Is ‘world music’ still possible? After all, the premise of it runs closely to that of colonial pasts, to the image of the 19th century anthropologist that turns cultures into curiosities, into preconceived slideshows of noble savages merged into natural landscapes, a straightforward appropriation of that which is being possessed. Mixing Western instruments with African chants can still reek of the new-age, in which integration is implacably forced, mis-translating myths into styles and lives into unique products. However, SMTG Limited, guided by the hand of Slow Machete, proposes here something different: world music not as integration or as an ‘encounter’ of cultures but simply as collectivity, as friendship. The four records (two by Andere and two by Slow Machete) have an experimental basis, a desire to play with forms and meanings, and all of them were born out of some kind of collaboration; Andere is Anduin and Radere, while Slow Machete is the project of an American and several Haitians. Together, all of those records comprise SMTG’s Haiti aid project, the earnings of which will benefit educational and agricultural programs in said country.
The first album, Evening Dust Choir, represents this collaboration perfectly, as it portrays an impossibility realized – the sounds of Washington DC juxtaposed with Haitian singers and children choirs, field recordings of Pittsburgh given shape by a machete dropping against different surfaces… Dubstep rhythms accompany sweet, soft songs, the mechanical coming together with the natural in a way that feels different than how that common trope might sound, since the voices are also cut-up and played with. In this accompaniment, in this walking side by side, the distance that implies a faraway place and a faraway people starts to slowly dissolve until a point is reached in which we no longer feel estranged, because what we share is not a series of things but life itself. It is life as celebration, as an experience of being shared with others, it is an affirmation of how a choir should be, voices and hands joined as many, a passionate diversity emerging from the artifice of electronic manipulation. You could sing along to most of the record, and I would like to believe that is one of the intentions behind it, as a sort of hearth-fire beacon of communion. This is not about spectacular causes, about ‘fixing’ the world as an object, about charity as mechanism to perpetuate difference, no, I would like to believe this is about friendship, about knowledge of the world as collaborative construction, about forgetting forever all those things that bind us away from one another.
This is perhaps where Andere’s Waking Life takes shape, as a work of communication between two artists who live far apart, an album about the liminal state of awakening, a state in which consciousness and its counterpart are not so clearly separated. It is, maybe coincidentally, a just state, a period of time in which conscience hasn’t reached its dominant assertion, but also in which the unconscious cannot completely wash over everything with all of its expressive glory. This balance offers a droning sensory experience, where things are both distinct and the same, blurred and clear, melodious and noisy, a playful juxtaposition where opposites flow together and apart. Composed of two tracks of the same duration, Waking Life brings us close to creation as both a conscious and unconscious process, a perpetual adventure within the edges of things, the almost unnoticeable (and as short as waking up) places where all sorts of objects and subjects coincide and collaborate in equal measure to be something greater than themselves. A waking life would be a lovelife, an expression of who we are as infinitely shared, a deeply emotional dialogue that cares little for place, distance, language, time…
The second half of this ‘SMTG pack’ is composed of two EP s by the same artists, the same groups of friends. Slow Machete’s Mango Tree follows the debut closely, taking a direction that is just as experimental but much less drone-like. The voices are clearly defined and the juxtapositions are not as powerfully jumbled, but what it loses in terms of noise it gains when it comes to melody and accessibility, sounding like a very unique, very harmonious downtempo album. The joy of community is still there, but it listens more straightforwardly, as if we were part of an audience and not part of a group sitting together, singing together. Still, it is a very uplifting listen, to say the least, and the desire for less classicism is just a personal preference.
Andere’s final contribution is The Nights Are Endless Things, a relatively short piece performed live, and which is based upon samples from Frank Sinatra’s “When No One Cares”, manipulated beyond recognition and played along live guitar, synths, and field recordings. Sinatra’s voice emerges every once in a while, as the point of connection for these two artists improvising upon the material. Improvisation consists in a good part of perceiving the act of communicating as an exercise of community, a space and time where friendship is visible, an irony upon Sinatra’s solitude: we build the moment together, and the silence of isolation is endless no more.
What SMTG has put together here is more than just a great set of albums, it’s something that interconnects so well with the themes Slow Machete seems to be fond of that it would be useless to insist upon how emotional, perhaps how significant, this whole ‘package’ is. It is full of love, and it is dedicated to friends, whether in Haiti or elsewhere. To answer the initial question: yes, world music is still possible, but perhaps only under the terms of equality offered by a closeness that depends not on legality or circumstance but intuition and knowledge, a profound openness in which the ego loses all seriousness, all sacral qualities, and is let go amidst a thousand others perennially at play. Buy it, gift it, and gift it again, all in the name of the pleasure of living with others. (David Murrieta)