliest posts on this blog, which just turned 3.