I consider Madison's blues scene pretty lame. (Its jazz scene is only a bit better - although it has made its worthy contributions here). Having played harmonica for many years, and mainly living around Chicago, I have unwillingly become an expert on the blues - not so much info-wise as talent-wise. I have blown people away with my talent. The problem is, I pretty much hate the blues. Well, sometimes I do. Emotively, I find it self-serving and non-inspiring. There are several exceptions to this, of course - and I basically love all music, (except when I hate it). The blues is like a single-colour backdrop for rock - and rock would not exist without it. But most people overlook the influence of gospel, soul, bluegrass, country, swing, honky-tonk, or straight-African on rock as well as on the blues. I think it is better to say that JAZZ is the basis of most confluences of rock, etc., and possibly of the blues. For me, the blues is just way too simple. It is simple to play, it is simple to understand, it is limitted in its main styles. In this way, it is a lot lock rap. Both the blues and rap, of course, have artists who have amazing innovations and interpretations to the music, which makes the music wonderful, or, at least, interesting. Don't get me wrong, some of the blues is absolutely amazing, and this mainly is the raw, home-spun and very early forms. Mississippi John Hurt or artists from the 1920's or lonesome Alabama players who respect the original influence of gospel/bluegrass on the blues - these are amazing contributors. And, while a bent note is a bent note, and repetition is repetition, when your using some standard blues frame, there are some bending of notes and flourishes which can break into unknown, creative new territory and emotion. But give me someone like Robert Cray and I'll probably thrown my dog at you. Living in Illinois, I got an endless stream of the blues, some good, most boring. So - maybe I'm wrong - maybe its just cuz I've heard way too much of it - but I find the blues uninteresting in general. And, most of the blues in Madison sucks even more than the blues often does on its own. Well, it doesn't help my brain, trying to regrown and recover and expand, when it can at least try, when I hear endless negative, repetitive rap pounding from downstairs, and I turn on the public radio station from Ye Olde City, playing hours of the blues. There is no nuance or challenge or novelty or delight. And, of course, who wants to hear screaming classic metal or country on the local commercial stations. And there's only so much oldies one can stand, over and over again...
But, compare other aspects of Madison's music to Illinois, and it wins by a long-shot. While original rock in Wisconsn often sounds kind-of underdeveloped, probably because of the fact that the Germanic zeitgeist has had such a terrible time trying to digest the blues - (Wisconsin is just plain white, unless you're in Milwaukee, where sometimes interesting rock happens) - Madison's eclectic and world music scenes are excellent. Without a doubt. Largely because of the existence of FM WORT community radio, and then of WPR/ WERN, the folk, womens music, electronic, alternative rock, etc., with roots that expand not only northward, but also world-wide, are endlessly entertaining. But, most of all, it is the reggae, ska, and world music that comes through Madison, and Madison radio, that I love - I mean I REALLY LOVE. Speak of nuance or challenge or novelty or delight - well, there it is right there. There are many who will say that reggae is a boring music, and is very simple,like the blues. But my taste says that Reggae is emotionally striving like good RAW blues; or like the aspiring little voices produced by Phil Specter, always straining to reach notes above their limit; or like the resplendent nuances of inventive jazz, or like the gutsy, soul-wringing, flat-yet-full African harmonies of kick-ass gospel. I am a great connoisseur of Reggae, and ska - or, at least I was, when I had a better life and brain. I believe I was also Jamaican at one point. But, no doubt, it was the Ganja that did me in. Anyway, all these great aspects of reggae can also be found in good world music - like in the South African and Hi Life sounds behind, Paul Simon's, "Graceland," or the English Beat. But - the real stuff, like Afro-Pop and Arabic Funk, OMG, I am absolutely mad about. Thus the name, Madman - i.e., MADISON man. Yes it is all imported, but by original musicians from overseas bands - and some foreign bands often come through Madison a lot, like SotaVento. And some local bands rock as well, since there is so much exposure to world influence.
There are at least five strains of world music, IMO. There is indigenous folk-related. There is (regional or) local pop and local classic pop. There is World Beat, which includes Afro-Pop, Arabic Funk, (etc.), and Jazz influenced by these, and other categories. There is new age electronica, like Dead Can Dance or Celtic Trance. Finally, there is what I categorise as, "Crossover". Crossover can be the most interesting. It can contain music from any of the previous categories - but mainly the idea is that it mixes classic and creative forms from many different countries and styles, e.g., blending Cumbia with Celtic with Zydeco with Klezmer with Ethiopian with Indian with Arabic with Salsa with HipHop - hoy!!! Well, tonight, one often-superb Madison radio show, "Higher Ground," is playing a excellent mix of crossover, and other world music. It is worth adding to your collection. This show, in particular, seems to have focused not merely on expert crossover tunes, but on finer gradients of notes - quarter notes and off-notes and blended harmonies with interesting steps and suggestions of alternate scales, most often African, of course, but also Arabic or Indian. Influence from the greats - Taj Mahal, Santana, Huge Masekela - are often present. Well, this crossover mix tonight is the sort of music that my daft brain craves. If you listen to it, you will hear many of the philosophical concepts I refer to - except in music form. There is subtlety, reality, wonder, uncertainty, harmony, nuance, invention... progress! There is ASSOCIATION. Some who are not familiar with alternate notes or combinations or beats in world music might listen with a feeling of alienation or disinterest. But for the life of me, I can't see that happening, because the music is pretty damn good. Even if you are not into the subtleties of, say jazz or classical, I think you will appreciate the down-to-earth fun of this set. Recommended. I'd give it a HELL YEAH... http://www.wpr.org/higherground/playlist.cfm?FromDate=12%2F29%2F12&ToDate=12%2F29%2F12&x=9&y=14 - Woops - they don't provide a podcast - but some albums have more of the songs, like, "World 2004", "Songlines Magazine No. 73, 2010", "A Journey Through the Township of Cape ", "The Authentic Sound of Shetland ", and, "Dehli 2 Dublin ".
Too bad that, if I dare whistle and join in, for the sake of my sanity and health, then pretty soon the N-People are retaliating 10x10 louder with their angry rap pounding from below. Sad. Even in my worse, lowly condition, I stand a better chance of flying, unimpeded one day, through the magical strands and musical streams of... BRAZIL! The best music always comes from where coconuts are grown. Unless you are in Romania or Bulgaria. Etc.
My Amygdala says hello.