For the next few weeks, I'll be spending a bit of time on the road for work, which translates to evenings in hotel rooms and more than enough hours to re-watch some favorite flicks. I'll preface this by saying that I'm a terrible television watcher - always have been, and probably always will be. But if there are two things that can hold my attention on a screen, it's music and food.
Music is a very important thing to me. It has the power to elevate vibrations, move us through moments, and inspire all at once. A penchant for world music grew throughout my childhood, from listening to a variety of global-influenced radio stations and developing an obsession with renting foreign films from the public library in my hometown.
I began studying Anthropology as a freshman in college, and one of my most beloved courses was in Ethnomusicology, where we dug deep into the intersection of cultural tradition and musical expression, discussing the globalization of Pygmy lullabies and learning to Gumboot dance. Eventually, I hosted a world music radio show, and from there, the love affair has continued to evolve.
In celebration of world music, this week, I'm sharing some of my longtime favorite music films. Also, if you have a favorite music film, I'd love to hear about it. Share it in the comments below!
- "A Visit to Ali Farka Touré": At eighteen, I became transfixed by Ali Farka Touré; a spark for Malian music that bloomed into a wildfire during college. While most known for his collaboration with Ry Cooder in the Grammy-winning "Talking Timbuktu," this film follows the guitarist to his homeland, where he dedicates himself to improving living conditions, and continues to evolve his music.
- "Throw Down Your Heart": In high school, I listened to a lot of Béla Fleck - his instrumental banjo jams blaring from the speakers of my little Jeep Wrangler as I roamed around the Connecticut countryside. In this documentary, Fleck heads to Africa to understand the origins of the banjo. Most notable is the joyful song played by a female thumb pianist.
- "Bamako is a Miracle": Toumani Diabaté comes from a long line of kora players, and collaborated with Ali Farka Touré on several albums, including the gorgeous "Ali & Toumani," released in 2010 after Touré's death. This film focuses on the creation of an album between Diabaté and a famous jazz trombonist in the capital of Bamako, and highlights the magical convergence of cultures.
- "Under African Skies": While the obvious primer for this film is "Graceland: The African Concert," this documentary is an interesting and different look at the making of Paul Simon's "Graceland," the controversial and groundbreaking 1986 album.
- "Buena Vista Social Club": A classic must-see for any world music fan, this film is about Ry Cooder's journey to bring together the remarkable sounds of Cuban musicians, showcase their culture, and share their life stories.
And a bonus non-world music film that I recently revisited:
- "Nina Simone - Live at Montreux 1976": Nina Simone - diva, love sorceress, and high priestess of soul - is stunning in this emotional performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival. A must see if you're looking to have your mood moved, see a musician bear her soul, and follow it up with a few performances from later in her career.