For those of you who may not be terribly familiar with mp3 blogs–they are devoted to sharing songs their owners love. There are mp3 blogs devoted to hip hop, indie music, blues, soul, electronica, etc. Though some of these blogs include some folk music, there are few blogs entirely devoted to folk, traditional or world music (my musical loves). Before I continue a confession is in order: I write a world music mp3 blog, Tikun Olam.
As far as I can tell (and do not consider this a definitive survey–please let me know if there are other traditional music mp3 blogs out there), there are five currently active blogs dedicated to traditional music.
Benn loxo du taccu
One of the most impressive of the bunch is Matt Yanchyshyn’s Benn loxo du taccu (Wolof for “one hand can’t clap”). It features mostly the music of west Africa (he used to live in Senegal). Matt delights in finding rare historical recordings of the great musicians of the region though he also features current ones as well. I say his blog is ‘impressive’ because in little more than a year, Matt’s posted 160 entries and written 34,000 words about his musical passion. He averages 1,000 unique visitors per day. And I say ‘impressive’ because Matt’s knowledge of the music, cultures and societies he writes about is deep and encyclopedic.
Matt took a post-college trip to Dakar, Senegal essentially on a lark. While there, he met someone who helped him find a job with Associated Press. This job has allowed him to travel through many African countries where he fell in love with (originally) funk and soul music from Nigeria and Ghana. All this happened only 3-4 years ago. I’m amazed that he’s amassed such extraorindary expertise in this field in such a relatively short time.
He sent me this e mail message which lays out why he’s doing his blog and its goals:
When I started to write Benn Loxo I did so because it gave me an excuse to hit-up the music markets in Dakar a little more often. That, and the idea of audioblogs was new and exciting. My friend in Canada had shown me Soul Sides and a couple others, and I realized that I was in a unique position to take advantage of a wealth of local music available in Senegal and post it for those who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to it.
I’m just into what I’m listening to and gained a lot of history, context, and stories from traveling on my own and with my company (Associated Press.) I worked and lived in Senegal mostly, but also spent some time in Abidjan, Abuja and Lagos for work. I traveled all over Senegal, plus parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Namibia and Gambia for fun. In all these places I picked up stories, history and ideas for my blog. Working with journalists and photographers who cover stories all around Africa helped a lot, too.
I focus on W Africa only because I live there. And if the music on my blog is older or historical, that’s simply because it’s mainly what I prefer taste-wise. My blog has only one focus: music from Africa that I enjoy listening to. It’s ultimately a personal pursuit; a glimpse into my taste that others can share.
Benn loxo eventually became more of way for me to stay connected to Africa (I left the continent May, 2005 for Paris) and continue listening to, and collecting African music. Like any hobby with a public face, it’s also become kind of an addiction. I love the feedback, have met loads of good people (some of whom are now good friends in Paris, and many of whom have suggested good parties and record stores) and got some good press. Lastly, writing and listening for Benn loxo keeps my musical taste focused, and has given me the new-found pleasure of narrowing my taste and knowledge to a certain subset of music.
I guess the web site motivates me to listen, collect and think about the music I’m listening to. The nice by-product is that others get to enjoy the music, too, and hopefully start buying more of the stuff…where African markets really need it.
Peter Margasak is the Chicago Reader‘s music critic and an international music DJ for WLUW. About his radio show, Mosaic, the station’s website calls it: “An excursion around the globe that explores both ancient traditions and the most contemporary developments in international music. ” In other words, Margasak’s tastes cover the globe and range over many musical eras. He writes Worldly Disorientation, a blog that ranges from bhangra to Wassoulou to the Dakar Sound; from Eritrea to Sudan to Cuba. While his radio show features a mix of international headliners and indigenous musicians, the blog focuses on what is new, unusual or lesser known to the broader public.
[Update: Not long after I wrote the following paragraph, I realized that the majority of bloggers featured here ARE radio DJs. So more power to them. But I still think there’s room for lots more world music mp3 blogger/DJs out there.]
I’ve long wondered why more world music DJs and journalists don’t have their own blogs. It seems like a natural extension of their craft and calling. Instead of merely offering your expertise either on radio or in print, why not extend your reach to the web and the millions of potential viewers you might find there? Perhaps these individuals are concerned about the issue of copyright involved in mp3 blogging (more on that later). Perhaps their jobs are hard enough without adding another medium and another set of responsibilities (and maintaining an mp3 blog does take time!). Whatever the reason, few are doing this and I think it’s a shame. Because mp3 blogging is yet another opportunity to spread the gospel of world music. There are so many knowledgeable world music DJs out there with great taste and record collections to boot.
But Peter is the exception to all that and all the more to be commended for it.
We use ‘fair trade’ agreements giving our artists an equal share of all revenue from their music sales: whenever we work directly with an independent artist they earn at least 50% from every sale.
Calabash is a music e-tail site devoted to the independent world music artists with which it has relationships. Its inventory covers the globe. Though it contains international headline acts like Thomas Mapfumo and Tinariwen, Brad features lots of indigenous musicians who may’ve not yet “broken out” onto the international scene. What I like about the way Brad’s using his blog is to introduce his audience to free downloads of individual songs. This in turn, allows visitors to judge the songs for themselves and decide whether they want to download more songs (for 99 cents per song) or an entire album. Brad’s mp3 blog is all about the music. He doesn’t write a lot about the songs he features, just the basics. He lets the music speak for itself.
Another innovation of Brad’s is to offer videos of many of the performers. I can’t recall many mp3 bloggers who’re doing this and it’s a great feature.
One quibble I have with Brad is that he’s offered privately to allow any mp3 bloggers who wish to feature music from his site to download songs for free as long as they promise a link to his site. But when I agreed to this arrangement he never replied. And he’s not replied to several follow up messages either. I don’t know whether he reconsidered his original offer. I simply don’t know why he made the offer but refuses to acknowledge it.
Jon Kertzer, a world music DJ for KEXP (Seattle), is one of Seattle’s most knowledgeable African music sources. His show is Best Ambiance and it’s absolutely first rate. Jon finds unusual music that you may never have heard before even if you’re an expert in the field. After I first published this post, Jon wrote to me that he’d taken advice I’d offered some time ago to him and a few other world music DJs whom I admired–that they should start world music blogs featuring the music they spin. His blog is Jon Kertzer–The Best Ambiance. He posts playlists for his shows, Live in the Studio links to audio streams for his perfomer interviews (Habib Koite, Oliver Mtukudzi, Baka Beyond, Kekele, etc.),, a local concert schedule, and links to world music resources he values.
Since Jon works at Microsoft, he decided to use a new MSN blogging platform, MSN Spaces. While I admire Jon’s loyalty to his company, I only hope that this product will become more robust, functional and interoperable when Vista comes along. But regardless of what platform he uses, I welcome and value Jon’s contribution through his blog.
Scott Stevens’ SoundRoots Global Culture combines mp3s and commentary about music and culture:
SoundRoots provides information about, and commentary on ethnic arts and world cultures, particularly what’s known as “world music.”
Honey, Where You Been So Long is dedicated to “pre-war blues.” Besides Peter Patnaik’s mastery of the genre, his blog conveys a great historical sense of the music and musicians of the period (see the accompanying image which is part of his banner).
I found it touching that he’d wish his partner a happy birthday in his blog by dedicating Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain to her. What’s especially lovely is that it unites one’s personal life with music. You thereby honor the one you love through the music you love.
I’ll let Peter explain his blog’s purpose in his own words:
At [this blog], our mission is to help spread the love of pre-war blues music through providing access to the musical tracks. It’s far to hard to get a real grasp of the scope of pre-war blues through any of the many box sets or iTunes playlists. The problem with both the box sets and playlists are that they only focus on one type of blues music or blues musician type. We try to avoid that by posting as many unknown blues people as popular blues people and try to give some historical context in which these people recorded music.
His path to his musical love isn’t far removed from my own–I started with Pete Seeger, Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel–and moved deeper into traditional music from there. Here’s how he came to his love of the the blues:
My path to fall in love with prewar blues started with my mother playing me Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly, and then going back in my high school days and rediscovering both of those people and then moving deeper into both genres, but mostly prewar blues artists.
Peter brings to a wider world Blues greats like Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Etta Baker, Skip James, Son House, Rev. Gary Davis and much more. He also dips his toes into country and gospel as well. His blog makes me feel sorry that I don’t know more about this foundation stone of American music. He is also a DJ on WUAG (Greensboro, NC).
I’ve had an mp3 blog incorporated into my overall blog for two and a half years. I blog, with few exceptions, about traditional music in which I include world, folk and other roots music. Unlike other mp3 bloggers here, I don’t consider myself an expert (‘knowledgeable’ would be a more accurate term). I haven’t devoted my life to the music professionally or otherwise and hence you may find mistakes in my work. But I have loved folk music for nearly 40 years and world music for 20. I’ve seen many concerts, listened to many records and read reviews, liner notes and books. But mainly I love the music and write from the perspective of an enthusiast.
I’ve written 114 posts trying to choose music that moves me in a profound and soulful way. My subject matter ranges the world from Brazil to Mozambique to Finland to Ireland to the United States and places in between. You’ll find in my blog Youssou N’Dour, Bob Dylan, Vartinna, Johnny Cash, Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate, Pete Seeger, Orchestra Baobab, Ray Charles, Vasen, and Planxty among others.
My love for world music began with a college roommate who was born in Zimbabwe, emigrated to London and then to the U.S. He turned me on to the Los Angeles world music scene in the 1980s where I first heard Commander Ebeneezer Obey, Quatres Etoiles, Thomas Mapfumo, Johnny Clegg, Malathini and the Mahotella Queens, etc. In those small West Los Angeles clubs, I jived on the dance floor into the wee hours of the morning carried away by the sinuous strains of soukous guitar licks and the sheer exuberance and joy of the music. If I can capture a little of this rapture in my blog and convey it to my readers then I will be very happy.
MP3 Blog Favorable Mentions:
Rob Hutten’s new blog, Long Sought Home, focuses on historic American gospel and features legendary performers like: Blind Willie Johnson, Fred McDowell, Charlie Patton, and Bill Monroe. Rob also doesn’t provide lots of background text on the songs he chooses, but the material is simply impeccable, rare and gorgeous to listen to.
I’m in mourning about Kate Kutsuwamushi’s Red Lotus Radio which illuminated the mp3 blog world until March, 2005. At that time, she withdrew from active blogging because she lost her web host and couldn’t afford (as a student) the cost of finding a new one. But while she was at it, her blog was a fabulous and sumptuous offering of world music. I was about to say she tended to focus on songs with a spiritual dimension, but I’ve looked over her posts and her taste is too wide-ranging and eclectic to say that. Suffice to say, that Kate’s blog has a similar eclecticism to my own which is probably why I like what she did with it so much.
Robbie McCown’s WomenFolk features female contemporary singer-songwriters performing in a pop-folk vein. I wouldn’t call this a blog devoted to traditional or even folk music. But there is a strong folk element to what some of the performers featured do musically. Mainly though, I feature this blog because I think it’s one of the most graphically elegant sites I’ve seen and hands down the most visually compelling mp3 blog site I’ve seen.
MP3 Blogs & Copyright
Though some mp3 bloggers will not offer downloads of music unless the copyright holder has approved, they are in a slim minority. Most of us offer songs we love to audiences we hope want to learn more about them. All of us want our listeners to go out and buy the music we feature. Many of us offer links to sites where the albums the songs come from can be purchased. Most of us, of course, offer to take down any song if the owner objects to what we’re doing.
For some of us, this is almost a non-issue since no one (including their visitors) has ever objected to their activity (this is true of Matt’s blog). Though I’ve never been criticized by a songwriter or publisher and no one has asked me to remove a song (which I would do if asked), some of my visitors have denounced what I’m doing.
I maintain that the audience for traditional music is so small (relatively) that we bloggers are doing our share to further popularize the musical idiom. Seeing us as copyright violators or thieves (as I’ve been called) seems to me to miss entirely the benefit of what we’re trying to do. Yes, we offer a song to someone. They can listen to it. They can download it. But the latter isn’t the purpose of the blog. In fact, some of us discourage this (I do). But all of us want our listeners to spend money buying this music. All of us want traditional performers rewarded for their valuable efforts to enrich arts and culture with their musical contribution. I know for a fact based on my Amazon Associates reports that my visitors have purchased the music offered at my site. Not a lot, but those handful of sales wouldn’t have otherwise happened and that’s certainly a benefit to the musician.
I think Kate Kutsuwamushi’s addresses this issue forthrightly in what she calls her blog “creed”:
I believe that if you fall in love with a song and play it on repeat for a week, the artist is going to stick in your mind and you’re going to be more likely to buy their albums. Sharing select mp3s doesn’t decrease sales, it increases them.
I’m not sorry for what I do here.
I know that to people who think file sharing is evil, this sounds like nothing more than rationalization. Maybe it is, but in my experience, it’s true. Almost all of my recent CD purchases were prompted by downloading some of the artists’ songs.
I hope anyone reading this will give a listen to the blogs featured here. And if you love the music and have something to say about it–why not start your own mp3 blog?