Judge Bill Gibron thinks it is bad for human beings to narrow their vision too tightly. Otherwise, we might evolve and focus our vision to the point where laser beams shoot out of our eyeballs, which would cause mass mayhem. Best to groove with Putumayo and avert such catastrophe.
You just can't stop it, the world keeps goin' round!
The song says, "It's a small world after all." But in reality, this planet is more vast and detailed than we can even begin to imagine. Sure, it may seem as if, around every corner, we meet some person with six or fewer degrees of separation from ourselves, keeping personal vision narrow and human focus insular. The truth is, we isolate ourselves in order to keep things in perspective, to keep the issues that surround us from subsuming and engulfing us. We want to steer clear of that which we don't understand, and relegate as unimportant those cultures or climes that confuse or threaten us. As a result, we miss out on the great wealth of tradition and inherent art inside the global village.
Now, no one can accuse label Putumayo World Music of not being open to the rest of the world. If you listen to the video presentation of the company's "story" (one of the extra features on the new music video collection DVD Travel the World with Putumayo), you'll witness an organization that has gone out of its way over the last 12 years to introduce the pop and rock world to the music made by the rest of the planet. Traveling the globe, releasing dozens of CD compilations, gathering artists under its own label, and even producing a weekly world music radio show, Putumayo wants to change the perception that the only great sounds come from English-speaking countries. Travel the World is Round One in a proposed series of anthologies.
Of course, Putumayo is limited by one singular aspect: they are a company looking to promote their own product, and as such, they only focus on those acts in their current lineup. Also, since this is part of an overall omnibus collection, we have a further narrowing of the cultures represented. Perhaps the only way to address the diversity of musical, visual, and individual styles presented here is to go through each song separately and focus on the sights, the sounds and the singularity of the performances:
• "Mambo Yo Yo"
• "Mama Africa"
• "Pas O Panori"
• "Santa Maria (Del Buen Ayre)"
• "Bog a' Lochain"
• "Ke Cu Minino Na Tchora"
• "Filhos da Precisao"
• "Nari Nari"
There are also a couple of live clips that should be discussed:
• "Hear Me Lord"
Overall, the music here tends to sound the same, at least from a rhythmic standpoint. The over-employment of the salsa / mambo / meringue ideal renders the ethnic elements indistinct, as you wonder why people from Africa would make music that would make Tito Puente happy. Still, the performers all sell the sincerity very well, with the true superstars of this set (Oliver Mtukudzi, Hisham Abbas, Jayashree, Vera Bila, Chico Cesar) really shining though. Still, it would have been nice to see a broader representation, with more Eastern European, South American, and Middle Eastern music. As a small sampler of what Putumayo has been up to since its inception, this DVD overview is entertaining and enlightening. But it could have been much more inclusive.
On the technical side, the DVD looks great, with a mix of media (video, digital, analog, film) matched with equally diverse presentations (full screen, non-anamorphic letterbox) to really spice up the selection. Overall, the videos look very good, with a couple ("Ndakuvara," "Bog a'Lachain," "Nari Nari") befitting cinematic works of art. On the sound side, Putumayo makes sure that their Dolby Digital Stereo presentation of each song is crisp, clear, and filled with aural color. Along with the bonus concert footage discussed before, we get the corporate video explaining Putumayo's mission, plus a complete biography of each artist, with interesting personal information and insight into the songs. Still, one can't help being a little underwhelmed by what is offered in this collection. In the case of some performers, the song does not do them justice. In other instances, we sense we are seeing the best work this artist has ever done, and a review of their entire canon would present a "truer" portrait of their total talent.
Travel the World with Putumayo is a fascinating and frustrating DVD collection. It does indeed offer us a glimpse into a culture and community of music we rarely get to see. But the view is almost insufficient to make its point. World Music is a varied and adventurous realm. Let's hope that Putumayo is equally daring next time around.
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